Monday, December 31, 2007

My official New Year's Goals!

I hestitate to call them resolutions as I think they are much more like goals, I'm sure you would agree (insert your nod and smile here.) First off, I must say that I stole a few of these from a great article I read over at MSN Mone about 10 Resolutions to Fix Your Finances. I do so love the folks over there. The rest have come out of necessity in taking the last few weeks to really look at what are some of my underlying issues.

Goal #1 - Get organized.
My info is all over the place. I can't even tell you how much digging I am going to have to do to find receipts and such for taxes. It's silly. I'm heading over to Staples today to get a large binder, some tabs, and those tab pockets where I can store receipts. This will allow me to have an "at a glimpse" look at all my info.

Goal #2 - Stick to my budget.
My budget is finished! It will be posted later today, worry not. The key is that I need to use it to plan, time bill payment and to figure out where and how to cut spending. I manage a 7 million dollar budget at work. I can do this. It will also help me if any "found" money comes in, namely should I get a sizeable tax return. I want to look at the budget and see where the best place to put that money is.

Goal #3 - Find my next great stock.
I put a whole whopping $25 a week into my Sharebuilder account. Hey, it's $1,275 a year! I want to find the right stock to put that money in this year. I really want to look into solar energy for two reasons. First, it fits into my personal goal of living more greenly this year. Second, our state, and many others are passing laws saying that the installation of solar panels cannot be prohibited and many cities are pushing for the change. Interest will grow. I think in the next three years, the use of solar energy is going to increase greatly. I want to find the up and coming company that will take us there. Thanks you to Al Gore and his PowerPoint...

Goal #4 - Have $100,000 in retirement savings.
That is such a pretty little number to me. I fully plan on maxing out my 401(k) contribution this year. Out company also just went to a new plan with Ameriprise and the match has changed. I get $.25 on the dollar up to 4% of my income. Even if I don't get a raise this year, that an additional $3,240 inmy account! Perfect. I have a state retirement pension from when I was teaching with about $4,000 in it that I need to roll over. Add my Sharebuilder and that's $24,015 that I will have go into my account this year. Damn skippy! If I can manage the investments so that they grow well, I think I can get there.

Goal #5 - Find the right credit card.
Oh, Discover, it's not that I don't love you. I'm just not sure you're the one for me. I did not do as much research as I should have in choosing my credit card. I need to spend a good amount of time reading up on these, apply and transfer my balance so that I win in the long run.

Goal #6 - Earn at least $200 a month supplemental income.
This goal is a necessity. Any and all online income goes right to my credit card debt. The first things to be paid off will be the two retail store cards. They have very low balances. From there, it's hit the big guy hard. It's only a matter of $2.400 a year but it helps and I have to see it as important. Tomorrow, I'll give an update on how I did for the last two weeks in December. I'm optimistic and think this is very realistic.

There you have it! I'll give quarterly updates, though you'll get more info than that as my figures will always be in the sidebar to the right and I'll give a few regular monthly updates. Check back with me and I hope that this New Year is good to you and that we can reach all of our goals meeting happiness, fulfillment and prosperity along the way!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sense of accomplishment is mine!

I've done a good number of things with my year end bonus that should put me in a much better position for next year. It feels pretty damn good.

I did the easy things first. I paid my cell phone for a year, totalling $720. Then I paid my water bill for a year, totalling $960. Then I did the really fun one. Have I mentioned how much I like paying bills. I like doing it because it feels good to know I can. The last few months have een very skinny and I've had to even push back a bill by a week or two. I do not like that feeling. I like the payment confirmation screen on my computer much better.

The fun one was the car payment. I have a credit union that is a pain in the posterior of the largest magnitude. Getting payments to them is not very convenient. They let me pay the whole year in advance and pushed my next due date back. I cut a big check for $3,420. I don't owe them a payment until 12/18/08! And, the amount of interest I will accrue is lowered and take look to the right and see how my numbers jumped! I only owe $7,171! That rocks and my net worth went up as well. I'm one happy kid!

The payments totalled $5,100. The rest of the money form the bonus went to paying the rest of the December bills that were due and I held some aside for some work at the house that needs to be done. The prepayment of the bills has dropped my monthly expenses by $445. I'll be working on my annual budget today and tomorrow so I'll be posting that soon so you can see exactly what the effect is. I have breathed a sigh of relief.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

How your employer can save you money

If your company does not have a Flex Spending Account, you need to start you lobbying hard. If you have kids in day care or medical bills, lobby as though you work on Capitol Hill. Do not pass go, but you may collect $200.

I did this with my current company and it was not difficult to get them to agree. Why? It saves THEM money too. If your company doesn't have such a plan, let me give you the lowdown on how it help you and how it helps them.

How it helps you
Say you make $50,000 a year and get paid bi-weekly. With a Flex Spending Account (FSA) you can put $5,000 into your account for day care to be withdrawn as reimbursement by submitting forms with receipts for day care costs. I mean, really, we're not talking rocket science. The good thing for you is that the money comes out pre-tax. Mmmm hmmm. You see where I'm going with this.

For this scenario, I used one of my favorite tools in the whole world, the Yahoo Finance Salary Calculator. I assumed a 10% 401K contribution because you're smart like that. I also assumed you're married with 2 kids because you're such a catch! The before and after of your paycheck looks like this:

Net Pay = $1,439
Out of Pocket Day Care Cost For the Period Based on $5,000 a year = $192.30

Net Pay = $1,290
Out of Pocket Day Care Cost For the Period Based on $5,000 a year = $149.00

Your savings per paycheck = $43.70
Your savings for the year = $1,122.80

How it helps your employer
Also easy. The pre-tax contribution decreases the amount of money they need to pay in payroll taxes. My payroll company estimates a near 10% decrease. That is a good amount of money for companies. So they are adding a benefit, which is administered by the payroll company, and it saves them money and they get more satisfied employees. Such a win.

I get paid weekly and make $83K so my total savings are bigger. Using the calculator, I am going to save $33 a paycheck or a whopping $1,716 a year. I am so happy I could slap myself. Now go lobby. Now!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Look Ma! I'm adding to my income!

A few days ago I had mentioned that with my year end bonus not being what I thought it would be, I need to get a little more money in each month. I've been looking at a few sites and reading a LOT of reviews to make sure they're all legit. I'm been test driving some. One of the only ones that really seems to be doing me a world of good is Cash Crate. I have made $27.34 in the last five days doing next to nothing. I can only assume how well I would do if I really put in the effort.

I've put in enough time doing it to be able to post here to tell you how it works and how you can be successful at it because I screwed up a few things and it cost me about $30 in unconfirmed surveys. Sometimes, I just rush into things. I am going to keep at this one because it's easy and almost like a game. I hope to be able to bring in $150 a month with this alone.

1) Sign up at Cash Crate. It doesn't take long. Make sure that you're ready for the amount of spam emails. I have a gmail account that I use solely for this blog and ALL the unwanted email goes into my spam box. Gmail does a great job.

2) The easiest way to make money fast is to do the surveys. You can choose what you do. Most range from $.40 to $.75. That doesn't seem like a lot but it takes a very short time and they add up. I can do 10 of them while watching a TV show. Doing that once a day will get me to my goal of $150 a month. But there are some things you need to know.

  • You need to delete your cookies after EVERY survey. There are many surveys from the same company. The company checks for cookies in order to confirm the survey. If you take 5 surveys from one company, they only see it as one. Delete your cookies and you will get credit for all. I tested it last night and it works.
  • Do the surveys that say "fill in the form" of "register for free," first. I have found those to be the quickest, taking only about two minutes. After about two screens they will start to show you a bunch of offers. If you see something that says "Thanks for registering," just close the window, you're done. If not, you can skip all of these by clicking the "Skip" button at the bottom or the "No, thanks. Continue," button at the top until you get to the end.

3) I have also made a good amount of money in one fell swoop doing three free offers. You can search for these. It's riskier because if you forget about your free trial period, you'll end up paying if you don't quit the program before it's up. I did Netflix,, and UseNext. About 8 bucks each. These may take longer to confirm. Here's the big tips.

  • Read the terms of agreement first to see how you need to cancel.
  • I made a spreadsheet to keep track of them. Who I signed up with, what my log in is, how I need to cancel, and by when I need to cancel in order to not be charged.

What's nice is that some of the offers are really quite good. I'm going to try out Netflix for 2 weeks. I have three movies coming today. After I watch them, I'll send them back and cancel. So, I just got three free movie rentals!

All in all, I'm impressed with Cash Crate. You can set your payout limit to whatever you want. I set mine to $100 to keep me motivated to reach that goal. I'll be keeping you posted on how it's going at the beginning of each month when I post my previous month's earmings for my extra programs. Good luck and have fun with it. Earn lots of dough!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Real live good news for my mortgage!

When I got divorced, I knew I had to sell our house in order to move closer to work. The commute was a nightmare. But, I did love that house. We put it on the market at $540K in August of 2006 and sold it in May of 2007 for $498K. Not exactly what we wanted but we both ended up with about $40K. I make myself feel better by realizing two things: a) I save a hundred bucks a month in gas and b) our neighbors put their house up the weekend ours sold. Same model, just as many upgrades. Theirs is still on the market but priced currently at $392K.

I purchased my house in May for $345K and could only put 10% down. Thank God I can deduct my PMI this year. Let's pray for next year. I had a few dings on my credit report that gave me a horrible rate of 7.375% and a whopping payment of $2,549. After disputing all three dings, they were removed (more on that to come). I just refied at 6.25% and it dropped my payment 200 bucks a month. Color me happy!

I just did a very good thing this week. I get paid weekly, so I signed up to have 1/4 of my mortgage payment, or $590, taken out of my bank account and sent to the mortgage company weekly. My loan has no prepayment penalty so this works well. Here's what it will do for me:

  • Decreases the amount of time before I can have my PMI removed from 7 years to 4 years.
  • Decreases the total life of my loan form 30 years to 23 years.

Essentially, the weekly payments will decrease the amount of interest I have to pay and will also create an extra payment each year. Four times a year I'll get five paychecks a month. I figure my budget with four paychecks so this doesn't affect my budget at all! It actually helps me get that money out of my account and into something good instead of a retail store. It also leave me enough money in that extra paycheck to pay off some credit card debt, as well.

I'm feeling rather happy about life. It will also help me to make sure that I don't over spend one paycheck when I need to set that $590 aside. It's just gone from the account the same day I get paid. If I don't see it, I won't spend it.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Frightening thought about insurance

Okay, I have to admit something bad. I have little to no life insurance. I think I have twice my salary covered through work. Great. That gives me about $160,000, which clearly would pay half my mortgage. I need to fix this before I get mauled by an escape lion from the zoo. It could happen...

I just looked up some insurance quotes. I have no idea why I have not done this yet. I did a little research this morning on how much I should carry to pay off debt and make sure my daughter is taken care of. I figured about $800,000.m That's ten times my salary and should be enough to pay off all my debts and make sure she's taken care of and gets to college. If you have the insider tip on amounts, come forth and share!

According to the Advantage One, which is a great site because they gave me quotes from a whole bunch of companies I was familiar with, a 20 year guaranteed plan would cost me a little over $450 a year. It's not a bad start. I have a lot of research to do about life insurance and what I need. But, it terrifies me that I don't have it.

I'm still finalizing my New Year's resolutions still, you'll see more on that later. But I think high on the list is figuring out and obtaining life insurance. You know, escape lions and all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Hey! My opinion counts! Really.

As stated in my previous post in which Uncle Sam had his financial way with me, I need extra income. I'm trying out a good number of ideas but I'm wading into the waters very slowly. There are a lot of folks out there that write posts for which that are paid. I'm intrigued.

I have done some reading and been checking with my fellow personal finance bloggers and I am hearing good things about Blogvertise. It's one of many groups that give you an opportunity to write about a product or service someone is advertising. I'm actually quite excited about it. It sounds fun!

The money isn't too shabby either. Blogvertise will pay anywhere form $5 to $15 for an article. That adds up fast. If you do a great job and have an impressive blog, they can pay you more. I plan to rock out loud. I figure, even at the lowest rate and only five articles, it's $25 a month. That will pay my Victoria's Secret card each month. Yep, writing to cover the cost to cover my butt.

If you use Blogvertise, I'd love to hear how it's working for you and how you like it. If you've not signed up, think about it. Can't hurt, right?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Want to know your net worth?

I did. But I was bloody terrified to even think of it. I was reading up on a few blogs tonight when I came upon a post over at 100K Journey. His blog is all about meeting a personal goal and it pointed me to a very cool tool at NetWorthIQ. It takes two seconds to register and input your info and presto chango it spits out a report scarier than Medusa having a bad hair day.

I went over and plugged in all my info and was not happy but not totally disappointed given a divorce and selling and buying a house in a downturned market. I made it public so I could share with you nosy folks. I'll be updating each month. You can check out my starting report by clicking here.

$76K is not a bad place to start. I lost a good amount of money in the divorce because of the real estate market. My ex and I had been the first round of lottery drawings for a new community in the Phoenix area. We got a great deal on our house. We sold out old, 1655 sq. ft home for $350,000 when we had a small $142,000 mortgage. We put the whole proceeds into a 20% down payment on the new 3,100 sq. ft. house ($412,000) and the upgrades ($80,000). Not such a good idea. A year and a half later, it sold for $498,000 which was enough to cover the initial costs but we had a second mortgage (we consolidated debt) and realtor fees. I walked away with $43,000. Would you like to kick me for selling the old house? I'm getting tired of doing it myself.

So my mortgage is higher than I expected and the market is going down, down, down into a ring of fire. My house is worth $10K less than what I bought it for 6 months ago. So, I can see the effects. It just reinforces my plan to pay more down and save more. Sigh.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Liberate yourself, Starbucks slave!

Starbucks is an evil temptress. It's cold. She has warm coffee. She beckons to you. And you go. You do it. You plop down $4.10 and walk out the door happy happy with your Christmas joy in a cup that is the Peppermint Mocha. Of course, your debit card is in your wallet saying, "Bitch did what?" My debit card is, evidentally, from the ghetto. In reality, yours may be much more polite about the transaction.

Let it be known that The Little Dough Girl is all about treating ourselves special. I firmly believe in frugal luxury. You read that right. If you want to spoil yourself and drink fancy lattes four times a week, go right ahead. It's just stupid to do that at Starbucks. Let me break it down. 4 lattes a week at $4.10 costs you $16.40 a week and a whopping $852.80 a year. Do you see why your debit card has an attitude problem? I know. I know. I love them too. Today, in order to feel good about some financial decisions, I broke down what I consider a triumph.

Two years ago, I made the decision that I did not want to give my lattes up nor did I want to waste almost $900 a year. I compromised. I did about two months worth of research on Whole Latte Love. I wanted to find an espresso machine that made incredibly high quality coffee for a decent price. I read everything I could about espresso machines and read reviews and finally decided on a Gaggia Classic. Then I waited for it to go on sale, which it did. They changed out their logo and I bought an "older" one for $400. People cannot believe I spent $400 on a coffee maker. They miss the big picture.

I have not had to abandon my latte habit at all. I still have 4 a week. The coffee is more costly at $12.99 a half pound but I get 20 cups out of that. Each cup, therefore, costs me $.65. The coffee is much better than Starbucks and I can replicate the Peppermint Mocha perfectly. Factoring in my costs for the coffee, that's a savings of $3.45 each time I have a latte. The espresso maker paid for itself after 7 months. Now, that $3.45 becomes money much better spent. To put it in perspective, I can pay my cell phone bill for a whole year and have money left over on the money I'm not spending at Starbucks. Think about that next time you step in line.

Uncle Sam is a mother huh huh huh!

I hate him with the white hot passion of a thousand suns! I came in to the office this morning and saw my bonus check. Let's just say that Uncle Sam should have bought me at least two martinis for how bad I got screwed.

Here's how the robbing went down:

We had a "communication disconnect" at work and our new 401k program didn't kick in until May. So I've been playing catch up. I had 20% taken out of the bonus. I had moved from single 4 to single 10 in my witholding to save myself some pain. The breakdown looks like this:

Bonus - $14,580
401k - $2,916
Federal taxes - $2,916
Social Security - $903.96 (This chaps my ass. I will NEVER see my social security.)
Medicare - $211.41
AZ State taxes - $903.96

Total Net Bonus - $6,728.67

Meh. I needed $9,600 to prepay all of my bills including the car. And I need to take my January Mortgage payment out of that to the tune of $2,358. I am officially not in a good place. I need to go scream for a while. I need to find more ways to supplement my income. And soon. Ideas?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Where I'm coming from

I am biting at the bit. I know my year end bonus hits tonight and I am anxious as a pimple faced 8th grader writing their first love letter!

I got divorced a little over a year ago. It has screwed up my finances completely. Long story short, I caved on way too much. Of course, who out there is divorced and thinks they didn't get screwed? I make more money than my ex-husband so when it came time to figure out who paid what and what would happen with child care, it made my financial picture grim. I pay all of the child care costs ($110.85 a week for 3 days) and get $58 a month in child support.

I work for a great company and get a sizeable year end bonus based on performance and how the company does. This year it was about 18% of my total salary, or $14,580. That is NICE. The down side is that when we figured child support, the lawyer insisted that I had to figure in that bonus as annual income as there was precedent that it would continue. Let's hope it does. If not, oh there will be hosing of epic proportions.

What does that matter? Well, the court figured my total income (which includes the bonus) over 12 months. It means I need to make that bonus last all year. It's very hard to do. It forces me tohave to drive down my monthly expenses in order to have enough money to pay my bills with my weekly paycheck.

I do this buy prepaying for as many as my regular monthly bills as I can. All utilities, internet, phone, etc. I want to see if I can prepay my car for the year and see if I can save the interest. That seems worth exploring. I am one of those people that gets immense enjoyment from this end of year process. I love knowing things are paid and done. I am anxious to know what the net pay is after all the taxes and retirement come out so I know what I can pay. It's like Wheel of Fortune in the old days when you got to go shopping at the end. Only no ceramic dalmations for me. Just electric bills...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

This is going to be interesting

Though I'm not certain it won't be annoying.

I have been looking at a good number of other personal finance blogs and it seems that folks partake in getting paid for online surveys and such. I'm new to this but, my gawd, is there a butt load of information out there. A gaggle of sites. Literally. Okay, I have no idea what a gaggle is but it sounds like a lot.

I am going to be benevolent and give a good number of these a try and report back. I am leaning quickly that some are better than others and much easier to use. Some are just down right annoying as hell. I am how to navigate through them easier. For example, I think I just spent 15 minutes entering myself into 385 giveways AFTER I had finished the actual survey I had stopped by to do. I can't tell just yet. I got bored and closed the window. So either I blew a whole dollar or I learned a lesson. Again, I'll let you know. Please hold... (insert elevator music.)

Getting the plan rolling

Some much time, so little to do. Strike that. Reverse it.

New Year's is my favorite day. It makes new beginning's, clean slates, fresh starts. Right now I'm gearing up for the big day. I've got a lot to do to get my finances in line in order to feel like I can hit the ground running. I'm working on some budgeting today and will be working on this blog a bit. I only created it last night so there is so much tweaking to do.

So, I figured I'd tell you all what to expect here! Full disclosure. I'm letting you right into my statements, so to say. Like I said, it's about accountability. I am generally pretty good at finances, saving and investing. This year, because of the divorce, I never got started on solid ground. This blog will track my income, spending and investing. I'll share info on where I am, what I'm paying for and what I'm saving. It's much harder to justify buying expensive designer shoes when I know you guys could come finger shaking!

I read a lot and find fabulous tools and articles on saving money or investing or cutting costs. I'll share those too. In the next few days, I'll be doing some stage setting. I'll be painting as clear of a picture of who I am and what I do and what my financial situation is. The goal here is financial freedom. Not worrying about bills, retirement, balances, college funds, etc. I refuse to be a slave to my bank account and paycheck any longer!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Looking to the New Year.

Hello to anyone who's stumbled here. I'll be working until the end of the year to get this blog up and rolling. I'll be ringing in the New Year with a bang and look forward to focusing on getting myself from red to black.