Friday, December 28, 2007

December Damage…

I am almost done assessing the credit card damage done in December. I am waiting for a few price adjustments to return to my credit card but it looks like the total damage for December will be ~ $2k including personal/emotional spending (~$500), monthly utilities (~ $300), Christmas gifts (~ $700) and some needed items for interviewing ($500). I currently have $1500 in my E-fund so I am a little short. I just got paid so the large sums I’ve been paying on my HELOC/credit card will be reduced to $200 in January while I add $500 to my E-fund to pay off my credit card balance. I’ve already moved back to my all cash/debit system that I was on before and I plan on keeping to that system for 2008.

The balance on my HELOC/credit card is $7,700 and will need to be reduced to $0 by April when my private student loan payments kick in. The plan is to reduce the balance to $7,500 at the beginning of January and then pay off another $4,000 at the beginning of February once I receive my paycheck and bonus at the end of January. That should reduce the balance to $3,500. My hope is that the balance will be paid off with my tax return and one more paycheck. Progress may seem slow but as most of you know, I only get paid once a month at the very end of the month.

I will need to replenish my E-Fund as soon as possible and I don’t have a good plan for how I am going to do it. I will come up with one soon.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Annual Bonus…

I got the figure for my annual bonus. It’s just shy of $6,000 so after 401k contributions and taxes, I will receive approximately $3,600. The bonus gets paid out with my monthly paycheck at the end of January. While I would like to replenish my emergency fund, I would also like to reduce my credit card balance as much as possible to eliminate it before April.

Right now, the balance is $7,700. I am going to pay off just $200 with my December paycheck that I received today and I am hoping to pay down $4,000 with my January paycheck and bonus which will reduce the balance to $3,500. If it weren’t for my December spending, I would have been able to put more than $200 towards the debt but it’s important to me that I pay off my December Damage in full (more on that later).

When it’s is all said and done, by the end of March, I will have ZERO crdit card debt and my EF will be empty. My plan is build back up my EF while I forbear my private loans for 6 months until October 2008. This will be easier when I get an attorney position with a higher salary. As of January, I will be moving back to an ALL cash/debit system again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas...

Wishing you and your family a very Happy Holiday!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Presents…

Well some of the family reneged on the agreement we made to forgo Christmas presents. With everything going on, they felt like the Christmas spirit was being zapped from them and that they would feel better if they could get everyone a little something to open for Christmas. This wouldn’t be such a big deal but I already engaged in some emotional shopping this month.

I decided to purchase $25 gift cards for everyone and I will be personally writing something special in a card thanking them for their love and support this year. It’s not much, but it’s something and everyone will be getting the same $25 Amex gift card so there is no favoritism. Well…my little cousin and my best friend’s daughter both got $50 gift certificates to StrideRite so they can get some new shoes which can be expensive for little kids.

I also lucked up and found some inexpensive gifts for my three neighbors. They are getting a box of mixed Christmas cookies ($4 for 2 boxes) and a 4-piece Christmas mug set ($6 for four mugs). I got them on sale at the store and they are actually pretty cute. It’s just supposed to be a little token and I think they will be pleased for just under $10. The store also had Christmas bags and tissue paper for $1. It was a good day.

For the most part, my emergency fund is gone, gone, gone. As in Bye Bye!!! I feel a little bad about this but at the same time, my parent’s gave me that $2,000 so that I could get something special for myself. So, I got myself a few items of clothing that I can also wear to work and I purchased some Christmas presents. I will work to build my emergency fund up again in the next few months. This will be a lot easier when/if I get the attorney position at the bank.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Too Much Going On…

Ever get the feeling like there is just too much going on? In just the last few days, I received word that my manager’s young son passed away suddenly, my friend and co-worker hauled himself on the first flight out of town because his mom needs immediate heart surgery and my friend’s cousin was just killed in a car accident.

I haven’t had any time off from work since August and we’ve been really busy. I am supposed to have Friday off but I am covering for my co-worker and I am not sure if I will have to scrap my vacation next week to cover him as well if he is unable to return. We had a 4-person analyst team but two weeks ago, one member left to work at a competitor bank and now my co-worker is tending to his mother. That leaves just two of us to handle an entire part of the bank and we are very overwhelmed.

On top of that, I am interviewing, my ex boyfriend of 16 years broke my heart and the thought of spending the holiday without him makes me tear up. I am just so overwhelmed with…everything.

As for my personal finances…let’s just say there is some emotional shopping that is on my credit card at the moment and some much needed purchases like shirts to go under my suits and new winter boots which I haven’t purchased in over 8 years. Right now, the balance is over $1,000 and that just makes me want to crawl into a hole.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Interviews Concluded…

Well my interviews are finally over. I had one more today which was actually very encouraging. Two of the advantages that I have are eight years of banking experience and I also know how the bank operates. My clear weakness is the lack of direct legal experience but unless you have specific banking knowledge, other candidates with legal experience will face other but similar challenges.

Actually, another advantage that I have is that I may come cheaper than outside candidates who already work for firms earning significantly higher salaries. I won’t know anything for at least six weeks. Legal will be bringing in candidates in January after the holidays for additional interviews.

At this point, I am definitely aiming and hoping for the junior position. It would mean a nice bump in salary. I am hoping at least a minimum of $90k. With that salary, I will be able to pay both principal and interest on my student loans, save and invest long-term and increase my retirement savings to 10%. In addition, I have a pension which will provide a little more retirement cushion.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Employee Share Purchase Plan…

I cancelled my contribution for my employer’s share purchase plan. Last year, I contributed the amount of my raise (2%) to the plan. Going forward in 2008, I am going to need all the extra money that I can get when I begin repaying my student loans.

On another note, my spending this month got out of control. I will post about that soon.

Monday, December 17, 2007


My interviews got rescheduled for today. I actually have another interview tomorrow and Wednesday. Since I am already employed in the same building and it’s the holiday season, they were able to spread it out. I have a weird feeling about the interviews. I got the impression that they were pleased with my work experience but not pleased that I wouldn’t be able to hit the ground running. I am not sure what they really expect. I just graduated from law school in May and I just got sworn in last month. While I won’t be able to head a project right away, I can certainly contribute. Plus, I don’t care who you are, if you aren’t already working in the organization, you aren’t going to hit the ground running. You have to get acclimated to the organization and how it works. While I already knew that I wasn’t qualified for the senior position, I am still hopeful that they will consider me for the junior position.

This is my last ditch effort to remain with the bank. If they do not offer me the position, I will begin applying heavily elsewhere.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


It looks like I may get an interview in the Legal Department within the next few weeks. With the holidays looming, scheduling may be difficult but I am hopeful that it will happen soon. I am ready to make my transition out of my current job and finally earn a better salary.

***Update. They called and I have an interview on Tuesday. =)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Automating Bills and Savings…

Currently, I pay my mortgage each month by logging in to the company’s website. I am thinking about automating my payments with the company’s Pay/12 program where they automatically deduct my payment and any additional principal I designate from my checking/savings account each month. So long as the payment date that I select falls within the first and the sixth day of the month, there is no fee for this service. Since I get paid once a month on the next to last day business day, this wouldn’t be a problem for me. Also, I am planning to remain with my company and practice law so my pay schedule won’t change.

I am trying to automate as much as possible. My 401k contributions of 5% are automatically deducted. I use my bank’s bill pay service to automatically pay my condo assessments, car insurance and electric bill. All of my AT&T services are charged to my credit card in addition to my home security system and I pay the balance off in full each month. Once my student loans enter into repayment, I will also allow them to automatically deduct my payments so that I can receive a .25% interest rate reduction.

What do you automate?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Charitable Giving…

As many of you know, I am in a lot of debt…over $200k in fact. Every once in a while, I get something in the mail from organizations such as St. Judes, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. I send them $10, $20 or whatever I can spare.

Recently I was introduced to World Vision and now I contribute $35 per month to help a child in need. I call him Mr. Wilson and he is a beautiful little boy in Africa. World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.

Please check out the website and decide for yourself if you would like to bring joy to a child in need.

World Vision

Potential Attorney Position…

I just wanted to give an update and let everyone know that I posted for two attorney positions in my place of work. One position is junior to the other but based on the job description provided, I am definitely qualified for the junior position. The more senior position asks for an experienced attorney with 8 years of banking knowledge and the junior position did not call for an experienced attorney but 4 years of banking knowledge. This is my 8th year with the bank so I sort of fall in between. I have been networking like crazy so I hope that I get an interview within the next few weeks and move into the legal department some time in January. Things are slow during the holidays.

Both positions are higher job grades so that certainly will mean a nice salary boost. In my posting, I asked for low six figures, recognizing that with my already low salary and move within the company, they may have come in way lower than would appeal to me for the long haul. If they come anywhere close to six figures for the lower position, I will be pleased because I know that there is a more senior position that I can eventually move into with just a little more experience. Also, at 30, I would be pretty young to have an in house position already so that means that I have a lot of growth potential not only with my company but also in the legal world which places great value on legal experience.


Thank You Gifts…

While my family isn’t engaging in gift giving this holiday season, I have a ton of thank you gifts to buy for people who have helped me out over the last few years with law school and also for my family who went in together for my Birthday Weekend. They can’t be simple tokens of my appreciation because these people have made a huge difference in my life and made it possible for me to be where I am now. I am going to have to put some thought into the gifts but I do want them to be special. No matter what, it is important to stop and say THANK YOU!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Birthday Weekend…

I had an awesome birthday! I was feeling a little down about not having a legal position yet and the demise of my relationship that when people asked about my birthday plans, I didn’t have an answer. I just wasn’t excited. Well…my sister and brother-in-law changed all of that.

My sister asked me to promise to give her my full cooperation and so I did…reluctantly. She said to be ready at 10 am on Saturday and to dress warm. Those of you who are familiar with Chicago are aware that the weather can be unpredictable. Saturday was no exception. It ended up snowing and raining and everything settled into a sheet of ice. So, my sister picked me up promptly at 10 am and we were off. I did pretty good…I made it halfway into the city before I asked her where we were going. Of course she wouldn’t tell me but she pulled out a red envelope which to my delight was what she called “Chitown Mail” like “Tyra Mail” on America’s Next Top Model. Too Cute!!! On the card was a clue to our destination that I could not guess for the life of me. She just laughed at me and told me to relax. The rest of the day unfolded with 4 more surprises, each accompanied with a card containing clues to each destination. I was so tickled. Nobody has every done something so special for me.

All in all, I left the house on Saturday and returned home after midnight. The day included lunch, a four hour trip to the spa, shopping, dinner where my parents and brother-in-law surprised me by showing up and hiding behind their menus, and a trip to a jazz club. For the most part, my sister wanted everything to be something I never did before and I had an absolute blast.

During our time on Saturday, I told my sister that my best friend forgot about my birthday and was actually scheduling my birthday on her crackberry (blackberry) while we were at lunch. Well, I ate my words when my sister told me to be dressed and ready to go on Sunday at noon. I was waiting in my condo foyer when who drives up…my best friend. Can you say, EAT MY WORDS!!! I was so delighted. She also wouldn’t tell me where we were going so I immediately knew she was in cahoots with my sister. We work about a block away from each other and often meet for lunch so when we started heading downtown on Sunday, I was thinking…We can’t be going downtown for lunch!!!! We made small talk in the car but I wanted to know so badly where we were going but I knew if I asked, I wouldn't get a peep out of her. So, when we got downtown and drove by the crazy Bears Fans tailgating at Soldier Field, my mind was racing trying to think of what we were going to do. When we turned onto Randolph Street and passed Macy’s (Marshall Fields) on State, I blurted out…ARE WE GOING TO SEE WICKED????? Then my best friend handed me my clue complete with a red envelope and my tickets to WICKED!!! I was sooo excited!!! I wanted to see it so bad but never really had anyone to go with or for that matter, the time…can you say BAR EXAM!!! Anyway, the play was awesome, so witty and funny and nothing like what I expected since I didn’t read the book.

Then my birthday ended in traditional fashion. A homemade dinner, surrounded by family and my favorite, CHEESECAKE!!!

I am 30 and I am going to love it!!!

*** Funny note. My sister is so cute but she has a terrible sense of direction. Therefore, I often had to help her navigate downtown. Oh but she is a smart cookie and a teacher too…she made sure she didn’t leave any identifying information on each of the Mapquest sheets. A smart cookie indeed and since everything was new to me, I didn’t have a clue where we were going. My brother-in-law did a lot of the planning with my sister. He is very outgoing which is refreshing. I have the best sister and brother-in-law!!!!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Credit Card Balance Reduced…

I paid down my credit card/heloc balance today by $900. The balance now stands at $7,700. I am still on my quest to pay it off by April 2008. My emergency fund is still in tact and I should have enough cash flow to get through the month. Additionally, the charges I put on my credit card due to lack of cash flow in November have also been paid in full.

I am not going to reach my goal of $30k in my 401k for the year but I am going to come close if the market would just cooperate. =) I get paid once more at the end of December.

On a great note....Yesterday was my grandmother's 85th Birthday!!!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

30th Birthday...

Today is my 30th Birthday!!!

I had the most amazing birthday weekend.

I will post about it soon. =)

Friday, November 30, 2007

November 2007 Financial Recap…

My net worth didn’t decline as much as I thought. The hit on my 401k definitely didn’t help things because in order for my net worth to improve, my contributions actually need to increase my asset base. This is because my 401k contributions are my only form on savings and my student loan interest is staggering. As you can see from the chart, a total of $1,089 in interest capitalized onto my student loan balance. Next year will really be the year for improvement.

Despite the market decline this month, my net worth remained relatively stable and only took a minor $302 drop. Not bad at all. By April 2008, I will have my credit card balance paid off which was really just my 20% mortgage from my home purchase. Once the credit card is paid off, I will officially have over $60,000 in equity in my home and I am very happy about that.

November credit check was good and clean. My credit scores are as follows:
Transunion: 750
Experian: 775
Equifax: 729

I want to send a special THANKS to all my readers for hanging in there with me. I know it can be mind numbing to come here and hear me say that my net worth declined again and again. When I started this PF blog, I knew that my net worth wouldn’t improve until I started paying on my student loans. I thought about waiting until then but the blog has actually helped me keep my spending in check which has consequently kept my net worth from dipping even further. Next year, I have a goal of increasing my net worth by at least $15,000.

This Month was a fantastic month for me personally. I finally got sworn in and I am finally an attorney licensed to practice law in Illinois. Despite the chart, I know I am on the right path. Now that I am a lawyer, I have significant income potential and a bright future ahead. Soon enough, I will be saying goodbye to my $55,000 salary and hello to six figures. Hopefully, with the same organization.

Petty Cash and Change…

I deposited petty cash and change into the bank along with the legal fees I earned last week at a closing. The total deposit amounted to ~ $1,170. I ran into a cash crunch this month and I had to use my credit card. I am going to use a portion of these funds to pay off the balance in full in December. Below is a breakdown of the deposit.

Every night, I remove all single dollar bills out of my wallet as a form of savings. I started doing this a couple of months ago and I accumulated $300 which is awesome and relatively painless. I also had over $100 in change that I also empty out of my wallet on a daily basis. I’ve been holding on to my graduation money so that was also included in the deposit. It didn’t make any sense to have the cash lying around when it should be in the bank earning interest.

Legal fees: $400
Change: $120
Graduation Money: $350
Singles: $300

Everyone is on the same page regarding Christmas so I should be able to pay for the gifts I need to buy with regular cash flow. The market decline this month took a toll on my 401 balance so we’ll see how that affects my overall net worth this month. The most maddening thing is that over $1,000 capitalized on my student loans again this month. I am looking forward to working out a payment plan so that my assets increase every month and my liabilities finally start to decrease.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Neighbor’s Condo Sold…

My neighbor finally sold her condo this month. I’ve been watching closely because she had a unit similar to my own with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. I was delighted to see that she received 100% of the asking price of $165,000 after 2 buyers fell through. It is rare for a 3 bedroom unit in my condo development to go on sale. For that matter, 2 bedroom units rarely go on sale also but you can find them in other parts of the suburban area.

Not only is my development affordable for a Chicago suburb but it is also well maintained. For the most part, it consists of older homeowners who have occupied their units for years. The woman who sold her unit this month was elderly and I purchased my condo in an estate sale after the elderly owner passed away. My unit offers stair free living which is a feature many older homeowners find attractive and I am hoping that one day I will find a good buyer for it when I am ready to sell.

I currently value my condo at $160k on my balance sheet.

No Desire to Christmas Shop…

I have absolutely no desire to go Christmas shopping. It’s weird but all I want to do is sit around, visit with family and watch the beautiful lights on my Christmas tree. I am so very relieved that my family is on the same page with me regarding gifts this year. We all decided that it was a very expensive year with my law school graduation, my sister’s wedding in Cancun and my mom’s retirement that we are just going to enjoy each other in the true spirit of Christmas. It feels so much better to not feel the pressure of finding money to buy gifts. All I want for the New Year is a $15,000 improvement in my net worth and of course…love.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Estate Planning…

I cancelled an appointment last week for my parents to meet with an estate planning attorney because my mom said she was too busy with the holidays and wasn’t sure about the cost factor. So I called the attorney and cancelled citing their concerns about legal fees. Well the attorney called me back today and my parents are well within their right to be concerned about the fee. The base rate was $4,500 for a couple, including tax planning. I am assuming that the $4,500 includes their wills, power of attorney’s, affidavit of trust, etc. I am sure that the attorney is very good at estate planning, etc. but my parent’s are not in a place right now to spend $4,500 on getting their affairs in order.

I am going to network and see if I can partner up with an estate planning attorney and draft all the requisite documents for my parents. I didn’t want to be involved at all because I am an interested party but the documents will be witnessed by disinterested parties and my parents’ have a relatively unsophisticated profile.

I was hoping that this could get taken care of quickly and be one less thing for my parents to have to worry about but I will see to it that things work out as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Decision on 401k…

I decided to continue my 401k contributions at this time. I contribute 5% which my employer matches. Instead of paying off my credit card balance in February, I will pay it off in March 2008. I will be in good shape so long as I get the balance paid off by April 2008. I don’t want to get out of the habit of saving for retirement. I am almost 30 and I have approximately $28k in my 401k and $16k vested in my pension for a total of $44k in retirement which isn’t that bad for a 30 year old. Sometimes my retirement savings is the only thing I feel good about when it comes to my finances.

Turning 30…

I turn 30-years old on Sunday. Sometimes I can’t believe it or bring myself to say the words. The last four years of my life are a blur. With working full-time and going to law school part-time, I didn’t have much of a life to say the least. I have this nagging feeling that I missed out on the last 4 years of my twenties which coincidentally were also the years where I accumulated massive amounts of student loan debt. I am also sort of newly single for the first time in my life. My boyfriend and I dated for over sixteen years (junior high) but since I finished school, we haven’t been able to reconnect as I had hoped. That being said, I guess I should look at the future as a fresh start in so many ways.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Should I Stop My 401k Contributions…

For the next two months, I am thinking about stopping my 401k contributions so that I can pay off my credit card balance sooner. Come March, I will resume my 5% contributions. By stopping my contributions, I can increase my cash flow and pay off the credit card balance in Full by March. At the end of February, I will receive my regular paycheck as well as my bonus which should be in the high $3k range. Coupled together with regular payments and depletion of my e-fund, I should be able to completely pay off my credit card.

I know what everyone might think, bad move depleting the e-fund but I will be able to replenish it within weeks with my tax return which should exceed $2k. Come April, my private loans enter repayment. If I do not find another position by that time, I will ask to forbear for a 6-month period.

So, what do you think?

Real Estate Closing...

So my outing on Wednesday was very informative. I learned a lot and would like to continue working with the attorney if/when possible. I don’t think he needs the help right this minute because he can handle the volume but in the coming months, he anticipates that his workload will improve significantly. I learned a lot and I am hoping to get the opportunity to go out to closings with him again. I still have a flex schedule which I am trying to keep. If so, I should be able to go along with him at least once a week every so often.

On a side note, I thought I was just going to be shadowing him but I actually got to participate. I got paid $400 for the day which was a complete but welcome surprise. I am going to put that money towards reducing my credit card debt.

It was an awesome day!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving...

Wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Legal Experience…

I am really excited. I am going to get the opportunity to attend three real estate closings tomorrow. How awesome is that! I am taking the day off from work on Wednesday so that means I will be at work on Friday. I think that’s a good thing because then it means I can’t be in the stores!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Automatic Millionaire by David Bach…

I am almost halfway through David Bach’s Automatic Millionaire. It’s an easy read and easily convinces you to sock away money for retirement. The charts and tables that show the effects of compound interest make you feel like an idiot for not doing something sooner.

So far, there is nothing about how to deal with debt coupled with investing for your future. I’ve been enrolled in my company’s 401k plan since 2002. For the most part, I have always contributed 5% which is the maximum amount that my employer will match. I know that I have a lot of student loan debt but I am thinking about upping my contributions just a little over the next 6 months to take advantage of the down market. Then, all of my student loans go into repayment and I may have to scale back. My hope is that I will get the attorney position in the bank and I will be able to contribute 10 percent which will result in a 15% overall contribution with the employer match. Over time, I would like to eventually save at least 20% of my gross income.

Potential Opportunity…

A friend of the family is involved in real estate and the entertainment industry. We reunited after many years about a month ago. My sister mentioned to him that I recently graduated from law school and that I’m looking for a job. On Friday, he put me in contact with his attorney who is looking to move away from practicing law. The attorney is willing to teach me everything I need to know about real estate closings. If and when all goes well, the attorney and my friend will eventually steer some business my way.

How awesome is my friend? He is dealing with the toughest loss of his entire life and yet he still took the time to think about someone else. He has such a big heart and I am very grateful. I am going to attend one, maybe two, real estate closings on Wednesday. Once I am up and running, this could definitely increase my cash flow over the long haul and help me pay off my student loans. No matter what, getting the legal experience and honing my skills in any area of the law is a plus.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I Want a New Couch…

I really want a new couch for my place but I can’t afford one. Right now, I am using my futon that my mom bought for me 8 years ago for my college apartment. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really nice futon…very sturdy, made of wood, and it has an expensive spring mattress. It’s just not the most comfortable to sit on for long periods of time because it is angled and it’s not convenient and ample enough for entertaining. It’s expensive to always go out. Sometimes I just want to invite people over but I feel like I don’t have enough sitting space.

My 30th birthday is quickly approaching and I would like to host my birthday party but I am a tad bit embarrassed about how minimal everything is in my place. My best friend offered to allow me to have my party at her home but I don’t want to impose. Of course, I can’t just want any couch. Like Nate Berkus says, a couch is a long-term investment and you should really search and find the right one for you. Well, I have and I want the Manhattan Leather Couch from Pottery Barn that would cost me my arm, leg and first born child. My goodness everything is so expensive. Once I get my law position, I will consider the couch purchase. Until then, my futon will have to do.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

November 2007 Credit Report/Scores…

While I was visiting my parents on Sunday, my sister called the house and said she was reviewing her credit report and noticed a new account on there with an outstanding balance that she didn’t open. I am happy that my sister is staying on top of her finances and reviewing her credit report regularly.

This phone call prompted me to check on my credit report and scores. I was putting it off until December or next year but I had this nagging feeling so I just pulled it just in case. I am happy to say that everything looks good, all accounts have been handled in a satisfactory manner and my credit scores have improved.


Transunion: 749
Experian: 775
Equifax: 729

Room for improvement:

Transunion and Experian:
Installment account balances are too high in comparison with my credit limits.
Too many inquiries on my credit report.

Not enough mortgage accounts on my credit report. (I have a first mortgage and second mortgage and it is reported)

Not enough revolving debt experience. (I have 8 open credit cards)
Balances on my bankcard accounts are too high in comparison with my credit limits.
Too many personal finance accounts on my credit report. (I have a lot of student loans)

*** Citibank and Citi/Universal are both shown as closed by the credit grantor/closed due to inactivty. My AMEX rewards card is also shown as closed.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sharing Financial Information…

For some people, finances can be a very personal subject. Until recently, my mother has been very secretive about her finances, particularly the amount of debt my parents have. I think in some way, she is embarrassed about how much debt they have and I estimate that it is probably in the $25M range in addition to car loans. My father is probably more in the dark than I am. He is very hands off to say the least.

It wasn’t until my mother was approaching retirement and had questions, that she began to open up. I know how much they have in savings, how much income they generate through pension plans, and I know about their insurance policies. I also know where everything is should something happen to my parents. Since I am the attorney in the family and my sister is a teacher, I will more than likely handle a lot of issues going forward. Thankfully, my sister and I have a very good relationship, she trusts me and she is also fully aware and informed about my parents’ affairs. Everything that is shared with me is shared with her.

Unfortunately, the last few weeks have been tough for my parents. Within 10 days, they attended three funerals and my mother attended another funeral on Saturday. All of this has weighed heavily on my mom and she and my dad would like to make sure their affairs are in order should something happen to them. My sister and I are on their bank accounts and insurance policies as beneficiaries but the main thing they are concerned about is their home. I know that their insurance policies are set up to pay off the mortgage on the house first and then whatever is left goes to the surviving spouse or me and my sister.

I called today to make an appointment for my parents to see an attorney so they can get their affairs in order. As you know, life can throw you a curveball at any moment and tomorrow is not promised. I know my parents were hoping that I would be able to take care of setting everything up but to tell you the truth, I know very little about Estates & Trusts although I know a lot more than a simple layperson. What I am excited about is that my parents are completely open to me being present at the meeting so I will be able to learn through this process and gain some additional legal skills. Secondly, it will also allow me the benefit of finding out a little more about my parents’ finances.

I am an open book when it comes to my finances. I talk to my mother all the time about how much debt I have, how much I make, and what my plans are. We are actually a very close family so it’s good that I am able to share this information. It also makes it easier for them to share with me.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Law Ceremony…

Today I officially became a lawyer. I have my license in hand and I am officially armed with the tools to make a difference. I am so excited. The Admittance Ceremony was short and sweet. It was nice to be surrounded by other students who worked very hard and all of the proud family and friends. My mom, dad and grandmother sat by my side while I stood and swore to uphold the Constitution. It was a feeling that I will never forget.

As a side note, my grandmother, bless her heart, surprised me today with yet another graduation gift. She gave me $150. I tried to respectfully give it back but she said “No, this is what I am going to do. I am so very proud of you and you deserve it.” Trying to tell an independent 84-year old woman what to do is very hard. So, she gave me $150 which I immediately put into my petty cash fund. She will celebrate her 85th birthday in just 3 short weeks so I am going to use some of the funds to get her a nice birthday present since we agreed not to do gifts for Christmas.

Today was a totally amazing day! I finally feel free as a bird!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Big Day Tomorrow…

Tomorrow is a big day for me. I finally get sworn in and officially become an attorney. My license will actually be in my hands. To say that I am excited is an understatement. I am overjoyed and relieved to reach this milestone. I received three tickets for guests to attend the ceremony and my mother, father and grandmother will all be in attendance. The decision was pretty easy. These are the people who have guided my way and provided me with the opportunities that put me right where I am today.

My 84-year old grandmother could never have dreamed of accomplishing my goal of becoming an attorney. The opportunities simply weren’t available. Being an African American woman has always shaped who I am and guided me in important life decisions. I recall having a conversation with my mother when I was in high school. She asked me what I wanted to do with my life and if I had any idea where I wanted to attend college. After telling her that I had no idea, she paused and told me something that I will always remember and take with me for the rest of my life. She said, “When I was growing up we basically had two choices, to be a teacher or a secretary. You have more opportunities than we did. Always make sure you have options.” My mother was a teacher and the very first person in our family to graduate from college.

I have a responsibility to make something of myself, to give back and to do better. I also have a responsibility to help others and to do my party to prepare the next generation to do even better.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dream Job…

I am going to put it out there. My dream job right out of law school would be to join the Bank’s legal department as an attorney and my dream starting salary would be $90,000. Then, I will get to remain with an organization that I like working for, I would get the opportunity to work on a vast number of issues and I would finally get the loads of experience that I am so thirsty for.

Now some people would say that $90,000 is a low salary for an attorney in Chicago but not to me. For one, everyone who is already in the working world knows that it is hard to make a huge salary jump within the same organization. Usually, you need to jump ship to another organization and come back to make the salary that you desire. My current base salary with bonus is $60k. Plus there are other incentives that bring my total compensation package to ~ $75,830. Therefore, a $30,000 increase in my base salary is within reason with my new law degree, the tenure I have with the company (8 years) and my current and future potential. With a base salary of $90,000 and the inclusion of all the extra incentives, my total compensation package would total approximately $120,255.

Other incentives include:
Retirement – 5% match
Employee Share purchase plan
Vacation – 22 days
Bank Holidays – 10 federal holidays

Not included is the pension plan that the bank also offers. Currently, I have over $16,000 vested in the pension plan. So in the end, while I may not go and work for a mid/large firm making between $125-160k in my first year, I will still have a good compensation plan, probably have better working hours and I will be with an organization that I like working for. I really like the people here at the bank and I have a good reputation and good relationships with the people here. The only downside to staying is the lower salary but there is a lot more upside to staying with the bank.

So there you have it, I am putting it out there and claiming it. I am heavily exploring opportunities right now. It is my goal to exhaust all of my connections here before I have to make an exit. No matter what, I have six months before I really feel the financial strain. That should be plenty of time for me to make my transition into the legal department if it’s meant to be.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Christmas Spending/Fund…

Since my family AND boyfriend are amenable to a giftless Christmas, I think that I may be able to pay for the remaining presents with my paycheck. I have one more paycheck before the student loans officially start to kick-in. This means I have $400 free to buy gifts for my little cousins, co-workers, neighbors, etc.

If I am able to do this, that means that I can take the $500 I have saved for Christmas and add that to my regular $300 payment and put $800 towards my credit card debt in December. This would bring the balance down to $7,800 or 69.7% to goal. I plan to put my entire bonus which was $3,400 after taxes last year towards the balance at the beginning of February and my tax return which should be between $2,500 and $3,000. So, I am well on my way to paying off my credit card balance by April 2008.

Excellent! I hope this works out.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Another Credit Card Cancelled…

Citibank closed my Diamond Preferred Card. The letter said:

In recent review of your account, we noticed that it has been a long period of time since you last used your Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards credit card. To help better manage you credit accounts, we have closed your account.
Yeah right. Tell the truth…The cost of capital is too high to have open revolving credit to someone who doesn’t use it. So when I pay off my final credit card bill in April, will all of my credit card companies follow suit and cancel my credit cards? All I can say is we’ll see because credit card debt is the Devil and I have no plans to accumulate anymore in the future.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Private Loan Consolidation…

I am thinking about private loan consolidation. My private loans are all variable and the highest interest rate is 9.37%. I may be able to qualify for a lower fixed rate and extend my repayment term from 20 years to 30 years. It’s worth exploring.

Citibank looks like they have the most attractive offer right now. The rate on the loan will of course depend on my FICO score and I haven’t pulled my credit report in almost a year. I think that I am going to pull it through and just pay the extra fee to get my scores. Before, all of my scores were over 700 but not over 760. All my credit commitments have been handled as agreed and with paying down the balance on my credit card, my balance is now only 45% of the credit limit. That should help my credit score.

I am not sure how my credit score will get impacted by cancelling my AMEX rewards card but it did not have a set limit so I don’t think it will harm me too much. I am also unsure how AT&T Universal/Citibank cancelling my card will affect my score. I hope that it doesn’t harm it because it’s not like I didn’t pay on time. I just didn’t use the card for 4 years. We’ll see.

I am going to wait until later this month or December to check my credit report/score just to ensure that the cancellations are reflected and to allow time for my paydown on my credit card to be accurately reflected.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 2007 Financial Recap…

My net worth declined this month primarily due to 1) receiving $700 less in income due to 4 unpaid working days, 2) $1,100 in interest expense that capitalized on my student loans, 3) $220 for a new car tire, and 4) $250 for a medical bill.

I still spent too much money eating out but I am going to try to focus on bringing my lunch more in November. This task shouldn’t be too hard considering the fact that it’s getting very cold in Chicago and I don’t want to go outside.

I used $7,000 in savings and $300 in income to pay down my credit card to $8,800 from $16,100. Over the next few months, I am going to try to reduce this balance as much as possible and pay it off with my bonus and tax return. I am hoping to have it paid off by 4/2008.

Thankfully I received $2,000 from my parents as a graduation gift. Otherwise, my net worth would have declined significantly. The $2,000 remains in an emergency fund.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Christmas Fund…

My Christmas Fund is complete. I received an unexpected $50 graduation gift in Monday that will bring the grand total to $500. I also noticed that my piggy bank is almost full so I need to get the change counted to see how much I have. Nevertheless, one more goal achieved which is a good feeling especially since October was a tough month with over $1,000 in student loan interest capitalizing. I can’t seem to keep up.

Credit Cards Cancelled…

I cancelled my American Express rewards card last week. I didn’t want to pay a $100 annual fee for a card that I didn’t even use. Plus, I didn’t have an extra $100 just to give away for no reason. I still have my American Express Blue card. The only thing about the Blue card is that it doesn’t offer any good balance transfer offers and the APR isn’t that attractive either.

Citibank/AT&T Universal cancelled my credit card because I didn’t use it. This is the second time this has happened to me. I opened the letter last night and I just kind of smiled. I wasn’t upset at all. It was just a crappy card that offered me very little so in the end, I guess they did me a favor. It wasn’t closed because it wasn’t handled appropriately which is great. I just haven’t used it in 4 years. Oh well! One more credit card bites the dust.

My life just got a little simpler.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bad News on Paycheck…

My paycheck is going to be even lower by $700. I will get $2,400 at the end of the month versus the $2,800 that I estimated and my regular $3,100. The lower paycheck is due to taking 4 days unpaid to attend my sister’s wedding this summer. I took all of my vacation days to prepare for the bar exam and didn’t have any left to travel to Cancun.

This is exactly why I was hesitant about making any strong financial moves because crap always seems to happen. So I am not going to bring in enough money to pay the bills and will have to use the remaining $1,000 in my unemployment fund to supplement my income. Major bummer!

Other expenses that I have been incurring lately relate to networking and my job search. Tonight I am going to a lawyer mentoring dinner which is going to cost me $25 in addition to parking expenses.


$2,400 – income

(875) – mortgage
(225) – assessments
(340) – SBC and home security (cell, cable, internet, phone, brinks)
(140) – electric bill (need to call and see why it’s so high)
(100) – car insurance
(220) – commuting
(200) – personal care (hair)
(350) – credit card min
(100) – groceries

$(150) – shortfall

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Smaller Paycheck…

Getting paid once a month can be a challenge especially when you are swamped with debt. In August, I took 4 days unpaid to attend my sister’s wedding and I am not sure when I am going to get hit with a lower paycheck. I entered the days into the computerized system at work but it has yet to impact my paycheck. After taxes, 401k, insurance, etc., my take home pay totals approximately $3,100. Assuming that I bring in $2,800 this month, here is how I will handle my cash flow.

$2,800 – income

(875) – mortgage
(225) – assessments
(340) – SBC/Security (cell, cable, internet, phone, brinks)
(140) – electric bill (need to call and see why it’s so high)
(100) – car insurance
(220) – commuting
(200) – personal care (hair)
(350) – credit card min
(100) – groceries

$ 250 – remaining

Living single is hard and my mortgage outside of Chicago for a three bedroom condo is cheap compared to what it would cost to live in the City. Even rental prices can be what I currently pay so I am careful to do everything that I can to remain where I am for the foreseeable future. With the remaining $250, I am going to try my best to spend as little as possible. Anything remaining at the end of the month will go towards debt repayment. If my paycheck is the full $3,100, then I will put an extra $200-$300 towards my credit card debt.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Credit Card Payment…

I have been hesitant about making any strong financial moves without knowing whether I will be switching jobs in the near future. For the most part, all I have done is plan when I should take some action. On Friday, I put $7,000 of my $9,000 in savings towards my credit card bill, retaining $1,000 for irregular expenses and $1,000 for my own sanity. I have a $2,000 emergency fund thanks to my parent’s graduation gift.

Today I have to pay $200 for a new tire, wheel balance, etc. and also pay my last $240 medical bill. I didn’t have any money in my checking account so I put the $1,000 there to pay for the irregular expenses. The other $1,000 is still in my WaMu savings account. I also have a big load of cleaning that I need to pay for which includes alterations. Last year, I purchased a few suits and I just got them altered for interviews I hope to be going on in the next few months.

Here are my balances:
Credit card: $15,800 - $7,000 = $8,800
Emergency Fund: $2,000
Savings $1,000
Checking: $1,000 - $240 (medical bill) - $200 (new tire) - $100 (cleaning) = $460

Disclosure: I feel a little guilty about using my parent’s gift as my emergency fund. I know they wanted me to do something special or get something special for myself with the money so I am hoping that I will not have to use it for any type of an emergency. However, the something special right now is some security knowing that I am not flat broke.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Snowball Calculator…

I found a pretty good snowball calculator yesterday for those that are interested. It was pretty simple to enter in the information and get started and it is a major improvement over the spreadsheet I’ve been using. The spreadsheet works with excel and there are two versions: 10 creditors and 20 creditors. You can find it at the link below.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

How I Stay Organized…

The main way that I stay organized begins with three important things: 1) a file cabinet, 2) a shredder and 3) financial software/spreadsheets.

I have a 4 drawer file cabinet.

  • Drawer 1: A folder for each accounts that I receive statements for monthly/quarterly and a seperate folder for receipts and gift certificates for easy access
  • Drawer 2: Dormant accounts that I rarely use, important receipts and gift certificates – each has separate folder
  • Drawer 3: Law school and student loan documents
  • Drawer 4: Mortgage, employment and insurance documents – very important documents


  • Shred, shred, shred – you do not want your information stolen
  • Remember: with catalogs, the inside order form has your address as well
  • Sort through mail right away
  • Throw out junk mail immediately

    Financial Software

  • I access Yodlee every morning and get a glimpse of my financial status and for bill alerts
  • Pocket quicken saves me time with my finances – I enter on the fly expenses during the day
  • I set up my desktop quicken for automatic updates. Then I sink it with my pocket quicken in the evening or every other day.


    When you first start to get organized, it may seem like a daunting task but it doesn’t have to be. By setting up your folders first, organizing will be a lot simpler. Buy some hanging folders and use the labels that come with them to mark each account/lender/bill payee.

    When you go through all of your paperwork, put the oldest account statement towards the back and that way they will all be in order with your most recent in front and easy to access.

    Bankrate has an article entitled What Financial Records to Keep, How Long to Keep Them. Check it out to see how long you should keep certain records.

    I had a problem once with AT&T. They had a system conversion during one of their mergers and I received duplicate bills. I called and was told to disregard the duplicate bill. Somehow, the bill got transferred to collection but luckily I had the records to prove that I paid the specific bill in question and that I paid on a monthly basis and timely. They never bothered me again but I was very thankful that I had the information handy.
                      • Wednesday, October 17, 2007

                        I Got Tagged…

                        Debt Hater tagged me to tell everyone 7 little known things about myself.

                        1. My boyfriend and I have been together since junior high. It is comical relief for some people that we haven’t tied the knot yet but all in perfect time. 16 years and counting…

                        2. My favorite color is Purple. Plus, I am a Northwestern graduate. Go Cats!

                        3. I have a thing about socks. OCD tendencies but if a drop of water gets on my socks, I have to change them and under no circumstances can I sleep without socks.

                        4. I have birthmarks on almost every limb on my body. It’s true. I have birthmarks on my face, arms, legs, fingers and my back. It’s crazy. My grandfather’s entire back was covered with a birthmark. Mine are actually pretty but they’re smaller and not so overwhelming.

                        5. I talk in my sleep. At lease the conversations are one-sided so I’ve been told.

                        6. I am scared to practice law. I mean, one day, millions of dollars will be riding on my skills and people are going to trust me with their lives. That is a huge responsibility that I don’t take lightly.

                        7. I play the lottery…Often. You do crazy things when you are desperate.

                        Tuesday, October 16, 2007

                        Irregular expenses…

                        I received my final medical bill yesterday for a surgery that I had in 2005. My doctor’s office neglected to bill my insurance carrier who is now refusing to pay the bill. So, that’s $240 that will have to be paid out of my emergency fund.

                        In addition, I need a new tire for my car which will run me another $200. Over the weekend, my Dad noticed a bubble on the side of my tire. This time last year, I replaced all 4 tires to the tune of almost $800 so I am not pleased with having to replace another so soon. The woman at the repair center said that the bubble is the result of impact. I am going to call the service place later to make sure that it’s not covered under warranty.

                        So, more money goes down the drain and out of my savings account in a matter of a week. I decided on $2,000 for an emergency fund versus $1,000 because since I loved into my condo, the irregular expenses such as repairs, etc. have ranged from small amounts to as large as $800. With very little extra money to rebuild the emergency fund, I need a buffer in case another $800 repair comes along.

                        Significant expenses in the last 4 years (estimates):

                        $600 – new water heater
                        $750 – small fire in the electrical/circuit box
                        $800 – new tires
                        $800 – car repair

                        Monday, October 15, 2007

                        Changed Some Goals…

                        I changed some goals after reading About Tree Fiddy's blog.

                        Emergency Fund:

                        $2k emergency fund for repairs, minor emergencies, etc. – Funded

                        Unemployment Fund

                        $15k goal for 3 months of expenses

                        Will be slow going because I am in debt repayment mode.

                        Credit Card:

                        Here is the plan. I will be using the remaining $9k that I have in savings in October and November to reduce the balance to under $6k.

                        Beginning Balance: $15,800
                        October: - $4,000 ($11,800)
                        November: - $5,500 ($6,300)
                        December: - $500 ($5,800)
                        January: - $300 ($5,500)
                        February: - $3,300 ($2,200)
                        March: - $2,200 ($0)

                        Student Loans:

                        1/2008: $150
                        4/2008: 870
                        6/2008: $330

                        Total $1,350 (Interest Only)

                        Thursday, October 11, 2007

                        My Current Budget…

                        Here is my current budget. It will change very soon with my student loans going into repayment.

                        I need to change my tax withholdings next year. In the past, I have received on average about $3,000 for my tax refund. With paying about $16k in student loan interest annually, I should be able to claim the maximum deduction.

                        Another area where I can increase my cash flow is to cut my cable package and also my internet on my cell phone. I am hesitant to do the latter because depending on what legal work I pick up in the next few months, I may need my mobile internet service on my pocket pc. You never know. It’s kind of crazy to think that I won’t even be able to have cable. I feel like I need something if I am not going to be able to go out for dinner, meet up for drinks, etc. Can’t I at least have some entertainment in my own home other than reading a book which I already do daily?

                        My commuting costs have decreased significantly from ~ $500 per month to $220-$250. Now that school is over, I am able to take the train and I don’t drive nearly as much which also saves on gas. I have to fill up only twice a month as opposed to every week.

                        Irregular expenses are anything like repairs, birthdays, water bill, and anything else that does not recur monthly. Unfortunately, irregular expenses have totaled way more than $70 on average. The quarterly water bill alone is usually in the $100 range and next month I have to renew my license plate sticker which is another $100. This is generally the category that does the most damage.

                        I am still contributing 2% to the employee stock purchase plan. I will stop that contribution when 1) I leave my current position or 2) when my student loans enter repayment.

                        I am very dedicated to contributing at least the minimum amount to my 401k to receive the employer match. Otherwise, I am giving away free money which I simply cannot afford to do.

                        Until my student loans enter repayment, I will pay an additional $200 per month on my credit card and once I receive my bonus and tax return, I will be using the bulk of my savings account to pay off the remaining balance which should $14,000. That will leave me about $3,000 in an emergency fund which I really wanted to be $5,000 at a minimum.

                        Budgeting for the Next Few Months…

                        I came up with a budget for the next few months. My student loans from law school will enter repayment at different stages.

                        • 1/2008 – $150 per month
                        • 4/2008 – $870 per month
                        • 6/2008 – $330 per month

                        Total: $1,350 per month (interest only)

                        I came to five realizations:

                        • I have to pay off my credit card balance – the monthly payment is too high
                        • I have to change my withholdings – tax return is too high and I need more monthly income
                        • I have to get a part-time job if I don’t land a law position within the next 6 months.
                        • I may also have to suspend my 401k contributions to pay the minimum on my student loans.
                        • I may be able to reduce expenses a little further to keep my 401k contributions

                        While I fully believe that I will be working at a firm very soon, I also believe in being prepared as much as possible for life’s curve balls. When looking at the bright side of things, what I am most happy about is that I am in a position to not only pay off my credit card debt but I will also be able to pay the interest on my student loans so that my net worth will continue to improve a little. Lastly, depending on my possible yearly salary increase, the part-time job and/or income earned from real estate closings, I may be able to keep my 401k contributions which would make me very happy. Then my net worth will really improve.

                        On a side note, based on my income, I may also be able to forbear my federal student loan payments a little longer.

                        Tuesday, October 09, 2007

                        Graduation Gift Update…

                        My mom and dad gave me a beautiful card along with their $2,000 graduation gift yesterday. I deposited it today into my account and will immediately transfer $1,500 to my savings account to bring it back to $11k. I don’t have any cash in my checking accounts so I am going to keep the remaining $500 there but I am still keeping a watchful eye on spending.

                        As for Christmas, I have $416 saved in petty cash: $200 from graduation gifts and $216 from singles. At the end of the day, I take out any remaining $1 bills from my wallet and save them as petty cash. The account has grown over the past few months and it is a rather painless way to try to save some money. This petty cash fund is earmarked for Christmas spending. I have a $500 budget for Christmas so there is only a slight shortfall.

                        I am in the process of applying for law positions. It seems like the majority of postings are for lateral attorneys with over 2 years of experience but I am not giving up hope or the search. I also joined a number of bar organizations which are going to provide the opportunity to network.

                        Monday, October 08, 2007

                        Frustration Looms…

                        I am so frustrated with everything right now with work, my finances and finding a job.

                        As for work, I love my co-workers but the work has become so mind numbing that I just want to scream. And the micro managing has truly taken its toll. For the last year, we are now required to track every hour we spend on a deal like we’re lawyers billing hours (NOT). Even down to lunch. Ridiculous! It seems like I spend more time filling out stupid tracking sheets than I do working. Plus, the tracking is duplicated on multiple occasions which frustrates me even more. On top of that, my team leader told me not to make all my hours come out to 40 because the “managers that be” have a problem with that. I guess only working a regular workweek is not enough that I have to work more when my co-workers who do the same job as I do work the same hours and make $10-30k more than I do. Go figure. To tell you the truth, I work more than 40 hours but I just hate filling out the darn sheets that I just make it work out to 40 so I don’t have to think about it any more. Whatever!

                        My finances are driving me mad. With everything in limbo, it’s hard to set any concrete and realistic goals. I don’t know where I’ll be in the next month let alone the next year. I could be making more money, the same money or heck, even less money. So, it’s just blowing my mind right now because I am tired of feeling strapped and well…Broke! Sure I got myself into this position but I worked my butt of over the last 4 years to get myself out of this position.

                        Finding a job…where do I begin. Apparently some people ( person) speculate that I don’t have the right pedigree because law firms haven’t hired me yet and others seem to be of the opinion that I am not committed enough because I didn’t quit my job while I was in law school to gain legal experience. Well, that is all well and good to be on the outside looking in, speculating and making assumptions but it simply is not the case.

                        I was on track to finish law school in 4.5 years as opposed to the standard 4 years for part-time students primarily because I was working over 40 hours and attending class 4 nights a week so I needed to spread it out a little. I had hoped that I would be able to apply for summer associate positions between my 4th and 5th year of school but a lot got in the way of my plans.

                        For one, I got sick during the spring semester of my second year of law school and needed to have surgery during the summer. Now with my employer I had good insurance, much better than the insurance that the school had to offer. With getting sick, I also needed my insurance even more. Sure I could have used cobra but it would have run out eventually. There was no guarantee that I would have a job, just a hope like everyone else that the law firms would grant you an offer. At least I have a job with good benefits now and if I ever got sick again, I would be able to seek good treatment.

                        Second, following the surgery during the summer, I had additional treatment during the fall semester which made me even more stressed out to the point of exhaustion and where my blood pressure was high for the first time in my life. I was worn out to the hilt. So I petitioned the dean of the school to allow me to take more hours during the semester so I could finish in 4 years. I felt like the sooner I was done with law school the better. My health and relationships were suffering.

                        Pedigree…well I believe I am of the best pedigree to succeed. You are talking about a woman who worked her butt off at work and in school. I graduated with almost a 3.2 GPA working full time where there are people who went full time that couldn’t even pull that off. To top it off, I passed the bar exam the first time with only 3 weeks away from work to study. I am way smart people and I am going to show all the haters out there one day what they passed up on. They are going to wish I was on their side when I achieve the best results consistently for my clients. Just you watch.

                        Pedigree my foot…you wish you had my brains, style, and skills. I just wish I had your job! LOL

                        *** Thanks for listening to my rant. =)

                        Friday, October 05, 2007

                        2007 Financial Goals…

                        I know how important it is to set realistic goals or as Single Ma would put it, "S.M.A.R.T." goals. Check out her post here on annual goals.

                        S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

                        S - specific

                        M - measurable

                        A - achievable

                        R - realistic

                        T - time based

                        I realized today that I didn't set any 2007 goals. When the year began, I knew it would be a tough one with me finishing school, preparing for the bar and looking for a job. I felt like and still feel like my life is in limbo and that things can change any minute for the better. I could get a new job next week that could keep my income the same, double my income or even triple my income. It's just a matter of opportunity.

                        In the back of my mind, I think that I knew I wanted to reach $30,000 in my 401k by the end of the year, establish a $15,000 emergency fund (3 months of expenses) and that I wanted to be below -$90k for my net worth.

                        I am on course to be below -$90k thanks to my parent's graduation gift, with $28.5k in my 401k but only 2 paychecks remaining for the year, I will come really close to the $30k goal but I will need some help from the market. As for my emergency fund, I fell short. I will only have $12k. Some might think that my emergency fund goal is too high but when you add in my upcoming $1,650/per month student loan payments into the mix, my monthly committed expenses grow by leaps and bounds. While I know during times of unemployment, I can probably put my loans into forbearance, I also know that it takes a little processing time and I want to be prepared for a hostile lender situation if need be.

                        Thursday, October 04, 2007

                        Christmas Update…

                        I just got a comment from a reader telling me that it was crazy to spend $1,000 on Christmas when I am in so much debt. I just smiled/half laughed thinking…Get out of my head! It’s funny sometimes when you feel like someone else is reading your thoughts. Needless to say, I feel the same way about my debt and about Christmas. I agree wholeheartedly. There is no rhyme or reason for me to be spending that kind of money when I have so much debt.

                        On Monday while my family was gathered for my cousin’s birthday, we discussed Christmas. Everyone is on the same page that this is the year that we need to be more practical. We decided to just all come together for a nice family meal without the pressure and financial strain of gift giving. The only gifts we are going to buy are for my 5-year old cousin who is really the only child in the family. That would come to about $50 for me.

                        I still haven’t talked with my boyfriend about Christmas but I am sure that he will be on the same page as well. So, my goal right now is to spend no more than $500 on Christmas and to cut costs whenever possible to reduce that figure even further.

                        Wednesday, October 03, 2007

                        Debt Free in 7 Years…

                        It is my goal to be debt free in 7 years by the age of 37. That means NO student loans and NO credit card debt. Mortgage debt is fine. Once my student loans are paid off, I will accelerate payments on my mortgage but it currently has a good 5.65% fixed rate for 30 years.

                        As it stands, I have $16,100 in credit card debt. The credit card debt resulted from a refinance of my HELOC at Prime + 2.5% variable (currently 10.25%) to my credit card at 3.99% fixed for the life of the balance. The interest rate on my HELOC was high because I did 100% financing. I gave up the interest expense write off on my taxes in lieu of actually having a chance at paying it off. I currently pay ~ $350 per month on my credit card with $300 going to principal. I only need to make monthly payments of $300 to pay it off within 5 years. Therefore, I am well on target to be debt free in 7 years.

                        My student loans are another story. I have a total of 14 student loans totaling $207k. I am prepared to pay off 2 of the smallest with a combined balance of $8k thereby reducing the balance to $199k. In 3/2008, I will be prepared to pay off an additional $5-6k with my bonus and tax return, thereby reducing the balance even further to $194k. To be honest, if I could at least pay off the $148k in non consolidated debt by age 35, I would be a happy camper. I have federal consolidated loans totaling approximately $59k at 3.5% over 30 years. The payment each month is $274 which is minimal. So, if I can knock off the $148k in higher interest student loans, I would be in good shape. I have a mountain to climb but I am ready for the challenge!

                        Despite my efforts to reduce debt, I am still planning to save for retirement. I will continue to contribute 5% to my employer’s 401(k) plan which they match 100%. For 2008, I will be changing my withholdings so that I don’t get such a large tax return. Instead, the extra money per month will go towards debt repayment. Lastly, I certainly don’t plan to remain in my current position but rather, I DO plan to practice law. So, that will presumably mean a higher salary in the near future and thus, more income for debt repayment.

                        With a salary of $90k, I will be able to pay off my loans in 7 years. With a higher salary, I can accelerate payoff. It is certainly my goal to payoff my debt in less than 7 years but right now, I am trying to be realistic. Just stay tuned and watch my progress!!

                        Tuesday, October 02, 2007

                        Graduation Gift…

                        My mom informed me over the weekend that she and my dad are giving me $2,000 as a graduation gift. They wanted to get me something special but I couldn’t think of anything that I wanted real bad other than a living room set. That is something that I will purchase myself down the line because I know it is going to cost a pretty penny and I didn’t want them to break the bank just to make me happy. My futon in the living room will just have to do for now.

                        I am very grateful but surprised at the amount of the gift. I knew they wanted to do something but I also knew that my mom recently retired from teaching in May and my dad retired last year. Plus, my sister got married this year. Now that they are on a fixed income, big spending is not allowed.

                        My mom is the first to graduate from college in our family. She was a teacher and my dad was a truck driver for over 30 years. They don’t have a lot by the way of liquid assets and I won’t be inheriting a large portfolio. But what they have given me my entire life is so much love, support and encouragement. They are my best friends and the best parents a girl could be blessed with. Some kids can’t wait to grow up and leave the nest but I still call and talk to my parents every day and visit several times a week. There is nothing like family. One of best by products of going to law school is that I value my family a lot more. I could not have made it through the last 4 years without them and without them, all the money and the degrees in the world wouldn’t mean anything.

                        Thanks Mom & Dad! You are going to bless me with my new $2k emergency fund. =)

                        Monday, October 01, 2007

                        I Passed the Bar Exam…

                        OMG…I passed the IL Bar Exam!!! I passed the exam the first time with just 3 weeks to completely devote to studying. I am finally a lawyer!!!

                        The bar exam results were posted this morning on the website. I forgot the paper at home with my exam number on it so my mom went over to my place to get it for me. I told her that the number that I remember was on the website but I just want to match the numbers to be sure. I told her that I could wait until I got home but well…she couldn’t. (LOL) She and my dad went over to my place and got the paper right where I told them it would be and she called me with the number. I immediately looked on the website and saw my exam number right there. I PASSED!!!

                        My mom was so excited. As the website was coming up, she kept repeating my exam number over and over. I was smiling and half laughing at her nervousness. I told her my number was there and that I passed and she just screamed with happiness. My dad got on the phone and he just started crying he was so happy and proud of me. It feels good to make them proud. He said, “You’re the best. Someone has to be a princess.” Can you tell I am Daddy’s little girl?

                        It’s been such an amazing year for my family. My mother retired after teaching for 37 years, I graduated from law school, my sister got married, I passed the bar, and my grandmother is still healthy and happy at age 84. I just feel enormously blessed and charged for the future!

                        Chitown, Esq. =)

                        Friday, September 28, 2007

                        WaMu Online Savings Account…

                        With falling interest rates and Emigrant, ING, and HSBC lowering their savings rate, I checked on my rate with WaMu. I am happy to report that my online savings account with WaMu is still holding steady at 5% APY. Therefore, my money is staying put.

                        If the interest rate falls, then I will have to consider depleting my savings for sure to pay down debt since I am not earning much on the balance and the interest rates on my student loans are still much higher.

                        Need Some Friends…

                        Hi everyone! I need some friends. I am really going to try to reduce my debt and I could use some friends along the way to support and encourage me. So, if you read my blog or come across it, leave a comment and let me know you’re there AND tell a friend about me to see if they would be interested in reading too.

                        Always feel free to leave me a comment or ask me a question. I am certain that I am not the only gal that’s in a financial mess. Let’s take this journey together towards financial freedom. In return, I will do my very best to continue to post my progress or interesting tidbits of information that I come across. Take this journey with me. I am going to get my financial house in order and say goodbye to my debt!

                        Now…who wants to be my new friend?

                        Thursday, September 27, 2007

                        September 2007 Recap…

                        This was a better month for me. Finally!

                        This is the first month I stopped using my credit cards and moved to an all cash/debit system. I had to draw a little from my savings accounts but overall, I would say that the switch helped me control my spending considerably. I am going to continue this practice going forward. I need all the help that I can get right about now.

                        The value of my car is holding steady. I am about 18,000 miles less than the average mileage on my car which is excellent since I need to drive it for some time to come. The best thing about working downtown and riding the train now is that I drive less than 10 minutes a day. So, other than the crazy Chicago winters, I won’t personally do any more damage to my car and should be able to preserve it as long as possible.

                        The tough pill to swallow is the interest that is accumulating on my student loans. This month alone, $951 in interest capitalized to my loan balance. I am going to have to figure out how I am going to tackle my student loan debt quick, fast and in a hurry. At the very least, I need to find out a way to pay the interest on a monthly basis.

                        Hopefully October will be another good month. I am going to put $500-$600 towards my credit card debt until I figure out what I am going to do about my student loans. I am still scared of being without savings because I don’t currently make enough money to pay interest only on my student loans. Push come to shove, if I don’t find a better paying job soon, I may need the savings to float me until I do land a new job. Right now I have about $700-$800 in discretionary money after bills. Estimated interest on my student loans will be $1,350 per month (Ouch I Know!!!). Something good will happen for me soon. It has to. In the meantime, I need to chip away at whatever I can and control my spending.

                        Yodlee Mobile…

                        Wow…I just found out from FiveCentNickel that Yodlee, an account aggregation service, has a mobile solution. He has a great post called Mobile Money: Five Tips for Managing Your Finances 0n the Go .

                        For those that read my blog, you know that I use pocket quicken on a daily basis to keep track of my on-the-go expenses. I have always been “that” person who never knows where the cash goes. So, pocket quicken is working out quite well for me because I no longer use credit cards and I have all my checking account and cash balances at my fingertips. I use a pocket pc so downloading pocket quicken was quite easy. They also have a 14-day trial.

                        As for Yodlee, I use it everyday. It is a great aggregation service. With my busy lifestyle, it is going to be nice also having it on hand at all times. Lastly, I know there are some folks out there that are not happy with Bank of America due to their higher ATM charges but they also offer mobile service which I use for my Keep the Change checking account. Since I use my BoA checking account for my personal debit expenses, the mobile service comes in handy if I need to transfer money from savings to checking.

                        Wednesday, September 26, 2007

                        Financial Strategizing…

                        Now that law school is over and I will no longer incur additional education debt, I am finally on the road to financial freedom. Therefore, I need to strategize to figure out the right moves to make. I put it off for a while due to the uncertainty in my job situation with finishing law school and trying to find a new position. While I may not have a law position yet, I am still working as a financial analyst making a decent salary. Therefore, until things change on the job front, I have to proceed in the best fashion with my current $55k salary.

                        I am not going to make excuses for myself. I am in poor financial condition because I made bad financial and spending choices. Period! Four years ago, I bought a condo that I could barely afford with no reserves, 80/20 (100%) financing, $10k in credit card debt, and $25k in auto debt. During the last four years, I used debt to support a lifestyle that I could not truly afford and it slowly mounted.

                        So, here I am. I have a negative net worth of approximately (-$91,000), $207,000 in student loans to repay and $16,100 remaining on a credit card that I refinanced the 20% mortgage financing over to. With Christmas around the corner and repayment on my student loans looming, I have to figure things out. So…What now?

                        Current Financial Condition:

                      • $16k in credit card debt at 3.99% fixed for life of balance
                      • $207k in student loan debt – not in repayment at this time
                      • Emergency Fund: $10,000
                      • Current Action Plan:

                      • Contribute 5% to 401(k) plan to get 100% employer match for 10% total
                      • Contribute 2% after tax in my employer’s stock purchase plan
                      • Removed credit cards from my wallet – use only cash and debit
                      • Minimum payment on Credit Card is approx. $350 - $300 goes to principal
                      • Student loans are still in deferment with half my federal loans in forbearance
                      • Future Liquidity Events:

                      • Bonus in 2/2008 expected at $3k
                      • Tax return in 2/2008 expected at $2k
                      • Scenario #1: Deplete Savings, payoff ccard, snowball student loans

                      • Continue using only cash and debit cards for spending
                      • Continue 5% 401(k) contributions for 100% employer match and 10% total
                      • Stop 2% contribution to employer’s stock purchase plan
                      • Defer fed student loans that enter repayment 1/2008 until 1/2009
                      • Pay off credit card balance before private loans enter repayment in 4/2008
                      • Use $8,000 of my emergency fund and reduce credit card balance to $8,000
                      • Increase cc payment to $600 to reduce cc balance to $4,600 by 4/2008
                      • Use $5,000 in bonus/tax return money to pay off $4,600 cc balance
                      • Tweak Christmas budget and use $1,000 for Christmas gifts
                      • Keep $1,000 as Emergency Fund
                      • Snowball remaining student loans
                      • Scenario #2: Deplete Savings, Min on CCard, payoff 2 student loans, snowball remaining student loans

                      • Continue using only cash and debit cards for spending
                      • Continue 5% 401(k) contributions for 100% employer match and 10% total
                      • Stop 2% contribution to employer’s stock purchase plan
                      • Defer fed student loans that enter repayment 1/2008 until 1/2009
                      • Pay $300 on my credit card until the balance is $0 - payoff in 5 years
                      • Use $8,000 of savings and payoff two smallest student loans
                      • Tweak Christmas budget and use $1,000 for Christmas gifts
                      • Keep $1,000 as Emergency Fund
                      • Snowball remaining student loans
                      • Comments:

                        I am leaning towards scenario #2. For one, my student loans have a higher interest rate than my credit card at 3.99% fixed. The downfall to scenario #1 is that my credit card still has a pretty high monthly payment which if eliminated, can go towards repayment of my student loans. While both plans are tough, they can be done. I may have to tweak credit card payments here and there due to irregular expenses like the occasional birthday gift (cheaper now of course), the quarterly water bill or license plate renewals. The tough part is the psychological part of not having savings at my fingertips. On the other hand, that may not be a bad thing because with a cash/debit only system, I will be less tempted to spend and spend big. I may even be forced to make a few lunches.

                        I get paid once a month. Here is what I am going to do for October.

                      • Send credit card $600
                      • Move $8,000 into second high yield savings account
                      • Keep $2,000 in emergency fund and use $1,000 for Christmas
                      • Stop 2% employee share contributions
                      • Continue applying for law positions
                      • Christmas…

                        Christmas is just around the corner and it’s beyond time to prepare for it. My sister threw out the idea of a grab bag which I think is a good idea but we don’t have a large family to come together anymore and the members who do join us may or may not come. So, I think a grab bag is an excellent idea but not one that will work particularly well for my family. Likewise, Secret Santa would also not work.

                        ANY IDEAS???

                        For Christmas, I generally budget the most for my boyfriend and my parents. My sister and I have a pact and since we both have birthdays in December, we just give each other $25 gift cards to our place of choice and just a card for our birthdays. I may see if she would like to forgo the entire gift giving this year especially since I have a new brother-in-law this year to add to the Christmas list. I think she/they will be just fine with that since they had a very nice wedding to pay for just 2 months ago and I’m sure that building back up their savings is priority for them right now.

                        As I get older, it is much more fun to sit back and watch the kids tear through all the wrapping paper. I am amazed that as I get older, I am less enthused about getting gifts as I am about giving them. I love seeing the smile on someone’s face when they get my gift. But, on the other hand, my bank account is screaming, “don’t you want me to be happy too?”

                        I haven’t saved at all this year for Christmas and judging by what I spent last year, I would need at the very least approximately $1,300 for gifts. I sure wish I would have put aside $100/month into an ING or HSBC account to pay for gifts. Hindsight is well….hindsight.

                        My current budget includes $500 for my boyfriend. I am going to talk with him to see if he would like to spend less on Christmas this year. We’ve been together for years and he also had an expensive year with my graduation, buying his first place, and buying a car. He may be inclined to reduce the amount we spend this year too. Hmm….sounds like dinner conversation to me.

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                        Tuesday, September 25, 2007

                        Upgraded Site and Blogroll…

                        I finally decided to upgrade my blog and change it around a little. I started by upgrading the template and then I just tried some other stuff to see if it would work. I put off upgrading as long as possible because I am not that familiar with blogging and HTML and I didn’t want to mess anything up. Thankfully, the migration was smooth and the functionality of the new template allows me to make changes a lot more easily. Had I known that, I would have changed over a long time ago.

                        I also added a few blogs to my blogroll that I’ve been reading lately. I am still holding on to the hope that some of my favorite bloggers will come back and update us on what’s been going on in their lives. Since my life has been so interesting and busy this year, I know what it’s like to need a break. While I was away, I am sure I lost a few of my readers but I still have some of my loyal friends. =)

                        So, what do you think?

                        Monthly Paycheck…

                        I was expecting my monthly paycheck to be less this month because I took 4 days off unpaid to take the bar and attend my sister’s wedding. Fortunately, the unpaid days did not go into effect this month but will probably affect my next paycheck. By then, I am hoping that I will be well on my way to finding another position in the law arena. This is good news because I am running low on cash in my accounts and I don’t want to pull any additional money out of my emergency savings. Sometimes it's tough to get paid once a month.

                        Right now, I am looking at a slight improvement in my net worth. I will post final results for the month on Thursday or Friday. =)

                        Monday, September 24, 2007

                        Debt Repayment: Snowball Method….

                        No Credit Needed has an excellent post on how he used the Debt Snowball Method, made popular by Dave Ramsey, to pay off $11,500 in 10 months. Check it out HERE. The post provides an excellent illustration that you may be able to tweak to help you on your debt payoff journey. I know I am going to use this method when it comes to paying off my student loans.

                        Best wishes on your journey to financial freedom!!!

                        Friday, September 21, 2007

                        Working my butt off…

                        This has been a very busy week at work. With a team of 4, balancing schedules can be tough. Today, I am covering our team on my day off which is okay for so many reasons. For one, my team leader’s mother passed away on Tuesday and he got the call right here at work. Today was the funeral and he will be out until Monday. He really gets 2 weeks bereavement but the poor guy just wants the distraction of work. I don’t blame him. My other co-worker had the week already scheduled off for vacation and today, my third co-worker is sick. So, here I am. I work a flex schedule, Mon-Thurs, so I’ve worked well over 40 hours this week. It’s cool...Just getting me ready for the law job. =)

                        I should get my bar results in less than two weeks. I am nervous and excited. The feeling of being done with law school after 4 long years in a part-time program is like floating on a cloud.

                        Have a great weekend!

                        Thursday, September 20, 2007

                        Net Worth & Expenses…

                        I did some preliminary calculations/forecasting this morning and it looks like I am going to have a very slight improvement in my net worth for the month. I am very excited. Moving to an all cash/debit system is working well for me and while I still have a long way to go with controlling my spending, I’ve already witnessed an improvement in my behavior.

                        Cash flow improvements. Now that I am finished with law school, I am able to commute to work by train. Driving into downtown Chicago and parking is very expensive. The savings by taking the train is tremendous plus I don’t have to deal with traffic and crazy drivers. I live less than 2 miles from the train station so it takes less than 5 minutes to get there. The monthly train pass has increased over the last 4 years but it is still much more reasonable at $117 plus another $20 to park in the parking lot. I don’t drive as much so now I find that I only have to fill up every other week to the tune of approximately $80-90 a month.

                        Before (Average):
                        Parking - $12/day at 4 times a week = $192 per month
                        Gas - $45/week = $180 per month
                        Taxi - $10/day at 4 times a week = $160 per month
                        Grand Total = $532

                        Now (Average):
                        Train Pass - $117 per month
                        Parking - $20 per month
                        Gas - $90 per month
                        Grand Total = $227

                        Difference = $305

                        **** In addition, now that I get home at a reasonable time, my mother includes me in their dinner plans so I usually don’t have to make or buy dinner. This is also savings me a lot of money because when I was in school, I usually bought breakfast, lunch and dinner.

                        Wednesday, September 19, 2007

                        Financial Update and Retirement Accounts…

                        With the Fed’s interest rate cut and subsequent lowering of rates at ING, I checked my WaMu account and was happy to see that my online savings account is still holding steady with a 5% APY. It currently has a $10k balance.

                        When I get another job in the next few months, I am toying with the idea of opening and funding a Roth IRA and maybe paying off my lowest student loan with a $5,000 balance. That would leave just $1k left but hopefully my salary will be strong and I should get roughly $2-3k back in a tax return to help beef up my savings. If anything else, I am still thinking that I should at least open the Roth and fund it for the year.

                        At age 29, I estimate that my pension is worth approximately $15-16k and my 401k has a $27k balance for a total of $43k. I know that it could be better but it’s not bad for my age and my $55k salary. I believe that when I leave, I should be able to take my vested pension with me and roll it over. Here is the language on my employer’s website and below is a chart that I used to estimate the current value:

                        If you are vested when you retire or leave the Bank’s employment, you can take your benefit with you regardless of your age. You may take a lump-sum distribution (mandatory for benefits valued at $1,000 or less). If your benefit is more than $1,000, you may elect a single lump-sum payment, elect one of the annuity or cash refund payment options, or defer payment until age 65.

                        Benefits are taxable in the year received. You may defer income taxes on a lump-sum distribution by electing a direct rollover to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or another qualified plan including a 403(a), 403(b) or 457 plan.

                        *** With the year almost over, I estimate my pension balance is closer to $15-16k. The chart uses a 6% interest rate which is what my employer recommends we use to estimate our balance.

                        Tuesday, September 18, 2007

                        Tough News…

                        This morning my co-worker and I were sitting here having our morning laugh/talk like normal. He is actually my team leader and almost 25 years my senior but he’s a great guy. His mom has been ill for quite some time and she suffered another setback in September. About a half hour ago, his cell phone rang and he got the call that all of us have been dreading. His mom passed away. Thankfully, she was in her 90’s, was receiving hospice care and had a 24 hour caregiver so she wasn’t alone. While we knew it was just a matter of time, it’s still tough. You could tell he loved her very much.

                        I called my own mother just to tell her “I love you.” Those of you who are blessed to have a parent in your life may want to take the time and do the same.

                        Monday, September 17, 2007

                        Pocket Quicken and Employment Update…

                        Pocket Quicken:

                        I am getting the hang of pocket quicken and I am really pleased with the software. While it took a little time to figure it out, it extremely helpful to have my account balances at my fingertips since I transitioned from credit cards to only cash and debit. No more credit cards for me. Since I have money in different accounts, I am able to decipher which account I can use for a particular transaction. Also, now that I have the hang of using the software, the quicken sync process with my desktop takes no more than 5 minutes. Huge time savings!

                        Just today, I needed cash but I am running low on it before I get paid again. To avoid ATM fees, I used BoA’s mobile service and transferred funds from my short-term savings to my checking account. Then, I went to the grocery store, did some much needed grocery shopping for cleaning products and also got some cash. I was able to check my Quicken account balances, see which account I could transfer funds from, use my pocket pc to transfer the funds and I was able to one stop shop for groceries and cash. Excellent!


                        I applied for 2 positions at work today. Both positions are for the same job in the same area of the bank. While it isn’t an attorney associate position, it would give me more transferable skills in the short-term until I am able to land a law job. Plus, it is a higher job grade which means more money than I currently make. I will keep you posted on how that goes. As for the bar results, we are closing in on the October 15th date. I think results will be posted in a couple of weeks online. I am nervous but I am excited as well.