Why I don't automate my bill payments and/or savings

Two simple reasons:

1. Most of my monthly bills vary month to month; and
2. I like handling my money/bills.

I love paying my bills when they are due. I enjoy looking logging into my bank account on pay day to pay my bills. Taking care of my bills "manually" helps me to keep a finger on the pulse of my financial life. Every pay period I check my accounts, look at my spreadsheet, move money around, do a quick assessment to decide if the current system is fine or needs adjustment. I don't need to put distance between me and my money.

October Net Worth

My 401k and Roth IRA are showing a decent performance so my retirement funds have increased by over $3,000 in October. Plus building my savings back up has helped too. The downside is that I have $155 on one of my credit cards, and due to my bank being wonky with fees I didn't have enough to pay that card off this month. Thankfully this card is 0% interest until May, so no worries there. Also, if I really had to, I could have taken the money for one of my ING savings accounts (not my emergency, unemployment, or health care fund).

That's a signal right there to me that I need to curb my spending. So I will do that and not put anything else on that card. I'll pay it off with the next pay check.

My bank just came two steps closer to getting fired

  1. They charged me a $25 fee for my mileage debit card. I've had this card for about two years and don't recall getting charged last year. Must have been waived. Anyway, that put me $6 in the red.
  2. Of course, I will be hit with an NSF fee. It hasn't hit the account yet, but I will have to call back tomorrow to see if they will waive it.

I closed out my savings account with them and moved the money to the checking. The savings was right at $300, anything lower than that gets slapped with a $4 monthly fee. Screw that, I'd rather close it. I was only keeping it open for sentimental reasons, and because I was feeling timid about having everything at ING. Pfft. Oh well. The plan now is as follows:

  1. Call my bank tomorrow to get the NSF waived.
  2. If they waive the fee, great. I will leave about $30 in the account and move everything else to ING as planned. I will also move forward with cancelling the mileage program on my debit card to avoid paying that fee next year (twenneh fi dayum dollaz!).
  3. If they do not waive the fee, I will tell them to close my checking account and I will be moving my Roth IRA to another institution. I've already got the bill pay with Electric Orange set up with all my payees, and I've been looking at moving my Roth to Vanguard anyway.

I acknowledge that it's my fault for not paying attention to this debit card fee. I still think it's a LOT of money to pay for the privilege of earning 1 mile for every $2 spent. It's handy, but whatever. I can live without it. I will say that customer service was very nice. I also love that there is an ATM and bank branch EVERYWHERE. However I don't like getting nickeled and dimed. I need my money more than they do. :)

Has it really been a week since I last posted?

Guess so. A lot is going on so I'll just run off a few bullets to get to the points:

1. My employer is rolling out a new way for people not currently enrolled in a 401k to do so easily. It enrolls them in a portfolio that automatically chooses a mix of investments depending on the enrollees age and projected retirement. Sounds good eh? Of course, there is a cost for this service as the portfolio is managed by a professional. That cost being somewhere around $64 a year on top of whatever fees from the funds. I don't know if that's good or bad. However if all we have are about 10 or 11 funds to choose from, and if all one has to do is go to one of the many risk calculators to figure out what the allocations should be, I'm thinking I don't need to pay someone for that. I'll just make my own adjustments, thank you very much.

2. I decided to go with 90% coinsurance for my health care. It's a lot more money, however $300 extra is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

3. My performance/pay review is coming up in December and I'm nervous. I always am. I'm hoping for a decent raise, especially with the increase cost in health care. We'll just have to wait and see.

4. I'm eager to start mapping out a savings plan for 2008, however it's difficult to do if I don't know how much money I will be working with. I do know that my top goals are my Roth IRA and Health Care Fund. I don't include my 401k in this because to me it's a given. A straight 20% cut of my pre-tax dollars automatically invested. I would like to add saving for a down payment (5-yr. goal), a vacation (1, possibly 2 yr. goal), and a super, bad-ass gaming computer (1 to 1.5 yr. goal). A lot of very high-ticket items. Hence why I'm curious about my pay review. I'm also considering a part-time gig. Maybe something during the holidays at UPS?

5. I was chatting with my Mom recently, and while we were talking she was opening her mail. "Oh. Looks like my credit score is 830." She's taking out a HELOC to help pay for some property taxes coming up and they did a credit check. She was perfectly fine with that score until I said, "Wow! Almost a perfect 850!" Now she's sulking that she doesn't have 850. My mom, the overachiever. :::eye roll:::

6. I've been less-than-frugal lately with buying lunches at work, etc. I have GOT to get that under control Part of the problem is that I haven't gone grocery shopping. Because I hate grocery shopping. But I hate wasting money even more, so I guess I'll get my wide ass up and go grocery shopping. :::double-hard eye roll:::

Blacks and whites invest differently

I remember coming across this report earlier in the year and the information presented is fascinating.
  • "A survey by Charles Schwab Corp...and Ariel Mutual Funds concludes that four in 10 African Americans with household incomes of $50,000 or more have no money in stocks, compared to just one quarter of whites."
  • "Ariel's survey also found blacks who enrolled in retirement plans save a median $173 a month while whites save $252."
  • "A separate survey of retirees found whites are nearly twice as likely to have $100,000 or more saved than blacks, even when education, peak income level and other factors are held constant."
So why aren't some blacks and hispanics saving more? Good question. The article points to several possibilities, here are a few:
  • "Ethnic and racial groups approach saving and investing differently, said Hewitt's Tapia, who was raised in Peru. For instance, "long-term," suggests a shorter time horizon to immigrant Latinos accustomed to political instability and high inflation that made long-term planning seemingly impossible, he said."
  • "There are also lessons in the demographics of the black community, said Ariel's Hobson. A larger percentage of African Americans raise children in single-parent households, care for aging parents and have non-immediate family members in their homes, she said...'That old saying, it takes a village, that's very, very clear in the black community,' she said."
  • "Historical factors may also play a role in blacks' preference of real estate over stocks. Racial discrimination by mortgage lenders may have heightened blacks' interest in owning a home, she said."
The take-away here, for me anyway, is that the message of retirement planning is the same for everyone. The key is making sure that message is delivered in a way that different communities can hear it, be those communities people of color, women, or boomers. Same message, different package.

Make your own makeup brush cleaner

If you use makeup brushes on a regular basis, you know that you should clean them often. If you don't want to spend $10 to $15 for an 8oz. bottle, the video below will show you how to make your own. I haven't tried it yet, but as soon as I run out of mine, I'm going to give it a try!

A few changes to my side bars

Emergency fund
Goal reached! I anticipate using this money for minor emergencies, like vet care, repairs, etc.

Unemployment fund
With the EF out of the way I can get started on my UF. I anticipate having this completed by the end of the year.

Health care deductible fund
Good news here. It's not nearly as high as I thought (thought it was going to be around $3,000). If I go with the 90% coinsurance, the deductible is $1,000. 80% coinsurance has a $1,500 deductible. I decided to make the $1,500 my goal regardless of what I choose.

Health care price tags
We just found out how much our health care choices will cost us in 2008. Overall, not bad. It's a bit painful if you want to increase your coverage to have higher coinsurance and a lower deductible. That's what I'm looking at. The difference between 80% coinsurance and 90% coinsurance would be an additional $300. There's a chance I might need surgery next year. Is it worth $300 on the chance that I might have surgery? That's what I have to decide.

And ING it is

I decided to stick with ING Direct for my savings. As a matter of fact, I went ahead and started a checking account with them also. Their interest is above inflation and I'm not interested in chasing rates.

I've set up "sub"-saving accounts for each of my monthly expenses that will be funded by their alloted amounts. When a bill is due, I will transfer money from the appropriate account to pay it. If I need cash, there are a few ATMs very close to my home and office. So that's cool.

I'm going to keep my brick-and-mortar bank because I've had it for SO long. Plus they have ATMs all over the place, so it could be handy. With my next paycheck, I will have $30 direct deposited to my brick-and-mortar, the rest to my ING checking. I'll try this out for a while and see how it feels. If all goes well, I see myself closing my checking and saving accounts the brick-and-mortar.

And in other news...
I think we find out at work what our 2008 health care price tags are going to be tomorrow. I'm hoping this is the case. I'm anxious to see how much we'll really be paying. I'll also admit that I'm fairly concerned that the cost increase will be high enough that it will impact my savings. I'm also concerned about what my raise will be this year. I got a HUGE one last year that I worked pretty hard for. This year? I did well, but not stellar. As long as it's not 2%, I'll be ok.

Newsflash: Health care is expensive and will continue to get more expensive!

Oh, and don't think your raise is going to increase to even compete with the cost of living.

Employee contributions, on average, will go up $156 per employee to $2,040, an 8 percent increase. Employees are expected to get less than 4 percent in pay raises on average in 2008, Towers Perrin said.

"Increasing employee contributions, deductibles, co-pays and premiums are causing many workers to opt out of their employers' health plans," said David Guilmette, a Towers Perrin consultant.

The experts are also predicting that employees will be shelling out 10% more for out-of-pocket health care expenses to the tune of $3,597 in 2008. What the article doesn't say is if this is for a single employee, employee with spouse, or employee with family coverage. Guess I wasn't too far off in wanting to have my health care fund to be $3,000. Basically, this is going to suck. Like, a LOT. Especially for low-wage earners and retirees.

I'm bringing all of this up because it's annual enrollment season at my employer. That glorious time when we realize how much more the middle class is going to take it up the ass for another year. My employer sent out a firm-wide communication about the upcoming changes to our annual enrollment. First, they wanted to remind us that the cost of health care is rising (you don't say!). Then they mentioned that on average, the cost for medical (not including vision and dental) will increase about 6% for most employees of the firm. It won't be until later this month when we learn what the real numbers are. I'm very interested to see what the price tags are because there's a pretty good chance I'll be having surgery next year, so I wanted to elect more coverage. I'm curious to know how much that higher coverage is going to cost me. I'll keep you posted.

But wait, there's more!
There are a bunch of other health care changes they are making, but they are also changing up the 401k. Below are the changes that caught my attention.

  • They are adding "target retirement portfolios "to help diversify your investments and meet your goals for a target retirement date without having to select your own mix of funds." That sounds interesting.

  • For those who haven't started a 401k yet, they added a feature that will make it very quick and easy for people to sign up, and will automatically default to one of the target retirement portfolios depending on the age of the employee. Of course, this can all be changed later.

Seems to me that they are trying to get people to start saving for retirement, which makes me wonder how many people at my company have a 401k account. Not enough, apparently, so hopefully this will get more people to start saving.

So there it is folks. To those of you lucky enough to get health care offered through your employer, pay attention to the communications about your health care benefits over the next month or two.

Interest for savings aren't the only rates falling

Right before I left on my vacation, I called one of my credit cards to let them know I was traveling and while I was on the phone, see if they would lower my interest rate. They said they would and gave me a choice of a fixed rate of 12% or a variable rate of 11.24%. I chose the variable because it was lower. I knew it could go up, but I really didn't care because I pay my balance monthly.

Fast forward to my latest statement. I look at the interest and it says 10.74% I'm guessing this is because of the Fed's rate cut. Ain't that something?

Thanks, but...

Some friends invited me to go on a weekend trip with them at the end of the month to some gorgeous, beautiful wine country. There will be fun. There will be frivolity. There will be bonding. There will be no Velvet. I sent them a note today that this trip is not in my budget and politely declined. While I believe this would be a wonderful experience to chill with the girls and go somewhere I'd never been, I have to stay focused on my financial goals. Besides, I just got back for a long, expensive vacation.

This does highlight the fact that I have not budgeted for vacations, even though travel is important to me. I am just now realizing that in this way, my budget does not reflect my values. For now, I'm ok with that. I'd rather actively save for charity, which is far more important to me right now.

[Segue way] One of the things that I fantasize about is marrying a man that believes in philanthropy and wants to build a charitable giving trust together. Then one day I thought, "Why do I have to be married for that? Why can't I do that now?" There are a lot of things I would like to do and experience, and I don't want to put my life on hold until I get married, lose weight, have "enough" money, etc. I want to live fully starting yesterday. :)[/Segue way]

So that's why travel can wait. I've never saved up money to give away, and I want to do that now. Oh, that and I need to save up my emergency and unemployment funds, but that doesn't sound nearly as impressive. :)

Quick question...

With my 401k, how do I find out how much the fees are for the different funds I'm invested in? Is that information in the prospectus of each fund? Meg makes a point about finding out these costs, but I'm not sure where to look. Plus I think I need to reallocate some of my money so my 401k is more diversified. Help please?

Another thing: My employer doesn't offer a lot of choices. Ten to be exact. Is this typical or do other employers offer more or less?

  • S&P 500 Index Fund
  • Euro Pacific Fund
  • Brandywine Fund
  • CRM Small Cap Fund
  • XYZ Company Friess SM Cap Growth Fund
  • Emerging Markets Fund
  • Stable Value Fund
  • XYZ Company Dodge & Cox Fund
  • XYZ Company Harbor Cap Fund
  • LSV Value Equity Fund

My networth and oatmeal

My net worth increased
In spite of depleting my savings for the vacay, I'm still worth something. :) Thankfully, the stocks rebounded so I made an addition $2,000 over last month. Guess I can retire at 70.25 instead of 70.50. Woot!

The cost of oatmeal at Corner Bakery has gone up
From $2.97 including tax to $3.09. It's not a huge increase, however for the sake of principal, I don't believe I should have to pay more than three bucks for oatmeal, brown sugar, and a sweet crisp. Oh yeah, no sweet crisp anymore! They give you some tiny piece of knarly ass. Whatever man, I'll just have to be more diligent of bringing my own oatmeal to work in the mornings. It's a pain in the ass to make, but I LOVE steel-cut oatmeal. I just need to find a way to make a huge batch of it without scorching the bottom of my pot.