Trying New Things

My mother in law is a picky eater. I mean this with the utmost love and respect. I am pretty sure MIL is a super taster. As in, there are very mild flavors she can pick up that float along in the background for my palate. She won’t eat meat, including seafood which she finds too fishy. No alcohol. Bitterness is absolutely off the table. Carbs and dairy product are pretty much the only things you can reliably count on her liking. 

Any amount of heat in a dish and MIL is out. No peppers, not even black pepper, or she throws up her hand in the air from the spice. Once, someone served her a slice of pepper jack on a charcuterie board, and she bemoaned that someone could so ruin a perfectly good piece of cheese.

Whenever we go out to eat with MIL, she orders the same thing: grilled cheese sandwich. It doesn’t matter if we’re at a sandwich shop, an Italian restaurant, heck even when we went to Asian fusion. Grilled. Cheese. Sandwich. Please.

It pained me to see that there were so many flavors in the world that she had isolated herself from. Some of them out of distaste, sure, but most of them because she had become too scared of trying. For someone like me, who considers food one of the most pleasurable aspects of living with family and emotion wrapped all up in it, it made me sad to see her so afraid of so much food. It felt, to me, lonely.

So we decided. She was going to come out with us and get some Japanese food. We’d order her different things she might like and eat the rest of it if she didn’t. No harm, no foul. Just a welcoming space to try.

Turns out, with just a little nudging, we were able to expand her culinary interest considerably! She loved the tamagoyaki, sukiyaki soba, chawanmushi, edamame, and purple sweet potato tempura. She liked the avocado maki except the seaweed which wrapped it. She didn’t fancy the enoki yakitori. She looked downright appalled at my uni ikura soba (It looks orange and furry but I swear it tastes delicious!).

With this new assortment of foods that she had tried and knew she liked, she could go to a Japanese restaurant the next time one of her girlfriends wanted to go for lunch, and feel confident that not worry about being thrust into something scary or unfamiliar. As the pushy daughter in law that helped get her there, I am really happy about this.

Anyway, this is all to say a couple things:

  1. people can grow, even in their core habits, even late in life
  2. sometimes all you need is a nudge

Have you tried something new or encouraged a loved one to trying something new recently? How was the experience?

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Financial Update – March 2019

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 joint net worth progress.
  • Spending Table – Compares monthly spending to an average (for us) budget, keeping us accountable for additional expenses. I will also include my personal discretionary budget as well; I will not include my spouse’s discretionary spending, which I do not see.

Financial Progress

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

  • A retirement account that can support us when my husband 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 husband and/or I to make a career change with one to two years’ runway
  • A mortgage less than two times our combined gross salaries without bonuses or equity.

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

mar 19 joint

Spending

We’ve created a joint budget which represents the average amount we can expect to spend each month. This is average amount we need to comfortably live in case of a job loss, emergency, etc. I expect to frequently mostly keep in line with our budget when amortized over the year, even though amounts may vary from month to month.

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

feb joint19.png

Here is my own personal discretionary spending for the month. I try to spend $600 or less each month for my “fun money” since that’s the allowance that’s apportioned to me and my husband.

mar 19

Monthly Summary

Lots of money towards travel to Copenhagen to see my friend get married this summer. In other news, got my money refunded from my 401(k) over-contribution, but still waiting on my amended W2 to file my taxes (due for a few thousand dollars refund). All in all, things are going fine money-wise.

Notable things that happened in March include:

  • Sigh, nothing. Again.

How were your finances in March?

Are You Even Frugal?

The average household spending in 2017 was around $60k, according the the BLS. While I haven’t gone back through our accounts to confirm it, I would venture to say that between my husband and I, we also spend roughly that amount a year.

It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time I could get by, spending a mere $2k/month on myself– half for rent and half for living expenses. Even then, I was living more luxuriously than I had before in my very centrally located apartment. But, then take that $2k, multiply it by two, add some lifestyle inflation (and some regular inflation), and voila! You end up at the average household.

Note that the average household has more people in it than ours. Usually in the form of another child or older adult family member. It is only because of our disproportionately large combined income that we are able to see FIRE as anything near a possibility.

Sometimes this feels awkward, the thought that I have a (sorta) personal finance blog while we are so wasteful with our money. We don’t scrimp, not really. I don’t think I’ve ever bothered with a coupon and god only knows how much I’m going to spend on food in any particular month.

I don’t think of myself as a FIRE role model. I avoid advice-giving or being rah-rah FIRE for everyone on this blog, because, frankly, I don’t know how to even get by on an average income. Maybe as a flexible single person (I am having a tough go bringing down the numbers even as a DINK), but as a parent in an expensive place like where we live now? Where childcare starts at $1500/month? How do people survive?

In some ways, that’s just how our FIRE journey is going to look. Increasing our W2 income has been trivial compared with cutting our expenses. But sometimes I wonder if the gravy train ever ran out… would I still know how to get by on less? Or have I gotten too soft in my fat cat ways?

Would you consider yourself frugal?

Spreading the FIRE

I have always been pretty open with my close friends about finances. It’s helped that we all have professional jobs, some performing the same roles at the same company, so I never felt awkward telling them how much I make or saved. I don’t know that we’ve ever really gotten into the hard numbers, except when swapping salary information, but they all know full well my plans of FIRE, or as I like to call it “hoarding gold like a dragon and then quitting work to sleep all day.”

Anyway, for years I would get skeptical looks. Sure, sure YAPFB we get it. You don’t like working. But this pipe dream of yours seems a little much, don’t you think? Why I don’t know what I would do without the structure of work in my life.

Well, after seven years of proselytizing, I finally have my first FIRE convert!

It all started a couple weeks ago when my best friend, who has both a full-time job and a contracting business on the side, mentioned trying to figure out budgeting and taxes for her and her husband for the last year. I mentioned, oh hey, you might be interested in Mint and Personal Capital then and we started talking about tax optimization and before you know it, several Mad Fientist posts later, she’s singing the tune of financial independence.

If we get our expenses down to $X, we could probably retire in six years. Which would put her ahead of us in the FIRE timeline. Which is both jealousy-inducing but also exciting that I might have people to actually hang out with in my FIRE stage. We always talk as a community about what you’ll be retiring to but never the who you’ll be retiring with. We’ve long talked about raising kids, going on travel adventures, and starting companies together, and if they can make the finances work for them, we may all have the time to actually make these things happen!

Have you ever convinced friends/family to get on the FIRE or personal finance train? With whom do you plan to spend time in retirement?

Week In The Wallet: Hitting the Nadir Edition

Monday

Apparently we got 10 inches of snow overnight, so I decide to stay home and work from the comfort and warmth of my couch. I still have a few meetings to attend so I can’t be completely asocial, but it is far less than my 4-5 hour daily average.

Luckily for me, I did a bunch of food prep over the weekend, which means I already have lots of food to eat. I end up having salmon, roasted Brussel sprouts, and schmancy mediterranean-inspired cauliflower (read: roasted cauliflower tossed in a sauce of mixed tahini, honey, rose water, and olive oil) for both lunch and dinner.

After I finish up my work for the day, I decompress by rewatching old episodes of Game of Thrones. It is unfortunate, really, the decline in quality with regard to dialogue from season 5 to season 6 (and yet worse in season 7), but gosh darn it, I’ve invested this much time into it, I’m invested to seeing the series end.

At some point, I muster up enough energy to visit the gym and run a couple miles on the treadmill. Then I sleep.

Daily spend: $0

Tuesday

I head to the office early and crunch through my to do list before the daily onslaught of meetings.

For lunch, I visit my favorite burrito joint nearby. The one thing I miss about living in the Southwest is the Tex Mex, the food here just doesn’t compare. But I’m hankering for a burrito and this one is pretty good. ($10)

In the afternoon, a couple very minor victories happen at work, so I decide to celebrate by stress eating two bags of BBQ potato chips. Wait, what? (Looks down at the BBQ dust on my keyboard.) Whoops.

After work I go to my weekly core class. I’m pretty happy with having stuck to this routine as long as I have. My core is nicely defined at this point, though I’m pretty resigned to the fact you’ll probably never actually see a six-pack or anything of the like. But it’s there… under the layers of potato chips. I promise.

Once core is over, I take a quick shower and heat up some more salmon, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower for dinner and sign up for an evening call with Australia. I then draft a couple blog posts and finish the night with too many videos on the internet. Look, I’m not proud of this behavior, but can you tell me this Julie Andrews-esque 7 rings parody isn’t worth it?

Best comment: How do you solve a problem like Maria? Money.

Ugh, before falling asleep I get sucked into a former coworker’s media presence. They’re a professional writer now, and a good one at that! What am I doing with my life? Why does any of this matter when global warming is just going to wipe away humanity anyway? (Climate change-induced existential crises are my cure to go to bed, by the way.)

Daily spend: $10

Wednesday

Thank God it’s Friday. Wait. Dammit.

I have a bunch of meetings over the next couple days, I often average between 15-20 hours a week, some days far worse than others. I feel like with each new thing I learn about our existing product, I have opened Pandora’s box, unleashing a fresh new hell unto my life. Note to self: be less curious and detail-oriented for your own sanity.

I grab Indian buffet for lunch, which should fill me up for the rest of the day. ($15)

I learn that a customer decided not to use our product because of something I said in a meeting with them. The meeting was totally amicable, I thought, but they had about twenty users and some unrealistic expectations about our offering that would have required us to bend over backwards to meet at the expense of much more important projects. For comparison, everyone is working really hard to meet the needs of multiple customers launching this year, each with users in the hundreds of thousands to millions.

I am secretly relieved they’ve decided to go in another direction since it means we can actually focus on our strategic customers launching soon, until the CTO calls me into an hour-long meeting at five to figure out how they lost this account. After about the twentieth time they’re like “I am not saying it is your fault” and “don’t worry I’ll fix it” I start to realize, no actually, he is saying it is my fault and that we really are going to make this big of a deal over this negative-ROI account.

I cry in front of my CTO and grand-boss. I go home and cry some more. My night is pretty much just sobs.

I am frustrated and angry for so many reasons- that we made these promises in the first place, that I didn’t get to talk with customer until two weeks before they launched, that now we’re going to be forced to do a bunch of work for this teeny tiny non-strategic account when there are other big regulatory things that need to get done oh my god. I am also angry at myself- for not being cut out for this job, for crying, for taking this seriously at all.

I can’t. Can’t what? I don’t know. Brain broken. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I feel so fucking wrecked.

Daily spend: $15

Thursday

I am still upset when I wake up the next morning. I look for more jobs to apply to, but I know I don’t have enough experience yet to be a good candidate. Maybe I can go back to my old job. I know things are dark when I start thinking like that. I was miserable there. I am miserable now. You know when I am not miserable? When I am not working. I check my balances. Seven years to go, if I’m lucky.

I get to the office. I do work. It is fine. For lunch I eat leftover Indian food, salmon, and Brussel sprouts.

In the evening, my husband and I play a legacy style board game with some of our friends. It is horror themed. I die pretty quickly in the game, so I spend most of the evening sitting on the couch catching up on work.

We usually rotate who pays for our takeout order, person who pays gets to choose the restaurant. Not my turn this week. Indian food? I end up with shahi paneer and peshwari naan.

Daily spend: $0

Friday

Smooth morning at work, which is nice. Eat leftover Indian food for lunch.

Dentist appointment in the afternoon. I Lyft my way there. ($9.36) I get my teeth cleaned and the dentist convinces me I should buy a custom retainer to wear at night for my grinding. Sometimes I wake up with a lot of jaw pain and I do worry what all the stress is doing to my teeth. The hygienist is a newbie though, so it takes her a few tries to get a mold. ($275)

Another legacy board game in the evening with a different set of friends (this one is space themed!). Again, not my turn to tank. We order from a mediocre sushi place our friends seem to really like. I get a caterpillar roll and gyoza.

Daily spend: $284.36

Saturday

I wake up too early and spend my morning mental energy to catch up on work until noon. I then proceed to like in bed until four, which is when I get hungry enough that I feel like I have to eat something. Some leftover Indian food will do as a snack.

My husband and I have tickets to see Endlings by Celine Song. We drive nearby about an hour and a half before the show to see if one of the nice restaurants nearby will take us. It is six, so pretty early yet. I check the wait while my husband parks the car. I find out the wait is 45 minutes and text my husband to ask if he has a plan B. Meanwhile, he gets in a fender bender.

After my husband exchanges license plates with the other car’s owner, he manages to find a spot and we eat at a cheap, good enough burger joint. ($13) He tells me about the accident. Luckily nobody got hurt and the damage on both their vehicles was just cosmetic. But this also means our insurance is probably going to go up again (he had another at-fault accident about four years ago).

I ask if he got the other driver’s phone number. I’d rather pay cash for the cosmetic damage than the pricey insurance forever. He didn’t, sadly, and feels bad. I don’t want this to ruin our night, so I remind him that I am glad that nobody got hurt and this is why we save up money, so that situations like this don’t matter so much.

I am, underneath the comforting facade, extremely annoyed by his driving behavior though– not just this accident or the last one, but the parking tickets and the default to using his car at all when we go to really bad areas of the city to drive in when it would be so easy to just rideshare over. But I keep it all inside because, again, I just want a nice evening. He seems to feel better after a bit of coddling. We go to the show.

The show itself is splendid and really resonates with me as a second-generation American. The story is ostensibly about three free-diving women in South Korea. But, more than that, it’s about the writer’s own immigration to America: her cultural assimilation, lacking the feelings of ownership over her native culture, a contemplation of where the ambition that made your parents immigrant for your sake manifests in you, how to do better for your child once you’ve hit the global lottery.

Just, yeah, so good.

Daily spend: $13

Sunday

I snuggle into bed with my laptop and watch a couple episodes of Manhattan Love Story. It is okay. ($3.97)

I walk over to a newer actually reasonably priced grocery store that’s opened up about a half mile from my house. The meat and dairy there is all humanely-raised local stuff and the produce, while not all organic, seems to be sourced well enough that it is all fresh without the usual issue of under- or over-ripeness I frequently experience at the big chain supermarkets. I get bananas, blueberries, avocado, spinach, Cabot cheddar, and white corn tortillas. ($19.03)

I head to the crunchy part of my food shopping experience and pick up fresh pierogis at a nearby shop ($8) and fresh sushi-grade salmon at the fish market ($16.66). Finally I pick up a couple slices of apple crunch pie that I get for a 50% discount through the Food for All app. The general premise is that restaurants want to offload their leftover items at the end of day that they’d otherwise throw away, so they’re willing to give steep discounts on them. They’re in NYC too, so highly recommend you check it out and see if it fits your lifestyle/preferred food choices. ($4.97)

After so much walking, I’m starting to feel like myself again.

Before I start cooking, I cut up and toss some of the salmon I just bought with sesame oil, aji mirin, and soy sauce. So good! I also snack on some leftover cubed gouda sitting in the fridge and boil the pierogis I just got, which I pair with leftover greek yogurt and sauerkraut. Nom nom nom.

For the rest of the week, I pan fry the rest of the salmon, make soboro beef from a block of ground beef sitting in the freezer, and oven roast snap peas with carrots and onion. Really, I’m just trying to eat down my fridge this week.

After I cook, my husband and I rewatch an episode of the OA to prepare for season 2. We each eat a slice of pie and, suddenly, my body hits an energy wall and I fall asleep on my husband on the couch. He lovingly lays approximately seventy blankets on top of me and I take a three hour nap that I desperately needed.

By the time I wake up, I’m not feeling capable of eating a full meal, so I blend a smoothie from  banana, blueberry, spinach, avocado, and greek yogurt. I end the evening with an hour-long core circuit then go to bed.

Daily spend: $48.66

Summary

Total spending: $371.02

I am not really proud of how I handled this week. I am not being resilient to setbacks and I have been stubbornly clinging to my anger instead of doing the things I know divorces my mind from the stresses of work like cooking and exercise and reading (my brain, it is mush now). It’s like I’m addicted to feeling bad and I don’t like the effect it is having on my outlook. I felt like a mean and cynical version of myself by the time the weekend hit and I don’t like being that person.

I think writing things down this week was helpful, though, in alerting me to the fact that I am not living well right now and that I need to make systemic changes to feeling good. I cut out vague internet time in January and I think that was good. I may need to do that ago to help myself refocus my energies and get my brain to stop craving immediate feedback and emotional highs.

How was your week? How do you decompress after a long day? Do you find that routine effective in decreasing your overall stress?

Financial Update – February 2019

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 joint net worth progress.
  • Spending Table – Compares monthly spending to an average (for us) budget, keeping us accountable for additional expenses. I will also include my personal discretionary budget as well; I will not include my spouse’s discretionary spending, which I do not see.

Financial Progress

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

  • A retirement account that can support us when my husband 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 husband and/or I to make a career change with one to two years’ runway
  • A mortgage less than two times our combined gross salaries without bonuses or equity.

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

feb joint

Spending

We’ve created a joint budget which represents the average amount we can expect to spend each month. This is average amount we need to comfortably live in case of a job loss, emergency, etc. I expect to frequently mostly keep in line with our budget when amortized over the year, even though amounts may vary from month to month.

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

feb 19

Here is my own personal discretionary spending for the month. I try to spend $600 or less each month for my “fun money” since that’s the allowance that’s apportioned to me and my husband.

ind feb 19

Monthly Summary

Life marches on. I’m having trouble being pithy about it.

In any case, I have some financial updates this month.

Good news: got a nice bonus from my employer. I doubt we’re going to see the same level of growth as these past couple months going into the near future, but we should be able to hit our financial inflection point by fall/winter, which is nice.

Bad news: I screwed up our taxes. Or, rather, I over-contributed to my 401(k). Pro tip, the annual $18,500 limit from 2018 is based on total employee contributions per person. I thought it was per plan, which meant I maxed out at my previous employer and at my new one too. Whoops. (But somehow your employer can contribute and you can put in after-tax dollars up to $50-something thousand dollars and that number is per plan? Another LPT: The tax system is broken and for wealthy people.)

At least my over-contributions were Roth dollars, so shouldn’t effect my refund that much. Working now in getting that fixed, but it’s another headache I don’t really feel like I need right now. Plus my husband and I are missing tax forms from our health insurance, which is annoying and necessary for our state returns. Bah, humbug.

Notable things that happened in February include:

  • Nothing. 😦

How were your finances in February?

Celebrating Financial Milestones

At the beginning of the year, my husband and I reached a big asset milestone and, by the end of this month, we’re on track to reach a nice round number in terms of our net worth as well (albeit, lower than our assets because of the mortgage).

We’re definitely in the phase of our financial journey where it feels like we’re sneaking onto the other side of the inflection point (which I peg as near our “financial freedom” number). Our money seems to be putting in a lot of hard work on its own so we don’t really have to. That’s kind of cool and, surprisingly, less nerve wracking than I thought it would be in times of high volatility in the stock market.

So, coming upon this number and the bonus I’ll be getting, we decided to treat ourselves a little bit to a fancy dinner date just the two of us. Not that I am a miser when it comes to food spending, but we usually don’t go the both of us to somewhere nice unless it’s a special occasion.

To a degree it seems a little perverse to celebrate saving money by spending it. Shouldn’t I want to fuel the fire even faster? And, yet, it’s nice to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Part of me wants to just live it up in the next year, before the reality of child-rearing sets in. But in the interest of prudence, letting off a little steam in the form of a memorable meal with my favorite person seems like a reasonable compromise too.

How do you celebrate financial milestones?