On wealth (or lack thereof)

I can’t weigh in personally, since I chose a career field that typically does not result in wealth. But I found this Quora link (via APW) that discusses  if getting rich is worth it. Comments mention two points that seem obvious, but are also useful:

Happy people are often still happy when they become millionaires. Unhappy people are often still unhappy when they become millionaires.

and

Yes, being wealthy is worth it.  But without a sense of purpose, being rich could turn you into a very different, isolated and perhaps awful person.

I think I’d be a pretty happy millionaire, based on the first idea. I’d be a bit more concerned about the second, but there are a lot of things I want to do and a bunch of causes I want to support.

LearnVest’s take (yet again, another website I love) is that a $50,000 annual salary is enough to make you happy. They do say that living somewhere with a higher cost of living increases that number (which is my situation). And I’m thinking that some people have interests that cost more than others.

I’m thinking I’m closer to that original $75,000 number stated in the article, at least right now. After I pay off my credit cards (one left, and should be by no later than June), I can put all of that money into my IRA every month. (When I’ve done this for a full year next year, I’ll hit the max contribution amount.) I already save a good chunk each month, though I’ll likely be using some of it for the trip to Portland in April, which I know I’m not supposed to do…

LearnVest recommends that you only put 20% of your income toward priorities, which includes paying off debt and increasing your savings. I’ll just have a very low-interest car loan left. I think I end up putting about 30% toward these priorities, but I’m behind.

In the past few years, as my salary has slightly increased (after an initial substantial cut–I hated consulting), I’ve generally worried about the same amount. When I took this new job in November, I got a pretty good bump, plus practically zero commuting cost (I can walk to work). I noticed I’m able to allocate the extra money to places I knew I needed to send it in the past, and it’s felt good to see the debt shrinking and savings growing.

It’s still a foreign feeling to see my checking account in the higher triple digits after paying rent–I’m used to it being around $100, give or take. It’s definitely a comforting change, though I now worry when I have $400 in my account–that’s now when I feel like I’m getting low. Which is a good thing! I’m hoping the numbers increase eventually, of course, and with age comes more costs and responsibilities, thus more cushion. But it’s progress in a very short amount of time. Something to be proud of, I think.

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Little preparations

Rather than take a big leap into full planning mode for a future business, an epic trip, an inevitable move, a redefining of a relationship, I do little tasks. I read a story about a successful young woman business owner and daydream that I’d be the feature of that kind of article someday. I research when it’s best to travel to Turkey or Thailand or Argentina. I search for apartments on Craigslist in my price range in cities like Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Portland, and imagine the questions I’d ask the landlords–Are these double-paned windows? What’s the average heating cost in the winter? What are the neighbors like? I browse ring and dress websites, mentally bookmarking the ones I like best, in case the need ever arose.

But when it comes to follow-through, I rarely get past these tiny steps, these insignificant blips that fill up a slow day, later to be forgotten or deleted or expired.

A friend wrote a blog post I read today that was defiant and decisive; she’d made up her mind about how she wanted to live her life to the best of her ability, and she didn’t care if anyone else cared. Following her gut, knowing that her decisions, good or bad to others, were only truly relevant to her. No one had the right to comment or judge her movements or thoughts. If they did, let them–she’d go on living her life without their personal observations. She’s not scared to do and say what she thinks because she’s afraid the world will tell her she’s going about it all wrong. (I am constantly reminded why I am proud to call her a friend.)

I wish I had this courage–to take the big steps, to make the big plans, to upend social expectations, to execute what I only sketch out in my dreams. Here’s hoping she’ll inspire me to broach the parts of life I’ve been tiptoeing around. After all, in the end, you’re the one who has to live with how much happiness you’ve allowed yourself.

Happy hour at home

Hey everyone. (Really, no one, but whatever.) I kind of forgot about this blog, or when I remembered it, I actually had work to do, or I was in the middle of reading a good book online at work. (Public library e-books are my greatest recent discovery.)

But here we are!

I’m instituting happy hours at home. K is trying to save money, because his car got totaled and the insurance gave him enough money for half of a down payment. So that means a lot fewer burgers at HamTav and Thames Street Oyster House, and definitely less spontaneous “let’s get pizza” nights during the week. (That won’t keep us from going to Tokifact on Thursday, though.)

I’ve been having a glass of wine at night during the week. That’s been especially enjoyable when I went to class at Inline in the morning–those empty calories mean nothing! K and I both end up snacking before we eat a real meal after work, too. But it’s never anything particularly exciting. I had a few bites of leftover stir-fry last night, and K had his usual Tostitos lime chips and Safeway “fresh” salsa. It seems way fancier and less depressing to intentionally make little bites before we actually have dinner. Kind of like going to happy hour, but we can wear whatever we want and no credit card swiping is required. Plus no alcoholic drink mark-up.

What kinds of snacks should I make? I’m in need of some recipes, you guys.

Getting into good financial shape

Last night, I went to see Alex von Tobel, CEO of Learnvest.com, speak about her new book (which I wasn’t going to buy, but it was $8, so…) at Sixth & I in DC. I thought I wasn’t going to like her, and that the session would be light on helpful content.

Opposite happened. She’s surprisingly likable, even though she’s clearly super rich and went to Harvard and seems like one of those girls who has a TV show on Bravo–someone I definitely wouldn’t feel that I could relate to. She used the word “bananas” a bunch of times, and she shared anecdotes with the crowd of about 200 that made her seem like an older, wiser sister, rather than a fancy-pants CEO with millions of dollars.

You could tell how much she really cared about helping people get their money situation sorted out, and for an affordable price. Certified financial planners generally cost at least $3000, which is pretty prohibitive for most people I know–that’s what I make in a month. Learnvest offers three plans that vary in price. The Budget Starter costs $89 initially, then $19 per month. The others have higher start-up fees ($299 for the Five-Year Planner, $399 for the Portfolio Builder), but they’re all $19 per month after that. For all of the plans, you work with the same CFP every time, and you can email them as often as you want.

But there are a bunch of free features, and their 50/20/30 rule has been helpful. You allocate 50 percent of your monthly take-home pay to essentials–rent, utilities, groceries, and transportation to and from work. Twenty percent goes toward your future–debt, savings, retirement, investments. Thirty percent is for lifestyle, which is everything else, like restaurants, bars, the gym, etc. They’ve got one of those account managers like Mint, but I like Learnvest’s better. You’re able to group transactions by 50/20/30 category, so you don’t have to take the extra step of calculating the percentages yourself.

At the talk, she gave a bunch of helpful tips that I didn’t know. Did you know you CAN close credit cards? One per year, and only if you won’t be applying to grad school or for any kind of loan or mortgage, because your credit score will take a dip for a short period. I knew you could call your credit card companies and ask them for a credit line increase or a lowering of your APR, but I didn’t know that you should only use 30% of your card’s value–more than that and you’re making credit score ratings think that you might have some trouble with money. You accrue credit card interest DAILY, not monthly. An emergency fund to cover six months’ expenses is important, but if the more degrees you have, the more months you need to have put away. Renters insurance is a no-brainer, and if your apartment burns down, or someone steals all of your valuables, you get money back to buy all new stuff. Amazing.

I’m actually kind of excited about saving money now. Next thing on the list is paying off my credit cards so I can build an emergency fund.