Money To Live

August 31, 2008

Try a new hobby

Filed under: hobbies — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
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If you are thinking of trying a new hobby, check out the resources in your community. There is a probably a local club or class you can take to try a new activity while receiving expert guidance.

The Princeton Adult School offers classes in a range of subjects from basket weaving and ballroom dancing to acting and writing. I took four classes (writing, guitar I, guitar II, and watercolor) and found it a great way to learn a new skill and see my friends regularly.

I meet some really interesting people in these classes. Admittedly, a lot of my classmates were retired, and they were frequently the only ones who completed the homework. Who else has time to complete two paintings each week? or read short stories while writing an original piece? The great thing about this school is that homework is optional.

Registration for fall classes is usually in August and September, so check the local offerings soon.

Have you taken community classes? If so, how did you find out about the class?

August 30, 2008

Review: www.fool.com

Filed under: review — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
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The Motley Fool (www.fool.com) is a great website about personal finance. Its mission is to “to educate, amuse, and enrich.”

The site offers information about investing, saving, taxes, and much more. Reading the articles always makes me smile. For example, the section on taxes is called “Death & Taxes,” a reference to Ben Franklin’s quote

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

If you are looking for information about a specific company, the Caps & Quotes section provides basic information as well as financial statements for publicly traded companies.

A popular topic in PF is the “emergency fund,” a stash of cash that can cover 3-6 months of living expenses. I like The Fool’s take on this topic – think about how much you need, how you feel about risk, and what expenses are looming on the horizon. Three caricature scenarios are given, which lay out how many people use emergency funds.

The Motley Fool discussion boards are active. In the past 24 hours, 5 people have weighed in on the savings from canning your own plums.

August 29, 2008

Earn More Roundup

Filed under: earn more — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
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MFA or Bust shares her story of how she got more money for grad school by asking for it: Do not ask and you shall not receive.

A reader at Get Rich Slowly tells “How I gave myself a raise” by getting a competing offer and offering extra short-term work for his employer.

Free Money Finance gives advice that, though it may not work for everyone, the best way to earn more is to switch employers every few years:

If you’re simply looking to grow your salary as high as possible, then the best path is to work at different companies/organizations for 3-5 years, make a move, work 3-5 years there, make a move, and so on. If you have other objectives in mind (like living in a certain area of the country), then this probably isn’t the best option for you.

August 28, 2008

Defining Moments: Katy runs out of money #1

Filed under: defining moments — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
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Defining Moments is a series about how we remember money and how it has shaped our lives.

The first time I ran out of money I was 16-years-old. I was attending a boarding school and had an allowance (from my parents) each semester of $500. Since my tuition, housing, cafeteria plan, and books were all paid for separately, this was an ideal situation for running out of money.

Near the end of my second semester away from home I went to the ATM and realized that only $24 remained in my account. The next day I signed up as a tutor, which paid $5.15 an hour (minimum wage).

Looking back, this is what I notice.

I did not immediately apply for a credit card. Since I was 16, I would not have qualified anyway. But if this had happened when I went off to college at 18, it is possible that I would have been tempted by a credit card.

I was able to get a part-time job immediately. Debt is often incurred when a person cannot find work quickly and pays bills using credit.

I did not ask my parents for more money — and I do not know what they would have said if I had. This is a theme in my life; I did not ask my parents the second time I ran out of money. I attribute this to trying to assert my independence (while still being financially dependent). The funny thing is that now, in a pinch, I would ask my parents for money.

August 27, 2008

Changes at the grocery store

Filed under: advertising,spending — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
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Blame it on whatever you like – inflation, oil prices, the weak dollar, or all of the above – a trip to the grocery store costs more today than a year ago.

Since manufacturers are hesitant to raise prices, they are trying some sneaky ways to keep prices the same while earning a profit. One way is to put less product in the package, which is referred to as shrinkage (NYT). Another way is to use cheaper ingredients, which Hershey is doing by substituting vegetable oil for cocoa butter (WSJ).

I am not too upset about buying less product in the old package (except for what is wasted in extra packaging). This could be good for the waistlines of American. I am more concerned about ingredient substitutions. There is more soy in some packaged foods, and while I am a big fan of soy, I am cautious due to possible health hazards (there may or may not be connections between soy and infertility).

One of my favorite grocery stores is Whole Foods, and it is losing customers to more affordable stores. Whole Foods wants to change its image and be viewed as an “economical place to shop” (NYT). I noticed this at my local WF; there are signs highlighting lower-priced items. What really caught my attention, though, is that there are 55¢ coupons in Amy’s frozen dinners. When gourmet frozen dinners come with coupons, something serious is happening in the economy.

August 26, 2008

Cost Analysis: Dry Cleaning

Filed under: cost analysis — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
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The name of this blog comes from my complaints about how expensive “things” cost. In particular, one expensive thing is dry cleaning.

When buying clothes, I check labels, and most of my clothing is machine or hand washable. Some fabrics, flax and silk come to mind, are lovely and I want to have some of these items in my closet.

I use an eco-friendly dry cleaner near my house (= expensive real estate). The cost to dry clean 1 pair of pants, 2 short-sleeve shirts, and 1 sweater is $26.50. Really? The total is more than the pants cost brand new on sale at Banana Republic (I do not wash after every wear, but I spilled a piece of s’mores nacho on the pants … and to be honest a little tequila also; they needed to be cleaned).

First of all, why do some clothes need to be dry cleaned? Basically, some fabrics do not play well with water and/or soap. Instead of using water, a dry cleaner uses another solvent. It may be a liquid, so the dry cleaning is not actually “dry,” but it is called “dry” because water is not used.

As annoying as it is to shell out cash for dry cleaning, the owners/employees are not making out like bandits. In most areas, there are several dry cleaners competing for business. Rates must be competitive. Across the industry, the average revenue per employee is $60,000, significantly less than for The Gap (which owns Banana Republic), which has average revenue per employee of over $100,000. Hourly employees in laundry and dry cleaning earn on average $9.41/hour, which is more than minimum wage but not enough to support a family.

The best option for lowering the dry cleaning bill is to wear clothes that can be washed at home.

NPR gives a warning: ” If you think your dry cleaning bills are high now, hang on.” Metal hangers cost more, driving up prices of dry cleaning.

August 25, 2008

What should kids learn about money?

Filed under: education — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
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This is my unsolicited, child-less advice about what kids should learn about money. Many PF bloggers have been talking about how to teach children about finances, and I think an important issue has been left out of the discussion: basic math literacy.

An understanding of basic mathematics is needed to understand all aspects of personal finance: how to balance a checkbook, how to figure the price of an item on sale, how a coupon works, how credit card interest is calculated, how to compare car loans, etc.

By no means do children need to be math prodigies, but one of the best ways to prepare a child for financial success is to encourage confidence and comfort in basic calculations — addition, subtraction, and multiplication. Yes, division is also important, but you can get by with weak long division skills because of calculators.

As a young child, I thought I was horrible at single-digit multiplication. Since my mother did not want me to grow up thinking I was bad at math, she found fun ways for me to work on my math skills. In the car, we sang along to tapes about multiplication (I can still sing some of the songs). And now I have a Ph. D. in Applied Math from an Ivy League university — thanks, Mom!

Here are some fun activities and games for children to work on fundamental math skills:

24 – pick four numbers and try to make the number 24 out of them.

Example: 2,3,4,5

4 * (5 + 3 – 2) = 4 * 6 = 24

Buzz – This game can be modified to nearly any level of difficulty.

Easy version: Stand in a circle, and each person counts the next number. If I say “1,” the person to my left says “2,” and so on. Whenever the current number is a multiple of 5, the person with that number says “Buzz” instead of “5” (or “10” or “15”), and the next person goes back to saying a regular number, like “6” (or “11” or “16”).

Difficult versions: Make up 2 or 3 rules. For example: (1) Multiples of 6 — spin in a circle. (2) Prime numbers — clap your hands.

Estimate how much the grocery food costs – I think you know how this game goes.

Sing songsMultiplication Rocks has some cute ones.

Make fake homework assignments – I do not know why, but little kids love fake homework assignments. Give a few addition or multiplication exercises to the kids just before dinner.

Mathcounts – “The mission of MATHCOUNTS is to increase enthusiasm for and enhance achievement in middle school mathematics throughout the United States.”

August 24, 2008

Update: Frugal Fun with Friends

Filed under: entertainment — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
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In a past post, I listed some of the ways I have fun with friends on the cheap. One such activity is to visit Whole Foods when they give out samples:

Free Sample Night at Whole Foods — Every Wednesday during the summer, my local Whole Foods offers samples throughout the store, and since the theme changes weekly, we always get to try something new. Typically there are 1-2 fruit/vegetable tastings, 2-4 entrees, and 1-2 desserts. It is not quite enough for a meal, but it all tastes very good.

Cost: gas to get to the store and home, about $1-2.

On a recent Wednesday night trip to Whole Foods, free sample night became free dinner night because I won the raffle for a Whole Foods dinner! My prize was a summer bbq pack for four — 8 pieces of fried chicken and generous portions of potato salad, coleslaw, and salad. My excitement of winning was tempered by the fact that the only food I really liked was the salad.

This brings back the memories of other contests and raffles I won.

11-years-old: Guess the number of jelly beans in the jar.

16-years-old: The raffle prize was a $25 set of glow-in-the-dark stars. When I saw that few people were entering the raffle, I spent $5 to buy up most of the raffle tickets. When I won the 1st and 3rd place raffle prizes, the organizers got upset and only let me keep one prize. Not a problem because I got the glow-in-the-dark stars.

17-years-old: At my father’s employer, children could attend “Take you daughter child to work day” until turning 18. Since both my father and I enjoyed this event, I attended every year I was eligible. My final year attending, I won the “Guess the number of microchips in the jar.” This competition was right after a visit to the “Wacky Wafer Room” and was followed by a cake walk. My dad’s office was so much fun –why did he retire?

26-years-old: Won the Whole Foods raffle of a meal I would never have paid for.

August 23, 2008

Review: Essentials of Accounting

Filed under: review — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
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Essentials of Accounting
by Robert N. Anthony and Leslie K. Breitner

If you ever wanted to learn about accounting (or, more likely, need to because of a job), this book is a great place to start.

As studies show, the best way to learn is by interacting with new material. Most accounting books encourage passive reading, so to really learn the material, you will need to take notes and make your own examples. Essentials of Accounting is a work book with hundreds of fill-in-the blank exercises. It also has exercises to create accounting forms from scratch.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about accounting. I especially recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed filling out worksheets in elementary school. 🙂

August 22, 2008

Cost Analysis: Moving Expenses

Filed under: cost analysis — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
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Over the last week, I moved my belongings from New Jersey to Virginia. This is how I did it.

Moving budget: $1300

A friend gathered a lot of estimates and found that with a reputable moving company, an in-town move costs $1600-$1800. Moving across states would cost more, and I have heard lots of scary stories of using movers (they might hold belongings “hostage” and demand more money, delay delivery for weeks, or simply break everything).

I know a few people who used PODs to move all over: from New Jersey to Texas, from Texas to Pennsylvania, and from California to New Jersey. A POD is a large storage container that you load and unload, and the POD company moves it from Point A to Point B. The POD is dropped off at your home and is picked up a few days later. I could not have used a pod because I had no where to put it. Overnight parking is not allowed in front of my house, and the backyard is full of cars (mine & the housemates’). Storing the large POD was definitely an issue. From my friends, I hear that prices on PODs range between $1,000 and $2,000.

When I told my retired/unemployed father that my new apartment is on the ground floor, he offered to drive a U-Haul and help me move. Thanks, Dad! That is the option I went with, and here is the breakdown of the costs:

Penske renal: $350

I used Penske because they guaranteed pick-up and drop off locations. U-Haul quoted half that price but would not guarantee a truck (or locations) until 18 hours before picking up the truck.

Extra costs with the rental: $100 (hand dolly, insurance)

Gas + tolls: $100

I paid for the gas with cash. Many gas stations give discounts, as much as 10¢/gallon for paying by cash instead of credit card. When a customer pays with credit card, the gas station is paying a small percentage of the transaction cost to the credit card company.

The moving truck got 12mpg — better than the 6-10 mpg estimate from the company.

Dinner for three friends who helped load: $180

Dinner for friends who helped unload: $100

Cash for two teenagers who helped unload: $200

These teenagers are cousins of a NJ friend of mine, and they were awesome. They were motivated to help because they each made $100 in 1.5 hours. They did not complain a single time and did not stop to rest for a moment.

Pizza and beer for my father: $27

Total: $1,057

The move came in under budget and ahead of schedule — we finished more than a full hour ahead of when I expected.

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