Recessions Blow

Recessions Blow and now there’s a blog about it.  At this point everyone knows and understands that recessions are no fun at all. The goal of this blog is to openly discuss all the ways the recession has crept into our daily lives and what we can do about it in a trendy down to earth way. Hopefully in manner that’s relevant to readers.

First off, let’s all get it off our chests, this recession sucks. My friends and co-workers are losing jobs, my salary is getting cut, my bonuses have stopped coming in, some of my family might be losing their jobs and I can’t afford to eat out anymore.  My guess is that last sentence covers just about everyone reading this right now.  The one that really makes me mad is that I can’t eat out anymore. I love eating out. I moved to a neat apartment in the city that’s close to a ton of very unique restaurants, all of which I can’t afford to eat at now. Ok, well maybe the losing of jobs and cut salaries are more important, but on a daily basis, I miss eating out.

Consider this your resource to gain knowledge on ways to fight off this recession on a personal level and vent about its effect on you.  Post a response!…get involved! it will be fun.

Intro Part II

This post will be a continued introduction and a little bit more personal information about me.  Bear with me, there will be some meat and potatoes posts coming in the following days/weeks, but for right now, let’s take it slow and get some basic info out there.

The first thing I can tell you is that I’m not a writer. Never have been and never want to be. I have an accounting background and do a lot of bookkeeping duties for a small firm. So pardon my grammar errors and spelling mistakes, I’ll try to keep them to a minimal, but no promises.  I usually just type the way I think/talk, so run-ons and fragments are gonna happen.

So, a few months ago my company laid off about 25% of its employees. They have been hit fairly hard by the trickle down from the bust of the housing market and consequently the credit freeze that is going on now.  A week or two ago, with the future still looking murky, they cut everyones salaries by a hefty 20%. I don’t know what 20% means to everyone else out there, but I didn’t have a lot of discretionary income in the first place. Needless to say things are going to be really tight now. I’m hoping the recent  passage of the stimulus bill will boost the work we have coming in to the office, but for the time being, it’s not looking very good. Recessions Blow!

I’m engaged and will be getting married over the summer. As is the custom, right now my fiance’s parents are going to pay for the wedding, assuming of course her father doesn’t get hit by the next round of layoffs at his company. Here’s to hoping that doesn’t happen, because I have no idea how we would pay for it then. I’m doing some things to bring in some extra cash , but I still have a lot of outstanding debt I’m trying to pay off (some topics to be covered later).  We’ll have to wait and see what happens with that.

In the mean time, fight back against this nasty recession. Don’t let it win. Let’s keep thinking of ways to deal with the tough times and avoid the stress.

AIG Posts Huge Loss, Stocks React (Shocker here)

AIG, one of the struggling financial giants, announced a $60 Billion plus loss in the last quarter of 2008. And will be getting another $30 billion infusion from the government.  These are really unfathomable numbers to us ordinary people who would be hurting if we had a $600 loss in any quarter of a year. But despite this, it’s these same taxpayers that will be on the line for the $30 billion infusion aimed to save this insurance company.

Even though it had just posted its largest quarterly loss ever, AIG’s shares were actually up in early morning trading (showing the type of news the market has come to expect from these companies). The overall market, however, took a beating dropping to lows not experienced since 1997.

There was a report that consumer spending had slight increase in January. And there’s our shred of good news in tough times.

What is your view on this? Should the government continue to bail out these firms? Post a comment. *Note: I expect 0 comments, because I have 0 readers at this point, but I thought I’d ask to be nice.

Saving Money – Overview

There are a ton of websites and other blogs out there with hundreds of good ideas to save money or reduce spending. So I wont get into any specifics at this point, but here are the common threads I gathered:

  • Saving MoneySet a Goal - and stick to it. Just saying you want to save isn’t good enough. It’s too vague and hard to concentrate on.
  • Make a List - write it down and stick on the fridge or your bathroom mirror, somewhere you’ll see it often. Try using Google Calendar or Outlook to send you reminder alerts. This takes care of the ‘concentrating on’ part.
  • Track Your Progress and Reward Yourself - you’ll only make it so long living in a spending bubble. Keep track of the money you have saved and reward yourself at certain milestones. Perhaps a trip to the movies or a night out when you’ve paid a credit card balance down $1,000.
  • Don’t Give Up - even if you break down and buy some new clothes or an iphone off of ebay, get back on track with your saving goals the next day.

Save on Taxes

If you are paying down your student loans, save money come tax time (right now) by taking the Student Loan Interest Deduction.  This is a great tax break to take advantage of because it is an above the line adjustment to income. That means you don’t have to complicate your taxes by itemizing. Basically you subtract the interest you paid on the loans directly from your income. It’s like you never earned that money, so you don’t have to pay taxes on it.

My refund was about $150 more thanks to this.  If you are a Turbo Tax user, have no fear the software knows all about it and will ask you for the appropriate information.  You should have received a 1098-E from your lender. If it’s a government loan you can get the form from your online account. Of course there are income restrictions and this and that, so look at the details closely to see if you apply.

*Disclaimer: The information contained here is general in nature and is not intended as legal, tax or investment advice.

GM Stinks and Other News

A report came out from GM’s auditors this week that the company is not financially viable. I had to laugh when I saw this and laugh even more when the media was treating it as actual news. I know my dog is a dog…I don’t have to hang a big red flashing light around its neck that reads “DOG”.  GM has already been infused with 13.4 billion government dollars and is requesting even more. Not to mention that the entire auto industry is selling about 5 cars a week total.  I think it was obvious GM is seriously struggling, I wouldn’t consider this breaking news.

A few other measures of the economy showed no signs of turning around this week. ADP reported 697,000 private sector jobs were lost in February and a private measure of the services sector showed a decline for the 5th consecutive month.

The news of the Stimulus plan alone obviously hasn’t been enough guide the economy, let’s hope the execution of it will.

Mint Review

SoftwareMint.com is an online budgeting and personal fincance software. When you first sign in you search for all of your online accounts, enter your username and password to these sites and Mint downloads all of your transactions. I just signed up yesterday. so here’s my first take.

  • Free to use – Always a plus.
  • Automatically updates with transactions from the bank accounts/ credit cards you’ve entered.
  • Lots of cools graphs/ pie charts to analyze spending – automatically tags all of  your transactions to break them down by category. the categories it gives are not always accurate, but mine seemed to be about 90% correct and adjusting them was simple.
  • Site is simple and not cluttered with ads.
  • Mint makes its money from a Ways to Save tab that offers links to outside services.  Mint shows you the amount you could save by signing up with these services based on your current data.
  • Uses the same security programs as banks, so you know it should be safe.

It offers many great tools not listed here such as investment, net worth information and great snapshots of your current cash position.  All of my accounts except ING savings were straightforwad and signing them up only took one try.  This includes my John Hancock 401k and federal student loans. I though those two might pose a problem, but it was fairly effortless. For ING I had to log into my ING account and change all of my security questions, then match those questions exactly in MINT. It was a bit of a hassle, but being able to see all of my accounts in one place is definetely worth it.

Some other popular online budgeting tools are Mvelopes and YNAB. I chose to go with MINT because of its iPhone app and at the suggestion of MoneyCrashers

A Different Type of Emergency Fund

Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is the money you set aside should something unexpected come up, like losing your job.  There are varying opinions among the experts about how much should be set aside. 3 to 6 months worth of expenses is the old school train of thought. Newer ideas are tending toward having 1,000 or 500 dollars in cash readily available. Obviously you want to keep this cash in a high yield savings account. I use ING Direct.

Here is where I’m going to go a little off track and probably get scoffed at by other personal finance gurus. Because I have a fair level of dept, I hate to see $1,000 sitting to the side earning 1 to 2% interest while my credit card balances are getting pounded with 16+%.  I do keep a little bit of cash handy, but not much maybe only 300-500 dollars.

Should an emergency come up, I keep a few of those checks that your credit card company likes to annoy you with around. These almost always have a transaction fee (usually around 3%), so don’t use them unless it is an absolute emergency.  The last thing you want to do is miss a payment on something that is reported to your credit report like another credit card. The affects of this can take a long time to work off.

Ideally you would find a check that has no transaction fee and a sweet promotion for the balance. Capital One often offers these. If you find yourself in a complete bind, use these checks to escape without damaging your credit score. And once the hardship works its way out you can begin to focus on paying this debt down.  Feel free to post your comments on this.

Market Rallies Behind Citigroup

It was nice to finally see some positive news from the stock market today.  The market has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride the last few months with an overall downward trend as we all know. The interesting news here is that a company from the financial sector actually spurred the rally. Citigroup reported it is currently operating on a profit for the first 2 months of the year.

Could this be the start of a long term positive rally? and an end to the relevance of my blog?? Well I certainly hope it’s a new trend to hear positive news from the banking industry.

Reduce Spending – Overview

Keeping with the format in my first savings post, I’m not going to go into specific ways to cut down on your expenses, but rather a few principal guidelines to follow. Follow these and you’re sure to find success.  Keep on the lookout for future posts that will be chock full of specifics.

  • Spending cutsMake a Budget – and stick to it. Make your budget realistic and don’t deviate. If something isn’t in your budget, don’t purchase it.
  • Think Outside of the Box – creative ways to reduce spending are all around you, find them.
  • Practice Patience – and avoid impulse purchases. If there is an item you want to purchase track it for a few weeks or months to find the best deal available. The larger the purchase the more research you should do.
  • Negotiate – especially in these times of recession. Everything is negotiable, don’t accept sticker price.
  • Do Without – This one is tough to handle at times, but, if you’re trying to meet goals, ask yourself  if you really need something before purchasing it.
Use these guidelines to reduce your overall expenses, and before you know it you’ll start finding extra money sitting around at the end of the month. Use it  to reduce your debt, save toward your goals or buy yourself something nice.  What guidelines do you follow to keep expenses in check?