Archive | November, 2009

Just A Friendly Reminder…

30 Nov

…that virtually anyone can access the internet and see what you post on your blog.

So…if you’re posting a picture of yourself in a bikini (or other revealing pictures or information) on your website, YOU may have good intentions, but some weirdo on the other side of the screen…might NOT.

Just because you don’t post your address on your blog (or blog anonymously!), doesn’t mean someone with a lot of time on their hands can’t track you down.

The internet is full of opportunities, but it can also be scary! 

Be careful out there peeps!

Book Review: L.A. Candy Should Have Been Titled Free Candy

29 Nov

A couple weeks ago, I picked up Lauren Conrad’s (from The Hills) new – and first – book, L.A. Candy, from my local library.  After reading about individual taxation and capital gains & losses all day, I occasionally like to lose myself in a mind-numbing chick-lit book, and I knew L.A. Candy would be perfect for the job.

If you’re a fan of The Hills, you’ll probably like this book.  However, if you are also a personal finance nerd and/or blogger, then this book will be like fingernails on a chalk board for you.  More on that later…

In case you haven’t heard, the book is based on a new “reality show star” who “recently moved to L.A.” with one of her “gal pals” to “live the Hollywood dream”.  What that really means is that the story is about Lauren Conrad’s road to reality stardom, just with a different name attached to the character.

So, did it satisfy my chick-lit craving?  Yes.  Did it drive me so crazy that I wanted to reach into the book and smack the leading lady?  Double yes.

But, here’s where it ties to personal finance: these girls do not pay for anything.  Well…in the book, they didn’t pay for anything, and I’m assuming the same holds true for the actual reality-show stars.

Here’s a few scrumptious tidbits about their freebies (spoiler alert!):

  • When Jane (the main character) and her friend move to L.A., they’re originally holed up in a crappy apartment with a bad view.  However, when they sign on to film for the reality show, the network they are working for has them move to a swanky new apartment in a nicer area that they don’t have to pay for…at all.  No rent, no utilities, no anything.  Score!
  • Since the network needs good footage for the show, they often set them up with the royal treatment at the hippest nightclubs in L.A.  They get the best table, complimentary bottle service, free entry, etc.  Remind you of all those times that Lauren & Heidi ruled the roost at places like Area and Le Deux on The Hills?
  • Jane goes on a couple dates and she never pays.  I didn’t notice if it said her date or the show paid for the dates…but, I’m assuming the show did.
  • Once Jane and her friends become “stars”, they start getting all sorts of free clothes in the mail so that designers can get free advertising and the girls can look fabulous on-screen.  Ever wondered how Lauren always looked so polished on The Hills (aside from the fact that her parents are loaded)?  She was probably get tons of free clothes from designers.

If you like chick-lit and want an easy, fun read to curl up to this winter, this book will do the trick (although the writing is first-grade level, so it will only take you a couple days to get through).

I’m glad I read this book, though.  Sometimes it’s easy to be envious of girls that seem to get everything handed to them on a silver platter like those reality show starlets – especially when you’re working so hard to financially support yourself.  But, their fame is short-lived, and once they have to fin for themselves, they’re going to regret ever being on a reality show.  They won’t know anything about real-life and how to handle their money and they’ll still be waiting for someone to pay their rent every month.

I’ll take my simple, budgeted life over their “reality” life any day, thankyouverymuch.


Check Out These Carnivals!

25 Nov

I participated in two awesome carnivals this week:

Carnival of Twenty Something Finances at How I Save Money (Editor’s Pick!)

Carnival of Personal Finance at Fiscal Geek

Happy Thanksgiving Eve!

Sunday Reads: Awesome Money Articles

22 Nov

There are so many fabulous and wise personal finance articles written every week, that I’d like to start sharing my favorites with you!  I’ll do my best to try to make this a weekly post, but I can’t guarantee anything. 😉

Where Should I Put My Retirement Money? Roth 401K Vs. Roth IRA Vs. 401K

20 Nov

Unless you have the IQ of Lindsay Lohan (sorry, Linds), you’re probably smart enough to know by now that you should be socking away a good deal of money into one of those handy-dandy retirement accounts.  This is especially true for us young’ns who have years upon years for our money to ride out the recession and start compounding earnings like rabbits.

We all thought we knew everything there is to know about 401Ks and Roth IRAs until the new retirement tool waltzed in like he owned the investment-world.  Well, hell-ooo there Mr. Roth 401K.  You’re looking mighty attractive, aren’t you?

Here’s the deal.  Roth investments are amazing for one simple reason:

The earnings you make from a Roth investment are 100% tax-free when distributed to you in retirement.

That means that, even though the money you contribute to your Roth IRA/401K has already been taxed, any – and I mean ANY – earnings you make from your Roth is 100% NOT TAXED.  This is why Roth IRAs are such an amazing retirement tool, but also why they come with some limitations that weed out those uber-rich guys.

If you’re new to retirement accounts, I put together a very minimal table showing the basic key points about these three types of retirement tools – the 401K, Roth 401K, and the Roth IRA:

*These are just the bare basics - there is so much more to these investments than what I've listed. **$16,500 is the max total you can contribute to both a 401K AND/OR a Roth 401K

As you can see, there are pros and cons and several differences among each account.  Can I tell you whether you should put your money in one over the other?  No, I can’t.  But I can help show you the benefits of each tool.  However, if I had the option of using a Roth 401K, I would be ALL OVER that. 😉

Here are more fun facts about these retirement investments:


  • This type of investment is relatively new, so they are pretty rare.  They haven’t become outrageoulsy popular just yet mainly because companies aren’t willing to hire more personnel to help manage the Roth 401K.  If your employer offers this type of retirement, I would definitely ask your Human Resources office about the details!
  • As I mentioned in the bullets above, the max is $16,500 – but only to the extent that you don’t contribute to a traditional 401K.  So you can only contribute a max total of $16,500 to either account (for example, you could contribute $8,250 to each account).
  • Roth 401Ks are not subject to the income limitations that Roth IRAs are!  No matter what you make, you should be able to contribute.
  • Employers are allowed to match contributions, but you’ll have to ask your HR department more about that for your particular company.
  • Since we can’t predict the future (try as we might), we have no idea how much higher or lower our taxes will be in 30 years; the Roth 401K dodges the risk of high future taxes by having 100% tax-free distributions for you to live off of when you retire.


  • To be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA, you must have had earned income in that year.  This means that you can’t use money gifted to you or scholarship money.
  • You cannot contribute more than you make (a given if you abide by the first bullet).
  • You can invest in many different things – stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.
  • Did I mention that all the earnings from a Roth IRA are TAX-FREE?!


  • The biggest benefit to this retirement tool is the employer matching.  Most companies offer some sort of matching deal up to certain amounts that you contribute.  For example, your company may match up to 5% – but you’ll have to contribute at least 5% to get the full matching.  It’s generally understood that you should contribute at least up to the amount that is matched, otherwise you’re passing up free money.
  • You’re employer maintains this plan (similar to a Roth 401K), so it doesn’t require much effort from you, the employee.  It’s simple to set up automatic withdrawals that will be deposited right into your 401K account.  I recently heard a great quote from Ramit Sethi about this type of automation.  He said, “Don’t make retirement about willpower, make it automated.”  He couldn’t be more right – once that money is deposited into your 401K, there’s no way you can go out and spend it!

I hope this helps you along in your decision on where to put your retirement money.  There are many great tools available to us for retirement that are just too good to pass up!  Keep putting that money away every payday and you can rest easy knowing that your beach house and country club memberships will be fully funded whenever you’re ready to retire!

*Editor’s Note:  Please do your own research and consult your Human Resources Department or a financial advisor before you make any decisions.  I cannot tell you where to put your money, I am only trying to show the various benefits to each type of retirement account.

All I Wanna Do Is Have Some Fun…

19 Nov

In case you forgot, I’m still…uh, studying for the CPA Exam.

I took and passed two parts of the 4-part exam this year.  That means…2 more to go.

However, while I was very disciplined about studying daily over the spring and summer for the first two tests, this fall my studying has dwindled significantly.  Several personal and family related things have come up that have taken up a lot of my time and energy.  Plus, since I was sick all week, my head felt like a hot-air balloon which doesn’t help studying along too much.

But it’s not just that, the section I’m studying now – Regulation (tax & law) – is kicking my behind.  I’ve been working on Chapter 1 for like a month.  Partly because I’m not on a disciplined study schedule and partly because I’m not picking up the material as quickly as I did for the parts I’ve already passed.  Who  knew Capital Gains & Losses were so confusing!  No wonder people hire CPAs to do their taxes!

It was my original goal to take Regulation by the end of November, and clearly that’s not gonna happen.  No one can sit for the exam in December, so my next date is the first week of January.  That means I’ve got 41 days to get my little butt into gear and hit the books.

Another thing that is really holding me back is section 4.  It is looming over my head like a huge black storm cloud.  I decided to take the hardest and biggest part of the exam last.  That beast goes by the name of Financial Accounting & Reporting.  I am deathly afraid of it.  CPAs who made it out alive from that particular test recommend a good 3 months of studying for it.  *shiver*

All I’ve wanted to do for the past 2 months is have fun and not think about studying…AKA procrastinate.  But, the longer I push back the CPA, the longer my life is put on hold.  Did I mention that I have to pass the next two tests by next November?  So that means if I fail a test, I have to re-take it and pass the other by then.  It sounds easy, but many people have missed the deadline before, and I don’t want to be one of them.

Wish me good luck, willpower, and the discipline to study!  I’ll need it!


So What If I Have Kleenexes Shoved Up Both Nostrils

15 Nov

This post is being brought to you by germ-infested sickness-swamp that used to be my couch.  I have a sore throat that would be described better as scorching flames licking at my Hangy-Ball.  Fun.

I’ve been downing H20 like it’s a Jaeger Bombs and I’m still in college.  Which always seems counter-productive when you’re sick, because then you have to rise from your slumber every 30 minutes to go to the bathroom.  Which is it doc, rest or liquids?!

But the point of this post is that around 2pm today, I shuffled (in my pink fuzzy slippers) over to Lloyd’s man cave and twisted his arm into taking me to the grocery store.  It really didn’t take much twisting since you can’t help but pity someone who looks like death with kleenexes shoved up both nostrils (thank God we’re in the comfortable stage…).

I’ve been holed up in our place for 2 days, so it’s funny how exciting a trip to the grocery store can be when you’re bored out of your mind.  While there, I spied – what’s this? – a $1.98 per pound sale on organic chicken!  Oh me oh my, this is the kinda sale a PF sucker like myself lives for.

I glanced down at my stained Target-brand Ugg boots and caught a glimpse of my sans-make-up splotchy complexion in the glass of a nearby freezer door and debated getting up close and personal to the meat-boy (during my sick-as-a-dog grocery store trips, I generally look down at all costs and walk as fast as my weak body will allow).

Screw it, that’s a damn good deal.  I marched up to that guy (did he look scared?) and requested 4 pounds of that chicken.  Who cares if I look like I just got hit by a truck?  Two bucks for a pound of good chicken is NOT a deal this sickly lady is going to pass up.

The point here is that I have no shame and will not pass up a good deal no matter how bad I look or feel.  Ah, the things we do for our budget my friends.

Now excuse me as I go pour warm water through my sinus cavities with my Neti Pot.

You Know You’re In A Nerdy Personal Finance Relationship When…

10 Nov

…you geek out over checking your credit scores together for the first time.

About a week ago, I saw an article in the NY Times about certain financial things you should do as a couple before getting too serious…and checking your credit report together was one of them.

I can’t believe we’ve never done this together!  So, sometime this weekend, we plan to sit down and have our first “credit report date”.  *sigh* After 3 years, there are still so many firsts to experience. 😉

Do you ever have any geeky personal finance moments with your significant other?

Us Midwestern Folks Are Living The Good (Cheap?) Life

4 Nov

I always knew that living in the Midwest was cheap, but ever since I started lurking the Personal Finance blogosphere, I’ve realized just how good I have it.

On my post about frugal & healthy food items, several of you commented that you could never find the prices that I listed where YOU live.

So, this got me to thinking…just how good do I have it here in Kansas City?

So I wanna know: how do our expenses compare from coast to coast?

Here are some of my normal fixed expenses along with a few “fun” expenses thrown in for good measure:

  • Rent for 2 bedroom/2 bath 1300 sq. foot apartment: $764/month
  • Gym Membership: $130/year
  • Unleaded Gas: $2.53/gallon
  • 1 Tall Caramel Latte at Starbucks: $3.50
  • Monthly Water & Sewage Bill: ~$30.00
  • 1 Adult Movie Ticket (weekend price): $9.00
  • 1 Adult Movie Ticket (weekday price): $5.00

**READERS: Please leave a comment with YOUR financial stats!  Don’t forget to include the city/region that you live in!  You don’t have to include prices for everything I listed – feel free to pick and choose.

I can’t wait to see how much each of you pay for different things!  I can do a follow-up post with the most expensive and cheapest areas of the country (I’ll be sure to include any readers from other countries, I could never forget you 🙂 ).

UPDATE:  Kansas City folks, feel free to chime in as well!

P.S. What is this called?  I know there’s a name for the price fluctuations across the country…regional inflation?

Top 7 Healthy & Budget-Friendly Foods That I Swear By

4 Nov

If you follow me on twitter, you might have noticed that I’m a bit of a health nut.  Working out keeps me sane.  I eat as healthy as possible, but definitely don’t deprive myself (balance is key, my dear readers).

There are those that claim eating healthy is expensive and that’s why our country is so overweight.  Unfortunately those people are just misguided, because healthy foods on the cheap are ‘a plenty in my grocery store.  In fact, I’ve noticed that when I don’t stock up on snack-y, processed foods and instead fill my cart with minimally (or zero) processed foods, my total bill is much cheaper.

Without further ado, here are the top 7 healthy foods that are staples in my pantry:

  1. FRESH GARLIC.  Garlic spices us every dish.  I like to saute onions and garlic in extra virgin olive oil as a delicious topping for my chicken and fish.  It’s also great in stews, soups, salads, and omelets!  Garlic is chock-full of antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory compounds.  So, eat up during the cold and flu season!  Cost for one garlic bulb: ~30-40 cents.
  2. ROLLED OATS. As odd as it sounds, oats are practically a cheat meal for me.  They are so delicious and so versatile.  I eat traditional oats (i.e. not out of a bag) with cinnamon and almonds for breakfast and this keeps me full all morning long.  I also love adding oats to yogurt (a la Swiss Oatmeal), pudding, and cookies!  Be good to your heart with oats – whole grain, all natural, rolled oats help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Oats also stabilize blood sugar which means NO sugar crashes!  Cost for 42 ounces of oats: ~$3.00
  3. POPCORN KERNELS. Next time you’re in the popcorn aisle of your store, look way up or way down.  You’ll most likely see one or two bags of all natural popcorn kernels hidden behind an array of boxed popcorn.  The only catch is that in order to make these little kernels uber-healthy, you need to invest in an air-popper.  I bought one about 3 years ago for $15 and it still works great.  Popcorn is a great source of fiber (5 grams per serving), protein (4 grams, who knew?!), and healthy fats.  This is a frequent nighttime snack at my house!  Popcorn is great plain, dashed with sea salt, or topped with melted olive oil based butter.  Cost for 32 ounces: $1.35 (32 ounces lasts forever!)
  4. DRY BEANS. I challenge you to stop buying canned beans that have been processed and contains artificial ingredients that you can’t even pronounce.  Not only do you get more bang for your buck, but there’s only one ingredient listed on a bag of dry beans: beans.  We all know beans are full of fiber (maybe a little too much?), but they also contain tons of protein (a plus if you don’t eat meat), and provide that jolt from carbs without the crash afterwards.  Plus, the dark, rich colored beans contain lots of antioxidants!  There are so many uses for beans – soups, salads, dips, taco-topper, burrito-filler, salad-topper, and even brownies!  Cost for 16 ounces: ~$1.25
  5. FROZEN BERRIES. Two disadvantages to fresh berries: they’re only in season a short amount of time and they’re (usually) high-priced even when in season.  The solution: frozen berries.  I like frozen berries much better because they never go bad (well, not for a long time) and their generally cheaper.  The deep, dark color of berries means their loaded with antioxidants – especially blueberries.  Berries are a great fruit for those avoiding sugar since they only have about 5-10 grams of sugar per serving, while most fruits have 25-50 grams per serving!  Surprise, surprise, berries also boast a good amount of fiber per serving – sometimes as much as 8 grams.  I love to throw berries in my cereals, oatmeal, and yogurt as well as just have a big bowl on berries by themselves!  Prices vary: anywhere from $1.50-$3.00
  6. EGGS. Eggs are an egg-celent (couldn’t resist) source of protein at a budget-friendly price.  Many people rely on chicken, fish, and beef for protein, but – unlike eggs – these foods are usually expensive.  I eat eggs as snacks and as meals, so they have many uses, including: hard-boiled eggs as snacks, omelets, scrambled eggs, “fried eggs”, egg sandwiches, and of course, they can be used for baking.  Cost for 12 eggs: ~$1.50
  7. YOGURT. When buying yogurt, look for fat-free, low sugar, generic varieties.  Manufacturers can be sneaky and hide tons of sugar and fat in yogurt without you even knowing it!  As with all dairy products, yogurt is a good source of calcium.  However, the superstar nutrient in yogurt is really the Probiotics.  Probiotics are live, friendly bacteria that keep your body healthy and help it to fight off bad bacteria.  Probiotics also help regulate your digestive system.  As someone who’s experienced problems with imbalances of good and bad bacteria, I rely on yogurt quite a lot to load up on the good guys.  Plus, it’s more fun than taking a supplement!  Yogurt can be used as a topping to oatmeal, mixed with nuts/fruits/oats, topping to pancakes/waffles, or just right out of the carton!  Cost for one off-brand fat-free 6 ounce yogurt: 33 cents

These are foods I LOVE and swear by!  I think this is key when finding balance in a healthy lifestyle – experiment and find foods that you love that seem like a cheat to you, but they really aren’t!

What are you favorite healthy foods on a budget?

**Disclaimer: Prices may vary.  These are the prices I’ve found at my local discount grocery store.   Prices may also vary across different parts of the country.  Nutritional information can be found here.