Dumb Money Moves

The past few weeks have been kind of a whirlwind. Thing I’ve learned about startup life: it can be all-consuming very quickly if you let it. That’s a whole post in and of itself.

As the effects of work have spilled over, I have found that my personal time has gotten frayed and I’ve started dropping things. This would normally not be an issue– our bills are mostly on autopay, checklists help us keep track and make sure all the other household items get done on time– but various life changes are putting a wrench into my plans.

Opening new joint accounts. Changing up the money flow between those accounts and our personal ones. Churning here, there, everywhere. Name changes. Estate planning trust junk. Blah blah blah blah blah. I don’t know which one did it, but the camel’s back is definitely broken.

Because of the various account movings, I managed to accidentally overdraw my checking account not once but TWICE in the past two months. Well, actually the first time I overdrew a series of transactions out of a recently-emptied account so that was annoying. I’ve probably paid around $100 in bounced fees at this point? Arggggh.

I’ve made silly costly mistakes in the past that have cost even more money (e.g. booking airline tickets for the wrong week and paying change fees), but somehow this one stings the most. And it’s not like I can be mad at the bank or anything– this all has been entirely my fault. It’s just a feeling of vague frustration on top of all the other feelings of vague frustration that I haven’t the time to process right now so let’s just throw money at the problem and forget about it for the moment, mmkay?

Of course we have the money that these sorts of issues just wind up being a carelessness tax. And I know that in itself is a blessing. And since they happen so rarely (on the order of once or twice a year on average) it really isn’t that big of a deal. Still, it stings. I’ve always thought myself pretty responsible with money, and I mostly still am. But maybe, for a while, I have to give myself slack for letting my focus shift elsewhere and live with things not always being p-e-r-f-e-c-t.

Have you made any dumb money moves lately? 

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What Keeps You Up At Night?

There was a long time, when I was a child and young adult, when money would keep me awake. Or, at least, the lack of it. I’d worry for hours deep into the night whether we’d become homeless, whether I’d be able to afford college, whether I’d lose my job and be unemployable forever more. I traversed all these worries link by link for years until, relatively recently, I realized: money is no longer my problem.

I have been extremely lucky in this regard. High paying jobs and the principles of financial independence have led me to a place where I feel assured we will have enough money to live, to pay the bills, to take care of the kids, etc. We may not be retirement-ready rich, but it’d be silly of me to expect we’d ever be truly poor.

And with this, I felt free.

For a time.

Here’s the thing: chronic anxiety is a strange beast. When the object of the anxiety is gone, the anxiety itself doesn’t just magically disappear. It may seem that way, for a while. There’s a lull, a respite. But there’s always something around the corner or even an infinite number of things to fill the vacuum.

That terrible social faux pas I made last Tuesday, trying to meet my work goals, not being fulfilled by my labor, serious physical ailments befalling my family and friends, political turmoil, families still being separated at the border, the threat of autocracy, the threat of ethnic cleansing, climate change, whether it is amoral to have children in the current age, whether I’d feel if my life had meaning if I couldn’t have kids, the idea of death. The list goes on and on.

And the thing is: all these concerns, though of varying import, are all real and legitimate. But they are also suffocating. This anxiety, at times a useful tool to be harnessed to motivate personal process, can in the worst of times stifle my ability to even move.

This is the key idea that I want to start working through now that I see it clearly: there’s no amount of controlling my environment that will make all these problems disappear (though certainly I should work to help others). For my own sanity, I have to accept that there’s an entire world of problems out there for everyone to suffer through. But what’s keeping me awake at night isn’t the world. It’s me.

What keeps you up at night? How do you deal with anxiety?

How Much Did We Spend On Our Wedding?

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Our wedding has come and gone. We are now married. (This, in my book, was always the minimum threshold of success.)

In terms of cost, I think we did pretty well. I talked with one of my coworkers before the event, astonishingly telling her “average wedding costs” per women’s magazines and the like ($30k+ in our area). As a part-time wedding hair stylist, she didn’t believe those numbers for a second. “It’s at least $80k out where I live on the Cape!” I think we run in very different circles.

As you can tell from the table above, we got a lot of help with wedding costs. His mother insisted on paying for the catering, which was by far the most expensive line item. It costs a lot to feed 60 people! That said, our caterers were excellent. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food; they did all the set-up, clean-up, and serving labor; plus they provided hot apple cider and coffee for our guests, and welcome end to the event on a cool fall day outdoors. And after the event they packed up all the extra food for us, which meant our diet was nothing but wedding leftovers for an entire week.

There were a couple things here and there that didn’t go quite as planned. Because our original musician ended up moving away for conservatory, we decided to go the “let’s play something on our computer” route. Unfortunately, our speakers just decided not to work? So that was kind of a bust.

But overall the event was fine to good. The weather was perfect and the trees in the park had just started turning their leaves, bits of red and orange flecks amongst the mostly-green topiary. I brought a dozen decks of playing cards for people to use during the reception and I think it really helped in keeping our guests entertained. I got to see some out-of-town friends, which was nice. And our families were on their best behavior– a welcome relief.

I might update this post with some wedding photos once our photographer sends us the final copies. Or I might not. If you can’t tell, I’m mostly just glad our wedding is behind us. I love my husband and enjoy being married. But, big orchestrated events? I can do without another one of those for a good, long time.

Did you enjoy your wedding? How much did you spend on “the big day”?

Financial Update – September 2018

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.

sept 2018

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).

sept 18

Monthly Summary

Just so ready for this year to be over.

Notable things that happened this month include:

How were your finances in September?

Finding My Footing At The New Job

Before I went on my Irish vacation and for a little while after, I was having a really rough go of it at the new job. And while there are still days when I feel the usual pangs of imposter syndrome, alienation, and general workplace unhappiness, I think I may be starting to turn a new leaf with the work.

One of the things that helped me was to find a mentor outside of my organization (connected via one of my friends) that could help give me perspective on what I was doing. I told of the many ways that internal systems seemed to be broken, the work I had tried to do to stitch things together, and the uncertainty that I was adding any value or taking the right approach to fix the problems I saw. And he reminded me of something very important:

Are you trying to make your company better or your life better? Because remember: those are two very different things.

Sometimes making my work life better is different than my instincts on making the company better. Finding a sustainable way to do my own work should be my priority because that is, frankly, much more in my locus of control and interest.

Don’t hide pain points by taking on what should be the work of others.

Eager beaver me had been trying to “fix” things I saw that didn’t seem to be working. And in doing so, I started stepping on other people’s toes (frankly, I probably still do). Amongst the chaos of a startup environment, I was trying to impose order, not just in the field of my role, but where there were gaps in our employee pool as well.

After talking with my mentor, I realized I was both driving myself batty and doing a disservice to the organization by trying to patch up holes I saw in our systems myself. Instead, he recommended a much more effective route by “managing up,” pushing recruitment of additional staff to fill those other gaps. Or, if others in their roles are not doing their jobs well and therefore leaving gaps, making it very explicit (albeit in a subtle way) where the real bottleneck is so it can be rectified. Taking things on myself would just be a band-aid.

Granted, writing all this down feels very politic-y and shirking work, but I think the point he made and I’m starting to internalize is that my natural reaction to broken things is “omg how do I fix now” whereas the correction reaction should be “what is the best way for this to be fixed and how can I help make that happen.”

Stay in your lane.

Stay humble. Listen. Don’t assume you know everything. Do not feel compelled to give an answer for things where you are unsure. Defer to others outside your area of expertise, particularly if you don’t want it to be thought of as your area of expertise.

Prioritize the work you want to be doing.

For a while I have been doing one type of work (task A) related to my role I really don’t care about and frankly kind of hate instead of another type of work (task B) that interests me a lot more. At some point, I found the best way to keep my head above water was to carve out time for task B explicitly in my schedule and rework internal processes so that I ended up doing less task A altogether. And you know what? That’s made things a lot more sustainable which, assuming I am adding value, is better for the company in the long run than just quitting. (Whether or not I am actually useful is a different story.)

You can’t be popular with everyone.

I have a good relationship with most of the people I work with but for many reasons– some probably gender related– I have had a really hard time connecting with some of the staff. And you know what?

Fuck. Them.

As long as I feel like I am kind and considerate and interacting with them in a way that is appropriate for my job function, fuck their visible disdain every time I enter a room, fuck their passive aggressive comments. Their opinion of me as a person has already been made up, so I should stop trying to please or tip-toe around them and just get my job fucking done.

How do you feel about your job? When things have been not-so-good what have you done to improve your circumstances? Do you have a mentor and, if so, do you find their advice helpful?

What We Spent In Ireland

Flights

$672.06 + 67,324 Amex MR
Economy class on Aer Lingus x2

After hours of frustration that an Aer Lingus ticket booked with 50k BA Avios would somehow be more expensive than booking with cash, I decided to use my Amex points to cover the cost of a ticket. There were cheaper flights available, but they’d have been at weird times and require layovers in Germany? 🤔

Accomodations

$889.41 + 50k IHG + 25k Starwood
AirBnB x3, Castle x1, Holiday Inn x2, Westin x1

If I had to change one thing about our trip, I’d have spent more time in the Irish countryside and less time in the cities. For our one night in the country, we got to stay in a beautiful castle next to a field of ponies in a lush room with a two person jacuzzi. Just look at how gorgeous this is:

And that castle stay cost less per night than the sketchy, illegal AirBnB we stayed at in the bad part of Dublin, for which we picked up our keys– I kid you not– in a lockbox attached to the barred windows behind an abandoned building.

Transportation

$986.49
Car rental, parking, tolls
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We got a small hybrid, which managed to last the entire week without a fill up. Fiancé did all of the driving; I have a hard enough time when driving on the right side of the road. 🚘

Food

$640.78
Lots of restaurant food, most of it mediocre.

I am going to be honest: I did not have high expectations for Irish food. Our first dinner in Dublin, the mushy orange paste on my plate had been so boiled to death that I could not tell whether it was tomato or carrot. 🍅🥕?IMG_20180909_161918
When we took trips out of the cities, I found it much easier to find good food. The best by far was the multi-course dinner in the castle we stayed at. They took something as simple as chicken broth and took it to the next level. Note to self: the secret is to cook down to a concentrated stock and clarify with eggs. Sadly I forgot to take pictures of it and, really, most of the food, so you get the above shot of a kind of mediocre suburban mall meal instead. 🤷

My advice? When in the cities just go for the Indian food or cook your own meals; save the pubs for the rolling countryside. Be warned though: even at the best of places, though, the flavors were still quite subtle (read: if you like heavily spiced food, you will be disappointed).

Activities & Sights

$644.90
Victor’s Way, Dublin Fringe Festival hip hop performance, National Museum of Ireland – Arts & Archaelogy, Book of Kells, falconry lesson, seaweed oil massage with brushing, Black Cab Tours, Giant’s Causeway, Irish Linen Centre, Newgrange monument tourIMG_20180913_142339~2

As Fiance’s first international trip and our designated honeymoon to boot, it was important to me that our trip to Ireland be special. Cue the $350 falconry lesson and $130 seaweed massage. 🐣🌿💆

You hear that? That’s the sound of my soul leaving my body. 😱👻
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Jokes aside, I am glad we splurged on this special occasion. We got slow motion footage of real life hawks dive bombing us for food and Fiance’s skin has been sooo soft since his exfoliating massage. Absolutely worth it.
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That said, the frugal traveler could get by in Ireland in a lot less. Ireland is replete with beautiful natural wonders and inexpensive historic sights to visit.IMG_20180909_142459~2
I personally recommend the willing traveler head north to visit Giant’s Causeway if at all possible. We didn’t manage to walk on the Carrick-a-Rede bridge while in the area, but have heard great things about it too.

Shopping

$247.04
Avoca scarf, tweed vest

Fiancé bought himself a scarf and a tweed vest that’ll be part of his wedding outfit. Usually I would also get gifts for my friends when traveling abroad, but I didn’t see anything I thought they’d like.

Other

$503
Luggage fees, airport parking

These are the “unforced errors” of our trip. As in, it would have been so easy to circumvent these costs if we had planned ahead. In particular, Fiancé came straight to the airport from work, which ended up costing us $300 in parking fees. If we had researched the parking options and he had dropped the car off at home and taken a taxi or instead, or even if he had just used the economy lot, we could have easily saved $150-250 on that item alone. Sigh.

Summary

  • Flights – $672.06
  • Accommodations – $889.41
  • Transportation – $986.49
  • Food – $640.78
  • Activities & Sights – $644.90
  • Shopping – $247.04
  • Other – $490.26

Total spending: $4,570.93

Honestly, I am not thrilled with how much we spent, about a thousand dollars more than what I had expected for this trip.

Part of the mistake here was that we approached planning in a divide and conquer fashion. I booked the flights and hotel while Fiancé dealt with the auto-related items separately, so I ended up greatly underestimating how much the big ticket stuff would cost. Had I known our car rental and parking would be so expensive, I might have suggested we go to a better value destination. Or, at the very least, been a lot more proactive in curbing our expenses on “Food” and “Other” to compensate.

The other reason for the overrun here was that Fiancé’s mother is very generous and offered to let him use her card for whatever as a wedding gift. And I think it may have, ahem, caused him to be looser with the spending than he otherwise would have been. 😑

All in all though, I’m glad we took the time to have a nice vacation together. The next international trip on the horizon is a friend’s wedding in Copenhagen, but we haven’t decided whether we’re both going to that yet or just me. In any case, I would like to squeeze in one more fun travel experience before we have kids.

Have you ever been to Ireland? Traveled anywhere fun lately? Any recommendations for Copenhagen?

Week In The Wallet: Summer’s Calling Edition

A little update on how my life, financial and otherwise, has been going. All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Saturday

I start the morning off with food that I prepped the previous night: sautéed oyster mushrooms, tossed greens salads, salmon, zucchini with onion and parmesan, and marinara sauce. (Note: you can assume that most of my meals came from my prep session unless otherwise stated.)

As the first nice weather day in weeks, I decide to go to the park, lay under a towering tree, and read the Henry James novella Daisy Miller.

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I then go on a nice long meandering walk downtown. I intend to use up my $50 Amex Platinum credit for Saks, but realize that’d only cover about half the cost of a tee shirt. I instead head to Eataly, where I grab a late lunch of roasted chicken, zucchini drowning in olive oil, and the most buttery polenta I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. After, I grab a small cup of banana sorbet atop a bed of my favorite olive-oil based chocolate sauce. Nom! $19.94

 

After lunch, I head back home to the opposite side of the river. On the way I stop by Supercuts to get my hair trimmed. It looks somewhat cleaner, but the change is almost imperceptible. I am excited for our wedding to be over, so I can just cut my hair short. $28.95

In the evening I try again to spend my Saks credit by browsing their website offerings. I learn that $50 is just enough to buy one bottle of Aesop shampoo. (Note: After actually trying the shampoo, I don’t really understand the appeal of Aesop. It’s fine enough shampoo, I guess, but definitely too expensive for what it is.)

Sunday

I head to the gym for some morning exercise, running a couple miles and climbing a few bouldering routes. In spite of climbing on and off for six years, I continue to be really bad at it. I consistently fail at doing V2’s and can only sometimes barely do V1’s. For reference, V0 is the easiest level. Maybe if I practiced more often I would get better? As it is, I only climb once every week or so and it always makes me feel super achy in my neck and shoulders the next day. I could also stand to be more strategic about my climbing, too.

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In the afternoon, I practice Pimsleur Mandarin, which I borrowed from the library. I have been really interested in improving my Chinese after seeing Crazy Rich Asians (particularly been mired in the you’re not Chinese enough feels). I like that Pimsleur is a completely aural program. I always had a lot harder time with speaking than writing when my parents put me into Chinese school as a kid. I have no ear for tones.

Going through the full Pimsleur series would be pretty expensive in the $400-500 range. I decide if I want to proceed with it, what I’ll do is get a month-long free Audible trial to get through Unit 1, then borrow Units 2-3 from my library (which has a lot less demand than the Unit 1 sections). I might then go back and pay for Audible to complete Units 4-5, or by that point switch to another learning method if I feel comfortable with overall feel of pronunciation.

Feeling exhausted from my weekend of ambling and physical exertion, I go to bed super early at 8:30. Goodbye weekend.

Monday

I start the day by filling out paperwork to finish off the 401k rollover for my old employer’s plan, specifically to get my post-tax traditional 401k contributions rolled into my Roth IRA (Mega Backdoor Roth for the win!). Luckily my new employer has their own Roth 401k, so I should be able to throw in lots of after-tax money in this year.

Time for work. Mondays are always a rush. I have back to back meetings until 2 PM, at which point I grab a container full of Indian buffet take-out for lunch. It’s pricey, but some of the best Indian food in the area, and it’s enough to leave me feeling full for the rest of the day. $14.00

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I decide to walk home at the end of the day in order to take advantage of the nice weather before the next 90+ degree heat wave hits. I live fairly close to my office, just a two-mile walk, but I take the long route which adds an extra mile. It gives me time to digest.

In the evening I chill out by watching the season and possibly series finale for Trial and Error which is probably the best comedy on television that nobody’s heard of after Steven Universe. So good. After that I start Henry James’ The American, which I read on my Kobo from my library’s e-book stash.

Tuesday

More Indian buffet take-out for lunch. $15.00

The rest of my afternoon at work is consumed by one client I’m working with. As soon as I took on the account, colleagues started walking up to me with a pitying look that said, “Yeah, they’re very demanding. Sucks for you.” The client is very disorganized and there are a lot of internal politics going on that spills over into their requests for our team. It’s messy and I always feel on edge trying to meet their overwhelming demands. Bah.

After work I head to the gym for a one-hour core class, my Tuesday evening ritual. I really enjoy the trainer’s music and exercise selection, doing a full hour of ab work every week has done wonders for sculpting that six pack I’ve been going for (I need to do a major cut to make it show, though) and also for improving my posture.

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In the evening I’m still feeling a bit on edge from work and do some window shopping on Poshmark and Garmentory. I buy a Vince color block shirt on Poshmark, which is $10 off with an Amex credit. $22.49

Wednesday

My fiancé Alex and I have regular board game nights with his friends Mitt, Tara, and Ingrid. Usually we take turns paying for takeout and this week it’s Mitt’s turn to tank. We end up playing Codenames and a funny Mafia-style game Alex found on the internet called Elon Musk’s iPod Submarine. From it I learn that apparently I think like a tech bro, sigh.

A couple weeks back, I lost Alex’s adaptor that he uses to charge his iPad in the car. After his friends leave, Alex tells me that the replacement adaptor I had gotten for him was Thunderbolt to USB-C instead of to regular USB like he needed. Whoops. I order him a new one and, for some reason, Apple refunds the overnight shipping costs. Sweet. $20.75

Thursday

One of my good friends Matthew is being hospitalized for a month. I have been taking care of his plants but notice that his apartment could also use a thorough cleaning. I mention this to my friend Anna; after work, she and her husband Simon join me in a multi-hour cleaning frenzy. Much vacuum, very Lysol.

After we’re satisfied with the state of things, we head over to a nearby Szechuan place where we share tea smoked duck, basil eggplant, and gobs of rice. $21.50

Friday

In the evening, I head to Anna’s house where we make lemon bars and rainbow cookies for our weekend trip to visit Matthew. And by “we” I mostly mean Anna and Simon who are amazing cooks, though I do help with a decent amount of the prep work. They order in Thai food, which they share with me.

While baking, I get to let off some steam about my job. Anna and Simon are both in tech, so it’s nice bouncing thoughts off them. They also have introduced me to various folks they know who I also consult as mentors when I’m hitting a brick wall.

I don’t like to think of my friends as “valuable resources”, but they really are. It feels nice to feel understood and that we care for each other. I like having them in my life. ❤

Weekly Total

Saturday $48.89
Sunday $0
Monday $14.00
Tuesday $37.49
Wednesday $20.75
Thursday $21.50
Friday $0

Total $142.63