Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How I Structure My Day When Looking for a Job

Deciding Whether to Take a Part-Time Job

As someone who is currently looking for a full-time job, I know now that there is a point in time when one must decided whether to take a part-time job or not during this process. I very much would like a full-time job and definitely have the schedule to accommodate one.  I have been applying to said full-time jobs for about three weeks.  I have received only a handful of responses from these jobs that I have applied to, and recently began applying for part-time jobs. 

After applying to only two part-time jobs, I soon-after received an interview offer from one.  At first I felt ok about this prospect, but after speaking to a human resources person I quickly changed my mind.  If I had received notice about this job after knowing more about the jobs I am more interested in/better suited for, the circumstances may have dictated a different response.  Timing issues aside,  the criteria that I set forth for the few part-time jobs I applied for fell into a couple groups. 

1. This job should be relatively close by, and ideally in walking distance from my apartment.  I do not want to spend my time, gas, and energy getting to a part-time job that pays very little. 

2. This job ideally would have flexible hours in the event that I had an interview for a more serious position. 

3. There needed to be some kind of perk related to this job in order to motivate me to accept a lower hourly wage.  This could include small things such as free coffee or larger things such as a free gym membership. 

The job I recently heard back from was difficult to evaluate.  I originally thought I was applying for a position at a location that was in walking distance of my apartment.  It turned out they wanted me to work at a location that wasn't too much farther away, but required me to drive on the freeway to get there.  The hourly wage turned out to be lower than any of the jobs I've had for the past four years.  Apparently at the end of each month there was a bonus based on the sales of the store, but this was not guaranteed.  Additionally the training required for the job was suppose to last three weeks.  What I took from this is that I would feel obligated to stay at the job for longer than three weeks--at a time when I may have a better lead.   There did seem to be advancement opportunities, but as a shift-worker making $7 an hour, it was unclear how long this advancement would take if at all.  Today I turned down this opportunity.  I hope I made the right decision.  Perhaps if I don't have any leads within a month, I'll try applying again for a part-time job at that point in time.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Gift Receiving

As I have just experienced another Christmas overloaded with the acquisition of stuff, I am constantly looking for ways to graciously ask for less "stuff."  On one hand I would simply like to forgo conventional gift-giving altogether.  It is awkward for me to receive more than I often give, and many of the gifts people give me I have little use for or desire to acquire.  Because family members often insist on giving gifts, but do request ideas for what to give, I am still searching for a way to answer this question.

This last Christmas my husband and I asked for gift certificates in order to get some things that we need/want.   As a result, we received a large quantity of Target gift cards.  Most of which are to be used for a new rug and vacuum to clean the rug.  Over and above these items we purchased laundry detergent, toilet paper, and other household stockpile items.  At the end of the day, it still felt vulgar to ask for gifts that were received in monetary amounts--maybe that's just me.  I'm not sure how we're going to deal with this situation next year, but I would like to suggest some gifts you can ask for that will in effect save you money.

1. An Entertainment Book: So far this year (it's only mid January) I have probably saved over $40 by using this book.  Luckily I was able to combine a few $10 off coupons with some gift cards I received.  Other notable discounts included a two for one ticket to a local second-run theater in addition to a a restaurant and haircut coupon. 

2. Books: As someone who loves reading, I appreciate receiving books as a gift.  I also appreciate the fact that books are some of the easiest items to resell on the internet.  Half.com and Amazon.com make it very easy to resell books, and if you are not in the habit of collecting books in your home, it is simple enough to list your unwanted books on the internet. Another money saving aspect of acquiring books as that many are how-to, and therefore are a valuable addition to one's ability to keep costs down in different areas (cooking and home repair come to mind).

3. Consumable Goods: The trick with things such as toilet paper and detergent is convincing people to give them to you in the first place.  Other more conventional standbys includes things such as socks, food (dried fruit or candy), and gift cards that are easiest to convince others that you want for the holidays or a birthday. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

How to Avoid Eating Out in Restaurants (With Exceptions)

Eating out is one of my financial downfalls.  I am frugal in almost every other area of my life, but eating out is a weakness.  At this point my husband and I have a routine that substantially reduces our restaurant bill.  We are both small people and can usually split a regular sized entree without having to order more food.  At most restaurants this tends to keep our bill between $20-25 after a tip.  Regardless, as the person who makes most of the food in my household I am often tempted to go out to eat when I just don't feel like cooking.  As such, there are some strategies I use to cope with this temptation.

One technique is to simply buy some convenience foods, even though they can cost more than scratch ingredients at the grocery store.  When you are choosing between eating out and eating out, the convenience food will have cost less than the alternative.  Another technique is to force yourself to eat leftovers or other things that are less than satisfying, but will fill you up nonetheless.  It also helps to know your body.  I usually am less picky when eating lunch, and can usually go for refrigerator leftovers, versus dinner when my stomach is more particular.  I know this sounds funny, but it can help when strategically planning one's meal. 

When one does eat out, it can help to order an appetizer for an entree; split an entree with an extra salad or soup; or to use a two for one entree coupon.  My Entertainment book (can be purchased for $20 in major cities) has many of these coupons for chains as well as locally-owned eateries.  Some restaurant meals can be stretched for a couple days.  I find this is particularly true with pizza and Chinese/Asian restaurants.

My last suggestions relates to a wider subject of meal planning /grocery shopping/ and simply having on hand appropriate ingredients to make the foods that satisfy you and your family.  Trying new recipes also helps tremendously, in addition to knowing how to properly store food.  Lately I have becomes very good at freezing ingredients and have frozen cubes of white wine, chicken broth, and other goodies to use in many dishes.  I also found a great recipe for a soup I loved at a local Greek restaurant (Greek lemon rice soup).  As such, the next time I crave Greek food I can prepare it myself instead of relying on a restaurant to prepare my favorite dish for me.  Happy cooking and saving.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Should Rural Communities be Subsidized?

This article describes a shortage of medical professionals in rural areas.  As someone who grew up in a rural Minnesota in a town of less than 10,000 people I really wonder whether this brain drain should be such a big concern as it is.  I am specifically referring to areas that are similar to my home town. That is, areas that are primarily resort/tourist areas with no substantial agricultural uses.  What continues to drive the existence of these areas is government support.

My home town can accurately be described as a "government town" because it has many government offices in addition to a state college; both of which provide a majority of the "good jobs" in the area.  I always found it ironic that local political representatives that claimed to be conservatives could support their own policies, in addition to the interests of their constituents as these beliefs will always be in opposition to one another.

My home town also happens to be in the poorest county in the state of Minnesota.  This is partly due to the presence of a Native American reservation, but it also has very little industry and reason for being.  What is so valuable about areas such as these that they must be subsidized by the state through programs such as LGA (local government aid) and the like?  I was raised in such an area, but as someone who no longer lives there, I am not sure what valuable cultural or political touchstones these backwaters are so wonderful at perpetuating.

The lakes, forests and protected areas are some of the best things about living in a subzero-temp rural community.  And so, because the presence of people and commerce in these areas have the ability to denigrate these qualities, why should we encourage the services that allow people to live there full-time?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Value Investing

The other day I overhead some finance majors talking about an assignment where they had to practice "value investing."  The weird thing was that it sounded like the first time they had ever heard the term even though they were upperclassmen.  This is why unless you are willing to engage yourself in the world and do something like read on your own, you should probably not consider getting a finance degree from a rural state school; You're only going to be competing with the economics and mathematics grads from either the flagship state university or better private schools.  Sorry.

On a similar note, I am currently reading a book on Warren Buffett called "Warren Buffett, the Making of an American Capitalist." This book really gets to the nuts and bolts of how Warren Buffett has made decisions over his career and highlights his unrelenting striving towards cutting the fat in his own life and the companies that he invests in.  Overall I have come to admire the attitude he has towards his wealth, as well as the frugality he practices in his everyday life-even though he does go overboard sometimes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thoughts on the Mortgage Interest Deduction

After reading an article at The Atlantic website this morning on this issue, I thought it might be worth it to talk a little bit about this deduction myself.  Pertinent background information on me includes the fact that I am a renter and I am also an accounting student currently taking an income tax class.  Neither of these things qualifies me to be an expert on this issue, but a stakeholder nonetheless.

A few points from The Atlantic:
  •  Canada does not have this deduction and has the same home-ownership rates as America
  • Three out of four dollars from this handout goes to people with incomes over $100,000
  • Only one in seven homeowners in North Dakota take the deduction
As a renter I view this as one of the issues that makes homeowner-ship a round-about investment.  Their are obvious advantages when it comes to exclusion of capital gains and the like, but the hassles involved with this "investment" are never-ending.  I was studying for a test last night, and was shocked by the number of fees mortgage holders pay to service their loan.  By the way,  in order to pay off one's loan early it is necessary to pay a fee for this privilege (an otherwise prudent decision).  For a rental there is one fixed payment a month (even if only for a year), and the hassle of paying the tax bill, various utility bills, and maintenance costs do not exist as separate bits and pieces floating around in your life.

As a renter who would potentially buy a home from $100,000-150,000, the mortgage interest deduction would hover around the standard married filing jointly deduction for my husband and I.  Because of this, I don't necessarily have a vested interest in the deduction sticking around, and I also wouldn't necessarily want an incentive to pay my mortgage off over the longest period of time possible either. 

Another article I read today was that it doesn't pay to remodel a house. No surprise here, but I do have a real life example of this truism in my parents.  My parents hit the home-owning lottery and sit on a piece of lakeshore that has appreciated in value substantially since they bought it at a steal.  Their house is an ordinary 50's ranch house, but they have never been deluded that their house has any intrinsic value, because they have always known that it would be a tear-down for any potential buyer. As a result of this reality, my parents have only made a few improvements over twenty years of living where they live.  This has only included replacing some linoleum, recently replacing the carpet in their room, and the biggest splurge of all--new siding.

On the other hand, my husband and I know more than a few people who live in the suburbs, and because they can't afford to upgrade to a new house, have updated their current homes like crazy.  The intrinsic value of these houses has probably remained the same even after the remodeling (primarily the land, and location, etc), and hopefully have made these homes more livable for their inhabitants, and perhaps more sell-able.  In the end the neighborhood and school district probably dictates the future selling price more than upgraded faucet fixtures and granite counter-tops.