Monday, March 16, 2009

Money

I got reimbursed today for some trips I took as part of my education here in Athens. That's how it works—they'll fund us to go to conferences and things, but we gotta put the money out up front and then they pay us back. So today I finally finished the paperwork and went down to the bursar's office so they could cut me a check.

Only they didn't cut me a check; they paid my in cold, hard cash. Well, green grubby cash, anyway. Suddenly my wallet was too fat to fold nicely—I felt like I used to after a Friday night of waiting tables. I booked it over to the bank and deposited that dough, plus two tax return checks, and suddenly my bank account had tripled in size.


As I was walking home, I passed the Blue Eagle, Athens' music store. There in the window I expected to see two of the prettiest accordions I've ever seen, a red one and a white one for only about $300 each. They've been there for a few weeks and I've lusted after them, gone in to honk on them a bit. With so much new money in the bank—money that'd been gone so long I didn't miss it or need it anymore—I knew I'd be tempted, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw.

The red one was gone! Someone must've bought it in the last few days. I was expecting to stand there for a minute and taste the temptation as I peered through the glass at my babies, but I wasn't expecting the sudden rush of panic when one of them was gone. Now the temptation was real—if I didn't buy the white one right now, someone, anyone, could up and buy it from under my nose. I've got the money, I thought. I could just walk in there and make all my dreams come true.

No! I mustn't! I tore myself away and walked home. I'm opening up a high-yield savings account with ING Direct and depositing that money far away until it's time to spend it on what's really important. And what that is, I ain't telling. But I've got plans...

I thought I should take this opportunity, though, to share some things I've learned about recently. I'm trying to get more into personal finance and building good money habits, and these are some good resources I've discovered.

  • Get Rich Slowly is a blog that was started by a regular guy who found himself thousands of dollars in debt for no good reason. He just hadn't been paying attention. For years. Once he realized what trouble he was in, he dedicated himself to figuring out how to fix it, and he starting this blog to track himself and his ideas. Turns out he's a gifted writer and teacher, and his advice is always very encouraging. I'm not in a situation anywhere near to him, but I still love reading what he's got to say about things. I recommend starting here.
  • Pear Budget is a really simple budget service that helps you keep track of where your money is going. You don't have to know anything about budgeting (I don't) to make it work for you. You just throw in some numbers (it guides you) and then keep track of your receipts and stuff, and Pear Budget tells you if you're on track or what. I like that it's online, it's easy, and it's customizable. But it does cost $3 a month after the trial's over (which is plenty long enough to find out if it's worth it).
  • Mint.com is a similar money-tracking service, but the emphasis here isn't so much on budgeting. It links to your bank accounts and stuff and keeps up-to-the-minute records of what comes in and goes out. It creates graphs and charts to help you see where you're spending, and it looks very slick. You can make a budget on Mint, but it's not as robust as Pear Budget, even though it's prettier and easier to keep track of since most of the updating is automatic. Also, it's free. They make a commission whenever you choose to take them up on one of their "suggestions." The thing is that Mint looks at how you spend money and stuff and can recommend checking accounts and credit cards that match your needs. It's not intrusive at all, but you do get the feeling that your life is being quantified and the information is being sold without a face attached. But that's unavoidable these days, and what you get for it is boss.

It's not too late to start being better with your money this year. We can all go on vacation together. I'm rooting for you!

5 comments:

Janssen said...

Just added Get Rich Slowly to Google Reader. Many thanks.

The Hippo said...

fool, money comes and goes, but music is forever.

Drew said...

I finally decided that I want to be rich. Most people decide much earlier in life, but I guess I'm a late bloomer. For the last couple of weeks I've been dreaming of all the fun stuff I could do once I've achieved this goal. I can't believe how much time I've wasted trying to decide if I wanted to be a doctor, a teacher, or an astronaut. Now, I just want to be rich when I grow up.

Joe said...

You should have bought the accordion. They're festive, classy, and have been known to repel snow leopards.

Jennifer said...

Ha ha ha ha! Accordian - you goose! Yay for money-wisdom. I wish I had started when I was single and relatively rich. By that I mean no debt. My only debt now is a house and a car, but savings would really feel good. But, like Drew, rich is on the list.