Tag Archives: budget

How Much Are We Really Saving?

29 Nov

Remember back in April when I wrote a post called The True Value Of A Penny?  No?  Well, you should go read it.  It has Ryan Gosling in it.

In the event that you’re opposed to clicking links that promise Ryan Gosling (do you also hate puppies and life?), then just know that the post contains the fact that it costs the US government 2.4 cents to make a penny.

The US Mint made just under 5 billion pennies in 2011.  At 2.4 cents a piece, that’s a total of $120 million dollars spent making a coin that is more likely to be used as a bingo marker by your grandmother than actually be spent.

$120 million dollars.  People trample strangers in line on Black Friday for less than that.

But there is good news.  It seems the US Mint has finally realized that they’re losing money on this deal, and’they’ve set out to fix the problem.  They’re going to change the metal composition of pennies*. (Surprise- those little copper coins are actually only about 2.5% copper.  The rest is zinc.)

The US Mint estimates that changing the composition of the coins will save them $75 million per year.  Subtract that from their current production expense of $120 million, and you get $45 million.  Then, divide that by the 5 billion pennies the US Mint will, um, mint, and you’ll see that the government will be paying about 1 cent per coin.

Sounds like a good deal, huh?  Almost makes you like the penny again.

But wait, this story doesn’t end here.  You see, the US Mint is also changing the composition of the nickel, since those five-cent pieces cost 11.2 cents per coin to make.  So, doing the math on that one, we get the following:

Roughly 1 billion nickels x 11.2 cents a piece = $112 million dollars spent for coins actually worth about $50 million.

$112 million for nickels plus $120 million for pennies = $232 million for one year’s production of coins with a face value of $110 million.

$232 million – the $75 million savings the US Mint estimates = $157 million.

Divide that $157 million by the 6 billion nickels and pennies the US Mint will spit out, and adjust for the fact that it costs nearly 5 times more to make a nickel than a penny, and you get the new values:

1.57 cents to make a penny, and 7.22 cents to make a nickel.

Ooh, so close to balance, and yet so far.  Because even with the lowered cost, the US Mint will still be losing $56.4 million per year in production costs.

On the bright side, the US Mint makes 13.9 cents per quarter they produce, and 4.35 cents per dime.  The down side is that there aren’t enough quarters and dimes made each year to balance out the deficit from pennies and nickels.

Of course, we could solve the problem entirely by eliminating pennies and nickels from the US currency.  We’d save $157 million a year.

But then we’d have to find new bingo markers for Grandma… Hmm.  There may be no winner here.

Oh, and one final mind-blowing revelation: nickels are actually 75% copper.

*source: http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2012/03/28/treasury-to-cut-costs-by-remaking-coins-replacing-paper/

On Being Really Busy

24 Aug

On Monday, I wrote about being busy, and how I wanted to learn how to let myself relax and let some things go.  Having worked five part-time jobs for over a year, this is easier said than done.  However, I think I have taken a huge step in the right direction.

You see, it is a crazy world in which we live.  People do things that we don’t always understand.  They make poor choices (like watching Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo) or they waste their money (like buying knock-off Nutella.  Trust me on this people- stick to the original).  Sometimes they even do very strange things, like offering to hire a 25-year-old blogger to a full-time position that perfectly fits with her masters’ degree.

I mean, really?  Who does this kind of stuff?

Oh wait.  As it turns out, I know someone who does that last thing.  (I know someone who does the first two things as well, but this blog isn’t about me…. wait…)

That’s right.  Someone in a position of authority has extended to me the offer of full-time employment, complete with benefits (yay health insurance!) and a salary that doesn’t have to come from five combined sources!  It also uses my Master’s Degree, which honestly is something I was beginning to think would never happen.  The best part is, this is the same company for which I currently work 35 hours a week.  My job title changes, and my pay structure, but the work itself will largely be an extension of what I currently do, which I enjoy.

As of yesterday, I have accepted this offer.  Starting September 10th, I will be employed full-time.

Yep, that’s about right.

Now, what that means for my other four part-time jobs is a bit unclear.  I’ll still keep three of my part-time jobs for sure- one as a weekly babysitter, one as the Children’s Ministry Director at my church, and one as a freelance writer/ producer of web series (provided we can ever launch said web series).  None of these pay particularly well (and one doesn’t pay at all…), but they are jobs that I can easily do with a full-time job.  Most importantly, they are things that I truly enjoy.

What is most uncertain is my retail sales job.  This is a job that, while insanely frustrating at time, is one that I do enjoy.  It’s also the best paying of my remaining jobs.  What I am hoping is that I can keep this job for a little while longer and just reduce my hours to weekends and maybe one closing shift here and there as needed.

What I expect will happen, however, is that the store will hire or promote someone into my position to cover the hours I can’t work and there won’t be any hours left for me.  I haven’t talked to my manager yet, so I don’t know which way the hammer is going to fall, but I have coworkers who would love more hours and they deserve to have them.  I may very well have to say good-bye to this job, and that terrifies me.

You see, my full-time contract includes a six-month probationary period and as soon as I saw that paragraph, my anxiety-captive mind started racing.   What if I hate this job?  What if they decide they hate me?  What if I can’t do the work?  What if the company gets taken over by Skynet and my position isn’t needed after six months?  I mean, these are legitimate concerns.  I have contingency plans for just about everything, but there is no plan for downsizing due to hostile sentient computer takeover.

We regret to inform you that your services are no longer needed. Please stand by for…… TERMINATION.

But I think the thing that scares me the most is the idea that I won’t be so busy.  I’ve been so busy for so long that I don’t think I know how to not be busy.  I don’t know any reply other than “let me check my schedule and get back to you.”  I don’t know how to make plans more than a week in advance because my schedule has never been steady before.  I don’t know how to prepare for a day that doesn’t have at least four calendar notes.  Essentially, I am Scott in the video below.


It’s so true.  It’s so sad, but it’s so true.

So there are a lot of things still up in the air right now.  All I know for sure is that come September 10th, things are going to be different.  With luck, they’ll be good different.  In any case, I’m off to develop my Skynet contingency plan.  I’ll see you all on Monday.

On Being Busy

20 Aug

It only occurred to me today that I never posted on Thursday last week.  Oops.  Chalk it up to the momentum carrying me away last week.  Seriously, it’s been a crazy few weeks.  I worked nearly 30 hours per week at my retail job for two weeks straight, which would have been fabulous if I hadn’t also been working 35 hours per week at my consulting job.

As a result, I started seeing a lot of things fall through the cracks.  I forgot to return emails, I fell way behind on self-imposed deadlines, errands and household tasks went unfinished, and if the rabbit didn’t make so much noise when she’s hungry (or glare at me with a wall-penetrating stare), I’m not sure that I would have remembered to feed her twice a day.

Insert Monty Python rabbit/dynamite joke here.

Last week, I was finally able to catch my breath.  I worked less hours at the retail job, and made a concentrated effort to catch up on things I had set aside or forgotten about.  This week, I have no hours at the retail job, since they’re training a new employee on store opening and closing.  I also had a very productive Saturday, in which I ran errands, planned a month’s worth of Sunday School lessons, and with the help of two friends made significant progress on two costumes for Dragon*Con at the end of the month. I was feeling all kinds of proud of myself, and I celebrated by planning out the next week’s deadlines with a new enthusiasm (what, doesn’t everyone enjoy setting new deadlines?).  After all, this week I finally have time to get it all done!

Then I remembered that I’m going to Denver on Wednesday.  As in, just on Wednesday.  My flight leaves Atlanta at an obscenely early hour and lands back in Atlanta at an obscenely late hour (technically, so late that it will be obscenely early Thursday).  Don’t get me wrong- I’m super excited about this trip.  It’s an in-person meeting with the people for whom I’ve been working for over a year now.  That’s right- the virtual consulting coworkers become real people with faces and everything on Wednesday.

The big problem is that I’m not an exceptionally good flier.  I’m not one of those armrest-gripping, panic-at-30,000-feet people, nor am I one of those sleep-on-your-shoulder/remove-my-shoes-in-first-class people.  I’m one of those can-the-plane-just-drop-to-the-ground-because-this-leveling-off-descent-is-making-me-nauseous people.  As a result, I need to take an anti-nausea pill before each flight.  With my flight schedule on Wednesday, I have three flights within fourteen hours of each other.  Normally, three flights would mean three pills.  But since I’ve long since graduated to prescription strength anti-nausea medicine, I’m not supposed to take more than one pill every eight hours.  So now I have to figure out a way to a) not hurl on the plane, b) not overdose on anti-nauseas and sleepwalk through my meeting, and c) stretch time so a) and b) aren’t problems anymore.

This is my ideal airplane. Also, my ideal pilot.

Basically, I come to realize that I’m never not busy these days.  There’s always something for me to do, and there’s always three other things that I should/could/probably ought to be doing.  At first I thought that it was just the nature of having five jobs, but more and more I’m realizing that just about everyone else is just as busy.  We all have a dozen things clamoring for our attention at any given moment, whether it’s a phone, email, television, child, spouse, pet, boss, annoying wasp that someone let into my office, etc.  It’s getting harder and harder to just relax and focus on one thing without feeling guilty that other things aren’t getting done.  (Except for that annoying wasp that someone let into my office.  I will spend hours hunting that thing down without any shred of guilt.)

I used to want to learn how to stretch time so I could fit everything in.  Now I’ve realized that the real trick is not fitting everything in, but leaving the right things out.  It’s learning how to prioritize my life and shut off the excess noise.  It’s treating one day a week like my birthday and jealously guarding it from work and other appointments.  It’s realizing what can be dropped without taking out everything else, and it’s rearranging everything else to make it fit into the hours.

That’s the real trick.

I have not learned this trick yet.

Also, I want a TARDIS for my birthday, which really is on Saturday.

Someone get on that for me, please?

August Update

6 Aug

It’s come to my attention that I haven’t been keeping up with my monthly loan updates.  For those of you who didn’t just fall asleep at the mere mention of finance, hang in there.  There’s some interesting stuff in here too.

Exciting news: at this moment, I have $4,884.12 left on my undergraduate student loans.  *cue cheers*

My loans were originally divided into 9 groups.  When I consolidated them a few years ago, two of those groups were labelled as “PIF” or paid-in-full.  Over this past year, I’ve been able to pay off another four of those groups.  The remaining three groups all have balances below $2,600.  My next goal is to pay off Group E, since it has the highest interest rate at 6.8%.

Interesting news: I have learned that it is in my best interest to designate specific amounts for each group.  When I pay an amount over the accrued interest, the rest goes towards paying the principal of the loan. However, my loan company (and I suspect others do this too) put that principal towards the groups with the lowest interest rates much more often than the groups with the highest interest rates.  This means I am paying off the low-interest groups first, while the high-interest groups are still costing me money.  It’s a good plan for the loan company, but it’s a terrible plan for me as a consumer.

I now specify how much of each monthly loan payment is to go to each group.  This lets me attack the high-interest groups first, and saves me money in the long run.  For those of you with loans, it might be worth it to see if this is an option for you.  Don’t let the loan company make any more money off of you than necessary.

Bad news: I’ve had some paycheck issues this month and last, and that has led to me being extremely short on money this month.   I’ve managed to scrape together just $112 for my monthly loan payment.  Of that, $52.20 will go to paying the accrued monthly interest.  Just $59.80, or 53%, will go towards my principal balance.  (For reference, last month 95% of my loan payment of $1,334 went towards principal.)

Everyone who has ever lived with a variable income can relate to how frustrating it can be to not be able to plan a monthly budget with confidence.  The good news is that I can pay my immediate bills, but luxuries such as student loan payments over the minimum amount and new video games will have to wait until everything is sorted out. *sigh*  At least there is…

Good news! It’s August, which means two things:

1) IT’S DRAGON*CON! I love Dragon*Con, and I save for it all year long.  This year, I am very happy with what I’ve been able to save.  It will mean costume upgrades and lots of celebrity autographs. Also, it may even mean food.

2) It’s my birthday month!  I love birthdays, and mine falls very close or during Dragon*Con, so it’s like a giant birthday party each year… with 100,000 of my closest friends.

Last bits of news: I’ve got a very busy work week ahead of me, and lots of potential changes coming in the next month or so.  One of these is a possible full-time job, so keep your fingers crossed for me on that front.  Also, be on the lookout for a short story involving the winners of the Blog Search Term Challenge on Thursday.  Finally, if you haven’t read it yet, go check out Seeing Beyond The Outside, a post I wrote on Saturday about how girls are perceived in geek culture.  There’s been a lot of debate on this topic lately, and the girl geeks are coming out far worse for it.

See you all on Thursday.

$1,200 And As Many Reasons Why

24 Jul

I did a bad thing this weekend.  I broke the cardinal rule of budgeting.  Actually, I broke three cardinal rules of budgeting.

1. I went way over budget on a non-emergency trip.  I’m still totaling up the damage, but it looks like it’ll be around $1,236.  That number includes a round-trip (late-booking) plane ticket to Pennsylvania, parking at the airport, a hotel room for two nights, food, and all the other expenses that come with out-of-town travel.

2. I paid for the trip using a credit card.  I put the plane ticket, hotel room, and pretty much everything else on my credit card.  I know that I’ve railed against doing that with credit cards before, and you’re all probably shaking your heads at me and my financial hypocrisy, but at least I know I can pay off the balance on the card this month.  Which brings me to bad move #3.

3. I paid off the credit card using money from my emergency fund.  My trip out of town was for a family wedding.  It was not an emergency.  As much as I would like to claim that the chance to see all my dad’s siblings and most of my cousins is a rare enough opportunity that it constitutes an emergency, the fact remains that it just isn’t.  By using the money from my emergency fund (and with a trip cost of this amount, it was a fair share of said emergency fund), I broke the rules.  Bad finance blogger.

Having said all of that, let me be perfectly clear on this point: I went way over budget to attend a family wedding for a cousin I have not seen in person since I was 10, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I had the best time this weekend.  I was able to catch up with family members I haven’t seen since I was a kid, be introduced to cousins I’ve never had the chance to meet, hear the “true versions” of family stories, discover definitive proof that my weirdness does come from my dad’s side of the family, and most importantly watch my beautiful cousin marry the love of her life.

See? I told you she was beautiful.

While I may have spent a lot of money on this trip, I don’t regret it at all.  For every dollar, there were at least a dozen reasons why it was money well spent.  The best example I can offer is this:

Ladies and Gentlemen- meet my family. 14 grandchildren, 5 children, and the woman who managed to get us all into one picture.

This past weekend, I got to reconnect with my family, and that is definitely priceless.

What Remains

16 Jul

Today is an important day for me. No, it’s not because it’s the seven year anniversary of the book release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (but hey thanks numerous people on Twitter for making me feel old first thing on a Monday morning).

No, today is important to me for an entirely different reason.  Two years ago today, I took a literal right turn and my life took a figurative hard left.

At 6:45 pm on July 16th, 2010, I was driving to a community function.  As I turned right onto a side street, I was struck from behind by a drunk driver.  My car skidded 180 degrees before barrel-rolling twice and coming to a rest on the passenger side.  More details about the accident can be found here, in the letter I wrote to Honda Car Company the day after the accident.

But that isn’t the story I want to tell today.  I’ve talked about my accident a lot, and I’ve talked about finding the replacement car and dealing with the lawsuits, bill collectors, doctors, and insurance companies.  It was a year-long process, but all the financial stuff finally got settled.

What remains to be settled is the story I want to tell.

What remains from my accident is a set of back muscles that will never be as strong as they once were, and the knowledge that they will always be sore after a day of hard work.  What remains are the nightmares about car accidents, the difficulty watching car accidents in movies or television shows, and the redirected fear of elevators that has seen me climb 11 fights of stairs just to avoid a crowded glass elevator.

Seriously- seeing this effect in a movie provokes a more visceral reaction in me than seeing someone get their toes chopped off with a bolt cutter.

What remains are the lingering fears: the moment of panic when a car comes up behind me too fast and I tense for the impact that never comes, the insistence that the mechanic run a safety check on my car at every oil change so that I know the air bags will be there at the ready, and the never-ending anxiety that the accident will happen again, this time with someone I care about in the car with me.

There was no one in the car with me at the time of the accident. Had there been, all of this would have been in their face.

But there are good things that remain.  I have an extremely reliable car that I know is even safer than my previous one.  I have a reason to remember to slow down every once in a while so my body can rest.  I have a slightly healthier lifestyle from all those flights of stairs.  But most importantly, I have a new path in life that I would not be on if my world had not been flipped over two years ago.

You see, if I had not been in the accident, I would never have:

  • Found out the number of people in my life willing to help me needed it.
  • Spent three weeks on the couch watching Star Trek:TNG reruns.
  • Fallen in love with science-fiction television shows.
  • Gone to Dragon*Con 2010 by myself to see the TNG panels.
  • Posted an idea for a new Star Trek series on MyOuterSpace.com, based on a comment someone made at a Dragon*Con panel.
  • Met James, who shares my geekiness but makes it seem cooler since he does it with a British accent.
  • Helped him develop his idea for sci-fi web series.
  • Attended Dragon*Con 2011, where thanks to my handicapped badge, I got to lend Wil Wheaton my pen three times, including this time when he signed Colin Ferguson’s chest.

  • Started a production company for the aforementioned web series with James.
  • Finally learned how to express that I want to be a creator of seriously cool things, and to do so without fear because it is what makes me happy, and sometimes that is more important than making others happy.

I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t had the accident. Maybe I would have come to the same realizations.  Maybe I’d be just as happy.  I don’t really care to wonder about it.  I love where I am now (aching back  and student loan debt and all), and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Sometimes accidents throw us off track, but sometimes they throw us onto the right one.

Five Things That No One Will Tell You About Budgeting

9 Jul

I’ve been through accounting and finance classes (including three at the graduate level), Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, read countless internet articles about how to budget, and I’ve gotta say- every budget plan I’ve ever seen falls victim to the Diet Fallacy.

What’s the Diet Fallacy, you ask?  It’s the idea that if you just cut enough out, you’ll get the results you want.  If you cut enough calories, you’ll stop gaining weight.  If you cut out the couch surfing time, you’ll start losing weight.  If you cut out enough fat, you’ll get a rocking bod in time for swimsuit season.

As anyone who has ever been on a diet can tell you, that plan may work but the level of suffering that comes with it kind of destroys the happiness over any positive result.

The same is true for budgeting.  Sure, you can make it all work if you cut out enough spending, but if you’re sitting at home in the dark because you can’t allow for a higher electricity bill or gas for the car, are you really any better off?

So, in order to correct the prevailing Diet Fallacy in budgeting, I’m offering up The 5 Things That No One Will Tell You About Budgeting.

1. Chill out.  Seriously- relax.  Put down the calculator and step away from the spreadsheet.  Take a deep breath.  Look at this turtle.

Now that you’re smiling again, let’s continue.

Creating a budget is so much simpler than most people realize, especially if you have a steady income.  Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper.  On one side, write down your monthly income.  On the other side, write down your financial priorities (these should be along the lines of food, house payment/rent, utilities, etc) until you’ve written down everything you spend money on from most important to least important.  Then, go down the line and give some money to each item.  Adjust monthly as needed. It may take some time to fine tune it all, but just remember to keep breathing.

2. Build in some wiggle room.  I have a section in my budget called “miscellaneous” and it gets $30 per month.  This goes to cover any part of my budget that goes, well, over budget.  Perhaps the cost of shampoo rises, the rabbit gets an ear infection, the mob comes and cuts the car’s brake line, etc.  The point is, costs are going to change each month.  The experts will tell you to have an emergency fund set up for these times, and that’s good advice; but having a place for the smaller emergencies already in the monthly budget will make you feel all warm and fuzzy for being prepared, and that’s a good feeling.

3. It’s OK to spend.  Repeat after me: it is ok to spend money.  Sometimes we get so caught up in watching the dollars and cents that we hold on too tightly to our money.  I catch myself doing this every single month.  I start worrying that the accounts won’t all balance out.  If I let it get too far, I’ll find myself rummaging through the tupperware cabinet, looking for a container big enough to freeze my debit card in a block of ice.  Don’t find yourself rummaging through the tupperware cabinet looking for a container big enough to freeze your debit card in a block of ice.  (Mostly because you’ll find tupperware from the 1980s and a surprising amount of dead bugs, but also because it’s counterproductive to the whole “chill out about the budget” concept.)  Put a line in your budget for entertainment each month, and spend every last cent of it.  Trust me- you’ll be a happier person.

4. Don’t punish yourself.  If you blow your budget one month, don’t start mentally berating yourself.  You’ve already spent the money, and chances are that you spent it on something you can’t return.  If it was a one-time thing (i.e. Best Buy had a 72” LED HDTV on sale for $100 for two hours, or ThinkGeek.com had a fire sale), accept the mistake and move on.  Enjoy your new TV and/or lightsaber.  If this was a repeat offense, take a look at your budget.  If you’re consistently overspending in one area, add more money to that area next month.  Take it from an area when you are under spending, or can make a cut.  Budgets can be flexible- don’t be afraid to make a change, and don’t feel bad for needing to do so.  Don’t end up looking like this:

At some point, I probably swore to never reveal this picture to the world. It’s cool though- my sister doesn’t read this blog.

5. Stop listening to the experts.  This is the best piece of advice I can give you.  For the love of buffalo nickels, stop reading everything you can find about how to budget.  Budgeting, like dieting, is a personal matter.  Read enough to learn how to make a spreadsheet, track receipts, and put debt collectors in their place, and then stop reading.  Sit down and do it yourself.  Don’t let yourself get stuck by the fear that you can’t do it, or that you’ll do it wrong.  If you are competent enough to recognize that you have money management issues, I guarantee that you are competent enough to make your own budget.  Plus, planning your budget yourself makes it a lot easier to stick to it.  Just saying.


So that’s it for my advice.  Do with it what you will.  Keep in mind that I’m not an expert, so that last bit of advice totally doesn’t apply to reading this blog.  You may continue to do that, and laugh at my frantic tupperware related searches, all you want.

Next week will have my loan payoff updates, provided the loan company gets their website back up by then.  In any case, there’s a good story behind how I scraped together this month’s loan payment.  Oh, and you may have noticed this site is now located at losingmycents.com.  I finally bit the bullet and registered the domain name.  I had a coupon, you see.

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