Posts tagged Money Diary
October 2018 Money Diary: $500 Rent (Not In America), Automated Finances, & Living As Homeless Digital Nomads

Jennie here.

Here’s the untold truth about what I think about money diaries: I don’t really care about money anymore.

It may sound like arrogance and privilege (which it is) but in reality - if you’ve been following along with The Origami Life blog over the past 2.5 years, you’ll understand that it comes from a place of hard work.

We’re following a broader (financial and personal) life plan.

 
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Source: Our “Financial Priorities: The Origami Master Plan & Blueprint” from September 2017.

The rules/constraints/guidelines we gave ourselves led us to this moment financially. We’re in a privileged position and we no longer have to think about money during our travels and we’re really grateful.



Since We Left America:
Our Rent Was Less Than $550 In Southeast Asia

 
Here’s a broad overview of the past month.

Here’s a broad overview of the past month.

 

We are officially on our third month of travels (in our round the world trip) and it’s gone by too quickly.

What’s the most interesting (financial) thing that has happened since we left America?

  1. Our rent decreased from $1,400+ down to less than $600 in Southeast Asia. While we were living in Los Angeles, we spent more than $1,400 every single month on rent - and that didn’t even include bills.

  2. Our monthly expenses decreased from an average of $2,800 down to $2,200 simply by moving and traveling abroad.

Just as a frame of reference…
We rented one of the private rooms in
this giant penthouse apartment in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia…and it only cost us $18 a day.
Note: This was NOT our cheapest accommodation.

To put it simply, we just have more buying power as Americans abroad and the cost of living is much “more affordable” because of that buying power.

My only job while we travel now is to keep our daily budget to under $35 a day (after rent).
And if I’ve stuck to that rule then everything else has already been calculated, planned, and accounted for. We can use the time we used to think about money to think about more important things like client work or pursuing the next creative project we’re interested in.

The point is, we’re now in a position to think for ourselves and to enjoy the day-to-day without the usual stresses of living in a metropolitan American city.


A Closer Look At Our October 2018 Money Diary & Expenses


 
The Origami Life - October 2018 Expenses (via Good Budget App)

The Origami Life - October 2018 Expenses (via Good Budget App)

 

For those who are interested, here’s a high level breakdown of our expenses over the past month. I can’t say that Ivan is super jazzed about the fact that we spent a total of $2,219.00 for the month of October. He was hoping that we’d be able to keep our expenses below $2,000. From my perspective, it definitely looks like progress as we spent about $2,900 in September. But you know what they say, you lose some and you win some, right?

Rent and Bills $779.00 USD

(35% of our monthly expenses)

We oscillated between Malaysia, Singapore, bus stops, and airports during the month of October. Fortunately, we had a really generous friend in Singapore who let us stay at his place for one week, rent-free while he was away on sabbatical. (Woot, woot to “Joe”!)

So, the bulk of our “rent” was spent on our Malaysian leg, which only cost $546 for three weeks. We didn’t stay in hostels or dorms either. These were nice, tastefully curated Airbnbs with all the modern amenities.  

Eating Out & Entertainment $532.50

(24% of our monthly expenses)

Once we got to Singapore and Malaysia - we stopped cooking. It was simply more cost effective to eat out than to buy and cook our own food.

Here’s the breakdown of a typical meal for two people:

  • Singaporean meal (e.g. fried noodles and hainanese chicken rice): $4 to $5 USD

  • Malaysian meal (e.g. two plates of nasi lemak and two coffees): $2 to $4 USD

Groceries $25.00

(1% of our monthly expenses)

As I mentioned, we didn’t need to cook at all in Malaysia or Singapore. When we were too exhausted to go out we did grab the occasional fresh fruit and vegetables though.

Flights & Transportation $478.50

(22% of our monthly expenses)

Most of our flights to date have been purchased via our airline points. So the bulk of this category were taxes and local transport (e.g. buses, trains, ride-shares, subways etc.)

Relationships $220.00

(10% of our monthly expenses)

Ivan and I mentioned in our last post that we’re going to invest more in friendships / relationships moving forward. That said, this past month, we spent time with two close friends that we’ve known for at least 10 years AND we met four new people through mutual friends.

Miscellaneous $184.00

(9% of our monthly expenses)

This part of our budget was primarily spent out getting essentials at the drug store / pharmacy (e.g. shampoo, cold medicine, etc) and coffee.

I also purchased a basic (nice quality) t-shirt from a boutique shop in Penang, Malaysia for $17 USD. And I love it.



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

Jennie here.

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

So what happened in August?
 


Our “New” Origami Life Begins


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

 
August 2018 Money Diary Content Image.png
 

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

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


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


I went back to Albuquerque in August for two reasons:

  1. Spend some time with my family

  2. Take care of my parents’ medical bills

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

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

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

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

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


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


U.S. Medical and Hospital System


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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Other financial highlights of our time in August:

 
August 2018 Money Diary - Good Budget Screenshot - The Origami Life.png
 
  • We were cat-sitting for my sister for two weeks while she was away in Europe. This was a nice change of pace for us since we’ll be on the move for the next couple years. Plus, the cat eventually learned to tolerate us and gave us a routine (e.g. cat-feeding and play schedule).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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



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

July 2018 Budget Summary


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

  • $4,712 in monthly savings in July

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

 
 

Choreographing Our Move Out of Los Angeles


Ivan and Jennie here.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Origami Life - Donust USA

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

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

The main thing we had to consider before moving:

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

  1. Messing up Jennie’s negotiating leverage.

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

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

Total Savings

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

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

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

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

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

Total Savings

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

     

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

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

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

Total Savings

  1. Sold $160 worth of goods on Craigslist.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here are a few useful tips we have for you:

Our apartment...post-deep cleaning

Our apartment...post-deep cleaning

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

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

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

Total Savings

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


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

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

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

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

  1. Daily coffee dates at our favorite donuts shop.

  2. Christmas in Death Valley National Park.

  3. Thanksgiving in Joshua Tree.

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

Total Savings

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

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

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

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

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

Total Savings

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

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

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

We don’t plan on looking back anytime soon.


 

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!



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...

 
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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


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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?


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.

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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?



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?

* * *



 

 

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


 
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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.



October 2017 Money Diary: Everything We Spent on Our Train Trip Across America
 
 
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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. 



August 2017 Money Diary: Questions You Might Have About Our Budget

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1. How does GoodBudget work? 

Goodbudget uses an envelope system, where you set a budget for each envelope and subtract from it during the month. At the start of a new month, the envelopes are filled up again. 

Here’s what our September 2017 dashboard looks like so far. Our eating out budget is lower than normal because September is a donation month: 

September 2017 Dashboard - Envelopes

September 2017 Dashboard - Envelopes

2. Does the app automatically track our expenses based on our bank info? 

The purpose of a personal finance app isn’t to make spending easier and more mindless.  So no, we don’t use an app that automates our spending. Saving should be automated; spending should be manual. It takes 2-3 months to get into the habit of logging every purchase we make. Now we do it without thinking about it. 
 

3. Why is everything REcorded in round dollar Amounts? 

We round every purchase up to the nearest dollar. 
 

4. Is our fuck-off fund included in our RTW travel fund?

Nope. When we return from our travels, we’d like to retain the option of telling people to fuck off.
 

5. Our monthly savings is greater than our allocation to our travel fund. What happens to the remainder?

Tax-deductible retirement accounts (401k, IRAs etc).
 

6. What’s the breakdown of “Rent and Bills”? 

The Origami Life - August 2017 Spending / Budgeting

Here’s the monthly breakdown: 

  • Rent ($1,395) - Studio apartment in Westside LA

  • Electric Bill ($15) - Other utilities are included in rent

  • Internet ($65)

  • Mobile ($80) 

  • Gas ($20) - For Jennie’s car. Her office is a 10 minute drive away, so one tank of gas lasts her a month. 

  • Car Insurance ($45) - Jennie only. 
     

7. What do we categorize as “Education and Investments”?

  • Education expenses include exam/course fees, Ivan’s books, and Jennie’s art supplies.
  • Investments include RTW trip gear, electronics and other miscellaneous fees. 
     

8. What do we categorize as “Life Happens”? 

Family, mainly. Plus, unexpected healthcare fees and co-pays.  
 

9. What do we categorize as “Miscellaneous” expenses?  

Coffee, donuts, tacos and ice cream. 

 



July 2017 Money Diary: It's the Same Old Song
 
 
 

 
It’s the same old song,
With a different meaning since you been gone
— Four Tops
 

Ivan here.

The hypocrisy of publishing a money diary straight after writing a post titled Stop Counting Other People’s Money hasn’t escaped me. I have no defense except to say that human beings are complicated creatures, and that both Jennie and I are allergic to leaving things unfinished.

 
The Origami Life - July 2017 Money Diary
 

Here’s the truth: aside from using this soap box to promote one charitable cause every quarter, I’m running out of ways to talk about the same goddamn thing.

See, money is like a stack of pancakes. I hear it's the cornerstone of the American breakfast. Breakfast wouldn't be complete without it, but once you grow accustomed to having pancakes, you have to recognize them for what they are: flavorless and highly overrated.

Where we choose to invest our time is the syrup atop an otherwise flavorless life.

(Editor’s Note: Ugh. Sorry, you deserve better).

***

A five day trip to Denver and a few unexpected family obligations (filed under: Life Happens) pushed us slightly over our $3,000 spend rate in July, which can easily be made up for next month. Also, we’re nine months away from hitting our $40,000 travel goal, putting us on track to leave well before our September 2018 deadline.

By that time, this money diary will have served its purpose of keeping us accountable to the long term goals we laid out nearly a year ago.

But until that day comes, we’ll just keep playing the same old song...



June 2017 Money Diary: Freedom

 
The Origami Life - June 2017 Money Diary
 

 

First Half Results

  • June spending was $3,360.25, including a $650 CFA examination fee and a $250 donation to GiveDirectly.

  • Jennie and I have spent $18,573 in the first half of 2017, or an average of $3,095 per month. Subtract the $500 donated to charity and this puts us on pace for $36,000 a year.

  • Of the $36,000 projected spend, only $30,000 is core living expenses. The remainder goes into a discretionary fund to be used for travel, luxury items, and life emergencies.

  • Assuming joint filing and California tax rates, Jennie and I could theoretically get by on a $34,000 salary before tax. We wouldn’t be comfortable - but we could definitely make it work, seeing as how we’re not currently pinching pennies.

  • We view this $34,000 salary as the price of freedom, beyond which we can pretty much do whatever we want. This number should decline 25-50% as we move from a high cost of living city (i.e. Los Angeles) to lower cost locales during our round the world trip. 90% of the planet is less expensive than LA. All air travel will be funded via points.
     

The Case For GiveDirectly

From my years interacting with a number of bureaucracies, I’ve developed a deep distrust of middlemen.

I’m talking, of course, about groups that exist in almost every industry, comprised of parasites who don’t create any value, and whose very survival is dependent upon inefficient and outdated systems.

But as technology reduces information asymmetries, allowing us to redistribute wealth at only a fraction of the cost, I find myself wondering (sometimes out loud and within earshot): Why do I need you again?

This is the way I feel about a large number of non-profits operating today. It seems like every bleeding heart has their own pet project that needs fundraising, and almost a quarter of the money raised gets wasted paying developed-world salaries and overhead.  


GiveDirectly's impact per $1,000. Source: GiveDirectly

If only there was a way I could transfer 91 cents on the dollar through a mobile linked payment system directly to families in need, while incurring only 7 cents in transaction costs (plus overhead) and 2 cents to enroll and monitor those families.

That’s precisely what GiveDirectly does.

In the non-profit world, the burden of proof shouldn’t be on GiveDirectly’s innovative model. In fact, I think the opposite should be true:

All anti-poverty programs should be measured against the efficacy of a direct cash transfer, and the programs that fail this test probably shouldn’t exist anymore.

Of course when it comes to designing and monitoring such transfer programs, there’s a lot more nuance involved, which I won’t go into here.

I will however, take some time to address the classic “they’ll just spend it on alcohol and drugs” argument that gets conveniently trotted out whenever the issue of spending on the poor comes up (or when we pass a homeless person on the street and would rather spend the dollar in our pocket on something we don’t really need).


Here’s my rebuttal: either give money or don’t, but whatever happens after the cash changes hands is none of your fucking business. I highly doubt my own judgment would be infallible if the shoe were on the other foot. Maybe a drink is exactly what I’d need if every stranger on the street has his/her own opinion on what’s best for me.

Transferring money to another human being means empowering them to succeed or fail on their own terms.

To me that’s what freedom is about: the power to make our own mistakes and either learn from them (or not).

There is nothing so radical about the GiveDirectly model. It’s just common sense, and I think the non-profit world would be a much more innovative place if we can learn to forgive in others what we would easily forgive in ourselves.



May 2017 Money Diary: Autopilot
 
 
The Origami Life - May 2017 Money Diary
 

Ivan here.

May spending was $3,073 including a $55 Costco membership and a $670 tribute to U.S. Immigration Services to extend my green card (filed under: Education & Investments). I’m expecting a response sometime this century.

This means our actual living expenses was $2,348. This might seem frugal to some, but the truth is we rarely deny ourselves anything. Yes, we do tend to push large purchases (i.e. electronics) to the last quarter of every year, but on a day to day level, we live without restrictions. We “dine out” for breakfast every morning. We try to go on dates once or twice a week to discover something new. We’re less obsessed with micro-budgeting than we were a few years ago.

It helps that we’re both cheap dates. It’s hard to justify spending the equivalent of a family’s weekly grocery budget on a boojy fusion meal with "artisanal" ingredients, where the server has to stop by every five seconds to ask how everything’s going.


After the Gold Rush


These days, our morning conversations always comes back to luck and privilege. We’re a little stunned by where we find ourselves today. Four years ago, I was living in a basement apartment on the outskirts of Toronto. Jennie was a sales rep for Club Monaco in Boston, paying $450 a month for a room the size of a closet.

Since then our income has nearly quadrupled. We’re halfway to our $40,000 travel goal. Barring a major financial catastrophe, we should hit our number well ahead of schedule. What had seemed like a major challenge a year ago is no longer that. It’s just something that’s going to happen - automatically.

So now what? What do we do with ourselves after financial autopilot?   


Defining Rich


Rich isn’t about how much money you make. There are people who make five times as much who I’d consider poor, because their wants and needs always exceed their ability to afford it. These are the people we should feel sorry for - because “more” is its own kind of slavery.

I think the true meaning of rich is when there’s nothing more to want and everything that sustains your life sorta works on autopilot.

By our own definition, we’re a lot richer today than we have any right to be.

I mean, we’re 28 years old.

What value have we brought to the world? What exactly have we contributed?

It’s hard not to think of our paychecks as nothing more than an inheritance. We were born into the right circumstances and into a modern economy that rewards self-promotion and mental gymnastics over physical labor.

Does that make us better than the people who serve and clean up after us every day? Or those who build things with their hands? I’m not so sure. I can think of a lot more ways in which we’re worse.


Life After Autopilot


driving-autopilot.jpeg

But since guilt and pity are both unproductive emotions, the question remains: what kind of life should we be working towards after achieving autopilot? What happens when there’s nothing left to optimize?

One thing’s for sure, we’re done stressing out over every dollar saved or spent.

The next step is about finding and adding value to things that matter.

We’ll let you know when we figure it out.



 

 

 

April 2017 Money Diary: Shortcuts

Ivan here.

Back from two weeks in Taiwan with Jennie’s annual supply of milk tea ("...which by the way is delicious," says Jennie). The Origami Life will be back to our regular posting schedule (every 2-3 days) just as soon as I recover from this jet lag.

 
The Origami Life - Good Budget Expenditures for April 2017
 

We reported $5,158.33 savings in April - largely due to one-off federal and state tax returns, which made up for lower freelance income during my absence. Spending is on pace for $36,000 in 2017, even as we include airfare ($~500) and gear for a seven day cycling trip across eastern Taiwan (~$100). I came back from the trip with some stories - but that’s for another post.

All in all, no excitement or surprises on the financial end. We’d like to keep it that way.  
 

Shortcuts

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
— Mark Twain

Shortcuts: there aren’t any.

Man goes to a casino one night and leaves with a million dollars. What does that make him? Rich, for one. Second, improbably lucky. Third, an idiot.

To voluntarily participate in this tax on the poor, this man (unless he’s Rain Man) is just as much of an idiot when he walked out of the casino as he was when he went in. The only difference is that he’s now an idiot with a million dollars.  

My point is: it’s better to be good than lucky, and because the process of making a decision is the only thing you can control, you should be laser focused on how you can make your process better.

Part of getting better is understanding what you don’t know. In personal finance, investing, and in anything else I can think of, there is nothing worse than the illusion of knowledge.

So whenever we think we have something figured out - is actually the perfect time to think again.




March 2017 Money Diary: Promises
 
march-2017-money-diary-TOL
 

First Quarter Results

  • Cost improvement: $9,161.41 in quarterly expenses (vs. $10,610 in Q1 2016). A $1,500 expense reduction, or $500 net savings per month.

  • Cooked more, dined out less: Eating Out & Entertainment expenses for the quarter was $664 (vs. $1,356 in Q1 2016)

  • Mishaps: Life Happens category was $833 (vs. $518 in Q1 2016) due to a family setback and an emergency room visit

  • Charitable giving: In keeping with our year-end goals, we donated our first $250 of the quarter to Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative


The Ides of March

Ivan here.

WHERE IS SHE?! Actual photo of Jennie's hand.

WHERE IS SHE?! Actual photo of Jennie's hand.

March ended with a trip to the emergency room. I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say, Jennie tried to off herself by dropping a glass bowl and cutting open her wrist. Now she’s got four stitches and her hand looks like Batman’s.

This being the land of the free, Jennie’s accident cost us $150 in co-pay and antibiotics with health insurance. As a Canadian, I also got my first look at how much more effective free market healthcare is compared to government death panels (spoiler: not great, Bob). On the bright side, both Jennie and I came away from this experience with some stories. But that’s for another time.

Nothing much else to report. Ivan & Jennie Inc. is tracking well quarter over quarter - even with the unexpected expenses and our $250 quarterly donation.

Something to be grateful for.

Keeping Promises

I haven’t forgotten. Last month, I set myself the following goals:

  • Reach out to five organizations I’d be interested in working with

  • Attend at least two community events/meetups in LA

  • Attend at least one information session for volunteers

So how did I do? I ended up reaching out to three organizations, attended one community event and one volunteer session. I’ve also settled on an organization I’d like to work with: 826LA, a non-profit that supports disadvantaged students with their creative and expository writing skills. With the recent glut of Silicon Valley-type engineers who think they're god's gift to humanity, the ability to communicate an idea with verve and panache is becoming a dying art. Think Monsieur Gustave from the Grand Budapest Hotel.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’d better ask somebody.

Back to 826LA: the background check took longer than expected, but I've already signed myself up for two sessions next week.

Assessing Dollar Impact

Here’s why we chose Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative for our first quarterly donation:

  1. There will always be Americans to fight for issues that affect Americans

  2. The ripple effect of a well-placed, cost-effective dollar abroad is incalculable

Here’s how much it costs for Evidence Action to deliver its program:

Average out the four places and you get $0.25 per child for something with clear, measurable outcomes and a proven distribution model (i.e. school systems).

That’s 4 healthier lives per dollar spent. For $250, we get a whopping 1,000 life return on our investment

But wait, there's more! When you add in the federal tax deduction and assume a 20% effective tax rate, we'll receive $50 back at the end of tax season. Thus, on a per dollar basis, the impact jumps to five lives affected. More importantly, these are young lives. 

So what's the total compounded effect of our $250 over a single generation? 



February 2017 Money Diary: Priorities

 
 

If you have more than three priorities, then you don’t have any.
— Jim Collins

Ivan here. 

February was a short month and our spending reflected this. We also made a conscious effort to keep expenditures down due to the family setback last month as well as our plan next month to donate our first $250 of the quarter to our favorite charity. 

Slipping Through the Cracks

I want to talk about priorities. On weekday mornings, Jennie and I head over to the neighborhood donut shop for coffee and croissants. The place is run by a Cambodian husband and wife. Back in the day, the shop catered primarily to a Latino clientele, those on their way to build, grow, or serve things for the privileged classes in Los Angeles. Hence, the coffee was always strong, the donuts always fresh, and the prices cheap. Nothing has changed. 

Each morning over coffee, I write my three priorities of the day down in a pocket-sized planner, from most to least important. Then I tell Jennie what I’m gonna do and ask her what she’s gonna do. We talk. 

Without fail, I’ll always get through the first item on my list.  On a good day, I’ll get through two out of three. Three out of three is rare and a cause for celebration. 

The next day, I push the leftovers from the previous day to the top of my list. 

I’ve only recently refined this system and it seems to be working so far, though you can’t be too careful. Priorities are a terrible thing to lose.

One thing that got lost in the shuffle this month was volunteer work. Back in early January, Jennie and I applied to volunteer at the International Rescue Committee. This was before the travel ban and was largely influenced by my own immigration experience. By early February, we were told that they were so swamped with volunteers they simply couldn’t take on any more.

So we left it at that and never followed up since. 

Beginnings

pexels-photo.jpg

The worst thing isn’t not beginning at all. The worst thing is beginning and quitting at the first sign of resistance, because not only are you in the same place you were before, you’ve also wasted your time by starting and not following through. 

This upsets me. 

I can’t speak for Jennie but here’s what I’m committed to doing next month: 

  • Reach out to five organizations I’d be interested in working with
  • Attend at least two community events/meetups in LA
  • Attend at least one information session for volunteers

I’ll report back in a month and we’ll see just how full of shit I am.