Monday, April 03, 2006

April Net Worth $466,959 (up $7,955)

My April has a strong showing at $466,959, up nearly $8,000 over March. Most notable are investment gains in my IRA and 401(k) accounts. I also had additional stock options vest which resulted in nice gains there.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Does Condo Living = Simple Living?

Last night during our annual condo association homeowners meeting, I chose to end my two-year term as president of the board of directors. I had an urge to continue because I have strong opinions on how I want the place to be run. But I decided that it's good to let other homeowners participate in the work it takes to operate the condo. Plus it will be a nice break from the responsibilities.

It got me to thinking whether living in a condo is truly simpler than living in a house. I owned a house prior to buying the condo, so I have a perspective on both sides of the equation. When I owned my house (all 650 sq. ft. of it) I was completely overwhelmed with the yard maintenance and exterior maintenance of the place. Something always needed to be attended to whether it was edging the yard, mowing the lawn, painting the retaining wall, weeding the garden, replacing the porch light, roto-rooting the sewer line, and so on. Initially I tried to do most everything myself (except the sewer line issue) then I gradually started hiring out some of the work. But over time I always wound up canceling the workmen because I couldn't stand spending money on something I knew perfectly well I could do myself. So I cancelled the yard guy and I stopped using a handy man. The only thing I would hire out was plumbing work. I felt like I was saving a ton of money, but I also felt the weight of a growing to-do list.

When I first moved into my condo I was giddy with the prospect that everything would be handled for me. I could just pick up the phone and report a burned out hallway light or a broken yard sprinkler and the maintenance men would show up and fix all the problems. In reality that did happen, but I find myself unhappy with the quality of work or the speed in which tasks get resolved. Also, I'm paying a healthy chunk of homeowners dues which is a non-negotiable expense. When you own your own house, you can choose whether to have a yard service handle the lawn one month, and do it yourself the next. That isn't an option in a condo. In addition, my condo has an elevator and a garage door that both require regular maintenance to operate properly. It's amazingly expensive. It is also an adjustment to have decision by committee, and to not be able to maintain the property exactly the way you personally see fit.

My 20-20 hindsight is crystal clear on this issue. I preferred the flexibility as a single-family home owner to hire out home maintenance tasks at my discretion. I didn't realize at the time that it's much more cost effective to hire out home maintenance for a house than to contribute monthly home owners dues for a condo, at least a condo that aspires to having a healthy reserve fund as mine does. This doesn't mean I'm going to sell my condo and run out and buy a single-family home. But I'm certainly more aware of the tradeoffs of both living situations now.

My condo living situation is certainly simpler based solely on the fact that our management company handles the maintenance issues that arise, and it will be even more simple now that I am not an active participant on the board of directors. But a single-family homeowner can create the same situation by investing time to identify good service providers to handle regular maintenance issues.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Free Trial of MS Money Not Up To Snuff

This weekend I downloaded the 90-day trial version of Microsoft Money 2006 Deluxe. I spent about three hours uploading my financial information and meticulously categorizing my expenses. I had MS Money pull my credit card and banking information directly from my online accounts. After tinkering around with it for a few hours, I deduced that I strongly prefer my manual method of tracking income, expenses and net worth in Excel. It is much easier to do what-if scenarios, and it takes much less time. It also makes me feel much more 'in touch' with my money. I felt that Microsoft Money was overly complex, and not as intiuitive as I had expected it to be. I was a little disappointed with this finding. I guess I expected more from Microsoft. I suppose it might be a good tool for somebody who has a business, but for personal finance tracking, it isn't the solution for me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Location, Location, Location

People often tell me how lucky I am to live in such a fantastic neighborhood. I live in easy walking distance of:

  • four grocery stores

  • the public library

  • a post office

  • two dozen or so great restaurants

  • three neighborhood pubs

  • four coffee shops

  • a fun variety of retail shops

  • a dry cleaner

  • two fantastic parks

  • a beautiful lake

  • in easy bicycling distance of my office

When people comment on where I live, the conversation usually goes something like this:

Them: "You are so lucky to live in this awesome neighborhood!"

Me: "I agree that it is a fantastic neighborhood. But I am not lucky to live here. I chose to live here."

Them: "I could never afford to buy a house in this neighborhood."

Me: "Sure you can! It just wouldn't be as big as your current one."

Them: "But I couldn't live without my...(fill in the blank)...walk in closet, double garage, jacuzzi tub, four bedroom house, etc."

At that point I change the topic because folks like that can't imagine giving up a material possession or home amenity in exchange for the increased quality of life that a neighborhood community offers. I wouldn't trade my tiny one-bedroom condo in a fantastic neighborhood for a huge, hulking house in the strip-mall suburbs for ANYTHING!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Free Personal Finance Tools

If you are a Microsoft office user (e.g. Word, Excel) you might want to check out the free personal finance templates offered on their web site. Available templates include budgeting templates, calculators for 401k planning, investment calculators and mortgage amortization/analysis templates.

My personal favorite is the lifetime savings calculator which allows you to calculate the lifetime savings of switching to a generic version of a particular product. It's simple math to do without a fancy Excel calculator, but it sure is fun to see how much you can save!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

I Think I Found Mr. Uber-Frugal!

Months and months ago, I heard about a guy who made a New Year's resolution to spend money only on bare necessities for one year. Thanks to NYC Money, I think I have found him. It looks like he is the boyfriend of author Judith Levine who wrote Not Buying It, My Year Without Shopping. I am number nine on the hold list at the Seattle Public Library. I am so enthralled by this topic, I can hardly wait to read the book.

The practice of voluntary simplicity was born of the idea that American consumerism traps us in the enless cycle of the rat race. Judith Levine writes of her 12-month experience of voluntary simplicity. Once I read the book, I will report back to share my thoughts.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Why My Heating Bills Never Exceed $40 a Month

This morning in Seattle, I awoke to a snowy winter wonderland, something that doesn't happen very often. There is a lot of pain this time of year due to soaring home heating costs. But in the two years that I've owned my condo, my monthly heating costs have never exceeded $40. I keep my thermostat at a reasonable setting in the winter - about 65 degrees, so I'm not sitting around bundled in a down jacket with my teeth chattering just to save a little money.

The secret to my low monthly heating bills is the fact that I live in a condo that is built to energy star standards which are strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA. Based on my winter heating bills, energy star works! Plus it's good for the environment because I'm using less energy to heat my home since it is so well insulated, and therefore I'm saving money. Over a period of years, this will have a significant payback period.

Festival of Frugality is Up!

Jane at Boston Gal's Open Wallet did a fantastic job hosting this week's Festival of Frugality with a Valentine's Day spin. Be sure to check it out!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Small Home = $15 Carpet Cleaning

Just another side benefit to living small is the fact that I can handle certain home maintenance projects myself instead of hiring them out. Today I decided to clean my carpets. The last time I cleaned my carpets I rented a machine at Home Depot for $14. Recently I noticed that the drug store at the end of my street offers carpet cleaning machines for $15. I went for this option to save the hassle of the rental department at Home Depot on a crazy Sunday.

The cleaning went very smoothly, and I had the entire project completed in about an hour. That includes renting the machine, completing the cleaning and returning the machine. My boyfriend, who just purchased a ridiculously huge 4-bedroom house, just paid $300 to have his carpets cleaned by professionals. Normally he would do something like that himself, but it was an overwhelming chore given the size of his new home. Of course you could clean your own carpets if you own a large house, but it becomes a much more onerous task.

So whenever I see someone's showcase home that causes me to think how nice it would be to have a guest room...back yard...utility room...basement...yadda yadda...I just remind myself of the little benefits of living small like being able to clean my carpet in one hour for just $15.

Friday, February 10, 2006

I Threatened to Cancel - They Paid Me $$

Last week I wrote about saving big bucks on my auto insurance and cell phone bill. Yesterday I decided it was time to cancel one of my two credit cards. I currently have a Chase Rewards Visa and a Cash Back American Express card. Because Visa is accepted more places than Amex (especially overseas, which I travel to occasionally) I decided to cancel the Amex.

When I called Amex to cancel, they offered a couple of incentives to entice me to stay. Currently, I am required to carry a balance on the card (which I never do) to obtain the maximum cash back allowance. They permanently waived that requirement. In addition they offered a $25 one time credit to my account. I accepted the deal. Later when I have the time, I'll compare the cash back incentives for both cards, but in the mean time I'll enjoy the $25 credit!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Close Call with Paypal Thief

This morning I logged into my email to find a very alarming message. It was from Paypal and it was confirmation of payment for a pink Razor cell phone for $239.95. I did NOT make this purchase so I quickly scanned the email for all signs of a fake and saw that it was sent by a valid paypal email address and the entire format of the email matched what I had always received from Paypal. So I clicked on the "Dispute Transaction" link and got the paypal login screen. I logged in and got another screen that asked for my personal contact information as well as my debit card number. RED FLAG! I looked at the URL and saw that it was not a Paypal URL, but something else. So I opened another browser window and immediately logged into my real paypal account, deleted my credit card and banking information, then I closed the entire account, because I had just provided the thief with my login information. Luckily, I was smart enough not to enter my debit card info into the fraudulent URL screen. I forwarded the fake paypal email to I hope they catch this evil-doer.

I certainly learned a lesson in all this. When I received the email, I should have logged into Paypal separately to see if any transactions had taken place. That would have confirmed that the email was a fake. I hope nobody else falls prey to this scam.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Chronic Minimalism

My penchant for eliminating material clutter from my life spills over into my worklife. I work at a large corporation and reside from 8:00 - 5:00 each weekday in a standard-issue cubicle. I keep my office workspace extremely clutter-free. I don't have any files on my desk, nor do I have any personal photos displayed. I have my computer, telephone and a very nice plant, a jar of handcream and a stapler. Oh, and I have a calendar posted. That's about it.

A while back, the company was doing a 'restack' of employees. They shifted people around so workteams could sit closer together. I didn't have to move my desk, but I had several new people moved into adjacent cubicles. Not long after that occurred, I went on a two week vacation. When I returned, it was apparent that my new neighbors had assumed my cubicle was vacant, which is perfectly understandable given the minimalist state in which I left it. Somebody had swiped the keyboard from my computer; somebody else had helped themselves to my lovely plant. I had boxes of discarded files piled onto my desk, and boxes of trash stored underneath. I thought it was hilarious! Of course they thought the office was empty - I didn't leave the tiniest clue that a real person occupied the space.

I piled all of the boxes and garbage into the hallway, ordered a replacement keyboard from the IT department, and posted a sign on my computer that says, "THIS OFFICE IS OCCUPIED."

Sadly, I never recovered my little plant. I now do without...

Monday, February 06, 2006

Are Real Estate Agents Worth Their Large Fees?

My boyfriend recently sold his house and purchased a new one. He used an agent to sell his old house and had a horrible experience. My boyfriend was so dismayed with the service he received from her that he chose to purchase his next home as a FSBO, and to leave the agents completely out of it. He found his dream house listed on Craig's List. He made an offer and it was accepted. The entire process went completely smoothly, and for the life of him, he can't figure out what why real estate commissions are so dang high.

Two Seattle-based companies, Redfin and Progressive, were profiled in this weekend's Seattle Times article. Both companies are breaking the 6% commission mold. I certainly hope this is a trend that will continue.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

February Net Worth $439,835 (up $38,701)

I wrapped up January with nearly $440,000 in net worth. This month's $38,701 net worth improvement was driven by the following factors:

  • Revised condo valuation from $285,000 to $310,000
  • Increase in IRA value of $10,000
  • Increase in 401k value of $4,000

Because the new condo valuation is a one-time event, I expect my monthly net worth growth to settle down to approximately $5,000 to $8,000 per month going forward.

Detailed discussion on net worth items
  • I revised my condo value from $285,000 to $310,000 using This added $25,000 to my net worth. When I ran the numbers on the HomeValueBot web site, they actually came out higher, but I decided to be conservative and stick with $310,000.
  • The increase in IRA value of $10,000 is a combination of investment gains, a $4,000 contribution for 2006 plus an additional $1,000 contribution for 2005 since I hadn't fully funded for last year.
  • A new brokerage line item appears this month. I have transferred funds from my money market into this account, which is invested in an assortment of Vanguard index funds.
  • My stock options are doing quite well, resulting in a gain of $1,492 over last month. However, I made the decision to cash out some of my ESPP to fund my IRA, so I missed out on some of those gains.
  • Important personal finance issues for the months ahead
    • Pay down mortgage. One of my objectives for 2006 is to contribute $10,000 toward extra principle payments. I discovered that my mortgage lender, Countrywide, doesn't make it easy to make an extra payment online. I waited until too late in January to make an extra payment, so I will look to begin the extra payments this month.
    • Reestablish ESPP contributions. My company stock is fairly volatile, and I got nervous and discontinued my monthly contributions. I plan to resume contributions in late February or early March after I've decided how much I want to contribute (my company allows 15% of base pay) based on the risk of the stock falling.

    Friday, January 27, 2006

    My Favorite Quote

    I have a favorite quote that is credited to Mohandas Gandhi.

    "Be the change that you want to see in the world."

    It is an eloquent way of telling you to take action rather than complaining; put your money where your mouth is; lead by example; pave the way for others. I love this quote.

    Thursday, January 26, 2006

    Mod Mod Homes

    Today's Wall Street Journal has an article on mod(ern) mod(ular) homes. I considered building a modular home a few years ago now that American architects are entering the market with high-tech, quality construction solutions for less than half the cost of constructing a home going the traditional route. I eventually decided against it since the prefab industry is in its infancy, and there are very few options available commercially at this time. But it is an exciting industry that takes into account green building, sustainable living and cost-effective building methods. The article references a web site that links to all the architects developing mod mod buildings: Some Assembly Required. At this time, the web site appears to be unavailable, probably due to the WSJ readers trying to view the page.

    Wednesday, January 25, 2006

    Save Big Bucks on Recurring Expenses

    Auto Insurance
    Last week I decided to spend 30 minutes getting competitive bids for auto insurance. I started by having my current coverages in front of me so I could make an apples-to-apples comparison. Then I went to the websites of several major insurers and obtained online quotes. By the end of the exercise, I found a large reputable company who beat my current annual rate by $250. Kind of a no-brainer.

    Cell Phone
    I called my cell phone provider and they informed me that I was eligible to renew my contract. They offer a $75 bill credit for a one-year contract renewal, and a $150 bill credit for a two-year contract renewal.

    Call around and see what found money is waiting out there for you!

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    Girl, Interrupted

    I hate call waiting. Actually, I take that back. I don't hate call waiting, I hate that there is no call waiting etiquette in our society. I'm always amazed when on the phone I'll get interrupted in mid-sentence by someone who says, "hang on, I've got a call" and they immediately click over to see if there's someone more interesting on the other line. Grrr! I miss the good old days of answering machines and busy signals.

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    Living Small

    A friend of mine is in the process of selling his house and buying a new one. Last night I was helping him pack and he couldn't believe all the stuff he was pulling out of his cupboards and putting into boxes. He has owned his three-bedroom house for six years and as is the case with many people, his possessions grew to fill the space. I went with him shop for houses, and anytime we looked at a house built in the 1920's, he always commented with disbelief that people actually raised families in those tiny places with no closet space.

    I read about a college student who conducted a study of her own possessions. She counted every possession that she owned and classified it based on how often it was used. The result was shocking - something like she used less than 2% of her possessions on a daily basis. How much of your stuff do you use on a daily basis?

    In my simplicity journey, I have chosen to live in a small one-bedroom condo. I have combed through my possessions and ruthlessly discarded, sold, or donated items. As a result, I have plenty of storage / cupboard / closet space. Plus I can always find what I'm looking for. More than one person has made statements about my living situation like, "Surely you don't intend to live in a condo forever. Don't you want a house someday?" Sure it would be nice to live in a larger house, but I don't feel the need to. I am resisting the urge to upgrade in exchange for a small, simple living space.

    Small living is the means to an end for me - it helps me to minimize material clutter and it is cheaper than owning a larger space. Live small.

    Friday, January 20, 2006

    Money-Saving Tip for Online Shoppers

    If you shop for clothes online, keep the packing slip that comes with your order. Check the price of the items every week or so after you receive the order. If the item goes on sale, many companies will credit the difference back to your credit card if it's within 30 or 45 days. This works for brick and mortar retailers as well, but it's easier to do with online shops. I asked for and received a $30 credit today from Lands' End for a sweater I purchased two weeks ago!

    Why I Happily Paid an Erroneous $20 Library Fee

    I am a enthusiastic user of my local public library. I am fortunate to live 3 blocks from the library. Actually, I shouldn't say that I'm fortunate to live close to a library - I live close to a library by design. It was one of my neighborhood requirements when considering where to live when I was in the market for a new home.

    I especially like checking movies out from the library. I can keep it for two weeks before it is due back, which eliminates the time pressure so I can watch it at my leisure. Plus it give me time to watch the director's voice-over version as well. Before Christmas I checked out the DVD The Usual Suspects. I watched the movie and returned it a few days later at my local branch. The following week I received an e-mail from the library stating that I hadn't returned the movie. I dropped by the branch to let them know that I did indeed return it in, and they said they'd put it on a 45-day watch list. If it turns up within 45 days, then I do not have to pay a late fee. If not, then I'll be charged a replacement fee for the video. Well 45 came and went and the movie was not found. So last week I paid a $20 replacement fee. I did not argue with them, or plead my case. I understand that it was simple human error. These things happen occasionally.

    I gain so much benefit from using the library. I've saved hundreds of dollars by avoiding movie rental fees and for books that I never have to purchase. When my young nieces are visiting, I stock my house with children's books and videos from the library. I also check out children's stories on CD or tape that I play in the car when driving around town. They love it.

    So I don't mind that $20 fee that I paid. I think of it as a small donation to my local library.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    Simplify Home Cooking: Create Two Recipe Files

    An easy and common way to be frugal is to cook more at home and to eat out less. Over the years, I've collected a thick stack of recipes from newspapers and magazines that I keep in a manila folder next to my cookbooks. I never bothered to categorize the recipes because so many of them fall into multiple categories (is it a soup or stew or entree? Gaa!). So the traditional way of organizing recipes just doesn't work for me. Plus I kind of enjoy flipping through the recipes when I'm looking for a specific one. I get ideas for meals that I've completely forgotten about.

    I stumbled across a great tip that has made searching for recipes in my ever-growing folder much easier. I have divided the recipes between two folders: one for recipes I've tried and decided were keepers, and another for recipes I want to try. I can find recipes much quicker, and I still get to enjoy sifting through a stack!

    Thursday, January 12, 2006

    Ten Years Ago I Was Visited by a Simplicity Angel

    That sounds crazy, doesn't it? But it really happened. I was sitting at my desk at work in Seattle and had just been notified a few days earlier that I was being transferred to a job out of state. I was very disappointed because I had fallen in love with the Pacific Northwest.

    So there I was at work, minding my own business when a stranger stopped by and introduced himself. He was a vendor waiting to visit a colleague of mine who was on the telephone. The stranger was a gifted people-person and he cordially made polite small talk while he waited for my colleague to become available. But that small talk quickly led to a profound piece of advice that I still remember to this day.

    Since we had never met before, he asked how long I had worked there and I told him about my upcoming transfer out of state. He quizzed me on how I felt about the move and I shared with him how much I loved the Seattle area. At that point, he said...(dramatic, soap opera pause of expectation)

    "There are three things we must figure out in order to live our best lives.
    One: Where we want to live.
    Two: What we want to do for a living.
    Three: Who we want to be with.
    When you've figured out those three things, you'll be happy."

    And honestly, at that moment he bid a polite farewell and left. I was left speechless. It was as if he reached into my soul and knew exactly what to say to me. It really IS that beautifully simple. Three little things. Amazing. I loved having it all boiled down to three little things. He struck a chord. And I was charmed by the ethereal quality of the experience. I was visited by a simplicity angel! Lucky me.

    A $2,000 Benefit for Exposing My Finances to the World

    This morning I received a comment on my blog that gave me the same feeling as receiving a Christmas present from Santa. On my post showing my 2005 tax estimate, I reveal that I contributed $3,000 to my 2005 IRA. An anonymous comment popped up on my post for my 2006 goals pointing out that the 2005 maximum is $4,000, and that I can still add to my 2005 IRA. Wahoo! I completely forgot that you can still contribute to last year's IRA.

    Another comment on the thread for my 2006 goals pointed out that I had set my 2006 IRA contribution goal too low. The result of these two comments that I will transfer an additional $2,000 from my money market account to my IRA account. For a compulsive retirement saver like me, that's quite exciting.

    I wish I could send a couple of canned hams to those anonymous commenters who have made my day. Thank you!!!

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    Hit and Run Update: Determining Liability

    Auto insurance companies are infuriating! Last month my car was parked in a lot and when I returned, I was treated to a large scrape and dent on one side (oh no!) and a note on the windshield from the offending driver (yay!). After a few weeks of unanswered phone calls, I finally connected with the driver who reported the incident to her insurance company (hurrah!). I was impressed when her insurance company called me at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning to start the claim process. I have received a quote for the work and await scheduling of the repairs with the body shop that the insurance company selected for me.

    Silly me, I thought everything thing was going smoothly. Today I received a call from the body shop saying they can't schedule my repairs until the insurance company determines liability for the accident. I wasn't even in the car when it was hit! Who's fault do they think it was? Grrr....

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Being Single Aids in Rejecting New TV Purchase

    Yesterday I decided to rearrange some furniture in my condo. As part of the rearrangement, I moved my TV and DVD player from the office to the living room. The only spot in the living room for my TV is above the fireplace. As a result, the line of sight to the TV is undesirably high, but I'm sure I'll get use to it. The TV sits even higher because the DVD player is underneath it. My boyfriend stopped by after work and immediately noticed the new TV placement. He spent quite a bit of time trying to convince me that I now needed a new TV with an integrated DVD player. As part of his argument, he pointed out (with disgust) that I maintain the cable connection on my existing TV with twist ties because the connection snapped off in a previous move. But the twist ties work just fine to hold the connection in place. Sure, I occasionally have to play around with it to fix fuzzy reception or ghosts on the screen. It's still a perfectly good TV and I don't mind that minor inconvenience when I think of the alternative. I know if I walk into an electronics store, the salesman will inform me that I must get a flat screen HDTV for $1,500. And of course I'll admire the shiny new TV's and probably think that I actually do need one.

    So as my boyfriend stated his opinion (multiple times) I just smiled and nodded and acknowledged that he was right - yes, the TV is too high and a new one would certainly improve the situation. Sure, using twist ties is a bit "ghetto" (his word), or rather "frugal" (my word). But you can't see them - they're in the back of the TV. But will I buy a new TV? Heck, no. What I have is just fine, thank you. That's one benefit of being single. I get to make 100% of my own decisions.

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    The Hit and Run Driver is Paying Up!

    I wrote back in December that a driver who hit my car while it was parked in a lot left a note for me. We traded voicemails once just after it happened in December, but after three weeks of trying to reach her, I had given up hope and was considering paying for the repairs out of my own pocket. The repairs are substantial. I obtained three estimates and they ranged from $900 - $1,000.

    This weekend on one last desperate attempt to reach her, she answered the phone when I called! I think her guilty conscience got to her because she agreed to report it to her insurance company and she immediately called me back with a claim number.

    This morning her insurance company called me to settle the claim. I took my car to their recommended repair shop for an estimate and to schedule the repairs. I was surprised when their estimate was only $650. Did the other repair shops estimate higher because there was no insurance company to lean on them to keep the costs down? I find that to be very curious.

    This is all very good news. My car will be repaired later this week. Life is good.

    Friday, January 06, 2006

    Hit but no Run Update

    Last month my car was hit while parked in a parking lot. I was thrilled to find a note on my windshield with an apology and a phone number. I called the person who left the note and left a message. She returned my call and left me a voicemail saying she'll be happy to pay for the damages. Well, that was three weeks ago and she will no longer return my calls. It looks like I'm on my own for this tab. I got three estimates on the body work and they average $1,000. I might think about driving around with the damage. Dang.

    Simple Solution to Manage Store Affinity Cards

    Sometimes my goals of frugality and simple living conflict with one another. An example is how to manage all those store affinity cards. I'm talking about punch cards ("buy 9, get your 10th free!") or membership cards like those you have to scan at the grocery store to avoid being charged $18 a pound for bananas. The frugal side of me adores those cards. But my simplicity side hates having the cards junk up my wallet.

    Some stores will tie your affinity card to your phone number, allowing you to make a purchase without the card. But not all stores are that sophisticated. I devised a simple solution that allows for the best of both worlds. I purchased a zipper-top coin purse to be the new home for all those cards. Now my wallet contains only my drivers license, ATM card, Visa card and library card (that one scored a precious spot in my wallet because I use it so often). All other cards now live in my little coin purse, happy and snug, always with me, and easy to locate in my purse.

    When shopping for a coin purse, be sure that the zipper is long enough to allow you to easily slide the cards in and out. I tested coin purses at the store with my drivers license and found that many coin purses are a little too small for cards.

    Now I never find myself at the Greek deli kicking myself because I left my gyro punch card back at home.

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    Discover the Joy of Canceling Something

    If you have yet to discover the joy of simplifying your life, you can take some baby steps by reading an excellent article called Modest Change: Cancel Something posted on 43folders. Be sure to read the comments, too. The article correctly points out that by reducing just one time-sucking thing from your life, you reduce the mental clutter associated with it. It provides some examples of things you can eliminate, such as RSS feeds (not this one, please!), a newspaper or magazine subscription or TiVO.

    I quit subscribing to the Seattle Times when I moved into my condo because it was getting stolen from my building several days a month. I still ache for the daily crossword puzzle, but I have gained 30 minutes to an hour back in my day when I would peruse the paper. I realized that I got just as much news from the online version.

    So start today and eliminate something small from your daily life. You'll be surprised what you can live without!

    January Net Worth $401,134 (up $5,532)

    I broke the $400,000 barrier this month. This month's gains are mostly attributed to investment gains in my IRA, 401(k), ESPP and stock option accounts. I would like to devise a way to estimate my current condo value without bothering a local real estate agent. If anybody has any good resources, I'd like to learn about them.

    The zero change on my mortgage balance is because I calculated my December net worth after I made my mortgage payment on the 10th of the month. Going forward, I will calculate my monthly net worth prior to that date.

    I anticipate increasing my monthly net worth by $5,000 each month in 2006, so I should end the year around $460,000.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    Selling Clothes at Consignment Store Results in $135 Check

    Last year I completed an overhaul of the clothing in my closet. In a previous post, I wrote about how I've actually saved money by buying high-quality clothing in classic styles. I purged my closet of all clothes and shoes that were either too trendy, nice but ill-fitting, cheaply made or redundant. I replaced the clothes with high-quality staples. As I purged, I set aside items that would be appropriate for my local consignment shop. Before taking the clothes, shoes, purses and belts to the shop, I made sure everything was impeccably clean and pressed, polished and shined. And I only took clothes that were appropriate for the current season. I went to the consignment shop every two months dropping off clothes and picking up checks from the previous batch. Because I was meticulous with the clothing I took to the shop, they sold 100% of the items. Yesterday I picked up the final check for $135. My bi-monthly checks averaged $75. This one was a bit higher because I sold a leather jacket in a dated style. My closet is now organized, minimized and filled with beautiful items that I love. And I have a nice little check that I will put toward an extra principle payment for January!

    Monday, January 02, 2006

    American Consumerism in Dick and Jane

    I saw the movie Dick and Jane this weekend. I won't be ruining the movie for you by mentioning that it contains a typical example of the consumerism that runs rampant in our society. There is a scene in which Jim Carrey is in his driveway standing next to his BMW. His neighbor pulls up in a brand new Mercedes that turns on and off using voice commands spoken into a remote control. Jim Carrey immediately feels that his BMW is inadequate. It is a brief, witty moment in the movie simply because all of us can relate to how Jim Carrey felt when his neighbor one-upped him with his fancy new car. Even though I could relate, I gave up keeping up with the Joneses a long time ago.

    As a sidenote, the movie is pretty weak so I wouldn't recommend paying to see it in a theater. Wait for it to come on cable or video.