Thursday, January 31, 2008

Never Too Young To Know Your Credit History.

While I wasn't willing to shell out money to find out my credit score, I haven't checked my credit report in eons. Using recommendations over at The Simple Dollar, I went with All I had to fill out was my name, date of birth, social security number, and previous address. Next, I clicked on using Equifax and was asked two questions regarding my auto loan (who it was through and what category my payment fell into). Voila! I had my credit report right there.

Here's what I learned:

I rock!

Well, more like, I make all my payments on time. Even though I'm only 21, I already have three years and five months of perfect credit history. Nothing outstanding; no stolen identity; nothing to worry about. Well, besides my debt ratio to available credit. Basically, I have a little over 13k for my auto loan and another 5k pulled out for school. I'm not worried over the school debt as it is subsidized and is GOOD debt. As for my auto loan, as soon as I pay off my credit cards, I'm throwing everything at it. Furthermore, I don't have too many credit inquiries nor do I have too many open lines of credit. For the record, I only have three credit cards. I may possibly go down to just two.

I'm happy. Now, off to class I go!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Rebuttal to "Proven Methods For Servers To Increase Their Tips"

I'm absolutely blown away by some of the comments people left on Get Rich Slowly's post on Proven Methods for Servers to Increase Their Tips. Appalled even. What the heck are in people's minds?! Last time I checked, providing good, friendly service does NOT mean I'm attempting to manipulate people. It means I'm doing my job correctly. Management wouldn't be attempting to keep me around otherwise. I'll take the time to address some of the tips in the post along with some of the items featured in comments. As one person mentioned, the server can't win.

Wear Something Unusual: At my work, we have standard garb and can only wear stud earrings, one ring per hand and no other jewelry. It doesn't leave much room for being unique.

Introduce Yourself By Name: Someone commented that they hated when servers do this. At my restaurant, it's considered a standard to do so and if a server falsifies their name, it's a potential write-up. The concept behind this is that I want my customers to know who I am. I always appreciate it when someone DOES remember my name. If they happen to need their check immediately to leave and grab another server to get me, they can ask for Vixen, not for "a short red head". This is part of the server exam at the end of training.

Squat Next To The Table: I'm 4'11. I'm usually close to eye-level with the men I serve and not much taller than women. Heh. But, I do know a server who is over six feet that will squat next to a table for his own personal ease.

Repeat Customer's Order: Standard procedure to make sure that you didn't screw up the order, especially when it is an order with five modifications to it. This is part of the server exam at the end of training.

Smile At Customers: If you aren't doing this, you aren't doing your job well. Once again, part of the server exam. I mean really, who wants a server that doesn't smile? I'm a natural smiler; sometimes it's a big one, other times a soft one.

Sell, Sell, Sell: At my restaurant, a server has to offer drinks, specific appetizer, point to promo menu, offer to add on soup or salad, pie, ice cream with the pie, and coffee! If the manager happens to walk by when you are taking an order and you don't offer to add on a salad, you get in trouble. At the end of our receipts, a survey prints up (reward if you complete it), if the customer says you missed more than two upsell items, you get written up. No joke. This isn't manipulation; this is us keeping our jobs.

Touch Customers: I absolutely do not touch customers except for a few regular women who insist on hugging me. I feel uncomfortable if a person at the table touches me and hence I refrain from doing it as well. My best friend works with me and she is a lot more touchy-feely than I am. I notice she gets better tips from men when she cocktails. I'm not willing to flirt with my customers. I deliver excellent service and I'm a sweetheart; men don't get any special attention.

Write 'Thank You' On The Receipt: Most of the servers I know do this, but I sheerly don't have the time for it. I verbalize 'thank you' when I drop the check anyhow.

Give Customers Candy: I'm not dipping into my own pocket, wasting the space in my pocket or anything else like that. Furthermore, if I start doing that, tables will expect that out of other servers in my restaurant.

Now, in regards to some of the comments people left:

-I don't understand the sliding into booths either.
-I remember my regulars usual drinks or idiosyncrasies.
-One person complains about servers not being attentive enough, yet another complains that she doesn't like servers being too attentive.
-At my restaurant, we recommend using 'folks' instead of 'guys'. It's a generational thing with my age group.
-Regards to chatting with coworkers, it's inevitable. Communication is key in the serving industry. As a shift lead, I delegate tasks to people or hold cast calls. I do understand if they are talking about their weekend plans and you have no ice tea.
-The better servers rarely write down orders. It's all in our heads. It takes too much time to whip out paper and pen and then search for it later. I always recommend for new servers to write everything down though.
-Furthermore, when we drop food, we are suppose to quietly announce the plate.
-One person cites they don't want their ice tea topped off, but they don't want it to be too low either. I'm sorry, do we servers need to be telepathic to the ratio of beverage to glass space that you desire?
-It's required at my job to check back on the table within two minutes of them receiving their food. It is to ensure satisfaction with the order, not to disturb your conversation.
-Oh, Frugal Bachelor, you dog you! :-D
-J.D., at my restaurant we aren't allowed to leave pitchers on the table (or even set them down) unless there are ten people in the party. I once had a gentleman ask for a pitcher lemonade, so I brought him five glasses. Heh.

All in all, go a little easy on your server. We are just trying to do our job. If you didn't tip us, the restaurants would have to pay us more hourly and the cost of the food would go up astronomically. We really aren't trying to manipulate you, just trying to deliver good customer service.

Before Class Round-Up

I've been catching up on my blog roll and there have been so many gems in the past week! Here's a few of my favorites:

Madame X features a post citing a study regarding how women are less likely to get hired after a certain age. It goes into plastic surgery and remaining 'hip'. Erg. Society.

Think your family's finances are hard to manage? Try having a 'throuple' household which involves a three-person long-term relationship. I'm very open to the idea of relationships involving multiple people, but have never thought about the consequences or details. Thanks to Nina over at QueerCents for this.

Over at The Digerati Life there is a great post up featuring "12 Effective Ways To Afford Big Ticket Items". Lots of little reminders on how you can manage to purchase those expensive, yet necessary, items in life.

Another set of 12 tips are featured over at The Simple Dollar. These show how you can find time (and money) to get things done on a daily basis. Number 7 and 12 are my favorites.

Run over to Well-Heeled and tell her what your food budget is!

Give Me Back My Five Bucks is an excellent example of how an emergency fund saved her during a time when she was unemployed. Please don't look at the current status of my EF. Ugh.

I have eight minutes to run to class! Off I go!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Overwhelmed Over Job Security.

As the title indicates, I've been feeling quite overwhelmed lately. The primary concern has been over work. I don't know why I didn't write about it in here earlier, but I nearly had to look for a new job. The company I work for was bought out by an East Coast corporation and one of the changes being enacted is that they are getting rid of shift leads. Basically, my position in the company is being eliminated. I still could waitress and train other servers, but I would lose my job security. As a shift lead, I am there for six to eight hours. Other servers are there anywhere from two to six hours depending on how busy we are. I cannot come in to work and be sent home after making twenty dollars. I have to make a hundred a shift. Furthermore, work has been incredibly slow for the previous week and a half (although it started picking up on Friday) and I have been making 50-70% of my normal tips.

Needless to say, I was fearing I'd have to leave and go to a busier/more stable restaurant. Fortunately, management enjoys having me there and values me as an employee. I'm taking over bartending shifts on Sunday nights which is a guaranteed six hour shift. Management also discussed with me that the might not get rid of leads, or at the very least, rename them as a different position and keep them on. Last, I was offered a managing position! I'd be an hourly manager which means that I'd work when one of the managers get sick, go on vacation or if they just need an extra manager around. Furthermore, the general manager indicated that she'd probably have me do opening shifts or mid-shifts so that they wouldn't interfere with my normal serving shifts. I'd come in before I go to school, or pick up my sister on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. I start training immediately and as a manager I'd be making a base pay of fourteen an hour. Essentially it would just be extra money in my pocket because I'd continue to work my regular shifts as well.

Last, to supplement my income in this volatile time, I've started looking for something to do on the side.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Student Health Fee: Providing Students With Invaluable Services.

Every term, students begrudgingly pay the often obligatory 'health fee'. In the past, I've paid twelve dollars for this fee, upwards to the fifty five dollars I pay each quarter now. What I didn't realize before was all the items included in this fee! A nurse from the health center on my campus spoke to class today and handed out fliers for a number of services. We're talking dental, reproductive, fitness, nutrition and a bunch of other services. On a more amusing note, she also passed around a bag full of strawberry dams and flavored condoms. She recommended against trying the chocolate condoms!

Family PACT program: If you go to school in California, check and see if your campus provides this California State Department of Health Services program. It provides access to family planning services for low income residents of California (it's not limited to just students!!!). What's also neat about this is that you don't have to provide documentation such as taxes or pay stubs. All a student has to do is fill out the application and you are notified within fifteen minutes if you qualify. FREE services provided through this program include: all FDA approved contraceptive methods (cervical caps, diaphragms, Depo-Provera, sterilization, etc.), physical exam, pap smear, HIV testing, condoms, STI testing, family planning counseling, UTI services and dysplasia services. Seriously, free. All of this.

Counseling Services: My university offers counseling with licensed professionals for an extensive list of issues/problems. Even if you just need someone to talk to about the stresses of being a student, their doors are wide open. They even allow same day appointments.

Fitness Facilities and Nutritional Clinic: The previous campus I went to required a fee for students to use the gym. At this university, students are able to use the swimming pool and fitness room during limited hours at no charge. Furthermore, there is a 'campus walk' that is 1.5 miles and highlighted for students with a spare half hour between classes. No gear is needed to take the quick and refreshing walk. Furthermore, nutritional counseling, diet analysis, body fat assessment and dietary supplement facts are offered completely free by the Nutrition Clinic on campus. Nifty pamphlets/fliers are also created that give nutritional facts for the fast food places on campus, as well as a list of different activities students can do on campus to get exercise in (along with the calories burned per hour for these activities).

Chiropractic Clinic: I will definitely make an appointment within the upcoming weeks here. Chiropractic interns supervised by a faculty member offer spinal adjustments, prevention and treatment for low back and neck problems. They also provide patients with related exercises to improve posture, flexibility, coordination and pain.

Doctor's Visits: If you are filling ill or running a fever while at school, it costs nothing to drop in to the health center for an immediate consultation. They even provide sterilized environments for sick students to lay down.

The following four services require fees, but often are significantly lower than you'd pay elsewhere:

Pharmacy: According to the nurse who gave the presentation, the pharmacy on campus offers lower prices than competitors due to low overhead costs. She recommended that students check out filling their prescriptions on campus rather than going to a drug store to save money.

Dental Clinic: Cleaning, x-ray and oral exam are performed by a doctor along with a written evaluation for a mere fifty dollars. Furthermore, fillings range from forty to fifty dollars!

Optometry Clinic: Eye exams including visual screening (with dilation) and refraction are a mere forty dollars. Further more, glasses start at 115 dollars. Contact lenses and exam are sixty five dollars.

Massage Therapy: When I went and got a massage some time back, I paid sixty five dollars for an hour massage. On my campus, the same is offered for twenty five dollars! Furthermore, half hour massages are only fifteen dollars. This is ridiculously cheap.

Acupuncture Services: While I won't be trying this out, it is only twenty five dollars an hour with a half hour being fifteen dollars. Our acupuncturist on campus uses Neuro-Anatomical Acupuncture which is suppose to have a stronger scientific leaning rather than mystical.

All in all, I'm amazed at all the services offered on my campus and encourage other students to check out what their health fee pays for.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Budget: Version 1.0

Foremost, I want to state that considering I don't have a fixed income, it's somewhat difficult to come up with a budget. For my income, I figured that I make on average a hundred dollars a shift plus two biweekly checks of roughly 150. That gave me the grand total of 1900 dollars a month (16 working days x 100 dollars + 150 dollar checks x two pay periods).

Fixed Expenses
Rent: 600
Auto Insurance: 181
Car Payment: 272
Cell Phone: 86
Credit Cards: 300
Savings: 150

Flexible Expenses
Clothing/Auto: 50
Gas: 80
School Supplies: 10
Household Items: 11
Entertainment/Going Out: 60
Food: 100

The Explanation
Obviously, rent, auto insurance, car payment and cell phone are fixed items. I definitely could do something about lowering my phone bill though! I rarely use up all the minutes although I put the texting to good use. I think I use texts more than minutes. As for the credit cards and savings, with that sort of progress in my budget, I could pay off my credit card bills in four to five months! After I pay off the credit cards, that money is going to be divvied up between extra on my car payment and more into savings. Once the savings goal is met, it's going to be all thrown at my car.

As for the flexible expenses, part of my resolutions for the new year is to buy more clothes. I figure I'll start a clothing/auto fund that will pay for any oil changes that occur, along with buying some new clothes. Gas is a major expense for me. I commute back and forth out to Los Angeles for school. School supplies are hardly needed although do occur (paper, pens, scantrons, etc.). Same goes for household expenses. I seem not to go through shampoo, toothpaste or detergent terribly often. The following two are my biggest weaknesses that I've already gone WAY over this budget for this month. I am twenty-one... and I love to go out! Furthermore, since I spend upwards of twelve hours at school on some days, I inevitably buy food on campus.

I'm quite satisfied with this budget. Although, I'm fully aware that I'll prolly have to make some adjustments as time goes on.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Resolutions for 2008 (Finally!)

I've been mulling over what my goals would be for 2008. It took me two weeks into this year to figure out what I wanted to accomplish. I'm actually happy that it took me this much time; I came up with goals that are realistic and plausible.

Create, tweak and come up with a functioning budget. This is by far the most important thing on the list. Hence, it's number one. Budgeting is a new thing for me. By the end of 2008, I want to have developed a flexible budget that will take into consideration all the facets of working, going to school and attempting to thrive.

Keep all receipts. Obviously this ties in with the first goal; I want to track my finances immacutely. I find that I tend to overlook certain expenses because I never hold on to receipts. Furthermore, next year, I want to take deductions on my taxes and I'll need to have saved my receipts for that.

Have two thousand dollars invested in a high-interest savings account. This is a multi-part goal. First, I need to save up some money. Second, I need to research which type of high-interest savings account will be best for me. Third will be to open an account. Last, reach my savings goal!

Credit Cards paid off. I need to dedicate a significant portion of my income to paying off my cards... quickly. I feel guilty that that debt exists.

Invest 500 into wardrobe. This is at the bottom of my list of resolutions, yet still here. I have a horrid habit of never buying clothes. Ever. It's partly because of my body image and partly because I never feel the need to spend money on it. I tend to buy a couple pieces of clothing once every like four or five months and then wear them out before buying a couple more. I spend MAYBE 200 on clothes each year. Well-Heeled is having the opposite problem that I'm having, ironically.

Not related to my fiscal well-being, but very important: Develop dietary and exercise plan that fits my schedule. I have a really hard time sticking to diets because I feel like I just don't have the time for them. I need to find something that works for me. I'm not setting a weight goal to lose during the year. Physical well-being and satisfaction with my body is what I'm looking for.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The latter end of the week is shaping up.

How about we not look at my spending habits for the beginning of this week. Ugh.

Parking: 6
Parking Permit for rest of quarter: 84
Gas: 25
Textbooks: 155
Coffee & Croissant: 5
Dinner: 76 (My treat)

Coffee: 3
Lunch: 2
Dinner w/ sister: 18

Lunch: 2.79

Grocery Shopping: 2.33 (used 25 gift card)

At least I didn't spend any money yesterday? Oy. So, the groceries I bought on Friday are suppose to last me at least through the next week. Taking food to school is such a task for me. Erg. I'm at school for upwards 12 hours on some days. As for income, I made 112 on Monday, didn't work Friday due to a head cold, and 95 yesterday.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Textbook Prices: Professors To Blame.

When students gripe about the costs of textbooks (like the hundred and sixty dollars I spent yesterday for one class!), the finger is nearly always pointed at the school bookstore. I'm looking in a different direction: the professors.

School bookstores do make a profit off of selling used and new textbooks. A profit that is used to pay the salaries a few staff members and the bulk towards providing jobs on campus for students. Look at a school bookstore. There are dozens of students working shifts that cater to their class schedule and maybe five permanent 'adult' staff members. The rest of the profit incurred goes towards paying students to shelve books at the library and providing other jobs for students that the state budget doesn't have room for.

The small profit the bookstore makes doesn't begin to compare to what the professors gain. Professors are wined, dined and catered to by publishing companies. Ever wonder why some professors don't use textbooks or pick one that is relatively low in cost while others require a pricey new edition every year? Collusion between faculty and publishing houses has existed for years. Based on privileged knowledge, I know for a fact that one professor accepted a new flat-screen plasma television in return for switching to a different textbook at Mount San Antonio College. Other professors receive lump sums, such as Amy Staples did to the tune of four grand.

Students suffer when professors accept bribes and kickbacks from textbook companies. By using a new edition, students are unable to sell their edition back to the school bookstore. School bookstores can't purchase them because they can only carry on the shelves the textbooks the professors are requiring. If the professor requires the new sixth edition, the bookstore can't sell the used version of the fifth. Furthermore, by requiring a new edition, students have no opportunity to buy the book at a lower used price. Students are being ripped off by the greed of professors.

The absolute worst comes from professors who require their own books to be purchased by students; books that they directly receive royalties from. How ethical is that? The same goes for departments that decide to use a book that was penned by the department and furthermore refuse to allow the bookstore to buy back copies, demanding that only new ones be bought.

Universities need to put an end to professors accepting kickbacks and bribes by textbook companies. It's hard to fathom that even state-run schools turn a blind eye to the situation and allow the practice to go on. I could accept it a little more easy out of private schools, but out of state schools it's disgusting. Even when the practice is brought up by the faculty of school bookstores, the idea of banning it is promptly shut down. It explains why so many professors dislike the campus bookstore.

Joseph Gray put it succinctly when he said:
Our governments investigate businesses like Microsoft, phone companies and
satellite radio companies over concerns about monopolistic practices, price
fixing and dirty deals. What about taking a look at the textbook industry?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What is poor service? (Dining Out; part 1)

I had a heated debate with someone the other night about tipping. As a waitress, I won't date someone who doesn't tip properly. I won't even go out with an acquaintance who doesn't abide by the principle of tipping. Hell, I don't think I can be friends with someone like that.

I understand that in some countries tipping isn't a custom. In the United States it is. Servers are paid minimum wage (or a lot less in some states!) and hence the bulk of our income is derived from tipping. Furthermore, we tip out of the tips that we accumulate in the night or tip out based on our sales. Not tipping us effects not only our personal pockets but the busboy, the bartender and the expo. Even more so, we get taxed not on how much tips we make BUT our overall sales for the night.

Poor service merits a poor tip. Poor service to me has nothing to do with how fast I get the food, whether there is an error in the order or if the server doesn't refill my glass the moment it is half-full. The time it takes to get your food is caused by the cooks, not the server. The majority of the time, errors are caused by cooks or expos (the people who run out the food), not by servers. As for refills, if the server is busy and appears frantic, I give them a break. I understand what it is like to get sat three tables at once or to have a table that is making your life miserable. Giving grief to a server is bad karma.

What is poor service? It's when you see your server standing around gabbing it up and your glass has been empty the last half hour. Poor service is when you politely ask for another side of dressing and they make it seem as though you just asked for the world. It's when your server acts as though serving you is a chore. As a waitress, I am the first to hate bad service. I can't stand rude, abrupt and arrogant servers. I will go so far as to leave a note explaining to the person that they were horrible. On the other hand, if I get amazing service, I will go so far as to notify the manager PLUS leaving a good tip.

The next time you go to a restaurant, if you have a really nice but exasperated server, cut the person some slack. There are many factors outside of our control. We smile, we serve, we apologize, we hold our tongues when someone yells at us. Please just leave us a decent tip?

Part one in a series on dining out at restaurants.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Economic Turn Around.

I accidentally mentioned to a friend that I have a financial blog and it is now his life's mission to find this. Erm. I like my anonymity. I don't want him to know all my spending habits; not that his spending is any good. His is actually out of control. He's at least twenty five grand in debt and he's only a few months older than me. He's paying off an SUV and he has a motorcycle he's ridden once sitting in the garage. Fortunately though, he has decided to take a step back and reevaluate his economic position. My friend is taking a year off school to work two jobs and pay down his debt. He's created a goal to be out of debt in two years. In case he finds this, I have confidence in you!

Moneywise for me, the last few days have looked a bit like this:
Belated Christmas gift- 20
Overpriced dinner- 26
Textbook- 68.37

Income has looked like:
Friday: 115
Saturday: 75
Sunday: 112
Paycheck: 164.37

Speaking of which, I need to head to the bank to deposit my cash.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Still Wavering.

I'm still going back and forth on my goals for the new year. Who knew such a thing would be so hard?

Everything is still quite hectic. I started back school today; I'm also watching my relationship erode. I wish getting out of those things was easier.

Expenses for books this quarter are looking astronomical. Gulp. Not good. I'm looking at the 400 dollar range. Eep! None of the books are in the library like some were last quarter.

Today, I spent 9.44 on groceries and 6 on parking (that reminds me; I need to purchase a parking permit for the new quarter!). Yesterday I went out to dinner with friends to celebrate the birth of my goddaughter(!) and spent 22 dollars. Although, I'm going to divvy that up on my spreadsheet between the alcohol and food portion. I want to start tracking how much I spend on alcohol. Hm, I know one of my goals for the new year is to keep all my receipts. Now to figure out the rest.