Thursday, May 31, 2007

Disappointing Coupon Experience

My mother was a big user of coupons. And when I was a cashier at the grocery store (in high school), a good 75% of people would use coupons.
However, since I've left college, I don't think I've seen one person using coupons. I suppose on some level, I've lived in cities where it would perhaps be "uncool" to use coupons (San Francisco, Berkeley, and now Honolulu), but I've never lived in the more upscale areas of these towns. You'd think that people would want to save some money. In fact, I actually recently called a few grocery stores just to make sure that they still accept coupons. I didn't want to be embarassed at the checkout.
It was in Japan that I started to get more frugal, but they don't use coupons in least, not the Sunday newspaper type of coupons. So I was pretty excited to come to America and be able to use coupons.
I've been faithfully cutting them out of the newspaper, and then forgetting to take them with me. But today I finally made it to the store with a big stack of coupons in hand.
I eagerly walked around looking for the great deals I was hoping to find. I've heard all these stories about people using coupons combined with store sales to get things practically for free.
Unfortunately, almost everything that I had a coupon for was still more expensive with the coupon than the alternative brand. Even some things that were on sale were still more expensive with the coupon than a different brand. For example, I had a coupon for $1.00 off 2 bottles of Wish Bone salad dressing. This was on sale at my store--2 for $8.00, making it $7.00 for the 2. But a different brand was also on sale 2 for $5.00. I went for the 2 for $5.00 brand.
I'm feeling very disillusioned. I'm wondering if cutting out coupons is a complete waste of my time. The discount I got from the store card was significantly higher.
Our total bill was $104.50. I saved $31.32 with my store membership card. I saved $1.60 with coupons. I used three coupons and only one of them was for something that I needed.
How do you save money with coupons? I wonder if part of the problem is that I live in Hawaii where food is already very expensive?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Carnival of Personal Finance #102

The 102nd editiion of the The Carnival of Personal Finance is now up over at Money Smart Life. My article on Paying for College has made the cut!
Here are a few other articles that I found particularly interesting:

The $300 Prom Challenge. BPT offered her daughter a deal: Prom budget is $300 and you can have anything that's left over. Very interesting. I wonder how many other students would make sacrifices if they could keep any of the extra money in the budget. I'd bet the number is quite high.

The Falling Dollar and Its Effect on You suggests that with the fall of the dollar there will be an increase in local tourism. Score for us here at Save to Quit!

Rent vs. Own: A Look at Our Expenditures. Gradmoneymatters details how much was spent on various things while they were renting vs. while they were owning. This was interesting to me because I've never owned and am hoping to take that plunge in the near future.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Can now book travel!

I've signed up with a travel company to be an agent and I've passed the test, so I can now book travel. I also now have access to their chatlist which means I can learn a whole lot more.
I really want to try to get a meeting with the SBA because I need some help getting all of me "legal ducks in a row". I also could use some help putting together a prioritized action plan.
But I'm pretty happy where things are right now.
We've shifted the focus of our business a little bit, in what I think is going to be a very positive way. This will eliminate most of the potential problems that we were seeing with the other idea. Unfortunately, as the native English speaker between me and my husband, almost everything is something that I need to do. He's feeling pretty useless right now. In addition to that, he's starting to go through some culture shock issues. There doesn't seem to be much that I can do to help him. I feel so bad for him, but I can understand because I went through it too when I was living in Japan.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Paying for College--4 Secrets You Should Know

With the cost of college tuitions rising, and a college education being practically a necessity in this age, many parents are worried about how they will pay for their child(ren)'s education.
It's a topic that I've seen beaten to death, and yet there's four things that I know that don't seem to be routinely discussed.
I went to Wellesley College. At the time that I went, tuition costs (including food and housing) ranged from $24-26,000 per year. I know that tuition costs have increased since then. Also at the time, my mother was a single mother making less than $20,000 per year. She had no money saved to pay for my college. Although she didn't show it, she probably had heart palpitations every time I showed her the costs of the colleges that I was interested in. Yet the total cost that we paid, for all four years, including my student loans, actually came out to only around $20,000. In my opinion, that's not so bad.
Here are the four things that I learned:
1. Public vs. Private. Public schools often offer tuitions much lower than private schools. However, private schools have more money to spend on financial aid. Aside from Wellesley, I was also admitted to SUNY Geneseo, as well as other private schools. The financial aid package that Wellesley offered was significantly better than the financial aid package I received from SUNY Geneseo. With Wellesley, we would pay less per semester and I would take out less money in student loans. A very large percentage of the financial aid package from Wellesley was in the form of a grant, directly from the school. SUNY Geneseo wasn't able to offer this at all. Wellesley also gave every incoming first year student on financial aid a garbage can and ashtray (required in every room for fire safety) and a gift certificate for the student book store.
2. Ask and you shall receive. I can't remember whether it was my second or third year there, but I suddenly faced every student's nightmare...there was no way we could afford even the small amount that the college wanted us to pay. Full of shame, and expecting to be told to go home until we could get the money, I went to the financial aid office and told them my situation. Their response? "No problem. Sign this paper and we'll give you a loan. You can pay us later." I can't say for certain, since this was a long time ago, but I *think* that this was an interest free loan. I have heard many other stories of people asking for more financial aid help and getting it. Try it and you might be pleasantly surprised.
3. You can play schools off of each other. I heard this often in prospective student meetings. If you want to go to School A, but School B gives you a better financial aid package, call School A and see if they can match it. Almost always, they can. This worked for a friend of mine. She had been accepted into graduate programs at the University of Michigan and Harvard. She preferred Michigan's program, but Harvard was offering her the better deal. When she called the University of Michigan about this, they were able to match Harvard's package and my friend could attend the school of her preferance.
4. Free tuition for lower-income families. Also important, but I don't often see mentioned, is that Harvard offers free tuition to low income families. Their definition of low income is under $60,000 (which is far from "low income" in my book, but hey...). They also offer reduced payments for families in the $60-80,000 income bracket. But it's not just Harvard. A google search for "free tuition low income" brings up several results, including University of Washington and Stanford. Harvard may have been the first to do this, but many others have followed suit.
Well, those are my little secrets. Do you have any other ideas?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Have Trouble Remembering Things?

Maybe it's all the brain cells I killed during my college days, but I always have a hard time remembering all of the things that I read in books, even when I think that those ideas are quite good. For example, when my husband and I first got together, I read the book Smart Couples Finish Rich, and there were a lot of good ideas in there. However, the only thing I now remember is the Latte Effect and the idea that you should talk with your partner about finances.

That's not good.

See, I tend to think of things in "the big picture" or a "sense of the whole". Personal finance books tend to fall into the realm of "the little details". Because of this, things don't generally stick.

Does this sound at all familiar to you?

If so, I believe that the answer lies in mind-mapping the book as you are reading it.

A mind-map looks like the picture above. The basic idea is that you take one main point and put it in the middle, then draw lines out from that with connecting ideas, and more lines out from there with ideas which connect to those.

To illustrate, I'll describe the mind-map that I did for my website about teaching English to kids. I started with the main concept of "teaching ESL to kids". From there, I branched out into "teaching ideas", "classroom management", "craft ideas", "ESL games", "lesson plans" etc. Each one of those ideas branches off into others. "Craft ideas" would branch out with "autumn crafts", "Halloween crafts", etc. Then those are broken down even further with the specific crafts that fall into that category.

Generally, people will use mind-maps as a brainstorming tool. I do this also and I think that it's very effective. But it's also a great tool for remembering things.

If you take the time to mind-map things as you read them, it will be much easier to go back and "remember" what was said from some book you read five months ago.

Books are such a great resource for everyone. They are full of ideas that can really help you out. Something that you read now may not be applicable to your current situation, but it may be important 3 years down the road. Now, you don't have to dig the book out and re-read it. Just consult your mind-map.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Library Trip!

I used to be an avid reader, but books in Japan are prohibitively expensive and the English language selection at the libraries is pretty slim (as in 2 shelves of Dean Koontz books).
Needless to say, I was pretty excited to take my first trip to the library in the states.
I've been seriously out of the loop as to what books are good and/or popular, so if you have any suggestions for must-reads, please post a comment.
As for today's trip, here are the books that I got:

  • The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke by Suze Orman. I've been fascinated by how it seems that people either lovelovelove or hatehatehate Suze Orman. I haven't had a chance to read any of her books, so I picked out this on.
  • Mary Ellen's Clean House! I have to admit that keeping a clean and organized home is one of my Big Bad Weaknesses. I really want to improve on this area and since we're just moving into a new house, it seems like a good place to start.
  • Complete Idiot's Guide to Feng Shui Again, since we're just moving into a new place, it's best to start things off right with the feng shui. I always tell people that a long time ago, I was having a bad time with my finances. Every month, I would overdraw my account by $250. Exactly. I just couldn't get it right. Then I bought a book on feng shui and saw that I had a window in my "money corner" which was uncovered. The suggestion was that my money energy was flying right out the window. I put up a curtain and immediately my money problems ceased. Want to start things out right here.
  • Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution I'm vegetarian, so a strict low-carb diet is practically impossible for me. However, I've lost 75-80lbs slowly over the last 5 years without a huge amount of effort and it's been really frustrating how difficult it's been to lose the last 10-20. I think I should consider going lower-carb and wanted to read this book, which I've never read.
  • Generation Me by Joan Twenge. I was a feminist theory major in college and I'm really interested in cultural studies, especially studies of generational changes.
  • Gossip Girl Only in Your Dreams *blushing* I have a weak spot for young adult fiction.

I'd like to say that I'm going to be a good PF blogger and read the Suze Orman book first. However, I know I'm going to settle in for a couple of hours of trashy teen lit.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Announcing Mid-Month Money Pick-Up

A few weeks ago when we were in the Las Vegas airport, I found $3 on the floor. Talk about luck!
It got me to wondering how much money I could just find on the street. At the time, since we were travelling and moving, I didn't really have the ability to pay attention and track this. But now that I'm semi-settled, I'm going to start tracking it and report my findings once a month, on the 15th.
Even though I wasn't tracking, I know that my husband and I picked up a lot of money in those few weeks. I think that by setting the intention that I was going to pick up money I saw on the street, it became more visible to me.
The 15th of this month is already off to a great start (but I'm keeping it a secret for now). I'm looking forward to report my "earnings" next month.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sorry for the interruption

I just started and had plannd to be updating every day when suddenly I had to move.
What happened was...
When my husband and I planned to move to Hawaii we had talked to a guy about a house for rent. We went to go look at it right before our honeymoon. There was a lot of junk around, but he assured me that everything would be gone by the time we got back from our honeymoon. It wasn't, making it a very unacceptable place to live. We had already given them first month's rent and deposit, so I was a bit nervous as to how to handle this. I told them that we had changed our mind due to this junk and other problems we had recently noticed with the house. We agreed that we would stay for one month and they would give us our deposit back.
After about a week, they came to get some of their things. My husband blew up at them over this. He wanted them to discount the rent for us. Generally, I prefer to just let things go, but he was really angry. They quickly moved all of the junk that was taking up one of the bedrooms.
The next day, we found a new apartment and signed the lease. This place is a much better deal, $250 a month cheaper, a little bit smaller, but more centrally located. However, I was worried that, after blowing up at the landlords and making them spend about 4 hours cleaning that extra bedroom, we would look like the hugest a**holes. Besides, we didn't have any furniture for the new house or anything and wouldn't have internet there.
As luck would have it, when we got back to the house we were staying at, we had an easy way out. I think because of my husband's anger, they offered us a couple of different options. One was that we could pay for only the time we stayed there on a per-day basis. The rate was reasonable, and I told them we would leave the next morning. Because of this, we will actually get back more money than my husband had originally wanted.
Hence, the hasty departure with no internet access. Even now, I am only on a dial-up, but that is much better than nothing.

100th Carnival of Personal Finance

Man, I feel so bad. This was my first time participating in any blog carnival, but because I didn't have internet, I'm only now just posting a link about it.
But, I WAS AN EDITOR'S CHOICE ARTICLE in the 100th Carnival of Personal Finance. I couldn't be happier!
To see the rest of the carnival, hop on over to My Open Wallet.
I've got two more posts coming up today, so check back soon.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Quick Note

I have to move unexpectedly and will be without internet connection until Wednesday next week.
I will give details then and from then I can begin to update regularly...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Little Disappointing...

I mentioned that we are going to have a travel business and I've been doing some research into being a home based travel agent. I found a company that I liked and have heard good things about. But before signing up, I wanted to make sure that I would be able to book travel originating outside of the US. Otherwise, it's no good for us.
I've been trying to get in touch with someone involved with the company to find this out. I've had a pretty tough time getting through on livechat (I'm guessing because I'm in Hawaii, time zones don't match well). Finally I got an answer that it will be OK. I went to sign up and...
I have to print out a form and fax it to them. I don't have a printer. Or a fax machine. What a pain in the butt. I didn't think there was a company out there anymore that didn't do everything online. I was really looking forward to getting started on all the training material, but now I have to wait.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

5 reasons to pay with cash

In case you missed this, my husband and I have recently moved to Hawaii. The day after we got to Hawaii, after our honeymoon, I lost my ATM card. Totally stupid mistake—I left it in the machine. And just to double the misfortune, my current bank is a small local bank in NY, with no branches in Hawaii, so there was no way for me to get cash. I ordered a new ATM card and opened a bank account in Hawaii using a personal check, but that money is not available for a week. Thus, we have had to use the credit card to pay for everything for about a week.
This has got me to thinking about why it’s so much better to use cash than a credit card or debit card.
I used to be like (I think) most Americans, always using my ATM/debit card to pay for even the smallest purchase. It’s just not common to carry a significant amount of cash in America. However, I lived in Japan for three years and it’s changed me.
Japan is a cash society. It’s extremely rare to pay by credit card for anything. debit cards just don’t exist (at least from what I know). And you wouldn’t feel at all strange about carrying $500 cash on you, especially at the start of a long weekend (Bank ATMs are closed on holidays).
It’s been in Japan that I really got my finances in order and I firmly believe that always have to pay cash for things was one of the biggest reasons.
I realize that for big-ticket purchases, it’s probably better to use plastic than carry a huge wad of cash. But how many times have you gone into the grocery store “just to pick up a loaf of bread” and had to pay with your credit or debit card because you “accidentally” also picked up a 2 liter of Coke, a bag of cookies, and the 24 rolls of toilet paper that “just happened to be on sale”?
But here’s some food for thought—5 reasons why it’s better to pay cash:
1. No Finance Charges. Assuming that you occasionally use a credit card for these small, impulse buys (and that you carry a balance every month), if you decide to only use cash, you’ll be able to avoid these finance charges. Cookies suddenly don’t seem so yummy when you think about having to pay interest on them. And how good of a “sale” is it if you are paying an extra 20% down the line…
2. Avoid ATM fees. Before I moved to Japan, I had a horrible habit of taking out money “whenever I needed it” and only taking out the bare minimum. After all, people in America just don’t carry that much cash on them. I would take out maybe $20-40 a day. Unfortunately, the ATM that was convenient to my workplace was not affiliated with my bank, so I was charged $1.50 every time I took that money out. I never realized how much those $1.50 charges were adding up to. In Japan, though, I got into the habit of taking out a lot of money at once and always using my bank’s ATM to avoid the extra fees. Of course, you should always try to use your own bank’s ATM machines. However, if they tend to be inconveniently located, you can save on ATM fees by withdrawing a large sum of money at once rather than smaller amounts throughout the week.
3. Limit your spending. There’s a big psychological difference that goes on when you can actually see the money leaving your wallet. When you use a credit or debit card it’s like using fake money. You don’t see it go away so it doesn’t hurt so much. But after about three times of asking yourself “Wait…didn’t I have $60 in here? What happened to that other $20?” I swear you’ll start being much more conscious about what you’re spending your money on. You might still buy something frivolous, but at least at the end of the day you’ll be able to remember what it was.
4. Prevent the dreaded overdraft fee. Does this sound familiar? You’re happily making your everyday purchases and check every day to make sure that your account is in the black when WHAM! Along comes an automatic bill payment that you forgot about, leaving you with a negative balance. You then watch in horror as the previous two days of debit purchases start coming through, with a $20 overdraft fee each time. Booooooo!!!! If you pay in cash then you’ll never have to worry about this happening again.
5. Stick to your budget. If you want to save to quit, then you need to be working on a budget. You should set aside a specific amount that you can spend in a week, then take only that amount of money out and carry it with you. Create a mindset where using the credit or debit card is simply not an option. If you cannot afford a purchase with this week’s money, then you’ll have to wait until next week (or next month as the case my be). Using only cash forces you to stick within your budget and you’ll be surprised by how fast you can reach your savings goal.

Anyone else a cash-only person? I’m anxiously await the arrival of my ATM card, although by tomorrow I should be able to take money out of the bank from a teller. No more credit card!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

So what's our business idea?

Our business idea is travel related. The target customer is a Japanese mother with very young children who wants to come to Hawaii partly as a vacation, but also to have her child learn English in an American environment. We’ll offer many different options for them…
For example, they can choose to do a homestay or choose to stay in a hotel. They can choose to send their child(ren) to a “real school” or receive private tutoring. They can choose to book activities through us and have us act as tour guides or just do their own thing.
Right now, we’ve done a lot of planning, but haven’t started any of the major legal steps. We kind of need an address for that and don’t have one yet. I’m looking into becoming a travel agent for doing this. Just researching companies right now.
I was a preschool teacher in Japan and we have many potential customers through that.
I’m hoping that we can pull everything together in time for the major Japanese holiday in August and offer a cruise program for that week. If that goes well, I think we can make quite a bit of money.
But we’ll see. Just wanted to give you an idea of what our business idea is.
I also have a website about teaching ESL to kids which is making a bit of money and one of my eventual dreams with that is to make storybooks geared towards ESL learners. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t updated that site at all with the stress of moving and trying to get settled.

Sunday, May 6, 2007


Welcome to my blog!
Almost two years ago, my husband and I decided that we wanted to quit our jobs, move overseas, and start a business. In order to do that, we needed to save up (a year's worth of) money so that we would have something to live off of while the business was getting up off the ground.
The money has been saved and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to really give starting a business a full shot, without all the pesky distractions that come with a "real job".
I'm starting this blog because I want to help other people to have this same opportunity.
We've saved our money and moved overseas, but haven't quite started the business yet (though we have done a lot of thinking about it...). So you'll get to join me on that journey as well.
I sincerely hope that you will find what I have to say useful.