Thursday, January 29, 2009

Saying a slow goodbye to HSBC.

Sunday I took the plunge and applied for a FNBO Direct account. Higher interest rates and greater stability ratings are pretty big draws. I'd set an account up for my parents a few months ago to try to save them from the paltry 0.7% interest they were getting on their money market account at their local brick and mortar, and they've been satisfied with FNBO. I was thinking I might just move a little money in at first and then gradually shift my savings later on once I got a better feel for how FNBO's customer service compares with HSBC's excellence, but my application approval was in the same batch of emails as the notification of HSBC's latest rate cut so I'll be migrating all but $5 of my savings account balance as soon as the trial deposits clear. I'll still have $8,000 in HSBC cds to move when they mature.

I'm toying with the idea of using a referral link to snag $25 from ING as well. Then I'll be positioned to become a rate chaser. Dollar Savings Direct looks tempting, but Emigrant doesn't seem to be doing any better than HSBC in stability ratings lately. I guess I have less faith in the FDIC than I once did.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Snow" day

We've caught the southernmost end of that system that's making its way across the country. It rained a lot yesterday and then resumed raining last night, when it didn't quite get down to freezing. Then this morning a light, pretty snow dusted the grass and trees while turning slushy on the roads. The predictions were for the temperature to drop a few more degrees this morning, but I checked the closing lists on the websites of both the Little Rock and Memphis news stations at 5:00 and again at 6:30 and we weren't on them. I headed out on roads that were wet and slightly slushy, but totally fine.

Then I arrived at school to find the parking lot empty, the lights off, and the building locked. It's probably not so good to announce school closings at 6:40 when the school day starts at 7:20, but I'm still excited about the (unnecessary) day off. It'll probably save me a bit of money, too. It was a busy morning so breakfast consisted of one piece of raisin bread grabbed on the way out the door and I didn't get a lunch packed. Today I was planning to stay after school to help a student polish her scholarship application, and I know I would have been starving if I'd waited to eat until I got home so I probably would have caved and bought a school lunch or some fast food. (I really must replenish my supply of healthy snacks at school.) Instead, I can lounge around the house for a bit and then make waffles.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Please don't steal my identity.

My mom told me that I got a letter from Bank of (Hometown) informing me that my debit card may have been compromised if I used it at any time from May to November of last year. They urge me to come get a new debit card with a different number, but I won't be able to do that until I head home Presidents' Day weekend. My mom suggested I carefully monitor the account online, but I'm not even set up for online access. If someone has already decided to clean out the $501.52 I had in the account, I won't even know about it until February's statement. Perhaps tomorrow afternoon I'll give the bank a call, explain my predicament, and ask them to cancel the debit card. If they aren't willing to give me a free replacement card either by mail or in person next month, I may just close the account entirely, even though I do like having a brick and mortar bank, if only so I can buy paper I Bonds and deposit my vast collection of loose change.

After grabbing fast food for lunch yesterday and filling the tank with gasoline this afternoon, I've $28.28 remaining for the next week. This does not thrill me. The extra $100 from Bank of America may go into an I Bond in February just so that it's safely out of my reach.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Well, huh...

Back in October I planned to score an extra $100 to use toward Christmas gifts by taking advantage of a promotion and opening a new fee free checking account. Then there was some snafu with Bank of America, and I wasn't able to get back into the online system to make my $25 opening deposit. I don't even know where the nearest Bank of America is so making the deposit in person didn't seem like a good option. They've been sending me bank statements for $0.00 ever since, and then life got busy so I decided it wasn't worth hassling with their customer service people. Today I looked at Friday's mail and discovered a letter from BoA thanking me for doing business with them and a $100 check.

Is there any reason I shouldn't deposit this? Can they come after me months from now when they realize I didn't actually meet the terms of the promotion? I know that you can't just take the money and run in bank errors where they mistakenly deposit someone else's money in your account, but this doesn't seem to fall into quite that category. The letter said in fine print that they're reporting the one hundred bucks to the IRS and I'll be responsible for the taxes so I assume a 1099-INT with be forthcoming soon. Maybe I'll wait until I head home next month, take the letter and check by one of their branches, and close out the checking account while I'm at it.

$47.04 remaining, 9 days left to payday, and big spending on the horizon

I'm going to be able to hold the weekend spending to the groceries and two stamps I bought yesterday. However, I've just committed myself to a very spendy next week. As we were headed back from ProSat, we passed the casino that's just across the river. As always, they were advertising their weekend seafood buffet. Long story short, Friday night there will be a group of non-drinking, non-gambling teachers headed to the casino in search of dinner. (Hey, it's a night out, and it's somewhere we probably won't run into many students.)

All you can eat casino buffets may be a relatively cheap way to get fancy food, but ours still costs $17.50. I'm going, of course, something I resolved when I realized that the big social event of last week was the three hour drive to and from ProSat. As I was talking to my mom about all this last night, she informed me, "It's ok to take money out of savings sometimes."

Absolutely, for things you've planned, emergencies, and rare opportunities. Binging on crab legs does not fall into any of those categories. If I can't pay for a night out using this month's cashflow, it shouldn't happen.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

$53.54 left and 10 days until payday

I bought lunch at school on Thursday. Alas, the baked chicken, which was succulent and perfectly seasoned last time, a triumph of school cafeteria food, was dried out and flavorless. The groceries are holding out remarkably well, but I need to replenish my supplies of a couple of things. Also, I've had a yen for McDonald's hashbrowns for days now so I'll probably either cave and do a fast food run in the morning or buy a big package of the frozen ones to pop in the toaster oven so I can have them whenever I feel like it. (The more frugal but less healthful choice, no doubt.) If I want to pay our electric and gas bills, which are already accounted for as money spent, I'll need stamps.

Thanks to the kindness of a second year TFA who offered to let Roommate and me ride along with her for tomorrow's three hour round trip to ProSat, our mandatory professional development, I can put off buying gas a little longer than I'd expected. So far, so good.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Still not buying a house.

When left to my own devices on a long, lonely, much too quiet Saturday night, I start house hunting. I'm not sure what the origin of this house lust is. I've never dreamt of making some huge profit on a home, just buying it, paying it off as quickly as possible, and then having it to live in until I die. It's a harmless enough fantasy at the moment; I know far too well I probably won't be in any position to buy for at least a decade, but if daydreaming about houses keeps me putting my spare cash into savings instead of buying junk, it's a net positive.

Interestingly, the prices of houses I daydream about buying keep getting smaller. A year ago I contemplated a tiny house for $75,000, not so much because I wanted it as because I wanted to know what it would cost to live in my parent's neighborhood. Last I checked, the charming brick place in the town where I'm stationed is still for sale by owner for $60,000. The latest fantasy is an 840 square foot cabin on 1.37 wooded acres near my old hometown for a mere $35,000.

This is probably the least practical house as well. It's a cute little barn red A-frame built in 1975. It'd serve well enough for me, a dog, and perhaps a couple of cats, but not so much if I ever end up with someone else. The house has electricity and public water, but, even though I occasionally entertain Mother Earth News-fueled daydreams of dropping out and living off the land, I suspect I'd quickly tire of chopping wood to keep the place warm in the winter after the novelty of sowing my transcendental wild oats wore off. Plus, well, even if I can "afford" it now, in a couple of years it'd be a financial disaster. Paying for a house I couldn't live in while making a grad student stipend would probably break the budget.

Never mind all that and the fact that I probably couldn't get a mortgage in today's economy, I still decided to play with some online calculators. (What can I say? My roommate was spending the weekend with her boyfriend, I was alone with the dog, and we don't have television. How else would a 22 year old fill an idle Saturday night?) So now I know that if I were a proper grown up, with more credit records and an employment history stretching back somewhat longer than August, I could probably buy an entire house with a 15 year fixed rate mortgage for substantially less each month than my roommate will be putting toward student loans on a 20 year repayment schedule.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This is why I should track expenses daily.

My spending has been slipping away from me. A quick review of my USAA statements online reveals that after bills, rent, a prescription refill, and charitable giving, I'll be down to $56.04 to last until February 4th if I want to meet my savings goal for January. Admittedly, I'm trying to wring an extra $70 or so out of my normal budget since my first paycheck of the month was reduced as a result of work missed after the car accident. Still, crud. I think I would have done a whole lot better if I'd been diligently tracking and had had more than a vague notion of how much I was blowing on minor luxuries.

Belt tightening is in order. I just bought a bunch of groceries tonight before I ran the numbers so I think this will be manageable, if annoying. Still, kick me or something if I don't get my act together and start acting like a responsible grown up at the start of February instead of halfway through.

(Also, hmm, if I do manage to cut $70 this month despite the shaky start, does that mean my savings goal isn't sufficiently ambitious and should be revised upward? Should I keep cutting the budget until it starts to hurt? Oh, wait, the point of managing money responsibly is to avoid having finances make your life miserable, whether in the future or right now. Never mind.)

Drumroll please...

Last year I earned $557.95 in taxable interest, plus a smidge from my savings bonds that I won't have to report and pay taxes on until they mature. If only I hadn't lost nearly three times that much on the investments in my Roth. Still, you've got to dig free money.

Monday, January 19, 2009

And the first person I know to be laid off in the recession is...

My mom. Policy counts at the insurance agency where she works three days a week are down a bit, and there isn't as much work because when people keep their old cars and houses rather than going out and buying new ones you don't have to deal with setting up new policies. Things are slow enough that her boss has decided her job can now be spread among the other people in the office.

So she's going to be down to one part time job soon, two shifts a week at the pizzeria where she's worked since long before I was born. Naturally, she's bummed. She's been working at the insurance office since November of 2005, and, while she never really enjoyed her job there, it doesn't feel good to be let go. She's also not so happy about having to figure out what to do next (more on that later).

It isn't going to be a financial disaster for my parents, at least in the short term. They have a paid-off house, lots of money in the bank, and live on substantially less than they bring in. My mom has always made way less than my dad so the only financial impact her losing this job will have will be to decrease their savings rate, not that that's a good thing for people who're turning fifty six this year and trying to save as much as possible for retirement in the limited time they have left, but it could be much worse.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Still around.

Not that any of you were waiting on tenterhooks for my next post, but I am sorry I let my blogging lapse. Life has been overwhelming me these past couple of weeks. I work, I cry, I eat, I occasionally drag myself to the gym in an effort to get some endorphins going, I try to sleep but mostly lie awake, I sit around doing a lot of nothing, and that's about it.

I'm still driving my mother's car. My frenetic efforts to find a good deal on a reliable used car in a few days during Christmas break didn't pan out so well. There was one used Civic I drove that would have been my top choice if I'd absolutely had to get a car that day, but the price was a bit steep for the condition it was in. It was also at the top of my price range. So for now I've accepted my parents' insistence that I let them keep the Taurus and keep driving the Altima myself until I have time to save a little more and/or locate a really good deal.

There's more chaos at school. The superintendent, who also took over as acting head principal after our principal left in December, quit last week. Naturally, I first heard that this was going to happen from my seniors rather than from the school. After talking to other teachers who knew a little more than I did, it seemed very likely he'd be resigning at Tuesday's school board meeting. Tuesday morning the daily announcements included a notice about a faculty meeting Wednesday after school. There was no word at the meeting about the superintendent so I assumed the rumors had been in error and he was staying. (Surely they'd inform us if our superintendent had quit.) Then Friday I learned from my students that he had indeed resigned and is taking vacation days until he is officially done week after next. I guess the school assumes we either already know everything or just don't need to know.

According to the local paper, the superintendent left after conflict with the school board. He'd been placed in charge by the state three years ago after the board was dissolved because the district was deep in debt. Now we're doing okay financially and have a school board again, although we'll probably get taken back over by the state at the end of the year since we're failing so dramatically academically. Our superintendent seems to have gotten used to being an autocrat so he's been chafing under the authority of others. According to the local paper, when he resigned he said of the board, "They’re trying to operate the schools, and that’s the superintendent’s job."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Go hug someone.

My ex-boyfriend would have been 25 today. He was bright, kind, and wonderful, and what he did was utterly senseless. Everyone insisted there was nothing I could have done because he had so wholly cut me out of his life a year before, but the guilt is still overwhelming today. What if I'd married him back when he'd wanted to, instead of worrying that he was hoping our relationship would provide him with direction when he felt adrift and lonely and that he might come to regret it? Would being there have done any good?

The word from the professors around him his last months was that his life seemed to be going better than it ever had, that he finally had his act together and was growing into the person they'd always hoped he'd become. His parents visited him the weekend before he committed suicide and said he seemed cheerful. There are never going to be any answers, and this will never be ok.

Seriously, go be with people you love while you can.