October Budget Round-up

I haven’t really been trying to control my spending – I’ve just been tracking it for a couple of months to get a baseline of where my money goes. Now that I’m heading into lean times (4 out of the last 5 weeks, I’ve earned less than half what I normally do, which is scarier than any Halloween costume I saw today!), I’m glad I started doing this when I did.

EXPENSE                OVER/UNDER         DETAIL

Rent  (2100)                        0                  –
Utilities (250)                 + 12                Cable TV/Phone/Internet; Netflix; Cell
Medical (450)                 -283                Health insurance; Meds; Chiropractic
Groceries (150)             + 14                Supermarket, farmer’s market, etc.          
Restaurants (250)        + 25                Mostly take-out
Household (150)           + 22               Cleaning lady; household/personal products
Transportation (50)       + 43               Subway fares, train tickets, non-biz taxis
Miscellaneous (100)     + 50               Magazine, small gifts     
Budget variation           -121               Overbudget [for medical reasons]

Charity:  Raised $240, Donated $240+85
Investment:  Added $2000 to Roth IRA
New Couponing habit:  $42 saved, earmarked for The Baobab Home

Minor Moral Gymnastics

I have a massage client coming on Sunday for a really long treatment session, as is his habit. He started off booking a 2-hour Thai massage that afternoon, and now wants to add a 1-hour foot massage. Um…I’ve never done a 1-hour foot massage. It’s usually 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the client. I don’t have 60 minutes’ worth of unique techniques for the feet.

Normally, I would tell someone this and suggest knocking it down to 30 minutes. I’ve even been known to warn a potential client if I seriously doubt my ability to help their particular problem – and apparently that level of honesty is so shocking that they book me anyway. I even understand why…a few years ago, I was 2 days into a 7-day Thai massage intro course, and my training partner took a call from a first-time client and booked her for a Thai massage that night, for $120 (in 2004…I don’t even charge that much in 2008!). I remarked, “but we won’t know enough by the end of the day”, to which she replied, “it doesn’t matter, it’s all about intentions.” $120 for intentions?? What the hell is she smoking?? And this from someone who looked down her nose at me for having a sense of humor and drinking caffeinated beverages with a splash of dairy product, horrors!

Anyway, back on point… It’s been a frighteningly slow month of business thanks to the teetering economy (remember, Lehman and AIG are within a 3-minute walk of my place), and it really should have been booming because of the marathon on Sunday. To give you an idea how nervous I am, I’ve been in this business for 5-1/2 years, and in that time there have only been 6 weeks when my earnings didn’t cover my expenses. Two of them were in February after the Bear Sterns collapse, and this month added 3 more to that total. This week I’m looking at just breaking even. So guess what? I’m compromising my ethics a little and will improvise for an hour. I’m able to justify it to myself because it’s not like I’m faking reflexology or anything like that – I’m just giving a foot rub. And in my experience, there’s no such thing as a “bad” foot rub (well, as long as it’s not ticklish!). I have books, I’ll bone up on a few new moves and hope for the best. He can always end it early if he wants.

I consider this a minor dilemma because…well, if you had ANY idea of the multitude and variety of opportunities a massage therapist has to trash her personal and professional ethics, you would never let your sister, wife, daughter, etc. become one.

I’ve Been Tagged? Me? I’m IT?

Um…I feel like the new nerd on the block hovering on the outskirts of the In Crowd, so how did I manage to get Tagged by the illustrious Crystal at Brunette on a Budget?? She’s, like, a real live professional financial writer chick and everything, so I’m suffering a serious bout of “we’re not worthy”-itis. I mean, I’ve been in the blogosphere for a whopping 5 weeks. Oh, the pressure!

Apparently, there are Rules for this tagging gig…

1. To link the tagger and provide the rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs.


Seven things about MoneyMateKate

  1. People (esp my sisters) think I’m CIA Black Ops because I live in Manhattan, have a master’s in linguistics and speak a bunch of languages, am ranked in three martial arts, go to the Middle East for “vacation”, can drive a Mini Cooper off-road, have two passports, and claim to be a massage therapist – a job that explains the comings and goings of strangers at odd hours of the day and night.
  2. I used to be 2 lbs shy of “morbidly obese” (100+ lbs too many) and am now merely “overweight” (less than 30 lbs of excess adipose). Sometimes I wish I could slip on the fat suit and be invisible again.
  3. I’m not registered to vote. I tell people it’s because all politicians eventually disappoint you, and this way I can always say, in an obnoxiously superior tone, “well, I didn’t vote for him!”…but really it’s because I don’t want to be called up for jury duty and (legitimately, because I’m self-employed) claim financial hardship as my reason for getting out of it.
  4. I am actively acquiring “Action Hero Skills”, so that I’ll be prepared if the need should ever arise for me to save the day. This winter, I will be adding cross-country skiing and pistol shooting to my repertoire. The last two skills I added are CPR (6th time getting certified) and camel-riding.
  5. I’ve lived in the USA (homeland), the Phillippines (as a child), Scotland, Spain and Japan.
  6. I have never done an illegal drug. Having said that, I intend to go eat my first (and probably only) hash brownie on my 80th birthday. If “herbs” are legalized in the USA before then, I’ll do it on my 70th.
  7. I divorced a Scotsman 11 years ago because I couldn’t deal with his fetish. And he was otherwise boring.

Tag – You’re IT!!!

I’m a little nervous about tagging, since I don’t really know the etiquette for stuff like this. I’ll give it a shot, but I’m only going to tag 4 and hope they don’t mind:

* Dog Ate My Finances
* Shtinkykat @ Shtinkykat’s PF Blog
* FruGal @ A Frugal’s Musings On Money
* Sistah Ant @ The Hustle of Sistah Ant

The other three I’ll identify without actually tagging are Pants In A Can, Punny Money and Crunchy Chicken.

Christmas Sideline? I wish!

One of my favorite things about Christmas time is wrapping lots and lots of presents. Back when there were more of us under one roof and I had easier access to aunts and uncles, I used to spend hours doing all of their wrapping – everything from jewelry to M&Ms to surfboards(!). I usually got “paid” with lunch (cheap-ass extended family), but I didn’t mind because I was doing something that made me happy.

I wish there was a way to make money doing this that didn’t involve a minimum wage job at a mall. I’d even do it as a charity fundraiser if there was no way to turn a real profit (I’ll work cheap for charity, but not for myself…I know, what odd values I have). What’s standing in my way? New York City and its suspicious, litigious residents…

As someone needing a wrapper, would you trust a stranger with all your Christmas presents, i.e. drop them off and have them actually be there when you picked them up? Would you worry that she might take the goodies out of the box and just wrap the packaging? As a wrapper, I’d be worried that someone would claim they gave me stuff they didn’t (I could mitigate the chances of that though). Or claim that I wrapped an empty box and stole the iPod or whatever. So is the only way to make this happen to do it while they watch? Not realistic.

I’m tempted to offer it for charity $ within my apartment building (220 units), but I’m afraid it will sound really weird to the neighbors. Sometimes my ability to judge how things like this are perceived is a little off, and I don’t want to creep anyone out (I did that recently to a fellow blogger and still feel like an ass about it). Perhaps my best bet is to contact charities that do toy drives and ask if they need help with the wrapping.

Darn…I have such great ideas for wrapping – from gold-sponged brown paper tied up with either twine or ribbon, to tags made from last year’s Christmas cards and package toppers made from pieces of unwanted Christmas decorations. Can you tell how much I love this stuff?? I just can’t see a way to market it successfully as a sideline in this city.

Financial Humor, Hooters-style

The only Hooters in Manhattan happens to be on the 1/4-mile route to indulge my 6x-a-week crack habit (a.k.a. chiropractor). While the UN was in session last month, their billboard read “Foreign Dignitaries Welcome!” – which made me snort-laugh. I once got a massage inquiry from the Chairman of Arab Affairs, and he’d definitely have been more welcome at Hooters than on my table. Anyway, they changed their sign this week to something a lot more clever than you’d expect from a sports bar/restaurant that peddles lite T&A:

Celebrate Here – Your 201K is just fine!

Bank of MMKate: Joint Accounts?

Whenever my immediate family has a cashflow problem, I get a call. I’ve only been screwed over once (by my brother, whose off-hand attitude towards this sort of obligation sends my blood pressure soaring up to…well, the normal range – my BP is ridiculously low). A sampling of what I’ve funded and been repaid for:

  • My sister’s moving costs after leaving an emotionally abusive BF – $1200
  • My parents’ bankruptcy fees – $1000
  • Prevention of a sheriff’s lien on grandparents’ home, @ age 15 – $4200
  • Emergency flight to Colorado after a Bad Thing – $450
  • My sister’s car, needed for school – $7000 (in progress)
  • Leisure travel for Mom – $1700 (in progress)
  • My dad’s knee replacement surgery (apparently they want a 15% deposit from bankrupt patients even when mom obtains a letter confirming 100% coverage) – $3000

So my dilemma is… what if I’m in need? What if I end up in a coma, or need bail money, or something bizarre like that? I’ve got the money but won’t be in a position to get to it, and none of them have the funds to cover me until I can. So I’ve been thinking about making my checking account joint with my mother, and having her put me on hers…but her credit score sucks (2 more years before the bankruptcy drops off her credit report), and I don’t know if having joint accounts with her will drag mine down. Plus, I don’t know if there are tax implications. At the moment, we each have a blank check on each other’s account – but no way of knowing how much we can write that check for in the event of bail/death/ransom/etc. Having cards, checks, access codes, etc. would make that a whole lot simpler.

Anyone have any experience of this?

And stop laughing at “ransom” – when I went on vacation to the Middle East last year, I got travel insurance with Act of Terrorism coverage, which provided up to $100K for rescue and ransom. Hey, it was only an additional 29 cents, which is very comforting (cheap = no claims ever made/paid).

A Tale of Tuition & Turmoil

I feel like sharing one of several defining moments of my family history with money….

When I was in college, all checking accounts had monthly fees of $5-10, so I refused to get one. I gave my mother my paychecks (3 weekly and 1 monthly from 4 PT jobs), and once a month I’d have her cut a check for my tuition bill, which wasn’t too bad because I had grants, scholarships, and a delightful little Perkins loan. But all of those stayed the same while tuition and dorms went up 10% a year, so I had 2 jobs my junior year and 4 jobs my senior year.

Along comes the last installment in May, two weeks before graduation, and Mom was supposed to have $750 of mine in her account to add to the sheaf of checks I was handing over. She looked at her check log, looked at me, looked at her check log, and mumbled, “Well, I just deposited my paycheckfor $400, I guess that’s technically yours.” Yeah right, like I’d ever leave my parents and little sister literally penniless, no money for food/gas/etc, with nothing coming in for 2 weeks. My tuition payment – earned from working 60 hours a week at some truly horrid jobs, including four graveyard shifts – had been used to cover a large chunk of the rent that month. My grandmother was supposed to be covering that expense, but the executor of my grandfather’s estate, her eldest son, had charged the bejesus out of her AmEx and left her with a pittance to cover her own food, utilities, etc. In other words, there was nothing left for us (not that we deserved it, but it was promised and depended on). It’s one of the two times I ever saw my grandmother cry.

It must have killed my mother to take that money. Every weekend she watched me come home from college on Friday after 4 hours of class and 5 hours at my afternoon office job, take a karate class, nap for an hour, work a midnight shift, come home for a quick shower before going out to my 9am-6pm Saturday job, collapse in bed for 3 hours before heading out for another midnight shift, then a 2 hour nap Sunday morning before teaching a private martial arts lesson as barter for the following jiu jitsu class, back on the train to school, pass out for 4-6 hours in my dorm room, and then do a midnight shift at yet another job, get off at 7:45am…class 8:30am-12:30pm… lather, rinse, repeat every weekend for all of senior year. And I worked during the week too, but I’ll spare you the yawn-inducing details. I hardly remember anything from my last year in college because I was catatonic with fatigue the whole time.

I did all this to realize my 10-year-old dream of living abroad. I had worked my ASS OFF to pay my tuition in full by graduation so I could quit my miserable, weird, underpaid jobs and escape to Europe with my temporary work permit – only to charge $1100 to my Visa and postpone my dream for another two months. But there was also a (significantly smaller) part of me was proud that I could ease my mother’s burden instead of adding to it like everyone else.

That was 16 years ago, and I’m still not sure my mom understands the impact that has had on my approach to family and money. I now give her embarrassingly nice gifts to make up for the decades she was forced into a genteel begging role by the financial incompetence of everyone else (there’s only so much dirty laundry I’m willing to air here, but trust me, there’s so much more). When all is said and done, the woman gave me life, therefore it must be okay for me to give her the occasional airplane ticket, gently used car, or new bed, right?

Boring Birthday Present

My youngest sister (not the one who’s getting married), “Starfish” **, is turning 29 in a few days, and I just can’t bring myself to buy her crap she doesn’t really need and will probably lose within a month. She has also recently felt her first real motivation to get a real career, and is planning to take pre-requisites for an Associates degree in nursing (following in Engaged Sister’s footsteps) at the local community college. So I’m planning to give her Anatomy & Physiology I for her birthday/Christmas present. It seems kind of lame, but I just can’t bear the thought of giving her a purple iPod that she wants just because it’s purple.

I’ll be giving it to her in the form of a handmade “gift certificate”, because she’s not even enrolled yet. And if she changes her mind and doesn’t enroll, I’ll know by Christmas and can rethink gift-giving then. Now if only I could think of a way to make the presentation more entertaining, bearing in mind that she lives 1733 miles away and her birthday is Saturday.

I’d like to come up with more ideas like this for the rest of my family for Christmas. I’m just not in the mood for conspicuous consumption, but I still want to show them some Santa love.

** She earned the nickname Starfish by regrowing parts that have been surgically removed. To be specific, a mole on her chin, and then 3 cup sizes worth of breast ($8K for reduction surgery, wasted).

More Dumb $ Luck: The Platinum Edition

My sister’s boyfriend asked her to marry him on August 11th. Although she said yes immediately, she has since been frustratingly indecisive about everything else – including the frikkin’ engagement ring. The boyfriend-now-fiance very thoughtfully did not buy her a ring so she could pick out her own and gave her a guideline of $10K, but she’s not really into bling – lucky him!

In fact, not only is he lucky to be marrying someone who doesn’t want to max out her rock-and-metal budget, he’s lucky to be marrying Little Miss Indecisive. She checked things out two months ago to figure out the basics, like what settings and cuts she liked…and then threw up her hands and ignored it until this weekend. So she went back to the helpful jewelry store, and this is when Dumb Luck struck —

The price of platinum has HALVED in the last couple of months. It currently costs about the same as gold, which is down about 30% since then. This means that the price of the setting is also halved. HOW COOL IS THAT – By dithering for 10 weeks, they scored a 4-figure savings!!!

But wait, there’s more! The saleswoman asked when she wanted the ring by, and my sister requested mid-November, so that she’d have it by the time she flew home to NY/NJ for a shopping visit. Apparently there’s only one wedding dress store within a 2-hour driving radius of where she lives in Colorado, and it’s all pricey designer stuff. Anyway, the awesome salesgenius suggested that they deliver the ring to me in NYC and enjoy the option of avoiding state sales tax. That’s another $700 saved!!! But then my sister frowned…she wanted her fiance to put it on her finger and be the first to see her wear it. No problem, said Awesome Salesgenius, there’s no rule against letting her “take it for a test drive” for a few days before mailing it.

It sure is nice when good things happen to good people. It doesn’t happen often enough, and she’s been through it…I’ll save up that tale of bats, fire, a greencard-seeking kiwi, homegrown weed and a Hefner for another day. And it’s legitimately about personal finance!

eBay: Not Just for Unwanted Stuff

Let me start off by saying I’m not an eBay seller, but I do aspire to it. Perhaps what I’m about to describe is common knowledge for most of you out there, but I consider it a shortlist of things that work well as a sideline – at least, they do for the folks I personally know who are doing it.

Are You Crafty?
Do you like making Christmas ornaments, personalized artsy pillowcases, organic scented soaps? Set up an eBay storefront with a selection of your work.

Love Flea Markets & Yard Sales?
Figure out what sells for $2 at a flea market but $10+ on eBay. I know a Brit who does this with antique silver spoons, and a man(!) who hunts the markets for a selection of things he knows will sell well online. It helps if you’re already a fan or collector of something that you know a lot about, but it’s not necessary.

Prefer Something Home/Computer-based?
Provide eBay selling services to your friends, family, community. If you’re pretty familiar with how to optimize an eBay listing or like the idea of figuring it out, there are a LOT of people who are too intimidated by the posting/pricing/photographing/customer service/type-of-auction/mailing process to bother for just a few things they want to get rid of. You’re the logistics gal/guy, you only accept things that will sell for more than $XX, and you take a commission.

The Best Use of $20
Buy a domain name and some business cards from VistaPrint for a barebones professional image. If it works out for you, you can always upgrade and add on. And if it stumbles at the starting gate, hey, you’ve wasted $20 on dumber stuff than a prospective moneymaker, right?