Too Lazy for DIY

Before I bought my condo, I was thoroughly convinced I was going to do all minor repairs and maintenance on it myself. I thought: how hard could it be?

So in the midst of renovation madness, fiancé and I got ourselves all the makings of a fixer upper toolkit: a nine-foot tall ladder, a drill with all the fittings, hammers and screwdrivers, joint knives, buckets, HEPA filter face masks, and the like.

We set off on our first project taking off the aging and peeling wallpaper from all 4000+ sq. ft. of wall space in the house. It took us about two days of scraping and peeling and spraying and scraping again to clean it all off. During and after, our bodies were tired, dehydrated, and just plain crabby.

I will never look at wallpaper the same way again.

There are other areas of my life where a similar DIY/anti-consumerist ethos has made its way into my brain, only to be majorly shut down.

For instance, zero waste and the urban homestead movement had me convinced for a while that composting and growing my own vegetables indoors would solve all my worldly problems. Reduce my trash waste and get free fertilizer for my hypothetical patio garden? Sign me up!

Here’s the rub, though: we don’t have much paper waste which makes our compost wetter than it should be. And digging caked wet matter out of my tumbler is no fun at all. Once every few months, it’s just me, a trowel, gloves, and a bucket in which I plop the insect-ridden gloopy masses. I’m not really sure this stuff can be used as fertilizer anymore. But I keep at it, because that one women with the tiny jar of trash for an entire year has made me feel guilty and, gosh darn it, I want to life such an aesthetically pleasing environmentalist life!

And I haven’t even gotten to the DIY projects still loitering half-heartedly on my to do list like: growing mushrooms using the blue oyster plugs that have been in my fridge for six months, clean out the dryer vent lest the clogged up lint causes it to catch fire, start my patio herb and vegetable garden so I can have basil and zucchini in spades.

But, over time, I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I am too lazy for DIY. Gutter cleaning? I know a guy. Need to change an outlet? Email my electrician. Draining our water heater? Just take my money already!

Though the thought I can do something with my own two hands wriggles in my brain and we start all over again.

Are you a DIY’er? What stuff are you willing to do yourself vs. what would you rather pay someone else to do?

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The Ever Increasing Commute

Over the years, my commute time has steadily grown.

When I first came to the city, I could make it between my apartment and office 20 minutes, door-to-door.

Then our company moved across the river and my commute increased to 30 minutes.

Then I bought my condo in a slightly less central suburb further from transit and it catapulted to 45 minutes.

That is, of course, assuming it isn’t raining or snowing, which confuses our subway system. On those days my commute can be as long as an hour and a half. These instances haven’t really become more common over time, but they have certainly been a more grating. I’ve not infrequently the past few months left my office right at 5 to catch a 6:15 exercise class near my house (<5 minutes) only to be fifteen minutes to late.

One of the things I’m prioritizing for my next job is to work somewhere closer to where I live. 30 minutes on normal days by subway on my side of the river so I have an easy (< 3 mile / 1 hour) walk when the subway is rolling over playing possum.

Before you suggest it: yes, I listen to podcasts and audiobooks and music, etc. Sometimes, though, I just want to get home on time.

How long is your commute? What’s the longest commute you are willing to endure?

Networking While Introverted

With less than a month to go, I’ve started by job search process in earnest.

First, I updated my resume, LinkedIn, etc. per the recommendations of my career coach. Then I started messaging what feels like every recruiter in the metro area, even though I know it’s been more targeted than that. I’ve hit up both internal recruiters at companies I want to join and external recruiters (i.e. headhunters). I tailor my message for internal recruiters for the positions I’m interested in and external recruiters based on their areas of specialty. No dice. I’m switching roles, so I don’t think I’m the safe bet they’re looking for. Sigh.

So, given my lack of success using the arm’s-length methods, as of last week I started working my network hard. There are four leads in the picture right now:

  • internal referral by former coworker at Big N company, where there’s an opening on team I’d love to work for even if it’s probably way more work than I do now for roughly the same pay,
  • referral by current coworker/mentor for niche position at another Big N where he knows the hiring manager and also turned down the position himself,
  • coffee interview for mid-sized startup based on recommendation from a professor I work with who knows the founder, and
  • lunch date with a college acquaintance who works at big company doing the kind of work I want and that has contacts at some of the big firms hiring in town.

Who knows if any of these will end up panning out, but just the process of networking has really engrained in me two things: (1) people have been supremely generous toward me for which I am eternally grateful and hope to return the favor someday and (2) oh my goodness, my anxiety from so much online and meatspace social contact is off the charts.

I find it really difficult to ask favors of people with whom I am friendly but aren’t my close friends. It feels slimy and disingenuous, especially if I haven’t talked to them in years. I’ve tamped down some of these feelings by making the interactions as quid pro quo as possible– “Hey, would you like to meet for lunch to catch up? (my treat!)”– but still. Ugh. Humans. Talking. Introversion. Blech.

If this round of “shaking the tree” doesn’t yield anything, I’ll be taking the route of all the meet-ups, all the time. Then poking my close friends for job leads which feels less self-serving but higher stakes in terms of killing it at interviews (so as to live up to friend’s recommendation).

That’s the rub, I guess. Always paying for these things one way or another: with your time, your spoons, your social capital.

But if I want to find a job, I gotta hustle, hustle, hustle.

How do you feel about networking? Do you find it easier to ask favors of close friends, loose acquaintances, or total strangers? What helps you with your social anxiety?

Will I Regret Quitting My Job?

We’re down to the last month.

Because I’ll be gone soon, a lot of the stress associated with the huge crunch of work has been muted. If our work flops, I won’t be there to deal with the fallout. That doesn’t mean I’m not trying– I’m still working hard— but I’m not as worried about it as I would otherwise.

But because I’m not thinking about the work aspect of work, I’ve had time and energy to think about another aspect: the people.

This was my first job out of college and I’ve been here six years. Over that time, I’ve made a lot of really good friendships with people I like and respect.

Little by little I’ve been telling my colleagues that I will be gone soon. I started with my former roommate during a lunch out, then told some of my teammates during a late-night work crunch. Some of them (like former roommate) I know I’ll spend time with even after I quit. But there are others, though I enjoy their company very much, with whom I don’t have that kind of out-of-the-office relationship and therefore will probably fall away in my memory over time.

Yesterday, I told my mentor that I was leaving. He was super supportive about it, had suspected for months and has thought about leaving himself, and offered to send me a job lead he thought’d be a good fit. We were both kind of bummed about the situation. I wondered to myself whether I’d ever see him again. I like him as a person, and we have hung out outside of work during some now-defunct political meet-ups, but he also has kids and lives on the opposite side of town, so the likelihood that we’ll see each other again is kind of slim. That makes me sad; I’ll miss him.

As I’m leaving, I realize that I don’t really mind losing the projects I’m leaving behind– which, I’m kind of annoyed at the timing that now as I’m about to be gone I get some of the most interesting work of my career, but whatever. Nor am I fretting about my loss of income (though ask me again in a few months). Instead, I’m saddened that these people, my colleagues, my friends, that we’ll grow apart and those relationships will fall by the wayside. Which, if a friendship is so tenuous, is it really a friendship at all? But anyway, starting over in a new place… it’ll be hard.

If there’s one thing I’ll regret, it’ll be leaving these people, for whom I care deeply, behind.

Are you friends with the people at your job? Would you miss them if you left? Would you maintain those relationships? Why is adult friendship so hard?

All The Food I Ate Last Month – Part 2 of 3 (with some photos)

In this installment, I’ll discuss all the food I ate in the back half of last month (April 15-30). Check out my previous post for what I ate April 1-14. Luckily, I got it together a little in the last two weeks and remembered to take some food pictures for this post. Nothing Insta-worthy, I inhale poke too fast to bother trying to photograph it, but just a little something to add visual interest.

Second Half Of The Month: April 15-30

Here’s everything I ate in the second half of April:

april 15-30 menu.png

Toward the end of the month, I relied a lot more on takeout. And Pirate’s Booty. Soooo much Pirate’s Booty. Part of this was a function of work stress. When I’m stressed I tend to “treat myself” more. That is, let myself not have to cook and worry less about what it is I’m eating. Which, in retrospect, is kind of dumb. Stressful times are exactly when I should be sticking to healthy routines, not deviating from them. Oh well.

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I managed to finish off a couple of my loose leaf teas this month, including my “White Christmas” tea (white tea, vanilla, cinnamon and other spices) and shiitake tea (red and green rooibos, shiitake mushrooms). It’s probably for the best that I don’t reorder these right away. One of the things I’ve found is that I don’t hydrate nearly as well if I am sipping on teas all day vs. sipping on water.

As far as “free” meals go, Thursday April 19th I ate a client-provided lunch during an all-day meeting (stress ergo both cookies and a bag of BBQ chips). The next day work friend brought in egg custards from Chinatown which he was very generous to share with me. Fiancé let me eat some of his soba noodles as a late night snack April 23rd. The next day he did a grocery run for himself and, knowing I’d been having a hard time pushing on a work deadline, brought me back a chocolate lava cake, my favorite of all desserts.(@_@) True love, right there.

What I Cooked (April 15-30)

Here are all the groceries I bought in the second half of April:

groceries 415-430

More eating out than normal -> less cooking -> less groceries.

I skipped some of my usual vegetable pseudo-CSA deliveries this month because I wasn’t feeling up to cooking 10 pounds of straight-from-the-ground vegetables. As much as I love my pseudo-CSA and the quality of the produce I get, sometimes it can be a little too fresh. Like, dirt still lightly dusting most of my vegetables. It takes me a long time to clean that stuff off and for a while in mid-April, I just wasn’t feeling up to the task.

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In lieu of doing a big bulk cook, I ended up picking up a few items at the butcher (that sells other local items too), just to unwind with a little bit of light hobby cooking that’d last me only 1-2 meals. I always enjoy going there to buy foraged mushrooms, like the brown beech fruiting body I bought pictured above.

Second half of the month, I had my usual meat CSA delivery, where I get 5ish pounds which I mete out over the course of the month. I added six pounds of beef knuckle bones to my order so I could make homemade bone broth.

I managed to get by without too much home-cooking by trying a meal delivery service in the second half of April:

meal delivery april.png

This meal delivery service was super useful in getting me through those couple of weeks. It had been recommended to be by one of my coworkers. For around $50-60 a week, the service would deliver 7-8 servings based on produce and chicken from local, organic farms.

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The meals would get a bit repetitive typically contain some sort of salad or some sort of simple cooked meal (I got roast pork and beef butternut squash). But the sizes were very generous and the salads were much heartier than the word would suggest. For instance, pictured above are two salads I got: the Greek salad with red cabbage, chicken, cucumber, almonds, parsley, and greens on the left and the New England salad with pickled carrots, roasted root vegetables, chicken, parsley, walnuts and spinach on the right. They’d come in these huge containers weighing about a pound. Even I as a big eater could not finish them in a single sitting.

Here is what I cooked in the second half of April:cooking apr 15-30

The Week 3 items are a repeat from the previous post; I figured I’d display them again since I ate them during the week of the 15th.

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Weeks 3 & 4, I didn’t cook all that much since I was mostly relying on the meal delivery service to cover most of my weekday eats. But I did manage to put together a cozy little meal of Brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and sausage which was a nice hearty note to eat during the chilly early spring weather. Too lazy for any “real” cooking, I also put together a quick chickpea rollup during the week. It was super easy: mix chickpea flour and water until consistency of a pancake batter, toss in some spices, cook on the stove until firm. Once I had my nice fluffy chickpea pancake, I just topped it with an egg over easy, sriracha and spinach. Honestly, I’m not sure the sriracha and cumin flavorings really went together all that well. Next time, if I manage to think about it beforehand, I’ll probably do a curry based sauce on top instead.

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It wasn’t until Week 5 that I managed to get my act together and put together some vegetable based meals for myself. My favorite visually and flavor-wise was the roasted spring salad. At first the salad was meant to be raw, but I had cut the ingredients, particularly the beets, too thick to eat plainly, and I strongly prefer the mellowed out flavor of roasted radishes to raw. I particularly loved the cucumbers in this dish, which had this tangy sweet burst of flavor to them because of the apple cider vinegar and lemon.

I also spent a ridiculous amount of time cooking some beef bone broth in Week 5. I don’t usually make broth. I will throw a few bones into a soup or stew or something, but broth by itself rarely seems worth the hassle. But I wanted to try it, especially since my butcher charges $10/quart of the stuff. Here’s the thing though, making bone broth is so time consuming, at least the way I did it. Roasting the bones (I forgot to blanche them afterwards), cleaning and cutting the vegetables, siphoning off the fat and impurities, sticking around the house all day to make sure it didn’t bubble over, blowing out the bottom of a few mason jars after dunking a pint of jarred broth into an ice cold water bath… It was a lot. And probably not worth it time-wise, even though the bones themselves cost $18 or so, ultimately yielding 4-5 quarts (theoretically $50 in value).

Eating Out (April 15-30)

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When I’m feeling really, really down, I am wont to buy a pound of BBQ boneless chicken wings from the shop around the corner and just inhale them in fifteen minutes. This only happens, say, once a month. But if it happens more frequently, as it sometimes does, fiancé knows to take this as a very clear indicator that I’m not in a good place and intervention– sunlight, exercise, watering, a nice new pot of soil– is probably necessary to break out of the cycle.

As far as the types of fast food I typically eat, it looks like I’ve been on a poke kick lately. Not terribly surprising– I tend to crave raw fish when it gets warmer and I try to avoid sushi because of the rice. At some point, it’d probably be worth it to find a grocery store with sushi-grade fish around here, but I’ve been trying to avoid Whole Foods so it might be a difficult task. I’ve also been relying a lot lately on steak burritos (because they are delicious) and Sweetgreen, which has been winning me over with their complex-grains, compostable bowls, and online ordering. As their prime target demographic, I feel successfully pandered to.

Do you eat less/more or eat certain types of food when you’re stressed? Do you try to make your food look visually appealing before you eat it? Do you and your partner share food or do your own thing with meals? Do your local grocery stores offer sushi-grade fish?

All The Food I Ate Last Month – Part 1 of 3

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably have figured out that food is really important to me. But I also spend a lot on it, which makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable. So, in true personal finance blogger fashion, I decided to track my (food) spending! Below I itemize what I ate, what I cooked, and how much altogether food cost me in the first half of April.

Notes

  • I have an annoyingly long list of food sensitivities. I will sometimes eat things I know aren’t the best for me, but I try to systematically bake into my routine food that’s better for my gut. As long as deviating meals are occasional, I tend to be okay. This month I parted from my rules more than is typical due to work related stress, I think.
  • “Weeks” in my Cooking tables start and end on Fridays because that’s the day I usually get my pseudo-CSA deliveries.
  • In the food diary charts below:
    • yellow = takeout/restaurants I paid for
    • green = food that was given to me for free (snacks at job, gifts from friends, game nights where it’s someone else’s turn to order/pay for food, etc.)
  • I apologize in advance for the lack of food pictures. I am both very forgetful and a mediocre photographer.

First Half Of The Month: April 1 – 14

Here’s everything I ate in the first half of April:

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Overall my diet the first half of April was pretty meat and carb heavy. Leftover Matzo from Passover dinner, carbonara, saffron rice for days. As much as I love white rice in particular, by the end of the second week, my stomach was in knots from so much processed grain. It also caused me to rapidly gain weight and inches around my waist, which pretty quickly melted away once I pared back in the back half of April. Sigh.

In terms of free food, I get a lot of snacks from my work. One of the things I’ll miss most– you know, other than my colleagues and a salary– will be the snacks available on demand. I love having an ounce or two of almonds or cashews in the morning, though I don’t know whether I’ll be able to afford to substitute this expensive habit once I fall off the company payroll. Unfortunately, my office ran out in the second week and I think it made a substantial difference in how hungry I was all day long, probably because I was getting 200-ish fewer calories every day.

There were also a few times that I was treated to food by friends.

  • April 4th’s shahi paneer came as a game night offering. We take turns paying for food so it’ll come back around at some point as a one-time delivery $80 hit to my food budget.
  • April 7th I hosted a dinner with some friends at my home in order to get rid of five pounds of ham sitting in my fridge. They, in turn, provided me with some delicious homemade desserts.
  • April 9th, I ate some of Fiancé’s takeout as part of a second dinner (I blame the lack of almonds).
  • April 12th, Fiancé treated me to dinner at a new gourmet Peruvian restaurant that opened up in our neighborhood to celebrate his new job.

What I Cooked (April 1-14)

Here are all the groceries I bought in the first half of April:

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My second pseudo-CSA delivery had a lot less food for a lot more money than the first because I decided to go the custom vegetable route (where I choose what I want in my box) versus going with their default for the week. Plus, pint nuts are expensive.

I also stopped by my local butcher, which sells a lot of local specialty items other than meat, to buy ingredients for some home-made carbonara. I really enjoy their foraged mushrooms which, at $5/4 oz, are expensive but not unreasonable given the labor involved and the intense flavor they imbue. The butcher also has my favorite fresh pasta– I never buy boxed since the texture and flavor is rarely worth the stomach ache I often get eating wheat products. I figure if I’m going to eat something that is going to make me feel sick, it might as well be worth it.

Here’s all the cooking I did in the first half of April:

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This is a decent reflection of the meals I’ll typically make week to week. My cooking is really determined by what ends up in my veggie CSA, which due to the sheer volume of produce helps make sure my diet is largely plant-based. I mostly cook simple dishes– sauteed or roasted vegetables, a stew here and there. I think the most intensive thing I made was the tortilla for my Spanish-themed dinner party, but even that was fairly straightforward.

“Week 1” I actually cooked during the last week of March, but ate during the first week of April. The ingredients for those meals came in March and are therefore not reflected in my spending totals. Similarly, I get deliveries from my meat CSA once a month, so the first two weeks of April I was using up what was left of my March drop-off. I also keep a decent amount of non-perishable food in stock, from oils to spices to grains. It’d be pretty safe to assume that all my cooked meals also include olive oil and salt, but I thought’d be repetitive to throw it in over and over again.

The most decadent, almost-dessert like dish I made was the roasted cauliflower tossed in a rosewater-tahini sauce with pan-roasted pine nuts and raisins. I got the idea for this dish from a nearby Mediterranean restaurant that served something similar but with Brussel sprouts.

One thing to note is that I almost never use recipes for what I cook. I might use recipes as inspiration for flavor combinations or if I’m trying a new technique, but by and large I submit to the “throw things together and heat them up” school of culinary arts.

Eating Out (April 1-14)

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Yes, I do like Asian food. Why do you ask?

One of the things I notice looking at this chart is how much more expensive my sit down meals are relative to take-out, usually 2x the price even though all of these were lunch meals!

Part of this has to do with the volume and variety of food I order at restaurants. Usually during the sit-down meals I’m ordering multiple dishes since I guess is already a pretty luxurious feeling and I like to add to it? Plus throw in the cost of service and we’ve pretty much accounted for the difference.

At the end of the day, none of these meals were particularly noteworthy, but they tasted good overall and I think it was nice to take a break from my own cooking for a few days.

What kind of snacks do you eat at the office? How often do you cook versus eat out? Are there certain kinds of meals you tend to gravitate toward? Any frugal paleo recipes to share?

Financial Update – April 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.

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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).

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Monthly Summary

Second to last month of upward net worth trajectory, woohoo! I managed to squeak in some extra money into my Mega Backdoor Roth IRA this month and will be adding more aggressively during the next. Right now my income has been helping me keep up with the slow-rolling bear market, but soon that will no longer be true.

The crunch continues at work and should be going until middle of May. I’ll be so glad when this slew of deadlines is finished and I can finally start transitioning my ongoing responsibilities to my coworkers. I’m so ready to be done.

In terms of spending, I feel like I did okay this month. I don’t know, for some reason I was under the illusion when I started blogging my monthly spending I’d be closer to my “Bare Bones” numbers? Austere I am not, obviously.

Notable things that happened this month include:

  • The sun finally came out for spring. Unfortunately, so did my allergies.
  • Revamped my resume in earnest and started applying for new positions.
  • Work, work, work toward the finish line.
  • Took Little Sis for some pool/air hockey/bowling for her birthday.
  • Attended a joke science conference with fiancé.
  • Made significant progress on wedding planning, including caterer booking and selecting outfits (or at least patterns, fabric) for the big day.

How were your finances in April?