Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tracking spending

It's time to start a new notebook for tracking my spending. That's right, I track what I spend. And yep, I do it old-school. In 2007 I bought a tiny, awesome notebook from my neighborhood stationery shop (remember those? the shop went out of business shortly thereafter after nearly 100 years in the same spot), and I resumed tracking my spending after several years' break. This time, the habit stuck!

I know I tracked my spending for a while in the late 90s or early 2000s, but I can't remember what I did with the information, and I don't think I did it very long. I know I was inspired after a bout of reading Your Money or Your Life (highly recommend) but I  don't know if I got much out of it.

Perhaps I was in a better place financially when I started tracking in 2007. I know I started it easy: in June, I tracked grocery spending only. In July I added restaurants. By September I was tracking all my spending, as far as I can tell, and even started sorting it into categories. The categories changed a bit over time: by the end of 2007 they were: groceries, eating/drinking out, coffee out, bills, entertainment, gifts, charity, travel, transportation, clothing, household, upkeep/health, misc. In the intervening years I've added hobby (typically cycling and knitting expenses go here), booze, and house. (Household expenses are things like a new spatula or set of sheets; house expenses are things like a ladder or the yard guy.)

It's fun to look back and remember - at the beginning of 2007 I was just under 20k in debt, including grad school, my small car loan, and a credit card. In July 2007 my notes show I had 70k saved for retirement - more than my salary, and not bad for 36, but not super amazing either. Thanks to the power of writing things down, I can figure out by what percentage I've increased my salary (thanks, Past Me who negotiated hard during one promotion!), by what percentage my retirement savings have gone up (thanks, markets and Continually Diligent Me!), and by what percentage my bills expenses have increased (okay... you can't win 'em all).

Anyway, those notebooks above represent seven years of data. I'd be really bummed if I lost one, but more importantly they represent a really great habit I've developed. Now I'm starting a new notebook and I think I'm going to adjust a little bit of the way I track things - large lump-sum expenses like for travel or furniture won't show up in the monthly figuring, just the annual, so my month-to-month spending can be a little bit more apples to apples. But I'm definitely busting out that book to keep up this routine!

p.s. I'm partial to using hard-to-find pocket-sized notebooks from Spain. Last time I bought three, and am opening the second. I'm kind of thinking about buying a few of the latest model to have as backup against the tragic day (...in six years...) when I log my last entry.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I'm still here!

Whew, it was a busy February, but somehow March is getting away from me as well. Let's see. I'm still loving the blue wall. I haven't decided what I might paint the rest of the walls, and I've had a few votes to leave them intact. That pleases Lazy Me, as it turns out that painting is messy and time-consuming!

So, I tried painting over the sample splotch in the living room.
Well. There is a SLIGHT shade variation - I think perhaps the bathroom paint is a bit lighter than the rest of the rooms, and I must have used that, as the can isn't labeled well. So I have one other can to try before I either buy a really big print, or repaint at least one wall. Fingers crossed.

And yes, I did get a new couch - AND a coffee table. I identified what I wanted (Crate & Barrel Petrie, IKEA something) and found them on Cragislist, saving me 800 and 100 dollars, respectively. Pretty sweet! Please note the flowers from my yard. Spring has sprung!

And the kitty is still hanging out a lot. And he still cracks me up.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Color at last

I've been in my house just over a year now (I know!) and I'm finally getting around to painting - at least one wall, anyway!

I've been looking at paint splotches for a loooong time, examining them in various lights, polling people, mulling it over, but mostly ignoring the blobs on the wall. I decided ages ago to go with the top-left one, but only actually got the paint two weeks ago. The wall I'm painting is central to the house - it divides the kitchen from the living room, and is one side of the long (only) hall that leads to the bedrooms and bathroom. My vision was inspired by an article in the NY Times last fall that showed an art gallery with a midnight-blue wall framing the art. I can't find the link but trust me - pretty. I've opted to have it the most matte (non-shiny) surface possible - the walls are quite textured and I want to downplay that as much as I can.

So, I've never painted my own space before, and have only assisted one time in memory. I was kinda faking it, but I spent a Friday night putting painter's tape up on all the surfaces adjacent to the painting area (walls, ceilings, door frames, baseboard). Then I spent Sunday afternoon cutting in - i.e. using a brush to paint from the baseboard up a few inches, around the edges of the walls, etc. For fun I also painted around all the swatches on the wall, to verify that the color was a perfect match for my choice. Then I used a roller to paint great swathes. Wow is a roller a lot faster than a brush!

It became clear when it dried that I'd have to do a second coat. This was a bit of a bummer, but I took the time to be really picky - which I very rarely am. I turned on all the lights and used a flashlight to examine the wall, and stuck some colored tape everywhere I thought I'd need to add paint. Today I finished during my lunch break, with a headlamp to really examine each area of the wall to be sure it's totally blue!

I'll examine it one more time to make sure I got it all, and then I'll peel the tape, fold up the tarp, and restore the furniture and face plates to the wall.

Someday I'll get around to printing photos and framing them. And then I'll deal with spotlighting them somehow. Baby steps - but I have 29 years before that mortgage is paid off, so huge hurry!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Empty slates

My housemate (aka my sister) moved out at the end of December, and now I've got an empty guest room to deal with. It's exciting to have an empty slate, except my living room is ALSO an empty slate (we were using her furniture). Plus, I haven't painted yet. And I just got given a massive phone from my employer that is pushing me over the tipping point in terms of office furniture. Or.. I can just put stuff on the floor, I guess!

Empty living room

 But I digress.

Guest room: It's not a very big room, so I decided I'd like to get a Murphy bed so I can use the room for sewing or something when I don't have a guest actually using the space. That's all well and good, but it turns out Murphy beds are super expensive. Just the hardware runs over $500; a kit that has the hardware and the pieces to build a cabinet runs over $1000, and brand-new ones typically run well over two grand.

So, I turned to Craigslist, and found something a couple hours away. It was used, and super heavy, but they were willing to deliver (for a fee) and drop it in my garage. And there it loomed for a few days.
Fortunately I had family traveling through town just before Christmas, so I borrowed some rolling tools (a dolly and a little platformy thing) and we managed to wrestle the pieces into the guest room.
Actual bed platform

Cabinet that will attach to the wall

I've gotten as far as contacting a handyman, and we're working on picking a day for him to come out and assess the situation. I sure hope he's willing and able to take it on, because I'd like to get this thing settled soon!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Year-end financial review & goals

Well here we are, end of the year. Seems like a natural time to do some financial review.

Current situation:
  • I bought a house! I've been in for almost exactly a year, and have gotten more used to paying a mortgage and all the bills that go with it. My old apartment's rent was $1035.20, and that plus all my bills (electricity, internet, cell phone, car insurance) cost me $1206/month. Now that I'm in a house, my mortgage (including taxes & insurance) runs me just under $1200, but the bills (all of the above and also gas, water, trash, yard guy (which I admit is optional)) bring me to just under $1650/month. In other words, the mortgage was only a 15% jump over my rent, but when I factor in all the bills, I'm paying 37% more per month. It's doable, and I think I can bring it down 5-10% this year by making a couple of tweaks.
  • I'm still saving 16% of my income for retirement, with a 4% match. I'm not Roth-ing though, and I'm not hitting the max allowed in a 401(k) either.
  • I have more in the bank (retirement savings + emergency fund) than I owe (mortgage + loan from my parents toward the down payment) so even with this first year of home ownership I did not tip into negative net worth. I wasn't sure that was going to happen, and it's not a HUGE number in the net worth column, but at least I'm in the black! Note that I'm not counting the house as an asset, just looking at what's in the bank vs what I owe. Note also that just because I have $X in retirement savings doesn't mean that X is available to me - it would be taxed and penalized if I withdrew it. So this metric isn't that solid, but it works for me as a rough thumbnail of my situation.
Immediate future goals:
  • By end of January: pay off credit card. I've been doing a lot of credit card churning to bank airline miles. I'm mostly handling it well but I am currently carrying a small (sub-2k) balance that I will pay off by the end of January (I could pay it now from savings but prefer to feel the pain a bit). Overall I'm happy with my churning - I'm using miles to inexpensively do things like visit my BFF in Toronto, fly to Key West with my parents for my mom's birthday, travel to my brother's wedding in Hawaii, and attend my company's holiday party. I do have to be careful to NOT carry balances, and to remember that cheap flights often come with other travel expenses (namely lodging & food!). After this next card I think I'm going to take a break for a bit. I swear I can go clean at any time!
  • By end of January: set a budget for living room furniture and decide how and when it'll be funded. 
  • By end of February: finish stocking up my emergency fund. I could definitely get by for six months on it, but I have a specific number in mind and $1,000 more will get me there. 
Rest of the year:
  • By end of March: start investing in taxable (non-retirement) accounts. I was going to start paying down my mortgage, but the interest rate on it is 3.35% and it seems like I'd likely get a better return by investing that money. My paycheck should be going up a bit due to a change in the cost of my benefits, so I'm mentally earmarking that increase to go into my investment accounts. I'll know by mid-January how much money I'll have to work with. 
  • By end of April (probably a lot sooner): see how taxes work out with this house thing going on. Not sure I'll get a refund since I have to offset some contracting work. I usually do my own taxes but I'm a little trepidatious this year.... we'll see how that plays out. 
  • By end of April: if I get a refund, decide how to split it between various options (Roth? non-retirement? living room furniture?).
  • By the end of June: decide if I want ALL my non-emergency savings to be invested, or if I want to create a separate savings account to use for specific house projects such as a new deck. That's not something that would come from an emergency fund, and I'd like to do it in a shortish time frame (1-2 years) if nothing else comes up, so I don't know that paying for it from an investment account makes sense.
  • By the end of June: in a similar vein - decide if my emergency fund (6 months' worth of spending) can also count as a house emergency fund, or if I'd rather have a separate one, and if so, how much should be in it. Should I save enough to replace my fridge (1k), my furnace (5k), or my roof (10k)? Or should I have some percentage of the house value (I read somewhere it's wise to budget to spend 1% of the house value in maintenance every year) in savings instead?
  • By the end of 2014: finally consolidate my two IRAs into one account with Vanguard. 
  • By the end of 2014: Have my finances in maintenance mode. I think once I make all these decisions this year, I'll be able to review my accounts but I won't have to make any major changes to my plans. We'll see though!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Minor travel

I got to go to the Bay Area for a work party this weekend. I really appreciate getting to go there to visit - living there was never a great fit for me, but I miss seeing my friends down there! I got to admire some of the city lights - and have a hot dog/pretzel dinner with some goofballs,
I went on a road trip north of the city and visited a really great open studio at a pair of potters: 
And I started the nigh-impossible task of furniture shopping, since my sister (with her living room furniture!) is moving out shortly: 
I had a great time, and I'm glad to be home. I don't know if he missed me, but I was thinking about this guy!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Back it up, baby

Nothing like a few blue screens of death to remind me to back up my work laptop! I've got an external hard drive so it's pretty easy to do a quick-and-dirty backup of the files that I have semi-organized on my desktop.

It reminds me of something interesting though: having a phone with a decent camera and an easy upload option has really changed how I take and share pictures.

Back in the dark ages of 2012 and earlier, I'd:
- take pictures on my digital camera
- eventually boot up my laptop (2006 and still working, largely because I don't use it for anything anymore but the occasional print job) (from 2006-2010 or so I'd often have my laptop up and running when I was home from work, but once I got an ipod touch connected to my home wifi network, my laptop time dropped dramatically)
- pull the memory card from the phone and insert it into my computer
- copy all the pictures onto my hard drive
- spend some time ruthlessly culling only the best pictures ("best" being a bit generous, but not for me ten pictures of essentially the same thing)
- use software to add tags and titles and descriptions to all the picture
- upload the pictures to my flickr account
- and finally, delete all the pictures from the memory card and re-insert it into the camera.

Now I've got a camera with me at all times, but I don't spend much time at all with metadata or deletion. I never understood how people would have reams of pictures on their phones, and yet here I am with 1,073 after nine months of owning my smart phone.

I do still upload things to flickr, but I have to remember to go in after the fact to cull and to add metadata and create albums. I email and text pictures more easily, but any photographic skill I had is atrophying.

Some of the history of the building and how its artist tenants worked with the city to pioneer legal use of
industrial buildings for artist - click to read, it's fascinating! 

I got to spend some time in an early 1920s industrial building yesterday, and was so glad I had the camera on my phone, yet wished for a great camera and better light. On balance, I think I'll take what I have now - and it IS one less thing to have to back up!