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December 2007

End of year financial wrangling

December 26, 2007   

I’ve read a lot of convincing literature and analysis of data that dollar-cost averaging doesn’t buy much in terms of long-term investment, so I am investing a big chunk of our non-tax-advantaged retirement funds that I had held back in the last round of purchase into the Vanguard 500 Index fund. It was one I had been looking at for a while, so when H suggested it to me, I looked into it again and found it a favorable one to put money into. Low expense ratios are great.

I’m also holding back a bit of money in case we qualify to contribute to a tax-advantaged IRA this year. In addition, I need to sell shares from my old, old dying company to take the loss. I think.

Rock Band Party

December 25, 2007   

Yeah, we really had it. The only downside was that it was on a night that more than half of the friends we invited were at one company-sponsored function or another. Boo! Boo-urns! But those who showed up tore it to shreds! 😀

One of the “bands”:

Now THAT is Rock.

Hee hee.

Me & Uyen:

rock chicks

I have no idea how Charles evaded the camera.

One of the only pics where Seppo and I are in the same pic, which happened to be one of the drum-offs:


Link to set with more pics!

I had such a great time. I love having friends over for something as utterly silly and fun as Rock Band. Bonus points for playing dress up!

My Christmas Present

December 23, 2007   

Since we are not together for the holidays, Seppo revealed two nights ago on the phone what I will be getting for Christmas: tickets to go see Bon Jovi in April!

WOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I freaked out for a good 30 minutes then, then for another couple of hours afterwards.

Seppo’s present is coming in the mail, but unfortunately, it will not get there until two days after Christmas. Oh well. But it’ll be a good one.

On a completely unrelated note, I saw on my little brother’s bathroom counter not one, not two, but three AXE products and one bottle of Polo Sport. Oh, how I did not miss you, Eau de Teenager.

I’m like a broken record

December 23, 2007   

I bring this up every single time I go visit Atlanta, but one of the things I really dislike about going to church with my mom is the utter jaw-dropping shock my mom’s friends and churchmates display upon learning that I’m her younger daughter. A typical encounter goes like this: my introduces me to her friend; I stick out my hand and smile and say that it’s nice to meet them; they freeze in surprise with their mouths open like fish out of water for a second or two, dart their eyes back and forth, gawk at me and then my mom, then inevitably say, “Oh, you look like you are in high school.” If I’m lucky, they say, “You look like a junior high schooler.”

The worst part of this entire interaction is that the sheer enormity of their reaction tells me that they are not trying to be rude or cutting. They are honestly shocked that I look so young to them. I mean, when I look at high schoolers or college students, they look like babies to me. And I’m sure when they look at me, they can tell I’m older than them.

I can’t even tell what it is about my appearances that make them think I’m so young. I try to dress a little nicer when I’m going to church, and I even did my hair and put on some makeup. It doesn’t matter what I do; they constantly think I’m 16. It’s really irritating.

I’m not obsessed with the image of youth either, so it’s not like I find it flattering in any way. I think people are beautiful in their natural state and that age is a completely natural part of life, and have no desire for any artificial preservation of my youth, beyond not trying to age prematurely.

Oh well.

Interminable hours on the phone for a little discount

December 21, 2007   

I spent something like 2 hours on the phone getting my mom’s cable + internet discounted from around $101 to $69 (after fees and taxes), and changing phone services to go from a base price of $30 to $15 for 12 months. Tiring but I suppose saving around $47 a month for 12 months is worth it. That’s $564. That’s really not bad for two hours’ work.

Warning: What you are about to read is boringly detailed and tedious to all but those who love to do too much work for a little discount. Heh.

I’ve done pretty much the same thing before, but here’s how I do this kind of thing:

  • Gather up flyers for competitors. Either log on to the competitors’ websites or call to make sure you can actually get the service in your area.
  • Do the math on your savings. Figure out your 12 month savings and any long term contracts you may have to sign and what that is worth to you.
  • Be 100% ready and willing to switch to the competitor. Make up your mind to do so before you call. It’s not fair to waste people’s times if you are not willing to switch. Plus, switching could really be a great deal, so why not do it?
  • If you are really prepared to switch, call the service cancellation line and ask to cancel your service.

This process should result in one of two satisfactory situations:

  • You successfully switch to a competitor and rest easy in your knowledge that you had done your research and that this was a great idea.
  • Your current provider suggests a deal that will beat the competitor’s deal and can talk you through the specific details (contract terms, what the price will be after any promotional period, etc.), so you stay with your current provider but at a better price.

In the case of my mom’s internet service, I wanted to switch from Charter to AT&T. She has cable & internet through Charter. She has local phone service through AT&T. AT&T has a fixed lower price (not an introductory promotion) and no contract for internet, plus a $125 cash rebate for switching from cable to dsl, so I knew it was a great deal. There would be a small trade-off in speed, but the price difference seemed worth it.

When I called Charter, they were able to give me a price that beat the AT&T price by a good margin. Plus, they worked with me to do some funny re-packaging of the service we already have for cable to reduce that part of the cost by about $10, which meant that my total savings beats the AT&T rate plus the AT&T cash rebate.

Funny thing is, it only took me about 35 minutes to get to a pretty good solution on the cable and internet. At this point, the $101 bill was down to $88. After I hung up with them, I realized that this number was still higher than what I was expecting to pay after the changes. Also, there was one optional fee on the cable service that I really wanted removed: “wire service” for $5 a month. I mean, we never use it, and that’s $5 a month that we’ve been paying for a long time.

The extra 1 hour 25 minutes was spent on a series of calls. The first was calling to get that wire service removed, only to find out that there was yet another random $5 fee that got added in my prior transaction that I had no idea that they were tacking on at the time that I had agreed to the new arrangement, so I got that taken off with relative ease.

When I got off the phone with them, I realized that I had forgotten to confirm that the wire service charge had been dropped, and find out why the total price was higher than what I was expecting so I called again, only to find that my base cable package was more expensive now than when I had called earlier. Wha–? The person seemed unable to do anything for me, except to revert all the changes I had made earlier in the day, so I hung up and called up billing to ask about the itemized charges. Upon finding out that it was still on my list of services, I asked them to remove it.

Here’s a tip: never call billing about removing items from your service. It’s not their job and and it is frustrating for both sides. I realized this after a frustrating 20-minute conversation, so I asked them to forward me to cancellations…

… Which ended up in a disconnected call. Hrmph.

I called yet again, and went directly to cancellations. I talked them through what I had thought was supposed to happen from when I had spoken to the first CS rep, and they promptly made the changes, which brought my charges down from the new price of $88 to $69.

I then tackled the phone issue, which took another 45 minutes, only because I was hesitant about pulling the trigger on changing from an analog telephone line to a digital line by switching from AT&T to Charter, then I didn’t know if the alarm system was tied to our home line or not, then I didn’t know how much the price would jump to after a year, so I kept having to call back.

This reminds me, I need to check out Oakland cable & dsl situation out to see if we can do better. Our dsl connection has been exceedingly and annoyingly flakey in the last few months, so a change could keep us from going insane.

Thus ends my long, boring, tedious post about a long, boring, tedious couple of hours.

Conditioned reflex

December 18, 2007   

Huh. So I just figured out another piece of the puzzle. All throughout my life, every single time I’ve tried to talk about my feelings when I’m upset, whether I am angry or sad or frustrated or enraged, I choke up and my eyes tear up. Every. Damn. Time. It doesn’t matter that I HATE, absolutely loathe crying (when not about tearjerker stories, because for some reason, I love this type of crying :D), especially in front of others. It’s like a reflex I can’t control. I don’t want pity, I don’t want to “win” by crying, I simply want to explain what I’m angry/upset about, and it completely undermines my stance when I get all weepy and, frankly, makes me look and sound weak.

Anyway, today, my smaller niece was crying and crying today (again) and she wouldn’t stop. My mother told her that she needs to use words to explain why she is upset and not just cry because no one can fix anything if all you are doing is crying and all it does is annoy everyone and tire her out. I’m totally in support of this stance. It makes sense and it encourages examining and verbalizing the problem.

Watching the scene though, something suddenly clicked. From the time I was in diapers to the time I left my home to go to college, the only times I’d really had to speak about my feelings was when I was already so upset that I was already in tears. It was mostly because I was not the type of person who normally spoke about her feelings. I remember being in junior high and high school and hiding in my room to cry because I didn’t want to be forced to explain something I was not prepared to explain.

Thinking back, I think I must have formed some sort of conditioned response to speaking while being choked up, reversing the two events such that when I actually want to talk about my feelings, I immediately choke up.

How very annoying.

Financial Craziness

December 13, 2007   

Let’s see… Today, I did the following:

  • Called my previous employer about the fact that they were still paying me a full salary even though I had left my job on October 19th. They also owe me for PTO, so the numbers aren’t too unbalanced, but it’s a mess.
  • Opened a Vanguard account. Finally, after months and months, heck, almost more than a year of researching! This is where we’ll do our investing. We’ll keep a fixed amount of money in our high-interest savings account for the upstairs renovation and short-term emergencies and apply all our excess income here (minus any acceleration we plan to apply to the HELOCs or first mortgages — boy, I hate that those are both plurals). I opened up a joint account for a target retirement year fund with the minimum required amount, and plan to put more money in it semi-monthly out of our savings account until we hit the fixed amount we plan to hold in savings. I could have put it all in now, but I wanted to do the whole “dollar cost averaging” thing, thus the semi-monthly schedule.
  • Moved some money from the high-interest savings account to the checking account in preparation to pay off the student loan. Because I don’t get any tax advantage from the student loan due to our high combined income, we decided that even with a lower interest rate, it was worth paying this off faster than the HELOCs.
  • Called to schedule an consultation with the kitchen specialist that worked on our neighbor’s kitchen. 
Now all I have left to do for the rest of the week is to return some library books, plan dinner, pack for my trip to Atlanta, and plan the Rock Band party food. Oh, if TurboTax is ready for 2007 already, I might run some numbers just to see how things fall. I have some shares of that awful company I worked for two jobs ago that could potentially be useful to sell in order to take a loss.
I am such an adult that it makes me ill. 😀

Sleepy, brain-eating zombies

December 12, 2007   

This is what happens when Seppo and I go out to nice events (in this case, our friend MJ’s wedding, which was beautiful and sweet):


Photo credits: Gene Hsu.


December 5, 2007   

Anyone familiar with MIT culture will know that IHTFP can stand for a lot of things. Two of the most common ones are: “I hate this f*ing place,” and “I have truly found paradise.”

Self portrait

Yeah, that second one sounds about right. I have a lot to say about the vacation, but that will come later, when I organize all the photos and my vacation journal. Mostly, Seppo and I agreed that it was one of the best weeks of our lives and that we definitely want to do it again. It feels like an affordable enough vacation that we could do this every year or so, on top of any other travelling we already plan to do.

Seppo on swing by our cabana

You can see Max’s cabana on the right, and ours half obscured by his, just to its left. Note: Seppo is only wearing long pants because he thought he’d wear clothes that will let him arrive at SF in comfort, but it was too hot, so he changed back. I was actually standing ankle-deep in the water when I took this picture.

Everyday was in the low 80s. Early in the morning or late at night, it fell to around 77 degrees. The sun was hot and shining, but the ocean breezes kept us from getting uncomfortable. It was warm enough that we were usually just in our bathing suits, about 90% of the time there, hanging around in hammocks and jumping in the waves. The water was warm and crystal clear and clean.

All my life, I’ve dreamt of going somewhere where the water was clear, the sand was white, and the breezes were warm. This was all that and more. The sand was so incredibly fine and soft, like powder in many places. We played in the water everyday, trying to varying degrees of success to bodysurf. 🙂

The pictures can’t capture the true beauty and warmth of the place.

Walking toward beach

It was paradise.