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NICOLE: Happy Friday!

EMLORARK: And to you!

NICOLE: It’s a big Friday for a lot of people; the government might shut down, The Billfold just launched a Patreon, um… what about you? Is it a big Friday for you as well?

EMLORARK: It is a small Friday for me, thank gosh, cause it’s been a series of big weekends lately. Last weekend my fiancé met my mom for the first time. But this Friday is pretty relaxed: work, and then a comedy show tonight. I was so nervous about the Billfold, and so happy to hear it will carry on!

NICOLE: I am also happy to hear it will carry on! And I’m very thankful for reader support.

EMLORARK: I can’t emotionally deal with so many of my favorite sites shutting down. I’m still grieving The Toast.

NICOLE: Me too. But Nicole Cliffe and Mallory Ortberg are both writing for Slate now! And Nicole Chung has a book coming out, and Mallory has a book coming out, and Roxane Gay has books coming out, and plenty of Toasties are still making cool stuff.

EMLORARK: That’s true, but sometimes it’s hard to keep up with everyone, when it’s not all in one place — which is a serious first world problem.

NICOLE: I was just reading a Seattle Review of Books post about why we should switch back...

Photo credit: Dean Hochman, CC BY 2.0.

Two weeks ago I wrote that I should probably buy a printer instead of doing all my printing at the public library — and the fact that I’m going to need to fill out nine pages of a 34-page TIAA form in order to roll my 403(b) to Vanguard kinda makes the decision a little more urgent.

But let’s do the math, because you always have to do the math.

The library printer costs 15 cents per page.

Buying a basic all-in-one printer from Amazon would cost me $100 ($40 for the printer, $60 for the ink). Plus I’d need to buy a ream of paper, so… well, it’s less expensive to buy paper in bulk, so let’s say three reams (1,500 sheets) for $15.

I could print 766 pages at the library before I came close to covering the cost of a printer, ink, and paper — and if I tried to print 766 pages on my own printer, I’d have to buy more ink at least once and possibly twice.

There’s also a print shop nearby, in case I ever need to print 300 pages of a novel draft or something. If I don’t like their prices, there’s always FedEx. (The last time I printed a novel draft at FedEx it cost me $28.19.)

So I’m not buying a printer. Even if it’s...

Photo credit: Scott Robinson, CC BY 2.0.

In July 2017 the house my boyfriend and I lived in caught fire while I was visiting Boston. The damage was minimal; it started outside due to faulty wiring and melted our trash and recycling bins into menacing-looking lumps of plastic. Paul smelled something burning and, amazingly, had the wherewithal to stay calm and put it out. He waited until I returned home to tell me. It had been a spectacularly bad trip to Boston and he figured he’d give me one night of relief and peace back in my own bed before he told me our house was trying to kill us.

After the fire, I couldn’t let my guard down. An inspection revealed that none of the outlets had ground wires. Quirks we thought were due to age (you had to turn the light on in the bathroom for any of the outlets to work) ended up being signs of dangerous electrical installation. I couldn’t concentrate at work or sleep at night, imagining our pets dying while we were at our jobs or the grocery store. Nothing but a total revamp of the wiring was going to ease my mind. We didn’t wait long. We had to get out.

Paul looked at the duplex without me....

The Billfold has been sharing personal stories about personal finance since 2012. We’ve looked at why the latte factor doesn’t work, interviewed dozens of people about their saving and spending habits, and asked ourselves how Harry Potter would do money.

We’ve also built a community. Our readers have shared their thoughts, learned from each others’ perspectives, and created one of the best comment sections on the internet. (Seriously.)

Now we’re asking our community to help us.

We want to do a lot with The Billfold in 2018: feature more writers, bring back some of our best contributors, start a podcast, have even more conversations about how to manage our money in an ever-changing world.

But — on the subject of an ever-changing world — we’re no longer earning enough from ad revenue to fund the site. It’s not just us; you might have noticed other websites downsizing or shutting down in the past few months.

We don’t want to shut The Billfold down, and we don’t want to put it behind a paywall.

So we’re asking for your support to keep The Billfold going. We’ve launched a Patreon to help fund our site as we move into 2018. With Patreon, you can make a monthly contribution based on your budget (and shift that contribution up or down as your budget changes). We also have goals that we’re hoping we can achieve together.

Since we’re a personal finance...

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Tomorrow is the anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration, and… um… no one knows what happened to the inauguration money that he promised to donate to charity.

As Newsweek reports:

“It really raises a lot of suspicions that these funds were mismanaged and probably no longer even exist,” [Craig Holman of Public Citizen] told Newsweek Wednesday. “I strongly suspect that the funds have just been wasted away. I mean, there was no reason in the world the Trump Inaugural Committee needed to raise $107 million.”

We’ll probably get some reminder, in the next day or so, that the Trump campaign raised twice as much inauguration funding as any previous president-elect. But we won’t get an explanation of where all that funding went.

To be fair, we think we know where some of it went. To quote Newsweek again:

In late September, the committee announced that it had donated $3 million to multiple groups involved in hurricane relief efforts in the Gulf Coast, Florida and the Caribbean. An undetermined amount of funds were allocated to redecorating the White House and Vice President Mike Pence’s home in Washington, rather than charitable efforts.

But, as USA Today reports, we don’t actually have a confirmation that those hurricane relief charities received the money:

Officials with the American Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse, a group led by evangelist Franklin Graham, declined to...

Photo credit: Pablo Cabezos, CC BY 2.0.

I had been waiting impatiently for months for either a rejection or acceptance letter. I was offered a trip to Europe instead. Rather than being given or denied admission to NYU as a junior transfer student, I was proposed an alternative: I could become an NYU student but I had to spend my first semester abroad.

(An online forum of other transfer students awaiting their decision letters told me that NYU over-accepts new students and often doesn’t have enough housing in the city, thus they ship some students off to foreign campuses until space can open up the following semester.)

The first thing I thought when I saw this proposal was that I didn’t have the money to study abroad. I had never planned to do it, not even at the University of Georgia, where I was currently enrolled (and even had a full-tuition scholarship). My mother had already drilled into me the dangers of debt and was trying to dissuade me from taking out thousands of dollars in loans to move to Manhattan. A four-month detour to Europe, at a time when the British pound almost doubled the American dollar, just seemed like taking a wad of money and setting it on fire.

Still, I dreamed of going to NYU — and this was not...

Photo credit: Get Bullish (Julie Lavoie), CC BY 2.0.

It’s Friday, which means it’s time to estimate our weekend spending.

Once again, I predict a no-spend weekend. I’m planning to hole up in my apartment and work on The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2: 2004–2016, with a brief detour to the library’s Renaissance Faire because… oh come on, I don’t even have to explain why I’m going.

Estimate: $0.

What about you?

Photo credit: Kārlis Dambrāns, CC BY 2.0.

I still haven’t decided whether I’m going to buy a car, now that I’ve moved to Cedar Rapids. I haven’t needed one yet; between walking, public transportation, and Lyft, I’ve been able to get pretty much anywhere in the city.

(The real question is what I’ll do when I need to get outside of the city. My “rent a car for a single day” plan could potentially be an option, although I won’t really be able to make that decision until the weather gets warm enough that I can sign up for some driving lessons.)

But back to Lyft, because the whole “using Lyft instead of owning a car” thing is apparently a trend. As Slate reports:

The company also says it made major headway on one of its primary goals: reducing vehicle ownership. According to its report, 250,000 Lyft users abandoned vehicle ownership in favor of ride-sharing, and half of its users reported driving less frequently now.

Slate is referring to Lyft’s latest Economic Impact Report, which contains a lot of really interesting data: seniors are using Lyft to access medical services, people with disabilities are using Lyft to increase their mobility; Lyft passengers who elected to “Round Up and Donate” gave $3 million to various charities and causes.

Plus a good quarter million of us gave up car ownership, and I’d bet...

Photo credit: Geoff Stearns, CC BY 2.0.

Finding a new home can be hard, especially when so many apartments come with various perks and different prices. While your first instinct might be to go for the place with the lowest rent, some amenities are worth the extra cash (and may even end up saving you money).

I’ve lived in so many apartments that I now have a very good idea of which amenities I am willing to pay for — and why getting the more expensive apartment could be a cost-effective decision.

Splurge for the full kitchen

Major cities seem to be full of these “pod”-style apartments that come with low rents but no kitchen. Maybe there’s a dorm-sized refrigerator and a stove, or maybe the kitchen is down the hall. Yes, the price might be great, but be aware that you’re setting yourself up for higher costs down the road.

Why? Because eating out is expensive — and so are constant grocery trips to get the type of convenience foods you need for a kitchenless apartment. A stove is essential for low-cost cooking: spaghetti, soup, grilled cheese. I also like having an oven because I love baking cookies for friends or bringing muffins to gatherings, and replacing those with a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates can add up.

If you go for a place that doesn’t have everything you’d expect in...

Photo credit: Caroline, CC BY 2.0.

Here’s where I am with all of my current investment vehicles:

My personal investing account is successfully with Vanguard and it currently contains $200. I wasn’t able to invest in a Vanguard mutual fund right away because I don’t have enough money for the buy-in, but I was able to buy one share of a Vanguard ETF — and I didn’t have to pay any commission or fees.

I chose the ETF primarily because the share price was low enough that I could buy one. (A lot of ETFs were out of my price range.) It felt a little weird to buy a single share, but it also felt weird to have the money in the account and not try to invest it. I’m treating this as a learn-as-you-go project, and yesterday I learned how to buy an ETF. Next week I’ll look at the different ways to buy an ETF — market, limit, stop, etc. — so I can use that knowledge when I buy my next share.

My HSA is successfully with HealthEquity and I just transferred $200 into the account. I can’t invest the money yet because it’s still going through the transfer process — Planet Money just did a podcast episode about why that process takes so long, if you’re curious — and I’m guessing I won’t be able to invest...

Photo by JJ Thompson on Unsplash.

So I found this CNBC post about money regrets very interesting, especially in regards to my own investing project (which I’ll update you on later today):

Men’s biggest money regret was not investing: Nearly 15 percent chose that option versus about 9 percent of women. Interestingly, men are more likely than women to fear losing money in the stock market, according to another survey.

For women, the top money regret was not saving enough: a plurality, or 41 percent, chose that option, versus 33 percent of men. The survey also found a higher percentage of women than men have less than $1,000 in a savings account: 62 percent versus 52 percent, respectively.

I’m a little confused by those paragraphs, because it seems like both men and women regret not saving more than they regret not investing. I went to the source — a GoBankingRates survey — and found an equally confusing infographic:

That headline doesn’t accurately reflect the information presented in the graph. AT ALL. (Also, gender isn’t a binary.)

If you asked me what people might list as their biggest financial regrets, I’d suggest that their regrets might be related to their current financial situation: people who are paying down a lot of debt might regret getting...

Photo by Nafinia Putra on Unsplash.

Not everyone experiences a lull around the holidays, but I work in an industry where taking time off between Christmas and New Year’s is fairly typical. I also work in a fairly low-paid industry — so whenever I receive a non-monetary benefit, like time off, I try to figure out how I can turn it into a new means of cashflow.

This year, I had a few options available to me: secret shopping gigs, online marketing surveys, and freelance writing. One of these obviously pays a bit more than the others. I’ve also started to wonder what it would take to “go freelance” full-time, so I gave myself three days when I wouldn’t be around family to try a full, eight-hour freelance workday. I thought turning my holiday downtime into a few days of serious writing would help me make the best of the break.

One thing I found hard to shake was that this was all “for fun,” which meant that there is no way I worked as diligently as I would have if it had been a regular job rather than a way to break up the holidays with something besides cookie-eating. I tried to make it feel real, but I couldn’t shake the sensation that, ultimately, it wasn’t.

Even those of us who...

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It’s Thursday, which means it’s time to Do 1 Thing.

Today, my one thing is to figure out why my water bill includes a $19.67 sewer charge when my lease states that my landlord pays sewer and I only pay water.

(I actually think I know why — the utility company automatically billed water and sewer together. My job will be to figure out whether the sewer charge can be removed.)

Wish me luck.

What about you?

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Today in “well, I guess that’s the kind of world we live in now,” we go to the Washington Post:

Daniel Dunn was about to sign a lease for a Honda Fit last year when a detail buried in the lengthy agreement caught his eye.

Honda wanted to track the location of his vehicle, the contract stated, according to Dunn — a stipulation that struck the 69-year-old Temecula, Calif., retiree as a bit odd. But Dunn was eager to drive away in his new car and, despite initial hesitation, he signed the document, a decision with which he has since made peace.

As the WaPo explains, car companies can learn a lot about the people who drive their cars — from whether they wear their seatbelt to where they stop for lunch.

So these companies are adding data mining clauses into both lease and sales contracts, and the people signing those contracts may be unaware that their cars are collecting this information. (To be fair, it’s their responsibility to read any contracts or service agreements put in front of them. But we all know that people skip over the Terms of Service.)

Part of me is all “this is just how it’s going to be, from now on.” Everything that can track us, will — and I can’t even imagine how much information my phone...

Photo credit: Ronnie McDonald, CC BY 2.0.

I never particularly wanted to be a college professor, but I applied to do a PhD because I’d found a topic I was very interested in, I had a strong academic record, and I didn’t really know what else to do with myself at the time. When I applied in 2008, I’d been teaching English in Japan and didn’t want to do that any more, but didn’t have any other career plans.

My fully-funded PhD came at just the right time: a couple of weeks after the beginning of the global financial crisis. For the next three-and-a-half years I didn’t have to worry about the fact that I was just another arts graduate with little to set me apart, professionally, from all the others. I was interested in the topic I was studying, it allowed me to conduct research in India, and I treated my PhD candidature like a (poorly paid) full-time job. (I was a PhD student in Australia, hence the fully-funded nature of my scholarship and the shorter duration of my program.)

In 2012, towards the end of my studies, I started half-heartedly applying for post-doctoral scholarships and teaching positions in universities. I had to do something after my impending graduation, and academic jobs were all I thought I’d be qualified...

Photo credit: Mike Mozart, CC BY 2.0.

When I did my groceries vs. toiletries roundup yesterday, I noted that I was spending significantly less on at the grocery store now that I’d moved to Iowa.

Yes, food is a little less expensive in Cedar Rapids than it is in Seattle. (This cost of living calculator puts Seattle at slightly above the national average, in terms of food costs, and Cedar Rapids as slightly below.)

I’m also buying my toiletries in bulk whenever possible, which has helped bring my total bill down.

But I’m curious whether my online grocery delivery service is the real game-changer here.

Ordering my groceries online saves me money in two ways. First, it lets me meal plan a full month in advance. You might remember, from the Oh My Dollar! podcast episode where Lillian Karabaic interviewed me about meal planning, that I used to have this spreadsheet where I tracked groceries that I needed this week and groceries that I’d need next week — and that system worked fine, but it is way more efficient to ask myself “how many meals and snacks do I need this month, and how can I hit that number in the most cost-effective way possible?”

(Before you ask me what happens if I need fewer meals than planned because I end up going out to dinner or something: they roll...

Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield on Unsplash.

I know I’ve told this story more than once, but in my first office job out of college (the temp job I picked up after my stint as a telemarketer) my boss gave me a sweater.

It was a coral pink and it had crossed cables knit into it and my boss claimed that she bought it and it didn’t fit her, or a friend gave it to her and it didn’t fit, or something like that.

I was too embarrassed to ever wear the sweater to the office, so I continued wearing my five work-appropriate tops with my two work-appropriate pairs of pants. Every week.

Which means that I found much to empathize with in this Racked essay about work, clothing, and social class:

I didn’t get the job. Maybe a more qualified applicant got it. Maybe it was a recent graduate from one of the big city schools, Columbia or NYU. Maybe it went to a person who wasn’t wearing a skirt they borrowed from a girlfriend, a blouse with a small tear in the corner by the wrist. The editor who interviewed me shook my hand and I focused on doing the right things: Firm grip, steady eye contact, engaged smile. But I couldn’t shake the thought: “Did he notice the tear? That my purse didn’t have a designer label?”...

Photo credit: Eugene Kim, CC BY 2.0.

Some years ago I dated a guy who used San Francisco as backdrop to fantasy. He was a fellow East Coast transplant, and after his first year in California posted a photo to Instagram, tagged from Dolores Park; the vista looking outwards, heroically, to the Mission and the glowing bay beyond. “It was a hope, a dream, a mantra ‘to live in San Francisco,’” the post read, “and I can honestly say, one year on, that I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else.”

Of course, he lived in Oakland and his job was in Marin. He only ever went into the city when he needed something obvious and enviable to pose with and post for the rubes back home. The feed was rife with intensely curated bridges, boys, and brunch. In this photo there was also a youthful blonde consultant twined about his ankles as the San Francisco skyline receded into the distance. Every post was like that. The subtext of the entire account was eat shit, Bedford Falls.

The following week he dumped me. I didn’t miss him. We were on different paths. I understand he and the consultant recently got an apartment together.

For San Francisco, the Bay Area, and California writ large, the presumption is that if you were...

NICOLE: Happy Friday!

NICOLE: Happy Friday!





NICOLE: We are using too many all caps.

NICOLE: Probably.

NICOLE: But I’m impressed that Vanguard responded so quickly! I was expecting it to take at least two weeks. Didn’t the website say it would take at least two weeks?

NICOLE: Apparently they received my application on Friday morning and were able to finalize it by Friday afternoon.

NICOLE: So now we should be able to start those IRA and 403(b) rollovers, right? Get some of those fee-free transfers and invest in some Vanguard Admiral funds? Low expense ratios, awwww yeah!


If you want to be part of a future Friday Chat, please email

Photo credit: Christopher Paquette, CC BY 2.0.

Today in “the rent is too damn high,” we go to MarketWatch:

Collectively, American renters paid a total of $485.6 billion in 2017, up $4.9 billion from the $480.7 billion in 2016.

That’s a 1 percent increase overall, but — as the saying goes — it isn’t evenly distributed. Some cities, as MarketWatch reports, saw rents increase by more than 7 percent.

If you’re a renter, how much did you pay in rent last year? Was it more than what you paid in 2016? I spent $10,765 on 2017 rent, and it’s only lower than the $11,940 I paid in 2016 because I moved from Seattle to Cedar Rapids. Had I stayed where I was, I would have spent $12,215 — a 2.3 percent increase.

But I’ll only spend $7,800 on rent this year, thanks to my lower-cost-of-living move. (We’ll leave out the fact that the move cost me $5,929.10. We all agree to ignore that part, right?)