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.



September 2018 Money Diary: Adjusting to Life on the Road (and Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!)
Ziggy-Stardust-964x670.jpg
I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
— David Bowie, Changes
 
The Origami Life Blog - September 2018 Money Diary Travels
 

Changes to The Origami Life Monthly Money Diary


1. We’re no longer disclosing our monthly income  

In keeping with our views in “Stop Counting Other Peoples Money”, we’re curbing some of the financial voyeurism on this blog. In our opinion, knowing someone’s net worth is neither useful nor relevant. Comparing your financial situation to others, whether positively or negatively, is ultimately counterproductive.

Also, keeping it real: now that Jennie’s salary is no longer mixed in with our remote income, it’s no longer in our best interest to publish our profit/loss statement on a public forum. From here on out, we’ll just make a note of whether our household had positive or negative operating margins.

For September, the Jennie/Ivan household was profitable.

2. About 3% of our monthly spend will now be donated to charity

We’re both firm believers in setting the right incentives. Instead of the quarterly $250 donation we used to make, we will now be donating 3% of what we spend each month to charit(ies) of our choice. The more we spend, the more we donate. Consider it a 3% charitable tax on consumption. Another benefit of donating monthly is that we can now sign up for recurring subscriptions to organizations we support.

3. We’ve introduced new budget categories for monthly budget and spending

 
The Origami Couple - Expenses / Budget for September 2018

The Origami Couple - Expenses / Budget for September 2018

 

1. Rent and Bills ($1,199)

This category includes cost of hotels/accommodations plus our recurring phone bill ($60 per month), life insurance ($18 per month) and health insurance premiums ($142 per month).

Our major expense in this category was two weeks in a Kauai Airbnb ($975, $75 per night), partly offset by free accommodations in San Francisco (we have amazing friends) and Taipei (stayed with family). In terms of accommodation, Hawaii is likely the costliest place Jennie and I will be visiting this year, so we expect lower rent & bills over the coming months.

2. Eating Out & Entertainment ($481)

Too much good food was had to do it justice here. We try to eat local wherever we go. In Kauai, this means sticking to the cheap staples like taro, fruit, fish and chicken and avoiding fast food chains and anything that’s imported from the U.S. mainland.

3. Flights & Transportation ($734)
Most of this was the two week Kauai rental car ($465 - ~$33 per day) and gas ($60), plus a few Lyft and shuttle rides in San Francisco. Our flight from San Francisco to Kauai to Taipei (with a 12 hour layover in Honolulu) was paid for entirely with airline points ($34 total in taxes and fees).

4. Fees & Visas ($0):

Miscellaneous fees and visas as we cross borders. In September, we were mostly in the U.S., so this wasn’t a factor.

5. Relationships ($63)
This is our way of quantifying our investments in people. It doesn’t have to cost very much. Something as small as sending postcards to friends and family to let them know we’re thinking of them ($8), taking friends/strangers out to coffees and meals etc. Generally, just trying to be more open-minded and considerate of others. One of our goals for the RTW trip is to move as much of our budget from Eating Out & Entertainment (i.e. disposable pleasures) to the Relationship category (i.e. quality time with people).

6. Charitable Donations ($86)

When you get to your little place on Nantucket Island, I imagine you’re gonna take off that handsome-lookin’ S.S. uniform of yours, ain’tcha? That’s what I thought. Now that I can’t abide.
— Lt. Aldo Raine, Inglourious Basterds

Our donations this month went to a $15 a month subscription to ProPublica, with the remainder going to GiveDirectly. Our position on direct cash transfers (while cutting out the charitable middlemen) has been well documented on this blog. I think one of the problems with the rich is that they tend to act like they know the poor better than the poor know themselves. As an authority on myself, I have to disagree.

We’ve subscribed to ProPublica because it’s the only online media outlet that has consistently added value to our lives. Their coverage and local reporting network has exposed conflicts of interest, stomped on bigots, and brought powerful people to their knees. And don’t forget the ProPublica audio tape of children who’d been separated from parents at the border. It’s a sad state of affairs in the media space, when “differentiating yourself” means to have an attention span that lasts longer than five seconds.

Now it’s the consumer’s job to reward ProPublica for it.


September 2018 Favorites: Travels to San Francisco, Kauai, Honolulu, Taipei


Jennie’s Pick(s)

1. Waimea Canyon hiking and sunset drive
Waimea Canyon lookout points and intensive hiking trails really made my trip in Hawaii. During the full day that we went out to Waimea Canyon (which was too short), I had never hiked harder for a more gorgeous view. For anyone thinking of visiting Kauai, come out to Waimea Canyon and spend a few days hiking. It’s a nice reprieve from fast-paced, everyday life.

 
 

2. Helena’s Hawaiian Foods shortribs in Honolulu
(Jennie) Best. Shortribs. Ever. Ivan thinks I’m trolling because he can’t eat beef and the rest of the menu items were mediocre, but I’m not exaggerating! It was one of the best grilled/smoked short ribs I’ve ever had. If you’re ever in Honolulu, you have to make a trip to Helena’s Hawaiian Foods. Skip the Kailua pork (and everything else on the menu) and just get two large orders of short ribs, a few scoops of rice/macaroni salad and the haupia for dessert.

 
 

Ivan’s Pick(s):

  1. Muir Woods National Monument in San Francisco
    I really enjoyed our trip to Muir Woods National Monument in San Francisco. The entire day was just so wholesome and family-friendly it almost made me sick.  

  2. Kauai jungle cottage (Airbnb)
    Check out our Week in the Life post for more context. After some reflection, I’ve concluded that booking this Airbnb was totally worth the arguments, mini-tantrums, and mosquito bites.

    The way I think about it: Jennie has the memory of a goldfish. So what’s more likely to leave an impression on her thirty years from now? Two weeks spent at some copy-and-paste-job Hawaiian resort or the jungle cottage with a gigantic spider on our window and the outdoor bathroom and shower? Exactly. You’re welcome. Jennie can thank me later.


The Origami Life - Our Goals for Next Month


  1. Continue scaling up our business as expenses decline
    Based on the countries we’re planning on visiting the rest of this year, I expect our costs to come down drastically. This is a golden opportunity to step up our billings and ramp up our profit margins to prepare for the more expensive countries in 2019.

  2. Allocate more of next month’s budget to ‘Relationship’ spend over ‘Eating Out & Entertainment’
    As mentioned previously, it’s not really about the dollar amount. This is just our way of quantifying our time spent with people.

  3. Do a better job planning for RTW excursions. Jennie and I are big proponents of slow travel. We thought Kauai was the perfect balance of travel, work and creative projects. Our time in Taipei on the other hand, was not. As we adjust ourselves to a new way of life, I’m sure we’ll arrive at a more consistent pace and schedule.

Readers of this blog or followers on our Instagram would also benefit from more regular posts!



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.


 

May 2018 Money Diary: What Makes the Perfect City?

Ivan here.

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

 
Money Diary May 2018.png
 

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

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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.



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


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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?

 

 


September 2017 Money Diary: Puerto Rico & Donor Fatigue
 
 
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Ivan here. 

When Jennie and I set aside $1,000 in 2017 for charity, our strategy was twofold: 

  • We would donate money to international causes (and time to domestic ones) due to the strong purchasing power of the dollar
  • We would NOT be basing our charitable decisions on the most recent headline

We managed to stick to this rule through Hurricane Harvey and Irma, storms which caused an untold amount of damage to parts of Texas and Florida. 

However, the fact remains that these are two of the wealthiest states in America, with economies that dwarf entire countries. What's more, both money and politics are deeply invested in these regions’ recovery. 

None of the above applies to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.


5 Reasons We Donated To

UNICEF's Relief Efforts For Puerto Rico


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We chose UNICEF USA for this quarter’s $250 charitable contribution for the following reasons: 

  1. Public ignorance on Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory
  2. Tougher logistics in providing disaster relief to islands
  3. Potential racial bias among donor class
  4. Lack of political and economic incentives to aid debtor nations/regions
  5. Donor fatigue after a string of related disasters

UNICEF USA focuses on providing emergency relief for children. And since our knowledge of local non-profits is non-existent, going through an international organization with a focused mission seemed like the least bad option. UNICEF USA was given an ‘A’ rating by CharityWatch. 


Why You Shouldn’t Donate Money to the American Red Cross


ProPublica, in collaboration with NPR, published a series of investigative pieces on the American Red Cross. Here are some relevant headlines dating back to 2014: 

It is important to note that this is NOT an indictment of the Red Cross's blood donation program, though chronic understaffing and cost cuts have led to safety violations and a FDA fine back in 2012. It might also be worth pointing out that this was an organization that banned black Americans from giving blood in the 1940s.