Tag Archives: finance

Tough Mudder 2012 PA #1 – April 29 – Pocono Manor cont’d 2

So we continue with the third chapter (of four) of my Tough Mudder saga. Refer to Part 1 and Part 2 for the rest of this story. And yes, this story deserves four posts.

We left off with some slight aches and pains in my joints and me hoping for some water soon. I had just completed Devil’s Beard and continued pounding away on the merciless paved pathway. My friend and I had run in direct sunlight for some time before reaching another obstacle. So much sunlight, in fact, that underneath my UnderArmour ColdGear and Dri-Fit shirt, I was beginning to feel hot. We reached Hold Your Wood shortly after:

This obstacle presented a challenge because the logs were deceiving. They were incredibly dense, and therefore way heavier than they looked. I grabbed a log that I felt was proportionate to my frame size and started moving. The distance of this obstacle felt like it could have been a third to a half mile long; it was difficult to judge because we were lugging this heavy wood on our shoulders. I coped well by alternating shoulders. However, as my friend and I finished the loop and went to drop our wood on the pile to be taken again, we saw our team approaching, so we decided to do the loop again. Unfortunately, I had already handed off my wood, so I grabbed another one I felt looked reasonable, but it ended up being way heavier. I was switching shoulders way more often the second lap, but I nevertheless finished it without a break. We moved on as a team, but ended up splitting again due to our difference in running speeds.  We hit The Spider’s Web next:

It was directly after a water/banana station, which provided some much-needed hydration and potassium (good for cramps). Again, the teamwork at this obstacle was awesome. Mudders who had made it over were pulling the net down with their body weight to make the net taut and easier to climb. Those who made it over would switch with those that held it for them. This was the epitome of Tough Mudder: camaraderie. It really became clear that we were all in this together; it was a challenge for us all to complete, not a race. After holding the net for a few Mudders, we kept on running. The aches in my legs had subsided somewhat and I was still pumped, so I kept pushing without a problem.

Then came water, and things went all downhill (figuratively, certainly not literally) from there. Walk the Plank:

Though the one at Pocono Manor was considerably higher than the one in this photo, I was looking forward to this obstacle. After climbing up some very steep wooden boards, we reached the top, where several guys in military uniform (presumably Marines) shouted at us to stop thinking and jump. I had no hesitation (as a lifeguard for many years, I was no stranger to the high dive), and leapt in, glad to be getting wet again. The water was cold, as expected, but it was only when I swam around and exited the water that I realized how much the wind had picked up. It was immediately whipping around, and I was shivering violently in seconds. I felt like Will Ferrel in ‘Anchorman’, thinking “I immediately regret this decision.” We kept running, but my body was not liking one moment of this experience. Even though the lake water wasn’t iced (that I could tell), I felt exponentially colder than I had felt after Arctic Enema (iced water). Through some ankle-deep mud and woods, and then came Everest (suitable considering how frigid I was):

There was a slight backup of people at this obstacle, so we had a moment to catch our breath and assess where the best place to run up the quarter pipe was. There was a big section in the middle with the “Degree” logo, and a white strip on both sides. It seemed like the white strips were slicker than the middle section (though perhaps they just looked cleaner; it’s hard to be sure of anything when you’re shaking and praying for warmth). I lined up with the middle section, made eye contact with someone up top, and charged the quarter pipe. I was on track to grab the edge and pull myself up (brought me back to my skater days), but as I planted my foot to launch, it slipped on what felt like grease. Luckily, during the moment I was in mid air, a guy grabbed my arm and pulled me up and over the edge in one swift motion. I knew I didn’t have the body weight to support most of the guys running up, so rather than help others, my friend and I continued on our way. On the way down from Everest, we spotted several gallon jugs of vegetable oil (tricky, tricky). Next came Electric Eel (a mystery obstacle that we had heard about the previous day):

This was also the first electric obstacle. It required crawling in a shallow pool of water under live wires (some charged to “10,000 volts” as advertised by Tough Mudder). In the beginning, the wires were pretty high and could easily be ducked under or crawled around, but as you neared the end of the obstacle, they hung too low to avoid. I was doing a really good job weaving in-between wires until that point. I must have shifted my leg the wrong way, because suddenly I was jolted with a shock (somewhat painful, but more surprising). I definitely think wearing the UnderArmour protected me from a direct skin shock, which I think would have hurt significantly more. I spent a moment to reevaluate my strategy, and then continued. I received at least one more mild shock (which I think was actually someone else’s shock that traveled through the water) before pulling myself out of the obstacle. The water in Electric Eel, because it was so shallow, was incredibly warm. This was pleasurable for the 45 seconds I spent in the obstacle, and a nightmare after (think getting out of a hot tub in the middle of winter). I think this rapid temperature change did me in. I was still shaking, and despite the constant motion, my muscles were beginning to severely tighten, and there was no stopping them.

I was only six obstacles from the finish line, four of which were water obstacles. I didn’t know it was possible at the time, but I’d be getting even colder. As the wind continued to pick up, I made my way out of Electric Eel and onto the trail. I had made it through many difficult tests already, but the final exam was about to begin.


Financial Book Review: “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis

From the author of "The Blind Side"The Postgrad Agenda is no literature review blog, but something about Michael Lewis’ thorough account of our nation’s financial decline has compelled me to publish a short review on it. If you have ever been interested in the cause or mechanisms behind our economic collapse, this is your story. I initially picked up the book because I wanted more clarity surrounding why this country is in financial shambles. To understand the destruction, you’ve got to understand the beast! I had been doing a lot of blog and article reading on the topic, and I also watched the Academy Award-winning documentary “Inside Job,” which I highly recommend to anyone who feels they are more visual learners. “The Big Short” has undoubtedly served as the most comprehensive written history of the downfall that I have encountered yet.

In it, you meet an animated cast of (real) characters who were all a part of the interconnected web that was pre-decline Wall Street. These people are presented in such a manner that this whole book truly reads like an intense fictional story with twists and turns (unfortunately for millions and millions of U.S. citizens, every bit of it is true). Lewis walks you through the process from the very beginnings of the markets that crashed, not just the beginning of our problems. He makes a valiant effort to explain very complex financials ideas and instruments in layman’s terms. More often than not he succeeds in doing this, though the latter parts of the book may lose some readers who have less background knowledge of the system. Ironically, it is stressed repeatedly that the very instruments responsible for the decline are not even widely understood within the industry! Nonetheless, Lewis does a great job at making the book read in a conversational style; it steers far clear of a textbook explanation.

Though I haven’t read volumes of related books to compare to, I highly suggest that anyone interested in understanding the disaster that changed our country pick up this book. If I can guarantee one thing to you, it’s that you will close the book having learned not just one, not two, but many things about those responsible for our present-day economy. Talk about good dinner conversation!

The Job Search (Pt.5) – eHow = More $$$

I love my job as a teaching assistant. It’s extremely challenging but unbelievably rewarding. Serving developmentally-disabled students is ideal experience for my future goals, and I haven’t felt so natural in a job for a long time. I honestly don’t believe there is a better way I could be spending the interim between undergraduate and graduate school. However, I have previously mentioned that the job does not pay much. As this is really my best opportunity to save money for my graduate expenses, I really needed an additional source of income (however small).

Naturally I went looking for online options, particularly because I had coincidentally read several blog posts in recent weeks on the topic. For example Amanda‘s guest post at The Smart College Grad and a Lifehacker.com article. I am extremely skeptical of anything that promises lots of cash for simple online work (as I believe I should be). But I did read in various articles that “content farm” work like writing for eHow.com can be worth it if you write effectively and efficiently. I’ve been a fan of writing since my high school days, so I thought I’d give it a shot. After tweaking my resume a bit to highlight my professional writing experience (which is virtually nonexistent) and spending fifteen minutes quickly creating a “tutorial” style writing sample, I applied for a writer position. Just days later I was accepted and got right to work.

There are two ways to make money through eHow: fixed fee or revenue share. Fixed fee typically pays $15 an article, which many argue is not enough. Revenue share is based on ads and traffic. Though I’ve read revenue share is a better long-term investment, I’m looking for quick cash, even if it just covers my gas expenses! Here is my experience thus far:

As of today (been a writer for eHow for one week) I have written six articles. Three have been approved and published (and yes, I have legitimately been paid for them), the other three are pending an editor’s review. So far, none of the six articles have taken me more than one hour. In my opinion, considering the $15 I make for 45-60 minutes of my time, the fixed fee seems like an alright deal. If anything, it is a better use of my time on the computer. Perhaps motivating above all is my general thirst for knowledge; which really seals the deal for me. I can get paid to spend an hour learning how to do something and then writing about it? How could I speak against such a proposition? As long as I choose articles that I know will not consume multiple hours of my time, this will continue to be an efficient way to make a few extra bucks when I get home from work. For a future broke grad student, every little bit helps!

Have you ever made money online? What did you do?

Job Search series: Part 1 – Part 2 Part 3 – Part 4 Part 5

Graduate School: Blessing or Curse?

Pros and ConsI finally finished all of my graduate school interviews two weeks ago, and I’ve since received responses from all of my programs. I am extremely fortunate to have been accepted to eight doctoral programs (I’m not sure how I managed it). Oddly, the more acceptances I received, the more anxiety I’ve had about making a decision. I’ve  caught myself wishing I’d been accepted into just one program (which I realize is an absurd and ungrateful wish). It has been an extremely drawn out and stressful process to get into these programs, and yet its completion lacks any sense of relief.

Ultimately I’ve narrowed my choices to three programs, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. Here they are:

University A
Degree: 5-year Psy.D in School Psychology
Where: 3 hours away
Funding: Full tuition remission + $7000 stipend.

University B
Degree: 5-year Psy.D in School Psychology
Where: Home
Funding: Potential for full tuition remission (highly likely but not guaranteed); may not find out before I have to make decision.

University C
Degree: 5-6 year Ph.D in Educational Psychology
Where: Home
Funding: First year free, work-study and adjunct opportunities in later years.

It seems like an obvious choice if I’m just considering finances: University A. However, the stipend would cover living expenses and not much else. At home I have no living expenses, and I really believe I’d be happier at home. University A was my undergraduate school, and I feel strongly that four years there was enough; it’s not a place I want to settle down or begin to live my adult life. Still, it has the only guaranteed funding.

For University B, fellowships with full tuition remission will be awarded within the next two weeks. After that, I’d have to accept the offer in order to find an assistantship (which I’ve been told are abundant at this school) to cover most or all of my tuition. Though it’s likely I’d find an assistantship, it’s a $30,000 gamble, but it’s the school I’d like to be at most.

For University C, a public university, I would have the first year covered and no guaranteed funding after that, but a bunch of work opportunities. The tuition is also dirt cheap because it’s a public school (5 years of tuition at University C equals ONE year at University B). It’s also a different degree type (Ph.D vs. Psy.D) which may help me to find jobs in academia, but my desired career path really involves working for school districts, not teaching at universities.

Based on this extremely limited (but vital) information, what might you do? Would you be concerned more about the financial aspect of graduate school, or where you would be happier? A degree with a wider range of job opportunities, or one that trains you strictly for the job of your dreams? For those of you in grad school or with graduate degrees, did you face a similar choice?

Tips for a Wealthy Gen-Y Retirement

Your future wealth is in your hands right now!At the tender age of 21, I began saving for retirement. If I was more financially-conscious years earlier, I would have started saving the day I was legally capable of opening an account. Since I began to think about my personal finances I’ve read dozens of articles, blogs, magazines, and books on the subject; I continue to read more every day. Thinking retrospectively, I wish the importance of saving and investing was stressed in my high school days. Though I’ve never been a big spender, at that age I never had a concept of how important growth is to accumulating wealth. Your money cannot simply sit in a savings account and subsequently provide a cushion of money for your later life. Accumulated wealth doesn’t unfold that way. Perhaps a simpler but more important concept that failed to be taught was the idea of compounding. I hope you are all educated on compounding, as I won’t get into details (if you aren’t familiar, check out The Simple Dollar’s explanation). Since opening this account, I have made a financial plan for my future, which I fully intend to accomplish (most likely once I begin a stable career post graduate school). Nevertheless, I’ve begun planning and handling my money to prepare a comfortable retirement (something that is grimly forecasted for Generation Y). If you haven’t begun already, it is never too late (but it definitely helps to start early)! Here are few (basic) tips to get you started:

1. Open a retirement account.

I’ve been amazed to hear how many people entered their 30’s, 40’s, and even 50’s without a dime towards retirement. For 20-somethings, you’re probably hoping that you’ll be in a higher tax bracket in retirement than you are now. If this is the case (although there are exceptions), a Roth IRA is right for you. In a Roth, you contribute after-tax income at your current tax rate, therefore avoiding your higher tax rate in retirement. There are several limitations on income and contributions, so before opening a Roth you should do more research to ensure it is a good fit for you.

Recommended Reading: Comparison Table from www.SavingtoInvest.com

2. Create a Budget.

What is the point of allocating your cash if you don’t know how much you need and for what? If your goal is never to touch your savings, you need to be aware of your living expenses. You should do a thorough assessment of all expenses and create a budget (a much less daunting task than many believe it to be). There are thousands of resources on the web to help you create a realistic budget that will get you on track for financial responsibility. Though budgeting is a regular responsibility, something that needs maintaining, it is a necessary part of your growth as a saver! With a budget, you can set aside enough of your income to cover expenses and any cash you want for pleasure (responsibly, of course). Anything else can be put towards your savings, retirement, or debt. There are various strategies about the order in which to contribute to these entities, and the situation varies for everyone; talk to a knowledgeable individual or a financial planner about what your best options are.

Recommended Reading: Four-Step Budget Template from Life After College

3. Read, read, read. Then adopt a plan a stick with it.

The more you read, the more you’ll be able to cater to your individual financial circumstances. Whether you start following Suze Orman, reading personal finance blogs, or listening to audiobooks, find a resource that you enjoy learning from and can effectively incorporate into your life. There is a wealth of knowledge (pun intended) out there, and the only way to absorb it is to reach out. Hopefully, if you’re like me, you’ll find that taking responsibility for your personal finances can be fun, interesting, and exciting! With time and effort you’ll see your debt (if you’ve got any) shrink, and your net worth grow. Why wait until you’re middle-aged to think about these things? Form your plan now!

Recommended Reading: Free Financial Freedom Blueprint courtesy Gen Y Wealth

These are three very basic jump-starts to your wealth-building. This list could go on and on, but there are plenty of resources out there for you to learn from. This process can be a thrilling one if you choose to make it so. You’ve got the power of your future in your hands, right now!

As there is much left to be said about this journey, please share your additional tips in the comments. We all need to learn from one another!

The Dying Art of the Garage Sale.

It occurred to me this past weekend, as I sifted through the disaster zone that is my closet, that garage sales are rapidly becoming not only inefficient but inconvenient. In an age of Amazon, eBay, and craigslist, I would never consider holding a garage sale. There is a place on the internet for the sale of nearly everything. Not only can things be listed from the comfort of your own home, but often you simply mail out the sale item. The ease of this process is undeniable, and for some people it has made the hassle of organizing a garage sale a waste of time.

Another factor working against the garage sale is the potential value of the items. In my experience, things at garage sales sell for seriously marked down prices (a matter of cents for books, perhaps dollars for larger items). For example, a book that might sell for 25 or 50 cents at a garage sale can be sold for $2, $5, or more. That’s quite an increase in profit! There are exceptions of course (many ‘Used’ books go for just 1 cent on Amazon), but a used book in perfect condition (I tend to take very good care of my books) can be sold as ‘New.’ Textbooks, in my experience, have also sold for at the very least 200% the buy-back price of school and local bookstores. Larger items (like the $70  hockey skates I just bought for $20) can be sold on your local craigslist for higher prices than would be purchased at a garage sale. They can also be sold on eBay, which has even greater potential for a higher sale price (but often includes a shipping cost).

I’ve made several hundred dollars using online sites to sell personal items and books. It has been an additional source of revenue for me over the years, and while it doesn’t inflate my bank account much, any extra money helps! I also recently read this post by Amanda over at Grad Meets World about adding additional streams of revenue to your income. In the same  day I came across this post at Lifehacker. Check it out and maybe you’ll get rich just a little bit quicker!

No longer is the garage sale a necessary way to sell things for profit. You heard it here first, I am officially abandoning it for the online marketplace! You are dead to me, garage sale.

Anyone else sell things online? What do you like/dislike about garage sales?

MacBook vs. PC

Two weeks ago I made the switch. My new MacBook Pro (5 lbs of “reliable” technology) has been great so far. I would love to know how much time in life I’m saving no longer waiting an eternity for programs to open up on my 4-year-old HP Pavilion. Though the HP still functions (barely), it was time for a change. It was, however, a big decision on many levels to invest in a MacBook Pro. First, the price is extraordinarily higher than your average laptop computer. Starting from $1,199, they run almost double the price of a run-of-the-mill PC laptop. As I’m currently unemployed, this spending presented a bit of a dilemma. However, I needed a change from PC. After years of watching them fail on others, and observing mine become dangerously slow, I was pretty intent on hopping on the Apple bandwagon to see what the hype is all about.

**I’d like to make a side-note on the Apple store. I have yet to find a flaw in the business model (aside from the inflated prices). The employees, in my experience, are all extremely pleasant and very helpful. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t work on commission (I did a little undercover work), and I think this says a lot about the type of character that Apple looks for in their employees. And a store specifically for your brand of computer? I’m not sure why Dell and HP haven’t done the same.**

Now before this sounds like a commercial (because it already does), let’s get to the logistics. The purchase came out, after taxes and the student discount, to around $1,300. Ouch. Though I felt it was a necessary purchase, there are times when I think I could have waited (at least until graduate school in the fall). Either way, I’d be paying the same price, and it’s not as if I can’t afford this; I paid the bill off in full and I’m not down to my last penny. I just hope a job comes my way soon, or I might be wishing I waited.

For those of you who are curious, a MacBook is truly a unique experience. It’s way different than the PCs many of us grew up with. Though there was a bit of a learning curve, with a few hotkeys and an open mind, I’ve already embraced my new laptop. Though compatibility issues were a concern years ago, every program I have needed thus far has a Mac version. Mac compatibility is far more pervasive than many believe. I’m also pleased because I have a machine that can better cater to my media design needs. Damn, this is so a commercial. I’ve been watching too much Mad Men. I really think this is how most Mac owners feel though, and it seems to be a feeling that many PC owners lack (me just a few weeks ago). So either Apple puts out a great product, or I’ve become a sucker like all the rest of the Apple-heads. You decide.

Mac or PC?