Posts in Money
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?


 
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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
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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


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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.

 
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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.

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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:

More Money Means More Freedom


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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.



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.

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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.

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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.

 

March 2018 Money Diary: Job (In)security & Worst Case Scenarios

Jennie here.

And finally..Ivan is back from Taiwan after being away for two whole months.Trust me friends, I’m excited he’s back too. But before I get into the nitty gritty of everything that happened last month...I want to just pat myself on the back - it turns out when left to my own devices...

I saved a few hundred extra dollars without Ivan around. A “normal” month of spending (without Ivan) in April was pretty successful overall compared to our normal budget. I achieved this without being conservative or cautious with my spending. I just stuck to normal routines and was mindful about not going overboard when I wanted something.

Beyond normal savings - I experienced a more challenging issue this past month: potentially losing my job earlier than I’d anticipated. My mentor and direct boss was fired this past month in a power struggle, which means that Ivan and I may get to go on our RTW trip a couple months earlier than expected!

Nothing is certain yet - but I’m prepared for the worst. Ivan, however, was quick to remind me that this is no big deal.

[Editor’s Note: How am I wrong exactly? With only five months left before our planned departure and $1,800 away from our 40k goal, even if we lose we can’t lose. I mean, seriously. As Jay-Z would say: you gotta get that dirt off your shoulder.]


There Are Some Things You Can’t Control:

[No] Job Security At Tech Startups


Snapchat recently laid off 220 employees in February and March and it’s estimated to save them $34 million per year in salaries, taxes, and stock-based comp forfeitures.

Were these employees surprised? Or as insiders, did they see this coming from a mile away and prepared for the worst case scenario? Although I don’t work for Snapchat - I do work for a tech startup. And here’s what I’ve learned since the very beginning of my startup tenure:

Job security doesn’t exist in tech startups and getting laid off or fired can easily happen to you.

And here’s the truth about most startups - they often embrace the idea that they should hire fast and fire fast. Most executives and high level managers may not admit it but the truth is: they have never regretted firing anybody. In fact, there’s a higher chance that they’ve regretted not firing somebody quickly enough. Although this makes sense logically speaking - it’s an uncomfortable idea that individual contributors (like myself) have to quickly come to terms with.


There Are Some Things You Can Control:

You Can Learn to Live with Uncertainty


chair-clock-computer-373883 (1).jpg

In recent weeks, I’ve been experiencing something of an emotional and value crisis in my job because a re-org happened within my group. It’s prompted a lot of questions about whether or not I’ll have a job in a few months or what my self-worth is to an organization.

I recently heard something that a tech executive said:

“You’re not looking for stability, you’re looking for predictability.

Predictability is the degree to which a correct prediction or forecast of a system's state can be made either qualitatively or quantitatively.

Here’s the thing though, when you have external variables involved like self-motivated human beings, emotions, and office politics...can you really have true predictability?

Well, you probably can’t have full predictability but you can make foundational choices at the beginning. For us, we chose to save rigorously and assumed worse case scenarios.

What have I learned from my job instability?

  1. The bad news, I don’t know if I’ll have a job in a month or two. I mean, does it suck? Yes. Is it bad? It could be - I mean, who doesn’t like a steady paycheck? I’ve never been unemployed or laid off in the last six years of my professional career either. So, it’s uncomfortable.

  2. The good news: Ivan and I have already planned for the worst case scenario. Because Ivan and I have built up a foundation of exhaustive budgeting, we have a cushion (e.g. our Fuck Off Fund) that protects us in situations like this.

So, what’s next?

Stay the course and continue to do what we’ve been doing: grow our business, save every month. So long as we don’t deviate too far off our normal budget, then we’re okay. I thought that I would go into panic mode (e.g. extreme savings) because of this uncertainty but we’ve been fortunate enough that this issue feels like a drop in the ocean.


Charity Highlight Of The Quarter: No Lean Season


Like I mentioned, we’re staying the course. And at the end of every quarter, we donate $250 to a charity of our choice. This month, our donation dollars are going to a charity called No Lean Season. It’s a non-profit that offers no-interest loans to poor rural households in rural northen Bangladesh during the time of seasonal income and food insecurity ("lean season") between planting and the major rice harvest. Up until this quarter, we’ve primarily focused on donating to causes primarily focused on children in Sub-Saharan Africa. So, I wanted to make sure that we’re diversifying our donations to other regions and populations of need.

 

 

Have you ever prepared yourself for potentially getting let go or fired?

How was your March budget?

Did you have any major highlights or wins in March that you want to share?

 

 


February 2018 Money Diary: Travel Excursions and Investments In Relationships
 
 

Jennie here again!

I can’t believe how quickly February has come and gone. Ivan is still away in Taiwan and currently progressing on his first fictional novel! Now let’s get to it...

 
Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 7.38.08 PM-2.png

This is the breakdown of our income, spending, RTW savings, and general monthly savings.

  • Income: $8,034

  • Spending: $2,895

  • Round the world trip savings: $36,258 (out of $40,000 goal)

  • Savings: $5,139 in monthly savings

 

Highlights From My February 2018 Money Diary…

Without Ivan By My Side :(


 A short trip to San Francisco...

A short trip to San Francisco...

  1. Ivan has been away for more than a month and I noticed how much less I consume without him around. SO, theoretically, without Ivan I should be able to save quite a bit of cash, right?! Wrong. Ha. I actually did pretty well for the first half of February because it turns out I don’t need to eat as much when Ivan is around. My grocery spending was only $144 over three weeks in February. I realized that it was a waste for me to cook food for one so I re-allocated most of my budget towards eating out and entertainment.
     
  2. Air travel was our most expensive expenditure (after rent/bills) at ~16% of our overall spending. This month, we had a ton of travel planned and spent $453 on flights alone. The following is the breakdown of our air travel in February:

    1. My flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco: $45

    2. My flight from San Francisco to New Mexico: $6 (Fortunately, we used our Southwest airline points to cover the costs of this flight.)

    3. Ivan’s flight from LA to Taiwan: $402 (This is round trip! SO cheap)
       

  3. I still managed to overspend this month because I traveled to San Francisco. I probably spent more than $200 in San Francisco over the course of one week. Fortunately, I got to stay at a friend’s house for free so I spent $0 on housing. However, the bulk of my available budget was spent on traveling around San Francisco and networking with new contacts and potential clients at coffee shops. More on this later in my upcoming mini-travel post to San Francisco.
     

  4. I ended up overspending because I paid ~$80 for my dad’s birthday dinner. This is something that I don’t feel bad about. I went home to visit family and it coincided with my dad’s birthday. I paid ~$80 for the entire family meal for a six people. After being in Los Angeles and San Francisco...I could only think: OMG, this meal was SO affordable. We ate at my dad’s favorite Chinese seafood restaurant (even though it recently changed ownership). We ordered fried flounder, spicy eggplant, salt and pepper shrimp, and a whole roasted duck. Nom. Great food for six people in New Mexico.
     

  5. Life happens so I spent $75 on a deep cleaning at the dentist this past month. Fortunately, my vision and dental insurance is covered my current company but I still had to pay a $75 deductible during my first visit to the dentist this year.


Thoughts On February 2018 Spending: What Life Is Like Without My Partner


pexels-photo-877695-3-2.jpeg

Life without Ivan has felt pretty lackluster but it really pushed me to think more consciously about the things I want to achieve and still need to work on. Here are a few budget-related thoughts from this past month without Ivan:

  • Time alone is so good for the soul and for the wallet. As much as I miss Ivan, I’ve found that time apart from him has shown me HOW much money we spend as a couple. Ivan has a runner’s appetite so my grocery budget decreases by more than 50% when he’s gone. If this were a normal month at home, I would have ended up saving a significant amount.
     
  • Eating alone in public seems sad at first but it’s actually refreshing. There was a pretty sad moment one weekend where I ended up walking to our nearby Mitsuwa. I didn’t feel like cooking so I went to the food court, ordered my usual $7 “Katsu-jyu” box, and ate as I watched the Olympic curling event. At first I felt lonely but then I realized that it was kind of liberating - in a way, I was taking myself out on a date and it felt empowering. My high from my “self-date” continued as I bought some steak for myself to cook later that evening. And let me tell you, I forgot how much I love beef. I no longer eat beef because Ivan doesn’t eat it - but that’s a story for another time.
     
  • Investments in meeting new and old friends and contacts is worth every penny. I spent the majority of February attending a couple parties, going on hikes, and meeting a ton of people for coffee. I did these things to get myself out of my comfort zone. I probably spent around $150 just on new social interactions and I think it was worth every penny. I believe that so long as I’m genuinely open to meeting others and listening to them - that I will learn something new. I heard truly vulnerable and honest things from a lot of people and I realized that’s emotional-labor that is worth the investment of my time and money.

Anyway, happy savings in March! And I can’t wait to share with you a “normal” month of spending (without Ivan) in April.

  • How was your February?
  • Did you have any major highlights or wins in February that you want to share?


Should We Sacrifice Time For Money?
There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Ivan here.

If I were so inclined, I could convince someone to get me a job in finance within the next six months, making a conservative salary of $70,000. If I were to take this job - and Jennie continues to work at her current company - in 6-7 years we’d have enough saved to never have to work again.

This isn’t my opinion. This is math based on our current savings/spending rate - assuming that neither of us gets a single raise over the next decade. This also assumes no financial mishaps over the next five years: long term medical bills, family, layoffs, war, nuclear fallout, or having twins/triplets. But when we assume no raises, and the fact that Jennie and I are human beings and not mannequins (and won’t just let events steamroll us), I think we can manage a good portion of these risks.

Knowing all this:

Why are you and Jennie leaving for your RTW (round the world) trip at age 30 (September 2018) when you could leave at age 37 and never have to worry about money again?

business-time-clock-clocks-48770-2.jpeg

The Costs and Benefits of FIRE

(Financial Independence, Retire Early)


I admire the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) mindset. I think it’s a wonderful and empowering way to give people something to work towards that’s drastically different from how society teaches us to live. It’s especially useful to help people get out of debt and live within their means.

But beyond this is where I start to question its usefulness. After a certain point, you’re simply sacrificing time for money - with diminishing returns.

Here are the five limitations of FIRE:


5 Limitations of FIRE


pexels-photo-879802-2.jpeg

1. Not all time is created equal

Jennie and I view our thirties as the prime of our lives. Not just because good health is never guaranteed to anyone, but because the risks we take today have more upside than downside. We currently have no mortgage to pay, no kids to feed, and no aging family members to take care of. Psychologically, we’ll probably never be more amenable to change than we are in our 30s - less set in our ways, more open to new ideas.

And what’s the worst case scenario if we get tired of travelling and life as a digital nomad? We’d simply pick up where we left off and go back to a 9-5 job. Is that so hard in our thirties?

If someone came to us today and offered five extra years in our early thirties in exchange for 10 years of my 50s, 60s or 70s, we would take that trade in a heartbeat. That’s how we value time. You may not have the same values, but the point is that time isn’t created equal, and we shouldn’t be sacrificing it for a “number” and forget to actually live.  

Side note: I wouldn’t do the same trade for five years of my early twenties. I was an idiot back then.

2. Everything compounds over time

Not just money. Bad habits, unproductive hours, stress, meaningless relationships also compounds over time. We all know the opportunity cost of not investing: historically it’s 8-10% a year. But what’s the opportunity cost of lost time, time you could’ve used to figure out what gives you meaning and purpose?

How do we put a value on that?

It’s easier to fixate on money because it’s the most convenient thing to measure, but I think it’s a poor substitute for what we really want to do and the person we want to be.

At the end of the day, no matter how much you accumulate, money is just options on the future. By setting a goal to achieve FIRE 7-10 years down the line, all you’re doing is delaying a decision you needed to make anyway. Seven years later, you’re “done,” holding a bunch of options you could’ve used 7 years ago to do what was important to you. Now you still gotta figure out what that is. In other words, you’re back to square one - only with a few extra bytes of memory in your bank account.

3. Beyond the bare essentials, money has no utility

Daggett: I've paid you a small fortune.
Bane: And this gives you power over me?
- The Dark Knight Rises

I attended a private high school in Taipei, where pretty much everyone (else) came from wealthy families. I’ll never forget something that a friend of mine told me. It’s a statement that I’ve thought about for a long time, because I think it’s both funny and insightful.

He said to me, “there’s nothing to buy.”

It’s true. Our basic needs have stayed the same since the age of the caveman: food, clothing, and shelter. With more money, we simply invent more complicated ways to satisfy those needs. But fundamentally, they’re the same. In my opinion, the luxury mark-up for anything is just a 20% markup for quality and an 80% antidote to boredom and existential dread.  

What’s more, people allow themselves to become compromised by money. Money makes them keep their heads down, accepting the dirt that needs to be shoveled, to prop up a system they don’t believe in. So nothing changes. I understand that impulse very well: there’s a more expensive mortgage to pay for, higher end restaurants to dine at - a lifestyle to maintain.

Outside of covering my basic needs and the basic needs of my old and decrepit future self, I just don’t see a point. When you don’t need the one thing that somebody can offer, you take away their power over you. You allow yourself to become completely unpredictable.

4. We have no interest in [early] retirement

None at all. Jennie and I are repulsed by the whole concept. What would we do in retirement? Read all the books we’ve been meaning to read? Travel to all the places we’ve been meaning to travel to? We could just as easily do those things now. In fact, we do.

And if we’re actually working on something that we enjoy, something that’s tied to our passion, and embedded into our very lifestyle, to retire from our work would be the same as retiring from life. The things we work on now should be the things we can build upon for the rest of our lives.

5. We’re skeptical of external measures of success

It's us against the world.

Remember that scene in The Dark Knight where Heath Ledger’s Joker sets fire to the mafia’s mountain of cash? The looks of confusion on their faces is priceless. They literally don’t know what to do next. It’s not that I want to be the Joker per se, I just don’t want to have to measure myself by other people’s metrics.

Whether you make $1,000,000 a year or have $1,000,000 sitting in your savings or brokerage account - that’s what society tells you you’re worth. You could choose to feel good or feel bad about it, but the end result is the same: your inability to decouple your internal sense of satisfaction and meaning with some external measure of value.

By making your own rules, you gain the leverage to say or do anything that you feel is right. From there, a vista of new options open up that you never thought was possible.


Our Goal: To Lead a

Well-Ordered and Time-Rich Life


Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.
— Gustave Flaubert

This entire post was just my roundabout way of saying that an obsession with anything, FIRE or otherwise, isn’t healthy. Delaying gratification to the point where you miss out on the prime of your youth simply doesn’t make sense. Or as Warren Buffett puts it, “it’s like saving up sex for your old age.”

Are the basic needs of Jennie, me and the members of my family taken care of for the foreseeable future? Yes? Then money becomes instantly irrelevant until that answer trends toward a no. If achieving FIRE happens naturally within the flow of our life and the direction Jennie and I want it to go, then that’s all well and good. But if not? We really couldn’t care less.

The narrative that people often adopt is: “If I can just get to X, then I can give myself permission to do Y.” FIRE is no different. But here’s the truth:

You never needed permission to do anything.



January 2018 Money Diary: Made Some Money, Had Some Fun

Jennie here!

Ivan is away for two months in Taiwan to embark on his life-long goal of writing his first novel (more on this in the coming weeks). I’m filling in for this month’s Money Diary because he still recovering from jet lag.

January felt like it went by excruciatingly slow for us and it turns out it was because we did so much! If the January 2018 Money Diary is an indication of what’s to come...I’m pretty excited about what’s going to happen the rest of the year.

In January 2018, we had $5,611 in monthly savings and
are now at $34,258 in our total round the world trip savings.

 
 

Here are the five highlights for our latest January 2018 Money Diary…


 
Good Budget January 2018 Money Diary.png
 

1. We’ve adjusted our monthly expense goal: we’ve budgeted $2,800 a month for 2018.

We missed the goal by $23 this month but we’re still feeling good about this goal going forward. I think that we’ve been working really hard towards this eventual transition (AKA massive cuts to our spending) over the last two years and we’re finally getting the hang of it. I don’t even feel the squeeze anymore. When we first started, it was really difficult for me to adhere to a budget but now, it’s like drinking water or breathing air. It’s much more natural for me to think more logically about where, why, and how much money I spend.

2. We started our own business!

Insane, right? The upfront costs were charged to our December 2017 expenses but January 2018 was the first month we billed our clients under our new business: Origami Partners LLC. We now have several clients that we’re working with and we’re both excited to begin this strange, new - unknown chapter of our life. More posts to come on this in second half of 2018.

3. We went to San Diego for a 3-Day weekend and spent ~$155 between the two of us.

carne-asada-fries-2.jpg

Ivan’s old high school friends from Taiwan were having a mini reunion and I didn’t want him to miss out. One of Ivan’s high school friends from East L.A. drove us to San Diego (we covered gas) AND we stayed at another friend’s apartment for free! So the total trip expenses was primarily food and entertainment.

My general thoughts on San Diego:

  • Food is SO CHEAP in San Diego compared to L.A. Our most expensive meal was $28; we had lots of grilled meats, tacos, and burritos...And Carne Asada fries are legit.
  • San Diego is worth a weekend visit. The weather is generally warmer, the beaches are beautiful, and they’ve got gorgeous natural tide pools. San Diego was the break that I needed after a shitty work week in L.A.

4. We had a “fancy” wedding anniversary Korean BBQ lunch together for $73 (tip included).

At the beginning of the month we saved some of our eating out budget for an anniversary dinner or lunch. I dragged Ivan down to Koreatown to have an insanely decadent Korean BBQ lunch and it was perfect. The service, the amount of food...all worth it. This is as fancy as our restaurant outings get now because it’s all we really need. After lunch, we grabbed some groceries from the nearby Korean store and spent an additional $31. That’s romance, too, right? We’re living our lives together like a normal married couple. Mundane things should be celebrated too!

5. In January 2018, we started to slowly purchase our Round The World (RTW) Trip essentials.

Ivan finally gave in and bought a new $100 Kindle (e-book reader) to replace the old one he broke last year. If you know Ivan then you also know he’s the angel of death to all things technology.We also spent $210 on Uniqlo essentials for our adventures beginning in September 2018. Some of our essential purchases included an ultra light down vest and quick-drying activewear tops and bottoms. As we’re beginning to accumulate the essentials, our goal of traveling the world is beginning to feel very real and it makes me excited but also anxious to leave sooner...


Thoughts On January 2018 Spending: Treat Yourself Today


 
 

Sometimes, you just have to treat yourself.

Between launching our business and extensive preparations for our RTW trip, we sometimes forget to step back and give ourselves the chance to just enjoy our lives. Afew things got us through this long, slow month - and I wanted to share them with you:

  • We didn’t spend much money during the holidays so we jumped right into our goals in the new year. During the month of December, we didn’t spend a lot of money because we don’t really celebrate (Western) holidays. That put us in a really fortunate position to start off the year on a positive note.

  • Holiday gift cards helped us save a little money too. I got two gift cards worth a total of $50 from work in December (yay for White Elephant parties). So, I used up about $35 worth of credit on coffees and lunches from the designated cafes. It was just nice to treat myself to the occasional lunch or coffee without worrying about going over budget.

  • Ivan’s best purchase for January 2018 was his Kindle. He broke my old Kindle last year before our big train trip and has been holding off on buying a new one because he’s cheap. But he’s a writer and he needs to read; he’s already gone through most of our books in the apartment - and not reading makes him grouchy. So I’ve been encouraging him (for months) to get a new replacement because it’s vital to his work. When he finally bought it, I was relieved because he seemed little more relaxed with a fully stocked e-reader in his hands.

  • My best purchase for this month was a cheap jump rope from Daiso. Against Ivan’s wishes, I purchased a jump rope at Daiso for $1.70. It wasn’t about the money. He didn’t see the point in accumulating more “stuff”  that we’d eventually have to throw away in 6 months - but I think it was a fantastic purchase. The weekend after I bought it, we ended up competing against each other to see who could reach jump the most times. I lost. Goddamnit. However, it was really refreshing that something so small could change up our workout routine and pull us out of what could’ve been a mundane Saturday. Sometimes, you just need something minor to jolt your life in a good way.

That’s it for now folks. Happy savings in February!


How was your January? DId it go by quickly?

Did you have to re-adjust your budget after the holiday spending?

Did you have any major highlights or wins in January that you want to share?



Why Side Hustles Are Made For Modern Millennials
 

You can only connect the dots looking backwards.
— Steve Jobs

 
 
  Note: I was at the “basic needs” portion of this pyramid for most of my young adult life.

Note: I was at the “basic needs” portion of this pyramid for most of my young adult life.

 

Jennie here.

Up until five years ago, I was stuck at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. After college I moved across the country to Boston, a city where I had no family, few friends, and no professional network. I even had to get a $2,500 loan from Ivan just to stay afloat, while I worked several part-time jobs for temp agencies and Club Monaco.

I was constantly hustling, going on failed interviews, and living paycheck to paycheck before I got my first job. At the time, taking side jobs was a necessity, not an option because I had real bills to pay. Rent, utilities, public transportation, food - it all added up to so much.

When I finally had a full-time salaried position - I thought I had made it. I thought there was nothing else I would need in this life except a stable job/income.

  We've all been there, right? Frustrated and in some sort of millennial, quarter life crisis?

We've all been there, right? Frustrated and in some sort of millennial, quarter life crisis?

But, five years into my career - I became stagnant. Things felt too cushy and easy. Slowly, I forgot what it was like to struggle.

That’s when I realized something:

  • I’m not even doing what I love.
  • I’m 100% replaceable at my job.

  • Is the rest of my life going to look like this?

At any point, my job could be replaced by more senior or junior roles, consultants, contractors, freelancers, or realistically - it could be moved offshore to cheaper labor or eventually automated. I realized that I was just a small cog in the machine and I had no real power. I felt powerless and frankly - it threw me into an existential crisis.

What was I going to do with my life?

What did I want to come out of it?

Am I really going to tie my self-worth to a job?

This is when I started reevaluating my entire professional career. And that evaluation led me back to the side hustle.  


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Side Hustles


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What is a side hustle?

According to research conducted by GoDaddy, 1 in 2 millennials have a side hustle. There are three consistent components across all side hustles:

  1. Side hustles are typically not your primary income.

  2. Side hustles should add, not subtract from your financial stability.

  3. Side hustles empowers you with the freedom/choice to decide when, where and how you want to work.

There are two primary reasons why people pursue side hustles:

  1. Some people pursue a side hustle as a means to make some extra cash - to add to their overall net worth. More money allows you the flexibility to buy / consume what you want. For example, you need more money to take that vacation to Hawaii or you want to buy that new laptop, or you simply want to save money for a downpayment on a house. I’ve met Uber drivers who are parents that work full-time and do Uber part-time just to help pay the bills or to cover private school expenses for their children. And that’s great! More power to you if you can make that conscious choice.

  2. Others pursue a side hustle with the intention of creating financial independence and/or pursuit of a longer term passion or dream. In this instance, a side hustle is an asset that works for you; you don’t work for it. A side hustle is not a part-time job, nor is it part of the gig economy. If the intention of a side hustle is to create financial independence, then working within the gig economy accomplishes the exact opposite. In a world where technology automates and streamlines everything, most businesses that participate in the gig economy are in a constant race to the bottom. Think about how freelancers compete against each other on Fiverr (Ivan hates Fiverr and this commercial)- then imagine a version of this happening (eventually) to every industry.

Editor’s note: I’d rather clean toilets for free than let Fiverr earn a cent of commission off my back. There’s more dignity in it.


Why should millennials have a side hustle?

  • It increases your earning power and in turn - increasing your choices. It’s crucial to diversify your income/revenue streams because it ultimately means more choices. We can choose to diversify our revenue through investing in our 401Ks / retirement funds; another way to have more income is to re-invest your incoming revenue/income to fuel a side hustle or passion project.
     

  • Side hustles hedge against becoming stagnant and feeling cheated in your life. There are higher stakes when money is involved. Think of it as an incentive against continuing a mundane life where you dream about having “something more”. Think about it: are you really doing what you want to do right now? If you are, then great...but for the rest of us - a job is often just a job.
     

  • You can build something that’s just yours. Startups are cropping up all over the place to fill industry gaps and solve inefficiencies in our daily lives. However, the people who add lasting value are the ones who can find creative solutions to reimagine the norm - and doing it with their own unique twist. What you can contribute to society? Do you have a special talent or ridiculous knowledge about one subject matter? I’ve always wanted to do well at my job (and still do), but I’ve found that tying my self worth with my job just isn’t making me any happier. I want to create something that no one else can take credit for.


Four Things That I Did That Worked For My Side Hustle


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My own experience with side hustles:

  • How it began. It started when I realized that my job would always be tied to someone else’s business and someone else’s dreams. That’s when I ended up taking a real hard look at my life and what I wanted out of it. Think about it: what are you missing in your life? Do you want to travel more? Make more money? Pursue another career path?

    What do you want?

    For me, I wanted autonomy and more choice. I wanted autonomy and trust in my professional work. And I also wanted to travel and be location-independent. What’s more, I wanted the two choices to co-exist on the same platform.
     

  • How to begin. About six months ago, I started to look around in search of ‘gaps’ in the system. What could I do that was worthwhile to others, while also being fulfilling to me on a personal level? I realized that I had connections (or acquaintances) to startups that might need help with content generation. And how did I begin? I just started reaching out to several people that I knew to see if anyone would be interested in working with me. It took awhile but I started to get a few contracts. The money really wasn’t as important as proving to myself that I could start adding value anywhere.
     

  • Defining your side hustle goal. What is it that you want out of this experience? At first, Ivan and I had one simple goal: make enough cash (from our side hustles) to cover our monthly expenses (~$2,500). Once we had a number, we worked backward on how many projects and hours we would need to achieve that goal.
     

  • Being realistic about your side hustle. Let’s be real. Side hustles aren’t for everyone. And sometimes, it’s easier to just join the gig economy. But, if you don’t try...then how will you know?


* * *

To our wonderful readers, I’d love to hear about more of your thoughts and experiences on this topic!

  • Do you have a side hustle? Or are you considering one?
  • What does that do for you right now? And where do you want to take it?

* * *



2017 End of Year Money Diary: Cost of Living in Los Angeles

The Origami Life couple made some progress in December 2017. We were able to save $5,172 in December 2017 and now officially have $32,228 (out of $40,000 goal) saved for our round the world trip savings. With less than eight months left until our big trip...we're getting really excited about our next chapter!


December 2017 Money Diary

 
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The Origami Household:

2017 Financial Year in Review


Ivan here.

Total household spending last year was $37,675, or roughly $3,140 per month. If you take out the $1,000 in charitable donations, the average drops to $3,056 per month.

$3,056 per month is the cost for a married couple in their late 20s to live exactly the way they want in one of the costliest cities in the world. At this budget, we never deny ourselves anything.

This is privilege and wealth above and beyond our contribution to society.  Our financial goal for this past year was to save over 50% of our income and spend $37,000 for the entirety of 2017. We succeeded in the first (57%), but overshot the second by $675. We’re not going to beat ourselves up over this. Life happens. Nobody’s perfect.

This year, we’ll do better.


A Closer Look at Our 2017 Expenses: 

Things We Prioritized and Things We Gave Up


 
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Jennie and I believe an effective budget includes priorities AND sacrifices.  If time and money are finite resources, prioritizing certain things means giving other things up.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what we prioritized and what we gave up over the past year in each of our expense categories:
 

What We Spent On Rent and Bills:

$19,904 a year, $1,658 per month

 
 

We Prioritized Month-to-Month Flexibility

One of our goals at the beginning of the year was to move to a different neighborhood in Los Angeles that was: (a) more aligned with our way of life and (b) cheaper to rent.

At the beginning of 2017, we went to several showings of apartments in different neighborhoods. Then we ran the numbers, and concluded that the cost savings wasn’t worth the effort. In April, our current lease on our studio expired and moved to month-to-month. By some miracle, our landlord didn’t raise our rent this past year! With only 8 months left now before we leave LA to go on our round the world trip, we decided to prioritize flexibility over signing another one year lease.

We Gave Up (Most) Subscriptions

Outside of essentials like internet ($65 per month) and phone ($60 per month), we stay away from paid subscriptions of any kind. Ok, one exception was Costco ($55/year), but since Jennie got rid of her car, the savings on gas becomes irrelevant to us in 2018. Therefore, Costco is getting cancelled. 

The reason businesses love the subscription model is the reason we hate it. Paying someone for the privilege to consume (in time or money), with fees that are renewed automatically whether we’re using it or not? I’ve got a better idea: why don’t you pay me? Because unless your business offers something I couldn’t live without, you need me more than I need you.
 

What We Spent On Groceries:

$3,683 a year, $306 per month

 
 

We Prioritized Cheap, Fresh Produce

In Southern California, we have an embarrassment of riches in terms of cheap, fresh produce available at farmer’s markets year round: black kale by the bunch, every variant of orange and stone fruit (e.g. nectarines, plums, and pluots) in the summer, and avocados the size of softballs.

We Gave Up Meat & Poultry

If I were to give a rough estimate, I’d say we consumed 50% less meat in 2017 than we did in 2016. While I’d like to say this was for ethical or health reasons, the truth is far less mature and admirable: we just don’t like handling raw meat when we cook. It wastes time and makes us lose our appetites. We’ll still order meat when we eat out though.
 

What We Spent On Education & Investments:

$3,527 a year, $294 per month

 
 

We Prioritized Functional Investments and Passion Projects

Expenses in this category include the following:

  • Educational fees (eg. Ivan’s final CFA exam fee and immigration processing fees)

  • Jennie’s art supplies

  • Ivan’s books

  • Round the world trip gear that we’re steadily accumulating in preparation for September 2018

At the beginning of 2017, Jennie created a list of ALL the items we’ll need for our round the world trip (Jennie’s note: Because I’ve got foresight and I’m awesome). Then it was just a matter of setting up automatic price alerts (we recommend Honey) and waiting patiently for the right deal to be delivered to our inbox. Because we planned in advance, we were able to take advantage of retail pricing strategies, instead of letting retail take advantage of us. I follow a very similar approach for travel hacking and airline points. Our tip? Have a plan and work backwards. The longer you can wait on things, the cheaper you can get them for.

We Gave Up on Style and Fashion

Any sort of investment in style and appearances took a backseat in 2017. We spent less than $500 between the two of us on clothing this past year. As it turned out, nobody noticed - the staple items in our wardrobe worked just fine.
 

What We Spent On Eating Out & Entertainment:

$3,215 a year, $268 per month

 
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We Prioritized Mom and Pop Restaurants

Jennie and I define “fine dining” as any meal over $40 per person including tax and tip. As the Koreans in K-town have figured out, one way to increase the razor thin margins in the restaurant business and lower your overhead is to set up shop with your family.

We Gave Up Fine Dining and Social Drinking

Both of us feel uncomfortable being waited on for different reasons: Jennie because of her experience waiting tables when she was a teenager, and me because I like being left alone.

We’ve also stopped spending money on social drinking. Outside of a glass of wine, beer, or Soju to make food taste better (eg. spicy food, barbecue, seafood), social drinking is an oxymoron for me, since I grow quieter and less sociable the more alcohol I consume. Then I fall asleep. In Jennie’s case, her tolerance just isn’t what it used to be.  
 

What We Spent On Travel:

$3,106 a year, $259 per month

 
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We Prioritized Family and Domestic Travel

We went on 7 trips this past year:

  1. San Francisco (twice)

  2. Denver for family (twice)

  3. Taipei for family (Ivan only)

  4. Albuquerque for family (Jennie only)

  5. Camping in Yosemite National Park w/ friends

  6. Camping in Joshua Tree National Park w/ friends

  7. Cross country train trip across the USA (8 cities in 15 days)

Seeing as how both of us might be gone for a very long time starting September 2018, we prioritized family and North American friends this year. This had the unintentional benefit of saving us a lot of dough on accommodations.

We Gave Up International Travel

 
 

For now. We’re giving up international travel for now.
 

What We Spent On Other Miscellaneous Items:

$2,052 a year, $171 per month


We Prioritized Breakfast Together

On average, we spend $7 per day, five mornings a week, for breakfast and coffee together. Jennie and I have grown quite attached to the Cambodian husband and wife team that’s running our favorite donut shop, and we’ve made it our personal mission to transfer all of our miscellaneous budget to them.

It’s nice to walk into a place and be treated like regulars. The donut shop in the morning is also where we come up with most of our ideas for this blog.

We Gave Up Processed Junk Food

 
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Sort of. Jennie has a Shin Ramyun and Hot Fries addiction so she’ll buy a bag every now and then. For me, it’s all about gummies. Not for the taste or sugar - I just like to chew on stuff. My favorite is the Haribo Egg (Oeufs au Plat) Gummies I discovered on a trip to Paris in 2016. They’re tough and have the consistency of rubber (which is good because they last longer).

And that’s our financial year in a nutshell!

* * *

What are some things that you’ve prioritized in 2018? 

What are the things you’re willing to give up for it?

* * *



 

 

The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review & 2018 Priorities

The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review


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Jennie here. Happy New Year!

It’s that time again - another new year to look forward to. So, how did we stack up to our 2017 goals that we committed to in January 2017?

We graded ourselves against our goals with the following table:


The Origami Life 2017 Goals 2017 Assessment Reasoning / Explanation
Personal Finance 1. Save at least 50% of our salary.
2. Move into a cheaper apartment.
3. Donate 1-2% of our (post-tax) earnings.
A+ Boom. A+ because we did everything...except move into a cheaper apartment. In the end, we realized that we’ve got less than a year left so the costs of moving outweighed the savings and convenience. Alas, the ever shifting priorities of our lives...
Travels
1. Travel across the country by rail. A+ This was meant to be our “goodbye America” tour so it felt great to achieve this goal last year.
Relationship 1. Power down all electronics by 9pm every day.
2. Volunteer together in 2017.
3. Be kinder to each other.
A- We totally failed the powering down of electronics by 9pm. Korean dramas are an unhealthy addiction.

However, we did make another change in our relationship - we went running together every week and also had coffee/breakfast together every morning without electronics. We decided to get healthier together and we also chat a lot more about our day ahead and what’s on our minds. This has fundamentally improved our relationship.

On the volunteer front, we’ve put in at least 5-10 hours a month in volunteering between the two of us since April 2017 (mostly Ivan) - with the exception of October when we went on our three week train trip.
Individual Goals / Personal Goals Jennie:
1. Practice drawing for 30+ minutes a day.
2. Read (a book) for 30+ minutes a day.
3. Exercise two to three times a week.
4. Send more emails/correspondences to my loved ones and friends.

Ivan:
1. Write and submit one new article for publication every week.
2. Complete the first draft of my novel by June 1, 2017.
3. Study for the final CFA exam for at least 30 minutes per day.
4. Run two to three times a week.
5. Read 52 long novels by the end of this year.
D










C
Jennie:
So I’ll give myself like a ~3 out of 4 on this one. I achieved the exercise and reaching out to friends more in 2017, but dropped the ball on my creative ambitions (drawing and reading). Now that exercising has become a healthy part of my weekly routine, I want to use 2018 to re-focus my efforts on creative endeavors. There was a concerted effort here and I actually learned a lot about my shifting priorities.



Ivan:
I managed to complete 60% of each goal. For example, I wanted to write 80,000 words for my novel, but only managed 45k. I ran 1-2 times a week instead of 2-3. I read 32 novels this year instead of 52. My freelance goal changed partway through the year when I picked up some large clients and projects - so my publication goal went out the window. I studied for and passed my final CFA exam.
All in all, to say I’m not happy would be an understatement. Obviously, I didn’t follow my own advice about priorities and spread myself too thin (again). I’ve taken steps to fix this and to tie up loose ends in 2018. More on this in a later post.

At the beginning of last year, we were feeling pretty gung ho about our ambitions and our potential to achieve EVERYTHING. And well, it didn’t go perfectly as planned but we managed to achieve most of the important priorities we had together. If I’m being kind, I would give us an overall ‘B’ or ‘B-’ for the year but there’s definitely some room for improvement in 2018.
 


The Origami Life’s Big 2017 Revelation:


If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities at all.
— Ivan (guy who didn’t listen to himself)

We had two major realizations this past year as we were working through our goals and priorities:

  1. We realized something towards the end of 2017 - we can’t do it all. And, if we’re being honest, some priorities changed and new goals emerged throughout the year. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, we need to pare down our goals.
     

  2. New year, new me’ isn’t a real thing. Instead of being different people, we need to be ourselves more completely in 2018, and boil things down to the essentials of what we truly value. You can read Ivan’s introspective end of year post here - he covers a different kind of annual review.
     

What were our highlights from 2017?

  • Personal finance: We saved 57% of our income in 2017. It was difficult but we did it. We’ve set ourselves up for an easier transition this coming September as we plan to leave for our round the world trip.
     

  • Travel: Our biggest highlight was traveling across the country by Amtrak train. It was probably one of the most inspiring and productive trips I’ve ever had. I got to meet strangers on a train and we reconnected with a few friends along our pit stops.
     

  • Relationship: We started running together in the mornings. I still hate this but it’s actually helped improve our overall productivity, health, and relationship. We’re choosing to be more intentional with our time together.
     

What were our lowest points from 2017?

  • Slumps happen. Ivan and I both experienced slumps at different parts of the year - for me, it came during the summer and for him, it was the start of winter. There were several tough weeks that we had to work through on our own. All you can do is acknowledge that you’re in a slump and work yourself out of it. And remember, it’s okay to fall into slumps because it’s a natural part of life. Do you know anyone who is 100% on their game all the time? If not, then be kind and give yourself a break.
     

The Origami Life: Our Priorities For 2018


What areas will We focus on in 2018?

This year is about leveling up on the foundation we’ve built over the last year.

We’ve found that keeping to a handful of specific and high level goals/priorities gave us a lot of focus and room to grow this past year. And we will continue with the following categories in our annual goals/resolutions post:

  1. Personal Finance

  2. Travel

  3. Relationship
     

Personal Finance Priorities in 2018

  1. Decrease our annual expenses from $37,000 down to $36,000. Last year, we managed to save more than 50% of our annual income and it felt amazing. This year, we’re challenging ourselves to scrimp a little more and bring our total annual expenses down to $36,000 for the entire year - that’ll be about $3,000 a month - including charitable donations.
     

  2. Continue to donate 1-2% of our (post-tax) earnings to charitable causes. After the 2016 election year, we thought a lot about how we want to show our support for the causes we care about. And we’ve been fortunate enough to actually donate and be more intentional about giving to causes we care about.

    You can read more about our 2017 donations (and Money Diaries) here:

Travel Priorities in 2018

We have had one major travel goal for the past two years, and 2018 is the year when we finally set off!

  1. Before we both turn 30 this year, we plan on leaving for our Round The World (RTW) travels by September 1, 2018. We’ll travel for 15 months or until we get tired of living abroad.

It’s almost unreal to think that the past two years of saving, getting healthier, and living more intentionally and minimalist/simple lives has been leading up to this one goal. We haven't purchased our one way tickets yet but we've planned out all the steps leading up to this big life change.

Some of the scarier steps here include quitting / giving notice at a well paying job, saying goodbye to loved ones, and preparing for a life abroad and living out of a 40L travel backpack.
 

Relationship Priorities in 2018

us.

We’ve had a tough year because we’re both overachievers and control freaks who want things done a certain way. This led to a lot of arguments between us over who was “right”. It was hard. We had a lot of good days but when some days got tough - they got really tough. For example, when I was going through a slump and had a challenging or when Ivan had an unproductive writing day - we argued a lot on those days.

This year we’re trying to work on our individual priorities to help improve our overall relationship together.

Here’s Ivan’s relationship priority in 2018 for my sake:

  1. Be nicer and don’t take my personal frustrations out on my wife: I have a problem with my temper and I’ll be the first to admit it. Apologizing immediately afterwards doesn’t make things better either. Most of the time, it’s not even Jennie’s fault. I’m just a control freak with dictator tendencies who gets extremely irritated with interruptions - especially if the work isn’t going well.  

Here’s my relationship priority in 2018 for Ivan’s sake:

  1. I will give Ivan more space to himself. We live in a studio apartment together and it’s hard to have space, but what I realized (real late) was that Ivan needed complete and total privacy to write his fiction. He’s an extreme introvert and is just the type of person who needs time alone in a room to be productive. This year, I will be more considerate by way of giving him more space to just be.


Looking Forward To Another Exciting Year in 2018
...While Also Being More Realistic


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So, that brings us to the end of our post. I’ve aired some dirty laundry and have shared our faults with all of our Origami Life readers because I think that being honest with you, helps us be honest with ourselves too.

So thank you for an amazing 2017, for reading our posts, and for sharing this experience with us.

  • How was your 2017? 
  • Are you superhuman and achieved everything you set out to do? 
  • And what’s on your priority/goals list for 2018? 
  • Do you have any tips or tricks on how we can achieve our priorities this year?

And this leads us to one final priority we want to share with you:

  1. We want to engage with our readers more.

As we move forward with this blog, we’d love to understand what you take away from our blog posts. We want to learn more about you and figure out ways to improve our content so that it positively benefits your lives as well. Feel free to email us - we read and respond to all of your emails and comments! Let us know what you think or questions you might have.

Good luck and we can’t wait to share our 2018 experience with all of you.  
 



30 Things We Believe That People Might Disagree With Us On

Ivan here. 

I don't know if it's the sun setting by four in the afternoon, but for the past few weeks I've been suffering from my annual, end-of-the-year case of writer's block. Whenever this happens, I try to get myself out of the rut by substituting quality for quantity. For example, here's a not-very-good poem I wrote titled "I'm Not Myself Today":

I'm Not Myself Today

These hands are some guy's hands
These thoughts are some guy's thoughts
My days are shown on rerun
In a land that time forgot

I'll keep these fingers moving
Through the silence in the air
Past the age of politeness
Beyond the point to care.

Another thing I like to do is make lists - tons of lists - about anything that crosses my mind. Taking a page from Silicon Valley, I've compiled a list of 30 things Jennie and I believe that people might disagree with us on - categorized by the three subjects we cover here at The Origami Life: money, travel and love. 

Keep in mind that while Jennie and I really do believe these things, the truth is probably a bit less black-and-white. 


Money:

10 Things We Believe About Money


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  1. Most people don’t make choices, but are forced to accept their circumstances.

  2. Every household should operate like a lean, bootstrapped business.

  3. Maintaining a fuck-off fund is more valuable than anything money can buy

  4. Beyond the basics (food, shelter, physical/mental health), most financial problems we experience in the developed world are just weaknesses.

  5. Investing isn’t about maximizing your return, but about minimizing your mistakes.

  6. Buying a home early in your career may be the right purchase, but is rarely a good investment.

  7. The financial success of others wouldn't hurt if you were secure in yourself - and shouldn’t influence you to make stupid and unnecessary gambles (*cough* bitcoin).

  8. Following the herd and consuming for appearances is a long term recipe for pain and unhappiness.

  9. Frugality and long term thinking could solve most of the world’s problems (eg. some of the US's money problems are actually consumption problems). 

  10. Money is not that important or interesting. People also need less of it than they think to lead fulfilling lives.


Travel:

10 Things We Believe About Travel


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  1. You are a consumer and tourist no matter how you travel. 
  2. Authenticity in travel is probably overrated. 
  3. Finding your authentic self is definitely overrated (‘you’ is not a static concept and ergo, impossible to find).
  4. If you’re from the developed world, traveling abroad is objectively cheaper than your normal life.
  5. Never setting foot outside your country/state/town is almost the definition of ignorance (while being able to is the definition of privilege). 
  6. Staying connected to your phone is the best way to disconnect from the moment.
  7. At some point, the number of places you’ve visited is inversely proportional to the depth of each experience. 
  8. Just because something is local or “part of the culture” doesn’t mean it’s good.
  9. Places, people and things are as meaningful as our mindset and degree of openness. 
  10. Take your time. Nothing good gets away.

Love & Relationships:

10 Things We Believe About Love


  1. There’s no such thing as ‘the one’ - only opportunity meeting circumstance.
  2. Arguments are the healthiest thing for a relationship.
  3. You can only compromise on details but not direction (if you want to go east and she wants to go west, compromise means you never go anywhere).
  4. There should be no restrictions on what can or can’t be brought up in a marriage.
  5. Feelings matter - but only after everything has been laid out on the table. In marriage, personal truths that aren’t expressed have no merit.
  6. A good relationship means two people being themselves completely for long periods of time and not hating each other for it.
  7. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your partner is nothing.
  8. Time apart from each other is both healthy and necessary.
  9. The secret to marital bliss is to consistently outperform low expectations.
  10. Most relationships don’t last forever; forcing it or pretending will only make things worse. 

So what do you think about these statements?

Feel free to disagree! 

Also, what are some of things you believe that most people would disagree with you on? 



November 2017 Money Diary: A Very Joshua Tree Thanksgiving
 

Jennie here.

Hi everyone! Ivan normally does our Money Diaries but because he’s been caught up in so many end-of-year projects, I am stepping in to help load balance a little this month.

Note: Ivan also paid me to write this post with a bag of Chester’s Flamin’ Hot Fries. So, everyone wins!

Can you believe we’re in the month of December? Where did the year go? We’ve been wondering the same thing too! There’s still about three weeks left in the year to go so let’s end it strong!

 


November 2017 Money Diary Highlights:

Charity Donations & Traveling


 
The Origami Life - November 2017 Money Diary - Good Budget.png
 

Here are some highlights for our latest November 2017 Money Diary

  • In November 2017, we donated our last $250 quarterly sum to charity one month early to take advantage of UNICEF USA’s Giving Tuesday campaign, one that tripled our donation through matching grants.
  • Most of our “Travel” budget (~$220) went towards a long weekend at Joshua Tree National Park. More on this later…

Although I feel like we’re on track this year, Ivan laments the fact that we “overspent” on our budget this past month. But what he really wants is to see improvement over time in the choices we make. We usually aim to spend only $3,000 every single month and this month we’re slightly over because we decided to take advantage of a donation opportunity.

Although we always aim for perfection every time - sometimes we miss the mark and need to re-adjust.


A Very Joshua Tree Thanksgiving:

No Turkeys, No Shopping - Just Camping


Tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park. Keep an eye out for our upcoming guide and camping experience!


 

As mentioned in a previous post, Ivan and I don’t celebrate big holidays because it’s stressful, so we try to use the holidays to get away from it all; it gives us a chance to technologically detox and have an opportunity to reflect on what matters the most. Last year, it was Death Valley for Christmas. This year, we went camping at Joshua Tree with a few friends for three days.

By day, we hiked and scrambled over jumbo rocks. By night, we drank beer and ate hotpot in the lamplight and roasted marshmallows under the stars.

And without the noise of our phones (because Joshua Tree has 0% cell service) and the shopping notifications of Black Friday, we actually had an opportunity to sit back and reflect on the major changes and challenges that came our way this year.

We realized that we have so much to be grateful for.

* * *

I felt fantastic and grateful for how we chose to spend Thanksgiving this year. We were especially relaxed because we didn’t need to worry about making any unnecessary purchases at the end of the year.

Why?

Because we already knew what we need and when we needed it.

For the past two years, we’ve been focused on long-term planning to leave on our round the world trip. A year ago, we pulled together a list of all the things we would need on our travels. We began setting up automated price alerts (e.g. Honey) and slowly purchasing the must-have items on our list. And we did all of this long before Black Friday; in fact, we saw lower prices than what Black Friday “deals” actually offered us.

Here are example of deals I took advantage of before Black Friday AND they were at the price point I wanted:

 
 

This experience over the last year actually taught us a fairly valuable lesson: when you think and plan long-term, you significantly minimize the risk of overspending because you know what you want and at what price point it’ll take to get the deal done.

This idea around long-term thinking and planning is how we approach everything in our lives:

  1. Have a long term view. The longer your planning horizon, the less rushed and stressed out you’ll feel. Over time, this means more conscious choices and less impulsive decision-making.

  2. Have more patience. Everyone deserves to get what they want but you’ll only get it on your terms if you can be a little more patient.

  3. Make a choice to only focus / get / have things you truly need. Don’t buy into the hype and let external circumstances influence what you truly need or want.



5 Tips For Women Feeling Stuck in Their Careers
 

Jennie here.
 

* * *

We missed the Thanksgiving publishing window to go camping in Joshua Tree, but we wanted to say thank you to all of our readers. We’re grateful you take the time out of your day to visit our humble blog.

Now back to regular programming.

* * *

We've all got goals - whether it's personal or work-related, but the simple act of setting a goal doesn't equal success. Goals take action and commitment. You also have to have the perseverance to stick through the toughest days, even when it feels like nothing you do matters.


Challenges: Working In Tech As A Female Millennial

Even though I’ve done the right things (e.g. made myself valuable, delivered quality work, pitched ideas, took risks, spoke up at meetings, etc.), I felt like I’d trapped myself in “career limbo” for the past year.

Two years ago, I was the first marketing hire for a tech start-up. It was challenging but I was excited by the opportunity to build an entire marketing program from scratch. As we hired more people, however, and I had to “let go of my legos (responsibilities)”, I’ve found it difficult to pivot from a generalist (someone who has a hand in every project) to a more specialized leadership role (AKA “an expert”).

Even though I’ve done the right things (e.g. made myself valuable, delivered quality work, pitched ideas, took risks, spoke up at meetings, etc.), for the past year, I felt like I’d trapped myself in some sort of “career limbo.”

Here are the challenges I faced moving up in my company:

  • My company’s culture is heavily (alpha) male-centric. Currently, women only account for 17% of my organization. Frankly, I’ve found it difficult to overcome this “cultural fit” simply because I couldn’t relate to the casual conversations going on around me (i.e. sports or the latest fantasy football rankings). By contrast, a more recently hired male colleague on my team (perfectly nice guy, btw) quickly gained favor with the group that I’d been desperately trying to connect with - simply because they could relate to each other better.

  • People weren’t taking me seriously due to early perceptions. I came on as the catch-all person for marketing; I learned everything from scratch from lead generation to social campaigns to SEO and messaging. But I quickly realized (and confirmed) that in the eyes of my colleagues, I was seen as some glorified admin. I was always the go-to for logistical or tactical problems. The perception was that there was no way I could "handle" a leadership role.

Over the past month, I’ve been thinking through and processing how to push through these barriers. Maybe it’s just stubbornness on my part, but no matter how “unfair” a situation seems, or how heavily the odds seem stacked against me, I refuse to think of myself as a victim.


5 Ways To Get Back On Track

With Your Career & Goals


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For anyone else feeling like they’re stuck in “career limbo”, here are the steps that got me out of my slump:

  1. First, take a step back and breath. The world isn't going to end. Truthfully, reality just hasn't caught up to your expectations yet. In most cases, moving up within an organization takes time because you can’t just expect that you’ll gain immediate respect or forge new relationships overnight. It takes time.
     

  2. Make a list of all the things you've accomplished (that you're proud of) so far - this calendar year. The reason why is because we don't cut ourselves enough slack. When you map out everything you've achieved, you'll start to see that you've been making incremental progress all along.
     

  3. When you're feeling discouraged, do something to get you re-engaged and excited. I was losing confidence in my work and in myself because I felt stagnant. And what got me back on track was working on projects (e.g. freelancing) outside of my workplace. It helped bring a lot of perspective and confidence back into my life because I knew that I had a lot of skills to offer. The engagement also got me excited about other ideas for how I could improve at work. What gets you excited about your work and life?
     

  4. When it feels tough, let your emotions out. I'm not sure about anyone else, but sometimes I like to “cry it out” because it feels cathartic. I'm not saying you should do this in front of anyone - only someone you trust. When I'm at my lowest points (e.g. late nights after a long work day), I always have Ivan. He listens and offers rational (read: cold-blooded) advice because he’s not as emotionally invested in the situation. Those moments helped me stay sane and allow me to vent - without burning bridges at work.
     

  5. Get back on track by mapping out every single step. This is a little tedious but when you get frustrated, you should take a step back and write out every single step to get to your desired goal. Get into the nitty gritty and map out every minute detail. In my case, I had to think about all the ways I could re-engage with my co-workers and make a list of who to take out for coffee. I made a plan for how to present myself in meetings and drafted potential projects I wanted to pitch to my boss. I even thought about my next steps for a promotion and ways I could justify it.

I haven’t achieved my goals yet, but at least now I know what things are in my control. All of these steps help to bring some perspective back into my life. At the end of the day, I know I’m not saving the world. I’m just developing a different way of looking at personal obstacles that felt insurmountable yesterday.

This makes me feel grateful for today, while looking forward to tomorrow.



October 2017 Money Diary: Everything We Spent on Our Train Trip Across America
 
 
The Origami Life October 2017 - Money Diary Savings-2.png
 
The Origami Life - October 2017 Money Diary-2.png

In October,  Jennie and I took 15 days off and traveled from Los Angeles, California to Boston, Massachusetts - by Amtrak rail.

Here’s what we spent on this long train journey:


Everything We Spent on Our 15 Day U.S. Train Journey with Amtrak


Our Travel Spend Priorities

Before I lay out the expenses for the trip, I should provide some context on what Jennie and I value when we travel. The following are not hard and fast rules, but I think it paints a pretty accurate picture of what our spending priorities are

  1. We dine out for a light breakfast (usually just coffee + pastry) to go over our plans for the day.

  2. We dine out for one of lunch or dinner (and buy groceries for the other meal).

  3. We choose one paid “attraction” per day and plan several free ones around it.

  4. We plan our meals around relationships we value. If we’re staying with friends, we will always pay.

  5. How a restaurant looks, ‘its vibe’ and the attentiveness of its waitstaff are of minimal importance to us.

  6. Whenever possible, we will ride public transit at least once. It’s not just cheaper, but you get to see a cross-section of society interacting (or not interacting).

  7. We don’t believe in souvenirs or other knick knacks that can’t be immediately consumed.

  8. We don’t do ‘fine dining’ (our definition is any meal over $35 per person incl. tax and tip), fusion cuisine, or places that advertise farm-to-table ingredients. These are just personal preferences.

  9. We don’t (really) drink and avoid bars, breweries and nightclubs designed specifically for that purpose. The only exception are jazz clubs (i.e. the drinking should be the secondary objective to whatever the main point is).

  10. We will pay a (significant) premium for a quiet coffee shop or bookstore with fast wifi, strong coffee, and a clear view of the passing scenery (hence, 100 hours over 15 days on trains).

With that out of the way, here’s what we spent:  


Before the Trip


Amtrak USA Rail Passes (x2): $918 ($459 each)

28L Patagonia Refugio Backpacks (x2): $0 (swag from Jennie’s company #privilege)

20L Packable Eddie Bauer Daypack: $25 (Bought on sale from Amazon. Waterproof and super useful to stow our valuables! We’re bringing this on our RTW trip)

Day 0 Total: $943

For the USA Rail Pass, a 15 day trip works out to around $30 a day per person, with stopovers in up to eight cities. Keep in mind some segments are overnight so you can actually save on accommodation. 

The Amtrak USA Rail Pass guarantees you a coach seat (roomettes are extra), but you’ll still have to call or show up at your nearest station prior to your trip to pick up your pass and reserve tickets for the individual segments. 

You can learn more about how to plan your trip using Amtrak USA Rail Passes here:


Leg 1:
The Coast Starlight
(~12 hours from Los Angeles to Emeryville)


The Coast Starlight goes from Los Angeles to Seattle. Our favorite segment of the trip takes you along the coast of California. 

 The Coast Startlight follows along the Pacific Crest Highway (PCH); it's gorgeous.

The Coast Startlight follows along the Pacific Crest Highway (PCH); it's gorgeous.

Day 1: Los Angeles Union Station to Emeryville

  • Groceries: $40 (Two bento boxes and snacks for the 12 hour journey)
  • Dining Out: $0 (There is a dining car onboard that we tried on another leg of our journey. The food was...edible)
  • Sightseeing: Free (We sat in the observation car working, reading and chatting until it was dark and the stars came out and the ocean was illuminated by moonlight) 

Day 1 Total: $40

 Watching the sunset from the train.

Watching the sunset from the train.

Day 2: Emeryville, California (NorCal)

  • Accommodation: $0 (Arrived in Emeryville at 10 PM. Stayed with a friend for the night)
  • Dining Out: $36 (Treated friend to early morning breakfast before leaving for Salt Lake City)
  • Groceries: $30 (Hummus, pita chips, and fruit from Safeway for the next leg)
  • Transportation: $10 (Two Lyft rides to and from Emeryville Station)

Day 2 Total: $76


Leg 2:
The California Zephyr
(~50 hours from Emeryville to Chicago) 


 Checking out the  Mormon Tabernacle Choir  at 8am.

Checking out the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at 8am.

Day 3: Salt Lake City, UT

  • Accommodation: $0 (We got off train at 3 AM and we boarded the next one 24 hours later. We were tired. Would not recommend).     
  • Groceries: $15 (Clif Bars, crackers and cheese from Trader Joe’s)
  • Dining Out: $65 (Ruth’s Diner in the mountains for dinner and Village Inn because it was either that or Denny’s at 4 AM on Sunday)
  • Transportation: $30 (A lot of Lyft rides)
  • Sightseeing: $24 (Ensign Peak and Mormon stuff were free. Paid for Red Butte Garden)
  • Other: $15 to leave our packs at the station and $10 worth of coffee to keep us awake

Day 3 Total: $159

 Someplace between Utah and Colorado...

Someplace between Utah and Colorado...

Day 4 - 6: Denver, CO

  • Accommodation: $0 (We stayed with family for two nights)
  • Groceries: $20
  • Dining Out: $80 (Paid for as many meals as we were allowed to by family)
  • Other: $30 (Edible gummies from marijuana dispensary and Popeye’s Chicken)

Day 4-6 Total: $140

 Wandering around Downtown Omaha, Nebraska

Wandering around Downtown Omaha, Nebraska

Day 7: Omaha, NB

  • Accommodation: $0 (Hyatt Place Old Market for 8,000 points, transferable 1:1 from Chase)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $50 (Two meals worth of BBQ at Smoking Jay’s)
  • Transportation: $10
  • Sightseeing: $46 (Henry Doorly Zoo and a special exhibit at the Joslyn Art Museum)

Day 7 Total: $121

 Having a classic Chicago deep dish pizza at a local shop before we left.

Having a classic Chicago deep dish pizza at a local shop before we left.

Day 8 - 10: Chicago, IL

  • Accommodation: $210 (Airbnb for two nights)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $170 (Because Chicago)
  • Transportation: $10
  • Sightseeing: Mainly free stuff and hanging out with friends

Day 8-10 Total: $405


Leg 3:

Lake Shore Limited & the Northeast Corridor
(~21 hours from Chicago to New York to Philly to Boston)


 Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown, New York City

Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown, New York City

Day 11: New York City, NY

  • Accommodation: $0 (Stayed at friend’s $300 a month apartment in Chinatown)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $65 (we were only in New York for 16 hours) 
  • Transportation: $5

Day 11 Total: $85

 Looking out into downtown Philadelphia from the famous "Rocky" steps.

Looking out into downtown Philadelphia from the famous "Rocky" steps.

 Day 12: Philadelphia, PA

  • Accommodation: $82 (Airbnb for one night)
  • Groceries: $10
  • Dining Out: $64
  • Transportation: $15
  • Sightseeing: $28

Day 12 Total: $199

 We went running along the Charles River in Boston and it was perfect.

We went running along the Charles River in Boston and it was perfect.

Day 13 - 15: Boston, MA

  • Accommodation: $0 (Again, we lived in Boston and have several close friends)
  • Groceries: $45
  • Dining Out: $140
  • Transportation: $15

Day 13-15 Total: $200


Flying Home
 (~7 hours Boston to Los Angeles)


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$25 for two one way tickets from Boston to Los Angeles: flights were paid for with miles through United (transferable 1:1 from Chase)


The Origami Life Cross Country

Train Trip Summary


Total all-in spend for the 15 day trip
was $2,393, or $1,196 per person


Jennie and I were fortunate enough to have friends and family living across the country, which saved us anywhere between $300-500 on accommodations

However, even if you add those costs back in, you could still travel quite comfortably across the U.S. for well under $1,500 a person, or less than $100 a day. If you traveled in a larger group of say 4 people, and split the cost of accommodation and food, that number would be closer to $1,000, which is about as much as you’d spend for just one week in Europe.