Category Archive: ING

The nagging of uncertainty

Happy St. Patty’s!

Though I’m wearing green, I’m not quite in the green yet as my latest ING blog explains.

The prompt: Is there a single event that turned retirement from a far-off to-do into a real, stark reality? We asked our Customer Bloggers to weigh in. Here’s what Alicia, a 27-year old Mississippian, had to say.

Ever get about halfway down the road and suddenly can’t remember if you locked the door?

That feeling of uncertainty.

The feeling of if I didn’t lock it, what are the chances that of today of all days someone will break in, and hey if they’re coming today, they’ll just break in whether my door is locked or unlocked, and maybe since my door might be unlocked, they’ll just walk in instead of breaking a window I’ll have to replace.

Yet before I can take that right turn to work, I turn around because regardless of the chances of someone actually getting in, I don’t want to think about my door being unlocked all day, making it easier to get robbed.

That nagging moment between the uncertainty of wondering if I locked my door and the decision to turn around: that’s my current relationship with retirement. Yes, it’s important. Yes, I know I should be actively contributing. Yes, I know it’s for my safety and ease of mind, but really I just want keep driving down the road and worry about it later.

You can read the rest at http://wethesavers.ingdirect.com/customer-bloggers/customer-blog/alicia-the-nagging-of-uncertainty/.

It’s not a habit. It’s cool.

While I thought I had finished blogging for ING in December, they’re carrying us through until March, so here is the third to last blog. I hope you enjoy it.

We asked our Customer Bloggers to weigh in on their financial inconsistencies—instances in which they’ve been penny wise and pound foolish.

Frozen Treat in L.A.

Sugar-coated confessions from a dessert enthusiast

Times come and go that I have to get a running start to leap off my bed and jump into a pair of my jeans my husband holds open for me. During these times, my pants button only by the grace of gravity.

The binges that lead to such capers can go on for weeks, only ending when my wallet is as empty as a scoopless waffle cone.

When I went to Europe to study Spanish, I ate ice cream every day. The first phrase I conquered was, “One scoop of vanilla, please.”

After six weeks in Spain with a long weekend in Rome, my fondest memories are not from witnessing great works of art like the Sistine Chapel.

No, the best times are not from sampling various European wines in cozy neighborhood bars.

Even though I was awed by ruins being excavated less than a foot from me and even though I dipped my toes in the Mediterranean Sea, it was not any architecture or geography that left the strongest impact upon me.

The memories that creep into my dreams are always the same: me standing in line in the plaza mayor deciding what flavor. Ice cream, my European lover, was sweet, sinful, and in whatever size I wanted.

Even stateside, my obsession with frozen goodness knows few limits. I love sundae cones, frozen fruit bars, frozen smoothee bars, fresh-churned specialty ice cream, frozen custard, gelato, and my latest obsession: frozen yogurt or simply froyo.

Froyo is not the bland vanilla and chocolate swirled together stuff from my childhood. No, this beast is tart, tangy, kiwi, cheesecake, red velvet, coconut, mango flavored goodness that you pump yourself, select from over 40 toppings to heap on yourself, and pay by the ounce unfortunately yourself…

Read the rest and vote and comment at http://wethesavers.ingdirect.com/customer-bloggers/customer-blog/sugar-coated-confessions-from-a-dessert-enthusiast/.

* K’s Choice – Not an Addict

On holiday restraint

christmas card 2007

Our card for Christmas 2007.

Before I start my holiday shopping, I make a list. I decide who I am buying presents for. Then, next to their name, I put the max dollar amount I am willing to spend. Next I jot down some gift ideas within that range. Then I ask the person if they have any particular wants. Finally I with my budget, my ideas, and their ideas, I start shopping.
Basically I’m a mutant.

The only things I overindulge on during the holidays are ham and stuffing.
Oh, and ridiculous Christmas cards.

I’m thinking more about this year’s card than anything else right now. I’m not sure what the theme is going to be, but somehow it needs to incorporate the chickens, the rabbits, the dogs, and us. I have some ideas, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

Holiday surprises are fun. I’m definitely no Scrooge. Retail is a passion that sends my heart aflutter. I love seeing what styles, gadgets, trends will dominate the holiday season.

Without question, I’ll definitely be joining the millions out on Black Friday. We won’t head out too early, though we’re sure to catch the sales that end around noon.

Personally, I’ll be hunting for boots and sweaters for our upcoming trip to NYC, where I suspect it will be colder there than it is in Mississippi. I won’t spend too much because I know I want to shop there. It’s definitely at the top of my shopping bucket list. Funds are limited, so I have to keep in mind presents for others, presents for myself, and those troublesome bills.

Luckily, having this trip in mind all year has been like a shopping chastity belt. I’ve been deleting unopened emails from retailers announcing great online sales. I even turned down membership to sample sales sites. I haven’t been to Atlanta, Birmingham, Jackson, or Memphis in months all in anticipation for this trip. I keep joking that I’m going to bring an empty suitcase to fill while I’m there. I’m pretty sure I’m joking.

Hopefully, the bit of side shopping (one store, one bag – not overflowing) I did during a work trip to Los Angeles will keep me grounded on Black Friday and in NYC.

I’m not worried. Everything’s planned. Now just to focus on that card.

christmas 2007

 

Thanks to my friend Adam, www.infiniteiso.com, for helping me take these photos from concept to reality. 

Off course three and a half years later

The prompt: Columbus Day is a celebration of discovery & new beginnings. Tell us about a single event, good or bad, that opened up a new world for you & your finances.

Like Columbus, we often think we know where we’re headed. After years as a student, my first full-time job seemed like welcomed dry land, and not just any land, but a new world rich inherit resources like a salary with benefits.

While not quite the spices that lured Columbus from Europe, giving up the health department for my own regular doctor called to me like a siren singing promises of debt relief and a diet not based on spaghetti noodles and rice.

At this point, I was in my second master’s program, getting a degree that I thought would help me reach my then career goal of becoming a professor. Despite what I thought might happen, the one thing I was sure of was it was helping me build debt. My assistantship did not cover my living expenses, so I was tutoring athletes after long days being in classes (taking and teaching) and taking out loans to make up the difference, two increasingly burdensome compromises. So I decided with 2.5 degrees to get a real fulltime job and to just finish the second masters slowly as I worked and paid off debt.

I thought naively I would work, making more money than ever, saving more than ever. I figured if I could go from the tuppence of a graduate stipend to a fulltime check, I’d be debt free and neck deep in savings for the future in long before my then fiancé would surely be graduating no later than 2009.

Two years to work and save. That was the plan, though it’s funny how that works. For unbeknownst to me, when your income increases, so do your expenses. I’m certain this can be scientifically proven.

With increasing expenses instead of the savings boom I expected, I found myself making excuses such as:

I work hard so I deserve to (a) eat out (b) buy this dress (c) go on this trip (d) all of the above at once.

Or

After the wedding and honeymoon are paid for I’ll save more.

Or

After my student loans are paid off, I’ll work on my investment and retirement funds.

Or

When I get my first real job, with a real paycheck, not this starting off at the bottom during the worse recession potentially since the 30s, then I’ll really save.

Yes, excuses. Excuses I never had before. It was a new world I had no idea I was entering until this year I looked at my financial goals and realized while I had made some ground, I had made many more excuses.

Sure I had taken care of the basics: loans paid, emergency savings built, IRA started. But I hardly contributed to my IRA, and the closest I had come to investing was thinking, “I should really think about investing.”

Yes, three years and half years after that decision, I have new demands like paying for my first MRI. I would have loved to have put that money toward savings or even a trip, but no, that went to the county hospital. It seems it’s always something comes up when trying to save money, trying to plan the future.

And back then I thought getting a job would make life easier. I’m pretty sure Biggie and Puff Daddy had it right when they sang about “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”

Getting a job definitely allowed me to pay for things and avoid more debt, but it hasn’t been as easy a road as I expected. Work is often hard, and in the time of pay freezes and low staffing, underemployment has resulted in underwhelming paychecks that don’t stretch as far as I imagined or needed.

I still haven’t finished that degree. Class and work at the same time is much more difficult than it’s given credit for.

While we’ve been saving more in preparation for replacing our aging cars, planned trips, relocating after my husband finishes his degree, I definitely haven’t done half of what I thought I’d do not only with my finances but in every aspect of my life.

At times I do feel like I’m in a strange land, not at all where I expected or wanted to be.

* This post was written for ING but was not posted.

“I learned that money came as a result of work.”

This originally appeared at ING’s wethesavers.com.

Coming soon from me: Your child can save.

These commercials touting “Your baby can read” crack me up. I’m not sure of the average six month old’s ability to analyze a sonnet, much less a few rhymes of Dr. Suess.

I wonder if parents should maybe focus on teaching their children other things.

My parents didn’t teach me to read via DVD or whatever is standard child-raising practice these days, but they certainly did right by me in the financial situation.

It was the 80s then, and I practically learned to walk in the mall, where my mother worked and my teenage sister introduced me to neon-colored consumerism, complete with air brushed shirts, slap bracelets, footless tights and all other related fashion tragedies.

Twelve years younger than my sister, eight years younger than my brother, I was the family baby. I imagine it would have been easy to spoil me, but I’m grateful I was not, as least not with money. As I mentioned in my first blog, I’ve had a savings account for nearly two decades now.

With my siblings I did chores, like wall washing. For these duties, my parents paid me a few dollars a week. I learned that money came as a result of work, the kind that left your hands smelling of bleach and your arms achy.

Each week, when I added a new bill to my Kaboodle hidden stash, I felt lucky to have an allowance. I’d often sit and examine the money. I’d count it out. I’d smell it. I’d look at the dates, patterns, where it was printed, then I’d put it up back in my room. Sometimes I washed it in the sink and left it to dry in my window sill. If it was very wrinkled, I’d iron it flat.

Though I’d occasionally spend 36 cents on Skittles (then my favorite candy), I could not imagine blowing all of my money on sweets. Thus, after my first few weeks of earning my own money, I became curious about what should be done with this accumulating amount of green.

My mother told me I should save it in case I needed it, and once I had saved enough, she’d take me to the bank to open my own savings account where I could earn interest. She showed me how my money could make money, and I became obsessed, opening my first savings account with $81.

I can’t say this method is 100% foolproof (in fact, it only had a 33% success rate for my parents—I’m the one out of three children). But I can’t imagine a better way. I learned to save for future need and I learned to be proud of choosing to save than to spend.

Now I just need to figure out how to make a DVD program out of this method: I’ll show toddlers making perfect change, and kindergarteners shopping around for the best CD rate.

My inspiration:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNQwjxGzwYA

August, not April, is the cruelest month

This originally appeared at ING’s wethesavers.com blog.

The prompt: We asked our Customer Bloggers to share how often they think about money and saving. Alicia reflects on the August heat and its slow drain on her savings.

How often do you think about money and saving? Do you ever escape it, or is it always lodged in your subconscious?

August is always the worst. Not only is it the hottest month of the year. I’m seriously sitting here hoping for a heat index of less than 105 degrees so I can go for an evening run tonight.

It’s also the worst bill month. It’s the one regular time of year I transfer money from savings into checking as the deluge of needs knocks our increasingly less adequate income mercilessly down.

August means:

  • $800: The start of school, otherwise known as the 29% of my husband’s tuition and fees not covered by his assistantship.
  • $1100: The “it seems inexpensive until you’re writing a lump sum check for it” student insurance
  • $300: Car insurance
  • $790: Rent, utilities, cell, and internet

To be brief: August is really a thirsty vampire fang deep in my finances. Even more so this year, with involuntary increases to the retirement plan (20 bucks a paycheck) and yet another increase to the parking decals for campus ($190).

I start dreading August in April for all the known and unknown bills waiting for me. I think about it all summer. I decline trips because I have to save for August. I check my account balances and think, will we be ready for August? I don’t even count the money in my savings for August as money. August expenses not including gas, food, or entertainment are coming close to exceeding our take home pay.

Despite all my good work, planning and saving and being able to pay all we need to pay in August, I always feel really terrible about money from our income to our savings. I find myself looking at want ads, wondering how much longer my husband’s PhD can really take. I become very superstitious, knocking on wood, tossing salt, carrying around pictures of my rabbit’s feet, hoping that nothing will go wrong with the cars and that there are no emergency surgeries, like when my husband’s appendix became very angry in 2007.

I curse that we will never be able to have children living like this, well not if we want to clothed, eating, or alive. Those silly details.

Oh August, you’re definitely the cruelest month, despite what T.S. Eliot thinks. My tomatoes are dying. The chickens think it’s much too hot to do anything other than sit in the shade under the coop. And me, the supersaver I am, just wants to drink lemonade in the shade and wait for September.


Dancing, debt free and in love

This blog originally appeared at ING’s wethesavers.com.

 

aliciacupcakecloseupWalking down the aisle doesn’t have to be a drain on your bank account. There’s no reason to dip into the red, unless we’re talking about a fab pair of kitten heels that match the sash around your waist. Despite what every bridal magazine, website, and movie tells you, having an awesome wedding has very little to do with how much money you spend.

I can’t say, like many little girls, that I dreamed of my special day in a big white dress. Though I do love bridal magazines for the style, beauty, and glamour, I have a rule that can only be broken for a house and, in dire circumstances, a car.

The Rule: Never buy anything you cannot pay for in cash.

Never. Anything. Not even the gorgeous dress I had seen in a magazine and despite one of my bridesmaids cooing, “Ooh Alicia, this is the one day it’s okay to splurge,” I put it back on the rack and kept shopping.

While I’m not aiming to convince you to give up your dreams, here are some highlights of my debt-free dream wedding:

alicia-weddingThe Dress: $99

Despite shopping in Europe during the summer, I purchased my dress from a small local store. I took it off a mannequin. It fit me and my budget perfectly, and I was sold. Some people call that fate.

The Venue: $300

Ocean Springs Community Center is a work of art, literally. Artist Walter Anderson painted a giant mural on the walls. Because this work of art is worth millions, you’re not allowed to hang anything. So besides some poinsettias on the stage, we didn’t have to spend money decorating, nor did we have to rent tables and chairs as they were included with the venue rental. We were also not bound to use a caterer, even for the alcohol, so my in-laws gave us a glorious present of supplying alcohol for the wedding via a store in town.

The Cakes: Homeade and delicious

The night before the wedding I held a cupcake decorating party. My bridesmaids and I had baked several batches of cupcakes, and then we gathered together with family to decorate them. This ended up being a wonderful way for the children to be included in the wedding preparation. Everyone got a few cupcakes to decorate however they wished, and we were done in less than an hour. As a wedding present to us, my parents bought the cakes that sat on top of the platters as well as the platters themselves.

aliciabulkflowersThe Flowers: $90

I ordered the flowers online in bulk. They were delivered the day before the wedding. I bought the ribbons, pins, floral wire, and floral tape at a craft store. In the sleepy haze following my bachelorette party at the Hard Rock Casino the night before, I easy made almost all of the bouquets myself with help from my maid of honor.

I won’t say we made compromises because we had way too much fun for the negativity “compromise” implies. We simply made choices that were bank account friendly—and also created one of the most fun and meaningful nights of our lives.

To the beat of an iPod, we danced all night long. And a whopping two and a half years later, we’re still dancing, debt free and in love.

Thinking green

ING posted my May blog in June. It’s fun you get to hear my voice if you’re into that sort of thing.

Excerpt:
Ah spring, the season of green grass, green trees, and greenbacks. For me, this spring has been marked in green by the return of my gardening addiction (no interventions, please) and my first identity theft experience.

Part 1: I’ve never even heard of that city in Georgia
A few Sunday ago, I went to pay bills—only to see I had no money. All I saw were transactions draining my checking account, one drug store at a time. First, I panicked. I had my debit card in my wallet. I hardly use the thing. I could barely remember the last time I used it, and it wasn’t in Georgia, especially in three places I had never been.

Read or listen to the rest at Thinking green, especially when some jerk in Georgia has ripped you off.

A different kind of savings

Originally published at ING Direct

Until summer of 2007, I lived a fairly miserly life, constrained mostly by graduate school finances (or lack thereof). A good life, yes, but one with limited travel and few indulgences.

I got my first full time job in July, but I barely had a minute to spend my new income before a series of events changed me—and how I viewed saving and spending.

A few weeks after I turned 24 and five months before my wedding, my soon to be mother-in-law called to tell us she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.
Suddenly, passing our weekends in Starkville wandering around the woods and playing online seemed like such a waste of time. We began going to the Coast often to visit our respective families. For the first time, I could see our parents, who before seemed so permanent and secure, as normal fragile people. I noticed their growing medications on the counter. I became upset when my father picked up smoking again. And even more unnerving, my grandmother and uncle were gravely ill. Suddenly I was more aware of how mortal we all are, myself included.

We put more miles on our cars in the next five months than we had in the previous three years. Hospital visits, funerals, last Thanksgivings, last Christmases, last hugs, promises of future visits when things would be better. I found myself treasuring these visits, more than anything I had ever put in a bank. Trips to the Coast and to North Carolina were like emotional savings deposits for when these people wouldn’t be here.

The wedding came in December, and my mother-in-law was not only able to be there—she was able to dance, despite having recently relearned to walk. She succumbed to the illness on January 31, 2008. We unfortunately did not arrive to the Coast while she was still conscious, and in some ways I feel we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye—but I know we spent those last months traveling so much to do just that.

It’s still hard two years later. You always expect your parents to be there forever. To hold your kids, help you move into your first house, see you at your most successful.

Susan, my second mother, was only 55. In her short life, she had done many things, met many people, saw lots—including a trip to Ireland she loved. I like to think she did not have many regrets. The first year following her death, we returned to the Coast at least monthly, sometimes more, to visit our families.

In retrospect, we realized we hadn’t done many fun things during our first year of marriage or seen our many friends spread across the country. We decided to take them up on offers to visit, and started spending more money on travel than on savings. We kicked off a year with more weekends out of town than in, mostly visiting friends and family across the Southeast. Starkville is a fine small southern college town, but there is a great big world out there and I intend to enjoy its smorgasbord of tastes, sights, and sounds with the people I love while we’re still breathing.

Top 10 Things I Do to Afford Travel:

1. Limit bills. No cable. No Internet on my (free) phone. Older cars have cheaper insurance and tags. Shelter dogs come fixed with shots. We do our own haircuts and styles at home, sleep with the heat on 55, and use the fire place for more than decoration.

2. Plan and cook meals ahead for lunch and dinner for the week. This week I ate homemade tacos of ground turkey, chickpeas (I really really love chickpeas), shredded cabbage, poblano peppers, jalapeno peppers (I froze from my garden last year), tomatoes, and cheese. Each morning I scoop a little into some Tupperware and then I spread it over my tortillas at work and pop them in the microwave. I drink water with my lunch and have a grapefruit for an afternoon snack.

3. Find local free or cheap entertainment: campus events, hiking, biking, and photography at the nearby parks, book club (though my book club told me not to write about them), and gardening heavily (I grew over 30lbs of produce last year and am looking to double or triple it this year).

4. I never go into debt for a purchase. If the money isn’t there, I never buy it. It’s harder to get out of a hole than to never fall in it.

5. On a trip, I hit the grocery store first: loaf of bread, sandwich meat, cheese, a gift for our hostess (beer, flowers, wine), fruits, nuts, etc. We usually allow ourselves to eat one meal out a day. We often cook meals for our host as a thank you for having us.

6. We travel where we have friends and family. This saves us in hotel costs, and we get the inside scoop of where we’re visiting. Places we’ve stayed with friends and family: New Orleans, Memphis, Birmingham, Washington DC, Wilmington NC, Orlando. Upcoming places we plan to visit: Pittsburgh, NYC, and Bloomington, Indiana.

7. Before we travel, we research where we’re going. We look for free and cheap events. DC was great because almost everything has free entry.

8. We travel with our dogs. Mostly because I can’t emotionally bear to board them, but it also saves us boarding fees. If we can’t take them with us, we usually don’t go, though the parents are always happy to keep them if we’re going someplace near them. Then we just drop the dogs off to get fat and spoiled.

9. We walk. Walking is a great way to explore a city. You see things you can’t from a cab or your car. I’ve met some very interesting people walking and found nice stores. At Mardi Gras our host asked if wanted to walk the eight blocks down St. Charles or take a cab. We walked. Met a circle of singing girls who loved my Lady Gaga wig and serenaded me with “Bad Romance”. Got in a little exercise, and enjoyed a beautiful warm day in February.

10. We’re childfree, not childless. I once saw a sign at the Sweet Potato Festival that said, “Children are for people who can’t have dogs.”

I don’t feel guilt for any trip we take because we can afford it through our saving methods, which I’ve ramped up recently for bigger trips. We’re happy to have more balance in our life again, taking trips for fun and reconnecting with family and friends, and still managing to save while we’re at it. FYI, we did stay in town the entire month of March, but a little birdie says we’re going to Mexico for a destination wedding soon, and I’m wrestling with May. Family meet up in ATL, wedding reception in Birmingham, Memphis Zoo trip, and the East Atlanta Beer Fest.

Meet Alicia, 26, from Starkville, MS

This is my first post in ING’s Customer Blogger series. Over the upcoming months, ING will be following me, Matt, Nancy, T.J., Susan and Alison on their savings adventures.

Alicia
Starkville, MS
Age 26

Bio: I’m a college graduate with no debt! I took an office job to pay off my student loans and have been slowly saving for no particular goal other than to have a savings. My husband is pursuing a PhD, so as of right now I am the breadwinner, and English majors were never meant to be breadwinners. Our income and savings while meager allows some travel and indulgences such as our two pound puppies and two indoor rabbits. I live in rural Mississippi, and I like to be anywhere else.

The Mis(sissippi) Adventures of a Born Again Saver:

Flashback: I am 8. My brother is 16. I have saved $81 over a year from sweeping the house, washing the bathroom walls, scrubbing love bugs from the mini-van bumper, vacuuming my dad’s cigarette ashes from the Dodge, and raking and bagging pine needles throughout the fall. My brother has come to me to ask for a loan.

Just $20, he asks. I say sure, but there will be interest.

Upon learning my rates, he declines.

Unfortunately, I’ve since relented on holding on to my money so dearly. My big goal in 2009, after paying for the wedding, was to pay off my student loans before they accrued interest. I succeeded in that goal, a major accomplishment that has (so far) granted me a debt free life.

But without any medium term goals, my savings drive has idled. Where I was once able to save money quickly for the wedding and for the loans, growth in my account balances is now far less impressive. With no debt, what’s to keep me from driving to Birmingham, Alabama and spending $1000 in all the glorious stores that don’t exist in the stark Mississippi town I live in? Nothing, apparently. I don’t care too much for my job, and I feel I should be rewarded, and reward myself I do.

But that is about to change.

I just signed our electronic tax return for 2009 last night. I knew we’d get some back, but I’m still used to the tiny returns I got from making 8k a year as a graduate assistant. Whenever a big check comes in, I always wonder what to do with it. Previous projects have been: my Nikon D60 including two lenses, 4 wisdom teeth extractions, the trip to D.C., and (of course) student loan debt.

This year? The whole check will go into my savings where it will sit until I hear back from Sewanee Writer’s Conference. If I get in, a portion will go toward that. If I don’t, it goes toward my first NYC trip. (Actually, I’m going to NYC regardless.) However, I will NOT spend all of my refund. I hope to keep at least half of it in my savings account.

Hope is the key word. Sewanee is $1700. How poets afford a $1700 conference, I’ll never know. I guess they depend on office jobs (like me), don’t have cable (like me), don’t have iPods or an iPhone (like me), and drive older cars (like me).

I’m certainly not deprived. Living in rural Mississippi has infected me with the travel bug. Last year, I think I spent at least 25 weekends out of town, which makes saving money more difficult. If I had stayed in town a few more weekends, I could have easily tripled my savings from last year, so this year my goal is to travel less and save more. I get awfully bored down on the farm. I start craving Pho, Pad Thai, and all sorts of delicious ethnic food I can’t get here, and before I know it I’m gassing up and heading to Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta, or New Orleans and shopping the whole way.

This weekend I’m headed to Georgia, and I’m debating stopping in Atlanta.

I know I don’t need to go, but H&M, Trader Joe’s, and the giant Asian market are calling me. The biggest problem I have without having debt is I have little stopping me from spending money when the occasion arrives. I need to get in touch with my inner 8 year old and hang on to my money. I hope this keeps me honest.

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