Jul 4, 2009

Happy 233rd Independence Day America !!!

A Very Happy Independence Day to all :)

As it has always been about curiosity ;), I'd like to share something I just found out. It was on July 4, 1776 when the Congress adopted United States' Declaration of Independence. Actually the legal separation of American colonies from Britain happened on July 2, 1776 but it took two days for the Congress to sign and adopt the Declaration of Independence.

July 2 was supposed to be commemorated as the Independence Day but July 4 became more widely known when people came to know about signing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Inserting a video for the first time. I visited New York City in December 2006 and shot the video below on Ellis Island while returning from Liberty. I don't know why but I always feel nice and proud when I see this US Flag waving on the beats of cool sea side breeze, Navy Coast Guard chopper in the background and you can literally hear the wind. BTW none of those human noises in the background are mine ... so just ignore them ;)

Don't forget watching the fireworks tonight. While many people enjoy spending their Independence Day driving miles and partying with friends and relatives, I found pretty diverse plans from the readers of Bargaineering.com on Jim's post titled "What Are Your July 4th Plans?". Read the comments here, some are really interesting!

After four tiresome road-trips in June I am taking off of the weekend spree this time, finding for myself how it feels to stay back and enjoy the lull, clean-up my apartment and car, finish reading few finance books. Today was no-work day, I browsed many shopping zones around which I haven't been to since I came here. It was fun, hope to have some good time tomorrow too ... thinking about my plans, ummmmm ... a movie in mall, a cold coffee, While Molten Chocolate Cake @ Chili's and obviously the fireworks ... Happy Independece Day Readers :)

I would love to hear h
ow are you spending/spent your Independence weekend, drop me a few lines!

Jul 2, 2009

How I Trimmed My Dining Bills by 59% - "No Eat-Out Experiment" Result

With the inception of June '09 I halted my eat-out habits for a month. Today that 1 month period is over and I would like to share with you the savings I witnessed over the past one month.
  • What was the experiment
I coined it a "No Eat-Out Month" Experiment when I pledged to not spend at all eating out. Food is my weakness and so I couldn't stop myself from wandering away from the seemingly pledge but I did try my best and here is the result. It reminds me of setting the bar higher, in this case I lowered the bar a little, though, but still it looks like a success :)
  • Result
I saved 59.6% in my dining bills last month. Below is a snapshot from my Quicken Online account with dining trends for June '09:

As seen above I spent $50 on dining bills. Below is the snapshot for my eat-out spending for May '09 when I spent $124 on dining:

That's a $74 savings straight-away! While many people consider 74 bucks as just a mere amount, I see it as my 8-months Netflix bill :)
  • How I did it

I cook (almost) every night and take lunch box to work, this habit saves me enough already. In May '09 I joined several friends to get on to roads for some beautiful and eventful trips, and my wallet was slain there. In June '09 I went on 3 road trips but still the results are in my favor.

Here are few things I made sure to put to action:

  1. cook at home regularly

  2. eat properly before leaving home (for work, shopping, etc.)

  3. while on a road trip, prefer coffee with sugar at a service station. Sugar energizes (and satiates) you while coffee lets you keep going

  4. meet with friends at home and plan to cook and eat together inside, it's pure frugal fun
  5. (@trenttsd suggests) stop at a grocery shop while on a trip than at a diner

  6. next time you shop groceries buy something that you really savor when you crave. Use it to control your eat-out yearnings

  7. if you should go out, then order something you were longing to eat. Satisfaction is a m ust when it comes to taste fellas ;)
  • So where did I spend

So where did I spend those $50 and when did I spend them. I am not sure how clear will the following image be once it's published:

This is the list of my dining bills for June '09. As you can see I mostly had coffee and that was when I was driving ;) Secondly Cold Stone which I miss these days was another venue. Panera Bread and Formosa Chinese were where I went to had some real meal with friends.

Julia @BargainBabe.com, with her numerous readers, is observing a spending moratorium month in July '09 that started yesterday. If you feel motivated enough, give it a try and join BargainBabe this month.

Have you ever considered such experiment? How did it go? What do you think of such activities? Please leave a comment.

Jul 1, 2009

My Monetary Snapshot - June '09

Let's Be Curious is more than two months old today :)

Here's what it looks like at the end of this month:

Emergency Funds (High Interest Savings): $5578
Checking Accounts (Non-Interest Earning): $917
401K: $608
CD: $2000
Interest + Other Earnings: $97.66
(amazed how come it's $97 ;) all added up by paid surveys and free money)

Car Loan Balance: $13,512
Credit Card Balance: $71

June 2009: Total Assets: $9103 Total Debt: $13,583
May 2009: Total Assets: $8321 Total Debt: $14,522
April 2009: Total Assets: $6065 Total Debt: $15,163

Jun 30, 2009

Extra Paycheck Month - July '09

There are 52 weeks in a regular year and 4 weeks in a month. Ohhhh did I miss something, because 4 weeks a month makes it 48 weeks a year? No people, I am correct here! So where are the (52-48=) 4 weeks?

When we talk of "4 weeks a month", we are actually talking about the "complete weeks". In the months having 30 or 31 days, the number of weeks are a little more above 4. The extra days constituting these extra little weeks make up the 4 missing weeks through an year I mentioned above.

If you are lucky enough and are paid weekly, one of the extra day in the month may be your paycheck day. For me it's Wednesday and thus July '09 brings in 5 paychecks for me instead of 4 :)

Whether you budget or not, almost all of us are used to manage our monthly expenses with 4 paychecks a month and thus this extra paycheck you get in July '09 can be used to fulfill one of your long awaited goals.

What can you do with your extra paycheck:
  • deposit it towards your loan or mortgage
  • start/strengthen your emergency funds
  • stash your high yielding savings or checking account
  • create a CD account
  • invest it in
  • go for your favorite authentic cuisine restaurant
  • plan a short weekend outing
  • get yourself something that you were long waiting to buy
  • secure your annual subscriptions (my annual Netflix subscription is $120, my annual HSBC CreditKeeper bill is $84)
I am planning to put my one whole paycheck towards my car loan this month.

What are your plans?
Where else do you think can one spend an extra paycheck wisely? Please leave comment.

Jun 29, 2009

Tips For Saving On Traffic Fines: Handling Traffic Stops

With the Independence Long Weekend around the corner, I thought of writing something about road-trips. I just love them!

Recently I went to Wilmington, DE on my first longest road-trip since I bought my car. Though it was (only?) 5 hours drive but driving alone all-the-way down and coming back isn't that exciting! (driving pleasures apart) It was a Saturday morning when I started, drove through New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware; while the surroundings change there were few common things throughout: us behind the wheels trying to stick to our plans and those watching us doing so safely. Yeah, those here refer to the state patrol troops, rangers and police officers. While they do their duty penalizing if we disobey, we still have chances to save on those fines.

On my way to Delaware I saw some cars pulled over and may be most of them got fined for violating traffic laws, that left me pondering over the topic and inspired me to share this on Let's Be Curious. This is what the article is about: tips on how to tackle a traffic stop and avoid getting a fine.
  • Yearly Speeding Tickets by State

Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a non-profit organization which administers several programs to enforce safe driving habits on interstates. GHSA conducts and publishes relevant surveys from time to time under title 'Survey Of The States'. Most recent and relevant one I found was published in 2005 based on three years data on 'speeding' habits.

I was amazed by the numbers when I grazed over the report. Let me tabulate some of the eye-catchers:

Average Speeding Citations Over Past Few years
California 957,758
Texas 553,912
Illinois 441,303
Dist. Of Columbia 385,618
Massachusetts 363,688
North Carolina 360,000
Maryland 358,729
South Carolina 280,142
Pennsylvania 224,258

Note: Although GHSA operates in all states but data for some of them was not available, including New York!

This table itself is enough to give an idea about how much revenue these citations might be generating for the states, worth driving and behaving careful while at the wheels fellas, read on ...
  • The Golden Rule - Keep Watching For Signs On Road
No sign will ever say "there's a cop ahead", but they do tell us what cops don't want us to do. It's really simple and I shouldn't be telling you if you have a valid driving license: keep scanning the road signs while you are driving and follow them, because,

- it is safe
- it is recommended
- it gives you sufficient time to adjust to changing traffic conditions
  • Dealing With A Traffic Ticket
Let's get down to business. So you see flashing lights in your rear mirror and (to make it worse) hear sirens calling you from continuing your journey, what to do next? How to talk to the officer? What to say? (More importantly) What NOT to say?
    1. Stop Immediately, Safely and Properly
The officer behind you is there because you (potentially) had violated a law, start acting responsibly asap. Keep the following things in mind while pulling over:

a) Pull-off to a safe position on right, if there is shoulder then stop on the

b) Turn-off engine
c) Keep your driver license and vehicle registration ready
d) Roll down driver side window, if not already
e) Keep both your hands on steering
f) Think what is the speed limit of this zone. If you don't remember use your
experience and judgement to come-up with something logical and safe.

Traffic stops are supposed to be very dangerous tasks in a Police Officer's day-to-day activities and thus they are extra cautious when approaching the stopped vehicle. Any kind of movement in the vehicle by driver OR any of passengers is seen as highly suspicious, don't just do it. If you are in between any of the above steps when officer approaches, just stop whatever you are doing. Stay calm and wait for the officer's arrival at your window.
    1. Be Quiet, Let Officer Say The First Words - The 2 Important Questions
Remember, any thing you say can be used against you in court so don't talk in the hurly-burly, be calm and let the officer begin the conversation. Almost all the traffic stops follow two questions to the driver:

a) Do you know why you are stopped?
b) Do you know at what speed you were going?

Every traffic ticket can be challenged in court and this is officer's attempt to make you admit something which will wipe out all your chances to do so. Take your time to collect yourself and answer when you are ready. Below are the best of the responses to above questions:

a) Do you know why you are stopped? Answer: No officer.
b) Do you know at what speed you were going? Answer: Use the limit you
recollected/calculated as told in the previous section.

Never even try to admit what went wrong on your part, there are high chances that you might say something which the officer had not yet noticed. Never say you don't know what speed you were going at, you are responsible for maintaining your speed within safe limits and that's what the speed limit signs are meant for.

Based on my experience with speed limits in New York state, here are few limits I always remember:

a) Interstates - 65 mph
b) State Highways - 55 mph
c) When entering a city/town/village - 45 mph
d) City/Village/Town - 30-35 mph
e) Watch out for reduced speeds for road works
  1. Be Polite And Respect Their Job
The officer who stopped you might be starving, experiencing extreme weather conditions and what not, just to make the roads safer for everybody. Being rude, arrogant, insulting or authoritative is the easiest way to invite a traffic ticket. Officers, many a times, stay neutral about citations until they talk to the driver. You may want to consider this situation, it is very likely that an officer may just let you go with a warning word. Moreover an officer's testimony to your arrogant behavior may result in the judge to sentence increased fines in court. Respect officers, they are doing their jobs to make our road trips and journeys enjoyable and safe.
  1. If You Get A Ticket, Plead Not-Guilty ASAP
If above steps didn't work and you got home with a ticket then immediately plead not-guilty and return the ticket to the court at the earliest possible. It's always suggested to accompany your plea with a letter to District Attorney (DA) explaining:

a) Who are you

b) You realize the severity of getting points on your driving record
c) Your have an impeccable record so far
d) Request to dismiss a ticket or at least reduce the fine and/or points

Many a times it is also suggested to try to postpone the appearance date in court in a hope for the officer who issued you the ticket would not show and ticket will be dismissed, I am not sure how much this trick may help, let me know if you have had any such experience.
  1. Consult Any Free Services Available
Look around and find out if there are any free suggestions available to you. Talk to friends, tweet your questions, ask for experiences, what-to's and what-not-to's. Communicate on Orkut, Facebook, MySpace, etc ........... Most universities usually have a free law consulting department for students, find that out if you are a student. Many traffic lawyers give limited suggestions without charging any fee.
  1. Be Ready To Accept Any Deal Offered In Court
Appear on time at court on the given date. Carry all required documents. Upon reaching, look for the DA or the officer who cited you. It happens both ways: the officer (or DA) fights to have you pay the fine to the state treasury while you try to eliminate any fine or at least minimize it. In an attempt to make this happen in a mutually beneficial way, the authorities typically make you an offer. The offers may vary among a wide number of options but mainly to:

a) reduce the fine
b) reduce the points on your record
c) reduce both
d) reduce severity/charges of the ticket

Usually accepting these offers results in reduced fines, at least; only thing they need you to do is accept the reduced charges. There have been many instances when people rejected the offers and contended to prove their case, resulting in a win and dismissal of all citations. However, to make sure winning a case in a traffic court needs rigorous planning and adequate evidences, if you are confident you have those, it's worth giving it a try.
  • Try To Avoid A Ticket In Future
Start taking lessons from life right away, do your best to avoid getting into the traffic ticket traps again. Always follow traffic rules, never violate a law, drive safe and make proper decisions. If you had got a traffic ticket and managed to get out of it or got your fines reduced, please leave your story and any tips for readers.