Monday, September 29, 2008

Just checked my Vanguard account...

My Roth is currently down $753.14. Considering that I had $5,000 in there on May 15, I'm not too thrilled. I'm still hoping it will rebound sometime in the next forty years :)

On the plus side, my mother got panicky the week before last and I dutifully moved her IRA out of a target date fund and into a Treasury money market so she has lost a lot less. That matters far more to me than what happens to my own money right now since I'm reasonably good at keeping my own financial worries in check.

I'm going home!

I was dreading this week. Today was my first official observation by my mentor teacher for state licensure, and I've been struggling a bit to get my classes back on track after I was sick at the beginning of last week. There are a lot of days when it feels like my best efforts still accomplish nothing with these kids. So Sunday afternoon I decided that I'll go home this weekend.

I needed something to look forward to. My parents will be coming down here in two weeks anyway for a music festival, and I am eager to see them, but I also want to see my brother, grandparents, and college friends S. and J. Getting to pet the dogs and possibly get some Thai food won't hurt either. I'm not yet sure whether this is me moving my planned end of the month trip up or whether I'm adding another trip with all the extra fuel costs. To heck with the budget!

I thus got up this morning with a smile on my face, knowing that I was one day closer to returning to civilization. Classes went remarkably well, although I did abandon hope of teaching for the first half of first hour and decided to just made my students work problems until I was confident they had finally settled down enough to tackle new material. One of the assistant principals sat in at the same time as my mentor second hour, and my students were really getting it for a change. (Maybe I'll still have a job a year from now!) Life is getting better.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Not nearly as bad as I'd thought.

This is what I get for trying to blog while sick with a stomach bug. A mental review of my accounting system while in the shower and a quick glance at my bedroom mirror revealed that this month hasn't been quite so financially dismal as I'd thought: the water bill that was due a week ago has been taken care of using September's first paycheck so the one that'll be due in mid-October should come out of October's funds. I can transfer a full $60 to personal escrow for insurance, buy groceries, replenish my dwindling supply of toilet paper, and likely still end the month with a few bucks left over from paycheck #1 to put toward a trip home in October.

Fie! A pox on unexpected expenses!

I was doing pretty well with the one-paycheck challenge until the phone/internet bill arrived today and I discovered AT&T has finally gotten around to charging us for the modem they sent us a month and a half ago. Under my current accounting system, the money Roommate pays me for her half of the September bills will be October income so I'm currently out the entire extra $67.66. Throw in the $28 I spent on toys, oh wait, lab supplies, this weekend, and my financial picture is looking decidedly less rosy.

I have $107.78 left to get by until October 3rd. That doesn't sound bad at all until you consider that I need to set aside roughly $60 in personal escrow for auto and renters' insurance and there's the pesky matter of an upcoming water bill. It looks like I may fail this first month, unless I'm willing to alter my accounting system and start treating interest income from my savings as spendable rather than trying to "hide" it from myself. I'd had high hopes of getting started on saving for upcoming birthday and Christmas gifts as well, but that's clearly out right now.

I'll need to be much, much more careful in October. My parents will be coming to visit that first weekend, but I'd like to plan a trip home later in the month so I can see my brother, grandparents, friends, and dogs as well. Who knows what gasoline will cost then? Registering for yet another Praxis II test will eat a sizable sum, but if I passed the Biology Content Knowledge test I took this month, I'll be able to get that fee reimbursed by TFA so that should work out to be a wash. I'd been hoping to add a paper subscription to the newspaper and a gym membership as well, but that will be difficult to fit into the budget.

I'm not sure what I can cut that will make enough of a difference. I know that I can shave a few dollars a week from my grocery budget through more cost conscious meal planning and that I can eliminate fast food and school lunches, but I'm not wildly extravagant right now so there's only so much I can reduce those areas. I'll try to be more mindful of my driving and walk to the store more often. I suppose the key will be to avoid being seduced by random temptations like this month's new socks ($6.60), bicycle helmet ($9.46), and legal software ($19.95).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Estate planning for the young and broke

There's something to be said for having your affairs in order. Even though I'm 22 and seemingly healthy, you never know what tomorrow might bring. After watching all of the legal hassles my mother has to go through to take care of my grandparents, I've resolved to do my best to make things simpler if I'm ever incapacitated or otherwise out of the picture. Since I need only a handful of basic documents to take care of that, I've opted to get some software and set things up myself rather than paying a lawyer.

Thanks to an organizational membership, I was able to get Quicken Willmaker Plus 2008 for $19.95. (Note: I have no affiliation with Quicken or reason to believe this program is any better than any other. It was just my cheapest option. If you've found glaring flaws or a better program, please do let me know.) The program has thus far been easy to use and seems reasonably comprehensive. I may still ask my lawyer aunt to look over everything when I'm done.

Here's what I figure I need:

1. Alien Abduction Packet
If I ever need my parents to take over my finances, they'd better be able to find my accounts. At the moment, my mother is aware of my checking, savings, and Roth accounts, but she doesn't have the user names or passwords. Come to think of it, I've listed them as beneficiaries on my pension and group life insurance through work but have no idea whom they'd contact about that.

2. Durable Power of Attorney
Knowing where my money is won't do my folks a lot of good if they can't legally access it. I trust my mom and dad to make good decisions and act in my best interest if the need arises so I should make sure they have the authority to do so.

3. Health Care Proxy and Living Will
I'm stalling on this since making decisions about the end of my life is surprisingly difficult. It needs to be done, though. I wouldn't want to put the burden of making those choices wholly on my parents.

4. Will
Honestly, I could probably skip this if I felt like it since I don't have a ton of assets and would want everything to go to my parents anyway. I'm in the process of getting my HSBC account set up as P.O.D. so that money won't have to get held up in probate. As long as I'm in the process of getting everything else squared away, I might as well take care of this.

Once everything is done and notarized, I'll just pop it into a big envelope and have my parents stick it in their safe. Now, if only I could find a tactful way to ask them to do something similar and draw up such papers for themselves as well. I'm hopeful that it'll be decades (well, actually, centuries, but that's probably overly optimistic) before they'll need such things, but it would give me peace of mind to know I'd have one fewer thing to worry about in an emergency.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Plenty of turmoil

I don't have any insights into the whole financial market meltdown extravaganza. I'm trying to avoid the temptation to mess with my Roth's asset allocation even though the swings in value have been leaving me a bit nauseated. It probably doesn't help that I've managed to get the interwebs working in my classroom so I can follow the financial headlines in the New York Times during my lunch break.

If the whole system is crashing down around us, there aren't that many things I can do. For the moment, I'm going to try to focus on being happy about my students who actually tried on today's quiz, getting my second $985.81 of my teaching career, the cheap thrill of buying a new package of socks and eating frozen pizza for dinner without overmuch concern for the cost. I'll worry about the bigger picture in the morning.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An open letter to my students:

Yeah, you are absolutely right.

Of course my primary motivation for delaying graduate school, uprooting my entire life, and taking a fairly low paying job that makes me miserable and leaves me with almost no free time was to oppress you. Trying to ensure you have some understanding of physical science is just a clever tactic for keeping you down. That's what white people do, right?

I couldn't cut it in college. I'm a pathetic drop out; after all, that's the only possible reason I would end up teaching in a school like this and living in a town like this.

I'm terrible at math, even worse than you, ninth grader who has no idea how to multiply fractions and sometimes struggles with long division. That whole thing where I sometimes solve an algebra problem and find that my variable to be something other than a positive integer is evidence of my stubborn ignorance.

I'm only here because I want to pay off my student loans.

Your math teacher and I do have terrible crushes on each other. The fact that we were talking to each other at the football game is absolute proof. Sadly, there's no way we'll ever work up the nerve to get together without the intercession of dozens of fourteen-year-olds. Maybe if you can persuade him to ask me out, you'll get to be best man at our wedding.

I am indeed a former gang member. How else could I have known what those signs you've been throwing meant and written you up?

I want you out of my class. It isn't that you are being so blatantly and persistently disruptive that none of your classmates can learn right now, or anything, I just get a kick out of sending people to the office. Also, if I can manage to get everyone suspended I won't have to work.

I am nuts. Not only do I not watch Hannah Montana, I don't even have television. My car is old, my cellphone is terribly uncool, and I wear the most pathetic assortment of hand me down clothes known to man.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Job Loyalty

This month brings my dad's twentieth anniversary of working for the same company. I suspect that's an anomaly in this age. He doesn't feel any particular loyalty to the company, and recently told me he'll consider it a failure if he's still there when it's time to retire.

He's been happier for the past decade or so after he got out of the engineering department, off of the management track, and into a job out in the factory where he also gets to do some machining. It didn't hurt that he traded a job where he sometimes ended up working twenty-four hours straight or sleeping under his desk for one that required fifty hour weeks. He traded advancement and more money for sanity and time with us, and I'm glad.

His company isn't a great place to work. He has a pretty good relationship with his immediate supervisor, but the upper management doesn't grasp what he does or that the plant can't function without him. That isn't a good thing considering the problems his company has been having.

I'm 99% certain I won't be staying in this job for more than two years. My classes are improving, but I'm still far from the teacher these kids need me to be so there's the possibility that the school won't renew my contract at the end of this year. If, as I hope will happen, I continue to improve and become an effective teacher who enjoys teaching, I still wouldn't want to remain here. I see graduate school in my future, and even if that changes and teaching at the secondary level becomes my permanent career, there are school districts that are actually somewhat functional and aren't five hours away from the people I care most about.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I've devised a simple way of tracking spending to accompany my simple non-budget. I'm setting a starting balance of $985.81 and then noting the amount of each transaction, the nature of the purchase or inflow, and the difference or sum so I have a running total of what I have left for the month. If I can avoid hitting zero before October 4, then September will have been a financial success. Once I get the "personal escrow" fund going I'll track its total in a similar fashion.

My bedroom door has a full length mirror; naturally, I decided the best use of the space was as a writing surface. All I needed were a couple of wet-erase markers left over from this summer, and voila! Tracking where I can't help but see it several times a day. I think I might also tape up a picture of a nice house in the woods as a reminder of why I bother.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Planning purposefully

Hello, my name is E.C., and I don't like budgets. Oh, in theory they're all very nice. I always get a kick out of the planning, meticulously allocating every cent. I'm even reasonably good at sticking to them, and therein lies the problem.

I get a wee bit too attached to the budget, and then I end up resenting it. By the end of the month I end up kicking myself because if I'm out of money in the dining out category, it doesn't matter if I'm ten bucks ahead of the game when it comes to household expenses, I'll deny myself an eighty nine cent bean burrito. That feels like a moderately stupid way to go through life, and thus the budgeting isn't sustainable.

The alternative that I've fallen into the past few months, making no plan and looking at my balances every couple of weeks and thinking, "Hmm, I seem to be spending money at an alarming rate," and then continuing to make no plan, is clearly an even more stupid way to go through life. There has to be a system that'll work well for me.

I'm hoping my new non-budget will turn out to be that system. Paying myself first seems simple and flexible enough to keep me on track without driving myself crazy. As long as I meet my goal of putting aside one of my paychecks each month, the other will be mine to do with as I please. If I'm saving diligently and paying rent and bills on time, does it really matter what I choose to do with my discretionary funds?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Big Goal

I've been putting one foot in front of the other, somehow getting through the days. I'm still having moments of overwhelming grief, guilt, and anger with the world, and my mental state hasn't been particularly conducive to connecting with a lot of unfamiliar teenagers. Things are gradually getting better, aside from yesterday when one kid threatened to shoot me if I called his parents again.

TFA is proving to be more helpful in the region than they were at Institute. Even though I still feel woefully unprepared, I haven't lost hope that I'll eventually get my classroom management issues under control. There's also a possibility that my school will eventually figure out what they want the class schedule to be so I'll know what subjects I'll be teaching and when. (Long story. It'll probably seem funny a few years from now.)

However, this is more of a personal finance blog than a teacher blog, at least for now, so I suppose I ought to report on that aspect of things. Thursday I received my first paycheck, a long-awaited end to the months of hemorrhaging money. Now that I've seen the first check and all the various deductions, I can plan a budget based on bringing in the princely sum of $985.81 twice a month, including summer.

My roommate and I independently set similar goals for our finances: we each want to live on one paycheck a month. Getting by on a net income of $11,829.72 sounds quite manageable since we're quite willing to continue the broke collegiate lifestyle, at least in theory. She's planning to throw the rest at paying off credit card debt and a loan from her mother before tackling student loans; I want to sock away a bit more money for a newer used car and then get aggressive about saving for retirement.