Wednesday, June 27, 2007

confessions of a job hopper

i've held more than a dozen jobs in the past 10 years. i didn't plan on it . . . it just sort of happened. but, i generally don't have to fess up as to why i haven't been at many jobs for more than a year. i have pretty marketable skills, i'm a decent interview, and i have pretty decent networking skills. while being a hopper is oftentimes looked down on, i believe that at a certain level, certain people know that valuable people are hard to retain -- they are in demand and like challenges. there is a benefit to my being a job hopper -- over the past 10 years, my salary has increased almost four-fold. it's unlikely i could have made those strides staying at one or two jobs over that time.

now, i'm not advocating it. being a job hopper isn't for everyone. there's a certain amount of risk that's involved, but for the right people in the right situations, there are good rewards.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

brown bagging lunch

i eat 5-6 small meals a day. if i ate all of those meals out, it might get very expensive, so i spend about an hour or two on sundays preparing one or two big dishes that i can dole out and bring for lunch for the entire week. this saves me time and energy in the morning and i can get enough variety during the week by adding in a sandwich here or a protein drink or bar there. a lot of finance pages that i read tell you to keep a journal of things that you spend money on, and by making coffee at home (for instance) you can miraculously save tens of thousands of dollars (i exaggerate). i am not going to start telling you that a save a ton of money with my cooking extravaganza -- actually, eating healthy can oftentimes be on par with spending on a quick bite out for lunch. what it does do for me, though, is give me something that i can pretty comfortably ball park, budget-wise. i know that i'll every week, i'll spend about the same amount on food and it's a number that i can live with. of course, i eat out sometimes for lunch -- you have to for sanity, for business, for fun -- but i know that for the most part that's going to be every now and again and i can live with that.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

supplemental income

i'm always looking for ways to earn a little extra cash. i used to do focus groups. they generally pay decently -- somewhere around 50 to 100 bucks for an hour or so worth of work. it's not regular work, though, and they usually don't give you much notice. so, when i started getting busy at my regular job, i found it difficult to pick up any of these gigs. i probably haven't done one in over 5 years.

i do try to pick up side projects whenever i can -- very rarely do i ever pass on an opportunity when someone asks me if i have some spare time to do some work on the side. again, it's not regular work, but it'll usually mean a couple extra bucks every now and again. and since i can sort of plan around it, it's much easier to fit into my schedule.

there's no way i could pick up a part-time job to earn more -- i just don't have enough time in the day, but i know several people who do that. there are a lot of part-time opportunities out there for people to supplement their income.

to me, any little bit counts. and a big part of it is maintaining good contacts and keeping your eyes open for opportunities out there.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


when i get lazy, i let bills pile up in my inbox. i just paid a bill for the security company today that was about a month late. now, i'm guessing that most companies won't ping my credit or turn my account over to a collection agency after that short a time, but it's probably not a good idea. most of my bills i can pay online, but very few of them have an auto-pay feature for whatever reason. it's in the best interests of companies to support auto-pay -- they get their monies and i don't have to remember to pay them. i actually just implemented the same feature for the company that i work for.

why don't more companies offer auto-pay?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

debt in the middle class

i was listening to a radio program today and a caller phoned in and was asking a question about debt. the host basically berated her because she was carrying a lot of cc debt, but had a pretty high household income. i don't know if it was just a bad day for the host, but it's really easy to accumulate credit card debt and i would be willing to bet that it's pretty prevalent at many middle class income levels.

the fact of the matter is that debt is really readily available to us in the middle class. so readily available that i'd venture to say that if you're not educated on the matter, it's probably easier to go into debt making 100k than it is to be barely scraping by. why? i don't know. maybe there is a level of keeping up with the joneses or an i've arrived attitude or some other ridiculous notion, but whatever it is, i'm sure what the caller didn't need was to be ridiculed for making too much money. what she needed was to learn that she didn't have to spend that much!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

spending accounts

my wife has a spending account (she calls it her slush fund) that she deposits about 0.5% of her paycheck into. she does whatever she wants with that money and i don't say anything. it comes out of her paycheck and gets deposited into a separate bank account automatically, so i don't even notice it.

i manage the money in our household, so i don't have a spending account for myself, but it probably would be a good idea. the idea behind the spending account is two fold. it puts a pause into our spending habits. if there's some impulse purchase that we want to make, it comes out of our spending accounts. if we don't have enough cash on hand, we'll have to make other arrangements (save, reconsider, haggle, etc.). what it really does, though, is gives each of us the freedom to buy something that the other person may think is a waste of money. it doesn't impact our bottom line and it kills any arguments before they start.

pre-bringing home your check saving

saving is a hard mindset to get into. it's even more difficult when every day, week, month, or whenever you get paid, you bring home your paycheck (or it's deposited in the bank for you). the easiest way to save, i think is to set things up automatically so that you don't feel like you've lost any income. there may be an adjustment period, but once you get used to your new paycheck it's very easy to save.

for instance, my wife and i each have 10% of our pre-tax earnings invested in our respective companies 401k plans. additionally, my wife has 15% of her (post-tax) earnings invested in her employee stock purchase plan. that right there has us saving an automatic 35% (not excatly because of taxes and matching contributions). additionally, we have various splits that put money into our primary checking, savings, and spending accounts.

at the end of the day, the deposits into our checking account don't look quite as full, but the balances in our 401ks, stock plans, and other accounts are looking healthy, and we hardly notice the ding to our disposable income.

monthly savings

after we moved, we're trying to save a bit of money by taking on some normal household chores that we used to 'outsource'. i don't know how prevalent it is in other parts of the country, but at least in our small version of the world (our neighborhood), most everyone has a lawn service and housekeeping service. we've been getting by without either so far.

our cable and internet service is roughly the same as it was before our move, but it's possible for us to drop from basic cable to the absolute minimum, which would be just the network stations, though it's probably not going to happen.

we've dropped a home phone line and use only our cell phones. my wife's company takes care of her charges and i never go over my minutes.

we've canceled our netflix subscription, which saves us from having the same three movies on our coffee table for months and months.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

the bitch of living

my wife and i were talking about debt and i asked her how many of our friends she thought carry a significant amount of debt (aside from their home) and i postulated that it must be about 90%. we actually sort of went down a mental list and tried to verify (based on comments that we have heard from them or implications) and we came to realize that that figure was probably pretty close. we have a good number of friends that went on to lots of higher education and carry significant student loans. some just tend to over use their credit cards. just about everyone has a car note (ourselves included).

i guess what it comes down to is that to me debt is a very typical thing and it doesn't have to be a negative, as a lot of people view it. you just have to be able to manage your debt. for example, we have a car note at about 4% that's got a few years left on it. i'm not in any particular hurry to pay that off, because if i put cash away (even in a cd or something else with a guaranteed return), it's probably close to a break even.

what i don't get is how people live off their credit cards. no matter how painful it is, i always pay off my balance. it just pains me to hear that a lot of my friends simply make the minimum payments on their cards each month. i'm trying to grasp where this mentality comes from. i mean credit cards are a pretty recent phenomenon -- i believe they came out in the 70s, but i don't think my generation is dealing with any learning curves from credit. it may be a matter of immediate gratification, but for the most part, i think a lot of my peers that do carry card balances could pay off their balances, but they don't. maybe we're just bad at math. maybe we don't like to write big checks. maybe we're simply overspending. maybe it's the bitch of living that throws some wrenches in our well made plans.

whatever it is, we need to learn that debt is a tool that we can use for our benefit and if we can't, maybe we should learn to live without it.

as an aside, we just saw a musical -- spring awakening -- which was great (the title of this post comes from that show).