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Archive for June, 2014

Is driver's license a necessity or a luxury?

June 25th, 2014 at 06:26 pm

One would think the answer is predictible where most people live.

BUT... what if you live in NYC? What if your parents (majority of people here) do not own a car and a each hour of driving is $60+ with a driving school. So, with a car for road test appointment and course, and 20+ hours of driving it can add up to $1,500-$2,000 to just get one. There are no "drivers ed" in high schools, of course. And you may need more than minimum hours to really drive(and park) on the streets of Manhattan, with double parked cards, darting jay-walkers in every section of the road, and massive trafic of short-tempered people looking for parking spots.

And, if the person does not drive for years after those 20 hours, that skill is not set. So that driver that got lisence and than does not need to drive until renting a car in some other US city years later, he will have a problem.

So how high should an average car-less New York family place this expense on their priority list?

At what level of income would $1,500+ to get their child an unusable lisence is reasonable?
Should a family pay for it even if they cannot fund retirement, for example?

I know this scenario is unimaginable in most other US cities, where you can't buy groceries or get a job without driving, but makes an interesting dilemma here.

A healthy organic meal for $0.08 per person.

June 20th, 2014 at 09:08 pm

Yes, 8 cents. Such thing does exist.

My family even has it from time to time.

It is steel cut oats. Bought from the grain bin, by the lb. They are exactly the same quality as the ones in the McCain tin, they are unprocessed, have both soluble and unsoluble fiber and are good for you.

Of course, if you add things to it, like fruit or nuts and coffee, it will bring the cost up. But, they can be small things like a spoon of peanut butter, or a piece of chocolate melted in while it is hot.


The only issue is that it takes time to make on stove top. (Luckily I have a Zojirushi, so I can just set it the night before and it cooks itself.)

So many people are interested in saving money on food, and I can't think of a cheaper meal than this.

Hotels and their value

June 20th, 2014 at 02:51 pm

Another post made me think of how I look at hotels.

I love them. Nice ones, that is. They are exciting, new, they are a base for an adventure, but they are part of an adventure. A little piece of another world. A wonderful world where you are pampered and people make your bed and clean up after you. A maintenance free, worry free, work free life.

And if I am going, I want it to be nice. After all, I'm not only spending money, I'm also spending my time, my vacation days, and those are limited, and have value that should also be maximized.

I look for value. Value does not mean cheapest hotel room. Value means getting a lot for what I am paying. I look for the few nicest options and than try to figure out which one I can get for less money.

In the last post I listed the costing of my hotel and flight reservations, but just to communicate why I think that I maximized value, in this posting I'm including photos of some of the hotels we'll be staying in.
Chengdu:



That's just a basic room. 50% of the time we get upgraded to a suite.

Shanghai:


Singapore:


Now, there are even nicer hotel rooms out there, which I did not get due to price, but considering what I'm paying for the 35 days, I think I am getting a great value for my trip.

Place you are staying and service you are getting does impact the overall feeling of vacation.

I dare say I know how to vacation! (my luxury trip plan)

June 17th, 2014 at 07:52 pm

35 days in 5 star hotels across China and Singapore. Being pampered, seeing new places, eating lots of awesome food.

This year I think I have outdone myself in planning. Booking so many awards, and all of them has to be timed perfectly, this task was nearly impossible. And I found below market prices for things I had to pay for.

Another challenge was that in one of the cities, where I was going to be spending almost 3 weeks (sans weekends), there were no hotels where I had any status or miles. But by checking prices over the span of month, I jumped on a phenomenal price for that property.

Here is my breakdown:



The "cost" column is determined by going online and making cheapest reservation for that particular flight or that exact hotel on that same date.

The value will end up even higher, since I anticipate few hotel upgrades due to status.

Less than 10c on the dollar, this is what I call value. And I worked and planned hard to make it all happen.

And everything listed has already been paid for! (last $1,700 will be on this month's statement)
There are only visas left (oh, don't get me started on yesterday's trip to the Chinese consulate).

Of course, there will be massive costs while there, like shopping, food, drinks, activities, local trains, etc. But, I've done my best to maximize experience while minimizing cost. (and I'm not counting flights and hotels I booked below average market price, since it was possible to book them at that price, even for a moment in time, I'm putting that price at "cost")

Another ticket booked

June 17th, 2014 at 07:07 pm

Sorry, it got too crazy busy to post pictures lately.


Between taking care of DS, taking him out few times a day to playgrounds, working, taking care of errands and cooking, and building my trip details, no time to post.

But, I managed to book another pair of award tickets, with my MILs expiring Asia Miles. She wanted us to use them before they expire to get something, and there were so few miles - just 11K and 15K, but I knew that a top-up was possible, and I managed to get through the award ticket on the last day. So we are paying only $90usd each for our Nanjing to Chengdu flights. (and that includes fuel surcharges and taxes). So, another awesome booking.

Plus, that 5 star hotel that I booked for 3 weeks when it showed up on expedia at 62$ (72 with taxes) is making me proud. I think it was a pricing mistake, because that price was there for a brief moment and than never seen again. I've been checking since. Smile)))

And, I got in touch with the manager, and due to my long stay he upgraded me to a lake view room.

Move to Hawaii?

June 13th, 2014 at 02:05 pm

Just toyed with idea for a moment. It is possible for DH to get a job there, they are looking for people, however would involve a paycut, because it is for some reason considered a less expensive location than NYC.

I could be a stay at home mother, tending vegetable garden and economizing on food, taking kids to the beach...

But, living on 90K a year in Hawaii... we would be treading water at best. Oh well, it was fun to daydream for a moment.

What premium would you put on avoiding roaches/smoke/mold?

June 11th, 2014 at 04:31 pm

I did something which is very unfrugal. I decided to forego 3 weeks of free accommodations and pay for a hotel room. Why?

This free room has giant roaches that have no fear. They are so big they look like they have armour on. It freaks me out. The shower also has some mold, and connecting air vents let the smoke travel from other rooms where people are smoking inside. I had a stressful time staying there previously, and decided that I won't go through this next time around.

So instead of staying the the building where classes are and commuting 1 minute in the elevator, I've decided to add daily commute (1 subway stop and a 10-15 min walk) and pay for a western hotel.

I've been looking at prices, earing IHG points, and planning to stay in Intercontinental, but last night I checked again, and saw the rate of $62 per night for a Westin. So I jumped on it and booked 3 weeks (I will take trips on weekend so I will stay other places on Fridays and Saturdays).
It is a great rate, but it is a lot of money.

What would you do? Before you answer, picture this - you are about to go to sleep, and you see giant roaches run behind your headboard. You are about to turn on light in the bathroom and you are afraid. How much would you pay not to experience that for 3 weeks?

Pricey brunch and more food

June 9th, 2014 at 04:37 pm

We usually have one expensive(over $100) brunch once in 2-3 month. This time we tried Boulud Sud.
I've been to other Boulud's, and this one has a pre fix menu for $32 pp for an appetizer, an entree and a dessert, which makes it an ok value. The reason it the bill went to $140 (with tax and tip) is because we ordered a bottle of wine. In places like that courses come slowly, and you need the wine to make the wait more fun.

Appetizers:




Mains:


Black ink squid pasta was quite good.





Desserts:





The food was reasonably solid, but not anything I'll dream about. So I won't go back any time soon, but overall it was as expected - good, just the value not quite there for me. But... you won't know until you try. The search for perfect brunch place continues.

Afterwords, DH went to an Apple store to fix his screen, it took over an hour ($160) and I was drunk, so I went for some coffee to Beard Papa and ended up with another pastry - green tea custard cream filled Paris Breast.



Picked up some arctic char in Citarella ($26) for fish tacos tomorrow, and we headed home to spend more time lounging by the pool before the weekend was over.

Saturday with pictures

June 8th, 2014 at 05:38 am

In the morning DH went to work and got home around 2 pm.

By that time I already made and ate some nice ricotta cheese pancakes and a whole pot of coffee.
After another snack of avocado smash on a tortilla and plantains, we went down to lounge for few hours at the pool.





It was very relaxing, I should really do it more often.
But, around 5pm had to go up, to make sure we run before twilight, or the forest would get buggy. We ran together on one of my regular routes, where I see how this sweet goose family is growing up in a little pond. Every time I ran, little goslings are getting slightly bigger.



We ran only 5.6 miles, a bit less than my usual 10K. I had a Hagen Daaz right before my run (bad me), and after I was still hungry and made a quick salad and we enjoyed it on the terrace while watching the sun set, before we went out for beers and movie.



We ended up at Buffalo wild wings, just because it is in the same complex as the movie theater. And there we did a lot of caloric damage:

with 3 beers and tip it came to $57

We went to see a 10pm showing of "The edge of tomorrow" in imax. $39
It was a good movie, and very nice to see in IMAX.

The unfortunate part of the evening - DH's phone was dropped onto the concrete and the screen broke. These things just happen sometimes. Frown

Brief moment of a fun account balance mistake

June 7th, 2014 at 04:17 pm

It was fun to see, as AAPL split was being adjusted.

our 50+ shares suddenly increased 7 times, and for few hours they are still showing the old stock price and shares were showing to be worth about 240K. I knew what was happening, but it was fun to see.

Well, back to reality.

DH working today

June 7th, 2014 at 03:35 pm

Amazingly, an opportunity for some overtime came up at DHs job. And since my mom took our son this weekend, we decided he should take it. It won't be full day, he will be home by around 2, and we can go for a run, than go have some beers and see a movie. I think we will go see "The edge of tomorrow".

The thing is, DH's job normally has no chance for overtime. To get overtime exception requires something major, and there has been any opportunity for years, but this year there has been some in winter, and this week again. Since this option is so rare, we find it hard to pass up.

So this month we will have a little bit of extra income after all.
It is pretty amazing how this opportunity came up right after the other opportunity (university) ended, and opportunity for travel is not there this month because my MIL is away for the entire month and there is no childcare backup for days when DS can't go to pre-school.

The timing of it is awesome.
Btw, by overtime I just mean extra hours. DH is just getting his regular rate.

Massive overeat and alcohol/grocery shopping

June 7th, 2014 at 03:44 am

Today for lunch at work we ordered out Indian.

I ate 2 giant garlic naans, plus the whole lamb/rice dish and had taken even more home for dinner. With 2 doughnuts in the morning, and a piece of birthday cake, a couple of coffees, samosas, and margaritas with new cheese I'm about to have after I'm done with this post... I estimate it adds up to over 4,000 calories. This is a weight gain day. I should not eat like this, but if I do, it should be my favorite foods, not some short cake and mid-range Indian food(but margaritas with cheese, are on my "preferred" list).

I've been doing good avoiding big grocery shopping, but today was the day. After dinner, even though it was already 9:30 pm, I decided to get that chore out of the way so that we don't have to worry about doing it on a weekend.

So first we hit the liquor store. It has been a while since we could make it there, and we ran out of everything except the things I really don't like (Remy Martin, Gin and bourbon).

So in the liquor store:

For my premium margaritas:
Don Julio Reposado 750ml 48.99
Cointreau 750ml 33.99

Grey Goose 1L 37.99
Malbec 19.99
buzz lotta colata (tiny 1 portion thing, have no idea what it is, impulse purchase) 3.5
Dry Vermouth 5.99
Svedka colada 1L 17.99
tax 12.42
Total: 180.86

DH worked today, even though it was supposed to be his day off. And he enjoys a nice margarita and a good lychee martini just as much as I do. His overtime today should cover the liquor and give us plenty of nice hours.

The food shopping was $176.46

Some organic fruit/veggies were expensive - like avocados $3 each. Others were cheap - like a carton of strawberries for 2.99.
But I feel fruits and veggies are a must.
There were a couple of indulgences, like smoked wild salmon at $17.75 for 1/3lb. We have that once a week on a weekend brunch. Maybe I will skip it next time. And this time I bought some pecans and hazelnuts (raw, I will roast them myself, they are much fresher and tastier that way) for 18.69. Organic chicken breast was 13.43 (easy protein). And fresh fava beans were also expensive.

Everything else was just a lot of smaller, less expensive items.

Yesterday's odds and ends dinner

June 6th, 2014 at 09:12 pm

This week DH made a big pot of green sauce, so I've been using it to toss various veggies together.







I got together odds and ends of veggies in the fridge (a pack of swiss chard, a little brussel sprouts, a bell pepper, some onion, some azuki beans left over from the night before...) I sauteed the veggies, than mixed them into a pot with sauce and tofu. Than topped a bowl of them with 3 slices of rare fresh roast beef and a helping of fresh hummus with spicy s'hug sauce. End result:



It was quite tasty for a dinner made of odds and ends.
I am most proud that my 3 year old is eating ate brussel sprouts and swiss chard perfectly fine. Those are new veggies for him, so I was not sure how they will go over. He is such a good boy.

I packed the rest for DH to take as lunch. He was working overtime today (but he does not get paid time and a half, just his regular rate), so by taking his own lunch he didn't just save the cost of the lunch, he was able to work one more hour, and that will pay for a number of future lunches.

Today was less successful - between breakfast and lunch $28. (Co-worker had a birthday, so we all chipped in for a group lunch and a cake).

Free Lunch

June 5th, 2014 at 06:18 pm

Today I got my coconut cream obsession for breakfast ($3.25), made my own coffee.

For lunch I went to Roti and got a free lunch through their rewards system.

I got a rice plate - very little rice, but lots of veggies, chicken kebab, hummus and a piece of pita bread. It is all made fresh (they make their own hummus too and bake their pita, it is a really good pita). So I am stuffed and did not add to my total. I utilize reward systems in most places I frequent. I just wish Pret and few others would get one too.

I also picked up some hummus to take home and free pita chips they give with the purchase of hummus. $4.30

Than stopped by a grocery store and got some odds and ends for dinner and snack for DS. (fruit, peas, tofu and some really nice rare roast beef).

I am surely cleaning out my fridge of veggies, but have to buy some fruit and protein to supplement our meals.

Breaks and rotors, $800, seriously?

June 5th, 2014 at 04:30 pm

The dealership has come up with an extensive list of things that need to be addressed with the car, to the tune of $1,900. Which is obviously bull and they try to pull this every time. It is a 3 year old 30K car, and it runs perfectly fine.

But the break pads I admit will need to be replaced soon (not sure about the rotors, most forums say it should not be necessary). So for breaks and rotors they quoted $800, which is obviously a rip-off. We are not going to do the work at the dealership. But a regular mechanic's shop quoted $650. It is not a Mercedes, it is a Toyota Venza!

With these prices how do people who make average salary even own cars? The maintenance, the tire replacement, insurance... Grrr

This taking lunch is ending up in waste.

June 4th, 2014 at 09:46 pm

I can't believe I did it again! This time I took stuff out of the fridge in the morning (an org. yogurt and some cut up fruit and berries on the peak of perfection) and put it in a bag by the entrance, not to forget it. That's where I forgot it.

Yogurt($2) and washed berries($4) will not keep. So it is a waste.
I realized I forgot it 30 seconds after getting downstairs, but I could not go back. If I am even 1 second late for a train, I will be late for work by 35 minutes. I can't do that. So I kept going. And the train was late today by 8 minutes! So I could have gone back, but, of course, I had no way of knowing it.

I was so frustrated by it all that I bought 2!!! doughnuts and ate them for breakfast. ($6.5, not to mention calories).

For lunch, sandwich ($9.50), plus a diet coke for me and snapple for a colleague later ($3.5)

This is not going well at all. I'm frustrated.

Packing lunch setback

June 3rd, 2014 at 04:04 pm

So yesterday I spent a ton of time packing food.

We made way more greek salad than we need to, and I packed away some to take to work today.

Than, I got overly ambitious and decided to pack breakfast. It would be replacing my usual Doughnut Plant's coconut cream dounut, so it had to be decent.

So I packed fresh ricotta cheese, strawberries and blueberries in a separate container, fresh figs in a separate container, and shelled and than roasted some pecans (separate container), and even brought in some powdered sugar in a small container to dust my creation after assembly. And I set up the coffee maker and thermos for the morning.

Anyway, in getting together all my tiny containers in the morning, I forgot my big one, with my lunch!!!

Grrr. What am I going to do now. I will go out and buy lunch. But what do I do with that greek salad? I already have plan for dinner (and we should eat it today so it does not spoil). And that salad is expensive - a single organic bell pepper is like $5.

I've tried hard and that is why it is so frustrating.

May total and June austerity.

June 2nd, 2014 at 07:21 pm

In May we brought in 18,770 after taxes (record amount of extra income).

We spent 18,438. But that included 1,500 to finish DS's ESA, 5,400 to finish my 2014 Roth and a purchase of a new MacBook Air, and setting aside one bi-weekly mortgage payment for July, because it will be a 3 payment month and a vacation month.

In June we do not anticipate earning any extra income. And there won't be any for foreseeable future. There is a late check from May for about $700 but that's it. So even my "wishful thinking" budget for June does not balance. Plus, we need new breaks/rotors for the car. So this month I really have to put in effort.

I will track, and not only track but itemize. And, it is my first week day and I brought my own lunch today and made my own coffee. I will try to go for a personal record of how many lunches I can bring in a month.