Friday, December 31, 2010

So much for the best-laid plans!

I'm one of thousands of people who got screwed over by Jet Blue. Even though I was traveling from the East Coast back to the west several days after the latest messy storm, I was caught in the ripple effect - my plane was hugely delayed, then they couldn't find crew. Only after making us wait around for 6+ hours did they cancel the flight. And the kicker is, they couldn't get me anywhere until January SEVENTH - more than a week after my initial travel date! They refunded that part of my fare and I bought the last seat on a Virgin America flight on the first, but I'm still fuming about it. I'm not sure what I expect them to do, though - pay for my new flight? ha.

So I'm trying hard to focus on the positives:
  • I wasn't traveling with small kids, or a pet, or with people in wheelchairs. 
  • One of my friends saw my plaints on Facebook and invited me home to her parents' house, a half-hour from the airport. That saved my parents and me the hassle of dealing with a bus and car ride to their place, 2 hours away. 
  • Another of my friends was invaluable in her long-distance support, texting me about alternate flight times and eventually buying me that last seat. 
  • I have another friend picking me up at the airport tomorrow. 
  • I get to have 36 hours at home before going back to work.
  • I'm having a quiet New Year's Eve at home with my parents & older brother
  • Pizza is on the way!

So I'm scheduled to fly tomorrow. And I had better get home!!!!!!

Lessons learned:
  • Don't fly Jet Blue. Is that too harsh? I'm not sure. I am unlikely to fly them over a holiday, that's for sure.
  • Always bring my passport! I could've looked into a NYE in Toronto, but didn't have the right paperwork to do it.
  • Don't feel too smug about avoiding travel messes - at least wait for smugness til the plane is safely landed!!!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


It's juuuust about 2011 - are you ready? I'm trying to decide if I'm going to make any goals or resolutions. Money is going okay, which leaves fitness and health. Which is hard. So, we'll see!

Christmas break was lovely and lasts for a couple more days. Unfortunately I'm going to spend a bunch of time in a plane, and then in a car, so the last few days won't be quite as relaxing as those around Christmas, but should still be fun and hopefully memorable!

See you soon, blog-pals. Be happy!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

End of year: Clearing the decks!

I've been out of college for quite a while now, but I moved a lot at first - eight times in my first nine years on my own! But now it seems I am settling down: I stayed in my last place for four years, and I've been in my current apartment for four and a half years (with no intention of moving), making it the longest I've ever lived anywhere since I was eighteen.

Perhaps, then, I should be unsurprised that I've been oddly motivated to clear stuff out of my apartment: my internal clock knows it's time to upend everything and give it a good shake! Moving is quite handy for that, and without one to motivate me, I've had a hard time getting going on Project Bedroom.

My kitchen and living room are acceptable, but my bedroom has needed a solid going-over for a long time. The woes include:
  • My bed was a decent purchase ten or so years ago, but it wasn't intended to be taken apart and reassembled as many times as it has and it has been threatening to fall apart for a while now. 
  • My mattress is 14 years old, as my back reminds me frequently.
  • I have two file cabinets but emptied one of them six months ago. 
  • I've got two plastic bins with drawers serving as a bedside table. 
  • My other bedside table is bright yellow and whimsical, and seemed like a good idea 10 years ago, but I'm kind of over it now. 
  • I have a friend-made dining room table serving as an unused desk/printer holder/crap catcher.
  • I have a stand-up fan just kinda standing around. I use it a couple of times per year but don't really need to look at it the other 363 days.
  • The curtains are sun-faded.
  • The rug was a mistake - it's rough and hurts my tender bare feet.
Clearly - a Major Undertaking! Well, I'm *finally* making significant progress. The bed is gone (thanks to a wonderfully helpful friend). The plastic bins have been sorted and organized and moved to the closet. I moved the dining room table/unused desk/crap catcher to a slightly better spot in the room - though I think we are going to part ways sooner or later.

I've taken a ton of stuff to Goodwill and threw more stuff out (including old ticket stubs and photographs - honestly, if I'm not interested in them, no one else will be either!). I still have more to get rid of (including the empty file cabinet) but I'm starting to get to a good place for a do-over.

I don't know when I'll be done but I have picked out what bed I want. I think I know where I'm going to put it. I envision a room that contains my bed, my bicycle, a small desk, and not much more (my clothes live in a very large closet). It's exciting but tiring and I'm glad I'm going out of town for a bit so I don't have to look at it for a while!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fiscal Fridays: bills bills bills

It's Friday! I've got fiscally thoughts on the brain!

Early in this series of mine, I posted a chart of my money flow. (You can click -->here<-- to go directly to the graphic.) I've talked about several of the accounts shown on that screen - mad money, travel, and misc budgeted spending. But I haven't talked about an account that I've had around the longest, makes the most sense, and has freed me from the tyranny of balancing my checkbook: my bills account.

This account gives me peace of mind more than any other I've ever had. The concept is so simple but I haven't run into too many people who have set their finances up this way. Not everyone needs it, but I think it's very handy for anyone who is ever concerned about not having enough in the bank to cover their bills.

The first step is to figure out what I pay in bills every month. Right now this is: rent, land line/internet, cell phone, electric bill, and auto & renter's insurance. Since some of those smaller bills are variable, I rounded them up by 10% to get a comfortable estimate of my monthly bills. Now every time I get paid I put half of that amount into my bill-paying account. For my bills that are set amounts, I have scheduled checks that are issued in a timely manner; bills that vary monthly get scheduled once I receive the latest bill.

In this golden age of internet banking, it's amazingly easy, but I've been doing some version of this since I graduated from college. It lets me know exactly where I stand and if I'm in any sort of trouble. I typically have the next month's rent funded by the middle of the previous month, so I don't have to stress about timing the mailing of the check to correspond with bank deposits. Nowadays I always have a little slush in that account, but I remember when I still lived in Boston, and I was living extremely lean. I discovered a math error in my bills account, and had to call my friend who worked at my bank and ask him to deposit eleven cents into my account in order to fully cover a check that had already been mailed. He gave me a quarter instead, nice guy that he is.

Having a bills account means I can spend what's in my day-to-day account without worrying whether it will affect my rent. I can sleep easily knowing that my next month's rent is already set aside. I can't even really remember what it felt like to live on $8.25/hour in Boston, and I have to say I'm glad.

So to sum up where we've been so far:
I get paid twice a month. The check is deposited in my day-to-day account. I immediately transfer most of it out to mad money, travel, misc budgeted spending, and bills.

What I have left to cover:
short-term savings, longer-term savings, my day-to-day account, and retirement savings. Exciting stuff, huh?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WIP: silly hats

Actually these are complete - I made two goofy little hats to give to people I know having babies. If you can't put a silly hat on a kid, what's the point of having one?
 I hope I get a picture of the hats on the kids' heads. fyi, that means a lot to the knitters in your life!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Weekend over. wah.

I had a great weekend visiting friends in Portland. That city is still my favorite place, even though it rained and rained and rained this weekend!

While I loved getting to visit, I sure wish I had some weekend left over. Well, one full week of work, 2 days of work, and then I get a chunk of time off - yay for Christmas in New England! I've got my shopping mostly done and am engaged in my annual cycle of regret and recrimination - why oh why did I ship the gifts to California, instead of sending it directly to RI?

I've received a promotion at work (which I think I mentioned) and I'm in the throes of trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing with my time. Some days (like last Thursday) are non-stop from start to finish. Today though I had a couple of hours of time when I wasn't sure what I should be doing with myself. I'm also not sure how best to do my job but I guess I'll mostly have to feel my way through it. Usually my big transitions come with all-new jobs at all-new places of work, so this is unusual for me but I suppose it's a nice problem to have - at least I have a fairly good chunk of known quantities for once!

So I'm ending the year on lots of notes of change, but lots of uncertainties as well. But I suppose really I'll just keep going forward and washing dishes and doing laundry and going to work and dealing with what's in front of me... I guess that's what we all do with ourselves. Right? right.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Giving Goals

Like so many people around me, I have great intentions to help make the world a better place. I feel daunted by the sheer scope of the problems I see, yet when I'm actually asked to give money, I usually say no, or defer the decision until a later which never comes. I confess that part of my reluctance to give is that I'll get on endless mailing lists, but truly the majority of my non-giving is just me wanting to keep my money for myself.

Since I've been tracking my spending for a few years, I was able to see in black and white how little I was sharing with the rest of the world. Since my financial house is mainly in order, I decided that I wanted to change my behavior. The best way to do that was to set giving goals: for the last three years I've made a conscious effort to give money, and have set a target for the amount I want to give away.

This year I set a goal to give away 2% of my take-home pay to charities and organizations I like. While it's not a ton of money, it's not insignificant either! The way this works for me is that I spend the year giving occasionally (when a friend is participating in a fund-raiser, or when I run into people selling raffle tickets for various organization), and then at the end of the year I add up my contributions and then give a bunch of money to make sure I meet my goal.

Last year, I listed the organizations I selected, and I'm mainly going to stick with them this year.

Here's how my giving has broken out so far this year:
  • January: I donated money to help victims of the earthquake in Haiti
  • January: I sponsored my younger brother, who was supposed to jump into freezing water to raise money for the Special Olympics (because only people with limited mental faculties would do this?? It does rather beg the question.). Alas, the weather was bad and they cancelled the plunge, but kept the money. That's fine by me - our older brother participates in the Special Olympics every year, it's a great organization, and I've done very little for its benefit. 
  • May: donated money for a raffle for some organization. Didn't win.
  • May: sponsored a friend running in a race to benefit her local animal shelter.
  • May: sponsored my local public radio station.
  • July: joined a local bicycle advocacy organization.
  • December: contributed to a fund to help a local second-run movie theater reopen (yes, I get benefits for my contribution, but I'm counting this anyway)
  • December: contributed to a fund to help a local coffee shop move and reopen (again, I get a benefit from this, but I'm still counting it)
... and that's it! They add up to just more than half of this year's Giving Goal, so I have some catching up to do now.

Here are the organizations who will get money from me this year:
  • My local food bank. I love food, I enjoy sharing it with others, it's a great topic of conversation, I read food blogs, and I can't believe that in this prosperous nation of ours, people go hungry. Every day. It kills me. This is my top giving priority every year. 
  • Doctors Without Borders. I have the Yarn Harlot to thank for this one - she's raised over a million dollars over five years, by asking fellow knitters to give to this wonderful organization. She says it much better than I can, so go read her blog posts about it
  • The Kristin Brooks Hope Center, because depression and suicide are unspeakably tragic (and I'm grateful that I've been only lightly exposed to them). I first found out about the center through PostSecret, which I try to read weekly.
At this time of year, when so many messages are about consumption, it really does feel especially nice to be looking for ways to share my good fortune with others.