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Archive for September, 2006

403(b) has been activated!

September 29th, 2006 at 03:35 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...


Once you pop, you just can't stop

September 29th, 2006 at 03:18 am

So my grocery budget from yesterday that I killed...

Well, I killed it even deader now.

I think I just mentally gave up on it. I was just like, "Screw it, it's the end of the month, I have to go shopping, and I'm over budget anyway," and just went ahead and got everything that I wanted.

- buttermilk: $1.19
- grapes: $3.39 ($1.29/lb.)
- cucumbers (2): $0.41 ($0.69/lb.)
- daikon radish: $0.97 ($0.69/lb.)
- nappa: $1.97 ($0.69/lb.)
- onions (3 lb. bag): $1.49
- potatoes (5 lb. bag): $1.99
- broccoli (2 stalks): $1.29
- apples (3): $1.08 ($0.89/lb.)
- celery (1 stalk): $0.99
- bell peppers (2): $1.01 ($0.79/lb.)
- scallions (1 bunch): $0.69
- watermelon: $1.05 ($0.39/lb.)
- garlic (2 heads): $0.49 ($1.69/lb.)
- avocados (3): $0.99/each

Spent $20.94 on produce today. I did get a fair amount of food, and I should be set for weeks, but... d'oh.

$96.49 for the month of September. Budget allows for $60.

But! I am *not* shopping again until after my trip to Atlanta, 10/14 - 10/18. And we get an allowance of up to $50/day for food during those five days. And food is the only expense for which we do not need a receipt for reimbursement.

If I can keep my food expense down those five days but still get reimbursed for $250 total, I should be able to, erm, make up for this month's... indiscretions. And since breakfast is included with my hotel, I can load up on it and coast through the rest of the day.


Killed my grocery budget, RIP

September 27th, 2006 at 10:29 pm

Got to go to a proper supermarket for the first time in two months.

So I shopped like I wasn't going back for another two months. Plus, I'm entertaining the SO this weekend, so it's my turn to provide meals for two.

But I ended up going over my grocery budget for the month.

Oops. Oh well. I'll make it up next month.

Anyway, here are the goodies:

- chickpeas (5 cans): $0.50 each
- lentils (2 lb.): $0.75/lb.
- blackeye peas (1 lb.): $0.99
- all-purpose flour: $2.00
- Nestle chocolate morsels: $4.99
- all natural peanut butter: $2.00
- matzo ball soup: $1.99
- flour tortillas: $2.29
- mozzarella (2 lb.): $7.49
- day old Italian bread: $1.34
- Colgate toothpaste: $2.79

Total: $30.05

It looks like what did me in was the mozzarella--but that stuff keeps for months, and I really need the calcium. The chocolate morsels were an indulgence for chocolate chip cookies.

Oh, and the matzo ball soup, blackeye peas, and peanut butter were all impulse buys, although I refuse to feel bad about buying peanut butter. I've always liked matzo ball soup, and I wanted to try blackeye peas.

But on the bright side, the toothpaste is eligible for rebate. I just have to remember to send it in.

I still have to go shopping for scallions, cucumber, avocados, and buttermilk before this weekend. But I'm going to a different store that's cheaper for produce.

What'll be interesting during October is that I'm going to a conference. My PI is providing $50 per day for food, for five days.

I wouldn't even know what to *do* with $50 per day! People keep saying that you *need* this much, and I won't have a kitchen, but I get free breakfast at my hotel, which leaves $25 each for lunch and dinner.

We'll see how that goes.

Account reorganization, part III

September 27th, 2006 at 02:35 am

In parts I and II, I talked about my accounts and usage.

Now, we get to cashflow.

I get paid via direct deposit biweekly. That meams eight months per year with two checks, and four months with three checks.

But for the expenses that come out of checking--namely, rent, student loan repayment, utilities, and credit card bill (for groceries, transportation, and miscellany), I'm pretty sure I can subsist off of only one paycheck per month.

So what I think I'm going to do is keep the first paycheck of every month in checking, and transfer the others out to income savings immediately upon receipt.

My income savings account gets debited weekly for Roth IRA deposits to Vanguard. Right now, I'm putting in $170/wk until next March (to max out this year's contribution and get on track for next year), but afterwards, this drops to $76.92/wk.

I've also set up auto-transfers to my various subaccounts.

My car fund receives $200/mo. This will pay for my lessons, license, and registration. After a year, I hope to have enough to buy a car (~$2000). Now I may not actually get a car summer, but I want to be *able* to. Afterwards, this fund will pay for insurance, gas, maintenance, and the like.

My emergency fund also gets $200/mo. With a goal of $5000 for (6 months of expenses, sans car), it'll take me two years to build. I think this fund will eventually get moved to a higher yield money market account.

My house fund currently gets $50/mo. I know this won't actually get me anywhere, but I want to start saving regularly for this. Once my monthly expenses stabilize, I'll adjust this amount. This money will probably go into either high yield CDs, or mutual funds (probably the latter).

I haven't set this one up yet, but I think my medical fund will also get $50/mo. I know that my birth control pills will cost $130/yr.

I think I'll put off the "grad school application fee fund" for a year.

I guess what's left over will go towards discretionary spending (a bike comes to mind), although knowing me, I'll probably throw everything that's left at my house fund. I'd like to have $40K for a down payment by 2015. More on this later.

So there IS a commuter discount!

September 27th, 2006 at 01:14 am

The SO finally called the bus company to inquire about commuter discounts for the bus between New Haven and Middletown.

(52 weeks/year) * (5 weekdays/week) / (12 months/year)
= 21.67 weekdays/month
=~ 22 weekdays/month

At the standard fare of $3.60 per way, that's $158.40/mo

There is a 10-ride discount fare of $32, or $3.20 per way, or $140.80 per month.

There is also a monthly pass for $122.

This decreases the estimated monthly car maintenance cost to $200 to $250 per month.


Account reorganization, part II

September 25th, 2006 at 10:17 pm

I did Part I a long while ago. Eek. Well, time the catch up again.

Last time, I talked about what accounts I have. Now, I'll talk about how I'm using them, and what changes I might be making.

Bank of America

Regular Checking

Bank of America checking is by far the most convenient checking account available. It has the closest (and most ubiquitous) ATMs, which is necessary for my periodic cash withdrawals and check deposits. All of my co-workers also have BoA, so it also makes money transfers easier.

For these reasons, I think I'm going to stick with BoA checking.

However, I'm going to downgrade this account from Regular to MyAccess. To remain free, Regular Checking requires a minimum balance of $750 in checking, or $1500 in savings. Both amounts are rather too large for my liking. $750 is just too random a figure for me to remember to stick to, and $1500 is way too much to hold in such a low-interest savings account.

MyAccess, on the other hand, is free with direct deposit, and has no minimum balance requirement. Perfect. So I've requested that my direct deposit be switched from ING to BoA checking, and once it goes through, I'll downgrade.

I wonder if I can still get the $50 sign-up bonus, though. Will have to keep that in mind.

Regular Savings

With my checking free, I can finally ditch this savings account. No more $1500 earning 0.5% interest and me losing value each year due to inflation. Everything will be going over to ING.

Power Rewards Visa credit card

I'll keep this card around for the credit history and insanely high credit limit, but I've been lusting after a decent CashBack card for a while. I just don't know if I route enough money through my CC to make any of the available offerings worthwhile.


ING is fine and dandy.

And I've been having fun with their subaccounts. Right now, I've set up five.

First and foremost is my "income" subaccount. Money from my current job's salary goes here. The reason why I'm keeping this separate is to make sure that I can live off of my income alone. No living above my means. If I'm going over, I want to see myself actively borrowing from my other subaccounts.

I also have a "seed" subaccount. All of my college work-study wages go here, as well as four years worth of unspent allowance money. My father is the joint holder of my ING account, so he'll also occasionally toss money in. I'm trying to get him to stop doing that (yes, I did say "stop"; I'm an odd one).

Anyway, I have around $15K in this subaccount. This money is eventually earmarked for investments (to grow into a house down payment?), but for now, I'm keeping it around as a backup emergency fund while I feed my actual emergency fund from my current income.

I also have subaccounts for three savings goals: emergency (aka unemployment) fund, car fund, and house fund. I might also start a medical fund for prescription medications, co-pays, and deductibles. And one for grad school application fees?? What about attorney fees? Should I be getting a will/living trust set up, or sign one of those official "don't keep me alive if I'm a vegetable and for goodness sakes please donate my organs and let first year medical students dissect me in anatomy class" forms?

I'm also quite tempted to open an EmigrantDirect account. The APY difference is no longer small change, and the credit card might also be worth a look. Maybe I'll switch my seed account over?


I guess Vanguard is now the home of my investments. I have over $6500 of Roth IRA principal invested in their Target Retirement 2050 Fund, and my 403(b) starts going in this Friday into the same fund. Which probably means I should switch my Roth into a different fund.

I'll talk about my investment thoughts in a separate post, though. Still not quite ready for this yet.

Yesterday was an interesting day

September 23rd, 2006 at 02:13 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 02:43 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.

A diamond is forever?

September 21st, 2006 at 01:01 am

I watched "The Sixth Sense" a while back, and I remember this scene from it (don't worry, no spoilers).

Anna is showing an antique engagement ring to a young Indian couple.

ANNA: It's Edwardian. Beautifully worked. Entirely platinum with a mine cut diamond and an actual color Burmese Sapphire... It's timeless.

YOUNG MAN (looking wide-eyed and somewhat horrified): You got anything a little... plainer?

YOUNG WOMAN (brimming with indignance): Plainer? You want a plain ring to go with your plain fiance. Is that how it is?

YOUNG MAN (knows he's in trouble now and backpedalling furiously and hilariously): No, baby. Don't get in a tizzy. It's just... you're so beautiful... you're like a Burmese Sapphire all by yourself. You don't need all that.

YOUNG WOMAN (neither impressed nor appeased): Uh-huh.

I remember being very amused by this scene because I sympathized with the man. Big Grin

And then there's a story that a friend told me, about her friend who recently got married. It wouldn't have been quite so big a deal if the girl wasn't just 19, and dating for all of three months before becoming engaged (and married 9 months later).

Oh, and then there's the Ring. A 1.5 carat diamond, surrounded by 0.5 carat diamonds, with 0.25 carat diamonds going all around the band. The stones were already in his family, so he just had to spend $2000 getting them set in the band.

"Just" $2000.

My friend estimated the cost of the stones to be at least $20,000.


I wouldn't have believed this, except I actually *saw* a $25,000 diamond engagement ring in the Costco jewelry display case the other day.

Actually, I thought it cost $2500 until I realized I missed the extra 0. It did seem to *sparkle* more once I realized my error.

Anyway, these recent events have caused me to reflect upon the nature of EDAs--Expensive Displays of Affection. I know it's not Valentine's Day, but I've made my peace with V-day when I turned down a gift of an iPod shuffle two years ago.

I don't know if this makes me a horrible person, but a $25K ring would simply horrify me. I'd probably be more likely to dump the guy than accept the engagement offer.

I know different people value different things, but EDAs never impressed me. Maybe it's because it is such a transparently manipulative marketing scheme--the product of a consumerist culture that tries to place a price tag on everything, including "love".

And since "love" is supposedly "priceless", you can charge whatever you want for it, since the main emotional value of EDAs come as a direct consequence of their high monetary costs. How convenient!

Furthermore, this marketing scheme shamelessly capitalizes on the "If you truly loved me" mythology, which is ultimately meaningless because you can use it to justify just about anything.


"If you truly loved me, you'd get me this ring."


"If you truly loved me, you wouldn't need a ring to prove it."

Two polar opposite statements, and both are "validated" by the "If you truly loved me" myth. This is the main reason why I never use this expression.

Now this does not mean that I don't have any romance in my soul, or even that I don't like pretty rocks. Actually, I love pretty rocks. I find their molecular crystalline structures and indices of refraction to be sexy as heck... in the name of chemistry and physics. Wink

But if you must pop $25K on something to display your affection? Don't buy a ring, or even a fancy wedding/honeymoon.

Put it towards a down payment on a house that we're going to buy together. *That's* true commitment, to me.

Now if only the SO read my blog... Heh. Big Grin

Grocery run

September 20th, 2006 at 06:14 pm

Walked to the store, and I remembered to bring my backpack this time!

- 5 lb. sushi rice: $3.99
- 1 lb. dried shiitake mushrooms: $9.99
- potatoes: $1.04 ($0.69/lb.)
- onions: $1.40 ($0.59/lb.)
- green bell peppers: $1.19 ($0.99/lb.)

Total: $17.61

Having to carry everything for ten blocks on one's back really keeps the hands from wanderin'. Wink

I also got $5.50 worth of nori last Friday (40 sheets). It used to be $4.50, who says inflation doesn't exist??

Grocery subtotal so far this month: $45.50.