- Buying a car
Due to the deliberate destruction of public transport, driving a car is cheaper on the west coast compared to taking public transport unless your employer subsidises commute via public transport. Decide ah car you want to buy, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are value for money for singles. Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are better for people with families. Specially, who have young kids which require child safety seats. On luxury end, Toyota Lexus, BMW, Mercedes and Tesla are the popular ones. A car’s average age is considered to be 200, 000 miles. So, be wary of that while buying a second hand car. Do check car’s mileage (miles per gallon) on fueleconomy. Car model years are a bit misleading, model 2013 usually, came out in June 2012 and for some companies even earlier). If you are buying a new car, then go to multiple dealers and bid them for the best price, it is usually easy to get 10% or more off from the marked price of the vehicle. If you are buying second hand, ask for a Carfax report which gives the detailed history of any recorded accidents which car had. Check the price of second hand car at Kelly Blue Book, in my opinion, they are marked upwards by 10%. craigslist is still one of the best source for buying and selling cars. Avoid buying cars with non-Californian license plate since you have to register them next year. Specially, avoid cars coming from cold states since they might have been corroded by salt which is used to prevent ice melting on roads in these states. Go to DMV and inquire if that car has any pending fees/parking fines which are unpaid for. Buying second hand cars from individuals, as opposed to dealers, is usually cheaper. But dealers will sell second hand cars with a warranty to justify the premium, do get details of the warranty. If you are buying from an individual, do get a thorough inspection done at a car mechanic (costs < 100$).
- Car insurance (Auto insurance)
Do hunt around for multiple quotes, try insurers to match quotes from others. Good companies are AAA (recommended) and Geico (they never gave me a good rate though). Smaller companies like StateFarm, Farmers, and Provident (to name a few) might give better rates as well. Usually, phone calls will return better rates than the websites. If you are driving history in the US is not long enough, be ready to buy an expensive insurance for ~6 months and then buy a new one. Have minimum liability of 100K/300K (meaning 100K per individual in an incident and 300K per incident). If your car is new, get a comprehensive insurance with high deductible like 500$ or 1000$.
- Maintain emergency cash
The usual rule of thumb is to maintain 6-8 months of expenditure at a safe place. Checking and savings accounts are insured by FDIC up to $250, 000 per customer per bank. So, keep it in a high yield savings account (Barclays offers 1.0% – which is high by US standards). A more elaborate list is available at fatwallet. Another alternative is to buy Series I Bonds by US treasury. The purchase is limited to $10K per individual and they have to be held for at least 1 year after purchase. They are inflation-protected, meaning, their value will go up with inflation. They are not taxable by state and city governments.
- First tax filing
California has state taxes. Both state and federal tax filings are due every year in April for the previous year. I used to use pen and paper for a couple of years. It was a great learning experience but was unsustainable in long run. So, I started using TurboTax instead. Keep an eye around for TurboTax deals.
- If you are paying full price for anything you are probably paying too much
All marked prices whether it’s rental cars or food, there are deals/discounts going all the time. Whether it’s worth spending the time to look around for discounts is a personal choice. As a rule of thumb, looking around for discount coupons/deals when you are paying more than 100$ is not a bad idea. If you work for a big company, they will usually have an internal perks site. Also, you can check out perks eligibility at larky based on your employer, city and state of residence, insurance and credit cards.
- Eating out
Use yelp to find good restaurants. Tipping norm is 15-20% for food served on the table, anything less than 10% looks ugly. Taking food out as “to go” has no mandatory tips. Subway is a great healthy place for “to go” sandwiches. Starbucks fulfills the national coffee addiction. Mogl provides 10% cash back on selected restaurants in California.
Continue to Part 3 (free credit reports, managing finances, health care …)