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Artificial society-mandated ways of spending time and money

January 2nd, 2015 at 06:34 am

Every time I'm in a nail salon, I can't help but think of that.

Doing your nails is a social requirement for a professional woman. Just the way it is. Keeping your nails clean and trimmed is not sufficient anymore. They have to be painted. It is a multi-billion dollar industry that did not exist before and now there are more nail salons than grocery stores.

Yes, you can do your own (I can't do that nearly as well though), but it is still a waste of time and money (more time, less money if you DIY). How much time is wasted collectively on something that stupid?

But as a society we don't see that from the inside. Just as people did not see giant powdered wigs as unnecessary and ridiculous. Or, we look at the culture that puts ring coils on a woman's neck to stretch it as crazy, but don't think that ripping your hair out in a Brazilian wax as something crazy or weird at all, and comply with whatever society tells us is the new norm. And we create whole industries around it. I know if we lived in that society, we'd be piling on those brass rings like no tomorrow.

$20 challenge for 2015?

December 31st, 2014 at 08:39 am

I'm still a bit hazy as to what it involves.

Can we set the ground rules?

Predictable Irregular expenses are a key to realistic budget

December 26th, 2014 at 08:34 am

I'm trying to compile a list of regular expenses that are not unexpected, but most people do not include them when they think of their budget. Every time I hear a caller to a finance show, I can't help but think that people neglect to include those, and if their budget is tight, over time it adds up to a deficit.

I am building a detail sheet, and as those expenses come up, I add them to the sheet not to forget. That way if I ever need to do some long term planning or see if I can afford something, I have a realistic picture.

I mean things like:

Replacing tires and break pads, even if once every 3 years, registration/license renewal fee/inspection fee. (car maintenance is not just oil changes).

Holiday tips

Birthday parties

Annual memberships to Botanical Garden, Lego Land, Zoo, etc...

Annual credit card fees (for hotel cards, where the value of a free night is higher than the fee).

Turbo tax every year

Domain name hosting

Months where bi-weekly mortgage hits 3 times

iPhone upgrade for one member of the family once a year (if we are going to do it, might as well not be in denial about it and reflect it in the budget).

Car and life insurance that are paid annually/semi-annually

None of these are "unpredictable", but a lot of people see them this way when they come up. And they do add up to a significant number that should not be ignored.

Any others I'm forgetting? What are yours? My goal is to build the most comprehensive and accurate list possible.

Holiday Tips out of control? What would you do?

December 24th, 2014 at 09:22 am

Neither of us have ever received a holiday bonus. EVER in our lives. We simply never worked for employers where such a thing is in the realm of possibility.

So this is just the super expensive time of dishing out according to societal expectations.

I have a small disagreement regarding building tips with my husband. He thinks we have to give $50 across the board - to doormen, porters, and super (most people give more to super, but I don't want to, since we never ask anything of him ever and he is being paid quite well, including a very nice apartment in the building).

So just giving $50 across the board is $450. (this year building only has 9 full time staff members instead of 11 last year).

I think that we can tip based on how much we interact and how much we like. For example $50 to doormen we like, $40 to the one we like less, $20 to porters and handymen. ($30 to porter we like more), etc.
Who do you think is right?

It bothers me that there is an absolute expectation of tipping. And that we are giving more to building stuff than our son's pre-school staff(who are federal employees and are not allowed to take anything above $20 anyway and there does not seem to be an expectation that you have to. But the service they provide is more important to us, and they are nice to children).

Btw building staff is all union and are paid well.

So, building staff, pre-school staff, trainer (cost of a session is customary), than you are expected to give holiday tip for every service worker under the sun - from hairstylist, to nails, to cleaning, ect... (luckily I don't have a permanent haircutter/nail technician). mailman? But this seems to be very much out of control, and I don't quite feel the spirit, considering that I don't have a Christmas bonus to take this money out of and just have to take it out of our regular salary/savings.

Have been busy and super tired.

December 23rd, 2014 at 06:53 am

With massive workload at work, and DH's final's time (he had to write them, have extra office hours and now he has to grade them). I've been going on very little sleep (getting up at 6 am, coming home around 8-9, putting baby to sleep and than doing everything after). It has just been too much.

I have missed many workout sessions (pretty much 2 months), had extra food and drinks to stay awake, and as a result gained weight. Now I need to lose close to 12 lb! this is pretty insane. Yesterday I finally saw my trainer again, and will up it to twice a week for a little while.

Luckily, things are getting back to normal at work. Apartment is currently looking like an episode of "hoarders". I need to catch up with too many things. But at least the main crunch should be behind.

Car payments

November 28th, 2014 at 08:27 am

Made over $1,400 of car payments this month.

So as of now, our car payoff is 7 months away. However, I plan to keep putting extra so that I can remove one more line from my "liabilities" column on the household balance sheet.

Plus, once car payment is gone, it is like increasing our income by the amount of the payment.

I do not want to know how much things cost. It depresses me.

November 24th, 2014 at 07:23 am

And lessens my enjoyment of the item.
I would like to just pick what I like, swipe my card, and not have to see the price or pick based on price. It robs all the joy out of it.

Isn't it better, to have everything you bought just charged to your account every few months (without itemizing, of course, so that I still don't know the cost of items consumed)? You would just know if you are generally gaining debt or have a healthy savings account.

Doesn't the above system sound insane to you?
Yet there are so many people who say that about nutritional information. That exact same attitude!

A person has a very limited amount of calories to "spend" every day, even more limited than money for many. And there is a price to pay and debt(fat) to be accumulated, regardless of if you look at the price or not. I want to know how much things cost in order to make an informed decision. Luckily, NYC has the most consumer oriented laws in this respect, with calorie info displayed on menus, boards, right on that cookie that is next to a barista counter... But I wish it went further and applied not only to medium chains but a small ones, or my favourite bakeries (that ship country wide btw, so they are big enough) and anyone who sells food and is bigger than a stand-alone individual proprietor operation.

Who is spoiled and what is normal?

November 11th, 2014 at 12:30 pm

It is a matter of perspective.

Some people may think spending 2K on food is a luxury, but think of having 2 bathrooms as a necessity.

While watching those HGTV shows, I get an understanding that 1 bathroom is something unthinkable to everyone, from the recent graduates to old empty nesters. Here, even those of my friends who live in apartments that are worth 1-3 million don't have and can't even dream of the second bathroom or a washing machine. It is just so beyond ones reach, even if European vacations or $35 a lb wild fish is not.

Or a concept of a "guest bedroom". How is that not wasteful? you are paying a substantial percentage of a biggest investment most people make, it gets heated every day, taxes paid on it ever year, maintenance, etc. All for maybe 2 weeks a year it would get used. And yet most people are not comfortable with not having an "extra" room for something. That is it something that is expected, normal, and not wasteful or luxurious, in other words "a want".

Same goes with having a laundry room on a main floor - people are not happy that they just have a laundry room.
Depending on location, people don't think of these things as luxuries, they think of them as something they "need", because it is set by expectations.

Just a different spin on things. We always are taught to view certain expenditures as "wants", but see what we ourselves accustomed to as normal.

2 iPad Airs. Now need to cut back.

November 6th, 2014 at 07:24 am

Picking up today (pre-ordered online trying to get 5% from online shopping on Discover card this quarter), around $1,500! My ipad will replace my 2 year old generation 3, this new gold one one looks awesome and really thin, and the other one is a birthday gift for my mom(she is very hard to please). It is a big enough gift that it will cover her holiday gift as well.

I am now trying to be very mindful of groceries and eating out this month, and trying to make up some of the difference there, I'm going to try for $200-$300.

Cars are expensive.

October 29th, 2014 at 10:18 am

To maintain. We just paid another $443 (for front breaks and an oil change) after paying same just few month earlier for rear breaks. that is $900, and it will be another $1,000 for 4 new tires in a couple of weeks! Granted, this is a once in 3 years expense, but when it is here, you have to pay it.

Insurance is close to $1,000 every 6 months (half as much as when we first started driving). tolls are close to $40 a day when DH goes to the office, and than there is gas - 1hr20 min EACH WAY on days when you go into the office. At least an outdoor parking spot in our building is only 100$ a month. And we got a ticket last month, now insurance may go up.

So the actual car payment is not the most expensive part of the car by any means.

At least the breaks are now done and we don't have to worry about this expense for a while, and we took care of it at the time when DH had extra teaching income.

No, moving closer to his job would not help. Than my commuting expenses and time would go up greatly. I have few co-workers who commute 4 hours a day and pay over $800 per month for a commuter and city bus combination.

Pay off the car or... not?

September 4th, 2014 at 08:25 pm

So few days ago I've decided to work on paying of the car.

My logic was - market is high right now, maybe it is best to first work on paying off the car, than afterwards, dollar cost average freed up money into SP500, and to designate that savings towards the "pipe dream challenge".

But, since seeing Creditcardfree's post I looked up the Navy Federal special offer of 5% CD (for maximum of $5,000).
Now, while it is not much, it is an awesome rate for a CD, which is guaranteed.

So the logical part of me does struggle with it -- the interest on the car loan is 2%. The interest on a CD is 5%. And it is guaranteed and risk free. So even after taxes, mathematically I would come ahead. So how can I justify paying off the car?

Loss of some income and our car payment.

September 3rd, 2014 at 07:46 am

It looks like my DH's class will get cancelled. They asked him to teach last minute, than opened up another section with another professor, and his section was not open until a week later, like 2 days before class was to begin (there is only one guy at the university that actually puts that info into a computer and he screwed up). So now everyone who wanted the class had registered for another section already and he has only 2 students in his class and it will probably get cancelled.

It will be far harder to pay off our car fast without that extra 7K. Frown

But, it is what it is. We made our first extra payment today - $500. That brought remaining balance from 4K+ to $3,550.

About investing emergency fund in stocks

August 29th, 2014 at 07:39 pm

This post is inspired by Snafu's question on my last blog entry. I posted this on a forum, but since I'm looking for arguments or possible scenarios that I am overlooking where this can be a problem, I also wanted to share it here and get your thoughts:

Investing emergency fund is a big no-no according to all financial advisers out there.

But is it really best advice for everyone?

The recommended wisdom is 3-6 month of expenses, in a super safe place like FDIC insured accounts, earning effectively nothing.

Dave Ramsey says "Emergency Fund is insurance, not investment."
Lets examine the cost of that insurance.
Say I have 80K emergency fund. (8K per month expenses). Losing 5% to inflation a year (I know official number is 2-3%, but it excludes many things we actually consume, like food(especially organic) and fuel, and other items). So that's $4,000 a year. Assuming, conservatively, that you can make 6% per year average in the market, that's another 4,800 it is costing you to have that as insurance. So overall, $8,800 per year for 80K of insurance. That is one expensive insurance! In comparison, it costs about 1/10th of that to buy 1 Million dollars of life insurance.

The argument is " what if at the same time you lose your job or need the money, the market happens to be tanking 40%, like at the height of the financial crisis? "

My strategy is to balance that risk by having 10 months of invested take home pay instead of 6 months of savings sitting in a savings account.. That way, on the unlikely chance of this convergence of bad luck, I still would have that 6 months to fall back on. And in the meantime, that money is utilized.

I am not a good saver, and most of the savings in our 10 month EF came from growth. I would not have that money to begin with if I was not investing. I think I would at best still have 3 month only.

This year, our EF increased by 23K YTD and is finally at 10 month of take-home pay. Only about 4-5K of this 23K came from new savings. The rest was growth and some trading. So assuming the worst case scenario of a 40% drop, overall, I would still be ahead of where I would be if I followed conventional wisdom of "no risk is allowed for Emergency Fund".

When the market goes down, and the balance of my accounts goes down, I try to add new money to keep it at the same level. [/b] That forces me to invest when market is going down, not when it is going up, which is a good long term strategy.[/b] And when it recovers, my fund grows.

There are other personal circumstances that contribute to this decision: we could cash flow minor emergencies such as car repairs or small medical bills, our jobs are very stable, we have 1-2 months of annual leave banked at any given time, and a little bit of cash in accounts. So we won't need to access that money unless the emergency is major.

"The Pipe Dream Challenge" part 1 - paying off our car

August 28th, 2014 at 02:46 pm

Instead of a $20 challenge, I now have a challenge of saving for our NYC expenses that would remain even if we lived someplace else for 1 year. Obligations and things that would need to be supported even if we did not live here.

After looking at a table below and seeing the total, you can understand why I named it "The pipe dream challenge." The amount is kind of unrealistic.

We may not choose to do it at the end, and so something else with it, but it would be great to have that money and to be able to have that choice.

It will take us a while to get there. I am starting fresh from 0, and money that are currently in our EF investments are not counted.

This month I was able to put away $1,800 towards the challenge (it cost us less to vacation in China than to live normally here). So I checked off my first item - Mortgage for 1 month! Yey. It is a big one.

Second column is car payment. 12 payments would be $3,000. But considering that the balance we owe on this car is now $4,050, I think we should just concentrate on paying it off totally and removing it from that chart altogether. It would be great to pay it off before the end of the year.

There might be steps backwards in this plan. For example, our EF is fully invested in stocks. (currently 10 month of our take-home salary). If market adjusts, we will be adding money to the EF in order to keep it at the same level.

Vacationing is cheaper than staying at home.

August 22nd, 2014 at 12:04 pm

That is how this worked out. (Of course, we paid for our flights and hotel rooms months before we left), so this was food, local travel, incidentals.

At the end of it all, we are left with surplus, which is not what happens when we stay at home.

Food was a lot cheaper in China and Singapore. We ate better, and we did have few very high end local experiences (as in $100 per dinner, which in those places can get you a really really nice dinner in a very gorgeous restaurant with impeccable service, much more than you can get for that price in NYC).

Plus we did not need to pay for our NYC commutes, including massive tolls, and did not need to buy groceries.

It is amazing to come back from a vacation with more money than you had before you left.

On the expat pipe dream front... In order for us to live abroad for 1 year, for example in Singapore, we would need.

1) get a job to pay for life there. Doable, for DH, his field is hot and he is in the "expert" category.

2) Get a leave of absence from both of our jobs.
Hard, but not impossible.

3) Have enough money to re-integrate. Check. We currently got to the 10 month emergency fund (10 months of current take home pay in investments).

4). Pay our US obligation that will still be there.
Even if we go away we will have to pay our

Mortgage (12 months) $21,770
Maintenance (12 months) $16,800
Life insurance me (yearly) $360
Life insurance DH (yearly) $958
Car payments (12) $3,000
Student loan payments (12) $1,692

Total $44,580

That is a lot to save "extra". Not sure how rational this whole thing is, but, if we want it, it is again, hard, but not impossible.

So, for now, I need to work on savings. Later on, we can decide if we want to take that leap or not. But, if we have the money, it will be our choice to make.
If we don't, there won't be a choice.

Work developments

August 19th, 2014 at 02:10 pm

For both DH and me, both last minute and all in one day.

For DH, he will teach another course on the side this semester (as in less than 2 weeks).

For me, I accepted a temporary lateral move. Not sure if it is a good idea (my current boss/team is better). But it is exposure of another sort, and opportunity to work with other people. No promotion potential there, but it is more prominent in some ways. (not really, it is complicated)

They won't be so flexible with my schedule, and I get a feeling that my boss is stressed out by this change but released me as he thinks it is best for me. Plus, I will need work on two fronts for a while, as they will need the support while our unit is short staffed. So much more work, and for no good reason.

And, for 2 weeks I have to do daily sitreps for a higher up colleague from another section who is away on leave. This task takes me solidly half a day. I really don't know how I will manage all this.

So next three months will be hard for both of us.

Back home after 40 days of vacation.

August 16th, 2014 at 01:12 pm

I intended to post while on vacation, but somehow could not find the time. I will post some photos/observations in the coming few weeks.

Monday will be my first day back at work. Exactly 40 days since I last went into the office. Wow. I'm a little scared to go back now.

The trip was awesome. Shanghai, Nanjing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Lots of food, experiences, time alone with DH...

Financially we did well. In spite of doing a lot of luxury stuff, we managed to not only cash flow it, but will end up with a non-typical surplus at the end of the month, which we will add to investments.

I also got expat fever again. I would not mind moving to Singapore for a year or two. However, US expenses we would still have are pretty large- our co-op mortgage, maintenance, life insurance, student loans... this would need to be well planned out in order to pull this off. So for now, what we can do is save more aggressively, and see what we can do later.

Flying first - posting from China.

July 14th, 2014 at 01:31 am

Finally getting a little time to post, after being here for 4 days. First post goes to the flight.

Long flight to Shanghai via HK on my favorite airline -- HK’s Cathay Pacific.

the seat is 3 times the width of the economy seat.

leg room obviously not an issue.

Greeted on board with Krug.

Amenity bag and soft cotton pajamas.

You eat when you want, whatever you want, no schedule or limit.

caviar course (comes with champagne, but I could not drink any more champagne at the time).

lobster salad

drinks of course

small details like space for your luggage on the side, for your convenience, and a space to hang your clothing after you change into something more comfortable.

But the sweetest thing of all is, of course, this:

The flight really did feel too short. I mean where else do you get to watch TV in bed while being waited on your hand and foot and plied with food and alcohol? This is pretty much the only scenario where it is socially acceptable. Smile

Sometimes you don't want free

July 9th, 2014 at 08:30 pm

I'm typing this in a BA lounge full of alcohol and though this is my favorite food group, don't particularly feel like anything. I had dinner and drinks before getting here. I know this is contrary to "getting best value" for something. Smile I will have the Krug on board though, I know Cathay serves it.

I got here way too early - got from Manhattan to JFK in like 20 minutes, pretty unheard of, breathed trough check-in and security in 5 minutes (that included opting out and getting to a second base with a TSA agent) and now don't know what to do with myself. I had a very stressful 2 days and am trying to unwind.

The lounge is empty, with good amount of free alcohol and some food that I don't want, nothing special decor wise. But quiet as a grave (I know some people like that). I guess this is the time of the day when all BA flights are gone.

My poor DH is still not home - he was stuck in traffic due to construction on the way back. He did insane amount of driving today and still drove me to the airport - that saved us probably $80, and he saw me off, which was nice.

Net worth semi-annual statement.

July 7th, 2014 at 11:32 am

I did the "financial statement" of all accounts snapshots on June 30, as I do almost every month, and compared to the end-of-year statement.

Our net worth increased over 75K in the last 6 months. That's an average of 12.5K per month. (And we don't even bring home close to this amount).

47K of this increase was in retirement savings
18K in our invested EF
10K in paid off debt (mortgage, student loan and car)

I'm not counting house equity or car equity in my calculations, as I have no accurate way of tracking them.

Majority of this net worth increase was from growth, not from additional savings. We were heavy in Apple, and made some good option calls, beating the market by a large margin.

Of course, we cannot count on this run ever replicating itself. And we will owe sizable additional taxes on realized gains. But I am pleased with ourselves for beating all personal records.

WHY I want to buy a house in NYC.

July 5th, 2014 at 04:25 pm

Is it just usual reasons? To have bbq, or a small garden patch, or my own washer and dryer, or being able to have drinks outside? Sure, but that only a small part of it. To have a yard for kids to play in? (translation - put a kid out to pasture and not have to dress for the outside and take him to the park/playground) That one is not high on the list. We have lovely parks and playground and are used to this lifestyle.

My major reason is financial advancement of the family.

In my travels I see what happens in almost all major metropolitan areas as population grows, and I understand what it means to own a house in a place like that. People who own a house in HK or Shanghai, or any densely populated area are very few and they have a tremendous financial advantage. It is basically investing in land, in areas that geographically cannot expand, but population grows and grows and grows and property becomes more and more expensive, out of reach for many. A change that happens in a decade or two is incredible!

I feel NYC is trending towards that direction. There are also additional points that are special to this city. A lot of property bought here is bought as an investment or insurance. For example, rich people from all over the world, with either unstable regimes or places like China where political changes can down the road expose rich people to risk, buy nyc apartments for their kids, to protect their future. This is so wide spread, that most brokers have a toll free number to call from abroad and a currency calculator on their website.

REITs, investment funds, pension funds also buy up properties in NYC. All of it reduces inventory as population still grows. Higher earning people are left to compete for what is left. And compete for outer boroughs and anything decent within commuting distance. Neighborhoods are “gentrifying” and natives of the neighborhood get unhappy about skyrocketing prices. But thats the natural consequence - people just buying where they can afford. They are not setting out to “gentrify”, they just need a place to live.

2. It is also a hedge for inflation. Governments(especially US) are printing a lot of money, and higher inflation is not an unreasonable expectation in few years down the line. Having a fixed mortgage on a very expensive asset in a desirable location is a good protection. It would also make mortgage payments much easier.

3. It is about us and not the co-op board having control. Being able to rent it out, not having anyone re-finance the underlying mortgage without your permission, deciding on when and by who repairs should be done, to who and for how much you can sell… the list goes on and on.

4. Buildings are also a subject to numerous and ever expanding city regulations. For example local law 11, that cost our building about 2 mil this year (and we are a 180 unit building only). It costs other co-op more or less depending on their size/building type. Our building decided to refinance mortgage and increase repayment term to pay for it. There has been many, many other expenses replacing major things to meet city regulations. Construction companies make billions through these city regulations, and yes, I do see political corruption behind it. Family houses are not subjected to these government whims as much.

Anyway, to summarize, I feel that if there is any chance to buy land HERE, that it can change the financial future of our family - like a chance to buy land in Kowloon 25 years ago.

Weekend so far and a good deed.

July 5th, 2014 at 09:59 am

Thursday, after early release at work, I went over to Madison Ave in midtown to have my highlights done. I wanted to have a fresh look before my trip. I got an amazing job - the sun kissed, blonde hair that are done in a way you cannot even tell. Shining streaks look like a natural golden variation in color. (I also need to get a haircut and mani-pedi before I leave - They don't really know how to work with blonde hair in China as it has different texture and volume, so even though it is cheaper there, I'm better off doing it here).

My husband was taking our son on a boat ride from one of the piers, so while waiting for them I walked over to the food hall in the basement of Plaza Hotel to have a slice of a Lady M crepe cake. They had a new flavor for July - coconut. Love it! well worth $8.

I waited for them in midtown, and we met afterwards for dinner and drinks. The set of serviches was really good, drinks so-so but expensive, and ribs eh. Overall, not worth the $134 bill, but no way of knowing it before trying. It was not bad though, just not worth it to me. But it was a nice evening out. And when we were coming home in traffic, listening to the music, and me and my son "dancing" in our seats, I felt very happy with our lives.

Friday we went food shopping (somehow $295) and liquor shopping $189. I keep telling myself that this should keep us set for a while.

Than I went for a run in the evening. I was running through the forest and saw an iPhone on the ground. I picked it up, and opened it. It was not locked, and the first thing I saw was a video of a dog, and I slides back to see few photos. They were of a woman and a dog I passed on the trail about 10 minutes before. So I thought that I may catch them and ran back. It took about an extra mile to find them, and I caught a glimpse of the dog eventually, but could not find them. I realized they might have exited the forest, and ran up to the road and saw a glimpse of someone turning on the path towards the building. I found them and returned the phone. The woman did not even realize she lost it. I think chances are, if I did not find it, she would never get it back. It was black, hard to see on the forest floor, the sun was setting, and it was raining on and off all day.
I know how sucky it is to lose an iPhone, so I'm glad my running saved someone from it.

This morning DH got our son and took him to a nice park where they ran art projects for kids every weekend. FREE. They also have a nice cafe with fresh, healthy, well priced food and they had lunch there as well. I am home, typing this after sleeping in.

Maybe we will go to the pool later. So a routine weekend so far. I'll insert pictures later if I have time.

Answer to all your financial concerns - move to rural Appalachia.

July 3rd, 2014 at 07:53 am

Housing is cheaper. Prices are cheaper. You can buy a house outright and be a king of the hill.
Is there anything wrong with this suggestion?

Why does it not appeal to everybody and specifically, to your family? If you do not want to quit your job and move there away from your family and friends, into a completely unappealing for you lifestyle, than your standards are too high and you are not flexible enough.

Imagine getting this advice over and over and over again, that you are choosing to have all your financial concerns by wanting to stay where you live.

That is how I feel when people suggest that the answer to my housing aspirations is to move out of NYC.

I'm not dreaming of a house somewhere. I want one where I live. There is a difference. I know people think they are well meaning when they suggest it, but that'be because they hear the word NYC, that's their immediate reaction.

They are not applying the same considerations as they would to a suggestion to move from where they live to a far away cheaper place with less career options, less food options, less access to every service imaginable, including medical care, and where your extended family would not be in your and your child's life.

Should we all just be HAPPY here?

July 2nd, 2014 at 09:02 am

What we are all doing here is keeping focused on our finances. To what degree does it help our general feeling of happiness?

On one hand, it helps us feel more secure and in control, and that's a good thing.

But, it is also driving us to want more? It can be a good thing, but to what degree? Does wanting to do a little bit better carry an implication that where we now, is not good enough?

I know we are doing fine (covering our bills and saving 15-20% of our salary for retirement).
We are getting good returns on our investments. But it makes me anxious to do better.
I know it is not rational. Perhaps it is wanting a house, with a small back yard. In New York City. That is a tall order.

It is really hard to measure your progress objectively when you are surrounded by rich people and wealth is everywhere. Running through my residential Bronx neighborhood, past little houses in a green area (1.4-2.5 million average price, with some a lot more, but nothing under a million), one kind of dreams of having that green yard and a village feel. Most of them are not mansions(those are 6-9 mil and up), they are typically 1,100-1800sf, but they are houses on land, where you, not the co-op board, have control.

Am I robbing myself from being truly happy? I mean we are secure, we contribute to retirement, and I have a wonderful child and husband, and am I expanding too much mental energy on this? Life is short, and is this focus something that takes away from other areas and makes one feel a little less satisfied?

Are my desires unreasonable?

I was watching a video of a little boy who lost his mom and dad sing a song about mom, and I was crying. And it made me feel how silly it is to be so focused on saving another $100, in the grand scheme of things...

I don't know, I'm feeling a bit conflicted on how focused we should really be on acquiring more.
Is it a mindset that our society has - to strive to have more, and does it give a proportionate return in happiness?

Is driver's license a necessity or a luxury?

June 25th, 2014 at 11:26 am

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 02:08 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 07:51 am

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.

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



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 12:52 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 12:07 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 07:05 am

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.

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