"Goals are dreams with deadlines" -- Diana Scharf

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Newlywed Notes: "I Have to Live Here, Too!"

The scene: Mr. W. has been out of the apartment for most of the day, doing some freelance work.  He returns to find that I’ve decorated our home for Easter.  He likes the decorations, until he spots our kitchen chairs.  I’ve taken sparkly, polka-dotted, pastel ribbon and tied gigantic bows on the backs of each kitchen chair.  Adorable, right? 

He doesn’t seem to think so.  He rolls his eyes and says, “You know, I have to live here, too!”

Whoops.  That's right.  He's a strapping, 28-year-old male and he does live here.  I guess those ribbons do look a little like they belong in Barbie’s dream house. 

After Mr. W. and I were married, he moved into MY apartment.  It’s a lovely little space.  At 650 square feet, it isn’t large.  But what it lacks in space and storage, it more than makes up for in charm.  A benefit to old (ie, cheap) apartments is that they often have a lot of character.  The kitchen has a built in china cabinet.  The hardwood floors are edged in mahogany inlay.  Each room has a 10-foot ceiling.  It didn’t take me long to incorporate little touches to make it feel more like home.  By the time we were married, I had lived in the apartment for just over a year.  I definitely perceived the two-bedroom, 1-bath unit as being “mine.”     

Although we hadn’t lived together before the wedding, Mr. W. and I were quite familiar with each other’s habits and preferences.  I knew, for instance, that he tends to accumulate dirty cups -- but never dishes-- on his desk.   He is meticulous about rolling the toothpaste tube after each squeeze.   He prefers to wear shoes while inside.  He sleeps with about six dozen pillows.  In other words, I knew his daily routine.    After seven years of dating, I think this level of familiarity is inevitable. 

In turn, he knew that I have a much lower tolerance for clutter than he does.  He also knew that I don’t really care what the toothpaste tube looks like, so long as there is toothpaste inside.  I would wear slippers all the time if they weren’t so ugly.  I sleep with just two pillows, though I’ve always loved the decorative pillows that are NOT to be used for sleeping.    

All in all, I would say that the transition to living together has been fairly smooth.   Mr. W. contains his clutter to the spare bedroom so that I can simply close the door if it starts to bother me.  And I’ve stopped teasing him for his “pillow nest.” 

Every once in a while, though, we still discover little things that annoy each other.   For instance, if Mr. W. is sleeping and I turn on a light in the bedroom (even the really, really dim light all the way in the corner), he becomes quite grouchy.  You’d think I tried to rouse a hibernating bear.  Likewise, I start to seethe if I see dirty clothes strewn on the floor (hello, the hamper is right there!).   Once we’ve discovered each other’s irritants, we try not to repeat them. 

But, I can still do a better job remembering that the apartment is no longer mine alone.  Given that I am a Type-A control freak, relinquishing control over “my home” has not been easy for me.  But it’s also his home, and I need to allow him equal input when it comes to organizing, maintaining, and decorating the apartment.  Marriage is a partnership and our home needs to reflect that.   

By the way, he resigned himself to the sparkly chair-bows for one week.  They’ll be removed on Sunday night, as soon as we finish our Easter celebration.   
If you live with a spouse or significant other, what was the largest adjustment when you first started sharing spaces?


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Topics in Personal Finance: Why We Still Have a Car Loan

Mr. W. and I currently have a car loan with a $10,000 balance.  I know that most personal finance gurus would advise paying down that loan ASAP to avoid interest charges.  We could pay off the loan in its entirety, but we've decided not to do so.  Here are some background details that explain our decision: 

In August of 2012, we bought Mr. W.'s used Honda Civic.  At $16,000 and less than 20,000 miles, it was a great deal.  When we bought the car, our wedding was just six weeks away.  We hadn't planned to buy a car until after the wedding, but Mr. W. was in an accident that made his previous car un-drivable (no one was injured, thank goodness).  We tried to share a car for a few weeks, but this doubled his already-too-long commute.  Mr. W. clearly needed a new car. 

Other than assorted wedding-related deposits, the car was our first major joint expense.  We had the funds to pay cash for the car, our wedding, and our honeymoon.  However, we decided to put 20% down on the car and finance the rest.  Between the wedding and honeymoon, 2012 was shaping up to be a very expensive year.  Now we were buying a car, as well.   

Before buying the Civic, Mr. W. and I agreed that we should maintain a certain level of savings.  We just didn't feel comfortable draining our savings completely.  Marriage would bring a lot of firsts for us: first time we lived together, first time we combined our finances, first time we had to share closet space and a bathroom.  On top of all those changes, we didn't want to stretch ourselves too thin financially. 

At the time, $12,000 seemed like a reasonable amount of cash to have on hand.  We ensured that after making the down payment on the car and paying for all wedding/honeymoon expenses, we would still have $12,000.  Since getting married, we've increased our savings goal to $25,000.  This amount would cover our fixed living expenses for approximately one year. 

Why did we determine to save a year's worth of expenses?  Why not just six or nine months?  Mr. W. and I both work in relatively specific industries.  If either -- or both -- of us were to lose our jobs, it could take some time before we found another position.  Given the uncertain job market, we decided to prioritize increasing our nest egg rather than paying down our car loan ASAP.  We make the monthly payments, but we're not trying to pay off the car until we've built our nest egg.  To us, the peace of mind is worth the 4.6% interest rate.

How do you feel about car loans?  Unwise, or a necessary evil?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Thrift Store Scores: Seasonal Decor

We love decorating for the holidays.  Every year, we look forward to setting up the decorations while reminiscing about years past -- the year the Christmas tree feel down, the year the dog ate the Christmas roast, the year we accidentally dyed raw eggs.  I'm unsure which of those occurrences was the biggest "whoops."

When Mr. W. and I started dating, his parents invited me to spend Easter with them.  My family was 3,000 miles away, so I gratefully accepted.  Upon arriving at their house, one of the first things I noticed was that Easter decorations were everywhere: on the front door, on the back door, in the kitchen, in the dining room, and in the powder room.  It felt a little like walking into a Martha Stewart Living magazine.  As I would later learn, this approach to decorating would be repeated for every major and minor holiday.

After a few years, I casually asked Mr. W's mother how she had accumulated such an impressive collection of holiday décor.  She hesitated for a moment, then sheepishly answered, "the shop."  This was her term for the local thrift shop.  She pointed out which items had come from the thrift store and shared how much she had paid for them.  Each item had been less than $5, and many were $1-2.  I was amazed by her resourcefulness. 

Ever since then, I've scouted the local thrift stores for holiday décor.  Through a combination of thrift store finds, Target, and DIY projects, we've built our own small collection of spring décor.  And we spent just $15 on the whole kit and kaboodle.  That's something to get egg-cited about (sorry -- couldn't help myself).

Egg display with green candles: $3 from thrift store
(the chicks on the bottom level were $.50/each from Target)

Stuffed bunny: $.75 from thrift store

Eggs cups: $1/each at Target

DIY wreath: $6 for materials

Wooden bunny box: $1.99 from thrift store (I added "Hoppy Spring")
Do you enjoy decorating for the holidays?  What are your favorite items to buy from a thrift store?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Frugal Foods: Almond Macaroons

Recently, I was the happy recipient of a random act of kindness: one of my coworkers brought me handmade ravioli and vodka sauce from her favorite Italian specialty shop.  She knew that Mr. W. and I have been trying to eat local foods, and she thought we would enjoy a quick pasta dinner.  Before buying the ravioli, she even ensured that all of the ingredients were locally sourced to the extent possible.  We were so touched by her thoughtfulness that we wanted to do something nice in return.

We decided that a gift of almond macaroons and chocolate-covered pretzels would fit the bill.  Macaroons have always struck me as a “fancy” cookie because they have such a delicate flavor.  But they’re actually a quick and easy dessert.  They’re also economical to make at home.  Whereas the macaroons at Whole Foods sell for $5.99, this recipe costs about $2 for a batch of the same size.  How could you go wrong?  Well, I guess you could go very wrong if you have a nut allergy.  In that case, just omit the almond extract and increase the vanilla extract to ½ tsp.  Emergency room visit avoided. 

I’ve played around with the balance of coconut/sugar/egg/extracts a few times, and this is my favorite version.  You could even drizzle these with melted chocolate or salted caramel, for a little extra pizazz.



  • 2 cups coconut ($2.49/bag = $.93)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar ($3.79/5 lb. bag = $.11)
  • 2 Tbsp. flour ($1.99/5 lb. bag = $.01)
  • 1/8 tsp. salt (free-ish)
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract ($4.99/1 oz. = $.21)
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract ($2.99/1 oz. = $.12)
  • 2 egg whites ($1.99/dozen for standard large eggs = $.33.  Or, $4.99/dozen for cage-free local eggs = $.83)


1.       Preheat oven to 325 degrees and spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.

2.       Combine coconut, sugar, flour and salt in a medium bowl. 

3.       Separate egg whites from the yolks. 
We made a double batch, so we had four yolks

4.       Stir egg whites, almond extract, and vanilla extract into coconut mixture.

5.       Using a tablespoon, drop coconut mixture onto prepared cookie sheet.

6.       Bake approximately 20 minutes, until lightly browned.  Transfer immediately to cooling rack.



Yield: 12-14 macaroons

Total Recipe Cost: $1.71 -$2.21  


We save the egg yolks for omelets or frittatas.  At $4.99/dozen, we’re not about to pour those yolks down the drain! 

Obviously, coconut is not a local ingredient.  I really wish it were, because I love a good pina colada.  However, it’s a go-to ingredient for people who keep Kosher and/or follow a Paleo diet.  Although Mr. W. and I don’t have these dietary restrictions, many people in our circles do.  We use a lot of coconut in foods that we share with these friends and colleagues. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Topics in Personal Finance: When Is It Okay to Change Your Plans?

Do you remember those Southwest Airlines commercials with the slogan, "Wanna Get Away?"  My answer to that question is a resounding, "Yes, please!"  After months of dreary winter weather and several stressful periods at work I could really use a vacation. 

Yesterday, Mr. W. forwarded me a Groupon email for a fantastic deal:

From $999, six-night, eight-day Ireland vacation with rental car, round-trip airfare, and six nights of accommodations.

The timing of the Groupon deal seemed eerily perfect.  Within the last week, we've been fantasizing about visiting Europe.  I've never been abroad at all, but Mr. W. spent a summer in Ireland and loved it.  He's had a hankering to return ever since.  We always assumed it would be far too expensive for us to consider in the foreseeable future.  But here is an email telling us that we could visit the Emerald Isles for less than $1,000 each.  Sign us up, right?

But here's the rub: our financial plan doesn't include any major vacations in the next year.  In the short term (2013), it includes building our nest egg, increasing our retirement contributions, and learning about investments.  In the longer term (2016-2017), it includes buying a starter home.  Our plan does not say anything like, "Book an expensive European vacation because you're tired of the snow and have been working long hours."  Dang it -- how did I neglect to include a luxury vacation in our plan?

The Groupon deal was tempting.  It still is, honestly.  And I'm sure I'll still be fantasizing about it until the purchase period closes.  Ultimately, we decided not to take advantage of the deal, but we did seriously consider it. 

This occurrence caused me to wonder: "Under what circumstances is it acceptable to stray from our financial plans?" 

In some circumstances, we might be forced to change our financial plans.  Perhaps there is a change in employment, an unforeseen medical procedure, or a family emergency.  All of these could require us to delay our financial goals, dip into savings, or incur debt. 

I'm not really thinking about these forced changes, because they are out of our control.  Rather, I'm thinking about instances when we decide to stray from our plans.  When is it okay to make a major change and throw financial plans out the window? 

Here is a list of a few reasons that would justify a change in our financial plans.  Everyone's list will look different, so I'd love to hear your input, too.

  • Change in priorities/lifestyle: We're newlyweds in our mid/late twenties, and plan to start a family in the next four-five years.  Right now, our biggest financial goal is to save for a home.  But if we start a family sooner, our priorities would definitely change.  For instance, the money we are currently saving for a home would be used to meet the baby's needs first.  And we would discontinue the frills in our budget...things like pricey fitness classes and most discretionary spending.  Likewise, if we decide not to have children at all, we might spend more freely. 

  • New opportunities for growth: We've always held open the possibility of relocating if the right career opportunity presents itself.  We haven't included relocation in our financial plan, but there would certainly be a financial implication if we were to move. 

  • Change in assumptions: Our current financial plan assumes that our income and expenses will remain level for the next year.  If our income and/or expenses change drastically, our plans will also change accordingly.  For instance, let's suppose that we had received that Groupon deal and were simultaneously notified that one of us would be getting a 25% raise (not the case, but it would be nice).  We might have sprung for the vacation because we would have seen minimal net impact to our bottom line. 

 What situations would cause you to change your financial plans?


Thursday, March 14, 2013

How I Sent Flowers to My Mom...and Made Money in the Process

When I went to college, I moved 3,000 miles away from my family.  My parents always knew I would go away to school, so they weren’t surprised when I left sunny California to attend college on the East Coast.  But my extended family felt a little abandoned.  Even now, eight years later, they still plead with me to move back to California.  The long distance is difficult, especially now that my grandparents are getting older and their health is declining.  There are days when I feel very guilty for having moved so far away and for missing so many family functions as a result of the move. 

As much as possible, I’ve sent flowers to female family members for every major occasion or life occurrence (birthdays, Mother’s Day, after a surgery).  Admittedly, there are cheaper ways to acknowledge special occasions.  Sending flowers is notoriously expensive, especially around major “Hallmark holidays.”  However, it’s one of the ways that I let family members know I’m still thinking of them despite the distance.  Maybe I'm just trying to appease a guilty conscience, but I think it truly makes them happy.  One of my grandmothers – the really frugal one -- always calls to thank/scold me, saying “You shouldn’t have wasted your money.  Too expensive.”  But, as soon as she hangs up with me she calls my mom to brag that she received flowers. 
I think this means that I should keep sending the flowers. 

Nonetheless, there’s a financial implication to this gesture of caring.  Spending $50-$70 to send a bouquet of flowers will definitely add up quickly.  Just recently, I discovered a way to send flowers for free. 

In my day-to-day shopping, I use my credit cards on a regular basis*.  I know that many personal finance experts would discourage this.  However, I pay off the balance in full every month so I don’t see the harm.  Discover is my card of choice because it has a great cash rewards program**.  Last year, I earned over $500 in Discover cash rewards.  Those cash rewards can be redeemed as a statement credit, direct deposit, or a merchandise card.

My mom recently had a minor medical procedure performed, and I thought it would be nice to send her some flowers.  Here’s how I did it without spending a dime of my own money.  In fact, I actually earned a few dollars that I can use in the future.  I've even included visual aids so you don't think I'm making this up!

How I Sent Free Flowers:

1. As of March, had a $40.03 balance of available Discover Cashback (ie, rewards credit), accumulated from earlier purchases on my Discover card.

2. Redeemed $40.00 of Discover CashBack for a $50.00 ProFlowers merchandise card. 

3. Logged on to www.ShopDiscover.com, and selected ProFlowers from the retailer list.  Noticed that ProFlowers was offering 20% Discover Cashback for all purchases initiated through ShopDiscover.  Clicked through to the ProFlowers website.  (See below for more on using ShopDiscover).

4. Selected a cheerful flower arrangement for my mom.  It was nothing extravagant, but I thought she would like it.  It was originally $49.99, but was marked down to $29.99 for an Easter special.  It also included a free vase, which I liked (the last thing I wanted was for my mom to dig around for a vase while she was supposed to be recovering).

5. After shipping/handling and tax, the order total was $50.24.  Redeemed my $50 ProFlowers merchandise card.  This left a balance of $.24, which I paid with my Discover card. 

6. A few days later, received an email from Discover informing me that I had earned $6.00 of additional rewards credit by using ShopDiscover.   Wait...what?!!!  Apparently, the 20% rewards credit was applied to the merchandise total of $29.99 (ie, the cost of the flower arrangement), even though I only paid $.24 on my Discover card.  How awesome is that?!

7. Once my next statement arrives, my Discover rewards balance should reflect an additional $6.00 earned from using ShopDiscover and ProFlowers.  Once I’ve accumulated enough rewards, I can redeem the rewards and send another free bouquet of flowers...just in time for Mother's Day!

*I try to pay with cash at mom-and-pop businesses so that the credit card fee doesn’t eat into their profits.

**Discover currently has a three-pronged rewards program.  As with all rewards programs, this is subject to change without notice.  This is my best understanding of the rewards program:

1.       1% Program: The first $3,000 of purchases earns .25% Cashback.  Once you’ve spent $3,000, every purchase earns 1% Cashback. 

2.       5% Cashback Bonus Program: Earn 5% Cashback on certain categories of expenses (ie, groceries, travel, home improvement), according to a rotating rewards calendar.  For instance, cardholders earn 5% Cashback on up to $1,500 in restaurant and movie purchases made from January 1, 2012-March 31, 2013.  There is usually a limit to how much Cashback you can receive through the 5% program. 

3.       ShopDiscover: Discover calls ShopDiscover its “online shopping mall.”  Discover partners with hundreds of retailers, all of whom offer 5%-20% Cashback if you access their website through www.shopdiscover.com and pay with your Discover card.  Typically, the Cashback percentage only applies to the merchandise total (ie, not taxes or shipping).   It's also only available for online purchases. 

Once you accumulate at least $20 in Cashback rewards, there are several ways to redeem your rewards: statement credit, direct deposit, or merchandise credit.  If you choose statement credit or direct deposit, you get the exact value of your reward.  For example, if you have $50 in reward credit, you can get a $50 statement credit or have $50 deposited into your bank account.  I usually choose the merchandise credit because you get a better bang for your buck.  There are several retailers – such as ProFlowers and Banana Republic – that will offer a $50 merchandise credit in exchange for $40 of Discover rewards credit. 

 *** This post is not sponsored or endorsed by Discover Card is any way. 

If you use credit cards,  what are some of your favorite rewards programs?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Topics in Personal Finance: Budgeting is like Dieting

I think that many people (myself included) tend to feel the same way towards budgeting as we do towards dieting: we resent the need to restrict ourselves, but we know it’s good for us.  It's difficult, tedious, and unpleasant to exert the necessary willpower.  We wish we could achieve the desired result (financial stability, thinness) without the requisite effort.  But as much as we might hate budgeting and dieting, we feel badly when we stray from our intended plans. 

I’m no expert on either personal finance or nutrition.  There are times when I’ve made decisions that, in hindsight, I wouldn’t make again.  And you know what?  That’s just fine, so long as I don’t continue to make those same mistakes.  My approach to both personal finances and nutrition is about balance, prioritization, and making small changes.  Here are some of the tips I have found to be useful in my own experience.

  •     Establish realistic goals with incremental benchmarks
Whether you want to pay off $10,000 of debt or lose 10 lbs., be realistic and specific with your goals.  If I set pie-in-the-sky goals, then I am likely to become discouraged and give up when I don’t see immediate progress.  However if I establish a set of smaller, more attainable goals (e.g., pay down $2,000 of debt by May, or exercise three times per week), then I take pride in progressing towards my goals.  This, in turn, motivates me to continue.


·         Set a reasonable timeframe

In this age of hyper-consumerism and instant gratification, we want to have it all.  And we want to have it all, right now.  When I first sketched out our five-year plan, I was discouraged to see that it would probably take us at least four years to purchase a rinky-dink starter home.  But then I realized that my parents waited just as long before buying their first home, and they saved much more aggressively than we do.  We're trying to learn to be patient and give ourselves time to reach our goals.  Nothing worth achieving will happen overnight.  As the saying goes, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

·         Keep your eye on the prize

With long-term plans, it can be easy to lose sight of the end goal.  When I find myself tempted to abandon my budget or diet, I remind myself of what I'm working towards.  When I was getting in shape for our wedding, I posted a picture of a leaner, trimmer me on my refrigerator as an incentive.  Now, when I feel like buying myself a new, unnecessary pair of shoes, I remind myself that every dollar I spend is less that can go towards our starter home.  Every $200 that I spend now means we have $1000 less to spend on a home ($200/20% down payment = $1000).  This equation has been a real source of motivation for me. 

·         Make room for fun

There have been times when I’ve drastically cut back in order to reach a goal.  This applies to both food and money.  This may work for some people, but it usually backfires on me.  If I restrict myself too much for too long, I end up going overboard with whatever behavior I was trying to improve.  To avoid this backlash, I incorporate a modest amount of “fun stuff” into both my budget and my diet.  For instance, Mr. W. and I each allow ourselves $100/month to spend on whatever we want.  When it comes to food, I allow myself 200-250 empty calories each day.  These are amounts that feel right to me, based on my personal situation and priorities.  Maybe you only need 100 calories/day of junk food (you bastion of self-control and restraint!).  The amounts don’t really matter; the point is that you’ve built “fun” into your plan so that you don’t feel deprived.  These "small splurges" can make the process of budgeting and dieting much more bearable. 
What are some steps that you take to help you stay on track with either budgeting or dieting?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Only Thing More Certain than Death and Taxes

...is having a bad driver's license picture.  Can anyone prove me wrong?  No?  Didn't think so. 

I've determined that everyone who gets a driver's license experiences the same reaction when they first see that holographic thumbnail image of themselves: "This can't be right.  Do I really look like that?  Something must be wrong with the camera." 

In my case, the license picture bears an uncanny resemblance to an American Girl doll.  Which is not quite as bad as looking like a zombie or a serial killer, but it's certainly undesirable when you're 27 and would like to be taken seriously. 

A few weeks ago, I got an aspirational hair cut.  You know, one of those styles that looks good on celebrities but never works in real life.  I had my hair cut like Anne Hathaway's character in The Devil Wears Prada.  I guess I thought that having blunt-cut bangs would make me look chic! sophisticated! edgy!  To be fair, my stylist did a really great job and I like the cut.  But I did not suddenly become super-elegant.  And there are moments when I look like an overgrown six-year-old.   My driver's license photo happens to be one such occurence. 

But the important thing is that I now have a new driver's license.  Never mind that it's been almost six months since I married Mr. W. 

I now have an official document identifying me as Mrs. J.W., and I couldn't be happier.   

Thursday, March 7, 2013

March Goals

March promises to be a busy month, both personally and professionallyThis is what I’m aiming to accomplish:

Financial Goals

·         Stay on budget, especially with respect to grocery shopping and household "stuff".

·         File our income taxes.

·         Consolidate our bank accounts and update direct deposit info.

·         Track spending on a weekly basis.


Career-Related Goals

·        Complete preparations for an important mid-March meeting. 

·        Arrive to work by 9:00 every morning.  We have flexible hours, but I still like to get in at a decent time.


Personal, Non-Financial Goals

·         Purchase a new computer.  We both have computers that are seven years old.  We’ve been trying to delay this expense as long as possible, but it’s time to take the plunge.  Our computer situation has actually been amusing at times.  For instance, when I try to access some websites, I’m redirected to the mobile platform because I’m using such an outdated browser.  But in all seriousness, buying a new computer is a necessity.   In fact, we can’t even run tax software on either of my computer because the operating system is so old.  And Mr. W’s computer won’t even turn on, so…

·         Finalize my name change.

·         Buy a bed, if our tax return is large enough.  When we got married, we moved Mr. W.’s queen mattress and box spring into my apartment.  However, we haven’t purchased a bed frame yet.

·         Keep in touch with friends and family. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Let's Do the Numbers (2/24-3/2)

Here is what last week looked like, according to the numbers:

*I drank two fancy-schmanzy coffee drinks from Starbucks.  Purchased using a Christmas gift card, so they were free to me. 

*We baked three loaves of bread, six whole wheat biscuits, one batch of Cocoa Crunch Granola, one batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and one chocolate cake.  I promise we didn’t eat all of that ourselves.  We took the cake to a party (where Mr. W. ate 2.5 slices).    

*We attended a total of six fitness classes (three for me and three for Mr. W.).  He also went for an eight-mile run.   
*I took the train to work two times. It’s an improvement over last week, but three times would be ideal (At three+ times per week, it’s financially worthwhile to have the monthly parking pass that I purchase). Sidebar: I made an earnest attempt to take the train three times last week. Read here for the full story.

*I spent 90 minutes waiting in line, outside of the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Mr. W. and I have been married for more than five months and I still haven't finalized my name change with the DMV.  I attribute the delay to three factors: busy work/travel schedules, my own procrastination, and an intense dread of the DMV.  Case in point: On Saturday, I arrived at 11:30 AM, which was a full 90 minutes before the DMV closes. It seemed like it should have been enough time, especially since the DMV is obligated to process the paperwork of anyone who arrives before closing time.   But there’s a sneaky loophole: this DMV only allowed a dozen or so customers inside the building at any given time.  This tactic was bogus, because there were seats inside for many more (maybe 50? 100?). With the exception of those dozen lucky souls, everyone else was forced to wait outside. Then, anyone who wasn’t inside at 1:00 was turned away. After shivering and standing in line for 90 minutes, I was one of those who never made it in the door. I had paid $3.00 in municipal parking and had wasted 90 minutes. And worse of all, I’m still not officially “Mrs. J. W.”  I've learned my lesson: next Saturday, I'll be waiting in line when the DMV opens at 8:00.

You know who dislikes the DMV even more than I do?  Dane Cook.  Watch this sketch, but not at work, or when your grandmother is listening.   

*Attended one dinner party, where we played a boisterous round of the board game Apples to Apples.  I won nine of those green adjective cards.  That's seven more than Mr. W (not that I'm counting).  The other players seemed to like my suggestion that "whipped cream" is "timeless."   Isn't it?

Hope your week is off to a good start.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"A" for Effort; "F" for Execution

This is a post in which I fail miserably at a task that doesn’t really relate to personal finance. 
In which I miss the train due to lemming-like behavior.  Here is how the story unfolded:
I can either drive or take the train to work.  There are pros and cons to each method of transportation.  On days when I take the train, I make an effort to dress appropriately, given that my office is ten minutes away from the train station and a portion of the route is unpaved.  On Thursday, I dressed in my standard commuter uniform of ballet flats, wrap dress, and a warm, unfussy coat.  I packed the New York Times in my computer bag so I would have reading material.  All was progressing according to plan.  I felt proud of myself for being so prepared (whenever I start to feel too smug, we know things are about to go downhill). 
I drove into the parking structure twelve minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive, thinking about all the wonderfully efficient things I could do during my 30 minutes on the train: Read the newspaper! Compose a blog post! Write an email to my cousin!  Decide what to make for dinner tomorrow!  Be a productive and conscientious member of society! (clearly, I have low standards for what constitutes productivity and conscientiousness.)  
Unfortunately, I was stuck behind an out-of-state driver who was perplexed by the train station parking structure.  I found myself getting more and more frustrated by the glacial pace at which this person was driving.  Did he not realize that this was a train station?  That it was rush hour?  That the train was scheduled to arrive and depart at a specified time, now a mere seven minutes away?  I seethed inwardly with mounting irritation, while continuing to follow the confused driver in search of empty parking spaces. 

And then, he accidentally turned down the exit lane.  And before I realized what I was doing, I had followed him.  A classic case of the blind leading the blind, right off a cliff.  Once I’d made this wrong turn, there wasn’t any option except to exit the parking structure completely.  The voice inside my head, which sounds suspiciously like Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, screamed, “WHAT?! YOU LEMMING! You knew he didn’t know where he was going, but you were distracted and followed him anyway! No train for you!”

At this point, there wasn’t time to re-enter the parking structure and park my car before the train’s arrival.  And the next train wouldn’t arrive in time for me to get to work by 9:00.  My only choice was to drive.

If my husband were narrating, this is the point at which something exciting and interesting would happen: he would become the subject of a high-speed chase.  Or, the automobile would transform into a spaceship and he would save civilization from an alien invasion.  Or, he would discover Spanish galleons in his glove compartment (why does he always store money in there, anyway?).  He’s a much more imaginative storyteller than I am.  Plus, he drives a Honda, for which all of those scenarios seem plausible.  But this isn’t his story.  Instead, I just drove to work in my 2002 Volvo, not having an opportunity to read the Times or write to my cousin.  An inefficient contributor to greenhouse gasses, but with better intentions.  I give myself an “A” for effort, but an “F” for execution.