Money To Live

October 30, 2008

Spending $100

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

Before moving to Virginia, I picked out my apartment complex online by reading reviews. When I visited my complex, I was sure to mention that I read about them on has a reward program that gives $100 to anyone who signs a lease and moves into an apartment found through their site. Last week I finally got the $100 in the mail.

I was hoping to get a check but instead received a pre-paid Visa card. I would have liked cash so that I could just put it straight in my checking account and use the money to pay utility bills.

These are the freebies I got for moving into my apartment:

  • $100 from
  • $50 in gasoline ($25 at move in and $25 when my washing machine exploded and flooded the carpet)
  • 2 free pizzas from Dominos (it was just supposed to be one pizza, but they delivered the wrong toppings and then delivered a second pizza for free)

By combining the $100 Visa card and a $100 cupon, I got this trench coat from Ann Taylor for free!


October 27, 2008

Slowing down the pace

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

When I started writing this blog, I had a lot of free time.

Since the hours are long at my new job, I am cutting back on the frequency of posts on Money To Live.

Going forward, expect 2-3 posts a week.

October 24, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

A friend was laid off a few weeks ago and it made me think about my own situation. If I were laid off (which I do not expect will happen … but who knows with this economy), I could cover my living expenses for 3-4 months without selling any investments. If I qualified for unemployment benefits, my cash would last longer. By tutoring part time, I could make the cash stretch even further. Financially, I am not worried about being laid off.

The worst part of being laid off would be the uncertainty: starting over once again at figuring out what to do with my life. With my current job, I have that question answered for 1-5 years. Past 5 years, I really do not know what I will be doing.

Another big question would be to move or not to move. Having just moved to Virginia, I still am not settled and do not have strong roots here. On the other hand, it would be expensive to break my lease and have my belongings moved.

Fortunately, these are only hypothetical issues. My heart goes out to anyone laid off and facing these tough decisions.

October 23, 2008

Free dinner?

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

Some employers give salaried employees the option of expensing dinner if they work past a certain time. From several friends, I have heard that $25 is a common limit for staying late at the office.

While this seems like a great perk, the real purpose of it is to keep people working longer, without paying them more. Employees being offered a free dinner almost always are making than $25 per hour. If the employee is salaried, the employer usually gets at least two extra hours of work by offering the dinner.

Given the option of an extra $50 in cash a night (versus $25 in reimbursed dinner expenses), I bet a lot of employees would take the $50 and eat cheap dinners (or just not eat dinner).

Maybe another reason employers like the giving employees free dinner instead of higher salaries is that the employer does not have to pay payroll taxes (i.e., social security) on the business expense.

October 22, 2008

Scrimp/Splurge: Help is a phone call away

Filed under: scrimp/splurge — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

Scrimp: “Momstar”

Cost: free with a cell phone

If my mom had a nickel for each time I called her for directions, she would be rich. Several times, I have called her with vague information: “I am in Princeton, and I just crossed a bridge. I do not see any street signs. How do I get home?” [This happened my first night in Princeton. To this day, I have not been able to figure out where I was that night. There are three bridges in town and many more a little further out] My mom calmly finds me on Google Maps and gives me directions to get home.

Momstar also offers directory assistance services. Last week my best friend called because she was on a lunch break with no access to a computer. She wanted to call her cable company to resolve an issue but did not have the number. That is where I come in as directory assistance; she called me and asked me to look up the phone number. Despite being on a walk and away from my computer, I opened up Safari on my iPhone and found the number in 1-2 minutes.

Splurge: OnStar by GM

Cost $299/year

OnStar is an in-vehicle service offered by General Motors that allows you to talk to a real person in the event of an emergency or if you are lost and need directions. OnStar can only be installed and used in certain vehicles.

This could be a great service for some drivers: a nervous driver who feels more secure with OnStar; a teenage driver who gets lost a lot; anyone driving in remote areas with poor cellular service and few cars on the road.

Thanks to a reader, Melanie, who told me about “Momstar.”

October 21, 2008

Review: Salary Websites

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

A reader wrote in asking about information on salary ranges. If you have a question, leave it in the comments or email me at
These are two websites that I have found useful for comparing salaries:

Vault charges a subscription fee to view all user-entered data.

To view other salaries, you have to post your own salary.

October 20, 2008

Relative and Absolute Wealth

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

Absolute wealth is a measure of how much money I have, and relative wealth is a measure of how much I have compared to my neighbor or friend.

Economists have published lots of papers about these ideas, and here is a recent article summarizing recent research using brain scans:

A brain scan study has shown that no matter how wealthy you are, money is most rewarding if you have relatively poor friends, peers and colleagues. [emphasis added]

When I was 6 and my brother 9, our father had us play a game. There was a chessboard with two chess pieces, one for each of us.

Each time I moved my piece to the opposite side of the board, my father would give me a dollar. Same thing for my brother (each time his piece crossed the board, he got a dollar).

We had to take turns moving our piece, and standard chess rules applied, which meant that we could capture the other person’s piece, thereby ending the game.

My brother, being the older and wiser child, immediately figured out that we could each earn an “unlimited” amount of money by cooperating. He even let me go first to show good faith.

I, being the younger, greedier, and less cooperative child, did not see the big picture. I saw that by going first I could get a dollar before my brother could. Then, I could capture his piece and end the game.

When the game was over, I had $1 and he had $0.

October 17, 2008

Clearing out furniture boxes

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

I had a giant box and let it sit in my living room for three weeks because I did not want to bother taking it outside. Sunday afternoon, it was time. I spent five minutes figuring out how to carry it – the best option was to drag the box on the ground; I could not easily pick it up and hold my keys (and I had no pockets). I walked outside, awkwardly getting the box up a small flight of stairs.

Three adorable, charming, little boys were sitting outside my building and offered to take it to the dumpster for me. (Note: These boys would not like to be called adorable. Each boy had a skateboard, so they probably think of themselves as tough little 6th graders.)

The boys carried the box to the dumpster, and afterward I gave each of them a one dollar bill.

What did the kids think of getting a dollar? At that age, I probably would have been at least mildly excited about it. But, I am so out of touch with youth today. Maybe they realize how little a dollar can buy.

I especially liked giving the boys $1 each because they offered and took the box without being offered anything in return.

What do you think? Is $1 a reasonable amount to give kids in such a situation?

(If only the boys would come back … I have another large, furniture box that needs to make its way to the dumpster)

October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

Filed under: philanthropy — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

Today is Blog Action Day, and the theme is Poverty.

An organization enabling families to move out of poverty is Kiva. Through Kiva, individuals like you and me can make micro-loans to individuals around the world. Local offices manage the funds and help people prepare their proposals.

My father is notoriously difficult to find gifts for, so one year for Father’s Day I opened a Kiva account in his name. He seemed to like the idea, especially since I offered to manage the loans for him. So far, the Father’s Day gift has been loaned to a seamstress in Samoa and two different grocery clerks in Cambodia. As the loans are repaid, the money is put back into the Kiva account, and it can be withdrawn or re-invested in a new loan (note, these loans do not pay interest to the depositor).

October 14, 2008

Another way to dispute a purchase – small claims court

Filed under: spending — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

Yesterday, I wrote about disputing a purchase through a credit card company. When I old the story to a lawyer friend, she suggested that I could also use small claims court to resolve the dispute.

Here is an interesting article about taking an airline to small claims court over a “weather-related” flight delay.

To me, the effort to take someone to small claims court seems significant. I much prefer going through the credit card company, since all I had to do was fill out some paperwork.

The guy says it only took 4 hours of his time total to handle the claim, but I know it would take me longer. I would spend at least 4 hours reading about small claims court, another 2-3 hours consulting two friends who are lawyers (I would take them out for coffee to ask for the advice), 2-5 hours worrying about it the day before going to court, 1-2 hours going to the courthouse and coming back, and then 1-2 hours thinking about it afterward (that adds up to at least 10 hours).

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