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The price of dignity: $15

October 5th, 2014 at 08:40 am

Yesterday, I did something I haven't done in years.

I went to the salon!

Back in January, my hair was getting extremely long and my co-worker offered to cut it for me. She seemed very confident (and had been asking to do it for months), so I agreed, but it did not take me long to realize that she bit off way more than she could chew. My hair is very thick, full, and slippery, and she was really struggling to cut through it. As tortuously long minutes ticked by and she continued to saw and hack and hem and haw, my distress level was starting to rise precipitously.

Finally, I had to put an end to it. I had started off with waist-length hair, and by the time I made her stop, my hair was down to chin-length, and could barely be tied back into a tiny, pathetic stub of a ponytail. The left side was visibly longer than the right, and the back was all sorts of different lengths. It looked, to put it bluntly, utterly ridiculous. I was completely traumatized by the experience.

But in the interest of good workplace relations, I had to smile and nod and pretend that I loved my new haircut -- as well as endure the painfully polite "compliments" from all my other friends and co-workers. There was nothing that I wanted to do more than to run to a salon and get everything fixed (in a wild moment of panic, I even considered hair extensions), but if I'd went out and got it redone immediately, the charade would have been up.

So I gritted my teeth, ironed my resolve, and spent the next nine months growing my hair back out. It has been a miserable, embarrassing, and painstakingly long wait, but the time has finally come that my hair is long enough to handle a trim without an immediately noticeable loss of length.

I found a coupon for a $9 haircut at a local salon, and went. I was extremely nervous after what I'd been through, but the stylist made me feel so comfortable, and he did exactly what I wanted, which was to even out everything while taking as little off as possible. The difference is subtle but immeasurable -- the comment from the SO was, "You actually look like you have a proper haircut now."

Lesson learned. Some tasks should best be left to the professionals. I don't think the trauma of the past nine months was worth a free haircut. I have never been so relieved to hand over money in a very long while. The guy certainly earned it. That $15 (I gave a $6 tip) was so worth my peace of mind... and my dignity. Whew.

Celebratory leeks

September 18th, 2014 at 01:11 pm

Convo from this morning, with the SO who also paid off his student loans earlier this year --

SO: I wanted to have a FUCK YEAH NO MORE STUDENT LOANS reward.

SO: But then I did the thing I always do when I attempt to reward myself.

SO: Go: "Do I really need to?"

SO: But maybe we can have a nice Fuck Student Loans dinner some day.

SO: Probably not.

Me: Why don't we have a nice Fuck Student Loans purchase of leeks, and make, I dunno… pho or something.

SO: Snicker.

SO: AWW YEAH.

SO: Sounds good.

(Pho is one of our favorite meals, but we shop sales 90% of the time and leeks are NEVER on sale.)

And for anyone who's keeping track, we did not get the celebratory walnuts last weekend (still balked at the price when not on sale, heh), but we did get a $2 bag (14-oz) of discontinued Skittles from Ocean State Job Lot, because apparently Skittles went gelatin-free in 2010, and I HAD NO IDEA. I haven't had Skittles since 2002 (when I went veg), so I was totes excited.

I love that we can appreciate the little, inexpensive things. They honestly make us way happier than typical consumerism.

Millionaire

September 11th, 2014 at 02:04 am

Yesterday, I vested into some more of my employee stock options, the ones I got three years ago before the stock price shot up almost six fold. I logged onto Mint and checked my net worth -- it's jumped up to almost up to $600K.

Out of curiosity, I then asked the SO for the balances on his accounts, and added everything up, and… holy moly.

Together, we are now worth over one million dollars. We are officially millionaires. (WHAT!! Whoa.) It's a bit surreal. We are now, in actual fact, the millionaire(s?) next door. Big Grin

And we shall celebrate this fact with walnuts.

Frustrated with Financial Advisors

July 8th, 2014 at 10:47 pm

My workplace will occasionally bring in financial advisors to give seminars and one-on-one consultations. I've been to two of these sessions, meeting with three advisors total, the most recent of which was just this past week, and have come away frustrated at the lack of productivity every time.

I understand that it's a free service, the scope of their help is limited by time, and they're likely not expecting someone like me, but I think it goes beyond that.

The main crux of the issue is that we simply don't see eye-to-eye philosophically.

For this most recent meeting, I tried to go prepared. In the past, showing my various account balances just resulted in sputters of disbelief and a request to repeat my age, so I brought my complete Social Security earnings history. When I say that my spending is such that a withdrawal rate of $20K is sufficient to maintain my lifestyle, I get asked what kind of car I drive and what model phone I have, so I actually tallied up the entirety of my annual spending to demonstrate that I am not, in fact, grossly underestimating my expenses.

But it didn't work. I still got asked to repeat my age. I still got told soothingly that "circumstances change", that expenses rise over time, and that once I get used to a higher standard of living, it's difficult to go back. The advisor took one look at the grocery line on my budget and told me, pityingly, "Well, you don't look like you eat much".

That last comment just made me laugh, because it shows how deceiving appearances can be. Now, I am a tiny, tiny person, so I guess it might seem like I "don't eat much", but that's not the case at all. I actually love eating and cooking, and I even briefly attended culinary school and worked as a prep cook at a restaurant before my pharmaceutical career took off. Our pantry is stocked to the brim, we make all our food from scratch, and we eat like kings -- all on a fraction of the cost of average households.

But what's more, that comment also betrayed the tacit assumptions made by the advisor. I am tiny because I don't eat, and she feels sorry for me because she assumed that I'm purposefully depriving myself, and that I will let it go at some point. It's fairly galling to me, mostly because it really reminds me of the condescending comments I've gotten my entire life when I tell people that I don't want kids, and they're like, "Oh, you may say that NOW, but just wait and see..."

Um, no. I know what I want, it's not the same as what you want, please don't project yourself onto me while ignoring what I actually say, because it causes you to come to incorrect conclusions about me, which makes me quite grumpy.

The truth of the matter is, at our current level of spending, we have almost everything we could possibly want, and I frankly don't know what else to spend money on. I don't want a bigger house; I actually prefer it small and cozy. I don't want a fancy car -- I barely even want a car at all, although I accept that I need one at the present time. I don't want a smartphone, I'm perfectly fine with my six year old phone, and I don't even have texting or a data plan.

And as for food... When I can make gorgeous artisan bread for less than a dollar per loaf, why would I ever want to spend more? And even if I go hog-wild and stop subbing walnuts for pine nuts in my pesto recipe because pine nuts are too expensive, I still don't see my grocery bill increasing by that much, because at the end of the day, any raw ingredients, even pine nuts, simply don't add up to more than a few hundred dollars a year.

Perhaps the hardest fact for these financial advisors to wrap their heads around is that I really and truly do not find consumerism to be all that appealing. For me, frugality is not a form of masochistic self-deprivation; I genuinely find it much more satisfying to live a simple and efficient lifestyle. As a result of these dispositional differences, all of their advice and experience is predicated on a set of assumptions that do not apply to me.

I think this is a big part of why haven't felt comfortable and in sync with these financial advisors. (Hell, I think this is a big part of why I feel out of place in this world. :P)

There was a bit of good news that came out of this session, though. After I finally got her to stop fighting me on the validity of my numbers, she conceded that she does think I can early retire in ten years. Actually, she doesn't think I need more than five years, especially if I can line up a side hustle. Obviously, I won't just take her word for it, but at least this tells me that I'm not on a wild goose chase. This is a realistic and achievable goal.

I just have to work out all the details.

Summer is watermelon season

July 1st, 2014 at 07:27 pm

I adore watermelon -- it is one of my favorite fruits. I'm generally not a big fan of summer (too hot, and sweating is gross), but one thing I do look forward to is watermelon.

This week, one of the loss leaders at my local Stop 'n Shop was a whole watermelon for $3.99.

I picked through the bin, tapping and weighing each one, until I found a behemoth that clocked in at 20.62 lbs.

Afterwards, I ran the math -- $3.99 / 20.62 lb = $0.19 per lb

Hee! I am very pleased with myself.

When it rains, it pours

June 26th, 2014 at 07:05 am

Back in the beginning of May, during a particularly heavy storm, water seeped into the basement of our raised ranch, and a small patch of carpet got wet.

I'm not home much at all (I work out of state so the only person at home during the week is the SO), and we don't spend much time downstairs in the basement, but as far as we're aware, this was the first time water had gotten into the house.

All right, it's confession time. I'm a few different things, but handy is not one of them. I grew up in city apartments with my nose buried in books, and I'm lucky if I can identify -- much less wield -- a screwdriver. The SO is also very mechanically/manually challenged. He is utterly flummoxed by wonton wrappers and never learned how to ride a bike.

Suffice it to say -- neither of us had any clue what to do. How big of a deal was this leak? Is it a sign of progressively bigger problems to come? Or was it a one-time fluke due to extraordinarily heavy rainfall? I wasn't there to see it happen, so I don't even have a sold conception of how much water there was, although the SO claimed he blotted through an entire roll of paper towels. (But have you also seen boys with paper towels? Do they ever use less than an entire roll on a spill?)

So we try to investigate what might be wrong. There might be a small crack in the foundation where the leak was, but maybe it's been there all along and is just superficial. The gutters weren't quite sloped right and were dripping a bit. The ground near the house has settled a bit, so some water is running/pooling against the side of the house.

Any or all of these could be plausible explanations for the water, but given our lack of expertise in these matters and the number of 'horror stories' one finds on the internet, I feel like I have the housing equivalent of medical students' disease.

First, the SO called some "dry basement" people. It turns out that they all want to tear up the floor of the basement, drill holes in the foundation, let all the water in to relieve the hydraulic pressure, and pump it out with a sump pump and generator -- all to the price tag of $3000 to $10,000. Um, WTF? No thanks, it was a bit of wet carpet, not a full on flood.

Then he called some gutter people, thinking that it's fairly low-hanging fruit, since the gutters shouldn't be dripping anyway, even if the drip is unlikely to be the sole cause of the water. Their offers ranged from a basic repair/tune-up to fancy patented proprietary systems.

Shortly after the initial leak, the SO dug a trench that re-routed most of the runoff around the house. It was kind of hideous looking, but it was definitely catching the water, and there hasn't been another leak since. He wasn't sure if the amateur trench would hold, so he called professional landscapers. Those proposals ranged from "Why are you wasting my time with something so minor? Call me back when you have a real problem to fix" to multi-thousand dollar projects.

If I'm being totally honest, I'm not sure we need most of these services, for a problem that may not even recur. However, the SO is kind of insecure about his lack of home maintenance expertise, as well as a fair bit more paranoid than me (his mind always goes to the worst-case scenario, which is great motivation for saving money, but fairly harrowing for everything else in life), so he feels better about being a bit more proactive rather than waiting and seeing and risking additional water damage.

He hired a gutter guy to replace the leaking gutters and add an extra downspout ($300). He also hired a landscaper to replace his hand-dug drainage ditch with a rock-lined dry creek bed ($900). He's also contracted with another landscaper to reslope the yard ($500) and reseed the lawn (that got torn up by the creek bed installation).

In addition to all of the above, he also wants to take down a dead tree that he's been eyeing for the past few years ($1000), and exterminate some carpenter bees ($200). Now he's also looking at window guys, because one of the windows seems to be rotting out a bit, and he's also considering hiring an asphalt guy to reseal the driveway ($850).

I am trying really hard to stay calm about this, because these are, by far, the largest expenses I've seen. On the other hand, I don't want the house to fall into disrepair, and I'm fine with hiring professionals to handle jobs we can't do on our own.

But we are feeling a little overwhelmed and in over our heads when it comes to dealing with the expense of home ownership and maintenance. I know we can technically afford everything, but is getting all this work done the right course of action? I guess you live and learn. This might be the one area where we will suck at conserving resources.

Fuel efficiency this week

June 21st, 2014 at 03:12 am

Snapped a photo of my mpg gauge after this week's driving --



This is one of my best figures yet. Sometimes I feel like I over-purchased on my car, but fuel efficiency was my single most important criteria, and I've gotta say -- I'm pretty pleased that I can pull off gas mileages that are practically on par with hybrids.

Not only does it save on gas, but it also saves the planet!

Flash Forward

June 17th, 2014 at 12:00 am

It's been a while, but I am back, and I am rebooting O Capitalism!

When I started this blog back in 2006, I had just graduated from college, and was starting to work through the ins and outs of being on my own. After figuring out the basics of frugal living and financial management (including the magic of compounding interest), and especially after landing a terrific new job, I sort of went on autopilot for a while, and stopped thinking about and working at personal finance.

However, a lot has happened over the past six years, and here's the whirlwind cliff notes version. After changing jobs, I bought a house (2008), my SO moved in (2009), we got some cats (2009, 2010), I lost my job (2011), I earned a Master's degree (2011), I found a new job out of state (2011), I paid off one of my student loans (2011), I replaced the 14-year-old car I inherited from my parents (2013), I refinanced my mortgage (2013), and that brings me to now.

This year, 2014, I am turning 30. It's hard to believe that time has flown so fast, but I am officially bidding good-bye to my 20s and young adulthood. I feel like I need to reassess where I've been, where I'm going, and plot a fresh new course for the next decade. After all, this is a long game.

Let's play.

While you were gone...

March 23rd, 2008 at 04:59 pm

I've been sitting here, trying to decide how to portray this past year, whereby I transformed from a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed academic wannabe to, well, a corporate whore. Wink

For anyone in biomedical research, especially in academia, the funding situation is getting dire as NIH grants become more and more scarce. Labs, including my own at Yale, were running out of money, and new grant applications still get continually rejected. My PI's (principle investigator, also known as the boss or head of the lab) attempt to solve this problem involved hiring more postdocs, and pushing his staff as far as they can stand, and then some, to try to eke out the publications that the lab needs to renew existing grants and land new ones.

I don't think anything has shaken my faith in science more than reading and generating data for my PI's grant applications. I'd do the experiment once, and get a small positive effect. I'd repeat it, and get a small negative effect. The third time is the charm, and will finally answer the question, right? Nope, the third result is *no* effect.

If I had to draw a conclusion, it would be that there is no effect. What ends up happening? The PI grabs the result that fits with his hypothesis, plops it into the grant application like it is fact, and pretends that the other two results don't exist.

Meh?

I've heard the justification. "We must put our best foot forward in the grant application to get the money FIRST, and then we can explore the complexities in greater detail AFTER," he explained. Um, okay. That's great and all, but if your hypothesis is WRONG, or even seriously flawed, you won't be able to publish those coveted Shiny Papers In High-Impact Journals, even if you get the money.

Right? Or am I missing something here?

And then there were my PI's ill-conceived attempts to save money, like giving every lab member a monthly budget for their experiments. Now I take care of keeping the lab stocked with "common" lab supplies, while the other lab members ordered the specific reagents they needed for their own experiments. But after the budget got imposed, everyone was afraid of ordering reagents and spending money, so they all ended up coming to me and asking me to order their reagents for them, since I'm "in charge of ordering stuff"; but really, they just wanted my name on the bill instead of theirs. In fact, in the weeks prior to my departure, I was informed that members of the lab were specifically saying amongst themselves, "Oh, X, Y, and Z reagents are expensive, but we need them for the experiment! We must make Mimi order then before she leaves!" Rolleyes

I could go on and on about how the budget crunch, and my PI's clear inability to effectively manage his funds and his staff, sent everything into a downward spiral, but I'll spare you the grisly details. Let's just say that I grew increasingly bitter, disheartened, and I completely burnt out.

By the summer of 2007, I was already sending out e-mails and scoping out new jobs. I got my driver's license, moved in with my boyfriend, and started carpooling to work so that it forced me to adhere to a consistent work schedule, rather than pouring in countless hours of unpaid and thankless overtime. I also enrolled in culinary arts classes at a local community college, because all I could think about at work was how much I'd rather be cooking at a restaurant. It's the same kind of manual labor, minus the biohazard.

I got a break during November, when attending a conference. (Me and three other postdocs crammed ourselves into a tiny motel room for five days to cut expenses. After that experience, we vowed never to do that again. Two guys, two girls, two bed, and one smoker did not a pleasant experience make.) I found out that a major pharmaceutical company in the state was hiring. Immediately, I sent in my resume.

The Monday before Thanksgiving, my PI comes into the office while I'm alone (I'm always the first one in, so he knows when he can find me alone), and asks me "what my plans are". I answered in the usual fashion, that I was going to stay until next summer, and then move on to industry. He replies that the funding situation is bad, and that I should start looking for jobs as soon as possible; the job market's not great, it may take me eight months to find something; I should even consider looking out of state! But, if I do get an offer, they'll probably want me to start right away, so I can leave earlier than next summer if I want to. Even next February!

Hint hint.

My PI can be incredibly passive-aggressive and manipulative, I can recognize a layoff warning when I hear one. Lovely. Maybe it's because he found out that I was no longer working 15 hours a week in overtime, thanks to my need to catch my carpool? Or that I was taking culinary classes, which had nothing to do with the Lab To Which Everyone Must Devote Their Entire Being? Or that my name is associated with all the major lab supplies expenditures? Or did he just choose me because I was the only staff without a family, and had the best chance of landing another job? Or because he knew I'd planned on leaving anyway? It didn't matter. It was done.

(Did I mention he had this talk with me the Monday before Thanksgiving? I had a really crappy Thanksgiving.)

But then, in December, I got a call back from Major Pharmaceutical Company. They wanted a phone interview! And then they wanted an in-person, on-site interview! I went out and spent $250 on an interview outfit, including $150 at a specialty shoe store on the only pair of shoes that fit me that I found acceptable. (As it turned out, I'm a size 4.5. Department stores don't even carry below a size 6, so I had to go to a specialty shoe store and pay the premium.)

The day after my interview in mid-December, I get a phone call. They're making me an offer! And paying me $10,000 more than I'd asked for.

I had a good Christmas. Wink

I told my PI of my job offer in January, and gave him my two weeks. I could tell by his body language that he was surprised and even dismayed that I would be leaving so soon (it kind of figures that he realizes at that particular moment that I am not, in fact, easily dispensable), but I insisted that my new job wanted me to start as soon as possible, and I would be taking a week off between jobs (the ONLY time I have EVER taken off), and two weeks was all that he was going to get.

My PI completely avoided me my last two weeks. He didn't attend my farewell lunch. I couldn't even find him on my last day to say goodbye.

And so, I closed that particular chapter of my life, and turned over a new leaf.

On January 28, 2008, I officially became a corporate whore. Smile

And corporate whore-ism never felt so good. Wink

A year later

March 22nd, 2008 at 09:54 am

So, it's been over a year since I've last posted here.

Oh, what a difference a year can make.

I guess I should re-introduce myself. I'm Mimi, I'm 23. I graduated from a SLAC (small liberal arts college) in 2006 with a degree in biology.

The original genesis of this blog coincided with my getting hired at my first job as a research assistant at a major academic research institution (key financial word being "academic"). I was just starting to get mired in the big, scary world of personal finance, and this blog was where I worked everything out.

This return marks a new chapter in my life, because it coincides with my getting hired at my second job.

That's right, I ditched my academic job, and sold out to industry.

This new development wasn't terribly off from my original plans. I was going to work for two years as a tech at a university, and build my CV; then, I would switch over to industry, and ramp up retirement savings on the increased salary for two more years; and then I would go to grad school with the peace of mind of knowing that although I would live in drudgery for six years, I am set for retirement even if academia chews me up and spits me out.

So I'm not too far off -- I left academia after 1.5 years rather than 2, but I landed the industry job I was counting on. But life has a way of being unpredictable, and throwing curve balls your way.

That's why I'm back. It's good to be back. Smile

Did my roommate just do what I think he just did?

January 9th, 2007 at 01:49 am

So for anyone who does not recall part one of the diabolical roommate saga, here is a refresher.

Last September, roommie got a shiny new AmEx Blue Cash credit card with a 15 month 0% introductory APR and $3700 credit limit. He got it specifically so that he could charge a $2000 LCD projector on it during October. His plan was to pay $200 per month while the 0% APR lasted.

Now, I had doubts that he was disciplined enough to stick to that plan, but you never know. He was very proud of the fact that he has no signficant credit card debt.

Fast forward to last week, and two clues emerged that indicate how his plan went badly awry.

Clue one. Last Thursday, we went to Costco, and I had a $14 bill. Since Costco only accepts AmEx, I usually let my roommate charge my bill on his card so that he can get the rewards, and then I pay him back via bank transfer, usually on the same day.

That day, however, he didn't want to charge my bill anymore, saying that his balance was already $3000, and he didn't want to increase it further. I was a little confused. $15 was not enough to drive him over his credit limit, so either his actual balance was much higher, or he had plans to charge more on his card later this month.

Either way, it revealed that he has not been paying off his balance.

Clue two. The next day, he tells me that he got hit with a $30 late fee for not paying his AmEx balance on time ("Late Payment Fee: Subject to applicable law, $15 on balances less than $100, $29 on balances of $100 to $1,000, and $35 on balances greater than $1,000"). I told him to call and get it taken off, but he didn't want to go through the trouble.

In a fit of curiosity, I checked out AmEx's terms and conditions for his particular card, and ran into the following (my emphasis):

"Your account is reviewed monthly and will be considered in default if minimum payments are not timely paid one time, or seriously in default if minimum payments are not timely paid two or more times, your account is overlimit three or more times, or your payment is returned by your bank or financial institution. ... The introductory APRs and any other promotional rates will terminate upon your account being considered in default or seriously in default and the applicable Default APR will apply."

And then: "The APR for defaulted and seriously defaulted accounts is determined monthly by adding 12.99% and 21.99%, respectively, to the Prime Rate."

Source.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this. Now I'm not sure if what I THINK happened actually DID happen, but if it did, he has seriously cooked his own goose.

It would mean that he defaulted on a $3000 balance and forfeited his introductory 0% APR for whatever "Prime Rate + 12.99%" must be. And while I have no clue what the Prime Rate is, it's probably not pretty.

Can this train wreck get any worse?

A few minor things

December 13th, 2006 at 02:01 pm

Not much new to add, but a few notes...

I got my Colgate rebate for $2.79! Now I can put that nonsense out of my head once and for all.

I referred a friend to ING, and earned $10 for me, and $25 for her! That was exciting.

I discovered that I could get a multi-ride car for public buses at a discount per-ride of 25 cents. They were introduced in the beginning of November.

A very, very old loan got paid back.

I contacted payroll and the summer sublet folks about my paycheck and deposit.

Never trust Verizon again, as they can't do basic MATH.

Finally, my BF and I looked at a house last weekend. (We're not buying one together or anything, just looking.) I'll probably write more on this later.

Got my free annual credit report

December 7th, 2006 at 05:31 am

It wasn't as difficult as I thought.

I have five open accounts, all in good standing--my credit card, two student loans, and, apparently, two of my father's credit cards.

Seriously, I didn't know this until just now.

I also have four old student loan accounts that were paid off and closed when I consolidated. Except they each show up twice on Experian--once as "paid/closed", and once as "transferred/closed". Dunno what that's all about.

I also found the following interesting:

American Express requested info from TransUnion 7 times in the past year.

Capital One requested info from Equifax 11 times during the past year. As if that wasn't enough, they also requested info 25 times from Experian since March 2005.

Eek?!

I should ask my parents if there are floods of credit card offers from those two companies. It'd be amusing if there were.

Sayonara, Bank of America

December 2nd, 2006 at 08:35 am

I finally took the time to walk into a Bank of America and close my soul-sucking savings account--you know, the one with the 0.0000001% interest rate. Stick Out Tongue

Then, I downgraded my checking account from Regular to MyAccess.

Then, I transferred my entire savings account, plus a good bit of checking, into ING.

Come next February, I transfer my last remaining fixed-term Roth IRA over to Vanguard.

And then I shall be FREE! Mwahahahaha!

(Whoa, when did I reach 10,000+ hits?!)

A tale of two scallions

November 30th, 2006 at 05:55 am

I brought back two pots and topsoil from Thanksgiving with the 'rents.

I planted two scallions in one of the pots. They're just scallions bought from the store, with the greens cut off.

I measured them yesterday. 4.5 cm and 5 cm.

Today? One of them is still 4.5 cm...

But the other one is nearly 6 cm!

They're so cute! I'm going to be sad when I eat them.

New desktop for $200

November 26th, 2006 at 06:24 am

(One of) my desktop PCs bit the dust a couple of weeks ago. It was a little over four years old.

My father jumped at the chance to replace it for me.

The thing about our family is that we do not walk into a store and point to a box--oh no. My father's hard-core. Here's how we shop.

- Pentium D 830 3.0g GHz processor: $133.86 ($50 rebate)
- motherboard to match processor: $49.13
- 1 gig RAM: $149.99 ($100 rebate)
- cooling fan: $18.99 ($10 rebate)

End result?

A spanking new computer with quite decent specs for $201.20 (includes $9.23 shipping and handling).

The only caveat? Assembly required. Wink

He would've gotten me a double-layer DVD-burner to compliment my pre-existing CD-burner, but I turned it down. I also turned down a new monitor.

I did, however, accept a 1 gig Flash memory stick for $7.98 (after rebate).

I'm all tech'ed out for the season. Big Grin

Best Overall Costume, boo-yeah!

November 1st, 2006 at 04:47 am

Today, our department had a little Halloween party, with prizes given out for best costume.

I went as Sadako, from The Ring. I simply wore a white dress, and let my hair down.

It worked. Everyone recognized me immediately, and were totally wigged out. I ended winning both Scariest Costume *and* Best Overall Costume. Big Grin

Here's the photo.

I got a Sensi-Cush (aka Super-Squishy) pillow as my prize.

Hee!

Let them eat curry

October 31st, 2006 at 07:26 am

Went shopping, as expected, on 10/28. Bought:

- mushrooms: $1.81
- eggs: $0.99
- scallions: $0.80/bunch
- tofu (2 boxes): $0.99/each
- coconut milk: $1.20/can
- green curry paste: $0.90

Total: $7.68

I made a perfectly passable Thai green curry with those last two items. Since one can of green curry paste suffices for two cans of coconut milk (I'm too wussy for the full-strength dose), that comes out to $1.65 for the curry sauce. Add in veggies for the sauce and plenty of rice to serve the curry over, and you have quite a memorable dinner for $2 - $3.

And a proper green curry at a Thai restaurant would put one back around $10 around here. And one is never sure if fish/shrimp paste gets into it. Since I'm becoming more paranoid about the vegetarianism of Thai food by the minute, this affords me valuable peace of mind, especially since I can't always get a straight answer from waitpeople.

Man, I love my HK grocery.

Lending money to friends--good idea or bad?

October 26th, 2006 at 04:56 am

I got hit up for another loan from a colleague today.

$200.

He's going home to India at the end of October until Thanksgiving, and I guess he needs a cash advance before his next paycheck. He even said he'll write me a check beforehand, and let me know when I can cash it.

I haven't gotten back the $300 I lent another colleague earlier this month.

Yes, it has apparently gotten around that I am the one sitting on top of wads and wads of cash.

Ironically, I earn less than ALL of them.

I'm more amused than annoyed, really. All of my colleagues are good friends, and I'm totally willing to help them out if it's in my power.

But I don't know how far I should let this go, or where I should draw the line. Could this turn into a slippery slope? Will they get used to this, and continue asking for loans, even for non-emergencies?

Once I get my desired cash flow scheme in place, I won't have as much of a buffer to hand out large loans. Yes, I'll still have loads in ING, but everything there is earmarked, and transferring money in and out constantly is not the most convenient of tasks.

I guess I'm just not sure if I'm being a doormat or a good friend.

Knowing me, though, I'll probably loan him the money. I do have enough to spare currently. And I like the 'pre-writing a check' idea. Maybe I'll institute that as a future loan policy.

Mostly a rant about the stupidity of airport security

October 19th, 2006 at 07:05 am

I am back from Atlanta.

I came in amazingly under budget. We can be reimbursed for up to $700, $250 of which is food allowance.

Plane: $173.61
Hotel: $230
Food: $50.33
Misc: $10, but will probably end up being $50.

Since we don't need receipts to claim the food allowance, I can still claim the $250 for food, and actually pocket $200. A part of me feels like it's not right to claim money that I never spent, but considering all the overtime hours I've put in that I never got compensated for, it's hard to feel guilty.

I'll do a more complete post when it's not 3am.

On a totally unrelated topic, airport security is so incredibly ridiculous these days.

On the way there, they checked every single compartment of my bag, and confiscated my bloody peanut butter. Fine, it's a potentially explosive "gel". But any idiot can tell that it's the *nonexplosive* variety of peanut butter, DUH.

I don't understood why they took the peanut butter, but not the poster tubes that can totally be used as clubs.

But the hilarious thing is, they took my peanut butter, but totally missed the RAZOR BLADE that I forgot that I kept in my wallet. I've actually cut myself on that thing, so it *does* work.

Peanut butter vs. razor. Hmmm, I wonder which is more dangerous. Not that my stupid razor is dangerous at all, unless you're, like, a hemophiliac or something, and are dumb enough to swipe your finger across it.

On the way back, I got flagged for having an outdated passport. Oops, I didn't notice, and neither did the airport security folk on the way there.

So I get sent back to the check-in counter for a new boarding pass labelled "SSSS". All that accomplished was wasting my precious time, and separating me from the people I was traveling with. It didn't actually STOP me from getting through eventually, or anything.

But I get routed to the special "suspicious people" line. Whoo-hoo! When I realized that I was in a special line, my first thought was, "I hope this isn't the line for the gas chambers."

So I put all my stuff on the x-ray scanner, and get picked for a random security check! Probably because I have those S's on my boarding pass, and a foreign passport, those racists.

All I could think was, "Way to go, choosing the TINY PACIFICST VEGETARIAN." I don't even kill spiders.

All this hubbub caused me to MISS MY FLIGHT.

Oh, and after all that, they STILL didn't find the razor that was still in my wallet. Because part of me was morbidly curious as to whether I could get away with it a second time.

Yeah, after going through this, I can fully attest that airport security is a total crock that accomplishes absolutely nothing. I don't think they even look that carefully at the x-rays. I'm sure that if I really wanted to, I could have snuck something a lot worse than a razor onto the plane.

I'm glad I don't travel all that often. The frustration would drive me batty.

Taking care of business

October 14th, 2006 at 06:44 am

I was in a panic this morning.

Today is payday, and I didn't see a direct deposit in either of my bank accounts.

Turns out, I got a plain old check this pay period. Three weeks ago, I'd requested that direct deposit be switched from ING to Bank of America. I didn't expect it to stop altogether.

I finally decided to e-mail our business office.

I asked them about my direct deposit stopping instead of switching.

I asked them about the revision to my W-4 that I submitted on 8/8 to change my filing status from "head of house" to "single" that still hasn't taken effect.

I asked them about the revision to my CT-W4 that I submitted 9/18 that asked them to stop withholding taxes from my paycheck, since I've already overpaid my taxes this year. As of today, I was still paying taxes.

I even told them that the last item was urgent, since I needed the money.

I hate bureaucracies. Hopefully, I'll finally get these issues resolved.

BTW, I'll be scarce for the next five days (at least), since I'm leaving Saturday morning for my conference in Atlanta. I'm coming back really late Wednesday night.

I know that my hotel offers a free breakfast, so I was packing some tupperware and ziplocs in case I could sneak some food out.

I noticed that my roommate, despite thoroughly mocking me for washing and reusing ziplocs, now has his own stash of rinsed ziplocs, ready to be reused.

Ha! *smirk*

I ticked off a salesperson yesterday, go me!

October 13th, 2006 at 03:00 am

I'm not sure if I should feel guilty about it.

See, what happened was this.

A colleague (and friend) of mine was ordering a cell phone. She's not very good at English, so she often enlists my help in browsing websites and making phone calls.

I agreed, and we found a plan she liked that offers a free phone (including shipping) and a waived $36 activation fee. We were almost done with ordering it online (she didn't want any of the extra add-ons), when we ran into a box for "discount code".

Now, we know that this particular provider offers a special discount for our institution, and of course we wanted to redeem that.

So I decide to call them up, and ask if there's a special code that I can input. The salesperson on the other line told me that the institutional discount can only be redeemed after an order has been placed, so he couldn't give me a code, but he could give me the number to call to request the discount afterwards.

All right, sounds good.

Except he doesn't give me the number right away, but invited us to place our order through him.

Um, okay, why not, I figured. He probably got a commission on each sale, and if we can order the same (or a better) package, then what's there to lose except a little time?

So I go through, and tell him the plan and phone that we wanted. He confirms that the prices were the same, and the phone was still free.

He just had to offer every single add-on (that we'd already been through online), and I had to turn him down on each one.

Finally, I get to the activation fee. It's waived online, and I ask if it's also waived with him. He sounds confused, and says that he doesn't see this option. I told him, as nicely as I could, that we were very interested in waiving the activation fee, and if he can't get that for us, then I'll just go ahead and order everything online.

Here's where things got really weird.

I was expecting him to let me go, but instead, he started to argue with me.

No, he highly recommends ordering the phone through him, because he can personally place the order, and make sure that the phone arrives on time. If the order were placed online, it would not get immediate attention, and a mistake could be made. The phone delivery might get delayed, or not arrive at all!

Umm, let's just say that throughout this entire heartfelt speech, I was mentally calling BS on every single thing he said.

I was *positive* that he was getting a sales commission now.

But what about the activation fee, I ask again.

His reply? Not to worry! He'll give me the phone number to call for the discount, and when I'm calling, I can also ask to have the activation fee be waived. And speaking of the discount, I would need an order number to redeem it, and he can give that to me if he places my order.

Uh-huh, like the online website won't give me a confirmation number and e-mail with the same exact information.

I press him again about the activation fee. Is it guaranteed to be waived if I call the number he gives?

He waffles on the answer, something along the lines of, "If you can't get it waived, you can cancel the order without charge, and re-order it online". He obviously has no idea, and no way was I going through *that* trouble.

Finally, I gently tell him that I'll place the order online, so could he please stop holding the phone number hostage already.

He reluctantly relents, and sounds very, very peeved at me.

At this point, I've probably spent 20 to 30 minutes on the phone with this man. And I knew within the first 2 minutes that he couldn't help me with my original question (discount code).

And still, I was willing to order through him and have him earn a commission if he could get me the same deal as online. He couldn't, and he had the gall to spew BS at me, and be mad at me when I didn't bite?

Afterwards, I find out that the waived activation fee was only offered for ONLINE orders. Probably so that they don't have to pay salespeople like him to take orders.

All this trouble to save my friend $36.

I never trusted salespeople to begin with, and this certainly didn't help matters. I didn't *want* to cost him a commission, or even his job, but DAMN was that ANNOYING!

In other news, I lent this same friend $300 today, because I am apparently Ms. Moneybags. I do trust her to pay me back, but the amount is making me feel a little uncomfortable. She says she can return it by the end of the month, but I'll ask if she can return it before November 1st, since I don't know if my direct deposit will switch in time, and I want to be able to make rent without having to transfer money out of ING.

Free food = Happiness

October 5th, 2006 at 02:57 am

I'm in a good mood, despite having to stay really late at work (until 8pm).

There was a scientic vendor exhibition today, which offered a free pizza lunch, as well as candies and giveaways at each vendor's booth.

And those who know me will know for sure that my motto is, "If there's free food, I am THERE!" Big Grin

So, on top of getting free pizza (with lemonade, a can of Coke, and cake for dessert), I also collected more chocolate munchies than one can shake a stick at. I also got a mousepad, a mini-stapler, a keychain flashlight, an envelope opener, a large plastic cup, lots of pens, and a yo-yo.

So the yo-yo is kind of random, but whatever. Smile Everything else is really useful, and I'd never buy the candies and soda for myself, so they're a real treat when I can get them for free.

Upon getting home, I decided to raid the kitchen cabinet of the previous tenant in my apartment. She apparently left behind pasta and a large container of pasta sauce, among other goodies.

So I chopped up some veggies, and made pasta with sauce, using her stash.

Total food expenditure for today: half an onion, and half a crown of broccoli. Oh, and some olive oil.

I might make some garlic bread from my own food stores before the night is out, but all in all, not a bad deal.

403(b) has been activated!

September 29th, 2006 at 10:35 am

Today is payday.

Funny how I always wake up insanely early to check my bank accounts for direct deposits on these days.

Good news is that my 403(b) deductions have finally started. The deposit is down $200, from $995 to $795.

Bad news is that direct deposit hasn't switched from ING to BoA yet, and they are still deducting taxes, even though I faxed in new forms instructing them not to. And I don't see the 403(b) in my Vanguard account yet.

Maybe by the next pay cycle...

*impatient*

Yesterday was an interesting day

September 23rd, 2006 at 09:13 pm

I finally went ahead and transferred $2,393.61 from my Bank of America savings account to my checking account. I left the minimum $1500 in savings to keep my checking free.

And from there, I transferred $1,393.61 to my ING account.

I held $1000 back because my co-workers were registering for a course that our PI was supposed to pay for, but they couldn't find him in time. So who's Ms. MoneyBags in case they had to throw down a check anyway?

Yours truly, apparently. Blink

That is just wrong on so many different levels.

Thank goodness I didn't actually have to loan them the money. Actually, I would have been loaning my boss money. How weird is that? And it's not a trivial amount, too.

Anyway, after work, I attended an International Student Welcome Dinner with two labmates. I would be getting a free meal, and all I had to do was...pretend to be an international student. It was amusing and rather stressful, because although I knew I looked the part, I also knew that if I spoke one lick of English, my perfect American accent would give me away instantaneously.

So I did a lot of smiling, nodding, enthusiastic gesticulating, and fakely-accented single syllabic responses. Anything to convince people that I wanted to communicate, I was trying to, but I couldn't speak enough English to carry on a full conversation.

Yeah, it was pretty hilarious. Smile

The food was good, though, and totally worth it--eggplant parmesian, salad, and pizza. And I got to take home a free box of donuts because they had too much left over. Score!

Then, I went to B&N to read. I finished half of Rich Dad Poor Dad. Fascinating book, I'll need more time to absorb it.

On the way home, I passed by a help wanted sign. Didn't have the guts to go in and ask about it, though. Why am I such a wuss?? I guess I just hate confronting people (this is why I retreat to the internet). I just freeze up and end up talking myself out of it.

Maybe next weekend, when the SO visits, I'll have him accompany me as I go door-to-door. That might, like, actually force me to go inside and ask.

I'm also thinking of getting certified as an EMT, and then doing that as my part-time nights and weekends job. All this, because I'm afraid to walk into a store and ask about their help wanted sign.

Self-confidence? What self-confidence?

Diabolical roommate strikes again!

September 22nd, 2006 at 09:43 am

Sorry, I just feel like ranting today. Parts are only marginally financially related, so feel free to ignore. I don't mean to waste blog-space.

Roommie just applied for, and got, a new American Express Blue Cash credit card. He got this card specifically so that he can buy a new $2000 widescreen LCD projector to replace/upgrade his television. The whole point is to pay it off slowly during the introductory 15 month 0% APR rate.

Fine. I know he won't stop at the projector, but he's limited by the $3700 credit limit, and in the end, that's his issue. And he can brag to me about great this projector is, and all the market research he did to find the best deal, and how nice it'll be to have a bonafide home theater system. And he can even mope to me about how he can't afford something like this without the credit card.

What confounds me is the fact that he's leaving the country next summer, so he'll either have to sell his toys, or ship them overseas. He's been a postdoc in my lab for three years, and the maximum term is four years, unless you get promoted.

And I can tell you right now, without a modicum of doubt, that he will not get promoted. He wanders in hours late, leaves hours early, citing "exhaustion" (yeah, like those of us working 10 hour days), fails to show when our PI ("principal investigator" aka the boss (wo)man who pays your salary) is not around, and goofs off when he is at work. He has done two experiments in the three months I've been there, and has no new data or results to show for it.

I'm surprised that our PI hasn't fired his ass. I bet he wants to, but he's just too nice/tolerant to do it. Or he's not aware of the full extent of the situation.

He *could* look for a new postdoc position. But he's not. He knows that our PI doesn't want to renew his visa. He also knows that he won't be getting a good letter of recommendation, so it'll be tough to land a new position. But most of all, he's simply not motivated enough to care. He's just going to run back home and let his mommy take care of him.

In the meantime, however, he'll just waste our PI's grant money on $2000 LCD projectors, instead of generating the data our PI needs to get the grant renewed next year.

Now even this I wouldn't bother myself with, if it's truly his own damn business (and our PI's).

Except that it's NOT.

I'm quite peeved that he doesn't feel threatened by the prospect of losing his job, when MY OTHER, PERFECTLY HARDWORKING CO-WORKERS ARE. The other tech was hired in my lab after her PI couldn't get a new grant, and had to let her go. She's afraid the same thing will happen again. And the postdocs are saying that no, PIs will cut *them* first, their salaries are higher, they're higher maintenance, and they're not protected by a union.

I feel so bad for my co-workers. I'm pretty sure my PI won't fire me--his wife was my professor, and he won't downsize his wife's A+ student unless he was really desperate--but even if he does, I've been promised another tech job by a professor at my alma mater. And I'm *frugal*, so I can live off my savings and emergency fund for months, if I need to.

My co-workers aren't so lucky. They have families to support. They can't run home to mommy because they ARE the mommies.

I could go on for ages, but I won't. But I guess financial irresponsibility *does* carry over into *general* irresponsibility.

And I am no longer amused by the antics of my roommate. I am positively livid.

Lots of little things

September 18th, 2006 at 10:48 pm

Just some bookkeeping...

I found out that my 403(b) deductions will start coming out on 9/29. Hurrah! I need to verify that this will drop my taxable income down to where I want it to be.

I faxed a revised version of my W4 form to the business office, stating that my annual income is below the level where they need to withhold income tax. I think I've already overpaid this year's income taxes, anyway. I need to verify this, as well.

I transferred my direct deposit from ING to Bank of America. Once it switches over, I'm downgrading my checking account to MyAccess, and moving all of my savings over to my ING account.

Switched Vanguard's auto-withdrawals for my Roth to weekly, for real. Because apparently, it didn't register the first time I did this. Urg.

On the bright side, I got my $5 Pinecone check. Heh. I'm amused.

Still no 403(b), and BoA sucks

September 15th, 2006 at 12:04 pm

Got my direct deposit this morning, and still no sign of my 403(b) deduction. I need to call the benefits office again to figure out what's up. If I get anyone besides voicemail, that is.

My total gross income this year will be around $17,500. With a total exemption of $8450, that leaves my taxable income at around $9000.

I really want my 403(b) to kick in so that it'll bring my taxable income under $7,550, which will drop my federal income tax rate to 10%.

And then I can get my tax withholding dropped from 18% to 10%.

In other news, I tried to send my roommate my share of the utilities through Bank of America's online bill pay. I added him as a payee, and sent him $10, just to test.

A week later, he gets a check in the mail for $10. Not exactly what we wanted, or were expecting.

Finally, we figured out that "Transfer Funds" did the instantaneous electronic transfer that we were looking for. So I transferred him the full amount, he destroyed the check, and I thought we were done.

I just checked my transaction history yesterday, and I got debited $10. For the check that was destroyed and never cashed.

I sent them an inquiry. If I don't get my money back, I'm going to be seriously peeved.

ETA: My 403(b) kicks in on 9/29. Rock.

Vanguard Roth IRAs set up!

September 7th, 2006 at 12:42 pm

I got two letters from Vanguard yesterday.

My Roth IRA transfer went through! The money came out of my checking account this morning.

I also got charged $10 for being under the $5000 minimum.

Um. The check was for $6188.39. It must have been the delay between my opening my account (8/23) and the time it took for my check to get there (8/31)?

I'm kind of annoyed that I have to add "Call Vanguard and get fee taken off" to my to-do list. But I'm happy that this is done, and I've set up my monthly auto-transfer of $333.33 on the 15th of every month.

Making a list, checking it twice

September 1st, 2006 at 11:00 am

Argh, so much to take care of today, and only 90 minutes to do it before I have to leave for work.

It turns out I'm visiting the (ex-?)bf this Labor Day weekend. He offered to pay my travel expenses, but I'll also be eating his food for three/four days, so I haven't decided if I'm accepting the reimbursement. I'm using the CC for Amtrak, but I have to make sure I have the cash for the shuttle bus. (Yes, I do, but only in coins unless I break a $10. Good enough.)

I have to pay the rent. I can't remember if it's $70 or $75, but I'll leave a check for $75. Long story short, my lease technically begins today, but I've been living on the living room futon at my current apartment since mid-August, and will continue to do so until the end of September. This is because 1) I had to move in early, and 2) my roommate's old roommate wanted to stay an extra month. But I get reduced rent for September. (Done.)

I just paid my credit card bill. $35.19. I always do this on/near the first of the month, along with the rent, so I never forget and court late fees come the 12th.

I got my direct deposit, and it doesn't look like they took out for my 403(b). I need to call the Benefits Office and see what's going on with that--maybe the forms haven't gone through yet, or there's an error. I also need to switch my direct deposit from ING to Bank of America. Probably can't get that done today, though.

I need to pack clothes for this weekend. I'll probably bring a load of laundry (there are no laundry facilities in my building). I'm also bringing two books: The Millionare Mind, and YF&B. (Done, and done.)

I'm not sure when utility bills come in, but soon? Not looking forward to this AT ALL. Especially since the roommate insists on running the AC all day, even with it's 60 - 70 degrees out, and then complains that I don't always dim the living room lights, or shut off my computer at night. Argh. Oh, and I've probably contributed significantly to the gas bill. Double-argh.

Shut off alarm clock for the weekend. (Just did it.)

Check food perishables. Refrigerate or eat or bring. Do my dishes. (Done, done, and done.)

Want to shower before I leave, but might not make it, time-wise. (Hey, I made this one too! Go me!)


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