Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Links

The Blog of Impossible Things has a post encouraging readers to be prolific, as opposed to putting off doing creative work until one receives a sudden flash of inspiration.  This is good, timely advice for me.

Always the Planner has a guest post that equates managing money with managing attention.

Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured has an essay on why marginal tax rates make sense.

So Over Debt compiled a list of 6 reasons why you may be too poor to shop at Walmart.  I am in that group myself as I compulsively check and only purchase the body wash that is the cheapest.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yeah, I Got Some Baggage - On Southwest

The bookends to my week and a half vacation were a pair of flights on Southwest Airlines.  My flight to Florida was uneventful; however, after my return trip, thanks to a pesky stop in Phoenix, my wife and I found ourselves eyeing a luggage carousel that was sadly lacking our bags.

We talked to the guy at the counter, and he said that he wasn't sure where they were, but that he would deliver them to us when they found them, free of charge.  This seemed like a good enough idea, so my wife and I went on our merry way.

When we had been home for about five minutes (at approximately 9 p.m.), I received a phone call that said that our bags had come in on the next flight from Phoenix, and they were available to pick up.  It is worth noting at this point that we had asked if we should stick around for that flight to come in as it seemed like that was likely where the bags were; we were told that we shouldn't, because it would probably only irritate us if the bags weren't there.  Fair enough. 

Given that it's something of a trek back to the airport, I brought up the promise of delivery, and I asked if we could get our bags that night.  The person on the phone said that that should work, but he said that we probably wouldn't get them until 11 or 12.  I figured that this was okay, even though we had just flown cross-country, and so 12 west coast time feels a lot more like 3 a.m. east coast time.  And so we waited.

When the clock turned twelve, and we still hadn't received our bags, my wife called Southwest back and asked if the bags were on the way, and the person now said that the bags could be delivered as late as 3:30 in the morning.  At this point, we resolved just to go to sleep, and to let the doorbell awaken us.

At 6 that morning, I received a phone call from Southwest saying that the bags were on their way, and that I should receive them between 7 and 8:30.  I asked if they could change that to between 7 and 8, since we needed to be at work at 8:30, and I was told that that should be fine.

To Southwest's credit, our bags were dropped off just a few minutes after the clock struck 7.

While I am glad that our bags were not lost forever (for one thing, we had checked some jewelry in one of our suitcases), I have to admit that I wish I would have just been told that the bags would be delivered by 7 the next morning.  That way, we could have gotten some much-needed sleep that much earlier.  Or, I suppose, I should have just made the trip back down to the airport.  That's what I'll do next time.

Have you ever had any bad experiences checking bags?  Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

5 Misconceptions About Being a Frugally Fashionable Man

(This is a guest post from the delightful Annabelle at Shopping Detox.  She writes about taking control of her financial life while remaining fabulous and fashionable.  For all the dudes out there who don't know Calvin Klein from Calvin & Hobbes, I asked her for some frugal clothing advice for men, and she replied with the below.  Enjoy!)

Attention frugal men: IT IS NOT AS COMPLICATED AS YOU THINK to dress awesome. Trust me: I know what I'm talking about here. The main thing to keep in mind is that dressing well is not about putting on a costume or dressing differently than normal; it's about being polished, putting your best face forward, and being yourself - but better. And if you're into saving money and getting great deals, fashion can be a thrill-seeking adventure-packed fun time.

Misconception #1: You have to spend a lot of money to dress well. False!

First of all, there are heaps of rich guys who dress TERRIBLY. Wearing something with a gigantic brand name or logo on it does not make you well-dressed. It also doesn't make you look wealthy. At the bare minimum, a pair of nice pants (bought vintage or somewhere affordable like Old Navy or The Gap) and a button-down shirt looks great of every man. The best part about being a man (from what I can tell) is that you are able to wear the same thing numerous times - a pair of classic black or brown pants can be worn every day of the week and NOBODY WILL NOTICE (unless you spill something on them). Just keep them ironed and clean, and you're good to go. (Editor's Note:  This IS the best part of being a man!)

Misconception #2: You need to own a lot of clothes. False

As noted above, if you buy really basic clothes, you can wear them over and over and always look great. Have you heard of Project 333? It's where you trim the number of items in your wardrobe down to 33 for 30 days. When I read about it, I counted the clothes in my boyfriend's closet and he has EXACTLY 33. These are pretty much evenly divided in trousers, t-shirts, short-sleeve button-down shirts and long-sleeve button-down shirts. On a day off, he wears a t-shirt and trousers. On a work day? The same trousers and a button-down shirt. (*Hint: vertical stripes are slimming. Pinstripes are always gorgeous. Think Don Draper.)

Misconception #3: Nobody cares what your shoes look like. SO FALSE!

True story: I read in a magazine that Lauren Conrad looks at a guy's shoes first off to determine whether he's a catch or not. Shortly after reading that, I went on a date with a guy who was wearing WHITE RUNNING SHOES with dark pants. I thought, "I'm going to give this guy a shot. Who cares what his shoes are like!" But you know what? It was not a good date. And trust me: I'm not the only girl who follows Lauren Conrad's advice. Also? The next guy I went out with was wearing classic brown leather shoes when we met. And we're still together 2 years later.

Moral of the story? Buy a nice pair of leather shoes. Wear them often.

Misconception #4: Fashion is complicated and looks silly.

Nothing can be further from the truth! Women's magazines always advocate for a simple black dress, which is almost always the prettiest thing that a woman can wear. And for a man? Nothing (NOTHING) is sexier than a guy in a well-cut suit. This is also the easiest thing for a man to wear - matching pants and jacket, plain shirt, a tie... what's to worry about? A suit is a great investment purchase, too. You can get a suit at a thrift store, or spend a bit more to get it from a men's suit store. If you hate shopping, I can't recommend a suit store enough - the salesmen know their customers hate shopping, so they quickly get you in and out, remind you to buy dark socks, and you're out of there! Plus, if you buy a suit, you can always wear the pants with the shirt for a more casual occasion, so it's like three outfits in one.

(Secret: the hottest that a guy can ever look is in a suit with the top button undone and the tie loosened. Bonus points if it's an undone bowtie. This has been making ladies swoon since the 1920s)

Misconception #5: Ball caps.

Guys? Just don't. I mean, if you're out jogging? Fine. If you're at a baseball game? Fine. Golfing? OK. BUT NOWHERE ELSE. Get a good haircut (make friends with a barber if you aren't into hair salons). A good haircut is the best accessory, and can make your outfit look instantly more appealing.

The moral of the story:

Button-down shirts. Nice pants (ironed, cleaned) in a basic colour (black or brown or navy blue). Nice brown leather shoes. Good haircut. A suit for formalwear occasions. Own these things, and you won't have to go shopping again for like 10 years.

Oh, and white socks? NEVER WORK. Buy a 10-pack of black socks. Just trust me on this - it's worth the investment.

Photo by smoothdude

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Mental Spending Trick: Spreading the Money Out

She's a ticket and I'm drowning slowly
A few weeks ago, I was in the midst of a long trek as I was driving back home to San Diego with my wife after spending a long weekend visiting my family.  The trip (approximately 300 miles)  takes about 5 hours, on average, especially when you add in meal breaks.  It's not a bad drive, but if I can speed it up in a reasonably safe way, I'm going to do so.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I was speeding.

You see, there's a shortcut that will take about 20 miles off of the trip, but it entails driving along a mountainous (read: hill...ous?) path that is primarily two lanes (one in each direction).  There are occasional passing lanes, though, but they end pretty quickly.  As such, I find that if I'm going to pass somebody while on this road, I'd better step on the gas to get around them so that I don't end up flying into oncoming traffic.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, that that was how I caught speeding.  I, at 29 years old, received my first speeding ticket.

The speed limit at that point was 55 miles per hour (though I was stuck behind a couple of cars driving slower than that -- hence, the desire to pass), and the officer of the law clocked me as doing 70.*  I'm not sure if that was the actual speed I was driving, or if the officer was doing me a solid by saying that's what he clocked me at (after doing some research after receiving the ticket, I read that in California, speeding tickets become significantly more expensive if you are clocked at speeding by 16 or more miles per hour over the speed limit).  Either way, I'm stuck with a fairly expensive reminder of my mistake.

Now, I admit, I shouldn't have been speeding.  Even so, I wasn't really furious about receiving a ticket.  In the first place, I am fortunate to be in a stable financial place where I have the money to pay for speeding ticket without being too inconvenienced.

But in the second place, I just kind of figured I was due.  You see, I, like I'm assuming most people do, speed a little bit pretty consistently, but my speeding is moderate.  When on the freeway, I find myself generally driving about 5-9 miles per hour over the speed limit (10 MPH seems like you're really pushing it to me :-) ).**

However, even though I speed, I mentally acquiesce to the idea that laws should be obeyed, so a part of me feels some guilt when I speed (I chalk this guilt up to years of Christian private schooling)  With this in mind, I kind of feel like my ticket, in a sense, could be distributed equally across each of the instances in my 13 years of driving that I've gone over the speed limit.  My speeding just finally caught up with me, and I received my (very overdue) punishment.

See, I'm not mad because I got to speed all those times for free up until now, and now, I'm just paying my dues (which probably work out to mere pennies per each time I've driven too fast).

This seems more than fair to me.

As another example of this sort of thinking, in the last weeks of my last semester, I bought a class ring to commemorate my grad school education.***  I paid about $400 for it, and I literally thought the first time I wore it, "If I never wear this again, this one time wearing of this ring cost me 400 bucks."  Each time I wear it, I take comfort in that fact that, from a days of use perspective, I'm bring the cost of the item way down.

Does anybody else play mental tricks on themselves like this to spread out some cost so that it seems less intense?  Let me know in the comments.

*Perhaps it will come off as unrepentant, but I never thought I'd get a speeding ticket for doing 70 on a highway.
**If I'm overestimating the speeding mentality in my readers, I apologize.  All I can say is that most traffic in the city where I live while on the interstate flows at about the speed I drive at.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm the worst person for speeding, and I deserve your judgment.
***I know, school rings are profoundly silly, particularly for a grad program.  Still, I was proud of my accomplishment, and I guess I wanted/was suckered into buying something tangible to commemorate it.

A Notice of Vacation

Hey Folks,

If all goes as planned, by the time you read this I should be on a boat somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.  By tomorrow, I'll be dragging sharks in and out of the water like the man pictured above.*

Not to fret, though, "Pinch that Penny!" readers!  I will be blogging from beyond the grave throughout this week, and into next week.  I also have a couple of great guest posts lined up for you.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the next few days of "Pinch that Penny!", vacation-style.

Hugs and kisses,

*Full disclosure: I will probably not be dragging sharks in and out of the water.  I will instead spend most of this week weeping at the fact that I will never be as manly as the man above.  HE'S DRAGGING A SHARK INTO THE WATER BY THE SHARK'S TAIL!  Water is where the shark LIVES!  The fisherman is in for a world of hurt, yet he faces it, bravely.  Bravo sir.  Bravo.  *Slow clap*

Picture by George E. Norkus

The NBA Lockout and Financially Replaceable Relationships

Guest blog by a personal friend of the Head Penny-Pincher

This is a tough time for me as an avid basketball fan. The first two weeks of the 2011-2012 National Basketball Association season have been cancelled, and the entire season is at risk, as team owners and the players’ union struggle to arrive at a new collective bargaining agreement that will dictate how they divvy up league revenues. In the midst of my basketball withdrawals, some forms of help are available. For example, NBATV has been broadcasting classic games from previous decades. Then again, the daisy dukes worn by pre-90's ballplayers have a limiting effect on how much of those games I can watch.

Unfortunately, though, some people are facing more serious challenges as a result of the current NBA lockout. For many arena employees (custodians, security officers, and food vendors, for example), NBA games can be an important source of income. The cancellation of even part of the basketball season makes it that much more difficult for these arena workers to provide for their families.

This got me thinking about the financial relationships involved in the dispute between the league’s owners and players. For instance, while the two sides have their differences, they’re ultimately indispensable to one another’s success (and, thus, will likely get a deal done eventually). Just as the players can’t expect the current owners to sell their teams off to a bunch of union-friendly billionaires*, the owners can’t expect to replace Kobe Bryant and Lebron James with me and Joe Schmoe and still sell tickets.

That touches on another financial relationship involved in the lockout: the relationship the owners and players have with NBA fans. To the extent that the current lockout disenfranchises the fans, it will be more difficult for owners and players to sell tickets (and reap revenues) when games resume. In this way, the fans are also irreplaceable to the league.

Then there are the arena workers. If they can’t wait out the cancelled games, others will be in line to take their place. Sadly for them, the arena workers are replaceable.

What does this have to do with us and our personal finances? The better we understand our own financial relationships with respect to replaceability, the better equipped we are to make sound financial decisions, decisions that line up with our personal financial values. Some examples:

- Does your employer view you as replaceable? If so, are there any professional certifications you could pursue to make yourself more irreplaceable to your company? Do you have the opportunity to take on any long-term projects that would be difficult for your employer to pass on to someone else if you were laid off?

- Is your employer replaceable to you? That may seem like an absurd question in the context of our current economy, but it has proven relevant to my own experience. I’m in the process of leaving one of my part-time jobs**, because the schedule and commute are no longer a good fit for me. When I discovered that I would be able to return to a former part-time job that is a good for me, the job I'm now leaving became replaceable, and that realization has helped me to make a positive change in my work-life.

- What about the financial institutions in your life? If your bank has recently introduced a $5 per month debit-card fee***, has it become replaceable to you? Do you use a financial planner? Does he or she view you as replaceable, focusing more of his/her attention on wealthier clients? If so, are you content enough to stay, or dissatisfied enough to find a new planner?

- Lastly, how does this issue affect the establishments you patronize? Who views you as more irreplaceable: McDonald’s, or the local burger place up the street? Is there a corresponding difference in quality and service?**** Whom do you view as more irreplaceable in terms of cost, job-creation, community contribution, etc.? Being clear on your financial values, whatever they are, will help you make more satisfying purchases.

In the comments section, how is the replaceability factor affecting your financial relationships? Are you intentional in incorporating these issues into your financial decisions?

*Wherever such a bunch of billionaires may be, I’m sure there are unicorn-riding leprechauns nearby.

**Oops! Now they know.

***Just, you know, hypothetically.

***Note: Local businesses do not always offer better service. See “Soup Nazi, The”.

Photo by Zawezome

Friday, October 14, 2011

Best and Worst Jobs - Yakezie Blog Swap #12

(This post is by Kay Lynn Akers as part of the Yakezie blog swap #12. Kay Lynn writes about money and life on the way to retirement at Bucksome Boomer (which is where you can read my post on the same topic).

Spacewalking Astronaut John Grunsfeld

Certain jobs seem really great. Play time as kids might have included pretending we had those careers. We wanted to be astronauts, movie stars and rock musicians. The only one of those I had a real shot at was being an astronaut and science courses didn't appeal to me. My perspective's changed over time and now I think more about the traits of the ideal job versus the actual role.

Traits of the Best Job in the World

1. High Pay: The best job would result in an income high enough to live well and save for the future.

2. Flexible: Having the ability to control your own schedule makes a big difference in job satisfaction. Being able to start your day when you want is why lots of people like their job.

3. Fun: I know there's no job that is fun 100% of the time, but it's got to be fun most of the time! Life's too short to not enjoy it.

4. Self-Directed: Just because a job is flexible, doesn't mean you control what you do and when. Being able to determine what you will work on and when is imperative.

5: Challenging: I want a position that makes me think and grow. Working in the technology field gives me that on a daily basis. All these criteria add up to the job of Entrepreneur. Starting your own business can give you all of the above plus more. It's the best job in the world.

Worst Job in the World

The opposite of the above traits makes for a pretty bad job. Add an unpleasant work environment to it and it's a contender for the worst job in the world. If you've watched the TV show, Dirty Jobs, you know about some of those roles. Cleaning out septic tanks, collecting garbage, and more. But there's dignity in honest work no matter how hard or awful the job. The worst job in the world is not having one when you want it. Yes, being unemployed is the worst job! It's never too late to think about giving yourself the best job in the world; being your own boss.

What steps are you taking to have the best job?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What Is an Emergency Fund?, or Analogies to Fairy Tales, Part the First

She's a brick ... house.
In a post last week, I made light of the fact that I hadn't ever written a post detailing what an emergency fund is.  Today, I found this picture to the right, which I think fully exemplifies why one should have an emergency fund.

Coincidence?  Almost certainly.  Nevertheless, draw nigh, and I'm gonna drop some knowledge up in here, and I'm going to do so via means of a fairy tale.

Do you remember the story of the Big Bad Wolf  (BBW)* and the three little pigs?  In that story, the BBW is all up in the pigs' grills because he wants to eat them up, and the pigs are all like, "No way, man, we don't want to be eated all the way up," and the BBW is all like, "You pigs totes better get over it because you're about to be in my belly by way of my chompy-chompy mouth."

So the first pig hides in his house made of straw (which is still a pretty good house for a pig to build; most of them just roll around in mud, so you KNOW this pig is already putting on some airs).  The BBW totes huffs and puffs, and faster than you can say "Complications from emphysema," the house of straw falls to ground, and that little pig runs whee, whee, whee, whee, whee all the way to the next little pig's house, which is made of sticks.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday Links

FinCon last week must have bumped up lots of folk's game because there have been a plethora of thought-provoking posts in the last few days.  Here a handful that caught my eye.

Punch Debt in the Face has an article about how investing in your 401K can be a better option than paying down debt.  This actually gave me an idea for a new blog that I should start.  I want to call it: "Letting your 401K Punch your Debt in the Face Instead of You Directly Having to Punch It (in the Face)."  I think it really rolls off the tongue nicely.

My Multiple Streams wrote a good reminder about the evils of debt, with particular emphasis placed on how much mortgages really cost.

Mr. Money Mustache posted his opinion on how long commutes are keeping people in the U.S. and Canada poor (albeit, not as poor as if these people didn't have jobs to commute to in the first place).

It's been rainy down here in San Diego these last few days, which had me begging the heavens for mercy and direction.  Fortunately, after apparently hearing my pleas, WiseBread listed 25 productive things to do on a rainy day.  Among the items not listed is crawling through a sewer pipe to escape from prison.  Boy, ole' Andy Dufresne had a few things figured out, didn't he?

Are you confused by the Occupy Wall Street Movement?  Particularly inasmuch as they haven't listed specific demands?  Luckily for you, Money Beagle has shared a few thoughts on the protests.

Finally, Broke Gal in NYC (via CreditKarma) shares a little bit about herself and gives some ideas for how young people can stay afloat during these rotten economic times.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Professional Goals: A Theatre Update

I got word back a few days ago that I had received an understudy part at a local (though very well-regarded regional) theatre.  While I was, admittedly, hoping to get an onstage role, I'm pretty happy to be able to get my foot in the door with this company since I think they do great work.

As a side perk, this is a straight play (as opposed to a musical).  While I love doing musicals,* my resume is fairly lacking in terms of non-singing roles, so I hope that I will be a more attractive candidate in future auditions due to this part.  There's also the small matter of the fact that I'll be getting paid for my involvement, and it's just gee-golly-gee-whiz-super-whiz-bang-terrific to get paid for doing something that you love.

I'm glad to back making money from a side-hustle that I love doing.  Here's hoping this is a good next step towards making theatre a full-time hustle.

*If you're interested, you can see/hear me singing here in a production of Godspell a few years back.**
**That's right, it's on Myspace, AND I totes misspelled/used a wrong word in the description.  Want to fight about it?

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Indianapolis Colts and Your Finances

Tonight, the Colts and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face each other on Monday Night Football.  If you would have asked even the most casual of American football fans a month ago who would almost certainly win this game, you would have received the answer that the Colts will win in a blowout.  However, as of today, gamblers in Las Vegas are stating that Tampa Bay will win the game by 10 points.

What has changed in the last month?  It turns out that he-of-the-big-forehead, Peyton Manning, the Colts' quarterback, had neck surgery about a month ago because he was having trouble, you know, turning his neck to look at stuff (note: for those of you who aren't fans of the sport, it is super important to see stuff in football).  While there was originally talk of Manning coming back this season, it now seems unlikely that that will be the case as the Colts have lost every game so far, and it makes more sense for the Colts to let their star QB recuperate instead of rushing him back into action and risking further damage.  As such, the Colts have already (after 3 weeks of a 16 week season) basically thrown in the towel on the team's chances this year.

"Huh, I guess I do have a big forehead."
- Peyton Manning
As an NFL fan, the Colts' plight is interesting to me for a variety of reasons, but the more I thought about the story, the more I realized that there were some personal finance lessons that can be gleaned.  Here goes.