Thursday, May 11, 2006

HSA Questions

I was discussing HSAs with my manager yesterday because we were trying to sort out all of the various benefits our company gives regarding medical reimbursements.

The HSA account offered by our health insurance comes with a $3 monthly maintenance fee. My employer agreed to pay the fee for everyone who opted for the HDHP+HSA. But, I know that the annual contribution limit for your HSA is the amount of your deductible, $1100 in my case, and in order to reach that max I’m having money taken from my paycheck each month. My employer than sends that money along with an additional $3 to the bank. Does anyone know if that additional $3 a month will go against me for that limit? Will I still end up with $36 less in my account at the end of the year?

I’ve read that I can open an HSA at any bank, as long as I can prove my enrollment in an HDHP. Does anybody know where I can find a no-monthly-fee bank for my HSA?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My First Stock Purchase

I made my first stock purchase on Sunday. I bought 500 shares of Meridell Potato Company (symbol: MPC) at 15. It climbed up to 21 briefly on Tuesday, but today it’s back down to 19. All of the stock market strategy sites say I should buy and hold, wait until it climbs into the 60s or 70s before I cash out.

I figured I should diversify, so Tuesday I bought 500 shares of Kau-Kau Farm (KAUF), also at 15. It’s been down and back up to 15. Once again, I’ll use a buy and hold strategy. Hmmm, these are both agricultural commodities, perhaps I should think about diversifying into tech stocks.

How can you get in on this action? Register at

Yes, I’m a big nerd. I started playing at Neopets about 4 years ago. Just a couple weeks ago I finally made my goal of having 5 million neopoints (NP) in the bank (earning 11.5% compounded daily!), so I decided that I’d start investing in the Neopian stock market with my extra dough.

I think Neopets would be a great place to start teaching kids about money. What I’ve mentioned here, basic stock market trading, saving money, and compound interest, are just a few things. There’s also The Money Tree, which you can donate items or NP to, which could turn into a lesson about charitable giving. You can also set up your own store and buy and sell items for profit.

There’s another way to make NP: earning them while playing games. This is my favorite way to make them, mostly because I enjoy the cute little Flash games. A few years ago I was chatting with the college buddy that introduced me to the website about the different ways to get NP, and how I felt like I was in a different social class because I “worked” for my NP by playing games (the proletariat), but there were a lot of very successful players that bought items for cheap and resold them in their shops. I called them the “merchant class”.

Who knew that at the time I was discovering for myself Kiyosaki’s Cashflow Quadrants? In Neopia, I definitely like being an E. I dabbled a little in S. I can’t really think of a way in game to be a B, but I think there are outside networks where this works. And now I’m dabbling in I with my stock purchases.

I guess I’m just a big kid when it comes to my entertainment choices. I’m also just a big kid when it comes to finances. We can still learn at any age, right?

The Wedding: Money Well Spent

So yeah, there were a few things my mom piddled away money on, but there were a few things that were well worth the expense.

The Venue
The country club was a package deal, included all rentals, catering and beverages. For an additional fee, we’d get use of the gazebo for the ceremony. I hadn’t seen the place since I attended a Bat Mitzvah there when I was 13, but I told my mom to go ahead and book it when I fell in love with their menu. Not only was the brunch menu cheaper than dinner, but brunch/breakfast is my favorite meal! The food was awesome, the grounds were beautiful, and everyone had a great time.

The Band
Three words: I hate DJs. My mom knows a guy who is in an eight-piece band and they were great (and pretty cheap). Eight pieces turned out to be a little loud for the size of the room, but it wasn’t too bad. He did a great job with our first dance (Georgia on my Mind), and even played the hora for Hobie’s side of the family. Hobie’s mom was also able to use their keyboard and sing us two lovely songs (she’s a professional singer/musician).

The Harpist
This was my mom’s idea for ceremony music, and it was beautiful.

The Horse-Drawn Carriage
Because we had the ceremony and reception at the same place, there wasn’t a need for limo transportation, so Mom said that was enough justification for splurging for the carriage. It brought my Dad and I out from under the club around to the gazebo, and then after the ceremony Hobie and I got in and took a little ride together. After the dress, it was the second-most complimented thing to me by the guests.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

How NOT to save money on your wedding

My mother gave me a very beautiful wedding, and she took so much of the planning burden off of my shoulders. I was so appreciative of that, that there were many issues where I “gave in” because not only was she holding the checkbook, but she was doing so much hard work in the planning.

But, she went a little overboard on some things (shh, don’t tell Dad). Here are some places where the budget went awry. Hey, your little girl only gets married once, right?

  1. Weekly trips to Michael’s to “get ideas”.

I doubt Mom ever left the store with only ideas and not something in her shopping bag as well. She bought silk flowers, only to be told later by our florist that they are not representative of fresh flowers. She bought “practice petals” for our flower girl (I was told she never used them). She bought white accessories only to have to take them back later after I picked out an ivory gown. My mom is quite the shopper.

  1. Going overboard with the favors.

We had ceramic heart ornaments with our names on them. We had full-size Hershey bars (with almonds) with custom wrappers. I think there were votive candleholders. And then of course the little place card holder/bell combos and the bubbles. I told my mom that people would need little plastic bags to bring home all the stuff they’d get. No, they just didn’t take them and she shipped them all out to me. I’m sure she got “ideas” for all of these things at Michael’s.

  1. Buying an expensive figurine as the cake topper.

Personally, I think cake toppers are stupid. You don’t need a couple of figurines on top of the cake in order to understand that it’s a wedding cake. I think flowers or cool sugar designs are so much more pretty and classier than a little bride and groom. But my mom spent $240 on a Lladro bride and groom figurine (but it was on sale! she told me). And she did this before we picked out a cake. This thing is like 8 inches tall and the event planner told us it was too big and heavy to go on top of any cake. Plus, the cake we agreed on had a large sugar flower for the top. So the figurine stood next to the cake on the cake table. And now I own a Lladro. Something else I get to dust (or store).

  1. Oy. The invitation debacle.

Instead of buying the invitations that I wanted online that would come exactly as I wanted them (navy card with silver lettering, for the most reasonable price I had seen), she insisted on buying them from a local wedding boutique. She got horrible customer service, and they were not what I wanted at all. They were ugly compared to what I pictured in my head as my perfect wedding invitation. Luckily, my guests don’t know what I was thinking and I suppose they were pretty in that regard. Even after the bad customer service, she still went back to that boutique for cocktail napkins (which turned out very nice) and:

  1. The unity candle.

I am indifferent to the unity candle tradition, and generally I didn’t like the idea of things that would make the ceremony longer. But my mom really loves the idea and since we couldn’t do it outside during the ceremony we did it at the very beginning of the reception during the introduction of the families and the new couple. My mom actually used to make custom unity candles as gifts for marrying couples using the invitation and a photo, dipping it in wax to seal the decorations and then adding pearls and other decorations to it. They turn out very pretty. Well, now you can buy candles that come with an easy way to attach the invitation. The problem is, the invitation has to be portrait-oriented and mine was landscape. So Mom purchased a minimum order (25) of my invitation with the correct orientation just to have the one copy for the candle, at a cost of $125. I think we could have figured out a compromise on this one.

Monday, May 08, 2006

What a Racket!

I need to get into the greeting card business. I just dropped $25 on cards for the mothers and grandmothers, ya know, just in case for some reason they forget I love them. I realize that there are less expensive ways to show I care, but this is just the way my family does it. I have this feeling that if I didn't get my grandmother some flowery expensive card that she would think I didn't do it right. I think I picked up the habit from my dad. He always felt obligated to buy the big, pretty card with all the scripty writing, too.

Frugal Fun with Friends

You know how when you make spaghetti sauce you end up with leftovers for days? and days? Shortly after I decided that those leftovers would be last night’s dinner, I decided that there was plenty to share, too, so I called up some friends. I asked them to bring a salad, and we’d provide dinner, wine and dessert. The wine was a Christmas gift from my work, and dessert was a carrot cake I made from scratch earlier in the day. Everything was so much cheaper than it would have been if we had eaten out (like the four of us used to do all the time together).

After dinner, the guys played some computer games, and then after dessert we played a totally awesome, easy and fun game called “Apples to Apples”. The best part about this game (besides the laughs) is that there is no complicated set up, it’s just a few decks of cards, no pieces to lose.

Oh yeah, and my carrot cake was so delicious. I’m of the opinion that it’s hard to beat commercial pies and cakes. Like, it’s actually difficult and requires some amount of baking experience to get a better flavor and texture than store bought desserts. I’ve made half a dozen blueberry pies with pre-made pie crust and only one came out how I wanted it. Who knows how much I’d screw it up if I tried to do my own crust.

But this cake I made yesterday was fantastic. For those who want to know, it’s the recipe from Joy of Cooking.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

April Net Worth Update

In April, we saw a not-too-shabby increase in our net worth of $1633 to a negative $5577. I’m proud to say that we paid $572 above our minimum payments to our debt. I had originally budgeted an acceleration of only $300 a month, but it looks like we’ll easily be able to do $500 for now (we may start saving up for plane tickets to visit family a little later).

May got off to a slow start because we had a nice night out on the town last weekend (charges hadn’t hit the credit cards until Monday) that cost $189, but we sure had fun. We’ve cut back a lot on eating out, and we certainly don’t go out for drinks and go to comedy clubs very often, so it was nice to splurge a little. I suppose we made up for it by winning $140 playing poker Thursday night. ;)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Blogs, weddings, and saving

First off, let me just say that I LOVE Months ago, I thought for sure that I would eventually get sick of reading about personal finance, but I haven’t. has allowed me to find some really great blogs with awesome stories to tell. Although the blogs that spout out generic advice several times a day are helpful and well-written, it’s the daily chronicles of staying frugal or attaining goals or struggling with speedbumps on the road to wealth that I really love to read about.

There are some drawbacks, though. You know you read too many personal finance blogs when you start having dreams about how you came across Debt Hater’s business storefront while driving around town one day, decided to check it out, and find out that you went to preschool together.

But I digress. I found a really awesome new blog called Dual Income No Kids that I can really relate to. I love their posts on how they funded their wedding, and it’s basically the same formula no matter how much you need to save. My parents paid for most of our wedding, but I still had to save up about $2000 for various things like plane tickets, Hobie’s ring, gifts, and bridal accessories.

Here’s what I did:
Direct deposit into ING account.
Cut down on some vices like eating out and poker.
Stop acceleration of debt repayment and allocate that extra money to savings.
Put all extra money into savings (like cash back rewards, gifts, and any poker winnings).
Pay for everything in cash. No new debt!

I can’t go into any more detail because I think it’s just that simple. When someone asks me, “How do you save money?” my best response is, “Don’t spend it.”

And now, post-wedding, we’re following all the same rules except instead of funneling all the money into a savings account, it’s going into our debt snowball.