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My journey out from under my student loan debt. And maybe some signposts for anyone else walking this way.

Updated: 2014-10-06T23:11:52.327-04:00


April Net Worth (+33.5%) and Trip Spending Roundup


Better late than never, I suppose. This would have come out earlier had work not sent me on a SUPERSPECIAL assignment...that turned out to be completely pointless. For an additional commute of 2 hours, I did testing that required 1 hour. Oh well, at least they covered my cab fare.Anyway...Net WorthCash and Cash EquivalentMy savings accounts continue to increase despite ever-lower interest payments. Steady saving means a lot.The slightly higher checking balance was due to one fewer calendar day more than anything else. Of course, much of my spending went to...the trip.For the record:$104 on toiletries and accessories. Yes, I already had a dress, but the bra I wanted to wear didn't go with the neckline and the shoes I had have always been cut too low in the vamp. If I was going to be standing on a ship, even in port, I wanted comfy shoes. Add in some shopping for TSA-approved health and beauty products and there you are.$12 on food. The rehearsal dinner and wedding were covered for all guests, and my aunts and uncles picked up the tab for some of the other meals. I really only needed to cover dinner at the airport.$140 on lodging. This was less than half the cost of the room, even with the wedding crowd price break, but my aunt wouldn't accept more, because we'd been booked into a suite and I took the pullout while she got the king-size bed. Of course, by doing that, I got to be in another room and away from her amazingly loud snoring, so I think I made out pretty well.$58 on transportation. My uncle only had me pay for the gas and tolls for the rental van; I was chaffeuring people all weekend and was able to return it to the airport for my aunt and uncle (who were going on the week-long cruise). I also needed a cab ride when I got back into Dulles.$22 on gifts. I picked up some souvenirs for some friends who will get a nice surprise come Christmas. And I got my aunt a giant mug for her shipboard beverage needs.$27 on incidentals. My aunt asked me to run some last minute errands for her as we were leaving, and I also covered her baggage fee and tip at the airport since she had not yet gotten cash. This is part of the reason that she covered some of my meals on the trip.This came up to a grand total of: $363. In my trip account, I had a balance of: $456. So that's pretty good. I ended up realizing that I could cash flow $63 of it and just pulled out $300 for my expenses.InvestmentsFinally a month of good returns! I'm quite pleased by this. And I'm glad I didn't lock in by withdrawing my mutual fund at the lower value. Whether I'll still feel that way in two months is an open question.Loan BalancesJust two months to go and my credit union loan (tier 1) is all PAID OFF. Whee.Other DebtThis looks like a big jump, but that's entirely accounted for by the fact that I bought a plane ticket to visit my dad for my birthday in a few months. I need a real vacation (Christmas was spent taking care of my dying grandfather, and my last proper break before that was a long weekend visiting my grandparents LAST MARCH). So I looked around, saw where gas prices were going, and realized that locking in a lower fare now is almost guaranteed to be cheaper than paying for gas and lodging there and back. I'm pulling $150 out of my trip fund, and $180 from the overdraft fund to cover it. I'll just contribute the amount I'd normally put in the trip fund back to the overdraft fund until I'm back at my usual threshold. It won't take more than two or three pay periods, and it is SO, SO needed.The Month AheadI already had an outing to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, which mapgirl described better than I could. Yay for local lamb and local honey, and yay for spending time with good friends without spending too much money.Next week, however, will be different. I just found out that my aunt made reservations at a highly regarded (and expensive) restaurant. I'm meant to take this as an advance birthday present, but I'm still going to pull out a fair bit of cash to cover the tip.On the more frugal side, free Shakespea[...]

March Net Worth (+7.9%) and 2008 Financial Goals Update



Net Worth

Cash and Cash Equivalent

Between a few more days of expenditures and a delightful winery tour, I spent a little more than in February.


Eh. I'm buying on sale. I have many years left. I refuse to worry about minor downticks.

I am trying to decide if I'm going to take my mutual fund out earlier than planned (I haven't contributed anything to it for years, and was going to send it to the condo fund when ready to buy; I'm trying to decide if I'd be worse off risking further downturns in the market or paying capital gains without the mortgage interest deduction to offset it).

Loan Balances

I didn't make the same progress as in February, but I'm spending much less on interest payments. So yay.

Other Debt

Still paying every two weeks. Still keeping my balances low. That said, Chase finally increased my credit limit, so I'll have room to put a few more recurring bills on my card and still stay under my personal "10 percent of limit" threshold. Hopefully this will mean faster rewards.

The Month Ahead

My cousin's wedding is near the end of the month, but I should be able to cover everything out of my trip fund. (I already paid for my dress and plane ticket.) Since I exclude my trip fund from my net worth (if I tell myself those funds aren't fungible, then I have to use them for fun), this should pass by with nothing but good memories.

2008 Goals Update

My goals were as follows:

1. Reach a positive net worth. Since I'm 48% of the way there already, I think I can safely say that I'm on track. Windfalls are helpful.

2. Continue to pursue homeownership. I've talked to a realtor and we agree that early winter 2009 seems like a reasonable time to start looking. With that in mind, I set up a 10-month lease (for the same monthly rate as a 12!) to end next April 1. If I feel confident next February, then I can give notice or go month-to-month. If I feel less confident, I can renew at a longer term.

I do still need to call my friend's fiance back, as he's a mortgage broker and can give me a sense of my options. I will do that next week. So I'll rate this a pass.

3. Push my emergency fund up to 3 months' worth of expenses. I've recalculated my base expenses given my rent increase and my lower insurance premiums. At my current contribution levels, I should definitely manage this by December, and possibly by November.

On track for three out of three. Not too shabby.

I stayed home sick today.


Since I went back to bed and slept until nearly noon, I think that was the right call.

On the brighter side, here are some good financial things that have happened to me lately.

1) I convinced my leasing office to give me a ten-month lease at the same monthly rate as the year-long one (still a bump from my current rate, but not out of line). This will give me more flexibility next year if I decide I'm ready to condo-shop.

2) I had some gift cards and gifts from Christmas that I STILL hadn't used or returned, so I went out the other weekend, merrily spending OPM, and came home with a cute aqua twinset and a desperately needed filing cabinet.

3) I found out that I AM actually eligible for USAA, and switched my car insurance. I'll be saving about $120 over six months! I also switched my renter's insurance (even though the rates were pretty much a wash) because I like bundling bills as much as possible. I'm not sure if I'll use their banking, as I am very fond of my credit union, but it's nice to have the option.

There are a few minor annoyances I'm facing, but these things helped take away much of the sting.

And staying home and getting some rest (and baking some TJ's banana bread) make things seem better for tomorrow.

February Net Worth (+38.2%)



(Before I get to the explanation, I should explain that I have been Websensed at work. I can't visit any Blogger or Typepad blogs, including my own, and even some independently hosted sites are blocked as "personal sites." And I've been so busy that coming home after work and blogging has just not been my priority. I had to get caught up on The Wire before Sunday's finale, after all. Hee. At any rate, I can read RSS feeds, but by and large I cannot comment on their related entries. So I'm not ignoring anyone.)

It's fairly easy to get a double digit kick to one's net worth if one can throw five grand at one's debt. I still managed to make improvements outside of that, however.

Personal Property

KBB dropped the value of my car again. And it was also time for my "forced adjustment" to my computer's valuation. Still, my personal property becomes an ever smaller piece of my net worth picture.

Cash and Cash Equivalent

After having three pay periods in January, I expected my checking balance to be smaller. I shifted a lot of money from my overdraft account to my efund, as well as making regular contributions. And I sent a small piece of my tax refund to my condo fund.


I guess I contributed more than I lost in my retirement plan. So yay. The mutual fund could (and did, under prior management) perform much worse.

Loan Balances

As I said, $5K at my credit union loan made for a big hit, but my regular payments took a bite as well.

Other Debt

Thanks to my new "pay every two weeks" plan, I'm keeping my balances fairly low while still charging enough to earn some nice rewards. All of the charges here were accrued AFTER the statement date closed; I already paid off my balances-due-in-March in full.

The Month Ahead

Lots of family birthdays this month, but for most of them, a card will suffice. I've already bought a small gift for one of the others.

And since I'm going to be crazy busy at work, I'll have fewer opportunities to go out and spend. So things should be fairly smooth. We'll see.

Emigrant to HC: You're stuck with me, baby.


So, I've had a long (and fairly fruitful) relationship with EmigrantDirect, the bank holding my condo fund. While never the leader of the pack in rates, they remained reasonably competitive for a long time. More importantly, they covered my other needs for online savings: good beneficiary service, a clean and usable interface, the ability to use BOTH direct deposit and ACH for transactions, and prompt issuance of statements. But in the wide-spread rate cuts of the past few months, they've slipped precipitously, down to 3.6%. So I thought I'd take a look at other options. I started, as you do, with BankDeals' weekly summary. Surely I could find something comparable?I found 31 banks offering rates better than Emigrant. That seems like a lot. * OneUnited - 5.15% (min $1K)($50 bonus) * Countrywide - 4.75% (min $10K) * EverBank - 4.51% ($1.5K min), 3mo promo * Corus Bank - 4.32% MMA (min $10K) * Washington Mutual - 4.25% (requires checking) * Grand Yield Direct - 4.25% (min $2.5K) * WTDirect - 4.15% ($10K min) * Zions Bank - 4.08% MMA, outside of Utah, (min $1K) * UmbrellaBank - 4.02% MMA (min $1K) * Capital One - 4.00% (Savings) (min $10K) * Citibank - 4.00%, requires checking account and bill pay usage * BankUnited - 4.00% (min $5K) * Heartland Bank Direct - 3.80%, ($500 min) * Doral Bank Direct - 3.75% (min $1K) * FirstFedDirect - 3.75% (min $1K) (closed to CA residents) * E-LOAN - 3.75% ($5K min), account review * CapitalOne/Costco - 3.70% MMA (min $5K, Costco members only, $50 deal for exec. members)But as you can see, a lot of these offers were eliminated on their face because I refuse to accept more than $200 as a minimum threshold (I'm going to take most of this money OUT eventually), and because I refuse to set up another checking account.I was left with: * Century Bank Direct - 4.54% (min $100)--No ACH transfer system. * Provident Direct - 4.50%--No ACH transfer system. * GCF Bank - 4.47% (min $100), 3-mo promo--Only a promo rate, and no ACH transfer system. * ETrade Bank - 4.40%, post ($25 bonus)--Great, but I already hold an account with them. I believe in Murphy's Law, so I don't like having all of my savings in one place. * Alliant Credit Union - 4.35% (min $100)--I don't appear to meet eligibility requirements. * Flagstar - 4.25% MMA--Hard credit pull and rapid rate drops. * Savings Square - 4.25%--No direct deposit, just ACH. * iGobanking - 4.20%--Reportedly a very slow opening process. * ShoreBank - 4.15% ($25 bonus)--Potential hard credit pull, and NO beneficiary designation (a total dealbreaker). * AmTrustDirect - 4.10% (e-Savings)--Hard credit pull. * M&T Bank - 4.05%--No ACH transfer system and a hard credit pull. * AmboyDirect - 4.00% post ($25 bonus)--No information on direct deposit. * UFB Direct - 4.00%--No free ACH transfers, potential hard credit pull. * FNBO Direct - 3.85%--For that differential, is it even worth it?I'd consider iGobanking if the opening were better, AmTrustDirect if it didn't have a hard credit pull (why should you ding my credit score if I'm loaning YOU money?!?), and AmboyDirect if I could do direct deposit. But none of these seem like a perfect substitute that would merit risking three or four days of lost interest.If you have experience with any of the three, or have an account somewhere that I should consider, let me know. Otherwise, I guess I'm staying with ED.[...]

When $5,000 shows up in your mailbox.


It was a bit of a surprise when I opened the envelope last night, although it would be impossible to pretend that I didn't know a check was coming. Before my grandfather passed away, he explicitly expressed an intention for his four grandchildren to receive the funds left in his checking account. (That and all other assets were included in his trust, so my uncle and my father could perform transactions on his behalf.) Still, I knew some of the money had to go to funeral expenses, and I was expecting less than this.

And of course, it's all somewhat fraught, because it reminds me how readily he donated money during his lifetime.

I still want to do something worthwhile with the money. So I'm sending all of it towards the first tier of my credit union loan, which should allow me to eliminate that debt by the end of June, 15 months ahead of schedule. Why?

It will make the biggest impact on my cash flow. This loan is the single largest fixed expense I have after rent. Even though I'll be paying more on the second tier of the loan when the first one is paid off, I'll still free up about $150 a month for savings or other loan payments. (Or, given that I'll probably sign another lease to start in June, increased rent.)

It will eliminate my highest-rate debt. The loan was made at a quite reasonable 5.9% APR, but there's a gap between that and 5% on my Perkins loan, and a still greater gap between that and my 2.75% rate for my Direct loan. And of course, tier 2 of the credit union loan is at zero percent. (Long story.)

It will improve my debt-to-income ratio for when I purchase a condo. As I said, $150 a month will no longer be earmarked toward paying off debt, which will make the lenders (not to mention ME) more confident about my ability to manage a mortgage and the other attendant costs. Eliminating my Perkins loan entirely would lower my monthly obligations by less than $50 a month, which is far less impactful.

I could contribute this to the condo fund directly, of course. Boosting my downpayment would be nice, and I'll be saving still more to that end after paying off this loan. But lowering my monthly debt payments is probably more important as a first-time buyer.

And finally, it will give me more "outs" in an emergency. My emergency fund is based on continuing to make all my loan payments at present levels. However, should said emergency last longer than a few months, I have fewer options for this loan than I do with others. Borrowers can request that federal student loans be granted a deferral or forbearance. My tier 2 loan could presumably be dropped back to present payment levels in a real emergency. With this one, however, it's "make your payment every month."

Now, in a worst-case scenario, I could initiate a balance transfer from my credit card for the much smaller outstanding loan and give myself more time to get back on my feet. I have no intention of actually doing this, mind you. But it gives me comfort to know that I now have the option.

I think my grandfather would be glad to know that I used this money for something meaningful. And I think it will take a lot of worries away from me.

January Net Worth (+8.6%)



So basically the story is: Less liquid assets, BOO! More liquid assets, YAY!

Personal Property

KBB dropped the value of my car a tiny bit.

Cash and Cash Equivalent

I benefited from three pay periods and getting my locality pay adjustment in the last pay period of the month.

My online savings accounts benefited from shifting over the excess in my overdraft fund and from the extra $200 contribution I made to my condo fund (apportioned from the "extra" pay period).

I decided to wait to boost my savings allotment (I shoot to have my overall short-term savings be 10% of my gross or higher) until the first pay period in February to give me some breathing room, but I still think this was a healthy increase.


Eh. I guess it could have been worse?

Loan Balances

Beyond the usual payments, I also made an extra $200 principal payment to my Perkins. This is at a slightly lower rate of interest than my credit union loan, but it hastens the payoff date by a significant amount.

Other Debt

This doesn't really tell the story at all. I charged a lot, paid some of it off with holiday funds, charged some more for clothes and a trip to Philly, paid almost all of it off with my extra paycheck, then charged some more for my prescription sunglasses (which will be their own entry very soon), and was left awaiting reimbursement. If not for that, my new charges would have been paid almost to zero, well before the new statement date.

I think I've decided that I'll start making a payment twice a month, once mid-statement and once after the statement closes (excluding reimbursement payments, which I'll just send over when I get them). This should help keep me on track and keep my balance below 10% of my credit limit. I'm already earning some decent cash rewards.

The Month Ahead

I've already gotten through a big birthday bash weekend (and stayed largely under my spending target). I'll be attending a play, but since I already paid for both tickets (half-price!), my dinner will largely come out of being reimbursed by my friend.

My tax refund should hit the appropriate accounts within a week or two, which will boost my savings.

With my pay raise, I finally feel like I have breathing room to deal with all my flexible expenses. I still have to plan for certain purchases (I think I should get one more pair of shoes sometime in the near future), but I'm not stressed. And that's a good thing.

Why is my refund $70 more than I expected?


As I've said previously, I make an effort to get a small refund on my taxes, "small" meaning approximately $50 or less.

In order to accomplish this, I developed a withholding worksheet in Excel, which, coupled with the IRS withholding calculator, meant that I should not have expected more than $70 back. (Its final determination was that "any refund or balance due should be less than $50", and I pushed in a little extra to make sure I was on the positive side of the ledger.)

Everything appeared to be calculated correctly. So why, when I ran TaxAct, did my refund amount come out to $143?

Because the student loan interest phase-out range moved up $5,000. My AGI (thanks to retirement contributions) was solidly within the range instead of approaching the very top, so I was able to take more of the deduction than I would have otherwise.

I'm not really fussed about the lost interest, since most of the extra contributions were made in December. So I'd still have paid as much or more to make an electronic payment or to mail the return with delivery confirmation.

And I'd like to say that I will be saving this, but I'm planning on sending $100 of it to my travel fund in anticipation of my cousin's wedding. The remainder will go to my condo fund.

At any rate, if you do your taxes by hand, make sure that you account for the higher phase-out range. You may be able to deduct more than you thought!

I don't clip coupons. I *chop* them.


As I've said before, I'm not exactly the resource for devotees of extreme frugality.

I like convenience. And I don't like paper.

All of that means that dealing with Sunday circulars for the sake of 75 cents off my pineapple-orange-banana juice is really not my thing.

But I DO approach certain retail transactions with coupons, given an appropriately low level of effort and a relatively high percentage haircut. Ergo, the coupon chop.

Chop 1: Email subscriptions

I have a junk mail account that I use for very little other than retail registrations. Currently, I'm subscribed to the lists for a major bookseller, a clothing retailer, a floral delivery service, and a few others. A lot of these offers are not worth downloading, but periodically you'll get the "25% off items already on sale" email, and then it's on. The best I've seen for floral delivery is 15% off, but given the price of flower arrangements (which I sometimes send as gifts), that's not too insignificant. Fast to read, easy to delete, and occasionally sizable discounts: What's not to like?

Chop 2: The Entertainment Book

I received my local edition as a gift last year, and it was FANTASTIC. The books don't just cover restaurants and admission tickets (although there are plenty of those). Groceries, car maintenance, and pet supplies are items that most people are almost guaranteed to purchase anyway (and those help the book pay for itself right off). Of course, being a more-than-occasional movie viewer, I snap up the discounted ticket coupons. And I'll be renting a car later this year, so getting the third day free will be a nice bonus. Since I got a discounted price on this year's book (see Chop 1), I expect that I will be able to get three times my money out of it just on groceries and car servicing. And the tidy little book means that the coupons don't get lost.

Chop 3: Google

If there is a store with a web presence, searching on "[name of store] coupon" will almost invariably turn up decent discounts for online or store purchases. I'm currently in the market for new sunglasses (using my grace period for my flex spending). I like Lenscrafters. A two-second search landed me with a "$100 off frames" coupon, which will mean that most of my spending will come from the flex account and NOT my pocket. There's also retailmenot, but I have to admit I haven't used it much.

There are obvious caveats: Don't purchase things you wouldn't normally buy just because you have a coupon, and don't let the fact that one store offers a coupon on an item keep you from comparing to another store's regular price.

But for big-ticket items, these three simple methods give me a fair amount of bang for the buck.

Goal Checkup for 2007 and New Goals for 2008


So, I set up some goals for myself at the beginning of 2007. How'd I do?

1. Improve my condo fund to at least $8K. Done, if later than anticipated. I had originally planned to use some funds from my extra July paycheck to boost this, but my car needed some suspension work done. So I used part of my December bonus to push me over the top.
2. Take a homeownership class. Done. I have to call and get it renewed for next year, which is when I will at least start TALKING to lenders and realtors, even if I decide (as is increasingly more likely) that I'd like to keep saving into 2009.
3. Limit snack/cash withdrawal trips to CVS to once a week. Heh heh heh. This was a dismal failure, but I DID make fewer trips, I think.

And for 2008, my goals are:

1. Reach a positive net worth. Based on my December NW statement, I am N dollars in the red. If I continue to make regular bi-weekly contributions to my short-term savings at the levels I do now, that should give me A dollars (35.6% of the total). If I continue to make principal payments on my student loans at current levels, that will lead to B dollars by the end of the year (32.0% of the total). (It is likely that I will inherit some money from my grandfather, which could push B up. But I don't want to plan on that.) That leaves 32.4% to come from contributions and earnings from my retirement savings. Divided by 27 pay periods (there is an extra pay period this year), that is less than my current contribution and match level, so it should be quite feasible.

So, to make this SMART: I will improve my net worth by N dollars, by making bi-weekly contributions to savings at my current level or higher, by making monthly payments towards debt reduction at my current fixed payments or higher, and by taking advantage of my retirement savings plan and making bi-weekly contributions there, which will get me to my goal by the end of the year.

2. Continue to pursue homeownership. This does NOT mean that I will actually buy a place in 2008. It does mean that I will a) meet with lenders to determine what I can afford based on current salary and savings, b) check with local brokers and Redfin to develop a more refined sense of the market, and c) save at least an additional $3500 dollars in my condo fund.

SMART: I will meet with a realtor/lender by mid-April. I will review the housing market on an ongoing basis, with checkups in February, May, and if necessary, August, October, and December. Part c will be covered by the contributions I've planned in goal 1.

3) Push my emergency fund up to 3 months' worth of expenses. Given my expected rate of contributions to savings, this should be easy to do by the end of the year, even though I will be retooling my "must-haves" to accommodate fuel inflation and some other things.

SMART: So, by mid-February, I will update my estimate of monthly expenses to reflect current spending needs. With regular contributions to my emergency fund, I will add savings throughout the year. By the end of December, I will have three months' worth of expenses.

December Net Worth, +8.8% monthly, +55.9% annually



Cash and Cash Equivalent

My checking account benefited from the later timing of some bills, although I did buy fewer groceries because of all the holiday family meals.

My overdraft fund is now fully funded plus a buffer, so I'll start moving the excess to my e-fund. (It is down from this time last year because I was holding some funds to be allocated elsewhere then.) I'm pleased with the growth in my e-fund and my condo fund over the year.


Another down month for the markets, but decent allocation and management (for my mutual fund) kept this moving forward. The annual growth has been respectable.

Loan Balances

Sometimes it feels like I'm just chipping away at these for eternity, but then I see how much my balances have dropped over the year and I know that I'm doing the right thing. I could pay down my debt faster, but since my interest rates are quite low, and because I really want a solid savings base, I think my progress is reasonable.

Other Debt

Hey, big spender. Now that I've finally joined the ranks of the reward cardholders, I did make more purchases with my rewards card. I also spent more on gas than I have in any month since I left grad school (driving back and forth to visit family every day will do that). And I also bought some family gifts that would be partially reimbursed. I have now paid down that card to zero, and once I get some medical expenses reimbursed, the other card will join it.


All told, I'm very fortunate. I didn't practice extreme frugality (I spent funds on LOTS of lunches out, cable, and some fairly expensive theater tickets), I didn't have much alternative income beyond some online surveys, and I didn't do much budgeting beyond my automatic, forced version. But simply setting up automatic savings and making sure I could cover all my fixed expenses helped me improve my position pretty handily in 2007. Here's hoping I do the same in 2008.

The Month Ahead

My grandfather recently passed away, so I'll have some expenses related to that. Of course, they are all well worth it.

This is my three-paycheck month, and that gives me some freedom to make an extra loan payment and savings contribution. But I also intend to put some money aside for my cousin's wedding in April. (My travel/holiday fund doesn't show up in my net worth, because I consider that pre-spent.) And I'll probably do some after-holiday shopping for some things I didn't get for Christmas.

I'm also hoping to get a jump start on my tax return, but beyond that, I hope it's a fairly quiet month.

Belated November Net Worth



Despite the tremors in the market, I managed to be up overall for the month.

Cash and Cash Equivalent

I ended up running an apartment sale for my family (being the only Craigslister of the bunch) and was told to "keep the cash." So I ended up using cash for what would have been a moderately expensive dinner, and a couple of other odds and ends. That boosted my checking balance.

My savings are continuing to inch up. I have met one goal for 2007; my e-fund now equals a full two month's worth of expenses, and my overdraft fund is back up to $500.


I was quite relieved that my losses were so low. In the case of my retirement plan, that was largely due to contributions, but my mutual fund managed to keep itself more-or-less afloat.

Loan Balances

Continued steady payments do their steady work.

Other Debt

I managed to pay off the full statement balance on one card, and followed with the other at the beginning of December. So I'm out of cycling mode!

The Month Ahead

I've already applied my bonus towards additional tax payments and savings boosts. It didn't leave much, but I DID get to use some towards a nice brunch with mapgirl, Debt Hater, and BK. Single Ma could not make it, but she was sorely missed. Next time, surely.

And as for the holidays: I am staying in town, which will reduce expenses. I do have some work obligations that will involve spending money, but not to a ridiculous degree. And a large part of my gift-giving has been completed (I mostly give to family members and a couple of VERY close friends) and that was covered by survey rewards and my gift fund. I'll probably still make some additional charges on the credit card to be paid off in January, but nothing too exceptional.

I will, however, possibly have to buy a new suit, and that would add some wrinkles to my plan.

Here's hoping things stay calm in the New Year.

Oh, and lest I forget, DonorsChoose sent me (and some other people) an extra $100 to contribute as I pleased. Single Ma and I pooled our fortunes and paid off one "extra" project in our challenge! I am again so thrilled with how everything came together for this project.

Hurrah for raises.


I will see a raise and a small bonus in my first December paycheck. Yay!

The bonus, after netting for taxes, will be applied to: a) boosting my withholding so that I don't owe taxes for 2007*, b) paying off my credit card bill so that I get out of payment cycling (I invariably pay my balances in full, but lately it's just meant I charge them up again later), c) boosting my overdraft and condo downpayment funds, and d) taking about $50 for my own jollies. I do have holiday spending to do, but I have other funding resources for that, so I'd rather pad my savings accounts to meet my annual goals.

The raise is 5.25 percent, which is average, but that is strictly the merit pay increase. I will receive an additional locality pay (cost-of-living) adjustment for the first calendar 2008 pay period (which will pay out in February) of between 3.5 and 4.5 percent, so the overall total will be pretty respectable.

In the interim, I've upped my retirement contributions to 11%, upped my fixed dollar contributions to savings to keep that total around 10%, and intend to increase my charitable contributions. I won't see much more in my actual take-home pay, but that's all right.

Also, my student loan balance total will now be officially less than my annual salary. Point and laugh if you will, but that's a milestone to me.

*I'd rather risk a few dollars in foregone interest than owe taxes and have to pay fees (for e-file or certified mail delivery).

Well, it worked for Radiohead.


I've mentioned my fondness for Paste Magazine previously. It's the monthly music magazine that includes CD samplers with every issue. I got a pretty good deal as a new subscriber, but my renewal was going to be more expensive. But then...

Paste has jumped on the PWYW (pay-what-you-will) bandwagon. For a limited time, you can choose to subscribe to the magazine for as little as $1. Personally, I paid $15.

The CDs tend to be from less well-known artists, and mostly focused on singer-songwriter material, but there are forays into straight-ahead rock, blues, traditionalist country, and a smattering of hip-hop. Not every CD is a success, but I find at least a couple of worthy tracks on each one.

The magazine itself has some pretty thorough reviews of albums (obviously), but also film, books, and games.

So, if you're a music fan, or have a friend who is, this is a pretty decent gift.

Check out the name-your-own-price subscription.

October Net Worth



I'm dealing with some family health issues right now, so I won't be blogging much (not that I'm that prolific in the first place), but here's my hurrah for the month. Despite some challenges, I'm still making solid improvements in my net worth.

Personal Items

This is the month in which I arbitrarily reduce the value of my computer. Since I've had it so long, I'm now dropping the value in $25 increments, rather than $50. Based on Craigslist prices for various electronic items, I think my valuation is reasonable.

Cash and Cash Equivalent

I had some extra expenses associated with the family health care situation (onsite parking, extra equipment) that I didn't expect. So I spent more than I wanted to out of my checking.

My savings, however, continued to increase.


At least in October, nobody took away the punch bowl. I'm not sure that I will be able to say the same next month.

Loan Balances

It's nice watching the portion of my payments going to interest decline.

Other Debt

If it had not been for an unfortunate car tow, this would actually have been a decrease from last month. I'm getting that expense reimbursed, but the check hasn't been deposited yet.

Even so, I did have to spend some money on gifts and other things. I'm unfortunately in that cycling mode where I pay my monthly bill in full, but then have to charge semi-extensively again to keep my cash flow steady. I'm expecting a raise at the beginning of December to help draw my balances down to zero, but it's going to be a lingering issue until then.

The Month Ahead

I may have some continued expenses due to the family situation, but that will largely be for things like gas to drive for visits, rather than parking and supplies. I am staying in town for Thanksgiving, which will help keep those costs down. And since the weather finally broke, my utility bills will be much smaller.

I'm hoping this will help me charge less and avoid dipping into my overdraft account, since it's finally on its way back up to my target.

So, Uncle Sam will pay off your student loans? Not so fast.


In the wake of the student lender scandal, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act was intended to make student loans easier to bear for payees across the United States.

One of the chief provisions allows workers in "public service" jobs to have their remaining debt forgiven after 10 years in public service. That sounds great! And it probably is, for students who are just starting out and aren't making very much.

For those of us who have been in the work force for awhile, the deal isn't necessarily so good.

The reason is that the legislation only provides forgiveness for payors on a standard repayment plan (which has a 10-year term, and so would be repaid anyway), or an income-based repayment plan.

The income-based repayment plan isn't the simplest formula, but generally speaking, it assumes that your payments will be no more than 15 percent of your discretionary income. Discretionary income is defined as the difference between adjusted gross income and 150% of the federal poverty line. For a single person, the federal poverty line is $10,210.

When I consolidated my federal loans after grad school, I chose the extended repayment plan (30 years) because I had other loans with which to contend, and because my interest rate was (and is) extremely low (2.75%). This kept my payment low, which allowed me to rent a nice place, pay my other loans, and save extensively for retirement (and somewhat less extensively for a condo).

If I were to switch to IBR now, given prevailing interest rates, a shorter loan term, and a much higher salary, I would basically double my monthly payment. My cash flow simply can't take that kind of hit. As nice as it would be to be done years sooner (and save thousands and thousands in interest payments), I would rather concentrate on paying down my higher-interest rate loans and saving for a condo.

Depending on your circumstances, you may make a different decision.

You might want to look at these tools:

Finaid Income-Based Repayment Calculator

Department of Education Repayment Calculators

We did it!


We raised over $2000 in 16 days for DonorsChoose.

Six fully funded projects. 102 students impacted in this year (and more in future years). We're in fifth place on the topical/local leaderboard and in nineteenth place overall. Given the sheer number of blogging groups out there participating in this challenge, I am ecstatic.

There are still a few unfunded proposals in the challenge, if any of you have not yet donated and would like to. (We didn't include them in our goal total because other donors have contributed to some of "our" projects, and we wanted there to be opportunities for everyone to donate.)

And don't forget, if you donated, you can email me with proof of your donation and I will enter you into the raffle for the $10 Starbucks gift card. So far, only one person has entered the raffle!

I am just floored and giddy and overcome. Y'all rock.

And now I can get back to blogging about other things.

DonorsChoose Update #2.


In short, go us.

Since last week, donors have contributed an additional $330. We are now at $1930, only $70 from our goal, and less than $150 away from completing the last partially funded challenge.

First, I would like to thank the people who have publicly highlighted/donated to this project:

(If I've missed anyone, please let me know.)

And please, those of you who donated anonymously, also accept my fervent thanks.

If you have not given to this project, I understand. There are many other worthy organizations out there, and many of them start asking for more donations as we move into the winter holiday season. I would simply like for you to keep this in mind:

Just 10 bucks.

$10 is the minimum donation to all DonorsChoose projects. If seven new donors contributed that $10, we would complete our challenge. If 14 people found that $10, we could finish out Money Management 101, as I would personally contribute the remaining funds to complete the project (and send the remaining few bucks to operations).

We have twelve more days to work on this project before the challenge is over. Obviously, there is need throughout the year, but I think it would be fantastic if we could close the books on some of those goals.

Again, thank all of you for what you've done. And I hope we can push just a little bit more.

DonorsChoose Update, Or, Everyone is Awesome.


And I'm going to give one of you a gift! (Keep reading.) Challenge PageThree of our four initial projects? Completely funded. Two additional projects? ALSO completely funded.$1600 raised in a week, blasting through our original $1500 goal. 78 students impacted (although it will actually be more, as almost all of these projects will benefit future students as well).I am delighted and awed.So, what now? We have raised the challenge goal to $2000. We have added some projects to give you more choices for donations. And we are asking, everywhere, for people to give this challenge some publicity.Speaking of publicity, I'd like to highlight two of our projects.One of the original projects, Money Management 101: Philanthropists in Training, is not only designed to teach 3rd through 5th graders about spending and saving, but also to encourage them to use their class account money for charitable donations. It's partially funded, but needs $513 to be completed. I would really like to see this one get funded.A new project, Funny Money Auction Math, will teach children about interest rates and taxes on personal accounts, and allow them to bid on interesting items at classroom auctions. This project is halfway funded, but still needs $336 for completion, and is ending in five days. This would be another great project to push through.So I'm sweetening the pot. Anyone who contributes to our challenge (including those who have already donated), and emails me proof of their contribution, such as a DonorsChoose email receipt, will be entered in a raffle. I'll number all emails in order of submission, and use to pick the winner. The prize is a $10 Starbucks gift card, which I will mail to any address in the continental United States. The minimum donation is $10, so if you give the minimum and win the raffle, it's basically a free donation! As of right now, there are 11 donors, so your odds are pretty good.(My email is in this image link: )Here are some additional questions I've seen floating around:Q. Can I donate anonymously? A. Yes. Select that option when you register to donate. I believe anonymous donations still get a receipt, but if you do not and still wish to enter the raffle, email me and I will see about finding acceptable "proof of donation."Q. What if I don't like credit cards? A. You can try using a debit card, if that's what you prefer. Or you can send a check, and write the project ID on the memo line. This won't count toward our challenge, but I'll still accept proof of donation for the raffle if it goes to one of our projects.Q. How long does the challenge run? A. Until October 31. The end is not far away!Again, you people are amazing, and I'm honored to have shared this experience with you.[...]

DonorsChoose challenge!


You may have already heard about this elsewhere, but since I initiated the proposal, it's probably about time that I mentioned it.

DonorsChoose is an award-winning organization that connects generous individuals with teachers and students in need. The group is running a challenge this October to get various bloggers and groups to fund several projects across the country.

Thanks to the support of, we are running a challenge to raise $1500 for some projects that deal directly with money management and financial literacy. This could help a LOT of students understand money when they are young and when the lessons can do the most good.

The great news is that, as I type this, we are already 22 percent of the way to our $1500 goal. Any amount that you can spare, even $5 or $10, can help push that thermometer up to 100%.

However, the four projects that we have targeted actually need $2400 to be completely funded. And English Major found a few more projects that we can add to the challenge if we fulfill the original four projects.

I know that sounds like moving the goal posts, but isn't that what pfbloggers are all about? We reach our original goals, and then set up new ones for ourselves.

I would be over the moon if we could raise $1500 for these kids. I would be past the stars if we needed to expand the challenge in response to everyone's generosity.

So, again, please consider donating to the Financial Literacy challenge.


September Net Worth



This was a GREAT month for me.

Personal Items

KBB said the value of my car went up again, but I was suspicious, and left it alone.

Cash and Cash Equivalent

I miscounted my obligations at the end of the month, and had to use my overdraft account to cover one bill. From now on, I'll hopefully be pushing that back up to the $500 mark. I also chose to hold some more money in my checking account because my credit card payment is later than usual, so the improvement looks better than it "should".

On the objectively bright side, I am very close to another nice round number target on my online savings, and am still on track to get my e-fund to a full two months of expenses by the end of the year.


For me, as for many people, this was a great September for investments. My brokerage account (which I basically just let sit) has moved into a new digit category, which is nice.

Loan Balances

Slow and steady wins the race. Or so I tell myself.

Other Debt

I paid a laziness tax to get my hair done for the wedding. (I needed the haircut, and would have had to buy a curling iron, but that still leaves about $35 because I am a style-lacking nincompoop who can't properly curl her hair without aid.) Still, I wanted to look nice for the pictures, and I think it was worth it.

I also discovered that submitting flex spending claims for less than $15 (or possibly $20) leaves my reimbursement as "pending" until I submit further claims. Huh.

Still, by and large the increase is due to getting Avenue Q tickets. I'm going to be able to pay everything off by the statement due date (as I invariably do), but I'm trying to have a quieter October.

The Month Ahead

Apple-picking is on the agenda, and possibly the really spooky "haunted forest" across the river. But other than that, I only plan on paying for a pair of desperately needed jeans (I love my old pairs, but they fall apart in the wash too easily, so I'm trying a new brand), and some birthday flower deliveries (I have coupons for all of that). I did spend $4 at the library book sale this weekend, so I have two new-to-me books to read on my own time. (I check out MANY library books, but it's nice not to have to worry about a forcible recall because a title is on hold.)

August Net Worth



So, I've been elsewhere, trying to soak up the last of my summer.

Personal Items

I knew I'd eventually have to revalue my car and computer. Did both.

Cash and Cash Equivalent

I bought a plane ticket. I took most of it out of my checking, but a portion had to come out of the overdraft fund as well.


After the month we've had, moving my retirement forward and mainly holding steady on my brokerage account is A-OK with me.

Loan Balances

Since my PLUS-style loan is paid off, my progress will be slower on these loans, but it's nice to see continued drops.

Other Debt

I paid off my statement in August (including the plane ticket), but then immediately turned around and bought a dress for the wedding (although it was markedly reduced, yay!). I also visited a specialist, with the attending higher copays, and was waiting on reimbursement.

The Month Ahead

It's going to be a squeeze. I decided to throw in and go for the Avenue Q tickets, which I HAVE to buy this weekend (or they'll sell out), and that puts more charges onto my statement before the closing date. Normally, I don't have two major purchases in the same statement, which makes it easier to cashflow (I ALWAYS pay off my balances in full).

But other than the wedding and whatever I end up doing for Christmas, that play is the ONE big outgoing event for the next four months. So I'm just going to grit my teeth and draw back elsewhere. Somehow.

End of July-Net Worth



I've decided to standardize my reporting to the last day of the month, since I only have one loan reporting on the first now. (And since I made an extra payment this month, I'm showing progress.)

Cash and Cash Equivalent

Having three paychecks come through buoyed my long term savings accounts nicely (even though I made a smaller "extra" contribution to my condo downpayment fund). My overdraft account took a slight dip because I used some of it to cover my car repairs, but it's still above my $500 target for now.


The correction I'd been expecting finally hit, so my contributions were pretty much the only source of forward momentum for my retirement account. I'm not sure why my brokerage account is doing better than last month, but I'm not complaining.

Loan Balances

This was a GREAT month for paying off student loan debt. As I mentioned, my PLUS-style loan has been PAID OFF. I also sent an extra contribution to my Perkins loan, although it was smaller than I would have liked. My progress will obviously not be as fast in future months, but it's really nice to see my balances come down.

Other Debt

I managed to pay off ALL my outstanding balances for July (including that $800 for car repairs). The current balance partly reflects medical expenses that will be reimbursed.

The Month Ahead

I was (mostly pleasantly) surprised to receive a wedding invitation. For complicated personal reasons, not attending isn't an option. Fortunately I'll only have to cover the plane ticket and a new outfit, as gift and housing are both covered by my dad. I do have other going out expenses, but I will try to keep them restrained in anticipation. This may require backing still more money out of the overdraft fund, but it won't be a disaster.

Poof! And it's gone.


I've been complaining about my suspension for a few months now, and I finally took my car in for an inspection last weekend. My rear struts, which I replaced five years ago, needed to be replaced again.

The estimate I received was more or less in line with what I expected (including the struts and the spring assembly), but I decided to call a few more places to confirm the estimate. I'm so glad I did.

The dealership, naturally, wanted to do several additional services that would have thrown an extra $300 on the price. Gah. But then I called the Midas that had replaced the struts before:

Midas: Just so you know, if you come to us, the struts have a lifetime warranty.
HC: It's not just five years? (I'd thought I was outside my warranty coverage.)
Midas: No, lifetime.
HC: Oh! Because you did my struts five years ago.
Midas: Yes, there you are in the system. You'll still have to pay for labor, but the struts are free, and I don't think you need to replace the springs.


So I dropped the car off yesterday morning before work, got a mid-morning call informing me that the springs themselves were fine, but most of the rubber in the assembly had "completely disintegrated" and so they'd need to replace some additional parts. I told them to go ahead.

And so $758 later (plus the $53 inspection fee from the other place), I have a car that still has a bit more road feel than I like (I'll probably need to redo the front struts next year), but doesn't bounce like a bronco over every bump in the road.

It's a lot of money. Fortunately, by taking a big chunk out of my "extra" July paycheck (which will require dropping my extra payments from $200 each to $50 each), and scooping $100 from my overdraft fund (which will be replenished in a few months), I'll be able to cover that, pay my credit card statements and still have money with which to eat and such for the rest of the month.

I had fun spending plans for a lot of that money, but I'll live. I'm still going to be able to pay for my Philly trip out of my vacation savings, and I'm still going to enjoy some Pottermania, and I'll have time to save up for Avenue Q tickets in the fall. It could be a lot worse.




My PLUS-style loan is DONE, finished, paid is a retired obligation.

Now to tackle the rest of them.

But first, I must send a very thorough thank-you note to my dad (I made a few payments, but the lion's share of the payoff was from him).

Oh, and I got some cash gifts for some reason [grin], so I will be going out to celebrate tonight at an exceptionally expensive (but by all accounts, well worth it) restaurant. The cake there is approaching legendary.