Rules for Commuting

I thought today, a day when I am free the long commute (thanks President’s Day), would be a great day to talk about commuting and its rules. Maybe this will seep into the internets and my fellow commuters will read it and pass it on in preparation for the rest of this week and the long months to come – no three day weekend until May 😦

Oh commuting – how I loathe you. I hate the way you take so long and the way you sap my bank account (one month of just the commuter train costs $175.00, this does not include the metro fare).

I dislike how tourists want to commute with me – even though they could wait until I’m at work. They are loud and they are NOT actually quiet in the quiet car.

Also they don’t follow your well-known rules:

  1.  Don’t talk on your cell phone the whole time. Or talk to other people at loud volumes. Most of us are sleeping, or reading, or trying not to cry because we hate our commutes so much.
  2. Don’t put your luggage on the seat next to you. I will ask you to move it and you will have to or the conductor will make you. Not cool.
  3. Walk on the left side of the escalator. This is well-known. It is international even and it is courteous!
  4. Don’t stop in the middle of the hallway in the train station to look at the train schedule – they are posted all over and you could stop in a less ‘in-the-way’ place.
  5. If you can avoid it, don’t bring children on the commute and don’t be offended when we scowl at you. Children tend not to be quiet – see rule number 1.
  6. If you are in DC (or probably anywhere) MOVE TO THE CENTER OF THE CAR. The metro-lady will say it multiple times but you can’t seem to hear it. Take out your ear buds if you have to, listen to her, and then follow her instruction.

I hate to sound bitter, even though I am, I am terribly bitter, but these are fundamental rules that would vastly improve my commute (that takes about 1.5 hours one way) and encourage me to write about WAY more interesting things than  commuting rules.

Check ‘Em

I have recently gotten in the habit of double checking my receipts after checking out at the grocery store. Big Sister started a while back and told me that she was finding all kinds of errors – at first I was hesitant to believe her, I mean, how many issues do you really find? and isn’t that just penny pinching?  Well, maybe, but mostly it’s protecting your money and only paying for what you buy. Most times I just catch products being rung up without their advertised sale. But…

In the last two weeks we’ve had two pretty major errors show up.

  1. We were charged for 12 heads of lettuce (@ $2.79 each) when we only bought one. That’s an excess of $30.69
  2. This weekend it was 23 oranges (@$.79 each) and we only purchased 2. That’s $16.59 added to our bill.

So now I’m wondering how much money I’ve just WASTED at the grocery store due to errors like these. If I hadn’t caught these two, I would’ve been out $47.28 and that’s just in the last two weeks!!

What could you buy for $47.28? Why, a new pair of shoes, lunch for 3, a really nice bottle of wine, 6 pretty good bottles of wine .. you get the picture.

Get in the habit of checking your receipts – it’s not penny pinching, it’s just smart.

Why Bother With a Credit Card?

When I turned 18 my dad got a credit card in my name and kept it to make small purchases, pay them off immediately, and start building my credit history. I still have that credit card but hardly use it – there’s no point! I get nothing for it except the stress of having to pay off a credit card once a month.

My husband however has no credit card and an in-the-middle credit score because of it. Now that our finances are fully merged and we’re looking to plan some vacations we decided to explore some rewards cards. I’m not a big lover of credit cards because I don’t want to spend beyond my means and I think they absolutely encourage over spending! Even if you’re an avid bank account watcher you can still be fooled by high balances if you have credit card payments lurking out there.  BUT I’ve proven to myself that I don’t let this happen so rewards card it is!

So it’s fortunate timing that Chris Guillbeau at The Art of Non-Conformity just wrote a great Q&A piece about managing miles. Here’s a snippet of his advice:

Q. I can only get 1-2 cards. Which should I get?

A. Different cards work better for different people, but long story short, my new favorite is the Chase Sapphire card. It offers a mega-bonus of 50,000 points which can be transferred to a variety of airline and hotel partners (including United/Continental and Hyatt), no foreign transaction fees, and the annual fee is waived for year one.

I also like the AA Citi cards and have been getting them for years on a 90-day cycle, reapplying after I’ve fulfilled the requirements for one card, getting the bonus, and then moving on to another.

Q. Do you cancel the cards after a year, when the annual fee comes due?

A. I usually keep them for a year, then see what happens. Sometimes I call up and say I want to cancel and they waive the fee. Other times, they shift the card into a no-fee version (which doesn’t earn as many points, but I don’t care since I’m not actively using it then).

On a couple of occasions, I’ve kept the card and paid the fee if I’m still using it frequently.

Q. Can I get a business card without a business?

A. Yes. One of the easiest ways to double your points bonus is to get both a personal and business card from the same issuer. For example, you can get the Chase Sapphire card mentioned above and receive a 50,000 point bonus—and you can also get the Chase Ink Bold card and receive an additional 50,000 points. The same strategy holds with the Starwood Preferred Guest Business card.

Similarly, you can get an AA card from Citi for a 30,000 mile bonus, and also add the AA Hilton version for an additional 40,000 Hilton hotel points. If you have a willing spouse or partner, they can do their own applications—so as you can imagine, the bonuses add up very quickly.

Q: What about cards for outside the U.S.?

A. There are some, but not many. In Canada we recommend the AmEx Business Gold card, which includes a 25,000 point bonus after completing an initial spend of $3,000, and the AmEx Starwood cards (two versions) which each offer an immediate 15,000 point bonus. If we find more for Canada or other countries, we’ll add them to the list.

We chose to go with Capital One Venture card because 1) no annual fee 2) decent APR (in case something happens and we can’t pay back immediately) 3) good rewards in our opinion. I’m not a fan of annual fees; in fact I booked it out of BoA when they started charging fees for using their debit cards. Blech! But I didn’t know you could get a business card without a business – did you??

Chris answers a question about managing multiple cards and I have to admit, I wouldn’t want to do that and I don’t see the benefit. As it is we all juggle our finances – remembering to pay bills on time, move money around to various accounts, track spending – so it seems like too big of a hassle to manage multiple credit cards especially when mismanagement can hurt you. However, if you’re up for the challenge, you can also reap some great rewards (especially if you’re a world traveler like Chris or aspiring to be one like me)

 

Second Jobs – Are They Worth It?

In this economy, a lot of young professionals (and older professionals) are taking on side jobs – these jobs help to pay off loans and make living a post-student lifestyle easier. In my own workplace I know a few women, of varying career levels, who go to work after work; it’s hard!

For two years now I have been a part of an organization that works with exchange students. I even talked about how hard it can be over here. The extra money isn’t much, but I have to admit that it was very helpful during the unemployed times. But I recently realized that with the new job, the new commute, and the new marriage, the extra money is just not worth the time sink that this side job has become. For my own sanity I have to let it go. 
I think it’s important to evaluate how important free time is to you when considering whether or not to take on a second job (this is assuming that a second job isn’t a necessity for you). I hate to quit mid-year but my priorities are 1) staying sane 2) staying fit and 3) staying happy and right now the second job doesn’t help me to achieve any of those things.

There are definitely young professionals out there who disagree with my stance on this, seeing a second job as a necessity for getting ahead. I understand their points too:

  • A second job can help bridge your experience gap, allowing you to jump to your next, more desirable position, more easily
  • More $$$$
  • You may be more appealing to hiring managers because you’ve shown you take you can juggle many responsibilities. 
But it’s all about priorities and if you can handle a second job and want to handle a second job, more power to you. 

Then Gift Wrap Them!

Everyone feels differently about the holiday custom of gift giving. My husband and I choose not to exchange gifts because we feel too pressured to find that one perfect thing in a very specific time frame. We like to give gifts throughout the year so there’s less pressure and more, year-round fun. The rest of my immediate family does not subscribe to this idea and that’s okay – it means I still get presents (rarely a bad thing).

I’m torn on gift wrapping though. I love presents (just ask my husband, sister, um…anyone in my family) and I love ripping into some glittery holiday paper but did you know:

  • If every U.S. family wrapped three gifts in repurposed materials, the gift wrap saved would cover 45,000 football fields.
  • If every family reused two feet of holiday ribbon per year, the ribbon saved could tie a bow around Earth. Source: Stanford University
Last year my sister bought reusable bags from a local Italian market and put everyone’s gifts in the bags; so it was really like a present INSIDE of a present. Perfect. GetRichSlowly posted some other ideas recently to help make your gift giving greener: 
  • Go paperless
  • Use Bags
  • Recycle materials you have handy (suggestions from GetRichSlowly)
    • Newspaper end rolls. If there’s a newspaper or printing company in your area, ask if you can buy an almost-finished roll. These still contain a ton of paper that can be used as-is or customized any way you want. Rubber-stamp it. Flick a loaded paintbrush at it. Let your kids draw holiday pictures on it. Or do the messy-but-fun activity of dipping their li’l hands into water-based acrylic paint and making hand prints on the paper. (And if your recipient is a “CSI” fan? Have them leave only their fingerprints.)
    • Secondhand finds. Sometimes I find gift wrap at thrift stores or yard sales. But I’ve also seen rolls of butcher paper or brown at thrift shops; these can be decorated as noted above.
    • Grocery bags. Cut open paper ones and use the non-logo sides for wrapping. Let your kids decorate them with bright paint.
    • The Sunday funnies. These make great gift wrap year-round. Don’t subscribe? Harvest them at coffeehouses on Mondays. Tip: Discarded wrapping paper of any type can be crumpled up for use as packing material.
    • Old maps. Doctors Without Borders sends me several huge maps of the world every year. Maps also end up in the free box at yard sales, and may be given free of charge at visitors’ centers.
    • Periodicals. Small gifts can be wrapped in pages from magazines, calendars, catalogs or even comic books. You may luck into these in the “free” bin at yard sales.
    • Foreign-language newspapers. Weeklies written in Chinese, Korean and Spanish can be found in my neighborhood. The interesting typefaces could be a hit with someone who knows or is trying to learn those languages.
    • Dumpster paper. A whole lot of gift-wrap items will be tossed after Dec. 25. I’ve pulled gift bags, colorful tissue, ribbons, and large pieces of wrapping paper out of the recycle bin. Note: You don’t necessarily have to get down and dirty. I’m more of a dumpster wader than a dumpster diver, myself. A few years ago I found a large, still-shrink-wrapped roll of Christmas paper outside the dumpster. Still slowly making my way through it because of its design — not everyone appreciates the delicacy of Batman holiday wrap.
If you want to read more about gift-wrapping alternatives go here. For some people the paper is a non-negotiable but I’m partial to thinking outside the box when it comes to keeping the holidays green. 

Keeping Sane Through the Sales

It seems to me that this “sale season” there were a lot of awful commercials, maybe more than usual. You had a woman doing physical training for shopping:

And someone who actually used that HORRID song, Friday as though it were an acceptable tune: 
And it seems to me like our commercial culture has decided it’s totally okay to be crazy – we are progressively normalizing insane sale spending. These commercials are designed to make us look at the TV and say, Oh! Other people are doing it…it’s totally fine to leave dinner early and camp outside of stores…it’s NORMAL. 

Now I understand that there are two sides to this story. Families can rely on these sales for gifts – it helps stretch the budget. But I think our culture should be shifting its values back to the feast and away from the sales. Black Friday and Cyber Monday epitomize the problems with our consumerist culture. Instead of actively trying to just pair down our gifting habits, we scour sales to get as much as possible, and I bet a lot of it is stuff people didn’t need and maybe didn’t want in the first place. 
If you’re the type who loves to do this type of shopping then more power to you. But I wouldn’t suggest going out if you see it as a chore and I certainly don’t think it’s OK to normalize excessive spending and PT for shopping. 

Investment Research

Investing is a very salient issue for me right now. The other day I talked about wanting to find a financial adviser but I’m still doing a lot of research on my own. I have to admit, I’m as investment savvy as I am technology savvy – meaning, not very. But I’m trying to figure this stuff out because I think it’s pretty important to have a firm grasp on what’s going on. My husband *gosh I love saying that* is on the up-and-up when it comes to global economics but is about as clueless as me regarding stocks, bonds, blablabla.

Want I want to do though is share the resources I am finding and start some conversations about different investment styles – what works and for whom?

I’m not a big risk taker when it comes to money. I don’t gamble simply because I’m a hoarder with my cash and I don’t want to lose it to chance. Well I know that investment carries risk and as someone who is young, some people suggest taking a higher-risk road. 

But I should back up and start at the beginning with some Investing 101 by MangoMoney:

And here’s the important one for today – Investing 101: Investment Personalities
*Why does the only female personality need to be the ‘moody’ one?*
I realize that these videos simplify things quite a bit but some of us need simple to start understanding investment lingo. I still don’t have a solid idea of HOW stocks and bonds work but I now have firmer grasp on what they mean for me and my money. I think my biggest struggle with high-risk investing will be not wanting to bolt at the first sign of trouble, even though I should be able to handle the changes over the long haul.