August 2018 Money Diary: Preparing To Travel Around The World & Dealing With U.S. Medical Bills

Jennie here.

Hi all, sorry this post came so late! It’s been a bit of a hectic transition period. Since August (until now - early September) we’ve traveled or moved at least four times. How time flies! And now we're currently in Hawaii taking a "break" and relaxing before we begin our crazy adventure.

So what happened in August?
 


Our “New” Origami Life Begins


Last month, we shared our experience with moving out of Los Angeles. And this past month (August) marked the first time that I’ve been “unemployed” (or funemployed) in the last six years. It actually felt really strange to have 100% control of my days. For example, some days, I’d work from 6am to 8am, take a break, go running at 9am, and back to work again. There were a lot of days that were spent leisurely floating from activity to activity.

 
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Financially, I’d say it was a pretty solid month. For starters, because we left Los Angeles on August 1st - we saved $1,600 on rent and other bills. However, we spent about $1,900 on business expenses (including a new laptop and phone). So our spending rate was relatively high compared to the previous month. But these were also one-time, necessary expenses.

In terms of earnings, I got paid out by my company for essentially a month’s salary (yay) and Ivan and I both billed hours for our business.
 


Dealing With The U.S. Healthcare System & Financial Assistance


I went back to Albuquerque in August for two reasons:

  1. Spend some time with my family

  2. Take care of my parents’ medical bills

It’s no secret to my close friends that I grew up in a low-income household so the biggest concern for me while I travel is that my family make rational financial choices (or if not, I set things up to minimize any potential damage).

Last year was rough on my family - both my mom and dad got sick, had surgery, or went through some extended medical treatment; it was awful and more than anything - they racked up more than $15,000 in medical bills (after health insurance - land of the free!).

Spoiler alert: they couldn’t afford to pay those kind of bills.

So what does this have to do with me? Well, I stepped up and took care of the medical bills and was able to bring some of the larger institutional hospital bills down. In some instances, it was simply helping my family apply for financial assistance programs.

In the end, I was able to help my parents save anywhere between 60% to 75% on several of their medical bills. That meant thousands of dollars in savings!


What did I learn in the process of dealing with the U.S. healthcare system?


U.S. Medical and Hospital System


Lesson 1: The U.S. private healthcare system is a fucked up and completely random system.

When dealing with one hospital, I had to call between 4 to 6 different departments within their system just to verify my parents’ outstanding medical bills. Oftentimes, there are different billing departments or systems for physicians, facilities, and emergency services - AND most hospitals include “contractor” services (e.g. outsourcing anesthesiology or lab teams). It’s almost as if they just “make up a number” when they bill the patient. And if the patient can’t afford that number, they just “make up” another, much lower number. It’s completely random.

Lesson 2: You need to be informed to navigate through the system.

If you don’t validate every line item and/or talk to the right people, it’s hard to know what’s negotiable and what isn’t. So I’d suggest calling and talking (pestering) as many people as possible within your specific hospital. The system is so complex that even seasoned hospital reps can’t help guide you through it.
 


5 Tips On How To Get Your Hospital Or Medical Bill Reduced


If you’re having a hard time paying for your bills, here’s a few things to know:

  1. Always ask - even if you get laughed off the phone. Typically, larger institutions will have some sort of financial support or payments plan. Just call and ask about it. It doesn’t hurt to ask. I asked about financial assistance programs at smaller private practices but they kind of shrugged me off the phone - they only accepted payments or setting up monthly payments; they’re incentivized to get money from you before they send your bill to collections, but that usually takes a while.

  2. Most hospitals should have a “financial assistance” page on their website. In my opinion, they bury the lead when you get your hospital bill but you can definitely find financial assistance information. Just search on Google: financial assistance + [hospital name].

  3. Even if you’re not sure whether or not you should apply for financial assistance - you should try anyway. Sure, most of the applications are based on income tiers but if you’re having a difficult time (e.g. multiple medical bills, you’ve got a ton of student loan or auto loan debt, you’re recently unemployed, etc.) then it’s worth a try. You’ll never know until you ask for it. Also, once a hospital receives your application, they should put your account “on hold” during the evaluation to avoid sending it to collections.

  4. You can speak with a financial assistance support agent at the hospital. It seems like a lot of the larger hospitals will have some sort of support arm for questions and to help you manage through a financial assistance application. Call them even if you think you know what you’re doing. Ask a ton of clarifying questions.

  5. Look into your benefits, you might have support service like “Health Advocate”. There are services out there that can help you negotiate your healthcare services or look into healthcare specific questions for you.


Dealing With Pre-Departure & Administrative Tasks Before Our Round The World Trip


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Other financial highlights of our time in August:

 
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  • We were cat-sitting for my sister for two weeks while she was away in Europe. This was a nice change of pace for us since we’ll be on the move for the next couple years. Plus, the cat eventually learned to tolerate us and gave us a routine (e.g. cat-feeding and play schedule).

Savings: Half a month’s rent in Los Angeles (~$712)

  • We lost about 5 pounds each, working out and swimming in my sister’s community pool and gym. Honestly, we’re bringing our weight down for the long-term health benefits. It’s amazing how much easier it is to lose weight when you “have time” to work and focus on your physical and mental health.

Savings: Month gym cost (between $30 to $60 per person)

  • Validating our marriage certificate to begin my permanent residency papers in Taiwan. Although Ivan and I have been legally married for the last four years, we’ve yet to register our marriage in Taiwan. We decided earlier this year that we’d actually start my permanent residency process in Taiwan. Unfortunately, we had to have the Taiwanese embassy in Boston validate our certificate before moving forward.

Expenditures: $15 fee for our application; $7 for postage via snail mail

The bureaucracy is expanding, to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.
— Oscar Wilde
  • We had to send additional evidence for our U.S. immigration application. Let’s put this into perspective, we sent in our application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2016 and they just got back to us and requested for MORE information. Basically U.S. Citizenship and Immigration was telling us: “because of our delay, you need to provide us with more evidence of your marriage for the period of our delay...so we can spend even more time reviewing that evidence”.

    Two years and counting. We begrudgingly sent in more information to cover the last two years to showcase that our marriage is still legitimate. Le sigh.

Expenditures: $7 for postage via snail mail.
We had to bite the bullet and send it in but really, it cost more than $7 - more like it cost $7 and two years of dignity and patience lost.

  • We got global health insurance and life insurance. While I dealt with my parent’s bills, Ivan took care of our health and life insurance for our RTW trip. For our global health insurance, we went with Cigna which cost about $142 per month for the both of us (excluding U.S. coverage except for short visits). For context: the cost of getting coverage in the U.S. was equal to coverage for the rest of the world combined.

Expenditures:
$1,700 per year (for both of us) with a $1,500 deductible and 20% copay (excluding the U.S.)
$18 per month for life insurance (I consider my family to be dependents in the event that something happens to me)  

  • A relative died in August and I had to get my dad and uncle last minute flights to Florida with points. Fortunately, we had points to spare. We were also reimbursed by my uncle for less than the carrying value of the points. But family is family. And some things are more important than money.

Earnings: We received cash for $650 - minus last minute booking fees of $160 equals $490.

 

That’s it for this month's Money Diary! Tune in next month for our first month of a traveling money diary.



6 Things (These) Millennials Look for in a Business

Ivan here.

Jennie and I spent the past two weeks negotiating with a procession of incompetent / scummy U.S. health and life insurance providers that make up our banana republic healthcare system. And we’re not amused. So if you’re not in the mood for a rant, I’d skip this post.

You’ve been warned.


Why Millennials are Killing Businesses


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If I had a nickel for every headline crying about millennials killing yet another business that I didn’t know still existed, I’d have more money to spend on their competitors.

It’s not even worth my time to link these click-bait articles (SEO be damned). That’s because the majority of these publications will eventually die. Because they add no social value, can’t even make a profit, and are kept alive by faux outrage, diverting our attentions from more important issues that take longer than a half-skimmed article to explain.

My overall response to these articles can be summarized thusly:

 Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs (1992)

"Do you know what this is? It's the world's smallest violin playing just for your business."

Instead of “why are millennials so entitled and killing everything?” let’s ask, “why do businesses built on stale ideas feel entitled to survive?”


Becoming a more conscious consumer


Flaws in human beings are natural and often beautiful, shaped by our experiences, and deserving of empathy. Our strengths and weaknesses are what make our individual stories unique and relatable.

Flaws in businesses, on the other hand, are just sad excuses that leech valuable (and limited) resources from the economy, and from people who could’ve had better uses for their time and money.

While nobody has ever asked to be born, at some point, somebody made the decision to be in business. This means that they are subject to the Darwinian rules of the markets - and to ruthless scrutiny by the consumer.

The rules are pretty straightforward:

If you can’t make a profit and/or can no longer add more social value than you take away, then your business is worthless and deserves to die. What’s more, the sooner you die, the more resources get freed up for companies that might actually improve peoples’ lives.

Some businesses today are part of the solution, others are part of the problem. While we can’t simply “get rid of” problematic individuals (marginalize and ignore, yes), it’s extremely possible to get rid of problematic businesses. Businesses are just vehicles made of money, and money is just the sum total of our values and decisions.

As millennials, what we have to ask ourselves as consumers is:
Are we part of the solution or are we part of the problem?

If you think of our world as a system, and each individual choice is a component of that system, then what are the small things we can do today to improve things over the long term?  


6 Things (These) Millennials Look for in a Business


Here are six ways that Jennie and I evaluate businesses:

1. Follow the golden rule

Repeat after me: always add more value than you extract. And every day that you’re lucky enough to stay in business, you should be working relentlessly toward providing more value for less (or eventually, somebody else will). Define value how you will - but in the long run, the market decides.

2. Transparent pricing

If it takes me more than a minute to figure out your pricing, if you don’t list prices at all or if you include “optional” add-ons that are actually extremely mandatory, I’m going to assume you’re running a non-profit because that’s what you’re going to be.

3. Trust is personal

Business is business, but trust is personal. Do I like you and trust you with my money? Because I only engage with people and companies I like. If you change the rules on me for whatever reason after an agreement has been reached, then you’re getting replaced. I don’t care if it’s $0.01 more than we agreed. Just on principle, I’m going to dispose of you anyway.

At Spectrum / Time Warner Cable, if your own employees have to warn its customers to always keep their receipt after they return their internet routers (in case it gets “lost” and the customer gets charged a fee), then I’m here on my knees praying for the day when I can dance on your grave.

4. Ease of use / technology

If you make the process of buying your product/service hard, or make me wait for hours on the line, I’ll use that time to silently count the days until I can get rid of you for a simpler option. For example, if you only accept physical checks and money orders in 2018, you’re dead to me. If change is too hard or happening too fast for your slowass to catch up, then quit.

5. Bureaucracy

If the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, if I have to give you the same information three or four times on the same call, then maybe your business needs to be dismantled and cut down to a more manageable size.

6. Customer service

When someone calls customer service, that means something has gone wrong. That’s okay, life happens. Nobody’s perfect.  But how will you respond?

This doesn’t mean giving customers whatever they ask for. The average customer is probably insane. It just means that when you’re dealing with a human being, you need to act like one. If a request is common sense and reasonable, then it should be accommodated. If not, you should be able to explain clearly the reasons why. Any version of “that’s just the way it is” tells me your business has no idea why it does the things it does. Ergo, it should not exist for much longer.


The Origami Life: How We Like to do Business


Let’s face it: we’re buying products and services here - not saving the world. And yet our choices, in some small way, matter. If we don’t like the way the world is going, the least we can do is act on it. It may seem insignificant, like a drop in a ocean, but even if you “fail,” at least you can sit back and say that you did the best you could, at a time when most people didn’t bother to try at all.

As partners in a new business, here are some basic principles that Jennie and I would like to live by:

  1. Putting client interests above our own (e.g. be upfront and honest about our input/thoughts).

  2. Always try to add more value than we’re taking away.

  3. Growing and evolving with our business to make sure our skills are always up-to-date.

  4. Communicating and treating people like human beings and not numbers with a customer lifetime value attached.

It’s a harder way to do business, but it’s also cleaner. Call us narrow-minded, but after a certain point, what’s the point of doing anything if you can’t live on your own terms?

This also explains why Jennie and I haven’t we put any ads or accepted any sponsors on The Origami Life blog. The number of companies we’d gladly associate ourselves with can be counted on one hand (towards the rest we’re lukewarm at best, hostile at worst). It would be hypocritical of us to endorse anything we wouldn’t pay full price for ourselves. As frugal “minimalists,” that’s an extremely short list.

Luckily, The Origami Life happens to be our space. It also happens to be our life. So basically, it’s going to be our way or the highway. And if we can’t have it our way, at least we’ve put ourselves in a position to be patient and build for the long term.

Because freedom is the leverage that comes with wanting things without ever really needing them.



17 Questions With The Origami Life Couple: About Us and Our Future Plans

General Questions

About The Origami Couple and Blog


1. Who are we?

Us - drinking G&B Coffee at Grand Central Market.

We’re Jennie and Ivan, a 29 year old married couple who met in Kyoto, Japan nine years ago, did six years of long distance, then decided to sell our worldly possessions by September 2018 to travel the world. We’re both Type A personalities, which means we’re goal-oriented and try to make conscious decisions in all areas of our life including our relationship, travel and money.

Here are our Myers-Briggs personality results, which you can take here:

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Ivan: I’m very lopsided (INTJ-A).

Jennie: I’m a “Debater” personality (ENTP-A). 
 

2. What are Our strengths and weaknesses?

Jennie:

  • Ivan’s strengths: Ivan is probably one of the most intelligent individuals that I’ve met in my life (if he can let go his ego). His writing, published and unpublished, is actually really good. He has the ability to think both creatively and analytically, especially when he stays the course and doesn’t let small things distract him from his end goal.
  • Ivan’s flaws: Ivan is occasionally arrogant, uptight, and sometimes - his expectations aren’t rooted in reality. Whenever he is “right” about one or two things, he starts to get delusional. That’s why I try not to overreact when he does something really well. I already know I’m going to regret saying such nice things (Ivan: Wait, she thinks I'm a genius, right? Cause that's what I heard). I gotta keep his ego in check for the sake of our financial interests. And when I say he’s uptight, I mean he could stand to loosen up - like, a lot. Sometimes, he gets so wound up in what he’s doing or “the next thing” that he misses moments that could’ve been really meaningful.

Ivan:

  • Jennie’s strengths: Jennie has a way with people and can out-hustle anyone. Not only can she understand and empathize with people, she can tailor her message to get them to do what she wants. Despite this, people like and trust her almost instantly. When we first started dating, I thought this was a fluke. I know better now. Honestly, the ability to “get your hands dirty” and knowing what makes people tick is probably the most valuable skill-set you can have - and it’s chronically underrated by specialist-types who don’t know any better (i.e. people like me).  
  • Jennie’s flaws: Jennie’s waaay too process driven for things that don’t need to be mapped out by the second. Sometimes, the answer isn't to create a spreadsheet or a decision tree. Some ideas need time to marinate in your head. She also enjoys barking orders and bossing people (i.e. me) around. So even when we have the same goals, we fight over “the best way” to get there.
     

3. What’s this blog about?

Jennie: I see this blog as a way to both keep ourselves accountable and share some reflections on life, marriage and our journey with anyone who can relate.

Ivan: The Origami Life is a minimalist travel blog with some personal finance and relationship posts thrown in. It’s also a place where we experiment with different ideas. Sometimes, we write posts just to see if we actually believe in it.
 

4. Where are we headed?

Jennie & Ivan: Anywhere in the world where we see opportunities for growth - whether that’s creative, financial, or personal. Over the next 3-5 years, we’re moving away from comfort and stability and towards challenge and risk (while doing it responsibly).  
 


II. Travel Questions for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


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5. What’s our travel style?

Jennie: I’m a type A planner who just so happens to enjoy travel. I love the idea of nailing down logistics, formalizing schedules, and putting together spreadsheets. I know that some of our readers can relate because several of you have shared some amazingly detailed and useful itineraries with us over the last year (🙌 thank you!). It brings me joy to have complete control over knowing when and where I’m going. This means that I’ve researched everything thoroughly and get to do everything I want - so I won’t leave with any regrets.

Ivan: Compared to Jennie, I’m less of a hard-core planner when it comes to travel. I like ironing out the big ticket items like accommodations and airfare, so I can be more carefree with my day-to-day decisions. When I’m traveling, I like to have one goal per day. If I achieve that goal, I’m happy. You could say I’m the more “laid-back” of the two, but unfortunately, this only applies to travel. I can be a pain in the ass in other areas.  
 

6. What do we hope to get out of our RTW trip experience?

Jennie: Although I’m treating my RTW trip as a building block for the next 3-5 years of my life, I just want to enjoy myself and experience things intensely. I’ve spent the bulk of my life focusing on “the next thing” or doing things for the sake of my family. It sounds funny but I’ve been caught up and stressed with work, family, and money for the last decade and I’ve forgotten to just be myself. For my RTW trip, I want to just enjoy whatever happens and comes my way. I want to meet people and forge genuine connections.

Ivan: In my twenties, I think I’ve undervalued personal relationships and social interactions. That’s because as an introvert, I don’t need much company outside of Jennie. Even when I do put myself out there and make connections, I can be pretty lazy in the maintenance department. People often don’t know where they stand with me. This is something I’d like to get better at: maximize the number of genuine connections I have on the RTW trip and the number of “uncomfortable” social situations I put myself in. Then I’ll pick a small handful of those people and try to be more forthcoming with what I think/feel to build more meaningful relationships. (Geez, I sound like a robot trying to be human).
 

7. What countries are We most looking forward to visiting and why?

Jennie: I haven’t put much thought into it because I still can’t believe our trip is finally going to happen. Top of mind: riding the Trans-Siberian Railway partway through China, Russia, and Mongolia. I really like train travel and loved our Amtrak trip across the U.S. we did last November.

Ivan: Rural India because of the history and because I think it’ll be an interesting challenge. I’m also attracted to sleepy backwater countries like Sri Lanka and Laos.
 

8. Are We nervous about leaving our family and our home?

Jennie: Absolutely. I’m worried about all the worst-case scenarios that could happen with my family while I’m away. And that will always be the case because I’m just that type of person. But the thing is, if I was truly scared about leaving, I would’ve never left New Mexico in the first place.

Ivan: This one’s easy - I’ve never viewed North America as home. I have no family here outside of Jennie. Most of my upbringing was in Taipei and I was educated in two languages (my parents are teachers). When I’m here, I think in English. When I’m home, I think in Chinese. Not having any roots is liberating because it often gives me a different perspective on things.


III. Money Questions for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


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9. How can we afford to travel long term?

Jennie: Outside of an aggressive savings plan, Ivan keeps an iron fist on our spending / expenses each month. Every month for the last two or three years we’ve saved more than 50% of our monthly income/salary and accumulated a RTW travel fund of $40,000, a reserve of airline points - while taking care of retirement and other future obligations.

Ivan: Like I said earlier, I can be a pain in the ass in other areas.
 

10. How do we feel about reaching our $40k travel goal?

Jennie: (Deep sigh) I won’t lie, when we hit that $40,000 marker in May...I felt underwhelmed. I literally thought, “wow, so that’s it, huh?” And I think that’s because of the timing. When we hit our financial goal, we were still MONTHS away from leaving for our trip. It felt unreal and almost anticlimactic. Because the savings was always automated and I never look at our bank statements and accounts. It was never a significant part of my daily life. I was doing what I needed to do which was focusing on crushing it at work and building our business.

Ivan: This might sound like a privileged thing to say, but the money is not nearly as important as the habits you build along the way. And the realization that whatever your circumstances, there are usually ways to take back control of your life.
 

11. How has our attitude / relationship with money changed?

Jennie: I’m a lot more conscious about how I spend money now. I’m more aware that if I spend x amount on something for this month, it means that I miss out on other things that I really want to experience, have or enjoy later. But it also means that I buy or spend on things that I really want or that I love now. Having a more conscious understanding of how I spend my money has actually made me much more “fiscally literate” and it’s been a positive effect on my life. I feel like the lessons I’ve learned about money - how and when to use it and how to plan long-term actually makes me a more strategic thinker.

Ivan: I’ve always viewed money as a major inconvenience. It’s a concession I’ve had to make to society in order to keep me and the people I care about alive. The only reason I’m a “minimalist” is because I don’t like conceding much of anything. Money is only as useful as the independence it buys - to ensure that no one can ever influence how I run my life. 
 

12. What are We planning to do to make money?

Jennie: Ivan and I actually started a business earlier this year. We essentially create marketing content for cyber security startups. Due to my experience in the industry and network, we’ve got a roster of clients and plan to continue working with a multitude of security tech / SaaS startups.

Ivan: I passed all three levels of the CFA exam and am a self-taught investor. I work with clients in the VC/private equity space to do financial modeling, projections and writing investment pitches. I’m also using this RTW trip as an opportunity to interview entrepreneurs on the ground in emerging economies.
 

13. What are our next financial goals?

Jennie: I’ve been hustling for the last six years and I feel like I haven’t put much thought into my next financial goals. There’s been one thing that I’ve had on my mind - increasing our net worth / saving for long-term retirement. We’re not one of those “FIRE” (Financial Independence, Retire Early) people though. Although it’s a nice concept, I can’t imagine retiring early and if the last couple of weeks without a job is any indication of what it would be like - I’d be bored as fuck if I retired early. However, Ivan and I have a very specific number in mind for us to live comfortably and completely on our own terms; my next big financial goals is to get us there early while building up my career and potentially having a  family.

Ivan: Over the long term, the risks you take equals your reward (financial or otherwise) - provided you take calculated risks that allow you to survive the short and medium term. So, our next financial goal is to take more calculated risks and being humble in the face of uncertainty.


IV. Love / Relationship Questions for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


 Us at a wedding a few years back.

Us at a wedding a few years back.

14. Describe our marriage.

Jennie: We’re still the same couple that started nearly a decade ago. If you knew us from our early days, you’d see that not much has changed in terms of heated discussions and arguments - because it’s fun for us. The only thing that’s really changes is that we’ve become much better partners, communicate better, and know each other better than anyone else in this world.

Ivan: What she said. I do think as we grow into our new roles as business partners that we should draw a clear line between business and personal. This means carving out time that’s just for the two of us.
 

15. What’s changed about our marriage over the past Few years?

Jennie: At the beginning of our time in Los Angeles, it was a pretty tense time for us due to a big move and stressful immigration processes. But once we decided to be more intentional and conscious with our time - we started planning and spending more time together at our favorite donut / coffee shop. Ivan and still very much love each other, but I’d say that in the midst of the hustle and constant goal-setting (and goal-crushing), it’s one of our more neglected aspects of our lives. We’ve spent a lot of time at coffee shops chatting about big goals, funny stories, and strategizing on work, but we haven’t spent as much time just...being together. My hope is that this RTW trip will help us slow down a bit and continue to grow our relationship.

Ivan: I agree.
 

16. What do we argue/fight the most often about?

Jennie: Most of the time, we argue about really menial things - it’s never about the big picture. It always seems to be arguments related to our behavioral / personality preferences. For example, if I ask Ivan to do something (e.g. take out the trash, do the dishes, or put the laundry in the dryer), I mean I’d like him to do it that moment because I’m compulsive about that kind of thing.

Ivan: I don’t like being interrupted when I’m working or reading, so that’s where most of our arguments stem from. To be clear, I don’t mind noise - so long as that noise doesn’t require a response from me. I’ve gotten better over the years of not lashing out, but some snark is always going to be there.


V. Plans for the Future for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


17. What’s next for Us individually and for this blog?

Jennie: We started this blog as a means for us to communicate our lives and be accountable to our life goals. However, based on emails and we’ve received from our kind readers - it feels like it actually helps add value in some small way. That meaningful / value-add contribution has been one of the more fulfilling things that I’ve experienced over the past two years. My big goal for this blog is to continue creating content that is useful for any reader that comes across this blog. 

Ivan: I’d like to experiment with travel videos. I think understanding how to combine image and sound over time can make me a better storyteller and writer. I’ve watched a lot of “travel vlogs” on Youtube and have been pretty dissatisfied with the results. I’d like to do something different. The best way I can describe it is I’d like to have the “feeling” of the Before Sunrise trilogy in online video form. The exotic destinations should be secondary to the relationship and the conversation in the frame. Hopefully, we can make this happen over the coming months.
 



How I Left My Job & Negotiated My Exit

Jennie here.

From day 1 at my (now former) company, I knew that I was going to leave. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my job or that I didn’t always give 110% of my effort. I just knew what I wanted:

Ivan and I wanted to travel the world (and work simultaneously) starting in September 2018.

So, Ivan and I have had this planned out for more than two and a half years. At the end of July, I finally informed my manager of my intentions.

Given my current manager-employee relationship, I decided not to disclose that I was traveling the world. That’s my personal life, and it was really none of their business.

However, I did share the reasons why I was planning to leave. I stated that I’d changed managers three times in the last year and my relationship with my direct manager always seemed out of sync. I felt like she never really trusted me - her only team member. I also shared that I was exhausted by the constant need for political maneuvering. This is a problem with “careerists” in any industry - everyone’s just angling for the next seat. Whether that’s on a rocket ship or the Titanic hardly matters because nobody has skin in the game.  

I was just tired of it. It all seemed so pointless.


Here was my ask to my direct manager:

  1. I was willing to finish out all of my projects over the next month and help train/transition any new hires.

  2. During my last month of employment, I wanted to work remotely from New Mexico to spend time with my family.

  3. If they wanted to keep me on to tie up loose ends through August, I wanted an extension on my benefits and be on payroll through the end of September.

Truth is, I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. Ivan and I were prepared for any one of  three scenarios:

  1. They would let me go on the spot (very likely).

  2. They would let me finish out my work over the next month (not so likely).

  3. They would attempt to persuade me to stay (not so likely).
     


The Results Of My Negotiations - What I Got Paid To Leave:


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In the end, it didn’t turn out 100% the way I wanted. Maybe just 75%. But that was more than enough, considering that Ivan and I would’ve been perfectly happy walking away with nothing:

  1. My manager gave me a one week to “finish up my tasks/projects.” There had been a lot of tension for some time so this worked out well because I got time back in my life.

  2. I coordinated with our HR department and managed to get one month’s pay without the work.

  3. They did not choose to extend my benefits into September (this was always a stretch goal and not a completely necessary one. Our international health care plan begins coverage starting September 1st).

I knew that it was highly unlikely that they’d accept all of my terms and I was right. Ivan and I had anticipated that my manager would be inflexible and might respond negatively to my resignation so we actually pre-emptively cancelled the lease to our apartment at the end of July.


Lessons Learned and What I Would’ve Done Differently In Leaving My Job:


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Here are some of my lessons learned from my first tech startup:

  • Lesson #1: I wish I had better negotiated my employment contract from the very beginning. My former company (like most tech startups) aspired to the “hire fast, fire fast” philosophy. And here’s the thing - those companies will always exist within the startup world, but there are consequences to this type of mentality. In theory, it’s a great idea to cut your B and C players quickly. But this assumes that management is competent and has the ability to distinguish between A and B players - and not be caught up by their own biases and prejudices. Sometimes objectivity and rationality is just a cloak for arrogance and a poor understanding of your own limitations.

    Had I known what I know now...I would have demanded a severance package and better sign-on bonus (relocation package) from the beginning because I was accepting a job across the country. In my next opportunity as a director level or higher, I will definitely negotiate terms that are more favorable to me.
     

  • Lesson #2: I should’ve done better due diligence. I joined the company because I was desperate to leave Boston at the time - my job was going nowhere and my managerial relationship was hostile (Ivan: misogynistic) to say the least. And in this new opportunity, I jumped without thinking too hard about it - I didn’t even negotiate my salary - which I should have.


8 Steps to Negotiate & Execute Your Job Exit Strategy


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Everything in business is negotiable. Trust me, you have more power than you can imagine - no matter what your situation.

Here are a few steps that I’ve gathered to help you negotiate your exit when you decide to leave your job.
 

Step 1: Decide on what you want and make your plan.

For me, I wanted to leave and travel the world by September 2018. You don’t have to wait as long as I did but I felt grateful to have two and half years to do good work, queue up the “next thing” in 2018, and mentally prepare to leave my job. Because I’m a planner, I needed this sort of thing. And I knew that if I didn’t have a “deadline,” I would never leave.
 

Step 2: Always lay the groundwork.

One of the most important things that’s always relevant - whether or not you leave a job or want to negotiate a raise - is you should always do your job well and document everything. Make sure to always document the following:

  • Schedule quarterly reviews with your manager.  
  • How well have you performed in the last 6 to 12 months? What are your metrics?

  • Have a presentation that covers your accomplishments and accolades, with testimonials from other team members across the organization.

  • Send a follow up email of what you discussed and shared with your manager. It’s critical to have a paper/digital trail of your good work.
     

Step 3: Prepare for your “next” thing.

Are you looking to get a new job? Traveling? Give yourself at least 3 to 6 months of interviews, informational coffee dates, or start doing some freelancing. Start early because it’ll only give you more options down the road.
 

Step 4: Assess your relationships.

In any organization or team, you should know who you can  depend on to advocate for your work and accomplishments (before and after you leave). Also, it’s good to have relationships with your executives if you work for a small tech startup. This makes it easier for them to accommodate to your asks when you finally decide to leave.
 

Step 5: Understand your leverage.

Understanding what your advantages are in any given situation. For example, was a lot of your team’s work dependent on you? Are there key company events/milestones during the year where your presence is essential? That’s leverage. And with proper timing, you can use it.
 

Step 6: Decide what you want.

Do you want a more flexible work environment (e.g. working remote 100%)? Are you leaving because you don’t agree with the direction of the company or management? Regardless of the reason, think about what you’re willing to do to help the company transition - and what you want to ask for in return. For example, if you’re a star employee - you can offer to help train the new replacement over the course of x months. And for your troubles, you could asked to be paid x extra for the additional months you’re putting in. If you’ve got a family, always ask for an extension of your benefits. In my case, my healthcare was 100% paid by my company so it would have saved me over $1,500 a month.
 

Step 7: Understand and accept the fact that the exit meeting may not go the way you want.

That’s just life - it’s not always going to work out the way you had intended. The moment you say, “I’ve been thinking about leaving the company…” it’s up to external forces and how they respond. I don’t want to downplay luck in all of this. On the other hand, they also say that luck is preparation + opportunity.
 

Step 8: Control your own narrative - remember the future and leave on positive terms.

Sure, it’s important to negotiate the best terms in your separation agreement but keep in mind that this goes beyond money – what you agree to and how you go about it can affect your career long term. When I left, I did an informal “exit interview” with every single one of the co-founders and executives at my company. I wanted to express gratitude to them, share why I was leaving, and make sure that I controlled my own narrative even after I’m gone.
 


The Bottom Line: Everything Is Negotiable; Ask For What You Want


If there’s only one takeaway that you have from this post, it’s that the world is malleable and you have more power than you think. And you owe it to yourself to ask for everything that you want because who knows - you just might get it. 

Early on, Ivan and I both realized that the “where” you end up isn’t nearly as important as the “how.” The journey over the destination applies to pretty much everything in our lives. And even when things don’t work out the way we want, you can still be confident in the fact that you played your hand the best you could. And that’s all anyone can ask for.

If there’s only one takeaway that you have from this post, it’s that the world is malleable and you have more power than you think. And you owe it to yourself to ask for everything that you want because who knows? You just might get it. 



July 2018 Money Diary: Choreographing Our Move Out of L.A. (to Save Time and Money)

July 2018 Budget Summary


 
July 2018 Money Diary - The Origami Life Couple
 
  • $3,148 spent in July (vs. $2,800 budget)

  • $4,712 in monthly savings in July

  • Round the world trip savings: $40,286 (out of $40,000 goal)

 
 

Choreographing Our Move Out of Los Angeles


Ivan and Jennie here.

Moving sucks. It doesn’t matter where you fall on the spectrum: from helpless hoarder to smug minimalist. It’s like boiling a frog in 100 degree water versus 200 degree water. One pot may be twice as hot, but either way, that frog’s been cooked.

While you can never completely remove the stress that comes with a move, there are ways to save time and money if you plan months in advance. Considering that we’ve moved to several different cities/states/countries over the past decade, this is one area where we’d consider ourselves experts.

Jennie’s Note: Just FYI, even though everything was 100% on timeline and under control - I will tell you that Ivan did not keep his cool in the moving process. He was still super stressed during the last week.
Ivan’s Note: Like I said, boiled frogs. And since Jennie likes to complain that I never provide enough details in our money diaries, I’m going to overcompensate in this post by giving a full play-by-play account of our move:

Timeline: How We Saved Time and Money Planning Our Move from Los Angeles


1. T-minus 60-90 days: how we settled on a move-out date

IVAN: There’s never a perfect time to move. Chances are, you’re going to procrastinate until the last minute. Some landlords make it easy by having a renewal clause built into the rental agreement. You either have to renew the lease for another year or move out.

In our case, our lease defaulted to month-to-month after the first year. Not sure how it works elsewhere, but this seems to be standard practice in Los Angeles. This worked out perfectly for transients like us who were never planning on staying long term, but less so for low-income families fighting gentrification (and the lack of character, imagination, and community that, for some reason, always seems to follow wealth and luxury).

The Origami Life - Donust USA

Three months before the move, Jennie and I were sitting down to breakfast at Donuts USA,  yellow notepad and pen in hand, as we made a list of all the dependencies that were keeping us in the city (and our apartment). One thing was for sure: we had no emotional ties to Southern California.

Our single biggest dependency was negotiating Jennie’s exit from her job (yes, it’s possible to negotiate your exit. A long overdue Jennie post is in the works).

The main thing we had to consider before moving:

What was the earliest we could leave LA before our September round-the-world departure date without:

  1. Messing up Jennie’s negotiating leverage.

  2. Being an undue burden on Jennie’s family in Albuquerque, who graciously offered to take us in.

In the end, we landed on August 1st, or one month before our September departure. We gave our landlord three months’ notice as a goodwill gesture.

Total Savings

  1. Time saved from Los Angeles: a whole month of August - or 31 days.
  2. Money saved in August: $1,425 in rent + $65 in internet + $15 in electricity = $1,515
     

2. T-minus 60 days: created a moving checklist

 Source: Our actual Trello board for moving and prepping for our RTW travels

Source: Our actual Trello board for moving and prepping for our RTW travels

JENNIE: Shoutout to any Trello users out there! Because I’m a type A planning freak, I wanted to have a spreadsheet or trackable task list that Ivan and I both had access to (see image above). I didn’t want any excuses about how he “didn’t know” that we were supposed to do specific things. Although Ivan gets annoyed with my constant “let’s create a spreadsheet” or “let’s create a plan” suggestions - it ultimately helped decrease a ton of stress and work by the end of our move-out date.

Total Savings

  1. Time spent wondering whether we forgot anything. Or realizing after the fact that we forgot to cancel the electricity or the internet.

     

3. T-minus 45 - 16 days: sold our personal and bulky furniture items for extra cash

IVAN: Since we’ll be living out of our 40L backpacks for the next couple of years, this meant purging everything.

We buy furniture with the two year resale value in mind. Since we only own five articles, it’s not a huge list to keep track of. This means understanding the prevailing styles and trends and sticking to that scheme when we make furniture purchases. Jennie has an eye for this. In Boston, Jennie purchased a blue velvet couch from Walmart that came to about $400 after taxes and shipping but somehow, she managed to sell the damn thing for $250 when we moved out of Boston two years later.

Total Savings

  1. Sold $160 worth of goods on Craigslist.

    1. Bought full-size Askvoll bed frame (with the Luroys slatted bed base included) for $179. Sold it two years later for $90.

    2. Bought 2 Ikea Kallax bookcases for $34.99 each. Sold both for two years later for $30.

    3. Jennie was given an Apple Magic Mouse 2 (worth $79) and she sold it two years later for $40.

  2. Sold $80 worth of books at The Last Bookstore in July.

  3. Jennie’s pièce de résistance: Bought a Macbook Air back in 2014 for $600 (with friend’s student discount + tax free weekend) and was offered a $370 gift card from Bestbuy in 2018. Realized when we got home that the employee thought our Macbook Air was the latest version. Since we didn’t mislead anybody, we’re taking this as a bank error in our favor.

Jennie’s Note: We’ve been on a lucky streak this past year, and it’s making Ivan extremely paranoid. For starters, we got the Southwest Companion Pass offer this year, which was only available to California residents - just as we were planning on doing a lot of domestic travel. Then we got $400 worth of free Airbnb credits through this now expired offer - a couple months before we go on our RTW trip. And in June, when I treated my whole family to an expensive meal in Albuquerque, I found out afterwards that the employee had actually refunded me that amount on my credit card statement. If you believe in karma, it looks like Ivan and I are going to be pretty screwed in 2019.


4. T-minus 15 days: deep cleaning the apartment

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JENNIE: Essentially, Ivan was a huge pain in the ass for weeks about “deep cleaning” our apartment.

Here are a few useful tips we have for you:

 Our apartment...post-deep cleaning

Our apartment...post-deep cleaning

  1. Not-so-white walls: Combine warm water, baking soda, and vinegar to create a paste that will quickly clean white walls as well as brighten it.

  2. A greasy stove top: Okay, so Ivan and I aren’t great about cleaning our gas-fueled stove top...so grease definitely built up. In this instance, we sprayed everything down with an all-purpose cleaning solution and scrubbed; when that didn’t work, we used the back of a spoon to scrape off remaining greasy residue.

  3. Heavy duty mounting tape on your walls: I had double sided mounting tape on our wall for months for our “inspiration” wall and our maps....and just never bothered to take them down. We took my hair dryer to the tape and melted it and it quickly came off the walls. Total lifesaver.

Total Savings

  1. Securing our $2,098 one and a half month security deposit. At least we hope so - we haven’t heard back from our property manager yet.


5. T-minus 10 days: held a goodbye party at a friend’s

JENNIE: By now, all of our furniture except for our mattress is sold, the floors and walls of our apartment are fairly spotless. And we were onto more meta things: saying goodbye to friends and Jennie quitting her job.

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Against Ivan’s will, I set up a “goodbye BBQ” party and invited all of his old high school friends that we were close to. And believe it or not, people came in from San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, etc. We were grateful several of them could come out and spend time with us. Although Ivan doesn’t say it often, we value all the friendships and relationships I’ve maintained over the last two and a half years in California.

We’ve had several great trips and memories from our time in SoCal:

  1. Daily coffee dates at our favorite donuts shop.

  2. Christmas in Death Valley National Park.

  3. Thanksgiving in Joshua Tree.

For Ivan, he uses too few words to express his gratitude for his friends. Eating BBQ and watching some dorky high school films that they wrote/directed/edited over a decade earlier was another way to say thanks for hanging out with us and that we valued our friendships.

Total Savings

  1. Well, we put in a lot of effort here into planning the little shindig, but it was worth the investment to spend time with some of our good friends.
     

6. T-minus 7 days: donated the remaining unsold (but useful) items and saying Goodbye to Los Angeles

IVAN: Jennie scheduled the mattress for pickup three days before we officially moved out. Fortunately, L.A. has some great city services for bulk item pickup and recycling. For our 72 hours in LA, we slept on a mattress topper and a yoga mat we purchased from the Japanese dollar store Daiso.

Before her last day of work, Jennie also dropped off our rental internet router and I spent the remainder of the day getting rid of and donating any final knick knacks left in the apartment.

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On the last day in our sad and empty L.A. aprtment, we took our remaining chairs and set them up outside of our community hallway and balcony. We ordered takeout, listened to Twin Peaks: The Return OST (this series still haunts me), and chatted at length while we watched our last sunset in L.A.

Total Savings

  1. Fortunately, we had paid rent through the end of July and were able to stay at our apartment until August 1st - without paying extra.
     

In summary: we've left Los Angeles and we're moving on

And there you have it - our long goodbye to Los Angeles with tangible savings in time and money over the past three months. Now, we’re onto the next chapter in our lives.

We don’t plan on looking back anytime soon.


 

Goodbye Los Angeles: Lessons on Moving, Traveling and Selling Our Worldly Possessions
A story has no beginning or end. Arbitrarily, one chooses the moment from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
— Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

Ivan here.

I had a hard time writing for this blog in July. A couple weeks ago, Jennie suggested that I do a “Pre-departure Diary” summarizing our experiences in LA and our two year journey in preparation for our RTW trip.

But even as I sit here typing on this yoga mat in the middle of our empty studio, I have no idea how I feel. To be honest, things have worked out so perfectly and according to plan that it scares me.


The Origami Couple - The Story So Far & What’s Next


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Since I can’t process anything at the moment, let’s just stick to the facts of our story:

  • June 2015: Ivan lands in Boston, ending six years of long distance

  • March 2016: Jennie and Ivan move from Boston to Los Angeles

  • April 2016: We discuss the idea of traveling the world for a year

  • August 2016: We start The Origami Life blog and set a two year goal

  • April 2018: We save up $40k in travel funds and $2,500 per month in freelance income

  • July 2018: Jennie quits her job. We give notice to our landlord, sell our things and leave LA.


Over the next few months, our plan is to:

  • August 2018: Spend 3 weeks in Albuquerque so Jennie can spend time with family

  • August 2018: Travel to SF for a week for final face-to-face client meetings

  • September 2018: off to our first stop on our RTW trip: Kauai, Hawaii


5 Lessons on Moving, Traveling and Selling Our Worldly Possessions


While I have no further comment on Los Angeles, I do have some thoughts about the logistics of the move itself:
 

1. Our lifestyle in Los Angeles wasn’t as “minimalist” as we thought

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It’s true - we only owned five pieces of furniture in Los Angeles. But during the move, the amount of knick knacks we found in our apartment seriously stressed me out: notebooks, never used. Papers, brochures and advertising. Piles of clothing. Wires and chargers for electronics that no longer worked. Then there were the odds and ends we “saved” because they had “sentimental” value.

Not gonna name any names, but one of us has a lot of sentiment.

After we sold, donated, or recycled most of the useful stuff, Jennie and I decided to “digitize” 90% of our memories by taking pictures of each item and then letting them go. The last 10% was what could fit inside one small carry-on luggage - to be stored at her parent’s place in Albuquerque for a later time.
 

2. We’re still not very good at "playing house"

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Laundry is my least favorite chore around the house, followed closely by cooking. I don’t mind washing the dishes or sweeping the floors precisely because they’re mindless. I can do them while thinking about something else. But laundry and cooking involves interruptions and willpower. It’s not possible to do these things in your spare time. They are activities that expend mental energy. Energy that, in my opinion, could be more profitably deployed somewhere else.  

Don’t get me wrong - I do them anyway. All I’m trying to say is that I’d rather not spend so much time on things I don’t value. Maybe it’s a sign of immaturity, but I’m very much looking forward to 15 minute laundry by the sink and not needing to cook 4-5 days a week.
 

3. We’re not convinced by the cost vs. quality debate when it comes to buying new things

They say you get what you pay for. To an extent, I suppose that’s true. But the further from the midrange you go, the less relative qualities matter. This makes sense because raw materials are only a small fraction of the cost of production. What’s leftover is design and brand. I for one, give zero fucks about brand. If I wanted a story, I’d just write one. As for design, is there an objective difference between the best that money can buy and the second best that money can buy? And if it’s all just preferences and self-expression, I’d rather express myself in ways that don’t cost me both my time and my money.
 

4. We’ve probably outstayed our welcome in Los Angeles by 2 to 3 months

Being responsible adults can be insufferably boring at times. Jennie and I achieved the goals we set out in this blog three months earlier than our September 2018 plan. Ever since, we catch ourselves staring at each other over breakfast and wondering:

“What the fuck are we still doing here?”

There was some discussion about Jennie quitting her job back in May. I mean, do we need to be adults all the time and tie things up into neat little bows? To quote Bobby Axelrod from the entertaining series Billions: “What’s the point of having fuck you money, if you never say fuck you?”

In the end, we decided that relationships are the reasons (not to say fuck you). You never know where certain relationships can lead you down the road. And a person with a reputation for burning bridges or disappearing can’t be trusted with anything of value.  
 

5. It’s a relief not knowing what the future holds

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For some time now, Jennie and I have known that all of the goals we set out two years ago were within reach. We might not have been there yet - but we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Everything was working on autopilot. And that was comfortable - for a while. The satisfaction of having turned an initial conversation into a reality.

But soon, we found ourselves missing the uncertainty of a new beginning. That hopeful/fearful feeling of facing the unknown. The thrill of the pursuit. It doesn’t matter what we’re pursuing so long as it’s challenging and meaningful. For us, the pursuit and the journey is all there is.

I realize now that this is why we’ve been struggling to “sum things up.” We’re sick of talking about what we’ve done or are going to do. We’d rather just be doing it. We’re looking forward to having a new blank page - and all the possibilities that come with it.

Finally, another chance to start over.



5 Reasons Why Travel Is Expensive and How We’re Making It Affordable

Ivan here.

We haven’t published a travel post in a while, though we’ve been doing a lot of it this year. In the past seven months, we’ve made eight trips out of Los Angeles: San Diego, San Francisco (twice), Albuquerque (twice), Taipei, New Orleans, and in July, Portland, Oregon for a wedding.


Cost Breakdown of Our Portland, Oregon Trip


 Downtown Portland, Oregon

Downtown Portland, Oregon

Jennie was a bridesmaid for the weekend, so we didn’t get to explore the city as much as we wanted. But we still ended up enjoying ourselves anyway: we had the reception lunch on a boat going down the Willamette river, sampled different food carts downtown, went to an Oregon winery and a Portland Timbers game, and I found a book I’d been looking for at Powell’s Bookstore.

Here’s the full cost breakdown for our 3 day trip:

  • Winery and limo ride for the bride. Split evenly between the bridesmaids: $300

  • Gift registry for the bride: $100

  • 2 nights at an Airbnb: $150

  • Taxes and fees for 2 round-trip tickets (we used the Southwest Companion Pass and paid with points): $25

  • Food + other costs: $200

Which is a total of $775 for a long weekend. Pretty reasonable by American wedding standards (though I’d argue those standards are arbitrary), but it made a significant dent to our $2,800 monthly budget. But fuck it, we knew this was coming and had planned for it. Relationships are more important than hitting a number. At least that’s what Jennie tells me.


Why is Travel So Expensive?


This segues into the topic of this piece: why do so many people think that travel is expensive? Now I’m not going to argue that it isn’t, because obviously, travel involves privilege. What I am going to argue is that most people’s expectations of what travel “should look like” makes things far more expensive than it needs to be.
 

5 Reasons Why Travel Is So Expensive

I can understand why a two-week vacation in Europe costs more than two weeks living at home. But I don’t know why the same vacation to Mexico or Southeast Asia should cost more. That doesn’t make any sense.

Here’s what I suspect:

Traveling isn’t the expensive part - the “vacationing” PArt is.

For some reason, people treat “vacations” as something separate from their everyday life. Whenever I hear the phrase “you’re on vacation. Live a little.” I can’t help but wonder - what does that say about the life that happens before and after the vacation?

Here’s a “vacationer’s” idea of what travel looks like. It goes a long way to explaining why people tend to overestimate the cost of traveling abroad:
 

1. They travel when everyone else is traveling.

Spring and summer breaks, festivals and national holidays are the only times that some people are able to take vacations. To make matters worse, people tend to gather at a few “trendy” Instagrammable destinations. By the laws of supply and demand, this means that businesses there can charge these customers whatever they want.
 

2. They book things impulsively.
 

 Source:   Google

Source: Google

Since fuel prices are way below its peak in 2014, airline tickets are cheaper than they’ve ever been in history. Low cost airlines are now advertising sub $400 round-trip tickets to Europe and Asia. It’s like Black Friday every single day of the week, which makes it harder for travelers to stay disciplined and on-budget. “Amazing deals!” make people forget that flights are only a small fraction of the total cost of their trip.
 

3. They overload their itineraries.

Cramming too many activities into 1-2 weeks is the quickest way to spend the maximum amount of money for the maximum amount of stress. It’s a trap that all beginner travelers fall into. A few years ago, this was us.
 

4. They pay multiples of their rent for accommodations.

The human brain has an uncanny way of putting the same thing into separate mental buckets. Here’s a question: what’s the difference between the nightly rate you pay at a hotel and the nightly rate you pay for your apartment (i.e. your rent divided by 30 days)?

I’d argue that not only do they serve the same purpose, they’re also redundant expenses (whereas food purchased in a foreign currency is a substitute for your grocery budget at home). Yet in practice, people are willing to pay 3-5x multiples for one, but not the other.
 

5. They tailor their trips around other people.

Traveling with friends sounds like a fun idea - in theory. But this assumes that you know your friends as well as you think you do. Jennie and I have been together for almost a decade, and we’re only just starting to get a handle on how the other is going to react under stressful conditions in a foreign country. In our case, we’re fortunate enough to have overlapping travel styles and interests. But if you like hostels and street food and your friend has a taste for boutique hotels and Michelin star restaurants, then brace yourself. And your wallet.
 


5 Ways We’re Making Our RTW Travels More Affordable


A big part of this blog is about making conscious decisions to achieve the things that we want out of life - even if this means taking the slightly unconventional route and thinking differently.

Here are five ways that Jennie and I are making our RTW trip more affordable:
 

1. We’ve mapped out shoulder & off-seasons for every region in the world.

Instead of traveling when everyone else is traveling, we’ve given ourselves the flexibility to go where the herd is thinnest. The trick is to avoid peak season and map out the shoulder and off seasons for every region in the world.  

For example, here are just some of the places we’re thinking about visiting:

  • September/October in Eastern Europe

  • January/February in India

  • May/June in East Africa

  • November in Japan

  • Christmas in Vietnam

When we have a rough idea of where we’ll be throughout the year, it opens up our budget, allowing us to be more spontaneous (and carefree) with our daily decisions.
 

2. We’ve built up a reserve of airline points to avoid paying last minute prices.

The great thing about having a two year plan is that we’ve had a longer runway to visualize our end goal and work backwards. For example, Jennie and I like to travel slow, so we can work off the following assumptions:

  • We’ll be traveling to a new country every 3-4 weeks.

  • Over the course of a year, that’s 10-15 one-way flights

  • We can divide these flights up into three different categories:

    1. Transatlantic flights

    2. Flights between neighboring continents

    3. Short-haul flights within the same continent

For us, it was just a matter of figuring out, on average, how many points does each flight cost? We added them up, multiplied by two - and voila! - that’s the exact number of points we’ve saved up over the past two years.

If everything goes as planned, I don’t expect us to pay out-of-pocket for flights for the first 8-12 months of our RTW trip.
 

3. We’re canceling our lease and reducing our overhead to (near) zero.

Our rent and bills living in our Los Angeles studio adds up to about $1,600/month. With the RTW trip, that drops to $200 per month with our phone bill ($50/month) and global health insurance ($150/month). Every other expense is variable and completely within our control.  
 

4. We’re taking advantage of long term stays to lower our nightly rates.

In most places around the world, we shouldn’t have to pay more to live abroad than to stay at our $1,400/month Los Angeles studio.

To give you an example: in November 2018, Jennie and I are staying in a Kobe, Japan international sharehouse for $1,000 a month (around $33/night - and this includes utilities and wi-fi). We get a private furnished room, with bathroom facilities and a social area. And we actually get to live like locals for a month instead of having to move constantly from place to place.
 

5. We prefer traveling to friends instead of with friends.

Jennie and I have enough trouble agreeing on things between the two of us. As a compromise, we’ve had to divide up our travel days in half (Ivan days and Jennie days) so that we can take turns shutting the hell up and learning to take direction from the other. An additional person requires more compromise, and more compromise can get expensive fast. This is the main reason why we prefer traveling to where our friends already are, rather than bringing an extra set of preferences along.



June 2018 Money Diary: Removing Stress from Personal Finance

Jennie here.

Another month has come and gone. Let’s get right to it!

 
June 2018 Money Diary The Origami Life.png
 

The Origami Life Couple’s
Expenses in June 2018:


 

The Origami Life - June 2018 Expenses via Goodbudget

 
  1. Rent and Bills ($1,656.00)
    Per usual, our rent and bills account for about 50% of our total expenses. This will be the one of the last rent payments we make for the foreseeable future. In July, we’ve given notice to our landlord and our last day in Los Angeles will be July 31st. Then it’s three weeks in Albuquerque to spend time with my family before it’s off to the first stop on our RTW trip - Hawaii!
     
  2. Groceries ($192.00) and Eating Out & Entertainment ($312.00)
    This past month, we didn’t spend very much on groceries because we’ve been traveling quite a bit (to Albuquerque for Father’s Day, and to SF again). By the numbers, it looks like we got lazy, but what actually happened was that we shifted our spending a bit.
     

  3. Quarterly Charitable Donations ($250.00)
    We aim to donate at least 3% of our budget on a quarterly basis to causes we care about. This month, we’re giving to GiveDirectly again. Direct transfers are cool! Say yes to efficiency and choice, and say no to bureaucracy, friction and good intentions.
     

  4. Miscellaneous ($162.00) and Family ($161.00)
    June miscellaneous and family expenses came from two things: (1) visiting my family in New Mexico for Father’s Day weekend with many dinners, lunches, and some gifts and (2) morning coffee dates together.
     

  5. Business Expenses ($70.00)
    New category! In June, I went on a quick trip to San Francisco (fully comped by a third-party - will talk about this in a future post) and spent some coffee money on client meetings for our business.
     

  6. Life Happens ($44.00)
    We both got new glasses in June and had to put down some cash for our eye exam co-pay (hate the machine that blows air into your eyes). Also, Ivan got really depressed while I was away and gorged himself on a Fatburger turkey sandwich and a Maui Banana milkshake. Ivan’s note: the milkshake wasn’t good. Should’ve stuck with chocolate or vanilla.
     

  7. Travel ($23.00)
    Earlier this year, we were fortunate enough to score a Southwest Companion Pass through a California-exclusive offering. We’ve been traveling for the past six months on this Companion Pass - wherever Ivan goes, I go and all we have to do is pay and additional tax/fees. So in June we used some of our points to book a flight to New Mexico from California and only had to pay the tax ($23.00) on the Companion Pass flight.


Thoughts On Money in June 2018:

What Does Money Mean To Me?


 
abandoned-achievement-cement-880477 (1).jpg
 

If you had asked me the following question three or four years ago: what does money mean to you? I wouldn’t have known how to answer such a question.

Thinking back - money was a constant source of anxiety and stress for me.

I don’t think I really understood the true power of personal savings until the last two years. I mean, I grew up thinking I’d never have money - that I was defined and limited by my lower class upbringing. It’s been a long journey but somehow Ivan has helped me sort out my financial life and helped me think more step back and look more at “the big picture”.

For the last six months, Ivan and I have traveled every single month (both together and separately). We’ve used this as a sort of mini warm-up to our RTW trip. Four years ago, I would have never fathomed the idea that I’d feel so comfortable and unafraid.
 

How do I feel about money now?


Once my finances were finally “in order”, the biggest emotion I felt was: relief.

I don’t really stress about money anymore. Well, occasionally but that’s because Ivan likes to “freak out” from time to time, but it’s usually not a problem because we’ve built in buffers to our budget.

Once you take the first steps to managing your budget, those types of things are ingrained in you and are woven into your psyche. Your relationship to waste, money, and savings changes - for the better. It becomes a living and breathing idea in the back of your mind.

Ivan has been publishing our Back to Basics series recently, and we hope it will be helpful to the readers out there who are still figuring their personal finances out. I’ll be writing some of the future posts on negotiations and relationships (Ivan: I’m not qualified to talk about the latter).

Here are the “Back to Basics” posts we’ve published so far:

  1. Back to Basics: Understanding The Money Game

  2. Back to Basics: How to Think About Your Paycheck

  3. Back to Basics: Making A Budget

See you next week!



Back to Basics: Making a Budget
back to the basics (1).png

Ivan here.

In the previous post to this “Back to Basics” series, I talked about how millennials making $2,500 a month should allocate their paycheck.

To summarize, they should mentally divide their paycheck into three equal parts (~33% each):

  1. Rent and Bills Fund ($833)
  2. “Present Me” Fund ($833)
  3. “Future Me” Fund ($833)

Another way of thinking about this is:

  1. My overhead (i.e. fixed costs)
  2. My short term needs (i.e. money I need within 12-18 months)
  3. My long term wants (i.e. money I need beyond 18 months)

This is how things should look in the perfect world. Unfortunately, saying that the world is not perfect might be the understatement of the century. Most people aren’t even remotely rational or sane.

  Source: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PSAVERT

Source: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PSAVERT

In 2018, the U.S. personal savings rate is 2.8% - a historic low. This is partly a symptom of our two-tiered economy where the rewards disproportionately benefit the top 40%, while technology and trade outflows decimate the bottom 60%.

The other part is people feeling too pleased and comfortable with themselves.

It’s been almost a decade since the last recession. We are now in the longest bull market in post WW2 history, where the value of most assets have been rising (eg. stocks, real estate, bonds), while consumer prices have been falling (eg. Amazon, airline tickets). “Dumb money” has entered the market in droves, peaking in December 2017 when cryptocurrencies hit their record highs. “FAANG” stocks are now being priced for perfection. Nothing could possibly go wrong, right?

This is my opinion, but there’s no better or more urgent time to start thinking about making a budget than times like these. In a market economy, rewards often go to the few at the expense of the many, because the many are typically unwilling (or unable) to take short term pain for long term gain.

Or to quote Warren Buffett: “Be greedy when others are fearful and be fearful when others are greedy.”


Making A Budget: What is a Budget?


A budget is the marriage between our aspirations and reality. It’s also an expression of our priorities. People in project management probably know this diagram:

pick two - fast, good, or cheap. You can't have it all.

Since resources are limited: fast and cheap won’t be good, cheap and good won’t be fast, good and fast won’t be cheap.

The same concept applies to your budget and paycheck.

Out of your financial needs, you should prioritize two:

  1. Overhead (Rent & Bills)
  2. Short term needs (Present Self)
  3. Long term wants (Future Self).

With the average millennial’s $2,500 a month after-tax paycheck:

  • High overhead and short term needs means punting on your debt and retirement and letting interest accumulate into your midlife
  • High short term needs and long term wants means living in an undersized apartment in an undesirable neighborhood (or even city)
  • High overhead and long term wants means living on cheap groceries and never eating out, traveling or shopping.

Now pick one.


The Fairness Argument: Millennials, Baby Boomers and Their Finances


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Jennie and I have seen the panic in peoples’ eyes at the mere mention of a budget. The conversation usually starts off with a question:

How can you afford to quit your 9 to 5 and travel around the world for over a year?

Our answer: a combination of privilege and having a budget that prioritizes a few things for a long period of time. Specifically, we keep our overhead way below what most are comfortable with, so that we can save for our long term wants without sacrificing the small pleasures that keep us going day to day.

For example, before we “graduated” to our $1,395 a month studio apartment in West Los Angeles, Jennie spent years renting a closet-sized room on the outskirts of Boston for $450 a month, while Ivan paid $650 a month (Canadian dollars) for a basement unit on the outskirts of Toronto. We made these short-term sacrifices by choice.

At this point, we usually get one of two responses:

  1. Denial: “I could never do that. That’s just not who I am.”
  2. Blame: “You’re privileged and definitely not the norm. Our system is rigged to benefit the top 1%. The most important thing is to fix the system instead of putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves.”

Jennie and I have had variations of these conversations with fellow millennials over the past two years. We empathize with these feelings because they’re based on kernels of truth.

But there’s a difference between what feels popular, good or just (i.e. the right thing to say) with what’s rational and productive (i.e. changing with the facts).

Looking through the windshield, millennials have it tough. Looking at the rearview mirror, baby boomers have had it easy. But it’s also true that everything looks easy with hindsight. The road ahead always looks dark and uncertain- for every generation, in every time period.  

Expecting to achieve the same results as our parents by doing the exact same things they did defies basic laws of markets and evolution.


The Biggest Misconception about Making a Budget


The biggest misconception people have about budgeting is that having one means denying yourself everything.

This may be true for people making under $37,000 a year, which according to MIT’s living wage index, is the minimum salary a single adult needs to live in San Francisco, the most expensive city in the country.

But not all of us live in San Francisco. And if you’re above the $37,000 threshold, having a budget is not only a realistic option, but a necessary one.

To say that a budget means denying yourself everything, we first have to agree on what “everything” means. Does “everything” include vacations to foreign countries? Drinking and dining out a few times a week? High-end gym memberships and yoga classes? Personalized chauffeurs that drive us to and from bars (Lyft/Uber)? Does “everything” include a cleaning lady (this is real. we’ve seen this) that comes twice a week to tidy up our one bedroom apartment?

Where does “everything” begin and where does it end?

 
aspirations vs reality budget
 

And that’s what a budget is for: to draw a line between our aspirations and reality.

By and large, millennials want a luxurious life, for a less than luxurious price, before we can realistically afford it. Because “everything” was what we’d imagined we’d be getting when we became adults.  

Ironically, sacrificing short term gratification for long term goals through a budget, is the most “adult” thing I can think of.


3 Tradeoffs We Made With Our Budget


Let’s bring it back to our hypothetical millennial. $40,000 salary, $40,000 in student loans, $2,500 a month paycheck, divided into three funds in the “ideal world”:

  • Rent and Bills Fund ($833)
  • “Present Me” Fund ($833)
  • “Future Me” Fund ($833)

Here are three ways Jennie and I approached this problem in the real world:

1. Underspend on overhead: keep rent & bills to
less than 30% of our after tax paycheck.

This means at a $2,500 monthly paycheck, around $650 was allocated to rent and bills. And we’re not talking hypotheticals here:

  • In 2014, Jennie made $42,000 a year. As recently as 2014, Jennie’s salary was $42,000 in a high cost of living city (Boston). She paid $450 per month for rent & bills to stay in a closet-sized room in a house shared with two other roommates.
  • In 2012, I made $58,000 CAD. My starting salary in 2012 was $58,000 (CAD), paying $650 per month in rent on the outskirts of Toronto, while my peers rented one bedroom apartments in the downtown financial district. We were consultants, usually traveling four days a week, and were rarely home.

If we had had $40,000 in student loans, we would’ve paid it off aggressively within three years. Instead, the extra savings went directly into our fuck-off fund and retirement. No debt and a fuck off fund allowed us to swing for the fences in terms of raises and higher paying jobs. Higher earnings in turn, funded our fuck-off fund, retirement and other long term goals. A virtuous cycle begins and gains momentum (this happens much quicker than you think). Meanwhile, our overhead stayed fixed on one year leases.

2. Underspend on depreciating items in favor of value add experiences

Jennie gave away her car to family and started taking the bus. The total cost of all the furniture in our home is under $1,000. We don’t have the latest technology in our home or in our pocket. We make little to no new clothing purchases outside of travel gear, clothes which will eventually have to fit into 40L backpacks.

In return, we traveled across America by Amtrak rail, held our wedding in Taiwan, honeymooned in Okinawa, attended the jazz festival in New Orleans, made business contacts in San Francisco, camped in Death Valley and Joshua Tree, spent quality time with family and friends in Taipei, Albuquerque, Denver, Boston, and San Diego.

For us, the small adjustments meant bigger returns on experiences that we love so much.

3. Planning months (or years) ahead for large purchases
so we don’t have to deny ourselves small ones

Our dirty secret: we divide the cost of large purchases across multiple months to absorb the impact.

We never mentioned this explicitly in our money diary, but we bought a $1,000 camera last year in July 2017 to bring on our RTW trip. Using an accounting gimmick, I divided that expense into two $500 items, and logged them in our budget under “Education & Investments” in July 2017 and August 2017. This “smoothed” out our spending, but more importantly, we did it because Jennie and I had already planned out this purchase eight months in advance - so we “freed up” $500 in the budgets of July and August to absorb it.

In return for long term planning for large purchases, we never have to deny ourselves smaller ones. Whenever we have a craving: for tacos, chocolate, a fizzy drink, coffee, donuts, macarons, bubble tea, the occasional take-out etc, we never have to “check our budget” to see if we can afford it. Even if we go slightly over-budget in some months, who cares? Buy it, log it, and move on. Micromanaging small transactions wastes precious time and headspace - and it really isn’t our style.


Finding Your Budget Sweet Spot


dessert-donuts-doughnuts-273773 (1).jpg

There are many variations to a budget that can be tailored to the things and experiences that matter to you. Jennie and I aren’t saying that our way is the “right” way.

But the common thread of all budgets is that something's got to give. And if you sweat the big, uncomfortable things (you know, the material things we tie unnecessarily to our self esteem and identity), the small things take care of themselves. 

In our case, we said to ourselves:  "fuck paying overhead and let’s live for the now and for the future. If we have to live in squalid surroundings or tight studio apartments, then so be it. At least we'll have each other." 

That was more than we could’ve hoped for after six years of long distance.

After reading this, some might be disappointed that I haven’t provided any answers on “what to do.” Fortunately, that’s not the point of this series. Nobody can tell you what to do, or convince you to do something you’re not ready for. Money is less a math problem, but an emotional & psychological one.

The only thing we can control is an awareness and understanding of each trade-off we make. We need to construct a budget that takes into account those trade-offs: between overhead, our present self and our future self. Finally, we need to ask ourselves whether we can learn to live with the end result.

Because perfection is the enemy of the good.



May 2018 Money Diary: What Makes the Perfect City?

Ivan here.

The highlight of May was a four day trip Jennie and I took to New Orleans to attend the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. It was on my bucket list of items to check off before we leave North America to work and travel around the world.

 
Money Diary May 2018.png
 

Total cost of the New Orleans trip was around $600, with the help of Southwest Airlines points (transferable 1:1 via Chase) plus the Southwest Companion Pass.

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 9.20.26 PM.png

Now, with money out of the way, let’s talk about something I care about...


The (Very Short) Lifespan of Music and Cities


Diamond or doorknob?
Sapphire or sawdust?
Champagne or just home brew?
Tell me, tell me, tell me, dreamface,
What am I to you?
— Duke Ellington, Tulip or Turnip

I’ve been a casual fan of jazz since high school. It’s one of the most liberating art forms to emerge from the U.S., with a focus on “dialogue” and “improvisation,” something that really resonated with me from a young age. Spontaneity has never been my strong suit. Generally, I have what most people would consider an uptight personality. Music and writing helps me experience and feel things I’d normally miss in the moment.

In recent decades, jazz has gone the way of classical music. It’s stuffier, more “high brow” now. Academics have gotten their hands on it, turning a working class art into a “discipline,” to be studied at arm’s length like a museum piece. When this happens, art loses its original vitality and connection to everyday life.  

I think this applies equally to capitalists and cities. There’s something about achieving a certain level of wealth and comfort that tends to narrow peoples’ imaginations. One of my biggest fears is to wake up one morning and settle into a conversation with Jennie over breakfast about the price of real estate.

Like music, I think every city has a limited lifespan. Like the perfect sushi, every piece of nigiri has its own time. Its moment in the sun. And it’s up to each of us to decide the kind of city we’re looking for - before it's too late. 


3 Things We Look For In a “Perfect” City


Downtown Los Angeles, California


There are three main things Jennie and I look for in a “perfect” city:
 

1. Cost: How much does it cost to live there?

Economics tells you a lot about cities. The average price of rent determines the type of neighbors you’ll have, the kind of retail/dining experiences available, and even the opinions people tend to hold. From our experience, Jennie and I are a lot more comfortable living in neighborhoods that are affordable to a wider range of people. This not only helps our wallet, but provides a form of stimulation that’s very hard to find in certain parts of New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles (where we live).

Affordable cities like New Orleans and Philadelphia have some of our favorite types of places. For example, at the Bacchanal Wine Bar in New Orleans, we were eating cheese and sipping red wine at a table with two certified hipsters, a middle-aged couple from Houston, and three local contractors/electricians who were originally from Guatemala and Honduras. By contrast, the only Hispanic people we meet in the tolerant, liberal oasis of West Los Angeles are construction workers, cleaning ladies, nannies, and gardeners. We have a huge fucking problem with this.
 

2. People: What is the general attitude toward life?

Are people ambitious or laidback?
Do they prioritize getting the most out of life today or working for a better tomorrow?
Is there room for different ideas and perspectives?

To what extent do people care about how they look versus who they are?
Do they communicate directly or indirectly?
Are they comfortable with dissent and conflict?
Are they individualists or collectivists? 

These are just some of the questions Jennie and I ask ourselves when we visit a new city. We tend to gravitate towards certain types of people. People who like to push the envelope and are unafraid to say what’s on their minds, even at the risk of being “wrong” or causing offense. These are usually the same people who tend to be less flaky and can be depended on to do what they say they’re gonna do. And while it’s hard to make sweeping generalizations about large groups of people, we’ve traveled to enough places to notice certain patterns and differences - even between residents of neighboring cities.
 

3. Convenience: How easy is it to get around?

None of the first two points matter if the city is inaccessible.

  • Is it possible to get around by public transit in a reasonable amount of time?
  • Can people of similar interests come together in an area?
  • Are there social/invisible barriers that prevent people of different backgrounds from mingling?

OUr Verdict on Los Angeles


 Some beach in Los Angeles, California.

Some beach in Los Angeles, California.

Basically, the “perfect” city we’re describing here is the exact opposite of Los Angeles. 

LA is not very affordable, the average person here is too cool and trendy for us, and it’s certainly not convenient. Now, I’m sure there are some wonderful people living in this city who we’d get along with swimmingly. But if they’re from East LA and we’re from West LA, they may as well be from the surface of Mars.

If our trip to New Orleans this month (and every other trip we’ve made outside of California) has taught us anything, it’s the realization that Los Angeles is not our type of city.

Honestly, Jennie and I are surprised we took two whole years before coming to this conclusion. Of course, every place has its positives and negatives, and we’ve really tried to make the best of our time in this city. But when we actually sat down and weighed the city’s pluses and minuses, all the positives were much lower on our list of priorities.

We've learned that some things are just more important than 284 days of sunshine.



Back to Basics: How to Think About Your Paycheck

Ivan here.

I’m going to start this “Back to Basics” series by making a few assumptions about the paychecks of the average millennial. By definition, this won’t cover everyone’s situation. Some readers might be better off, others worse off.

Even so, I hope this three-part “paycheck” mini-series will still be useful as a framework for thinking about the money that hits your bank account every month.


‘How did you go bankrupt?’ Bill asked.
’Two ways,’ Mike said. ‘Gradually, then suddenly.’
— Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

3 Principles of Financial Literacy


If I could boil down financial literacy into three basic concepts they would be as follow:

  1. The number you see on your paycheck is not the number you can afford to spend.
  2. Debt is dangerous and should be avoided or paid off as soon as possible.
  3. Small, steady changes add up to life-changing progress over time.

That pretty much covers it. The rest are just details. Something you learn along the way through experience or a Google search. In personal finance, boring is good. Managing money should be like going to the gym or any other chore you can think of.

Get it done, get it over with, and get out.


Who is the average millennial struggling with money?


In this mini-series on the average millennial’s paycheck, I’ll be working from the following assumptions:

Who is the Average Millennial?

the average millennial debt savings
  • Age: 25-35
  • Pre-tax income: $40,000
  • After-tax income: $32,000 (California tax rates)
  • Debt: 1x salary, or $40,000 in student loans at a 4% interest rate
  • U.S. healthcare premiums: $2,000 a year
  • Monthly paycheck (after taxes and deductions): $2,500 per month

I chose the ages 25-35 because let’s be honest, most millennials are underemployed in their early twenties and barely have the time (or means) to think about personal finance. The average salary for millennials in the U.S. is actually around $35,500 a year, but I bumped this up to $40,000 when I remove the under 25 group. The paycheck figure doesn’t consider any other pre-tax deductions outside of healthcare - like a 401k match offered by an employer.

The goal of this mini-series to demonstrate, step by step, how a millennial with a debt balance equal to one times her current salary could get to a position where she has one times her future salary saved for retirement.


Millennials - How to Think About Your Paycheck (Part 1 of 3)


The best way to think about your paycheck is to break it down into three steps:

  1. Start with a blank slate: “In the perfect world, how much of X can I afford with my current paycheck?”

  2. Assess the reality: “In reality, where is my paycheck going?”

  3. Make a plan: “what changes should I prioritize and make first?”

In Part 1, I’ll cover the first step, and answer the following question:
 

“In the perfect world,
how much of X can I afford with my paycheck?”

 

The way Jennie and I think about this is simple.

The average millennial should take their $2,500 per month paycheck and divide it into three equal funds of $833:

  • $833 - a rent & bills fund,

  • $833 - a “present me” fund

  • $833 - a “future me” fund

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1. Rent & Bills Fund ($833 per month)

This fund is for rent plus whatever bills you need to bring your place up to basic, livable standards. And by basic I mean: electricity, water, and gas. I’m not factoring in other modern essentials like internet, phone bill, or gym memberships. That comes later.

  • How much you spend on rent & bills is the biggest determining factor for how painful the next steps will be. The more you deviate from $833, the fewer options you leave yourself down the road. In some cases, it makes sense to pay a little more for rent as long as the savings in transportation cancels it out.
     
  • Now I know what some might be thinking: what if $833 doesn’t come close to the average price of a studio apartment in my city? The answer is simple, but unpleasant: if you can’t rent a studio apartment on a $833 budget, you can’t afford to live alone on your current paycheck. Consider getting roommates or renting a private room in a house.
     
  • It also isn’t a great idea to rent a place based on the prospect of a future raise. You never want to put yourself in a situation where you need something to happen in order to keep your head above water. Even if a raise is likely (or even imminent), pre-spending your future earnings eliminates any upside and flexibility it may have given you.

To summarize: in the perfect world, your rental situation should always stay a step behind the growth in your earnings.
 

2. “Present Me” Fund ($833 per month)

This fund is for your current self. For all the expenses you’re likely to incur within the next 12-18 months. Things you need to stay alive - while being reasonably happy and sane. This includes the essentials like internet, phone bill, transportation and groceries, and the discretionary like eating out, shopping or travel.

  • All essential expenses should be negotiated and paid for, as much possible, in bulk or upfront (i.e. stocking up on toiletries on sale, calling your mobile provider for special promotions, planning your grocery list in weeks)
     
  • All discretionary expenses should be ranked and prioritized in order of importance to you. If you have more than three things on your list, strike out the extra items because they’re not that important to you.  
     

3. “Future Me” Fund ($833 per month)

This fund is for your future self. For all the expenses you expect to incur in 2+ years. I’ve put some thought into the below rankings and concluded that, all else being equal, this was the most efficient way to handle the competing priorities of cash, debt repayment, and retirement:

  1. High interest loans: credit cards and other high interest debt always comes first.

  2. Emergency fund: at least 2-3 months of living expenses set aside in a high interest savings account. Assuming you’re allocating the full $833, this can be built up within 4-6 months.

  3. Student loan debt: I’ve written a post before on why you should prioritize paying off all your student loans before you even worry about retirement. Assuming your paycheck remains static, you can pay your student loan balance off in 4.5 years. If you build in a 5-7% raise each year, the payoff time is closer to 3 years.

  4. Retirement: Up to $5,500 annual contribution limit for a Roth or Traditional IRA

  5. Fuck off fund: at least 4-6 months of living expenses set aside. This is on top of your emergency fund, so another 4-6 months of savings should get you there.

  6. 1st savings priority (pick one: downpayment, education, wedding, travel etc)

  7. Retirement: Up to $18,000 annual contribution limit for your 401k

  8. 2nd savings priority (pick one: downpayment, education, wedding, travel etc)


...But Reality Gets In the Way

Unfortunately, life doesn’t happen on a spreadsheet. But what the above does show us is what a “stress-free” financial life would look like, and is a “rule of thumb” that Jennie and I actively follow when making our own financial decisions.

In part 2 of this series, I’ll talk about how to assess your current financial reality, to find a budget “sweet spot” that works for you.



Back to Basics: Understanding the Money Game

Introducing the

Back to Basics Money Series


 
When you go mountain climbing, the first thing you’re told is not to look at the peak. Keep your eyes on the ground as you climb. You just keep climbing patiently, one step at a time. If you keep looking at the top, you’ll get frustrated.
— Akira Kurosawa
 

Ivan here.

Jennie and I have been wanting to do a ‘back to basics’ money series for a while. The timing just never seemed right. When you’re knee-deep in the process of self-improvement (financial or otherwise), it’s hard to come away with any useful insights beyond a list of tips and tricks. I think more important than telling people “what to do,” showing them the “why” and the “how” is what really empowers them to look at their own situation in a different light.

When it comes to money, there are very few formulas or “recipes” to follow that work for everyone’s situation.  

Our only goal for this series is to encourage people to go out of the norm of what’s “expected” and start thinking for themselves.


How We Got Here:

Money Means Freedom


back to the basics.png

The reason Jennie and I are launching this series today is because two things have happened:

  1. Last month, Jennie and I met our $40,000 RTW trip savings goal after a two year process of budgeting and saving.

  2. In the second quarter of 2018, we met our freelance goal of making at least $2,500 per month in consistent, remote income.

What this means is that our $40,000 RTW travel fund turned out to be unnecessary. Our travel will likely be more than covered by our income on the road.

Like we’ve said before: it was never about the $40k, just as it was never about travel. It was about the process of learning how to keep our heads down and climb the mountain - one step at a time. It was about understanding what our priorities were and what we were willing to sacrifice.

Even if the $40,000 were to vanish tomorrow, the money habits Jennie and I have acquired are ones we’ll have for the rest of our lives. Something that no one can ever take away.

Because once you understand the game, you’ll never run out of moves to play.


Why Money is Like the Game Jumanji


Money is like the game Jumanji:

  1. It’s inescapable: no matter how long you try to put it off, the game will find you whether you want to play or not. In the meantime, the sense of dread and anxiety grows stronger with each passing day.

  2. It preys on our hopes and fears: Too much hope is greed. Too much fear is panic. As human beings, we all go through cycles of overconfidence and insecurity. Money is saved and spent, prices rise and fall, and the game serves as the barometer for both the social mood and human nature.

  3. Jungle rules apply: Capitalism, even in its most regulated form, is a system of opportunity and exploitation. In this ecosystem, you’re either the pursuing or the pursued, the hunter or the hunted. In an economic system predicated on “growth,” standing still is moving backwards.  

When faced with this game, all of us need to make a decision on whether we want to be proactive or reactive. And it’s not easy. Sometimes, it can feel like you’re being whipped about by forces beyond your control. You might even start to believe that there’s something inherently wrong with you. Being poor and living paycheck to paycheck is just who you are, and there’s nothing you can do to change it.

This feeling is only half true. We don’t often get to pick the hands we’re dealt. Some things happen to us that we just can’t change, and at some point, we’re all going to have to weather some turbulence. And yet, there are always things that you can control.

So you need to make the decision: do you want to be proactive or reactive with your life?

The process of remembering who you are, and what you want, and how you respond to the ups and downs of your life will, over the long run, make all the difference in the world.


/Ivan inhales, begins rant

Life: It’s Not a Race & Nobody Knows Anything


First of all, fuck this noise.

 
 

What irritates me about articles like this is that not only is it counterproductive, it was also conceived and published to deliberately provoke a response. Specifically, anxiety and controversy. Why should we give a fuck about what “should” happen by when?

If we want to play the “should” game, I can do it too. For example, I think print media companies “should” be profitable by 2018. But if I were a betting man, I’d take the under on the profitability of MarketWatch and the chances it survives the next decade.**

[** Author’s note: I don’t need to guess. According to public filings, Marketwatch’s parent company News Corp, reported a $1.1B loss last quarter. You want to know how to make this company bleed? Stop giving them engagement and clicks].

This segues into my pet topic, which I’ll break down into three statements:

  1. Nobody knows anything.

  2. Everyone is just making it up as they go along.

  3. Everything is negotiable with the right kind of leverage.

“Nobody knows anything” is always my going assumption until someone proves otherwise.

You’ll be shocked how true this is. Some people are just better at pretending than others. Some like to hide behind a veneer of credibility, authority or “success,” but the truth is, they’re often plagued by the same sort of doubts and insecurities as you. Because they’re human. And no human being is deserving of our blind worship. When you actually peer under the hood of how the world works, you’ll be amazed that anything gets done at all.

The more you come to understand this, the less time you’ll waste wondering what’s wrong with you.

/ends rant


Topics We’ll Cover

in this Back To Basics Money Series


Over the next few months before Jennie and I leave for our RTW trip in September, we’ll cover five broad categories in this “back to basics” money series, including but not limited to the example topics we’ve listed below. We’ll try to publish these in chronological order, from the beginning of the process to the end:

1. Fundamentals of Budgeting

  • Hitting the reset button on your finances (“where is all my money going?”)

  • Finding your budget sweet spot (“how much money do I need?”)

  • Handling the emotions of budgeting (“how do I avoid my spending impulses?”)

2. How to Spend Less:

  • How much (insert item) can I realistically afford?

  • How to simplify and plan for the long term?

  • How to factor in fun and luxury purchases?

3. How To Earn More

3. Money Talk & Relationships:

  • How to manage financial anxiety

  • Marriage and finances

  • How to talk to your family about money

4. Investing in Yourself (Retirement, Education etc):  

  • Investing 101: from account creation to long term indexing

Stay tuned! See you next week.



Origami Guides: A 3 Day New Orleans Itinerary (with Local Recommendations)

Jennie here.

In early May, Ivan and I spent a fantastic long weekend attending the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. In just a few short days of hanging out in The Big Easy, this city has catapulted onto our top 3 favorite cities in the U.S. - right after Boston and Philadelphia. The city’s slow pace, melting pot of culture, food, and history makes it the ideal hub for us. In another lifetime, I could definitely see us living here.

 Jazz Fest | NPS Photo | Bruce Barnes

Jazz Fest | NPS Photo | Bruce Barnes

During this trip, we made a point of pestering every local we met to give us their favorite places to eat, drink, and relax in New Orleans, and we followed their advice to compile this three day itinerary.

Basically, we’ve asked all the questions - so you won’t have to!


Who should use this itinerary?


Solo travelers/couples on a budget who prefer to stay off Bourbon Street in favor of more “off the beaten” path hangouts.


What are the best times to visit NOLA (New Orleans)?


Before June. Our rule of thumb: go before it gets too hot and humid to enjoy the sights. We went on the first weekend of May for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the weather was just right.

 Crawfish in New Orleans |  Source: Flicker

Crawfish in New Orleans | Source: Flicker

 Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

  • Crawfish boil fans: If you’re looking for a good crawfish boil, go before August; crawfish season is typically between early March through mid-June.

  • Mardi Gras or party junkies: If you want to party and join a few second lines, go during the Mardi Gras season. Be warned though - prices will double or triple for accommodations during this time period. A local Uber driver did mention that Mardi Gras lasts about a full month for locals with all the backyard barbeques and shindigs.


What is the best way to get around NOLA (New Orleans)?


Staying true to who we are - we usually go car-less in any city we visit.

 New Orleans Canal Street Streetcar

New Orleans Canal Street Streetcar

We recommend using NOLA’s public transit system. For $3.00, you can get a 24-hour pass to use NOLA’s public transit system, which includes 24 hour streetcars and extensive bus routes. Over three days, it’ll only cost you $9 a person.

We also found New Orleans to be relatively walkable in the main touristy areas (e.g. Frenchman Street, French Quarters, Magazine Street, etc). However, there are still some “shady” areas you’d want to avoid walking through after dark.

When in doubt, take a Lyft/Uber after sundown.


Where should I stay in NOLA?


I'm only going to recommend what I can stand by - unless you’re doing it “for the Gram/IG”, I don’t think you should pay for more than $70 a night for your stay in New Orleans. Think about it: how much time will you actually spend in your room?

For the budget conscious (up to $60 per night):

  1. Airbnb is a great option. We found a lot of Airbnb options under $60 a day. I would highly recommend staying in the Garden District along Magazine Street. It’s an emerging area with a growing arts scene, boutiques, and restaurants.

  2. Hostels. Our friend mentioned that NOLA has a pretty decent hostel scene compared to other Western metropolitan cities. You can check out The Broke Backpacker’s recommendations here that will suit your needs.


Thoughts On Bourbon Street


 New Orleans Bourbon Street in the French Quarters

New Orleans Bourbon Street in the French Quarters

We did the obligatory walk through Bourbon street one evening. Truth is, I could’ve lived without it. Despite its long history, you’ll quickly notice it’s just a copy-and-paste job of clubs and sleazy bars that are packed with out-of-towners.

Here’s our tip: You can do the obligatory 30 minute stroll through the main street and then walk over to Frenchmen Street where all the interesting jazz clubs, dive bars, street performances, poets for hire, and other shenanigans that are more worth your time.


New Orleans People and Southern Porch Culture


My favorite part of our entire trip was actually getting to meet New Orleanians and transplants. We found New Orleanians to be kind, warm, and unfazed by what others think of them. Our favorite type of people!

Columns_Hotel_Front_Porch_Flags.jpg

Oftentimes, you’ll see locals leisurely hanging out on their porches having a smoke or drinking a cold beer or sweet tea. And as we passed some of these beautifully crafted homes (especially in the Lower Garden District), locals would casually say, “Hi, how are you?” or “Where y’at?” (the correct response: “what it is”). Although it seems silly to read into this porch culture, I found myself longing for that sense of community and closeness that it represents.


What we wished we’d done differently before going to New Orleans...


I think my biggest regret was not learning more about New Orleans and its history before I visited. Although I recall some basics from my U.S. history classes, it’s one of those cities that continues to carry its traditions.

Here are a few resources I’d suggest before visiting New Orleans:

Book(s):

Radio / Podcasts:

Television:

  • HBO series Treme (pronounced: tre-MAY) from the series creator of The Wire (available for free on Amazon Prime Video)


How do I use this guide?


The map is divided into three color-coded areas:

  • Day 1 attractions are in Blue
  • Day 2 attractions are in Red
  • Day 3 attractions are in Yellow
  • The grey markers are for optional sites

For simplicity, we assume you followed our advice and are staying in the Garden District along Magazine Street. All currency listed in USD.


A 3 Day New Orleans Itinerary

(based entirely on local recommendations)

Day 1 (Blue): Arrival in New Orleans, Crawfish Boil, Gumbo, Boozy Bourbon Street, Jazz on Frenchmen Street, and Late Night Gene’s Po’Boys

 
 

Morning: 

  • Arrive at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
  • Take the short, six minute Uber ride ($5-6) to Harbor Seafood and Oyster Bar for boiled crawfish and raw oysters. We ordered fried alligator as an appetizer, and the boiled special: 3 lbs of boiled crawfish, ½ lb of boiled shrimp, 10 boiled potatoes and corn ($38). If possible, we recommend sitting at the bar to chat with the friendly bartender!

Afternoon

  • Uber to your Airbnb at the Garden District ($15-17). Drop off your things and head out on foot.
  • Follow Magazine Street towards the French Quarter, stop by French Truck Coffee ($5) for some cold brew.

  • Have dinner at Mother’s Restaurant ($20-30): Mother’s has a combination plate where you can try the gumbo, Jambalaya, and etouffee (our preference). Alternatively, there’s the always packed Cochon Butcher, a gourmet sandwich shop where you can get boudin (boo-dan).

Evening

  • Walk through and past Bourbon Street. Avoid the neon-colored daiquiris made with Everclear and the Hand Grenade cocktail - because you’re not 21 anymore and possess a fully developed brain.
  • Make your way to Frenchman Street. This is where all the great live music, jazz clubs, and dive bars are. In our case, we started at The Spotted Cat for live music, then a few dive bars later, ended up at the Hi Ho Lounge around one in the morning ($25-30).
  • Cap off the night by splitting a hot sausage po’boy at Gene’s Po’Boys ($15, open 24H). Every single local we talked to mentioned Gene’s as a great late night spot. Note: Gene's does take credit cards and make sure to ask for their homemade HOT SAUCE. A local highly recommended it to us.
  • Take the Uber home ($9-10).
     

Daily total (for two) in New Orleans:
$100-150 depending on how many drinks you order.
We stuck to one drink per establishment.

 

 

Day 2 (Red): Exploring New Orleans Cemeteries, Streetcars, Mufalettas, Beignets and Coffee at Cafe Du Monde, and Drinking Wine at Bacchanal with New Friends And Jazz

Morning

Afternoon

  • Take the streetcar to the French Quarter. Purchase a 1 Day transit pass (valid for 24H) from the street car driver ($3 per person).

  • Order HALF of a muffaletta sandwich from Central Grocery ($15). Trust me: half is all you need for two regular-sized people.

  • Take your sandwich to go and head over to Jackson Square for an impromptu picnic.

  • For dessert, there are two options for cafe au lait and beignets (pronounced: ben-YAYs): the famous Cafe du Monde or Cafe Beignet (multiple locations - we went to the one on Royal St). Which is better? We tried both and preferred Cafe Beignet ($10) because there were fewer tourists (i.e. quieter), no line for restrooms and the beignets were fluffier and fresh out of the fryer.

Evening

  • Take the streetcar to French Market Station.

  • Climb the stairs up the weird overpass, over a concrete wall, and down the stairs again to reach Crescent Park, a tranquil public space with views of the Mississippi River and the New Orleans skyline.

  • Continue walking north along the river until you reach the Bywater district - which reminded us of the New Orleans-equivalent of pre-gentrified Brooklyn.

  • Head over to our favorite spot in New Orleans: Bacchanal Fine Wine and Spirits ($40-50).
    How it works: you select and purchase a bottle of wine as you enter the store (with help from the friendly staff), grab a couple of empty glasses and head over to the back patio. Pull up some chairs and share a table with some strangers while listening to live music! There’s a good mix of locals and tourists who come here, and though it may seem daunting for introverts at first, stick with it! A few glasses of wine later, we promise you won’t regret it! Bacchanal also serves food and a fantastic meat and cheese plate you can order at the front. We recommend arriving early (5 PM) before the post-work rush.

Daily total (for two):
$90-120. Again, depends on how much wine you drink.
We ordered a bottle of Beaujolais ($28), shared a cheese and meat plate with some locals ($10-15), and tipped the musicians ($5).

 

 

Day 3 (Yellow): Willie Mae’s Fried Chicken, Walking Around City Park and Sculpture Gardens, More Gumbo, and Sno-balls for Dessert

Morning

  • Have a late breakfast at the famous Willie Mae’s Scotch House (closed Sundays, $25-30) for fried chicken. In our opinion, totally worth the hype. It is extremely important to get here as soon as it opens at 10AM to avoid standing in a long ass line.

  • Walk off the fried chicken by making your way through the Bayou St. John neighborhood to City Park.

Afternoon

Evening

  • Uber out to Pho Michael ($20-25) for a (relatively) light meal before your flight. New Orleans has a sizable Vietnamese population and the bun bo hue here was legit! Alternatively, people rave about the gumbo at Chef Ron’s Gumbo Shop, located right next to Sno-La Snowball Lounge, which sells sno-balls stuffed with a cheesecake filling (we’re skeptical about this combo). We were too stuffed to try it, but our Uber driver said she goes out of her way to eat there all the time.

  • Take the Uber to the airport ($15) and fly home 10 pounds heavier.

Daily total (for two): $90-120.
Uber rates vary depending on whether you’re traveling on a weekend or weekday.



April 2018 Money Diary: A Different Kind of Life

Ivan here.

Twenty two months ago, Jennie and I published our first money diary. Back then, we had some hopes and dreams about what our life and marriage could be, a few ambitious goals, plus zero dollars saved in our round the world travel fund.

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 11.06.45 AM.png

Since that publication:

  • Our cost of living has remained unchanged: We spent $2,787 in July 2016 versus $2,815 in the past month.  

  • Our average monthly spend has decreased: we averaged $3,140 per month in 2016 & 2017 versus $2,800 in 2018.

  • Our donations to charity have increased: From $0 in 2016 to $1,250 in 2018 (to date).

  • We’ve hit our $40,000 savings goal for our round the world trip:  $0 in 2016 to $40,286 in 2018.

 
April 2018 - The Origami Life Money Diaries
 

The shift from spending $3,000 a month to $2,800 isn’t about cutting costs or making ourselves miserable. We’ve actually learned to be more efficient with where we spend our dollars, by prioritizing our spending in areas that add value to our life. For example, over the past two years, we’ve significantly cut back on Eating Out and Miscellaneous spending, and moved those savings toward Travel and Charitable Donations.  

This goes back to how we value money: it’s not about what you spend, but how you get the maximum return for every dollar you do spend by:

  1. Eliminating waste and mindless spending habits

  2. Setting clear priorities on the things that matter to you

Having met our savings goals, Jennie and I now have some loose ends to tie up - but we’re on track to transition to the next chapter of our lives by September.


I told you what I was going to do.
— Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood

Travel On Your Terms versus On a Corporate Expense Account


A week after I returned to Los Angeles after two months in rural Taiwan, I tagged along with Jennie on a work trip to San Francisco. As one half of Origami Partners LLC, I had a few prospective clients up in the Bay Area, and wanted to take advantage of the free accommodations to set up some meetings downtown.

golden-gate-bridge-388917_1280 (1).jpg

Walking around San Francisco after two months of solitude in rural Taiwan was jarring to say the least.

I don’t have strong feelings about the Bay Area. From certain angles, I guess it’s a beautiful city. On the other hand, it’s also a microcosm for the massive income inequality and skyrocketing rents we see around the world.

San Francisco is by far the most expensive city in the United States. And it’s the kind of city that makes you pay for it in other ways besides money. Personally, I think New York City fits this description as well.

To explain what I mean, I want to share what it’s like to travel on a corporate expense account. The best way to begin is by comparing the cost of two very different lifestyles...


Comparing the Cost of One Month in Rural Taiwan vs.

One Week in San Francisco with an Expense Account


 

Cost of One Month in Rural Taiwan

(self funded)
Cost of One Week in San Francisco

(with expense account subsidy)
Roundtrip Train Tickets (from Taipei):
$50

Airbnb Rental:
$238

Electricity:
$15

Bicycle Rental:
$15

Food: $8 x 30 days:
$240

Total out-of-pocket spend:
$555
Flight/airline tickets to SFO (from LAX):
$205

Hotel (fully expensed):
$1,604

Uber Rides (partially expensed):
$259

Food (partially expensed):
$558

Total spend:
$2,626

Total out-of-pocket spend:
$780

Obviously, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that living in San Francisco is more expensive than living out in the Taiwanese countryside. But just how much more expensive, is something that we don’t always appreciate until we see the numbers:

It’s more expensive to live in SF rent free for one week, traveling on your employer’s dime, than it is to spend an entire month living in rural Taiwan.

This would be an okay tradeoff if traveling on an expense account was all it was cracked up to be.

But it isn’t. Maybe it feels amazing at first, but slowly, hedonic adaptation kicks in. Which is to say that when you start getting used to driving Ferraris, anything less than a Mercedes will make you feel like a peasant. And if someone gave you that Ferrari for free, it wouldn’t mean anything to you at all.

Traveling for free on someone else’s dime makes things less rewarding - not more.


My Takeaway from Two Different Ways of Life:

Life in the city versus life in the countryside


If we truly want to treat money as a “vote” for what people and society value, it’s hard not to look at that $2,626 number spent in just one week in SF and realize how absurd it is.

$2,626 says nothing about anyone. It’s just a number that gets moved around faster so people can drink slightly more expensive wine and eat at slightly more expensive restaurants. It could easily have been $5,000 or $10,000. It makes no difference because human beings were barely conscious in the decision making process at all.

$2,626 is just stimulation for the economy - so the poor can get by and the rich can get used to (and grow bored of) slightly better versions of what they already have. 

*

By writing this post, I’m not advocating that everyone retire to the countryside and start living off the land. I would be a completely useless farmer.

The larger point I'm making is that these are two lifestyles on opposite ends of a wide spectrum. And having experienced two starkly different realities back to back, I now have a better idea of which direction I’d like to move towards.

 

5 Reasons Why Our Marriage Works

Ivan here.

The title of this post is like hanging up a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier. It’s tempting fate, by inviting complacency, leading eventually to a divorce.

The fact is, no marriage is perfect and every relationship is a work-in-progress. Ours is no different. But having spent the past nine years together, and six of those years surviving a long distance relationship, we thought we would give our perspective on the reasons why we think our marriage works.

`

5 Reasons Why Our Marriage Works


beautiful-bridge-railing-cap-930676 (2).jpg

1. Having shared values is more important than having similar personalities or interests


A few mornings ago, Jennie and I noticed something about our interactions with the Cambodian husband and wife who run our favorite donut shop:

“Do you ever notice that they’re more relaxed and chatty around me than they are with you?” asked Jennie.
“Now that you mention it,” I said, taking a sip of coffee. “Yeah, that’s kind of upsetting. I come here more often than you too. Sometimes they see me twice a day.”

Life isn’t fair. We can’t all be short and peppy Asian girls, brimming with optimism and empathy. One of Jennie’s superpowers is that she can meet someone for the first time and make them comfortable enough to spill their deepest, darkest secrets - like they’ve known her their whole life. I’ve seen her do this many times. Frankly, it’s manipulative, but as a writer, I’m also jealous. I want to learn people’s secrets…

[Editor’s note: It’s not manipulative. It's called genuine interest and empathy.]

On the other hand, I’ve found that people are not as comfortable around me. I don’t give off many verbal or non-verbal cues of interest (even though I’m usually very engaged!). Sometimes, when I’m in a conversation, I have to remind myself to smile.

But despite our personality differences, Jennie and I operate on the exact same wavelength. This is because we have almost identical values. While we’ve definitely worked at this over the course of our 9 year relationship, the similarities were there from the beginning:

  • We both have problems with being told what to do.
  • We don’t like being tied down.
  • We like to challenge everything, and
  • We’re willing to do (just about) anything to get what we want.

You don’t need to have similar personalities or interests to make a relationship work. Those are just details. Having similar values means that we both want to move in the same direction.


2. Different backgrounds and perspectives can often be complementary


I have no idea what it’s like to grow up poor or to experience racism. But collectively, we do. Jennie has no idea what it’s like to live and work in a foreign country, or to plan your financial future out in decades. But collectively, we do. Whenever we have different opinions about a person we just met, I usually defer to her opinion. Whenever she’s trying to figure out the best way to communicate an idea, she usually defers to mine.

Having worked part-time service jobs since she was 14, I trust that Jennie has had more exposure to different types of people than I have, and understands what makes them tick better than I do. Having had a lot of time on my hands to sit around in air-conditioning (Taipei summers: would not recommend) and read and write all day, I know how to communicate an idea with clarity. It’s the only useful skill I possess.

We learn from each other, ask each other for advice, and openly disagree. Through this process, Jennie makes me a more well-rounded and empathetic human being, whereas I challenge her to think and act in a way that’s true to herself.

Because of these differences, we’re able to draw on a larger sample size of experience to make more informed decisions.


3. Being able to say anything to each other and trusting that it comes from a good place


We argue - a lot. Sometimes, a brainstorming session for our business or this blog feels like open-hand combat while scaling Mount Everest. We both have to bring the big guns and artillery to an argument, because otherwise, one person is going to roll over the other.

The motto for our relationship should be:

If you give me an inch, I’m going to try to take the entire mile.

Arguing a lot means we end up saying some unsavory and uncomfortable things to each other. Not going to lie - stubbornness ensues and feelings get hurt - but eventually, we come around to the idea that what the other person says (usually) comes from a good place.

It can be small things. I remember in the beginning of our relationship, Jennie had this habit where she’d agree with someone just to seem agreeable. It’s the sociable side of her that wants everyone to have a good time and feel comfortable. Usually, this is fine, but I draw the line when she starts agreeing with something she obviously doesn’t believe.

“ Is that what you actually think? Because I know you said the exact opposite to me. So either, a) you lied to me or b) you just agreed for the sake of being agreeable. I can’t trust you if it’s the former. The latter makes you look weak and spineless. Stop doing that. ”

Or how about this comment Jennie made before I headed off to Taiwan?

“ Recently, I’ve noticed that you’ve been taking your lack of productivity out on me. I didn’t do anything wrong. You’ve just been lazy and not producing like the professional you’re supposed to be. And I don’t appreciate being treated like this. ”

And those were the family-friendly versions of what we said. But at the end of the day, no matter what was said, we both realize that we’re on the same team. This means that we can be brutally honest with each other to make the team better.


4. We’re able to function together and independently


If there’s any upside to spending six years doing long distance, it’s that we were both forced to develop and grow separately. Both of us have 4-6 years of working experience under our belt in our areas of specialty. We had social lives apart from each other. We could get ourselves set up in most cities around the world with food, shelter, and a job.

We don’t have to be together - we chose to be together.  

I think psychologically, this is an important distinction. Because how else would I know Jennie isn’t just with me because I’m familiar or for lack of a better option? Or that she’s scared of what life might look like without something she’s “used to” or “depends on”? The idea of being someone’s convenient or default choice is upsetting.


5. We’re not influenced by people’s expectations of what a marriage is


The institution of marriage is not sacred to us. Had it not been for the fact that one of us needed to immigrate in order to live together, we probably wouldn’t have married so early in our twenties. I guess the best way to put it is:

We would’ve stay unmarried for as long as the tax advantages of marriage were less than the expense and hassle of holding a wedding.

Even after we married, we had no expectations of what married life “should be like.” What should the husband or man be responsible for in a marriage? The wife or woman?

Our approach was pretty simple: I’m me. You’re you. And we’re going to figure out exactly what kind of marriage we want that works for us, and we’re going to make conscious, rational decisions to build towards that.

Everything else is just noise.



5 Things We Do When We're Feeling Unmotivated

Ivan here.

Having spent all of my life in a big city, I never pictured myself moving to some remote village in the countryside to raise kids and grow a vegetable garden. In this fantasy, Jennie and I would adopt a pair of cats - one black and one white. We’d name the white one Tofu, and the black one Mu, the Chinese character for nothing, or nonexistence.

 
black-2944820_1280.jpg
 Mu, said the cat.

Mu, said the cat.

 

That way, when the white cat jumps on the black cat, they'd essentially be canceling each other out. A block of tofu plunging into the abyss.

This desire to “escape” pretty much sums up Jennie’s and my mood over the past few weeks, and is the reason why we haven’t published anything. Don’t get me wrong - we tried. We must’ve written 3,000-4,000 words between the two of us, each word as fucking meaningless as the next. Words tinged with cynicism and frustration with nameless “people” and you know, “society,” and claims about “the world” not backed by any sort of data. 

But I guess readers are looking for a more concrete explanation. I wish I could put my finger on one thing, but I think there are multiple factors at play.

In no particular order:

1. Immigration: Detainment and Bureaucracy

Following my detainment at the border, I scheduled an appointment at the LA immigration office to sort out my expired green card. This was when I learned that the "normal processing time" for new green cards had doubled to 24 months (from 12 months). This means Jennie and I are guaranteed to be interrupted on our RTW trip, and will be forced to fly back to the U.S. for (yet another) round of interviews.

2. Complacency: We Are Ready To Embark On Our Next Adventure...

We just hit our two year mark in Los Angeles. For readers that have been with us since our first post, 24 months is pretty much our limit for how long we like to stay in one place. These days, we’re restless, irritable, and frankly, a little too safe and comfortable.

3. "Meritocracy": BULLSHIT and EGO As A Substitute for the Work and Ability

You don’t need a Pulitzer Prize to know that the tech industry can be a pretty inhospitable place for women. Even so, we sorely underestimated how clique-ish and fucked up Silicon Valley could be.  To quote the iconic monologue from the movie Bladerunner: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”


5 Things We Do When We’re Feeling Unmotivated


1. Step away and listen to music:

Music is a reminder that no matter where you are in the world and how you’re feeling about humanity at the moment, there are people who exist “out there” who have the ability to create beautiful things, and if you’re able to appreciate and be moved by that beauty, then maybe, just maybe, that ability to create something beautiful exists inside of you too.

Then, all of a sudden, you’re not just some mindless cog in the machine, slaving away at a 9 to 5 when you should be on your RTW trip already. You’re a human being who can still feel something that transcends your current surroundings. And this is a wonderful thing.
 

2. Break from your everyday routine:

After my appointment at the immigration office, where I learned that the normal processing time had doubled, and that some beaten-down public servant in Nebraska was still processing applications submitted under a different President, while the portrait of the sitting one leered at her from a gray and hopeless wall, I decided that instead of retreating back to my apartment and stewing over it, I needed a beer. Now.

That’s how I ended up eating mediocre Chinese food at Grand Central Market and knocking back watered down Budweisers at 11 in the morning. The Brazilian brewer who now owns this iconic American brand had cut so many corners that it was now impossible to get drunk off of this beverage. But it didn’t matter. I was drunk on rebellion.
 

3. Exercise (strenuously):

I haven’t done this yet, but I will have by the time this post is published. The best way to get rid of frustration and/or complacency is to find a track or open field somewhere, and just sprint until your lungs give out and your legs are so sore you just want to curl up into a fetal position on the field because you don’t have the energy to make your way home.

This is also a reminder that there are people out there who actually have to physically work for a living, and that whatever perceived injustices you think may have befallen you is not only insignificant, but borderline imaginary.
 

4. Let go of aNY expectations

One of the main things I learned after spending a month writing in the Taiwanese countryside is that it’s absolutely possible to work and produce without motivation. It’s actually one of the hallmarks of being a professional. First, you just have to let go of any hope or expectation that the work will be any good, or that you have any semblance of an image or reputation to protect, and the words will gush out of you like groundwater.

Just remember to filter out the raw sewage after it’s all said and done.  
 

5. Remind yourself that everything is temporary

Here are some photos I took from my antique iPhone 4 during my month-long stay in Chishang Township in Taitung county, a sparsely populated region on the southeastern seaboard of Taiwan.

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I plan on writing a detailed post on the things I did there (in Tatung), but I can say with certainty that I’ve never felt more creatively rejuvenated by an experience. So rejuvenated in fact, that I thought I could carry that feeling of lightness and productivity with me when I returned to Los Angeles.

But of course, the exact opposite happened: I completed my backlog of client work with excruciating difficulty, I missed two blog post deadlines, and wrote zero more words of fiction. The time I spent in rural Taiwan seemed like a whole lifetime ago. How could I ever have been so relaxed, productive and spontaneous? To use the military slang, Jennie and I now find ourselves firmly “in the shit.”

But then again, won’t this moment be temporary too? In the grand scheme of things, won’t this final stretch be something that quickly fades in memory?  If so, then what’s the use of complaining and acting as if things will never change?

It’s better to remind ourselves that all the good or bad things that have happened to us, as well everything that has yet to happen, is all temporary. The most important thing is to stay focused on our long term plans and goals and to navigate this rough patch with at least some semblance of patience and dignity.


All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
— Roy Batty, Bladerunner