Three Notes On Families

I’m en route to my brother’s graduation in Chicago (activity and food recommendations welcome!) so this one is going to be even more slapdash than usual.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about families.

1.

The administration’s new policy of separating all families at the border, including those making asylum claims, makes me sick. These families come to the US for relief and shelter, and we kick them while they are down. There are some snapshots and accounts reaching the public: this audio clip released on ProPublica broke my heart.

We donated to RAICES Texas, who is offering legal representation and bond money to those incarcerated for their border crossing. We will also be attending our local chapter of the nationwide Families Belong Together protests on June 30th. Our true blue federal representatives are already on the right side of this issue (and by that I mean the left side), but we’ve made calls to them anyway. Even our Republican governor is saying and, on a surface level, doing the right things for now.

At times I cannot believe this country, my country, would do this. But America’s history is full of racial violence, segregation, and cruelty. And yet we must fight for its ideals.

2. 

I recently finished reading Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko. The book has felt really appropriate to this moment.

Pachinko follows a Korean family through the generations, from Japanese occupation and colonialism through the second world war to the nineties. It’s an epic about family– chosen and “blood”– sticking together in a country that is intent on dehumanizing and forgetting them.

The book makes me think about how often we as humans have used ethnocentrism to caste people, even those who have fully integrated into the dominant culture. It makes me think of the intergenerational trauma that gets passed down in every family where no more than a few generations back at any point in history, the family narrative was one of war, genocide, migration, and hurt. And how quickly that is forgotten by the young ones who don’t live through it. How really all families, to a degree, are “mixed” and yet how culturally divided families themselves really are. Human history as waves of trauma and their rippling effects.

3. 

I think to my own family, itself mixed, intercontinental, and broken. I wonder how many disagreements between my parents and myself– on race, on sexual norms, on gender– come from differences in the culture versus a legacy of trauma. Is culture just a product of the trauma of the times?

I’d been taught from a young age that family was the most important thing. And by family, it was meant “blood” family. Your parents, your children, your grandparents, cousins, etc. Blood sticks together. “Blood” family– not friends, not even your spouse– they were the only ones you could trust when things got hard. How much of that message came from trauma?, I wonder.

And yet it is my chosen family– my friends, my partner, my community– among whom I rely and feel safest. Is this a function of my American-ness, my millennial-ism? Perhaps. Papering over the deep well of hurt and resentment from my family’s past makes it easy to start fresh and new, for me to move forward with my own life. But it also feels ahistorical and flippant.

What am I hiding from? What am I unwilling to engage with in my family’s past?

What are you doing to end family separations at the border? Have you read Pachinko? How do you feel about your “blood” vs. chosen families? Any recommendations for things to see, do, or eat in Chicago? 

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Wedding Planning: An Update

We’re six months out from the “Big Day” and have made a lot of progress on our wedding planning. Here’s what we know:

Venue

We’ll be having our wedding in a public park. It’s a nicer park in a more well-to-do (read: expensive) town, so it’s pretty costly for a public space. The ceremony location is a tempietto which looks kind of like this but is on a pond.

Villa Olmo via TripAdvisor

Our wedding is scheduled for the early fall period so we’re hoping we can see some leaf-turning and get reasonably good weather. Most of our spaces are outdoors but have roofs, so a little drizzle is not the end of the world, but could get pretty miserable and cold for our guests. The reception will be in a covered BBQ shelter like this:

bear-creek-4-lg

I have no idea if we’re going to do any amount of decoration for the wedding. The caterer is going to be bringing linens for the tables. Maybe we’ll get some used chalkboards to indicate where the wedding is? Otherwise, I’m at a loss what sort of decoration we really need. If it wasn’t clear already, wedding planning is not my forte or interest. Thankfully Fiancé has been picking up my slack here.

Food

We’ve decided to go to with a Chinese-American woman-owned restaurant to cater our wedding. I came across this place as a food truck that sells near my work and I love everything they make. Fiancé and I had a tasting to make sure the menu was accessible to his family. No fermented black bean dishes, for instance, even though we both love the taste. Strangely enough, none of the Asian side of my family is likely to come– maybe my dad, except he’s having visa issues– but I know that my guests can generally deal with “weird” food.

Here’s our menu:

Appetizers

  • Sweet corn fritters with creamy maple dipping sauce
  • Scallion pancake bites with cheddar & pesto
  • Carrot & coconut soup shots with mint

Main 

  • Thai coconut curry with tofu & veggies
  • Red roasted pork shoulder

Sides

  • Honey butter roasted carrots
  • Beet salad with arugula and goat cheese

Drinks

  • Apple cider
  • Apple spritzer

Fiancé’s mom has graciously offered to pay for the wedding’s catering. This includes set up, tear down costs, silverware, etc. That just leaves fiancé and I to deal with the cake. We probably won’t go with anything custom, but rather get two half-sheet tortes (right now we’re thinking chocolate sacher torte and princess torte) which look presentable but can be served directly to guests without fanfare.

Sacher Torte
via Basheer Tome
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via Janelle

 

 

 

 

 

Clothing & Appearance

We’re using our engagement rings as our wedding rings. Fiancé has offered to make our clothes for the day, which is a big project. I’m a little worried he may be biting off more than he can chew. He’s made formal wear and has a lot of costuming experience generally, but it is a ton of work. So while the plan right now is that he’ll make our garments, I’m ready to pull the trigger on pre-made garments if need be. That said, we’ve already picked out patterns for the clothes we want and have already bought the fabrics.

fabrics.jpg

In terms of styling, I still don’t know if I even want to do any styling for the wedding. Like, I’ll get a haircut a week out that’s suitable, but otherwise I plan to wear that down and normal. I never wear makeup in my daily life (sensitive skin) so I might want to skip that too. Is that a terrible idea?

Fiancé knows that he wants to his usual hair stylist to prep his locks on the day of the wedding. His stylist has already agreed but also recently announced that he’s moving to Chicago. He noted that he plans to come back into town for the fall season since a lot of his clients are getting married then, but we should probably start looking for Plan B’s in case that falls through.

Labor

I know it’s probably gauche to rely on the labor of friends for a wedding, but in our defense there are some things we really prefer our friends be involved with.

For instance, officiating. Both fiancé and I come from mixed-religion families but neither of us are particularly religious. The things we value most are a sense of community and love toward one another. So we though it’d be nice if one of our friends officiated. I don’t know if this is a common thing everywhere, but it certainly is something many of my friends have considered or done for their own ceremonies. We felt it would be lovely if one of his friends in particular, who would have been his best man if we had a wedding party and is the picture-perfect definition of a Lawful Good alignment, would do us the honor. He’s accepted which is thrilling for us, but I want to make sure we give him some material to work with (without being overbearing) so he doesn’t have to work from scratch and we overburden his kindness.

Similarly, another one of his friends is a hobbyist photographer who is amazingly good. It was her wonderful and whimsical photographs, posted onto Fiancé’s online dating profile, that piqued my interest in Fiancé in the first place. We asked if she would be willing to photograph our wedding and whether she had a going rate. While she seemed thoroughly excited for us and graciously offered to help us for free (and some wedding food), we don’t really feel comfortable with that arrangement. Photography is a lot of work so at the very least, we want to give her a token $250 or so to show our appreciation. I still feel a bit guilty we’re being cheap here. I don’t know, thoughts?

Lastly on the labor list, we still have to figure out whether we should get a day-of coordinator or an attendant (i.e. someone who can help clean the park bathrooms). It would help relieve some of the stresses on the big day, but then of course there’s always the consideration of money.

Music

We were planning on Fiancé’s violin instructor, who is just a stunning musician, play at our ceremony. However she recently got accepted to a big-name conservatory in New York so she will be moving before our wedding. She’s promised to help find someone that can play– there’s a very good conservatory here and lots of musicians floating around. But we probably should be prepared if this falls through.

For the reception, Fiancé will be preparing a playlist for dancing / easy listening purposes. He thoroughly enjoys setting the soundtrack for performance events so this is right up his alley. He’s also mentioned that he’s been secretly putting together this playlist (for a hypothetical wedding) in his head pretty much his entire life. So, we’ll be taking the low-key route on that item.

Stationery

We used Paperless Post for our invitations.

33cb492e163a30a05098c3352cd1fb8a-20-56864784

The only stationery we’ll theoretically need on top of that is for thank you notes. Do we have to write thank you notes if we tell people not to bring gifts and to donate to charity instead? I’m really lazy. Also, I have never personally valued correspondence I’ve received as mere formality, though I understand this sentiment isn’t shared by all (most?).

Flowers

The appeal of flowers is lost on me.

I remember one time I was at a quiz bowl tournament in high school. Each table had a pot of daisies in the center. Bored out of my mind at listening to introductory speeches, I started picking at and then eating the daisies. Which led to the rest of our team looking at me very strangely and then after a few minutes also picking at and eating the daisies with me.

So yeah, flowers. Food, friend, foe, decorative purpose? I don’t know. I imagine we might get a brooch for him and I guess flowers for the tables maybe? Or maybe not, because they are insanely expensive? Still on the fence here.

Second Reception

Around the same time as the wedding, either a couple weekends before or after, we’d like to have a second reception for all our local friends and acquaintances who we couldn’t invite to the wedding itself (since we’re trying to keep it small). Our thought is to have this after-party at a local roller skating rink and pay for folks’ shoe rentals and greasy rink food.

2405834619_211fffff48_m
via PfeifferPhotos

Cost Breakdown

Here’s the total cost of everything for our wedding, along with our previous budget.

wedding.png

Note that since MIL is covering catering, we’re responsible for only $3750 of the above. That said, this is starting to get significantly more expensive than I had imagined. And we’re trying to keep things simple and small with an estimated head count of 65 people. Sigh. *braces self for overages to come*

How much did you or would you spend on your wedding? Would you ask a friend to help “work” your wedding? Are written thank you notes important? What’s the appeal of flowers? Any other tips?

Are You A Past, Present, Or Future Thinker?

Good news: after six months of job searching, it looks like fiancé has gotten a job offer! “Looks like” because he still has to go through various background checks and bureaucratic hoop-jumping. But as far as we’ve been told, he can expect to start working at the new place at the beginning of May. Trying not to count our chickens before they hatch and all, but uh those sure do look like seven chickens over there, yup.

I say we are trying not to count our chickens but really what I mean is I am trying not to. Literally within ten seconds of fiancé telling me the news, the first thing that jumped into my mind was Oh boy, I should update the financial projection spreadsheets!

Here’s the thing: I’m a very future-oriented thinker. I have often joked (not really a joke) that my discount rate– for stress, satisfaction, whatever it may be– is negative. I feel future joys with as much or greater intensity than present ones. When things are actively falling apart around me, I’m as cool as a cucumber. But if I anticipate things falling apart in the distant future, then I’ll be a mess for days.

Because of this future-orientation, I really like to plan things. It is my coping strategy for anxiety, of which I have a lot. It is also my coping strategy for everything going just fine and my brain just having some spare capacity to throw around. And sometimes I can get a little intense.

I remember one time, when we were going through a financially tumultuous period after buying and remodeling the condo, breaking out for fiancé The Life Spreadsheet. As in, the spreadsheet that summarized our entire lives for the next ten years. Our jobs, our salaries, when we’d have kids, what daycare the kids would go to, when fiancé would become a stay at home parent and the tax implications thereof. We’d talked about most of these things more or less, but he was still understandably intimidated by this gesture. It doesn’t help that fiancé is 100% a present-oriented thinker.  I don’t know what I’m having for lunch today let alone what I want my career to look like in a decade! 

Because you see– and I didn’t come to understand this until much later– when present-thinker fiancé read this grand plan he understood it to mean Here is what YAPFB is ordering you to do for the rest of your life. Whereas I understood it to mean Here is what I think will happen based on our current model, which is flexible but we need a starting point. Oh look we’ll probably do okay, let’s not worry about it too much then.

Taking a step back, his interpretation and therefore his trepidation makes a lot of sense. But it definitely took him pointing out his perspective for my deep-in-the-Excel brain to even process that one could feel intimidated and even constrained by the concept of a plan. This has resulted in many a long, heartfelt, sometimes heated conversation that involves a lot of listening and empathy and maybe also some Let’s maybe not show fiancé my annual meal planning spreadsheet.

I need to tweak it anyway.

Are you a past, present, or future-thinker? Is your partner the same? How do your orientations commingle?

 

Combining Finances Part One: Creating A Joint Budget

Fiancé and I are in the process of joining our finances. For the sake of my own record-keeping and for the benefit of others maybe going through the same thing, I plan to walk through the steps we are taking to meld our financial lives together.

As a reminder, we’ve decided to structure our accounts in a his-hers-ours fashion:

joint-finances-2018-e1504554198958

To begin the process of bringing our accounts together, I wanted us to start at the very beginning with the most basic building block of a financial plan.

Yes, that’s right: the dreaded budget.

Steps to create a joint budget

  1. Draft list of current recurring expenses to personal credit cards and bank accounts.
  2. Identify which expenses will be considered “joint.”
  3. Outline a basic budget for the household.
  4. Agree on rules for joint non-recurring spending and to add new line items to combined budget.
  5. Check individual credit scores.

Joint versus individual expenses

The first thing we did was lay out all our common expenses and determine whether they would be considered “joint” or “individual.” We agreed that joint expenses would cover those things that are considered “needs” and that are used by us both or pivotal for our general welfare. That means covering the house, the car, health care, groceries, utilities, and basic household and personal care items.

Everything that’s not considered a “need” will be covered by our individual slush funds, which will each get $600/month. This money will not be monitored in our joint Mint account. It’s our own private money that we can do with as we please.

Items that will come out of individual expenses include:

  • Shopping
  • Entertainment (other than Netflix)
  • Takeout/Restaurants
  • Fancy gym memberships
  • Fancy hair cuts, massages
  • Fun individual travel, conferences
  • Excessive amounts of eggs
  • Pokemon
  • Gold-plated waffle iron

The last three items were added by Fiancé. He’s a silly biscuit.

Our household budget

I didn’t realize how much we were spending as a couple until we drafted this combined budget. It was eye-opening and not in a good way.

I’m not going to itemize all our line items, but the below summary by category will give you a good picture of our projected spending. Similar to my monthly updates, this budget does not include mortgage payments or charitable contributions, which are pegged at 10% of our net income.

joint.png

Right now our joint spending is way higher than I’d like it to be. There are a few clear areas of improvement:

  • Once fiancé finds a job that covers his expensive recurring medical costs (which are not being covered by his plan now), we’ll be able to reduce the “Health” category by $400-500.
  • Due to a car accident a couple years ago and his new vehicle, fiancé’s car insurance payments are $285 per month, nearly half our monthly transportation budget. I wager we can shop around and knock off $100.
  • I’ll also be working to combine our cell phone plans and hopefully cut costs by $25.

If we manage to make progress on these three items, we’ll be able to cut our joint non-mortgage spending down to $2250 per month (the number I’m going to focus on for “Barista FI”). That plus $600 each into our individual spending accounts means we’re expecting a monthly non-mortgage outlay of $3450/month or $41,400/year. Which… isn’t great. But it’s a start. Sigh.

Rules for joint spending

Establishing rules for joint spending will help us make sure we’re not silently inflating our expenses and that we feel comfortable with the level of mutual oversight of our joint money.

We’ve decided that we will:

  • Check in with each other when adding new recurring line items, no matter the amount.
  • Check in with each other for one-off purchases other than regular household maintenance items. 

We plan to set most of our recurring expenses on AutoPay and reconcile our budget quarterly-ish. But still there will be a couple dozen times a month we’ll make joint purchases manually. Since it’d be a hassle to text every time we buy anything jointly, the following items won’t require checking in:

  • Auto: Gas, tickets, registration
  • Consumable household items — paper towels, toilet paper, etc.
  • Consumable personal care — shampoo, soap, lotion, etc.
  • Groceries
  • Healthcare expenses: minor

This list probably covers 95% of our manual joint spending. For everything else, we’ll give each other notice and have a brief discussion if needed.

Credit scores

Since the next step to combine our finances involves opening checking accounts and credit cards together, I thought we should make it a habit to check in on our joint credit. Luckily for me, in spite of all my churning, I’m still in the high-700s. Fiancé’s score is nearly identical, so we’re in a pretty good spot credit-wise.

Do you and your partner(s) have joint finances? How do you handle individual versus joint spending accounts?

Get Married For The Insurance?

Little known quirk about the ACA: you can only sign up for the exchange in the calendar month after your health plan terminates. For instance, if you quit your job January 1st and your employer ends your insurance the same day, you won’t be eligible to sign up for an ACA plan until February 1st (and, no, you cannot backdate). Bonus: If you try to sign up for COBRA to cover the gap, that will invalidate your qualifying event. Which means you’re either stuck with your employer’s $900+/month unsubsidized insurance plan through COBRA or have a gap in insurance for up to 30 days.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for health exchange. Without it, it would be very difficult to get Fiancé health insurance at all due to his preexisting conditions. But this seems like a big policy oversight.

For now, our plan is to let him have a coverage gap and pay his recurring medical expenses in the gap out-of-pocket (which will be expensive, but less so than COBRA). If any emergency comes up, we can enroll him in COBRA which, unlike the ACA plan, can be backdated to his last day of work.

When I brought the issue up with my friend, she suggested to me, jokingly, “Well, you guys could just get married earlier so he can be on your work insurance!”

Which, no. But also maybe yes?

Fiancé and I have been together almost five years, living with each other around three. It’s not like getting married a few months earlier would make much of a difference to our relationship. It’d save us money, not just in health insurance premiums, but also in taxes. People get married all the time for administrative reasons: for health insurance, green cards, lower taxes, etc. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad an idea?

At the same time, there are some due diligence items I want us to go through as a couple before we get married. Getting a pre-nup in order, for one. Discussing how we’d set up our estate if one of dies, for another. Plus, all the little things from the thousand and two listicles about “What you should ask before you marry your partner?” You know, just in case we’ve missed anything. I’d rather not rush through those steps. Plus, my out-of-state family would probably be a bit dismayed if we got married and they weren’t present, even if there ends up being a wedding later.

After seeing his new health premiums, though, it sure is tempting…

Have you ever made a big relationship decision for financial reasons?

 

Our Plan For Joint Finances

One of the things I’ve been thinking as Fiancé and I get slowly closer to our wedding date is how we’re going to handle finances as a couple. So far, we’ve kept everything separate. But once we get married, especially as we plan to have kids, it would be difficult for us to keep that sort of structure going.

And so after toying around with different models, we’ve settled on a his-hers-ours system for financial management.

Joint Money Map

The following diagram summarizes how we plan to structure our joint finances once we’re married.

Joint Finances - 2018

In this plan we max out all the retirement space available to us, including both our 401k’s and Roth IRA’s. We will each get $600/month as an “allowance” for our personal expenses. All our joint bills will be paid either via our joint checking or credit card. At the end of the month, any remainder we have will be dumped into our joint brokerage account.

Joint Versus Individual Expenses

This structure relies on differentiation between “joint” expenses and “individual” expenses.

Joint expenses are all necessary expenses that are important for us as a family unit. This includes our mortgage, insurance, taxes, car expenses, utilities, insurance, medical, phones, groceries, necessary family travel, and fitness plans. This also includes 10% of our post-tax income going toward charitable contributions like I’ve been doing solo (but instead we get to pick charities together as a family).

Individual expenses are all expenses that are for our individual benefit and fun that are not as high of priorities for us as a family unit. This includes eating out, hobbies, shopping, personal care, and solo vacation travel.

What if we get divorced?

If we get divorced, we’d each get to keep our own his/hers retirement and checking accounts. We would each then “repay” ourselves for the other assets we brought into the marriage and then split the remainder 50/50.

How would/did you structure finances with a domestic partner/spouse?

How Much Will My Wedding Cost?

We’ve been engaged less than a month and I’m already emotionally done with our wedding. Especially when it comes to the money. Based on initial back of the envelope calculations, our modest park wedding for 65 plus a casual second reception for 35 friends who don’t make the cut for the main event will cost around $5750.

A part of me thinks that’s just ridiculous. We could do a lot with that kind of money. We could travel internationally for a month. We could donate it to help 2000 people get malaria nets. We could invest it in our future-children’s college fund where, twenty years from now, it could pay about a semester of tuition, room, and board.

But on the other hand we want to have a nice outdoor gathering for our friends and family to celebrate this occasion with us (Fiancé welled up in tears when he saw the intended ceremony site). We want there to be music and good food and dancing and possibly a scavenger hunt if we can manage to plan that too. So the best I can do for the moment at least is project and cost management. At which, luckily, I’m decent.

Here’s the breakdown of our wedding budget (total of $5750):

  • Venue, furniture rental, decoration – $1000
  • Catering, beverages, cake, utensils – $2350
  • Clothing, makeup, rings – $925
  • Labor: officiant, photographer, attendant – $525
  • Music, ceremony only – $250
  • Stationery – $100
  • Flowers – $100
  • Casual second reception – $500

The biggest cost, by far, looks like it’ll be the catering. Who knew feeding a tiny village would be expensive? This number is based on food truck catering. It can go up if we use a real caterer and go down (slightly) if we self-cater. If we can get Fiancé’s father to grill up some burgers and bring crudites and other appetizers from a local mediterranean restaurant, we can probably cut that number by around $500-750.

After that, the biggest monetary gains would come if we nixed the park reception altogether and did a restaurant reception instead. We’d have no reception venue cost, no need for attendant, and it’d be much easier to coordinate food. But that would entirely change the feel of the occasion, which we want to be more activity-filled, outdoors, and family-oriented.

Sigh, this all seems like a lot of time, energy, and resources for an event nobody will remember a month afterward.

How much is too much to pay for a wedding? What was your budget for the big day?