Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Big fat trouble

Last February, when I was just up and around after a severe bout of the flu, I wrote a post about spiraling health care costs linked to obesity. At that time, I asked what people thought about instituting a punitive tax on diet-busting foods. Commenters responded overwhelmingly against a fat tax, and I agree with them: I think it oversimplifies the issue and would be impossible to apply fairly in the US, especially since epidemiological studies have proven that fresh food is harder to obtain in poor, urban areas than in wealthier locations. Nevertheless, it looks like the idea is gaining traction in the national health care debate.

Japan has taken a radically different approach towards addressing the public health care costs related to obesity. Three months ago, Japan implemented a waistline law mandating that for everyone between ages 40 and 74, waistlines cannot exceed 33.5 inches for men and 35.5 inches for women. Most Japanese people are covered by either public insurance or employer-based insurance. I'm not clear on the impact on people who are covered by public insurance, but employers whose employees fail to meet government targets for waistline measurement will be subject to heavy punitive fines. Positive reinforcement for weight loss is meted out daily through media campaigns, but I think a darker motivational force is at work: Unless there are strong anti-discrimination laws that cover weight (and I'm not aware that there are), I think Japanese people also face the propsect of discrimination in hiring and/or losing their jobs if they fail to come into compliance with the waistline law.

I can't see a law like that ever being passed in the US. I think the cultural differences between our two countries are so vast that this one would never get out of the starting gate, at least not in the form we see in Japan.

What are your thoughts on this law? Is there any way a similar concept could be made palatable in your country? What country, and why or why not?

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Monday, July 27, 2009

When money silently goes up in smoke

Last week, Kiplinger published a good article on 20 Ways to Waste Your Money. As the title suggests, it's a short and pretty snappy overview of common ways money leaks out of people's pockets. The incremental costs might be small, but over time they can really add up.

Using this scale as a guide, here are some things I could be doing differently:

1. Buy new instead of used.
Talk about a spending leak -- or, rather, a gush. Cars lose most of their value in the first few years, meaning thousands of dollars down the drain. However, recent used models -- those that are less than five years old -- can be a real value because you get a car that's still in fine working order for a fraction of the new-car price. And you'll pay less in collision insurance and taxes, too.

Cars aren't the only things worth buying used. Consider the savings on pre-owned books, toys, exercise equipment and furniture. (Of course, there are some things you're better off buying new, including mattresses, laptops, linens, shoes and safety equipment, such as car seats and bike helmets.)


f.z. says: I don't own a car, but I think it generally makes good financial sense to buy used vehicles. I usually buy new when I do buy. My focus is more on buying according to a thought-out plan, and keeping the things I buy in good working order for as long as possible.

10. Waste electricity.
Of the total energy used to run home electronics, 40% is consumed when the appliances are turned off. Appliances with a clock or that operate by remote are typical culprits. The obvious way to pull the plug on your energy vampires is to do just that -- pull the plug. Or buy a device to do it for you, such as a Smart Power Strip ($31 to $44 at www.smarthomeusa.com), which will stop drawing electricity when the gadgets are turned off and pay for itself within a few months.


f.z. says: The coffeepot, TV, and DVD player all stay unplugged unless I'm using them. The stereo, stove, and microwave all have clocks, and I leave those on and plugged in.

16. Be complacent about insurance.
Your bill arrives and you pay it without a second thought. When was the last time you shopped around to determine whether you're getting the best deal? Rates vary widely from insurer to insurer and year to year. Reshopping your auto, home or renters insurance might save you hundreds of dollars.

It also pays to evaluate your insurance needs. For instance, upping your out-of-pocket deductible from $250 to $1,000 can save you 15% or more on your car insurance. Consider using the same insurer for your home and auto insurance -- you could snag up to 15% off for a multiple-line policy. And make sure you're not paying for insurance you don't need. For instance, you need life insurance only if someone is financially dependent upon you (such as a child).


f.z. says: Apart from medical, dental, and disability insurance through work, I only carry homeowner's insurance. I shouldn't keep this one on autopilot, so I'm adding rate comparisons to my end of year to-do list.

17. Give Uncle Sam an interest-free loan.
If you get a tax refund each April, you let the government take too much money in taxes from your paycheck all year long. Get that money back in your pocket -- and put it to work for you -- by adjusting your tax withholding. With a little discipline, you can use that extra cash each month to get started saving or pay down debt (or make ends meet to avoid going into debt in the first place). You can file a new Form W-4 with your employer at any time.


f.z. says: I left this to self-correct while I was paying down the mortgage because my refund got smaller and smaller every year. 2009 is my first full year without a mortgage, so this one should come close to zeroing out. If it doesn't, then yes, it makes sense to adjust.

What are your money-wasters from Kiplinger's list? What, if anything, are you going to do to change them?

What other money-wasters should be on the list?

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Friday, July 24, 2009

I'm pedaling as fast as I can

I've been trying (not particularly successfully) to catch up on what's going on in blogworld this week, and I've noticed a number of really good, thought-provoking posts and websites. Not all of them are PF-related, but I really enjoyed these and I hope you do, too:

Madame X hopes for the best and prepares for the worst in writing about her crisis financial plan.

Grace contemplates situations in which early retirement isn't by choice.

Fabulously Broke knocked two out of the ballpark with two related topics, her response to an angry reader and thoughts on children's cruelty and forging a stronger self.

Revanche had some deep, reflective, and very interesting thoughts on her time in New York.

Abigail finds that modern isn't always better for her, especially when it comes to paying bills.

My Two Dollars featured a guest post on a topic close to my heart, the benefits of living below your means.

For a little more levity, here are couple of sites I've started following regularly because they're funny:

Passive Aggressive Notes
Lovely Listing

And finally, a video that I probably shouldn't really think is funny, but I can't help it. (There are swears and apparently it's somewhat controversial, so don't watch it if you get the vapors easily).



Have a fun, frugal weekend!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Freakish job interviews

CNN had an interesting article today about some memorable responses to questions that came up in job interviews. Read the article yourself for the full list, but my top three are:

Tell of a time you made a mistake and how you dealt with it

I stole some equipment from my old job, and I had to pay for its replacement.

Have you submitted your two weeks' notice to your current employer?

What is two weeks' notice? I've never quit a job before, I've always been fired.

and finally, my favorite:

What are your weaknesses?

I get angry easily and I went to jail for domestic violence. But I won't get mad at you.

Yikes!

I've interviewed a lot of people over the years, but I don't recall ever getting anything that interesting as a response. The closest I can come is the experience I had interviewing a boomerang, someone who left the company and wanted to come back. The guy read well on paper, but his experience at our employer wasn't commesurate with his grade. That's not necessarily a deal-breaker; it's only natural that people who are under-leveled will go elsewhere and then try to come back at a higher grade.

The interview itself, however, was disconcerting. I got a definite impression that the guy was slimy and a professional bullshit artist, so I asked his former management to read his resume and tell me how accurate it was.

They almost pissed themselves laughing. I think it went all over the department before I got it back. The department head called me in to personally discourage me from hiring the guy. He was deeply offended by how the applicant had portrayed his experience and skills.

The moral of the story is this: Put your best foot forward, but don't lie about anything that takes thirty seconds to uncover!

Shadox also had a liar-liar-pants-on-fire experience recently, and it's well worth a read. If you have any fun interview stories of your own, by all means drop them in the comments.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vacated

I'm back from vacation, and it was a fantastic trip. This is the first time my SO and I have been away together for more than a weekend, so in some ways I think we got to know each other a little better than we already did. Seeing him in his home country was interesting. His accent got noticeably stronger, and he tended to use expressions I'd never heard before, occasionally mixing English with the traditional language in the same sentence (which he doesn't ordinarily do). I had a lot of questions about language and culture, and he was very good about answering them without making me feel stupid.

One thing I didn't anticipate was developing a terrible dose of the green apple two-step. Over the first few days, I narrowed down the cause to the water. There isn't a blessed thing wrong with the water in this country, but my SO's brother happened to mention offhandedly (without knowing that I was having problems) that the mineral content of the water is very high, and some people react badly to it. Bottled water didn't help, and for the rest of the trip I blew far too much money on diet pop so I could stay semi-hydrated without getting sick.

From a PF perspective, I'm happy to report that the trip cost substantially less than I budgeted. I'm not quite sure to the penny how much I spent because not all of the charges and exchange rates have hit my credit card. I allocated $2000 for the trip in total, though, and I definitely spent less than $1350. Here's where most of it went:

Where I spent money
Gifts
We stayed at my SO's father's house for one night, and I brought a bottle of his favorite Scotch from duty free. I also bought nice gifts for my mom and sibling, along with six boxes of sweets for friends and some chocolates for the office. In total, gifts ran about $230.

Hotels
Lodging cost between 60 and 80 euros per night, which included breakfast. While it was a big cost center as a whole relative to the rest of the trip, in total the cost was much cheaper than I anticipated. We alternated paying for things for much of the trip, so I covered two nights at a total cost of about $220.

Car rental
We split this one down the middle. A week's worth of car rental was about $225 each.

Food
We had breakfast at the hotel and normally just picked up bread, fruit, and meat at the grocery store for lunch and snacks, so our only real indulgences here were reasonably nice dinners and drinks, the diet pop I drank instead of water, and massively indulging a wicked coffee jones several times a day. I paid most of our costs here because SO bought all the gas, and this came to about $375.

Entertainment
We each dropped about $200 on entertainment, which included music and cultural events.

Duty free booze
$60. I declared it all and was a little surprised not to be challenged by customs on re-entry since I was clearly violating the one-bottle rule.

Where I saved money
Souveniers
I was tempted quite a few times, but I really don't want clutter in my home. As a result, I didn't buy anything for myself on this trip (other than the duty-free hooch).

Hotels
The hotels were quite a good deal since they included breakfast. We made a point of balancing having nice places to stay with keeping our costs down. We ditched one place after one night because it was pretty scummy and rationalized a nicer (and more expensive) place for the next night on the grounds that the two averaged out to 70 euros per night, which was within our cost range.

Food
Having breakfast included in our room rate and eating grocery-store lunches saved a TON of money. We went to decent but in no way fancy places for dinner, and that helped keep our costs down as well.

Entertainment
Walking outdoors was our major source of daytime entertainment, and we found plenty of historic sites we could visit for little to no cost. As an unexpected bonus, we went to a stately home that happens to be managed by a relative of my SO's. He was pleased to see us, so he waived our entry and tour fees.

I was surprised that things didn't cost as much as I anticipated, but the national economy is suffering even more than the US and prices have dropped significantly. Even gas was relatively cheap, coming out to less than $4.50 per gallon across the entire country - which is extraordinarily cheap for Europe.

I saw lots of activity in the comments for the posts that auto-published while I was gone, and I'll try to respond to those before the end of the week. All in all, however, it was a wonderful trip, and that brings us to the end of the vacation report.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Walking the walk

While poking around to see what Fabulously Broke has been up to lately, I discovered her link love for a blog I'd never heard of, Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity. I glanced at author Jack's most recent post or two, and they made me curious. I went back to the beginning of Jack's blog and started reading, and I read all the way through.

When I finished, I went back to the beginning and did it again.

A year ago, Jack was a thirty-something, $300,000 per year lawyer in Washington, DC. He had a four-story townhouse, eighteenth-century Chinese furniture, and five figures of credit card debt.

Jack was desperately unhappy.

Today, Jack is unemployed and cycling his way alone across the United States. According to his most recent Twitter, he's somewhere in Idaho. His house is on the market, and all he owns fits into three cardboard boxes. Before starting his epic journey, Jack set his Harvard law degree on fire and gave away thousands of dollars to charities, missions, churches, and random people on the street.

Jack is joyous to be alive.

I found Jack's journey from lawyerdom to the open road unsettling because it made me think about things that are hard to contemplate. Why are we here? What makes my life meaningful? What does freedom really mean?

Jack's solution isn't my solution: Part of what he's cast off (the concept of home, close family ties, and more) adds meaning to my life, rather than the emptiness Jack felt. It's amazing to see the transformation he's undergone as part of finding out what is meaningful to him, though. I can't wait to see how the rest of his journey unfolds.

What brings meaning to your life? Have you ever experienced a catalyst that transformed you the way Jack has?

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Product review

Having figured out that I'm of generally athletic bent, the good people at Outer Sports asked me to do a product review on one of their in-stock items recently. Since I can't throw, hit, or catch, running is really just about all that's left; to that end, I opted to review the Champion 02Cool Seamless Racerback Sports bra.

The Champion 02Cool Racerback is advertised as highly supportive, comfortable, and earth-friendly in that part of the construction features recycled nylon. I can't argue with supportive, per se: much to my chagrin, I discovered that the 02Cool Racerback runs small. As a result, my distinctly medium girls felt crammed and mashed.

This, I suppose, is one way of ensuring support.

I also didn't find the 02Cool Racerback particularly flattering. It works on the classic flat compression model, which results in what women runners call the Uniboob look. It's good for keeping everything in its proper place, but it's not the optimal solution for everyone. Women who take a B size cup or bigger are often better off with encapsulated compression sports bras, which provide more cup support without the mashing and Uniboob that medium-sized and larger women experience with classic flat compression.

The Champion 02Cool Racerback didn't score too well on looks or comfort. How did it do out on the road?

This is where the 02Cool Racerback performed better. It's advertised as having strong wicking capabilities, and I certainly found that to be true: sweat didn't hang around on my skin long enough to cause chafing or itching. Unlike some sports bras, the front band didn't slide up or otherwise migrate around. In addition, although I ran in the daytime, I noticed that there are built-in reflectors for nighttime use that would presumably make it easier to navigate a little more safely in and around traffic.

All in all, while the Champion 02Cool Racerback Sports Bra has its overall benefits and would probably work very well for small-framed women in the A cup range, the comfort issue doesn't make it one that I'd take out for a twenty-miler. In addition, the Uniboob look essentially guarantees that I'll keep it covered, which makes it less of a candidate for hot-weather training.

I'm always a fan of hearing other people's fitness gear recommendations. What does and doesn't work for you, and why?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Look what came flying over the fence the other day

An anonymous commenter asked, Do you ever want a life that doesnt involve your job - or are you happy to keep doing what you are doing until an undetermined point?

I ask because your wholeself appears to defined by your job, e.g. where you live and your stories about glory at work.


Anon, thanks for the question. Heck yeah, I want a life that doesn't involve my job. The main reason I work as hard as I do is so that one day, I won't have to. In the meantime, however, I'm a one woman show: If I blow it, the cavalry isn't coming. That alone gives me a pretty good incentive to make work work for me.

Just the other night a friend told me that he thinks my work-life balance is out of whack, and he's probably right. Having said that, I do take satisfaction in my job: I'm pretty good at what I do, and doing my job well is deeply fulfilling. Tough periods where I'm not doing well or things aren't going right are deeply painful, so much so that I don't generally blog about them. Having people want to join my team or ask me to mentor them makes me ridiculously happy: There is no higher compliment in my worldview than having someone offer his or her trust because what I do and how I do it is in some way meaningful and relevant to them. I have never had better professional validation than that.

As you can see, work definitely occupies a lot of my brain space, especially lately.

That doesn't mean it defines me.

I feel weird writing about the relationships I have with people in real life, so I don't do a lot of that. Nevertheless, I'm still a friend, a sister, a daughter, and the partner of a really great guy.

I'm an active member of a community, but I don't write about that at all: I hate the thought of someone finding my blog and recognizing me or themselves, because my blog isn't something I share with people in real life.

As you noted, I do write about my home. I love my under 600 square foot palace that faces a brick wall. I worked so hard to pay the mortgage off early, and I'm proud of the fact that I'm slowly learning how to do (and in some cases, how absolutely not to do) basic and long-overdue maintenance and upgrades myself instead of paying someone else to do them.

But that doesn't define me either.

This blog contains fragments of my life as they relate to personal finance, seen through my eyes (and thanks to feedback from commenters like you, occasionally through others' eyes). I think if you try to roll those fragments up to make up a complete picture of a person, you're going to miss a lot. . . and that's just the way of the internets.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Breakup song

(This post is for you, Penny. Hugs.)

You said you wanted to have some space,
Slow it down some and take a break
Well, fuck you, too!
Give me my money back, Give me my money back, you bitch
I want my money back
And don't forget to give me back my black T-shirt!

--Ben Folds Five, "Song of the Dumped"


You know how the story goes. Two people meet and fall in love. Maybe they get married; maybe they don't. Either way, they build a life together, and they live happily ever after.

Until they don't anymore.

Then what?

Breaking up often means losing a part of oneself. If that wasn't bad enough, it can also be financially devastating. The worst part is when the couple hasn't been playing in the same financial ballpark: What's fair and right? If the major breadwinner is a frugal person, is it right for that person to hand over an enormous share of assets and future earnings to a spendthrift former partner? If the major breadwinner is a spendthrift and the former partner plays great financial defense, does it make it any more fair?

I don't know the answers. There aren't any easy ones. I thought I was doing the right thing by setting up a prenuptial agreement when I got married, but the joke was on me when my spendthrift husband's salary doubled in two years. After four years of my scrimping along to pay half our expenses on what ended up being half my husband's salary, he headed for greener fields and I had to raid my investment accounts to cover the rent. I left the smoking wreckage with nothing but my own savings, and $10,000 of that went to my lawyer.

Maybe that's fair. It sure didn't feel fair at the time, though.

Last week, Forbes published an article for unmarried couples about not getting stuck paying for a partner's financial problems. The worst-case scenario for unmarried couples is that when the couple has a major disparity in personal financial responsibility and the better-off party co-signins or guarantees loans or credit cards, the better-off party can end up fighting claims against his or her assets following a breakup - just like in a divorce.

The Forbes article suggested five tips to prevent couples from risking their assets if a relationship goes south. They are:

1. Maintain independent financial identities
In other words, don't merge everything: Leave at least one major bank account and credit card in each of your own names.

2. Consider the emotional impact of financial decisions
Does buying a house together mean that you're going to get married? Chances are, your answer and your significant other's might not be the same. If you understand the emotions behind each of your decisions, the financial aftermath of a breakup might not be quite as messy.

3. Avoid joint big-ticket buys with a financially strapped partner
In other words, generosity can backfire big-time, especially if it leads to claims against your assets. Forbes suggests starting small and measuring progress over time before jumping into major joint financing endeavors.

4. Review all joint bills
If your name is on the account, you're on the hook. It's in your interest to know when money is being spent and how. Even more importantly, you don't want to let a joint credit card loose with your ex in the aftermath of a hostile breakup.

5. When in doubt, get legal guidance
Laws vary by state in the US, and possibly by state or province in many other countries. It's important to understand the impact of your financial decisions in advance, because it's a whole lot cheaper than finding out after you've been held responsibile.

This is a decent list, but I think it's missing one important component: Regardless of the health of the relationship, no one gets to fly blind when it comes to money. At best, it shows an unwillingness to be an equal partner in an important aspect of the relationship. At worst, if things go south, it's stupidly dangerous.

What were your best and worst experiences with money in a breakup?

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Countdown

Last night, I was delighted to meet the lovely Revanche from A Gai Shan Life. We went for coffee at Cafe Lalo, and it was so nice to get to know a fellow PF blogger in person - especially one as open, friendly, and easy to talk to as Revanche. I hope she enjoys the rest of her stay and keeps in touch after her departure.



I've got a handful of Euros in my pocket and I'm shoving off for the airport shortly. I've set a bunch of posts to publish automatically while I'm gone, so check back during the course of the week if you want to stay up to date.

See you on the flip side.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Where did all the money go?

As I wrote in my quarterly review, I'm nominally on track with my savings for the quarter, but the reality is that I spent like a drunken sailor in the past three months. I used up my $3600 cushion that came back from Uncle Sam, and then some. Here's a breakdown of the bizarro world of spending I entered in Q2:



I got a little stressed out just looking at that. Seeing the numbers doesn't do much good without understanding more about why they're there, though, so here's a drilldown into some of those expenses:

Suits and shorts: What can I say, I'm a full two sizes smaller than I was in February. I looked ridiculous swishing around in clothes that were falling off, and safety pins are not my friends. I could have gone thrift store hunting for replacements, but I didn't.

Family visit: I bought lots of extra food to cook at home and also took my family out while they were staying with me, and that added up quickly.

Time share: After my dad died, my mom wanted to sell her entire time share. My sibling and I insisted on buying a small piece of it with the idea that we'd continue to take my mom on trips, just without her being stuck with the financial responsibility. Once a year, we each have to pay $242 in maintenance fees.

Home improvement: I went above budget on the paint for my home improvement project because the final cost per gallon was almost twice what I anticipated. I recouped a little on the painting supplies because I was able to return a couple of Dremel bits that I didn't end up using on the grouting project, which helped somewhat.

Fun: Did I really need a new duvet cover and pillow shams? No. I bought them anyway because I loved the pattern and caught a 50% off closeout sale. The New Yorker and the trip to San Francisco were already planned in advance, as were the other flights I'm taking to see my family.

Gifts: $81 is a lot for champagne, right? Right. It was actually two bottles: an $11 bottle of prosecco, and a $65 bottle of champagne. I normally bring a cheap bottle to drink together whenever I give an expensive bottle so that the hosts don't feel pressured to open the expensive bottle while I'm there. The background on this is that the recipients are near to being family. They've been incredibly generous to me over the past two years (dinners, shows, holiday gifts, and in this case an invitation to their new weekend house) and they've never let me reciprocate properly before now. I was glad to do it and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

This is why it's important to always, always, always have a cash reserve. As you can see, the final total goes way beyond my $3600 cushion that I had built up, and there's more to come: I owe another $1500 on the cabinetry when it's finished, and $825 of the costs you see above are on my credit card for payment in full in August. On top of that, I'm leaving for a week in Europe tomorrow.

I'm expecting to be about $3000 in the hole relative to my savings goal by the time the Q3 summary rolls around (spank away in the comments if you must), but my new challenge is going to be to see how much of that I can recoup before year end.

I love challenges. Wish me luck!

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

The good, the bad, and the truly fugly

Q2 of calendar year 2009 has come and gone, and that means it's time to check my progress against this year's goals.

Financial
Max out Roth 401(k)
I'll do this through ongoing payroll deductions into diversified investments throughout the year, and I'll try not to throw up when I look at the volatility in the short term.

Q1 result: On track.
Q2 result: On track.

Max out IRA
I'll do this through one to four investments totalling $5000 before the end of December. Ditto the throwing up part.

Q1 result: Complete. I caught the second half of the recent rally and dumped the entire $5000 into my IRA at once. Tsk, tsk, tsk on me for attempting to time the market.
Q2 result: Complete.

Save $65,000
Between my 401(k), IRA, and after-tax savings, I plan to sock away this amount in total over the course of the year. I'll do that by maxing out my 401(k) and IRA, and by dropping a predefined amount every month into a money market fund. I haven't decided when or how much of those after-tax savings I'll invest, but I'll assess my options, outlook, and investment priorities on a monthly basis.

Q1 result: On track. Total long-term savings in 2009 so far = $16,000.
Q2 result: On track, but on the verge of slipping behind. So far, I'm at $32,000 in total, which is on track with where I expected to be since I normally pick up a little extra savings towards the end of the calendar year. Unfortunately, that figure doesn't reflect the fact that I was ahead of the game by $3600 after my tax refund came through. I've blown through that extra cushion in this quarter, and next quarter I guarantee that I'll be behind on this goal. I'll tell how you I did that in my next post.

Commit to keeping my monthly spending under $1500
$1500 is enough to accomodate regular spending on everything in my budget (including apartment maintenance fees and property tax), with a little extra for entertainment and gifts. I also left some wiggle room between my budget total and my savings goals to cover five or six flights to the West Coast to see my family.

Q1 result: Not succeeding. I'm consistently running about $100 to $150 or more above goal. I'll track this one for another three months and possibly revise at mid-year.
Q2 result: Blew this one completely out of the water. Check out my next post to see how, why, and what I'm doing about it.

Maintain elite status on my preferred airline
I'll do this by taking either four trips to the West Coast to see my family and one elsewhere, or five trips West.

Q1 result: On track. One trip down, one coming up, and one more booked for San Francisco in the fall.
Q2 result: On track. I've booked all planned flights for the rest of the year, and I should just squeak by with 25,000 accrued air miles in 2009.

Fitness
Run at least three half marathons
I'm already registered for two, and I should be able to pick up the third with no problem before the end of the year. I haven't had a concrete fitness target to work towards in a while, so let's see what this does for my motivation.

Q1 result: On track. I missed the second half that I was registered for thanks to the flu, but I ran a decent first half marathon. I'm scheduled to run one in San Francisco in the fall, and I'll probably pick up another one locally before then.
Q2 result: On track. I did a second half that became a fun run because of unseasonably hot weather, but it still counts. I also signed up for a full marathon in the fall.

Increase my flexibility
I'll do this by taking a yoga class once a week throughout the year no matter what, and twice a week whenever possible.

Q1 result: Mostly on track: The flu flattened me for two weeks and I didn't do squat for yoga while I was out of town in February, but I've been consistent otherwise. Improvement in flexibility is only incremental (and the increments are small), so I might need to squeeze out more time for another couple of classes or home practice every week.
Q2 result: Mostly on track. I was getting to yoga consistently three to four times per week until I started the heavy lifting with the mini-home renovation a few weeks ago. I'm going to two classes this week, will miss a week over vacation, and then it's back to the regular schedule until the end of August.

Bring my cholesterol below 200
To my chagrin, I cracked 200 for the first time this year. I'm achieving this goal by reducing consumption of saturated fats (goodbye eggs and ice cream), exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and hopefully shedding a few extra pounds in the process. This is an ongoing goal, but I'll check in on a quarterly basis to measure my progress.

Q1 result: On track. The unofficial, non-fasting results from an on-site health fair at work pegged my blood pressure at 100/70 and my cholesterol at 144.
Q2 result: Probably on track: I'm due for a checkup this summer and will confirm at that time. Unofficially, my self-measured resting pulse is 42 beats per minute.

****I decided to break out the goal above into three additional goals, since this one covers a lot of ground in just one sentence.***

NEW GOAL: Get off of refined sugar
On January 09, after a massive chocolate binge that followed a layoff at work, I gave up sugar in the form of sweets and as an additive in more than trace amounts. (Naturally occuring sugar - like fruit - and alcohol are still on the menu. Honey, agave, and artificial sweeteners are not.)

Q1 result: On track. If I make it through today, that totals 81 days sugar-free to date.
Q2 result: On track. As of today, I've been sugar free for exactly six months. The periods between sugar cravings are getting longer, but the sugar cravings themselves are still awful, awful, awful.

NEW GOAL: 7 hours of sleep per night during the week
After I had the flu, I started getting more vigilant about getting enough sleep. Lights out is 10:15 during the week.

Q1 result: Mostly on track. I've had a few late nights during the week, but very few relative to the quarter as a whole.
Q2 result: Not on track. I've slipped far, far back into the land of five hours of sleep per night or less. I definitely need to recommit to this one.

NEW GOAL: Achieve and maintain goal weight
Losing weight at my age is suddenly both difficult and agonizingly slow. Despite a great deal of effort, I lost a grand total of two pounds between my last physical in June and January. Intense stress triggered another five-pound drop, and then I lost a whole lot more (too much, in fact) while I had the flu. I regained a few pounds after I recovered, and my weight stabilized at at one pound above goal, possibly the most irritating thing it could do.

Q1 result: Mostly on track. Overall, I'm sixteen pounds lighter than I was last June and it feels really, really good.
Q2 result: Mostly on track. Aside from occasional fluctuations, I'm maintaining a sixteen pound loss. That leaves me one pound that I just haven't been able to shake above goal.

Personal development
Read more news and ideas
I don't always finish the New York Times and the New Yorker, my two favorite subscriptions. I think I can do better in this area by spending less time at home indulging in escapism on the internet and more time facing up to what's in the news on a day to day basis. This is an ongoing goal, but I'll check in on a quarterly basis to measure my progress.

Q1 result: Mixed. I switched to reading the New York Times online during the week because the paper started arriving after I left for work. After six weeks and numerous complaints, I finally cancelled the subscription except for Saturday and Sunday. To my chagrin, I've found that I have less focus when reading the paper online. On a more positive note, I'm reading the New Yorker during my commute, so I'm having much greater success in getting it read consistently.
Q2 result: Mixed. I'm focusing better on what I read, but the lack of breadth bothers me.

Give more
I plan to spend more time helping people I know who need it (like my New York mom), more time volunteering in my community, and more money on donations to charitable causes. This is an ongoing goal, but I'll check in on a quarterly basis to measure my progress.

Q1 result: Mostly on track. I've done several charitable donations this year so far, and I've continued helping my New York mom. I'm short on the volunteering front, though.
Q2 result: Mostly on track. Did one more charitable donation during the quarter, and I've been helping out during my New York mom's most recent hospitalization. (She just got out this week.)

Professional development
Keep my job and continue building my career
I don't want to delve into jobworld too much on this blog, so let's just call this doing my best work every day, with the understanding that I have much more specific and concrete goals in real life.

Q1 result: No details, but this one is on track.
Q2 result: Got an outstanding performance review, plus one of the best compliments ever: Someone in the office approached me a few weeks ago and said "I want to come work for you." That's the third time that's happened over the past nine or ten months, but it never gets old.

Become a better public speaker
Public speaking is fast becoming an integral part of my job. Without going into more detail, let's just say that I've managed to wrangle a few opportunities to get more practice, and I plan to leverage them to the best of my ability.

Q1 result: No details, but this one is on track.
Q2 result: No details, but thanks to a few really good opportunities, this one is still on track.

Relationships
I have some goals here, but nothing I'm inclined to share. ;-)

Q1 result: No details, but mostly on track.
Q2 result: No details, but mostly on track.

Overall, this has been a great quarter professionally and personally, but some of my financial goals went down in flames. This is mostly due to the unplanned mini-renovation that I embarked on after a simple regrouting made me realize just how shabby my home was becoming, but that's not the full story. Check back here in a couple of days and I'll tell you where all the money went. You decide how much of a spanking that's worth.

How are you doing on your 2009 goals?

******Free! Free! Free!******

Fellow Frugal Blog Network member Tight Fisted Miser is giving away a copy of 10,000 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget. The giveaway ends this Friday, so get thyself over there promptly and sign up to win. I just did.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

That was awfully short for a long weekend

Sorry about the radio silence over here for the past few days. I got the rest of my apartment painted. It took two full days for the painting (with a total of six hours sleep in the entire period), plus another full day to completely clean up, especially after I knocked not one, not two, but three trays of paint off the top of the ladder and all over the floor.

Yup, missed the drop cloth. Three times.

It's not a perfect paint job, but I got a LOT better at fixing wall gouges and somewhat better at the actual painting part, so it sure looks a whole lot nicer in here. All in all, I'd call it an A for effort, B- for execution, and two thumbs up for white and lime green.

On Sunday, there was a work eruption that triggered a very long conference call and a fairly controversial judgment that I had to make. It turned out that the decision I made was the right one, so I came out of the situation in very good shape today.

Between these two events, I feel like I got run over by a truck that backed up and ran over me again. Two upcoming topics for later in the week: The Q2 report, also known as where did all the money go?; and money and relationships, by request.

Right now, however, I'm shuffling off to bed. G'night.

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