Food, Money, And Self-Care

When I was an undergrad, money was tight. My parents didn’t have much in the way of income, so I was able to get a lot of grants and scholarships for school covering my tuition, room, and board. But, fun fact: scholarship money is only tax-deductible if it goes toward tuition and fees. Which meant most of what I earned from my part-time work tutoring and TA’ing had to be saved to pay a multi-thousand dollar tax bill each April.

Now, I was by no means in dire straights, but I had very little money to work with for personal spending. I usually had it all planned by each September, a necessity if I wanted to make my paycheck last until summer. Two cross-country flights– once during winter and once during the summer– made up the majority of my budget. I didn’t wear make-up and I never bought clothes; by senior year most of my tops were company-branded tees I’d gotten at career fairs.

And yet, there was always one thing I made sure I had a little bit of fun money for: food.

IMG_20171010_205230~2
Mmmm, sushi

Starting in my junior year, when I had a little more pocket money from dropping my university’s meal plan, I let myself get takeout once a week on Fridays. I remember, there was a tiny sushi shop right by the engineering buildings where, for right around $12, I could get a feast of a lunch that was more delicious than it had any right to be: chirashi laid over a perfectly seasoned bed of sushi rice, a deeply umami miso soup, a small salad with a light sweet ginger sauce, and a couple of pieces of tempura and shumai to round out the meal. Or on days I was feeling like something really hardy, I’d get a plate as big as my head of unaju-don. Everything delicious and salty and decadent, I’d eat my food at the counters out front looking to the tall trees lining campus as little rays of sunshine streaming through the tall windows warmed my arms and face.

Little moments like these have gotten me through years both good and bad. Making myself chicken ginger soup with spaghetti when I’m sick, getting that french apple pie from the local baker after a rough day, celebrating with friends over hot pot. Even eating a single fried egg over steamed white rice is like experiencing a moment of peace, sending me back to my childhood when meals, like everything else, were simpler, slower, and meant to be savored.

IMG_20171004_125245~2
Tastes like home

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less price sensitive to the types of meals I eat. Which is great insofar as I have been able to have interesting and delightful gustatorial experiences. But it hasn’t been so great from the perspective of my monthly food spending.

Sometimes I wonder how much of this spending comes from the pure joy of food and how much of it is using food to do my emotional labor for me. Like I could deal with my growing sense of burnout at work, or… I could ignore that and cook my CSA box instead. I could map out my next career step, but I think I’d rather go try out the new Mexican-Korean fusion restaurant down the street.

This becomes particularly acute when it comes to bad days. Bunch of deadlines looming? Maybe I should “treat myself” to sushi. Had to sit through a set of emotionally difficult meetings at the office? Well, I was going to get the ground beef but maybe we’ll upgrade to the lamb chops.

To some degree, food is a convenient distraction. Everyone needs to eat, most of us do it multiple times a day. But it’s also something from which I derive great pleasure. It’s no wonder that the food and my emotions would become inextricably linked, both in times happy and ill. Good food is like a friend to me; I’ve never had troubles with eating too much or too little. It’s just always been there, as supportive and comforting as can be, saying, I know things are hard right now but here, savor this, you can always take it slow.

Do you have an emotional connection to food? What sort of hobbies or things do you use for emotional self-care?

Advertisements

Working On The Weekend

I planned to write a “real” post (insofar as this blog is ever more than slightly curated stream of consciousness) but then my entire weekend got eaten up by work, procrastinating on work, and this stupidly addictive paperclip factory game. So I’m going to keep it short.

The past few weeks I’ve been falling behind at my job. In part due to factors out of my control, but also partly because I’m in a bit of a funk. I’m not sure what to label it– is it imposter syndrome or anxiety or just I think I’m generally just done with this job. Regardless, it’s meant that my time management has been wanting. That, on top of a busy month, means I’ve been bringing work home on the weekends more than I’d like just to meet deadlines.

On the bright side, I often derive a weird pleasure from working on the weekends. The office is quiet and empty. I have more room to focus and actually get things done. I can even work from the comfort of my own bed if I want.

But on the other hand, working in the off-time also means I can’t recoup after a difficult week. It makes it harder for me to feel refreshed the next Monday. And my poor CSA delivery, which I usually cook Friday evenings, still wallows in its crate, the kale leaves yellowing as we speak!

For now I just need to push about two weeks longer before I get a much-needed break. Here’s hoping I make it through.

Do you ever have to work weekends? How do you keep up during difficult times at your job?

Mindful Internet Usage: Freedom App Review

This is not a sponsored post, no affiliate links. As always, all opinions are my own. 

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about people needing to decouple from the internet. Internet gurus– ironically?– offer us respites in the form of digital “fasts”, “detoxes”, “diets”. Like candy, the empty calories of morning listicles are leaving us feeling lethargic and distracted. And it’s not just that constant connection via smartphones is lowering our productivity. It is believed that new technology is causing teens to experience a sudden spike in suicide and rates of depression.

Now, I don’t know how much of these calamitous warnings are the first outcries of a major public health crisis vs. “kids these days” but I do know my brain and, in particular, my concentration has nosedived since I started using a smartphone. My eyes are generally tired from staring at a screen. I have less patience to push through difficult tasks. And, in general, I’m beginning to question how much control I have over my technology vs. the control it has on me.

In an attempt to rescue my brain from the depths of mindless internet browsing, I uninstalled all the apps from my phone that had me clicking for vague dopamine hits. That meant disabling my Slack, uninstalling Poshmark, and– worst of all– removing Mint from my mobile front page. Gasp!

But it wasn’t just my phone. Oh no. I’d spend hours throughout the morning and evenings vaguely reading blogs, shopping online, watching videos to distract myself. And at the end of the day, I felt tired, in a fog, and generally like my life was slipping by.

And so, I downloaded the Freedom app to help me regain control.

freedom5.png

Freedom is a multi-platform app that helps you block distracting sites on Mac, Windows, and iOS. Freedom allows you to define which sites you want to block (grouped as blocklists) and when you want them to be blocked (defined in sessions).

When defining your blocklists, Freedom makes recommendations of oft-distracting sites you probably want limited access to like Netflix, Instagram, Reddit, etc. In addition, you can manually add other domains to your blocklist. For instance, here’s my Shopping blocklist:                                                      freedom3You can make any number of blocklists to define different types of sites you might want to block or leave open during an internet session. So, for instance, I have separate “Shopping” and “Personal Finance” blocklists in case I want to remain free from ebay while in the middle of blogging.

freedom1

When deciding when to block sites, you can schedule a session to occur immediately, in the future, or on a recurring basis. Since I want to start my mornings and evenings on the right foot, I’ve blocked all my mindless browsing sites before noon and between 5-8 PM every day. On top of that, I’ve blocked all my target sites during regular business hours, so I don’t get distracted when I’m working from home.

freedom6.png

If you think you’ll have an itch to suspend your session, you can also put yourself into “locked mode” which means you cannot disable Freedom in the middle of a session by yourself (though if you are desperate enough, you can send in a support request to their team to unlock you).

freedom7
“Don’t push the red button”

Right now there are a lot of Freedom 40% discount codes floating around so the service, normally $29/year can be had for $17.40/year instead. In addition, with a subscription you also get access to Offtime, which is helpful for doing a full multi-platform detox on Android as well.

Already, I’m about a week into using Freedom on my laptop and Offtime for my phone. As far as initial progress goes, I can recenter myself a lot more easily now with less screen time. I still feel easily distracted, like I have extra fidgety energy to burn, and throughout the day I’m still grabbing at my phone only to realize I can’t do anything with it. But, since I don’t have Poshmark at my beck and call any more, I’m slightly more eager to redirect that energy to working or, in my off time, exercise, cooking, and other forms of physical self-care that allow my mind a break from the glare of the screen.

How do you stay mindful while browsing the internet?

The Hunt For A Petite Suit

After weeks of searching— hitting up my much-loved Everlane, a dalliance with MM LaFleur, and hours upon hours of scouring ebay, Poshmark, and hitting the shopping district downtown– I finally found a suit that actually fits me! Huzzah! (“huzzah”, by the way, is my triumphant exclamation of choice)

I’m in a conservative industry so I decided to go for a classic black suit. I bought the “Seasonless” two-button blazer and pencil skirt from Ann Taylor.  The low V of one-button blazers make me look like I’m swimming in my mother’s hand-me-downs, so I was psyched to find a two-button option.  The pencil skirt hits right at the knee and is a nice classic look. The quality of the pieces is acceptable for the price point– thick keyhole button holes, fully lined, finished seams, extra buttons sewn in, but made out of poly/rayon a cheaper blend. Between AT’s 50% off sales and my work’s discount shopping portal, I was able to knock down the price of suiting from $258 down to $109.

I bought the Amanda Uprichard Simon blouse at a consignment shop in the fanciest neighborhood in town. Though it is pretty hard to find online in cream/white, the blouse seems to have retailed for $193. I got it for $49 in excellent condition. Not as good as Lily’s finds, I’ll admit, but alright nonetheless.

Therefore, I ended up paying $158 for an three-piece outfit that at full retail would be $451. Around a third of the cost, not too shabby! Or maybe retail mark-ups are just wonky. Probably both.

My big takeaway from this exercise has been that finding clothing as a petite woman is hard. That’s one of the big reasons I so rarely actually buy anything. Constantly feeling dejected, going into clothing store after clothing store because nothing fits, is no fun at all.

But I did come out the other side with some tips in case you’re looking to shop suits anytime soon as a petite woman.

1. Be prepared to compromise on at least one: price, quality, fit.

Define your priorities before going shopping. You don’t want to be at the register with a luscious mohair suit that hits you in all the right places only to realize that the $2000 price tag is more than you really wanted to spend (not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything).

Since I was looking for something to wear maybe five or ten times a year in a less fashionable industry, it wasn’t pivotal that my suit be top-of-the-line quality and fit. So I got something cheap, and good enough construction-wise and fit-wise.

2. Figure out what a brand considers “petite”

At a towering 5’1″ (155 cm for my Canadian readers) I am petite enough that even the petite/junior sizes at most stores are too big for me. In the fashion world, 5’4″ and under is considered petite, even though the average height for American women is 5’3.5″.  Talbots targets a woman at 5’3″. Ann Taylor seems to go shorter. Just keep in mind that if you’re 5’2″ or shorter, your petite clothes may still require some additional hemming.

3. Skip the department stores

Hot take: department stores are overrated. They are often laid out by brand, which makes approximately zero sense, and it is impossible to tell whether or not a particular brand is stocked with petite sizing. I’ve heard great things about having a Nordstrom shopper, however, so if you insist on going the department store route, make sure you get help from an associate.

4. Remember to bring your heels

Workwear looks vastly different with and without shoes, and in particular those 3″ heels may make those formerly-too-long pants just right.

5. Know what can be easily tailored versus not

Hemming pants: easy. Shortening sleeves: medium. Taking in a lined blazer: $$$.

6. Keep the tags on

That 50% off sale? That wasn’t happening when I bought my AT suit the first time. I shelled out full freight to start. All $258, just to make sure I had it in hand by the time my business trips rolled around. But those weren’t for a couple weeks and I wasn’t in a hurry to wear my suit in public. So what’d I do? I checked the Ann Taylor website every day to see if there was a sale going. Once it hit 50% off, I bought a second suit, brought my original back for a refund, and never had to risk my size running out. A little inconvenient (many stores will just do price adjustments, but not AT), but totally worth it for the extra savings.

7. Get an Amex card

If you go the online shopping route– because, let’s face it, getting discounts from the comfort of your couch is pretty appealing– make sure you have an Amex card handy. Why? Because Amex cards give you access to ShopRunner for free. That’s 2-day shipping at a lot of the mid-tier brands for $0. Perfect if you want to try out a lot of different suits, but are too lazy to visit the stores in person.

Now that I’ve gotten my suit down, I’m ready to move on to my next personal style project: finding the perfect pair of jeans.

What are your tips for finding petite clothing? Any jean brands you particularly like or recommend?

Outlining My Path To Financial Independence

Even since before I’ve started working, I’ve been enamored by the idea of financially independence. To live and to labor for the sake of self-determination rather than a paycheck would be idyllic.

But becoming financially independent is a lengthy process. By the time I reach “full” FI, I will have been in the workforce roughly 15 years. So it’s helpful to define intermediate goals, pitstops along the way, so that I can keep myself accountable and take stock of the progress I’ve made.

Going Through The Phases

There are five phases between where I am now and financial independence. Each phase is defined by an associated work requirement, e.g. when I pay off my mortgage I’ll probably still need to have a professional job, but could take on a lower-key one with less pay; when I hit full financial independence, I won’t need any job at all!

phases.png

As you can see, I expect each phase to last somewhere between one to two years. This means I’ll be able to compare my progress against predefined milestones on a near yearly basis rather than figure it all out at the end. It also means I have some designated off-ramp points. If I decide I don’t want to stay in my job until 2025, I’ll know how long I need to stay in order to reach a particular level of financial security.

The soonest I would feel comfortable transitioning away from my job is once we hit the inflection point. At that phase, we’ll have a very solid financial footing with fully-funded college and retirement accounts (assuming modest growth over the next few decades). That means, in a pinch, we will no longer need to save and invest for our future selves. Our only need would be to make enough to pay our expenses day to day.

The next major milestone will then be to pay off our mortgage. Now, we might not actually pay off our mortgage– I’d prefer having money in the market instead– but I’d like to have enough to do so should we choose. Since we live in a high cost of living area, a large portion of our expenses goes into our condo’s mortgage. Once we pay off our mortgage, we’ll only need to make enough to pay for living expenses like food, utilities, and the car.

Now, the next jump is more lifestyle inflation than financial stability, but one that we deeply want. Once our home is paid off, we’d like to expand our home: build out our attic space to make a master bedroom and bathroom suite. This will upgrade our condo from a 2/1 to a 3/2. Not a necessity, certainly, but we’d like if we are able to give our children their own rooms and us our own bathroom. Which will be nice, especially as our kids get older and our current space feels more crowded.

Finally, once we’re done nesting, we can focus on financial independence. We’ll hit barista FI where we could basically subsist on our investments and part-time low-wage jobs as needed. If I stick it out a couple years more, we’ll hit full FI, where all our expenses will be more or less covered as long as we sporadically take on a money-yielding project in between. Which, given we’ll still be young yet, I am confident will happen.

How Do I Plan To Get There?

Because I’m earning a good amount of money from my full-time job, I’m running on easy mode on the way to FI. My plan, boring though it is, is as follows:

  • Max out my and my fiancé’s retirement accounts (401k, 403b, IRA) each year.
  • Max out my employer’s ESPP each year.
  • Spend what we need to live, but track all our purchases each month and be conscious about lifestyle inflation.
  • Dump any remaining funds at the end of the month into taxable accounts.

Note that my plan does not include things like working 20 hours a week or buying a rental property. There are, indeed, a lot of ways to supercharge financial growth well-beloved by the personal finance community. I am, however, quite conservative and, if I do say so myself, lazy af. The slow and steady life is for me.

There are some low-effort ways for me to speed up the journey and mitigate risk which I will be pursuing along the way. I will:

  • Attempt to optimize my taxes and asset allocation.
  • Diversify my skill set in case I need to transition out of my line of work.
  • Establish myself as a key asset in my work in order to open myself up to future consulting gigs post-retirement.

What are your long-term financial goals? How and when do you plan to get there?

Financial Update – September 2017

Each month I will post an update on my finances to both give you, the reader, some insight into my situation and to give me markers of my progress on my financial journey. My updates consist of two parts:

  • Financial Progress Table – Tracks net worth progress.
  • Spending Table – Compares monthly spending to an average (for me) “bare bones” budget, keeping me accountable for additional expenses.

For now, monthly updates include only my personal net worth and spending. As my fiancé and I combine our finances, updates will shift to cover going values instead.

Financial Progress

Each net worth goal in the Financial Progress table is broken down into undisclosed units of money. My current goal is to reach “Financial Freedom.” By the time I reach this goal I will have:

  • A retirement account that can support us when my fiancé hits 65
  • Two college savings funds funded for four years of in-state public university tuition, room, and board
  • An emergency fund for six or more months of living expenses
  • Sufficient liquidity for my fiancé and/or I to make a career change with one to two years’ runway
  • A mortgage less than two times my gross salary without bonuses

Once “Financial Freedom” is achieved, the focus will then working be towards “Financial Equilibrium”, where the income from investments covers all our ongoing expenses.

Goal Current Last Month Progress
Cash

1

1.18

1.15

0.03

After-tax investments

5

1.04

0.88

0.16

Retirement

5

3.41

3.36

0.05

Debt

8

8.36

8.37

0.01

Distance From Goal (units/months)

5.73

23

Total Progress (units)

0.25

Spending

I’ve created a “bare bones” budget which represents the average minimum amount I can expect to spend each month. This is the minimum amount I need to comfortably live in case of a job loss, emergency, etc. I expect to frequently go over my “bare bones” budget in a number of categories (here’s looking at you, “Groceries & Dining), but I want to remain accountable to myself when I do so.

For privacy reasons, there are two things I do not include in my spending updates: my monthly mortgage and charitable donations (pegged at 10% of my net income).

Bare Bones Actual Difference Notes
Home- Taxes, Insurance, and Repair

500.00

678.38

178.38

Home deep cleaning
Transportation

84.50

100.35

15.85

Monthly subway pass, one Lyft
Groceries & Dining

400.00

723.54

323.54

11 work lunches, 6 dinners, organic groceries (veggie CSA, pasture raised meats CSA, etc.)
Utilities and Phone

125.00

129.86

4.86

Gas, electric, internet, and phone (no split due to Fiancé unemployment)
Gym Membership

25.00

25.00

0.00

Minor injury suspended parkour membership
Household/Personal Care

50.00

58.79

8.79

Teak cutting board, ibuprofen refill, razors, hair ties
Other

200.00

457.81

257.81

Vermiculite, light jacket, athletic leggings, hosiery, freeze credit reports, three tv series, four movie rentals, theater ticket, Freedom app, theme park tickets
Total

1384.50

2173.73

789.23

Money Summary

Due to fit issues, I ended up returning my suit. The hunt continues. But I did buy quite a lot of other clothing including Lululemon tights that are so comfy during my workouts and nude hosiery.

Other big overages due to home cleaning, which for now we’re not making a recurring expense after all, theme park visit as an anniversary celebration with my Little Sis, and of course food, my eternal weakness. Between Fiancé and my visit to fancy restaurant for my birthday and lots of eating out, it all added up quickly. Someday I’ll figure out how to spend less on eating, maybe.

How were your finances in September?

 

Perfectionist Consumerism

I hate buying things only to have them fall apart. I remember once seven years ago buying a cutlery set from Target that rusted over in about three months. I think the fact that I am still sore about it to this day is a pretty good indication of how obsessed I can be about wasting money on non-optimal things.

When I make a purchase, I try to buy at the top of the inflection in the price vs. quality curve. This often requires hours of research. I have on my bookmark bar Wirecutter, Sweethome, Consumer Reports, and Reddit’s BIFL forum. I spent days trawling Angie’s List, Houzz, and NextDoor when trying to find contractors to work on our renovations. Even with food, there are few places I’ll eat that I haven’t already thoroughly vetted either through my foodie friends or Yelp.

Often, when in search for the “perfect” thing, I come to find it doesn’t exist. Or that it’s too expensive. And rather than compromise on my standards, spending or otherwise, I choose not to buy anything at all. Which is, I suppose, one method of frugality.

Because of this analysis paralysis, I didn’t buy a blender until we could afford a Vitamix (which is awesome, by the way). And we still don’t have a vacuum because Miele canister vacuums, like the ones Wirecutter recommends, are expensive. If I’m going to shell out $100+ to do, ugh, chores! then that vacuum better not leave a crumb and last twenty years to boot.

Sometimes I can’t tell whether this makes me mindful in my spending or just a very particular consumerist. In any case, it seems to keep money in my pocket and junk out of my house.

Are you a buy-it-for-life-er? Do you hold out for the “perfect” purchase?