Author Archives: Aloysa

Separate or Joint? Mine or Yours?

Want to know how to haggle? Then please make sure to check out my staff writer post at Beating Broke today, The Golden Rules of Haggling!

This post was featured in Carnival Of Personal Finance #288.

In my family we always had a common pot of money.  We didn’t have a bank account but we would put money in a big brown envelope. Yes, I still remember the color! My grandmother was in charge of it, and she would do all the necessary budgeting. If I needed money for school lunch, I’d have to ask her for an allowance. If my mother needed a new coat, my grandmother would decide when the family budget could afford it. I grew up with one brown envelope, or I’d rather say one “joint” account.

Years later, when Beaker and I moved in together, we opened one checking account and one savings account, with both of our names on the accounts. I did not question our decision. Neither did Beaker. It seemed natural for us to combine our finances and move towards our common financial goal – building our lives together.

My friends however questioned every step of this process. That’s when I discovered that some people draw a line when it comes to finances, opting to keep separate accounts. My friend, the one who hides purchases in the trunk, told me that separate accounts are necessary for separate spending. “There is our money, and there is my money,” she said. Understandably, she is very protective of her savings. Probably because having separate accounts prevents arguments about overspending.

I understand that people want to preserve what they had, what they have accumulated before they became a couple or a family. Having separate accounts gives some level of comfort and peace of mind knowing that “what was mine, remains mine.” Especially if you were financially established, owned some assets and investments, you could decide that having separate accounts works better for you. However, I believe thathaving separate accounts also discourages the development of shared financial goals.

Neither Beaker nor I had accumulated assets, houses and investments when we decided to start our lives together. We brought our debt into this relationship, so the natural choice was to have joint accounts to pay the bills, save and plan our financial future. We decided to share everything: our debts, our bills, our paychecks. We decided to share our lives.

I think that in the end, it all comes down to a question of trust. Marriages are built on trust and commitment, right? It is all about sharing, isn’t it? So, why do we need separate accounts? Is it because we don’t trust each other completely? Is it because we think that the other person will go out and spend our money? Or is it because we want to preserve a piece of us, we used to have before we were committed? Something that would show us that we have not totally dissolved ourselves into the relationship?

I am a huge believer in joint accounts because they create a concept of  “our” instead of “mine.” They reinforce trust and commitment, and ultimately they create a sense that “ we are in this together.” Isn’t that what marriage is all about?

My Life Without Christmas

We did not celebrate Christmas in the Soviet Union. It all started with the revolution. Vladimir Lenin eliminated Christmas. Under Stalin‘s regime the Christmas tree was outlawed. This was always difficult for me to imagine – December with no Christmas spirit and no tree. But understandably, Christmas had no place in the atheist society.

Later, Stalin lifted his ban on Christmas tree and declared the New Year’s a national holiday which eventually became one of the biggest holiday’s of the year.

In fact, the New Year was what Christmas has become in the Western world –  a time for family to gather together and celebrate, share gifts and food. The attributes of Christmas such as a lighted tree and gifts, were assigned to New Year’s Eve. So, essentially it was a sort of substitute Christmas stripped of all Christmas meaning.

I know for sure that a lot of people still celebrated Christmas even when Christmas was outlawed. Except that these celebrations were not public, in the open but underground, in the dark, not talking about it to anyone, constantly looking over their shoulders to make sure no one knew.

Of course we had Santa Clause. But our Santa Clause was called Grandfather Frost (somewhat a direct translation from Russian). He would come from Siberia and bring gifts to us on New Year’s Eve. Grandfather Frost also wore a long beard and a red hat. He always would be accompanied by a beautiful Snow Maiden who would help him to distribute gifts to children. Essentially, you could get one gift per child (not to go overboard and spoil a future humble and modest communist generation.)

Ironically, it was December in 1991 when the Soviet Union ended its existence. Gorbachev resigned on Christmas day and the Soviet Union was officially dissolved the next day. In Lithuania, because it is a Catholic country, we finally were able to celebrate Christmas in December. Russia (because it is a Russian Orthodox country that follows a Julian calendar) started to celebrate Christmas again in January.

I ended up having a few Christmas celebrations: Christmas in December with one part of my family and some of my Lithuanian friends, and later, in January, with another part of my family and Russian friends. I think I replenished all uncelebrated Christmases then.

New Year’s Eve was a national family holiday for many, many years. It was my favorite holiday. As a kid, and later as a grown-up, I always got excited about New Year’s. I love Christmas too. I think I like the spirit of Christmas in spite of its huge consumerism, high expectations, overspending and TV and radio commercials that drive me crazy. But somehow, even now, I always look forward to New Year’s Eve.

Old habits die hard, I guess.

Twelve Days of Giving

First Gen American suggested a writing experiment – an embellishment on the 12 days of Christmas. So, here I am…writing away…

Remember the lines of 12 Days of Christmas? Of course you do. These are my favorite lines :

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me…

Isn’t it a great idea to give, send, bring a loved one, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or even a stranger something every day like in the 12 days of Christmas?

To really embrace a selfless spirit of Christmas, try doing the following:

Day 1: I love shopping. But you already know it. It wouldn’t be me not to recommend shopping. So, go shopping! Just make sure to use shop.livewordly.com and you will be helping charities around the world.

Day 2: If you are a blogger, a writer… just like me, you sometimes run out of ideas or words! Build your vocabularywith freerice.com and for every word you get right, the World Food Programme donates 10 grains of rice to end hunger.

Day 3: Enough already of spending all this precious time on the Internet! Turn off your computer and renew your old friendship with someone you have not talked to for a long time.

Day 4: If you cannot live without the Internet, then do at least something different. Befriend your favorite charity on Facebook or follow it on Twitter.

Day 5: Think about great causes and donate to Yakezie Scholarship Fund.

Day 6: Are you an animal lover? Think about animals in your local animal shelter and donate something to it. You can give food, toys, money, your labor… anything!

Day 7: Don’t be too frugal (oh… me and frugality!). Tip generously this Holiday season. Tip extra to your barber, your paperboy, your limo driver…?

Day 8: Hair getting too long? Get a haircut and sign up to donate your hair at matteroftrust.org.

Day 9: You don’t like homeless people because they scare you. You don’t trust them. You suspiciously watch them riding on a bike while talking on an I-Phone. I am with you! But we still can bring canned food to a local homeless shelter.

Day 10: Do you suspect that your gifts are usually being re-gifted? I hope not. But just in case, make a change this year and don’t buy them. How about handmade gifts? Give your chocolate crazed co-worker a homemade hot fudge! Give it to me, I wouldn’t re-gift it!

Day 11: If you do need to buy a gift card, buy it at justgive.org and whoever gets it will be able to redeem this gift card for a great cause at almost any charity around the world.

Day 12: Have something to share, to teach, to pass on to the next generation? Go to mentoring.org and become a mentor to a child age 6 to 18 in your area.

And please remember The Grinch:

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

A Few Good Things

On Blogging
I started blogging in August, joined the Yakezie challenge on September 27, 2010, opened my self-hosted site on October 18, 2010. This is how I have progressed up to this point:

Alexa Ranking as of September 27, 2010: 2.6 MM
Alexa Ranking as of October 18, 2010: 15 MM
Alexa ranking as of December 8, 2010: 244,353

October traffic: 458
Average visitors per day: 32

November traffic: 1,171
Average visitors per day: 39
Unique visitors (I installed Google Analytics on November 4, 2010): 481
New visits: 89%

I cannot thank enough of my fellow bloggers for all the promoting, commenting and tweeting they’ve done.

When I started blogging on my new self-hosted website, my posting schedule was very erratic and inconsistent. As my readership base started to grow, I switched to a stricter posting schedule and now I am trying to post three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). So, don’t forget to check my new posts on those days.

I also included a Guest Post page on my blog. Yes, I am accepting and actively seeking guest posts. Check out my guidelines. Hopefully they are clear enough.

Interestingly enough personal finance topics seem to dominate the content. Aloysa’s Kitchen Sink has become more of a lifestyle blog with emphasis on personal finance.

On Staying Fit
As you might remember I injured my shoulder a while ago and stopped working out. It was somewhat a disturbing time for me because I became obsessed with gaining weight, Weight Watchers and food. My shoulder has been doing a lot better, and I am back to the gym lifting weights! Hopefully, I am not going back to physical therapy.

And as far as food goes… I am not obsessed anymore. It is Holiday season and who wants to think about eating too much! I said to myself: eat up, Aloysa! You are worth it.

On Christmas Tree
We finally put the Christmas tree up over the weekend. Last year we had neither time nor desire to decorate our condo. We went to China in November and it turned out to be an incredible adventure and the best vacation ever. We came back home in the beginning of December, and I got sick with a horrible cold that knocked me down for a week.

When I finally got back to my normal self, Christmas was a week away. We thought about decorating but decided against it. It seemed a little absurd to put the Christmas tree up just to take it down in a week.

This year our Christmas tree is up, and our condo is looking festive. I finally feel that Christmas is just around the corner.

Aloysa’s Reading Picks

There was an interesting discussion on the Yakezie forum about how everyone is keeping up with reading each others blogs. I have to say that keeping up with reading is not that easy. But we all try, and overall we all are doing really well.

But if you think that you could have missed some of the great articles, make sure to read some of the great posts from this list:

First Gen American suggested a writing experiment – an embellishment on 12 Days of Christmas. Some of the great bloggers participated and wrote:

12 Days of Christmas – Writing Experiment @First Gen American

The 12 Sips of Christmas @From the Pint On

12 Days of Christmas @Budgeting in the Fun Stuff

Walking in the Winter Wonderland @Invest It Wisely

12 Email Spammers of Christmas @Every Day Tips

Other interesting, funny, thoughtful and simply great articles in PF blogosphere:

One of the bloggers might not be able to retire by 40. Find out why: Retirebyforty Biggest Obstacle #1 @retireby40

You have debt and you are thinking about tapping into your 401K. Smart or stupid? Read  Tapping Your 401K Plan: The Pros and Cons of Taking Out A Loan @Spurce Up Your Finances

Want to get a job but don’t want to work in an office? Be careful and know How to Avoid Work At Home Scams@MomVesting

Planning on giving a special gift to a special someone? Read Homemade Holiday Gifts That Won’t Collect Dust@Frugal Confessions

Have some fun with Funny Money Comic 7, Passing on Lattes @Money Reasons

Don’t like to tip? Like to tip? Express your opinion after reading Is Tipping Getting Out of Control @Squirrelers

Wondering how to handle a homeless person when he or she asks you for money? Read Should You Give Money to Beggars and Homeless @Get Happy Life

Dreaming about winning a lottery? Organize your thoughts while reading How To Deal With $10 Million @Ultra High Networth

Feeling lazy lately? Lazy Pays Pretty Well @Minting Nickels

Like cartoons? Love personal Finance? You will love Samurai’s Jack Guide to Personal Finance @Saving Money Today

Hate being rejected? Does rejection discourage you? A must read – You’re Rejected! How I Use Rejection To Motivate Me Every Single Day @Financial Samurai

Holiday stress is getting to you? Find out Tips To Reduce Holiday Stress @Frugal Zeitgeist

Store Credit Cards for Holiday Shopping?

This is a guest post by Tim Chen who is founder and CEO of NerdWallet.com, a website that helps consumers to find rewards credit cards.  Tim also educates consumers about credit cards and debt management at the Forbes Moneybuilder Blog, the Huffington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor.

Between overly aggressive sales clerks and cryptic PA announcements, shoppers could be led to believe that store credit cards are hotter than $499 HDTVs this holiday season.

Store cards have high interest rates, lousy credit card rewards, and none of the benefits of your average card, but all too often customers will look right past these issues and only see the initial discounts. So for those who can’t be talked out ofapplying for store credit cards this holiday season, know that using them wisely can still save you money and raise your credit score. Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of store cards, and avoid getting taken to the woodshed.

Do Your Research
Don’t give into pressure to apply for a card where you rarely shop. Just because it offers you 10% off your first purchase doesn’t mean its actually going to save you money in the long term. On the other hand, if you’ve been considering a card for one of your favorite stores, do a little research. Which cards offer the best rewards?

For instance, Kohl’s sends 15 to 30% off discount coupons 12 times a year, plus pick-a-day savings six times a year if you spend $600 within 12 months. Best Buy offers 0% interest offers for big-ticket items and, when you use your Best Buy rewards card with your Best Buy credit card, you’ll earn extra bonus points. These are two of the best offers for frequent customers.

If you make the decision to open a card for a store you know you’ll shop at frequently, pick your day appropriately. Don’t open your new JC Penney’s card on a transaction where you’ll only be spending a few bucks. Save your 10% bonus savings for a day when your total is high and you can maximize the rebate, but don’t go so high that you won’t be able to pay the bill at the end of the month because the interest charges will mitigate the benefit.

The Macy’s credit card offers two consecutive days of savings – so apply for the card on a day when you know you can shop both days, preferably the day before a new, big sale.

Pay at the Register
Worried about getting into trouble with your store credit card and its 22% or higher interest rate? Carry cash and make a payment – in the same amount as your purchase – immediately. The clerk may roll her eyes and the credit card issuer won’t be thrilled, but you won’t have to worry about remembering due dates, keeping track of grace periods or setting aside the cash for the bill.

Keep a Budget
Those zero percent interest credit card offers from stores like Home Depot are very appealing for big-ticket items. But if you don’t pay off the balance before the introductory rate expires, you’ll get jammed with even more interest than you though.  The way these work is that you get charged interest retroactively for those months where you thought you were paying 0%, which won’t save you any money.

Set a budget for your purchase. If you just bought a home theatre system for $2400, including taxes, warranties and installation, with no interest for 12 months, make sure you can afford to pay $200 per month on the card. Also understand the difference between no interest/no payments and simply “no interest” offers. If you have “no payments,” keep that money in the bank, but make sure you set it aside where you won’t be tempted to touch it, since the payments will come due in the end.

Use Store Cards to Improve Your Credit Score
Your FICO credit score will take a few dings (3 to 5 points) whenever you apply for a new credit card, since recent credit checks count against you. And it’ll take another hit (up to 10 points) when you open a new account. But like any credit card, a store credit card can help your credit if you play it right:

– FICO counts retail and gas cards as “diverse” revolving credit, and a better mix of available credit aids in 10% of your credit score calculation.

– Since you won’t be keeping a balance on the card, you lower your credit utilization ratio, which makes up about 30% of your credit score.

– And paying your bills on time and in full also helps your payment history, or 35% of your score.

– The longer you keep the account open, the better it reflects on your credit score, since length of credit history makes up about 15% of your score.

Don’t give in to those impulses to get a store credit card just because you’ll save 10% on your $10 purchase in a store you visit once a year. Just tell the salesperson something like, “I just bought a house/car,” or – in the case of a really aggressive clerk – “I’m in bankruptcy.”  That’ll shut them up pretty quick.

Why Women Lie About Shopping

This article is not a generalization. It represents my observations only.

One of my married friends always goes shopping alone. She always pays cash. Why? Because there will be no monthly credit card statements and no paper trail. There will be no questions from her husband about what she bought while shopping because she won’t show him her purchases that are tucked away in the trunk of her car.

Her husband will never know about the three pairs of shoes that will later be put into her closet. Or the new pair of jeans that she will wear when they go to the movies. Or the new skirt she will put on for a day at her office. He won’t know, he won’t ask questions and he won’t suspect how much was spent.

If we don’t point out to our husbands or boyfriends a new wardrobe piece that we are wearing, would they eventually notice? The majority of men don’t notice which also means that they don’t ask “Is that something new?” Even if they do ask us, those of us who don’t want to admit that a piece is new, indeed can always say “Oh no, I’ve had this forever.”

Even if we do show what we bought while shopping for new clothes, we still might omit or alter one very important fact such as … the price. We might tell a partial truth about an item that we have just purchased.

Why do some of us keep our wardrobe price tags a secret in spite of the fact that we work, earn money and want to look good?

Maybe because we are feeling guilty about spending money on ourselves when we can be spending on our kids, or paying off debt, or putting it into savings, or investing it into our future.

Maybe we think that we overpaid for a great looking dress. Sometimes we do overpay but we don’t want to admit it, even to ourselves.

Maybe we think that the price is irrelevant. Receipts are shredded, price tags are destroyed. We lie about it … well… because those damn shoes are worth it.

Maybe when we come back from a store, we don’t want to be interrogated: “Why did you buy it? How much did you spend? Couldn’t you get anything cheaper?” Or even better “How many shoes (skirts, bags, jeans) do you need?”

And the final Maybe:

Maybe being financially honest and having full disclosure means having similar goals, workable budgets, understanding and most importantly accepting each other’s spending habits.

Five Reasons To Stop Being Frugal And Get A Life

This post was inspired by Invest It Wisely and his post Challenging Your Thoughts and Beliefs.

This post was featured as an Editor’s Pick in Carnival of Personal Finance #286.

This post was included in The Best Personal Finance Articles of 2010 by Free From Broke.

I like spending money. There… I said it. I like shopping (if you didn’t know that, read about it here). I like going on vacations even if it means only a two day getaway to some place I’ve never been before. I like eating out with my friends. So, overall I like spending money and I don’t feel guilty about it. Or even worse – I don’t feel like a fool who is parted from her money.

Some people like saving money, some people like spending their hard earned dollars. It is a personal choice. Do you believe you can be frugal and not be afraid to spend money?

A frugal lifestyle could require a lot of work, time and patience. It could overtake your life. It could control your life in the following ways:

1. You spend endless hours researching, exploring, shopping around for good prices and deals. A frugal person like you understands that shopping is not fun. It is hard work comparing prices, planning and timing your purchases, organizing your schedule to accommodate your shopping trips so that you can get precisely what you need for exactly what you want to spend on it. Instead you could be walking in the  park with your dog, playing with your kids, spending time with your friends, visiting your parents, reading a book or watching the news.

2. Your hair will eventually grow out of control, lose shape and style. But, being a frugal person you cannot justify spending more than $20 for a haircut. Annually. You decide to cut your own hair, even though you cannot see if you cut it straight in the back. Instead of looking stylish and preppy, you choose to look frugal. Come on… what is really important? Definitely not looks. Substance.

3. You separate the 2-ply toilet paper rolls into 2 separate rolls. You even start considering to use newspaper instead of a toilet paper. You wash and re-use plastic storage bags. You make your own soap and you tell yourself it is better for your skin (and it probably is). You cook at home all the time. Why go out and pay someone to serve you the same food you can make yourself? Time consuming? Yes. Boring? Probably.Instead you could be … see #1 above.

4. You don’t want to pay money for cable or the Internet. You sign up for your local library to get free books, magazines and movies. You wait for months because all popular books and movies are taken, and the waiting lists are huge. However, you don’t mind waiting because you don’t have time to read or watch movies. Insteadof reading and watching movies, you are busy cooking, cutting out coupons, making your own soap, unrolling and rolling toilet paper and washing plastic storage bags.

5. You don’t go on vacations because they cost money. Instead you take naps and dream of places you have never been because that doesn‘t cost anything and gives you so much needed relaxation.

If after reading this you are still considering frugality is a way of life, think twice. And for Goodness sake, go get a life!

How a Debtless Aloysa Became Buried in Debt

This post was inspired by Minting Nickels and her post My Money at 20.

This post was featured in Carnival of Personal Finance #285.

Many years ago, on another continent, in another country there was girl who graduated from the state university with a Master’s degree in Library Science. Since there were no library jobs that paid well, the girl got a job at a private wholesale company. In five years the girl was earning a decent salary (let’s not compare it to a dollar equivalent not to get confused). Years later the girl collected all the courage she had, said goodbye to her friends, quit her stable and promising job and moved over the Atlantic ocean to start a new life.

And the new life began, indeed…

My first year in the States was not easy financially. I came to the United States with $200 in my pocket and no debt. I was an international student and my stepfather financed my first year in school. As an international student I could not even get a part time job. The fashion and style in the US was quite different from the fashion in Eastern Europe, and my $200 went pretty fast spent on new clothes.

During my second and third year in the US, my English became much better, I got a part-time job, and most importantly I discovered the pleasures of shopping. Honestly, I became addicted to it. This relationship was based on my past experience. The Soviet Union stores were not glamorous or inviting. I remember dim lights, brown and grey interior colors and the gloomy faces of the sales people. The customer service was non-existent. Clothes and shoes all looked the same: dark colors, shapeless form. Now, imagine a girl who came to the United States and saw all the goods offered to consumers with shiny smiles on the sales people’s faces. Imagine a little kid in Disneyland with free admission and endless possibilities.

It was a very expensive addiction and it needed to be financed. By then I was working a part-time job, so I could apply and get a credit card. In spite of my miserable earning potential, I managed to get a credit card and my life was changed forever. I was able to feed my shopping addiction. I could never have enough clothes, shoes, handbags and so on.

Eventually I ended up having multiple credit cards. The problem with that was that I could not pay for them. I got a second part-time job and the circle was finally complete – I financed my education and my lifestyle with small paychecks and credit cards.

In my fourth and fifth year I got a full-time job and moved out of my parents house. I was able to rent a small ghetto apartment and enjoyed my independence for about six months. My future husband moved in with me later and helped me out with the rent and other expenses.

Meanwhile, I noticed that more money I was making, the more I was spending. Isn’t it a paradox? I never had enough and was living from paycheck to paycheck.

During my sixth and seventh year I was pulling myself through grad school using student loans. My husband and I financed our European honeymoon with credit cards and buried ourselves deeper in debt. Fortunately, I got a full time job and a year later I got a huge promotion. That’s when it hit me. I was making good money and could not afford a lot of things. So, I took a closer look at out finances.

It was (and still is) embarrassing to admit that an accountant who makes a good salary and enjoys working with numbers could not budget and take control of her own finances. That’s when, for the first time in my life, I created a budget. It was a turning point in our financial disaster. Another turning point was when my husband and I made the greatest decision ever – if we cannot afford to pay cash for something, we don’t buy it. We save for it.

All the subsequent years still are devoted to paying off debt. It is not easy. There are a lot of things we are not able to do. We bought a small one bedroom condo instead of a house. We don’t have big international vacations unless we save up for it. Most importantly, I never pull out my credit card when I go shopping. Cash is my best friend now.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and let’s be grateful for simple things such as being with a family during the holidays, having a job and a paycheck, being healthy and loved, being with someone you love. Lets be grateful for being bloggers, supporting each other and belonging to a blogging community. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

A side note: I changed the name of my blog. Nothing major but now it is called Aloysa’s Kitchen Sink. Also, I opened a Facebook page. You can find me under Aloysa’s Kitchen Sink. Please stop by, say hi and become a friend!

EDIT: This article was featured as an Editor’s Pick in Carnival of Money Stories # 82!

Aloysa’s Reading Picks

First and foremost: thank you everyone who supported, promoted, stopped by and commented on The Kitchen Sink while I was away. You helped me tremendously, and my Alexa ranking dropped to 372,206!!

By the way, if you want to find out more about me, read my interview @Modern Tightwad!

My article Beware of Men Counting Pennies was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance #284hosted by Sweating the Big Stuff ,and it was one of the editor’s picks!

It took me a while to catch up with my work. Sometimes I think it is better not to go on vacation. But I am all caught up now – more or less, and I am back to blogging, writing and reading.

The following are my favorite articles of the week:

Run out of the gift ideas? No money or budget for expensive gifts? Check out 77+ HomemadeGifts – DI Chirstmas/Holiday Gifts @Wealth Informatics

Don’t like Wal-Mart? Not so sure? Figure it out with Things that Walmart Does Well @First Gen American

Going abroad? Read Are you a Member of the Global ATM Alliance @Green Panda Tree House

Not sure if you love what you do? Sort it all out with Doing What You Love, Or Loving What You Do?@Everyday Tips And Thoughts

Figure out how blog grading works by reading How Mozrank is Filling in the Gaping Hole Left By the Departure of Pagerank @Invest It Wisely

This post inspired me too write my financial summary article (coming soon) My Money at 20 @Minting Nickels

Wondering how to prepare a cheap but delicious Thanksgiving Dinner? Get a clue with Thanksgiving Dinner on The Cheap @Yes, I am Cheap.