In my spending plan, I usually denote about $200 a month to groceries. I live alone, so $50 a week shouldn’t be too hard to handle, right?
Oh, what a fool I was.
While I’ve been kind of successful meeting this limit in previous months, January’s spending blew this right out of the water. In January, I spent a whopping $241.61 cents on groceries, or over forty dollars more than I had anticipated.
What caused this drastic increase in grocery costs, other than my own lack of self control?
I blame two things: January was kind of a long month, and I am focusing on getting more protein in my diet.
First off, January. Other than for some reason feeling like it was several weeks longer than it should be, January also felt long because it marked my return from vacation. Before vacation, I tried to eat down as much of my in-house food as possible. I was gone for almost two weeks, so I didn’t want any vegetables or open boxes of cereal languishing on my counter until reaching the point of spoilage. As such, upon my return, I really didn’t have much other than a box of oatmeal and one Annie’s Mac and Cheese (my usual post-travel kitchen staples).
On December 31st, I visited both Sprouts and Trader Joe’s, in an effort to refill the kitchen. They’re included on this spreadsheet because they were purchased for consumption in January. This brought the bill up a bit.
Additionally, January has 31 days, so there’s one extra day in which to feed myself.
Secondly, I am focusing on getting more protein in my diet. Amongst my New Year Resolutions’ were tracking my macros and meeting my protein goal at least three times a week. Because of my many dietary restrictions (IBS, egg intolerance, vegetarian), my protein options can be a little limited, and traditional cheap protein fixes like just eating a ton of beans doesn’t work for me. Something my dietician recommended was pea protein powder. I bought two big jugs of protein powder this month, which together cost $28.00 (I upgraded from original to vanilla, which is $2.00 more a jug, but god does it taste better).
In an effort to fix my gut bacteria and get more healthy probiotics in my life, I bought kimchi twice this month. Kimchi is usually between $6 and $6.50 when it’s on sale at Sprouts, so two packages of kimchi were a little over $12.00.
These two products–the pea protein and the kimchi–equal $40, so maybe my overspending can be explained by these.
So, I went over $40 over. Am I going to beat myself up about it? Not too much. While I still focus on reducing my costs so I can throw as much money toward my student loan debt as possible, I don’t want to sacrifice my health and happiness by making too many cuts in my grocery bill. It’s worth more to me to have a healthy body than to pay off my loans early.
I’m not throwing the spending plan out the window though. For February, I am still aiming for only $200 a month, but I expect that I will blow that out of the water again. My partner is visiting for two weeks (yay!), and, as an athletic dude, he eats a lot.
However, he’s totally fine with eating an entire can of beans for dinner, so maybe it will be ok.
In ‘Is Instagram Changing Art?’, a video from The Art Assignment, host Sarah Urist Green explores how the invention of Instagram changes the ways in which we experience and interact with art. There are several ways in which this change has taken place–we now have access to art from all over the world, from artists who wouldn’t traditionally get gallery shows (aka who don’t know the right people); our voices can affect the work of our favorite artists because of the instant feedback social media provides; and, as viewers, we navigate our lives through our screens-as-frame and subsequently make content about ourselves as a sort of art project in itself instead of just enjoying an experience.
AS AN ARTIST
For artists, Instagram helps us transcend the traditional barriers that have held us back from showcasing our work. An artist no longer needs a gallery or other physical venue as their ‘sponsor.’ Instagram also allows artists to have control over the way their work and themselves as people are represented. This also allows them to have more meaningful interactions with other artists on the platform and with fans of their art.
However, this does come with a drawback–the video cites one artist who states that they would find themselves thinking about past comments on social media when creating new pieces of art. In this way, feedback from social media is influencing and interfering with the artists’ creative process in a way that the artist may not have predicted.
Of course, this is the dilemma that any creative who shares their work on the internet can fall into. Whether your platform is Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, or just blogging, there is always the temptation to shape your work into something that will respond well with your audience. In some cases, this may be what you want–if you’re creating something that you intend to monetize, then it makes sense that you are creating content that will gain views. However, if you’re creating for the joy of it, or to express a particular idea or viewpoint of your own, you shouldn’t want those outside voices creeping in, unless they belong to people whose work or viewpoint you respect and want to incorporate.
One of my goals for 2020 is to start taking art more seriously and to start painting again. When I was in my early twenties, I spent a significant amount of my time making art. However, in those days (way back when, ten years ago), Instagram had just been created. I didn’t even join until several years after its inception (and indeed, didn’t get a smartphone until like 2013). My art was just for myself and for the few people I invited over to my apartment. I didn’t have to worry about outside commentary because, frankly, there wasn’t any.
Now, however, I’m on Instagram and posting pictures of my work. Even if it’s just a photo that captures my progress, I share it and wait for the hearts to roll in. Although I only have like 40 instagram followers, most of whom are personal friends, I still feel that hit of dopamine every time someone likes or comments. ‘YOU ARE VALID!’ those like seem to say.
I need to make sure that that dopamine hit doesn’t impact the type of art I want to make or the reasons why I make it.
The rise of Instagram also has an impact on how museums and galleries choose which art to display. If the goal is to get more people through the door, then creating a show that features art that looks good on instagram–something grandiose, or with bright colors, or that allows one to stand inside it and engage with the physical form of a piece–can be given preference. After all, while the more noble mission of museums is to share art and information with visitors, they first need to get enough foot traffic to make it worth staying open. Because people want to fill their instagram feed with beautiful photos, more “instagram-worthy” exhibits will be featured. We must ask ourselves, what art is being ignored as a result of this?
AS A VIEWER
How does Instagram change the ways in which we, viewers and appreciators of art, express our interest in a piece? When we post a picture of a painting, what are our motivations? Are we adding it to a personal gallery to inspire us and insight thought? Do we just like the painting and want to share it with our friends? Or are we sharing it because we want to make an impression about ourselves upon our audience–I am looking at this Klimt because I am a deep, interesting, cultured, and well-traveled person?
The video cites a study that seems to imply that art show visitors that took pictures and posted them on Instagram seemed to focus on it as an “aesthetic experience.” Only 9% of the pictures tagged had people in them. This seems to suggest that art viewers use Instagram as a way to log and express the things that capture their interest–a particular piece or even just the details of a piece.
This is a reason that resonates with me as well. When I visit a museum, I take pictures of works that are new to me and that inspire me. I also try to take pictures of the name plates as well, so I can look up these new artists later.
However, one thing I don’t fully understand is people trying to snap the perfect picture of a famous painting. I went to the Belvedere on Christmas (along with every other tourist in Vienna) and was very excited to be able to see their collection of Klimt paintings in person. However, there were so many people gathered around The Kiss desperately trying to take photos of it or with it that I couldn’t even get close.
In my eyes, they were all trying to claim the experience or status of being ‘cultured’ because they saw this one particular famous painting. It reminds me of people stating the ways in which they are obscurely connected to celebrities–my hair stylist’s sister is best friends with Ariana Grande’s mom‘s dog groomer, that sort of thing. We were in a room surrounded by like four other Klimt paintings, and no others with a crowd around them.
But then, on the flip side, am I trying to portray myself as more cultured because I also appreciated the other paintings, and if so, why? Why do I feel the need to put myself ‘above’ others because they focused on one famous painting. After all, it’s famous for a reason–because it’s good. So why should I shit on them for wanting to feel as if they had a personal experience with good art?
Is it because I’m so insecure I feel that my identity is wrapped up in someone who enjoys and creates art, and that they’re taking that identity away from me and somehow making my interest seem less valid?
Yes, probably, but we can save that for the psychiatrist’s couch.
The video then cites a 2017 study that found that when you’re taking pictures with the intent of posting them for other people, you actually get more anxious, and you have a hard time enjoying the experience of viewing the art. Most likely you’re wondering how many likes you’re going to get and if this is the photo that’s going to make you instafamous. How are people going to view you as a brand as a result of this picture?
This stress increases your enjoyment of art and the moment. This finding doesn’t come as a surprise, given the amount of research that has been done regarding how social mediais destroyingus all .
So, is Instagram changing art?
However, that change doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. With new technology comes new ways of interacting with, but ultimately appreciating and gaining value from, works of art.
Additionally, technologies like Instagram allow people who don’t have the means to view art in person to get glimpses of it as seen through the lens of others. For example, when I still lived in NYC, I had a membership to the MOMA (thanks mom) and got to see the exhibits and permanent collections there whenever I wanted. This was also when the Metropolitan Museum of Art was still pay-what-you-will for all visitors too. Now I’m living somewhere where getting to a museum is significantly less easy. I can go downtown to a smallish museum or commute one to two hours up to San Francisco to see some art. That takes time, and a lot of money for the train, so normally I just don’t do it. With apps like Instagram, I can view these works and new exhibits without the hassle (although with admittedly much less of the depth of experience I would get in person).
Instagram also exposes me to new artists. As mentioned above, the gallery-as-mediator is no longer required to discover new artists and new work. By scrolling through the #art and #painting tags, I have a sea of art at my fingertips, and I can find pieces that stand out to me.
So, Instagram is changing art, but it’s not all bad. I think it’s just important to keep in mind your intentions when you’re taking pictures of or making your own art–are you doing something because you want to express something about yourself to yourself and the world, and are you doing it because you want the approval of others?
It may be a fine line between the two, but it’s something worth thinking about. What are your thoughts?
Resolution #1: Each week, I will create at least one creative/non-personal finance post for Enough, but better in addition to any personal finance posts I make.
On track, if you count this post.
As I explained in my previous post, one of my goals for the new year is rewiring Enough, but better to further align with its intended purpose–a navel-gazing and, perhaps, narcissistic exploration into my own personal self, interests, and values (although using that kind of language is not in line with goals of self-love, ha ha). Part of that rewiring includes writing one post per week for Enough, but better than is not related to personal finance.
This blog wasn’t intended to be a personal finance blog. Personal finance and FIRE/FIOR is definitely a huge interest of mine, but it’s not what I want to focus all my time and energy on. And, frankly, I think it makes me obsess too much over money to the detriment of creating a life that I find fulfilling and enjoyable in the moment.
Does this mean I’m giving myself carte blanche to go crazy with spending money on art supplies and exotic vacations? No, no it doesn’t. But does this mean I am allowing myself to actually get supplies to paint if I fucking want to, because it brings me joy? Yes.
Besides, what’s the point of retiring early if you don’t know what to do with all your free time?
Resolution #2: I will get off the internet by 7:30 pm every night.
I anticipated this being one of the harder resolutions to stick to–and I was right.
Especially since it’s winter and the days remain dark and cold (and yes, even though I live in California, I am constantly cold), I’ve made a habit of coming home, crawling under the many covers of my bed, and binging YouTube videos until I grow too hungry to ignore my stomach. Then I cook and sit my sorry self right back on the couch. No more, I say!
So far, the hardest night to stick to this resolution was last Friday, when I came home from the gym. On work days when I go to the gym, I usually don’t get home until around 6:45 pm or 7:00 pm. Since I currently live alone, I like to watch shows or YouTube videos while I cook and eat. On Friday, I had barely finished eating at 7:30 pm. Without this resolution, I would have sat and watched for another half hour or so before getting on with my evening.
Gym nights are going to be tough.
…I’ve been really pleased with what I’ve been able to accomplish by forcing myself to abide by this rule. By essentially giving myself an extra two hours or so each evening, I’ve been able to spend more time setting myself up for success in the morning. I pick out my outfit for the next day (which leads to me looking a little more put together at work, also a goal for this year, ha ha). I get my gym bag together so everything is ready for me to grab when I walk out the door in the morning, which means I actually have my headphones when I want them (hooray!).
It also gives me time to plan my meals for the next day (which helps with Resolution #4, as you’ll see below). I’ve been making overnight oats for work mornings, so all I have to do is grab breakfast from the fridge, and that breakfast is actually healthy and well-balanced. I also have time to prepare a healthy lunch, which means more vegetables and delicious prepared meals instead of a hunk of cheese and crackers or whatever weird finger-foods I have lying about my house.
It also gives me more time to read. I just started re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time in about ten years, and I’m already finished with the first book. (If you needed more proof about how big of a nerd I am, here you go.) I also might have gone a little crazy at the half price book store and bought three books about Buddhism over the weekend, so it’s good that I have more reading time now (cultivating that sense of peace, y’all).
Overall, although this resolution can be difficult to meet (and it is very tempting to watch just one more youtube video), I’m super happy with how it’s providing me with time to optimize the rest of my life.
Resolution #3: I will be active every day.
As I expected, this resolution is the easiest by far. I was already pretty active in my everyday life before making this resolution; this was just to ensure that I didn’t have any off days. Getting 7500 steps on days that I don’t go to the gym or lift at home can be a little challenging sometimes, depending on my schedule–for instance, on Saturday I ended up just walking in circles around my apartment for twenty minutes to make sure I got my final steps in (if I walk to work, this isn’t a big problem, but I don’t work on Saturdays).
Yesterday, however, was pretty easy–I had a health appointment in the morning and ended up at the hospital earlier than anticipated. I strolled around the perimeter about four times before going in for my apartment, and then I walked to work and back home. Overall, I netted about 11,900 steps without much effort on my part (other than lifting up my feet, that is).
Resolution #4: I will track my macros at least six days a week and aim to meet my protein goal at least three days a week.
Mostly on track.
I love spreadsheets. That should be fairly evident, considering that my hobbies include personal finance and I currently track every grocery item I buy, the date, the price, the store it came from, and whether or not it was on sale. I make budget spreadsheets for fun, for the enjoyment of people at large. Tracking my macros is just another way for me to express my love of spreadsheets (otherwise known as my deep-seated need for control in an uncontrollable world).
However, focusing on six days a week instead of every day leaves me with the flexibility to have a meal out or eat weird and/or complicated things without feeling like I’m failing at meeting my goal.
For example, on Saturday I met my best friend for brunch at a place in Berkeley (The Butcher’s Son, a vegan deli and bakery). I had their Fried Chicken Bagelwich, which (WAS DELICIOUS AND) included house-made “fried chicken”, “bacon”, and “cream cheese.” What were the macros for this sandwich? I’m sure someone in the universe knows, but I sure as hell don’t. Could I estimate something similar? Maybe. Would I rather do something else with my time? Yes, 100%.
If I had a strict track-everything-everyday resolution, I would be miserable, because I would feel stressed out whenever I went out to eat or found my way into a free lunch situation at work. However, by giving myself a day off every week, I can still achieve my goal and track my macros without getting discouraged by complicated meals or turning down invitations for free food (I just love free food).
The reason I’m only “mostly on track” with this goal is the protein. Part 2 of this resolution is to meet my protein goal three times a week. Calculating my macros to align with my athletic goals has given me a protein goal of 99 grams a day.
I’m a vegetarian who can’t eat eggs or more than a quarter of a cup of beans or tofu (obligatory shout-out to my IBS!), so protein has always been a challenge for me. I didn’t realize how little protein I was actually getting until I started counting my macros.
Previously, I was averaging around only 40 to 50 grams of protein in a day. This is fine for the average bear, but since I’m working harder at achieving my fitness goals (bouldering V6 indoors* consistently by the end of the year and maybe breaking into V7?), I need more to maximize my performance. Also, I’m incredibly vain, and I would love to have some muscles.
Because of the aforementioned dietary limitations, I’ve been supplementing my meals with pea protein powder. This gives me an extra 30 grams of protein spread throughout my day, which really helps in meeting my goals.
If I can meet my protein goal today (the last day of the week), I will have met it three times for the week. Huzzah!
Overall, I’m doing pretty good. However, it’s only been a week, so it’s a bit early to be clapping myself on the back too much. Some studies suggest that 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February. Let’s check back in then to see how the resolutions are progressing (and if I’ve still managed to break my late night internet addiction, ha ha).
How are your resolutions going? Feel free to share your struggles or successes in the comments!
*Feel free to make fun of me for having indoor climbing goals, but I hate to be cold, so there, ha ha.
In last week’s post I talked about how to create your New Year’s resolutions in accordance with your goals. Part of this involved creating resolutions that speak to your ‘Whys’–as in, what’s the point of anything? Why are you here? What makes you feel that life has meaning?
My Three Themes
In this week’s post, I’d like to explore three of my ‘Whys’ for the new year. These themes will help guide the resolutions I make to live the best 2020 I can. At the end of the post, I’ll share the resolutions I’ve made for the year and how I intend to keep them.
Theme #1: Recalibrating Enough, but better
The morphing of Enough, but better from an artistic project of self-exploration to a personal finance blog occurred with my six-part series The Thing About Money. The purpose of that series was for me to explore my complicated relationship with money and how past experiences have affected my view about money and comfort with my personal finances in the present. However, one consequence of that series was getting more involved in the personal finance blog-o-sphere and twitter. I think that surrounding myself with content and creators that focused exclusively on personal finance warped my vision for what this blog was supposed to be.
I don’t want to write exclusively about personal finance. Frankly, I think I obsess over it to an unhealthy amount, and kind of in opposition of what the original goal of this blog was supposed to be–an exploration of the self and a quest to convince myself that I do, in fact, have intrinsic value. However, while there are some ‘normal’ personal finance bloggers out there, the space is overwhelmingly taken up with people making significantly more money than me (hello, engineers and finance people!). As such, it has become just another arena where I compare myself to others and find myself lacking.
I realize this still stems from the original problem of a lack of self-worth and has nothing to do with personal finance bloggers, but still.
Personal finance is definitely still an interest of mine, and I still intend to post about it (and probably on a fairly regular basis), but I need to expend more energy on pursuing projects and topics that have more value to me personally (art, literature, fitness, etc.).
Besides, what’s the point in retiring early if I don’t have any hobbies anymore? Which leads us to the next goal…
Theme #2: Creating More than I Consume
Y’all, I spend a lot of time on the dang internet. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially since I live in a cold apartment with no insulation and it gets dark at like 4:30 pm now.
I find myself coming home, sitting down with a mug of tea at my computer with a blanket thrown across my lap, telling myself that I’ll just watch one YouTube video and then I’ll do… something. Clean. Paint. Start a new embroidery project. And then four hours and the entire catalog of Michelle Khare videos later, I realize I’ve wasted my whole evening and I still have to cook dinner, make my lunch, do the dishes, and take a shower before bed.
The same thing happens in the morning. My alarm goes off, I struggle my way into the kitchen to put on water for coffee, and then I creep back into bed and pull up twitter. Or instagram. Or reddit. Or some other way to waste time and clog up my brain before work. And then, when I get to work, I have to pull up twitter again, as if I would have missed something essential in the hour it took me to get dressed and walk to work.
All this focus on others and what they are creating and putting into the world is making me forget that I, too, have things to say and projects that should be made.
And that’s something I’m not proud of. It’s just so much easier to go online and view images of other fiber artists whose work I love, to read tweets from people funnier than me, and to watch videos of people doing things I imagine myself doing.
But what the hell’s the point of living if you’re only doing it vicariously?
I’m getting up there, too. I know 32 is still young in the grand scheme of things, but I’m starting to feel old. I’m tired. My knees hurt all the time. I simply don’t want to do some of the things I wanted to do when I was younger anymore, because everything sounds so exhausting.
That’s why I need to change my attitude and habits now, before it gets too late. I’ve spoken before about my health issues and the desire to achieve FIRE so I can slow down and have more time to live. But I need to start slowing down and living now, as well.
Theme #3: Focusing on Health, Fitness, and Strength Training
Previously on this blog, I mentioned that one of the reasons I am pursuing FIRE/FIOR is because of my health. This year, I was diagnosed with IBS. The fun thing about an IBS diagnosis is that it’s essentially the doctor saying “Yes, you’re right, there is something wrong with your digestion, but we have no idea what it is.” This has started a really fun exploration of food sensitivities–right now I’m up to not being able to eat eggs, onions, and more than a very small serving of soy, almonds, lentils, and beans (so, not ideal for a vegetarian).
I also don’t have a great relationship with my body (I know, I know–a woman with body issues? How unique!). I’m in my thirties, and my metabolism has started slowing down. I feel more tired than I used to, and I don’t want to. I want to be strong and active, and there are still physical things I want to do–climb V7, complete some really long trail hikes, and maybe even run a marathon. However, I’m not going to be able to do those things (or at least not very easily) without an increased amount of attention to my health and fitness.
I’ve started tracking my macros and taking my vitamins again, and I have noticed a difference–last Saturday was one of the strongest gym days I’ve had in a long time. However, I want to ensure that I continue to feel this way.
Creating Achievable Resolutions from These Three Themes
As explored last week, resolutions mean nothing if you don’t have a plan about how you’re going to enact them. I took my three themes for the year and created the following resolutions. These take the form of SMART goals (mostly) and, for the most part, quantify my intended results:
Resolution #1: Each week, I will create at least one creative/non-personal finance post for Enough, but better in addition to any personal finance posts I make.
As I mentioned in theme #1, I want to get back into my more creative and thoughtful pursuits. By resolving to make one post each week that is not related to personal finance, I am (a) encouraging myself to create more paintings, miniatures, embroidery projects, etc. and (b) increasing the amount of writing I am doing each week. I’d love to get into freelancing eventually, and improving the quality and amount of my writing will help me get there.
Resolution #2: I will get off the internet by 7:30 pm every night.
This is a really important resolution for me, as I expressed above. I spend way too much time on the internet, including on twitter as soon as I wake up and on YouTube before bed. I like to watch videos while I cook and eat dinner, so the 7:30 pm time will allow me to continue to do that, even on afternoons I go to the gym. This might not seem like a big deal, but quitting the internet at 7:30 pm will give me about two and a half extra hours each night. That time can be fueled to writing more, making more art, or even just reading a dang book. I also like having time in the evening to make my lunch and pick out my clothes for the following day, but unfortunately sometimes I goof around too much to get those things done. With my 7:30 pm quitting time, I’ll be able to complete those tasks and set myself up for a better tomorrow.
Resolution #3: I will be active every day.
Every day, no exceptions. However, what I do to be active can differ depending on the day. If I go to the gym? BOOM, active day. If I don’t feel like going to the gym, but do some sets of weights or planks and push-ups at home? ANOTHER ACTIVE DAY. What if my muscles are buckling under the heavy weight of so many gains and I can’t possibly lift another thing? Then 7000 steps counts!
This resolution comes with no exceptions. On a business trip? Well, it’s either take a walk around the airport or try to stay at a hotel with a gym. Not feeling well? Some gentle yoga or stretching can count for those days–anything that gets me out of bed.
To be honest, I’m not too worried about meeting this resolution. On days I don’t go to the gym and I don’t have to work late, I usually walk, It’s about 25 minutes or a little over 3000 steps each way. So, if I walk to work that day, it’s basically already enough to be an active day. It’s less of a stretch goal, and more of a make-sure-I’m-not-too-lazy goal.
Resolution #4: I will track my macros at least six days a week and aim to meet my protein goal at least three days a week.
This resolution is more of a continuation of my current habits. For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to track my macros to see if that makes a difference in how I feel at work and at the gym. What I first discovered from tracking my macros is that I was way under the amount of protein I need, especially if my goal is to gain more muscle. I also haven’t been eating enough calories–on days I go climbing, I should aim to eat around 2100 calories. However, I’ve been averaging around 1700 per day. That’s fine for normal days, but when I’m doing a lot of exercise, I need to be fueling my body better.
After I adjusted my diet and started taking my multivitamins again, my climbing performance improved dramatically. I have more stamina now and feel better on the wall.
How funny, it’s almost like diet and energy levels are related! WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?!
Meeting my protein goal is going to be the hardest part of this resolution. As a vegetarian with all the food intolerances mentioned above, I’ve had to find different ways to force in more protein, including two protein shakes a day and eating my body weight in yogurt. Probiotics, woo!
Isn’t this…. Excessive?
Some would say that four resolutions is overkill, and that I’m setting myself up for failure. I say that I THRIVE ON STRESSFUL STRUCTURE.
In actuality, this is probably excessive. However, these are all goals that I think will greatly improve my life and well-being, and some are just continuations of behaviors I’ve already started in the last month.
Next year I can work on being less Type A, ha ha ha.
Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? What’s your plan for achieving them? Or have you achieved self-actualization already (and if so, will you tell us how)?
It’s nearly the end of the year, and this one’s a doozy. The 2010s are coming to an end, and a new decade is dawning. It’s a fresh start; an opportunity to make better, improved versions of ourselves.
But can we actually achieve these shiny new dreams, these visions of self-actualization that we see in our mind? Absolutely! However, there are a few things we should keep in mind when we’re making our resolutions.
First, I’d like to reflect on one of my resolutions from last year that was a big fat failure.
A Failed Resolution
One of my resolutions for 2019 was to study more German.
My partner speaks German. Quite well, actually. He’s over in Germany this very instant working, volunteering with a refugee organization, and finishing his second Master’s degree (yes, I’m bragging about him). He’s told me before that it would be great if I spoke German too, so we could tell each other secrets when we’re out and about.
Additionally, we have several mutual friends who are Austrian, and it would be great if I could also converse with their friends and family whenever we visit. The last time I went to visit these friends in Vienna, one of them had to read the menu out at the restaurant to me to make sure I ordered something vegetarian. At the time, I felt like a little kid depending on their dad to help them navigate the adult world. It wasn’t a great look.
I’m flying out to Munich soon (two days after this post goes up, actually), and I told myself that this time I was going to study and work hard and be able to order my own food like a ‘big kid,’ etc. etc. And guess what?
I still don’t speak German.
What happened? Well, I studied a bit. But nothing ever seemed to stick.
Frankly, learning languages has never been my forte. It took me an entire summer of four-hour-long classes to scrape together a ‘C’ in French so I could meet the language requirement for getting my ‘BA.’ My high school French teacher mostly told us stories of him being in Vietnam and how one of his daughters was great and the other daughter was a huge disaster. I passed that class with the help of google translate.
To me, languages in my brain are like water flowing through a sieve. Most of it just goes right on through. Occasionally one word or phrase will inexplicably attach itself to my brain–die katze! der schnee!–but the rest of it just leaves as soon as it arrives*.
Look at me. I have excuses upon excuses. But what’s the truth?
The truth is I just don’t care.
I don’t care about speaking German. Other than my partner and a handful of friends, I don’t know anyone who speaks German. The only type of German I encounter in my work is Middle German, which isn’t what is used now (Modern German). This will be the second time I travel to a German speaking country, and the first time I will be there for more than five days.
Would speaking German be helpful? Yes.
Will I be perfectly fine without it? Also yes.
It takes a huge amount of effort and energy to make a language stick, and frankly, I don’t think the payoff is enough with this particular goal. I’d still like to take a class or something at some point, but the motivation to self-study just isn’t there.
This resolution was bound to fail because I didn’t have a ‘Why.’
Finding a ‘Why’
What’s important to you? What type of life do you envision yourself leading?
If you didn’t have to worry about financially support yourself, what is the ideal life that you would want to live?
The answers to these questions can help you figure out your ‘why.’ Those of us in the FIRE/FIOR community may have already thought about this a lot. It’s the reason so many of us are trying to get out of debt and stash money away to become financially independent–we desire a life that aligns with our deepest goals, desires, and beliefs.
I encourage you to take a long look at your life and pinpoint hobbies or goals that will more closely align your life with the one your heart wishes you could life.
There are a lot of articles out there that claim early retirement causes early death. However, this seems to be associated with these individuals increasing the amount of time they spend sedentary and decreasing the number of social interactions they have. So, it’s not retirement that kills them, it’s a dearth of hobbies or friends. They don’t have activities or relationships that have significant meaning to them.
What gives you meaning? What makes life worth living? What’s something you always wanted to do? When you find the answers to these questions, you can start forming the basis of your resolutions.
Supporting Your ‘Why’ with a Plan
Piggy over at Bitches Get Riches wrote a great post two years ago about how she has achieved her resolution every year for the past few years. Her secret? She makes her resolutions SMART goals. For those of you unfamiliar with SMART goals (a staple of corporate and nonprofit growth), these are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
If I were to re-imagine my resolution of learning German as a SMART goal, it might look something like this:
“By December 2019, I will have learned 100 German vocabulary words and 20 useful phrases.”
“Study German” or “Learn German” or “Speak German” don’t really mean anything to me. How can I see progress or stay motivated if I don’t have any concrete indicators? By making a number, I give myself an easy concrete goal to hit. “Speak German” is difficult. Learning languages takes a long time, and making a goal of “Speak German” feels to me like Sisyphus rolling that damn rock up that hill. The task never ends. I will never achieve the goal.
I’ve a very numbers-motivated person. I have about fifteen spreadsheets between my personal finance and fitness hobbies alone, if that gives you any idea of how obsessive I can be with numeric goals. By quantifying my goal, it becomes achievable.
Quantifying works for me, but may not work for you. Are you more of a visual person? Create a tumblr or pinterest board to help curate images that inspire you to reach your goal. Make a chart or coloring sheet that you can fill in as you accomplish your goals–for example, there are all kinds of free debt-repayment coloring charts online. Print one out and stick it on your fridge to help motivate you to reach your goal.
Next week I’ll delve into my personal ‘whys’ and the goals I created that use those ‘whys’ as their framework.
What are your resolutions for the new year? What are your ‘whys’, and what steps do you plan on taking to achieve them? Please feel free to leave a comment and let us know!
*The only exception to this was Korean. When I lived in South Korea, I picked up enough to get around, go to the dentist, speak with my students, etc. But I lived there for three and a half years, so the exposure rate was pretty damn high, and in my first year and a half only a handful of my coworkers spoke English, so it was basically a do-or-die situation.
It’s December, which means that the 2010’s are almost over! What else is almost over? This year’s chance of lowering your taxable income by taking advantage of pre-tax investments. Personally, I’ve been crunching my numbers to see where I can throw an extra hundy or two. Here are some places that I’m trying to stash away some more pre-tax money before the end of the 2019 calendar year.
Please note that I am 100% not an accountant or tax adviser and that you 100% should do your own research and double-checking before you do any of these things. In other words, take this advice as being worth a grain of salt. I’m not an expert. Don’t listen to me. Don’t do as I do or say.
A Traditional IRA
A Traditional IRA is a retirement account that allows you to deposit pre-tax money. You’re not taxed on what goes in, but you’re taxed on what comes out. Generally, a Traditional IRA is a good choice if you anticipate being in a lower tax bracket when you retire. For the 2019 tax year, individuals are able to contribute up to $6,000 if you’re under the age of 50 and up to $7,000 if you’re 50 or older.
All your contributions to a Traditional IRA can be tax-deductible, if you meet the eligibility requirements. If you’re filing single and have a retirement plan at work, for 2019, you can only deduct the full amount of contributions to your Traditional IRA if your adjusted gross income is $64,000 or less. Once you hit $64,000, your deductions start to fade out, and they disappear completely if you earn $74,000.
This is the category I fall into. If I’ve calculated correctly, my adjusted gross income should fall somewhere within the $62k range for the year (although I may have not calculated correctly, ha ha). As such, I anticipate being able to deduct all my contributions. However, I have not deposited my maximum $6k into my Traditional IRA; I won’t be able to meet that much money, but I’m going to try and squirrel away another $1k before it’s all said and done. Additionally, you have until April of the next year to make contributions that count toward the previous year’s taxes.
One should keep in mind that any withdrawals made before the age of 59 ½ are subject to tax and early withdrawal penalties. You should be comfortable with essentially saying goodbye to these contributions until you reach that age.
And, please note that, in order to deduct your contributions, you must be making them into a Traditional IRA. Roth IRA contributions cannot be deducted from your taxes (instead, you won’t have to pay taxes when you withdraw from this account in retirement).
Student Loan Interest
Oh, student loans, how I loathe you, let me count the ways… about 42k. There are about 42k tiny green ways I loathe you.
As I’ve mentioned before (and will continue to mention until the universe puts me out of my misery or I sell a kidney to pay them off), I have about $42k in student loans. This was to pay for a degree to get a job in a field I genuinely enjoy (and has given me a small pay bump). I only kind of regret this degree, although I 100% regret not trying to first get a job at a school that offers this degree so I can go for free (THAT’S A SPICY HOT GRAD SCHOOL TIP RIGHT THERE, Y’ALL).
Fortunately for me, student loan interest payments can be deducted from one’s taxes provided they meet the eligibility requirements. For 2019, the maximum amount that can be deducted from taxes for student loan interest is $2,500. Please note that it doesn’t matter if you’re filing as single or married–$2,500 is the maximum for a return, even if you and your spouse both have student loans (Luckily, I’m still living in sin, so I can keep all the benefits to myself.).
Student loan interest payment deductions have income requirements as well. Like the IRA deduction, student loan interest payments can only be deducted if an individual has an adjusted gross income of $65,000 a year or less. There are also a few other restrictions regarding who took the loan out, whether or not someone can claim you as a dependent, etc.–check to ensure your eligibility!
By the time this post hits the internet, I’ll have made $2,500 worth of interest payments for the year, which I should be able to deduct from my taxes. Hooray!
As I’ve explained before on the blog, a Health Savings Account (HSA) is an account that allows you to pay for medical expenses with pre-tax dollars. These accounts are associated with insurance plans that have a high deductible–the idea is that you pay lower premiums in exchange for a higher deductible, but you have the opportunity to save money to meet that deductible. When you contribute money to an HSA, you lower your taxable income.
Unfortunately, I don’t have an HSA–long story short, for the plans my employer offers, the monthly premiums and high deductible more than negate any potential tax-offset I would get from having the HSA plan. As such, I’m sticking with my HMO (although in my opinion all monthly health premiums should be tax deductible, BUT I DIGRESS).
However, if you have the option of setting up an HSA, you should consider doing it. As stated above, money contributed to an HSA is pre-federal-tax, which lowers your total taxable income for the year. Depending on your state, it may be taxed at the state level (thanks for nothing, California). Optum Bank has a list of states in which HSA contributions and/or earnings are taxed. So, while not available for everyone, HSAs provide one more option for lowering your taxable income.
Or you could just be a multibillion dollar corporation/”job creator” (*coughcough* *eyeroll* *finger-in-mouth-to-simulate-throwing-up*) and never pay federal taxes again. If you’re not comfortable being Amazon, harbinger of all our dooms, then consider being pretty much any other super large corporation. Either way, you’ll have enough politicians in your pocket to avoid paying taxes, but you’ll also get to do fun things like take away health insurance from part-time workers.
Your Mileage May Vary
Naturally, these tips aren’t for everyone. No student loans? No interest deduction. Already maxed out a Traditional IRA? I’m very proud of you. Already CEO of Amazon? For the love of god, give part-time Whole Foods employees their health insurance back.
What do you do at the end of the year (and throughout) to reduce your taxable income? Please feel free to put your plan (or suggestions for clarifications!) in the comments.
As I said in the intro, this is not advice and you shouldn’t do as I say or do. Consult with your own tax genius to find the best ways of making your money work for you.
It’s the first Tuesday of the month, and you know what that means–it’s time for the monthly Open Grocery post! What’s Open Grocery? Open Grocery is a series of posts that include detailed information about all of my grocery purchases for the month. The spreadsheet I’ve included has a dated and itemized list of all my grocery purchases, down to the poundage.
The November numbers have been crunched, and out of my total budgeted $200, I spent: $198.51.
Hooray! I’m in budget for the month!
This is great, because last month I went $18.84 over and spend a total of $218.84. It’s good to see that I’m moving back in the right direction. This month’s total is much closer to September’s, when I spent $196.12.
(I should note that at the end of last month’s post, I put that I had a goal of $175 for November. I then promptly forgot about that goal. Let’s put it on the docket for January 2020, shall we?)
For one, I bought more alcohol. What can I say? It’s the holiday season. While last month I spent $13.28 on alcohol for the month (from a grocery store, anyway), this month I spent $31.97.
One major purchase accounted for this change–on 11/26, I bought a box of wine. It was on sale for $18.99 compared to the usual $24.99, and supposedly it contains three full bottles of wine. Now, I enjoy a glass of wine every now and then; however, since I live alone and don’t like to have people over, my problem was that I would buy a bottle and then feel obligated to drink the whole thing before it went bad. The magic of boxed wine is that it can last much longer after being opened than bottled wine. According to the Black Box website, their wines stay fresh up to six weeks after opening. This means I don’t have to chug a glass and a half every evening for three nights straight (more than I want to drink anyway) just to avoid the guilt of throwing away what didn’t get finished.
I plan on nursing this box for as long as possible and not buying any alcohol for my time at home in December. Uh, we’ll see how well this plan works out…
The biggest victory this month came from avoiding coupon errors! In September, I lost $14.06 to coupon errors. In October, I lost a whopping $27.25 to coupon errors. I count this as “lost” money because most of these products–October and the disastrous carrot cake ingredients in particular–would not have been purchased without the coupons. This month, I avoided this problem by (a) avoiding a lot of coupon-required purchases altogether and (b) reading the coupons more closely to understand if only specific sizes or flavors were covered.
Additionally, for the two months I stayed in budget, I made one less trip to the grocery store. In September and November, I made seven trips to the store (which seems like a lot, but in my defense, I eat a lot of fresh veggies!), while in October I made eight. I’m trying to make a conscious effort to ask myself–can I go just one more day?–before running off to the store. I’m trying especially hard to do this for December, since I’ll be out of my apartment for twelve days (and as such need to eat anything that may expire during that time!).
What can we expect for next month? Well, the budget will need to be adjusted–I will be traveling from December 19th to the 30th, so I’ve calculated a monthly grocery budget of approximately $130 dollars (the usual $200 divided by 31, multiplied by the 19 full days and two half-days I will be home, and rounded up to look better). I’m also trying to purchase zero alcohol and concentrate on mainly buying fruits, vegetables, and yogurt, while eating up all the rest of the food in my house.
That’s all for this month! Shorter than the previous two posts, but honestly, I just don’t have that much to say. They’re groceries, y’all. December will be a lighter month, and then hopefully in 2020 I can discipline myself down to $175/month!
Welcome to the second post in a series of holiday gift ideas. With Black Friday just around the corner (or, for myself and hopefully lots of other people, Buy Nothing Day), I wanted to explore some perhaps unconventional gift ideas for you to show your loved ones that you really care.
The theme for this week’s post…
I’m a big fan of edible gifts. For one, they don’t stick around forever. Your mom isn’t going to put it on a shelf to collect dust for like seven years before she’s ready to throw it into a Goodwill box or set aside for a yard sale. Food is liminal; you have it, you eat it, you enjoy it, and then you have the freedom to move on with your life.
For two, food is budget-friendly. This means you can spend as much or as little as you like and still have a good gift. Whether it’s a pound of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or a $350 Gift Trunk “For The Extreme Foodie” that contains some booze-soaked chocolate-covered cherries, wine-soaked salami, Italian goat’s milk cheese, and Jamon Iberico (none of which I’ve ever eaten in my life). One of the great things about food is that, if it’s delicious, no non-assholey-person seems to care about what it costs (and if you’re the type of person who thinks expensive food is the only kind worth eating, let’s go to the fair and get some deep fried oreos. I can show you a good time).
And finally, for threesies, while it takes some degree of knowledge of the person to whom you’re gifting, for the most part, food gifts are a no-brainer. There are a couple of questions to which you should know the answer–is your giftee allergic to something? Do they have an absolute food dislike? Do they adhere to a special diet?
(The special diet one is very important. A secret santa once gave me a salami and cheese basket. I’m a vegetarian and have been so for many years. Pretty much anyone in the office could have told him that, but to be fair, he was going through a pretty heinous breakup at the time. I secretly passed off the salami to another coworker, but the cheese was, in fact, delicious.)
I’m an American, and you know what we say over here–BIGGER IS BETTER! BOY HOWDY!
Just kidding. That’s a gross generalization, although I would say Americans are obsessed with “value,” which we interpret as crazy giant portions at restaurants. But I digress…
I’m a fan of anything that’s a size it shouldn’t be. Teeny tiny cooking show? Check. Giant Pikachus dancing? Yes please. And the fact that these videos have over 1.6 million and 2.8 million views respectively means that I’m not alone. People love things that are the wrong size.
In steps comically-oversized candies.
Like the aforementioned Reese’s Cups, these comically-oversized candies are sure to elicit a laugh and shouts of good cheer when they’re unwrapped on Christmas morning (or pulled out of a stocking or wooden shoe or whatever it is your family does for the holidays). Does your brother love the taste of creamy nougat with delicious peanuts? Try this one pound Snickers bar. Want to give your significant other the biggest kiss ever? How about one that’s 12 ounces?
And let’s not forget the mother of all giant candy bars, the five pound Hershey bar. Is there a better way to thank your mom for putting up with your shit for so many years than giving her a candy that could also double as a child’s sled?
A Bevy of Meats
For those of us that are looking for something a little more practical, there’s always meat. While I’m a vegetarian, the rest of my family are not; and my brother was definitely the favorite gift-giver in our household when he got my mom and her husband a whole bunch of meat from Omaha Steaks.
My brother went for a set that is currently called “Tasteful Gift.” Tasteful, indeed. This set comes with two each of filet mignon, top sirloin, and boneless pork chops, as well as four burgers, potatoes au gratin, and caramel apple tartlets, and a “signature seasoning packet.”
What’s really great about this gift is that these are all things our parents would eat, if they were willing to spend the money on it. My mom is a saver, and as a single mother of two kids for our early years, she had to be; however, sometimes I worry that her penny-pinching (a trait I admire, truly!) stands in the way of her allowing herself to enjoy some nicer things. That’s why gifts like these are great–they’re something she likes but would never spend the money on for herself.
That, in my opinion, is the definition of an ideal gift.
Are you looking for the perfect gift for someone who is very busy and perhaps may not have the time to make their own meals? Someone who is experiencing some sort of crisis or hard time, like a temporary disability or unexpected medical care for a relative? Or someone who appreciates food but doesn’t feel like cooking is totally “worth it”?
In these cases, a pre-made meal might be a much-appreciated gift.
Not just for those who’ve recently had a baby, pre-made meals can be appreciated by everyone. There are a lot of different ways you could go about this–the aforementioned Omaha Steak route includes meat and sides that require some cooking. Or you could look for something that just essentially needs to be heated up.
Harry and David have 93 pre–made meals listed on their website. 93!!!! They have a chicken pot pie that serves six and just needs to be heated up. They have a fancy filet mignon dinner for two that includes two six oz bacon-wrapped filet mignons, mashed potatoes, green beans, 36 (36!!!) pastry appetizers, and a chocolate cake. They also have a boatload of vegetarian (but not vegan) sides and appetizers as well.
Food of the Month
Ah, a subscription food plan–the gift that keeps on giving. A ‘Food of the Month’ plan will send food in quarterly or monthly installments to your loved ones. A Food of the Month plan is a great option for practical reasons or for people in your life who you think might need a little extra help, but don’t want to admit or accept it. I’ve given a few examples above–busy families or caregivers/those experiencing medical issues/emergencies–but they’re also just great for people who love food and getting packages.
Welcome to the first post in a series of holiday gift ideas. With Black Friday just around the corner (or, for myself and hopefully lots of other people, Buy Nothing Day), I wanted to explore some perhaps unconventional gift ideas for you to show your loved ones you really care.
The theme for this week’s post…
Last year, my theme for presents was ‘Apocalypse: Now!’ Everyone in my family got items that would be useful in the event of the grid going down. I know this sounds crazy, but most of my family lives in North Carolina–aka prime hurricane country (for example, my high school was pretty severely damaged by Hurricane Florence). While my family currently lives far enough away from the coast to miss a lot of the damage from all but the category fours and fives, they still live in areas that receive a lot of flooding. In the event of an emergency (aka the upcoming climate wars), I want them to be prepared. Here’s what I gave to my family:
Each member of my family got a LifeStraw. A LifeStraw is a water purification device that is essentially a straw with a large filter. As per the website, the filter removes:
• 99.999999% of bacteria (including E. coli)
• 99.999% of parasites (Giardia, Cryptosporidium, etc.)
• 99.999% of microplastics
You can drink directly from a lake or stream if you want to! And it filters 1,000 gallons, which (according to the website) is enough to let one human drink for five years. It’s super lightweight, so it’s great for throwing into your go-bag when you’re running away from floodwaters or fires.
(Just kidding. It should be in your go-bag already. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!)
This gift is also great for the explorers in your life (and feel free to use that as an excuse if you think your loved ones don’t take your fear of a total global meltdown seriously). I bought one for my partner when he went off to spend a year living and working in Bhutan. He drank the water there with his LifeStraw and didn’t die of dysentery, so it seems like it works.
When the grid goes down, your lights will go out (unless you have a back-up generator…but that too can fail if you don’t have enough fuel to run it!). What can your family turn to when they need to light their way in the darkness? The SE Survivor Series 3-Wick 36-Hour Emergency Candle. It has three wicks to ensure the candle evenly burns (please note each wick lasts 12 hours, so don’t light them all at once), and it comes packaged in a reusable aluminum tin. Reusability will be a valuable asset in the upcoming zombie apocalypse, so this candle makes a great option for people who want to see but also want something in which to store their remaining ammunition.
Heirloom Seed Pack
My mom and her husband live on a fairly large parcel of land (“large” by suburban standards). Straddling the line between suburban and rural (a subdivision next to farmland), she has the space to grow food and already has a large vegetable garden. However, she limits herself to just a few varieties of vegetables–tomatoes, peppers, etc. While she’s covered on the Vitamin C front, what about all the other nutrients that she will need to survive?
I gave her the Survival Garden Heirloom Seed Pack from Open Seed Vault. This package contains 32 different seed varieties. While this clearly isn’t every vegetable or fruit that exists, it should keep the basics covered. For example, she’ll be able to get her protein (beans, peas, and sunflower seeds), greens (kale, spinach, and three kinds of lettuce!), and even get a little bit of fruit (cantaloupe and watermelon).
Supposedly the package is air-tight and moisture-proof, and the seeds should last for at least 20 years. I’ll mark on my calendar to get her some new ones in 2038, provided we still have a civilization then.
However, your family is going to need something to munch on while they’re waiting for the produce to grow (and as emergency supplies for when a mob tries to take over their compound). At this point, they’ll probably be so hungry that it doesn’t matter what they’re eating. However, you can save them from resorting to boiling shoe leather and then viewing each other as delicious entrees with some emergency biscuits.
These Emergency Food Rations consist of 3600 calorie bars. They are cut into pre-measured 400 calories bits, and supposedly can sustain one person for up to three days. They’re kosher and halal (hooray!) and, according to the description, have a “pleasant lemon flavor.” Better yet, one reviewer describes them as being the “Best emergency ration [they] have tasted so far.”
Think of it like lembas from the Lord of the Rings. You can finally live your fantasy of being a hobbit on a quest to throw the One Ring into the fires of Mt. Doom. It’s like LARPing, except you might actually die if something goes wrong!
These come vacuum-sealed but with a shelf life of only five years, so you’ll probably have a chance to taste-test them before end of days. Just don’t forget to order more!
First Aid Kit
So what happens when you accidentally burn yourself with your 36 hour emergency candle or injure yourself with a farm implement when you’re working on your heirloom seed garden? The hospitals will have long since been looted for opiates, so you’ll have to take the doctoring into your own hands.
Depending on the size of your survival colony, you’re going to need some serious supplies. That’s where the Lightning X Extra Large Medic First Responder EMT Trauma Bag comes in. This kit has everything*–a finger splint, two types of sheers, a CPR barrier kit, an airway kit…It even has a goddamn stethoscope! I could go on and on, but it’d be easier if you check it out yourself.
Most importantly, it comes with a First Aid Guide, so you know what the hell you’re doing with all that gauze.
You can get a first aid kit for your pets too! After all, all pets will become working animals once shit hits the fan.
* Ice sculptures, winos, Germfs – German smurfs – a Teddy Ruxpin wearing mascara, an old lady wearing Kid ‘N Play hair, and none other than DJ Baby Bok Choy…He’s a giant 300-pound Chinese baby who wears tinted aviator glasses and he spins records with his little ravioli hands.
As I’ve mentioned about a milliontrilliontimes on this blog, I live in a high cost of living (HCOL) area. This area, the San Francisco South Bay, is known for Silicon Valley, computer engineers, and start-ups that make a shit-ton of money. I go to the gym with people who work for companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook (and Z-berg himself showed up on Sunday). The parking lot is full of Teslas, and I recently overheard a guy who couldn’t have been more than 23 talking about buying a house for his mom (which–that’s really nice–but also–23??? Dang!). Lots of people move to this area to take high-paying jobs at these companies.
I am not one of those people.
I work in education. And while I get paid more than the average public school teacher* in the United States ($60,483), I don’t make the type of money a Google person does ($112,849 average, as per payscale.com). I thought it would be fun to do a breakdown of what life can be like here on $72k/year.
RENT – $1351/month or $16,212/year (EXTREMELY LOW for this area)
I am very lucky in that I was able to get an apartment in a building owned by my employer.
Although this has come with a number of problems (for example, lying about available parking, having a July 1st lease start date but not actually getting into the apartment until August 8th because the unit was being renovated and no one bothered to double-check the unit # with the new leases, showing up on a Friday afternoon after being assured I would have keys and then waiting to try and hunt down someone who could help us find temporary housing, finally being told we could move in and then being given the WRONG KEYS, having the toilet installed incorrectly–BUT I DIGRESS), the savings in rent more than make up for the parade of problems I had just trying to move in.
I currently pay $1351 a month for a 417 sq ft studio that is walking distance from my workplace (1.3 miles or about 25 minutes depending on traffic lights). The average monthly rent of a studio or one-bedroom within a reasonable walking distance of my job (reasonable = less than 1.5miles) is currently hovering around $1800 on craigslist. As such, I’m paying about 75% of what I would have to pay if I wanted to move somewhere not owned by my organization.
And to be clear, that $1800 would be going to a real piece of work, if you get my drift. I’ve heard horror stories from others who live in the area about what basically sound like dorms owned by slum lords. My unit has at least been newly-renovated, even if I did have to wait five weeks for it to finish.
This sweet living situation does come with some caveats, though–because of my rank, I’m only technically eligible to have this apartment for one year. Although some of my neighbors in the building who are of a similar rank have been able to stay from three to four years, it’s not something that’s guaranteed. I hope because of the very small size–studio–that not many other new hires will be interested. There are three open units in the same building, and I think they all have at least one bedroom. Because of this, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll get to keep my apartment for one more year. I should know for sure by June, but I’m making sure I have enough money stashed away to cover moving expenses, just in case.
If I lose the unit? Well, that just further cements my decision to limit myself to about two years in my present position before moving on to somewhere else.
Why two years? That’s how long it takes to be fully vested in the organization’s retirement program. If I stay for two years, I get my ten percent–that’s ten percent free money, not even a match, that I walk away with if I stay here for that long. But if I leave before those two years are up? Zero. Zilch. Nada.
I also got paid a moving reimbursement to bring myself over here. And by reimbursement, I mean they took out payroll taxes as if it were a bonus (which, had I known, I would have overestimated–nothing like paying payroll taxes on purchases I paid sales tax on that were bought with money I already paid payroll taxes on!).
Additionally, the phrasing of the moving reimbursement document was something about how I may have to pay back the moving reimbursement if I leave my job before two years are up. I’m choosing to interpret that may as a will.
TRANSPORTATION – ~$1160/year including two oil changes but not including major service or tires
Last month I had the joy of switching over my license and registration to the great state of California. This whole process, from smog check to license fees to registration fees, cost a total of $368. Luckily I won’t have to do this every year, but it was quite a bit more than the $100 it cost me in Colorado.
Gas is also much more expensive here–according to AAA Colorado, as of last week, gas was going for about $2.73/gallon in Denver (although, since I’m not actually there, I can’t confirm this). Gas at the cheapest gas station in the area here in CA is around $3.90 a gallon. So, it costs $1.17 more per gallon, or about $14 more per tank, for gas. And while I can walk to work, a lot of other places–the gym, for example–require driving.
I’d love to take the bus more here, but unfortunately none of the routes are very convenient. It would take me an hour and a half with two transfers to get from my work to the gym, but it’s only a 20 minute drive. So, in that instance, driving wins.
HEALTH INSURANCE – $52/month or $624/year
I get health insurance from my work. I went with an HMO plan, so my options of where to receive care are a little limited. However, one of their super complexes is within a 15 minute drive from my apartment, so making plans to receive care has been relatively painless. This is the second-most expensive plan my organization offers, and I chose it because it has no deductible.
Why don’t I have an account that offers an HSA, as many personal finance gurus suggest for healthy individuals? To explain, a Health Savings Account (HSA) is an account that allows you to pay for medical expenses with pre-tax dollars. These accounts are associated with insurance plans that have a high deductible–the idea is that you pay lower premiums in exchange for a higher deductible, but you have the opportunity to save money to meet that deductible. When you contribute money to an HSA, you lower your taxable income.
Unfortunately, only one insurance plan through my workplace offers a high deductible with an HSA option. INTERESTINGLY, it’s a PPO plan–you choose your own doctor, as long as they’re in-network–which are always more expensive. So, in order to have an HSA, I’d been spending twice as much on insurance premiums per month in exchange for a higher deductible, all for the sake of being able to lower taxes.
I’ll take my half-cost premium with no deductible and $1500 out-of-pocket maximum, thanks.
And to be fair, I’ve been totally happy with my HMO so far. I’ve had four visits for various reasons, and I’ve paid a total of $20.
GROCERIES – $200/month or $2400/year
I was surprised at how expensive groceries are here. I remember the first time my partner and I went to the grocery store and being shocked that there were no boxes of cereal that cost less than $4.00. Food and cleaning supplies are significantly more expensive here than they were in Denver.
After being here a few months, I’ve started discovering the best ways of tracking down my grocery deals. Trader Joe’s is good for packaged items like my coffee, English muffins, and vegan butter, although they never really have sales. Sprouts is good for produce, but only when it’s on sale; if it’s not on sale, but is something I have to buy a full pack of at TJ’s (for example, carrots or mushrooms), it’s also best to buy at Sprouts. Safeway is only good when I have digital coupons.
One argument against piecemeal shopping like this is that it wastes more gas; however, Safeway is next to my work, Sprouts is on the way home from my gym, and I only go to TJ’s once or twice a month. The savings more than make up for any extra gas or time spent.
UTILITIES – $30/month for gas and ????/month for electric
My house is heated by gas, and since my apartment has no insulation, I run the gas heater for about 30 minutes on weekday mornings so I don’t freeze to death when getting dressed (I run cold, and my apartment is usually in the low 60s when I wake up. Not exactly Antarctica, but too cold for me!). In the summer, heat was only $9 a month; last month, it was $20. This month I’ve budgeted $30, since I’m using the heater more.
Electricity is the real question mark. I live in a city where the electric is municipal–this has been great, because we were not subject to the same blackouts that others in CA recently underwent. However, since it is a government agency, things aren’t always quick to happen. I called and set up my account in August; I am still waiting for my first bill. I’ve called twice, and both times I was assured that everything is fine, and that I would “receive a bill soon” that would be “higher than usual” because it would “reflect the cost of service since starting.” This was about three months ago; I’m hoping to get this bill sooner rather than later, because I honestly have no idea how much my electric is going to cost me. I don’t have a lot of appliances, but still…
Overall, the biggest asterisk to my budget is my rent. Because I receive such a large discount, I know my experience in the south bay is drastically different than most others (including most of my coworkers). With my partner overseas, living by myself in this area is a huge luxury. However, it’s a luxury that is not guaranteed to last; as such, I’m trying to keep my budget low enough to cover what rent will be if I get kicked out of my unit. Right now, that budgeted money is going to student loans and retirement; I have the option of re-routing next summer if I need to.
While I’m doing OK, this area is not all it’s cracked up to be. I make $72k/year, but that’s not what the job started at; originally, they were advertising my position as low as $60k (to which I said–there’s no way I could take this job for that money). That’s also the starting rate for a very similar position that my organization is currently trying to hire for.
If someone is moving here without a partner, I honestly don’t know how they could comfortably support themselves on that salary. They’d either have to live with at least three roommates or have a two hour commute everyday, I guess (both things are true of my coworkers). That’s combined with the fact that my workplace wants someone with a master’s–so there’s the issues of student loans as well.
I know I’m lucky to be able to have this job and live in this area making the amount that I do. However, it’s only possible because of this discount on rent. If I hadn’t been eligible for employee housing and received a pay bump, I would not have taken this job. The cost of living would have just been too damn high.
* I am not a public school teacher, but I have mad respect for those of you who are. I worked in a public elementary school running a tutoring center from Jan through May, and that was more than enough for me!