Post-Mortem: November

Two weeks ago, I did a rough review on how we’re doing with food spending. It’s the biggest variable spending we have. There were months when we spent more than $1,000 just on food. That’s a LOT for 2 adults and 1 pre-schooler.

So we had to take a look into ourselves and figure out what we were not doing right. I blamed myself mostly for not being motivated to do anything. I forgot how therapeutic cooking to me was. I re-discovered my love for cooking this month. I made simple meals that one day I hope to share with you.

We have spent $750 on food this month. We only dined out and bought take-outs twice each, both done with no excessive order taking at cheap places. We also spent $133 on prepared Thanksgiving meal, which we believe was a wise decision.

I also realized that I just can’t be very strict about the “extras”. I seem to have a difficult time fully trimming the fat, and I’m not sure if one can realistically do that with a child. I mean, my child recently discovered hot cocoa when I bought him one at Starbucks on Macy’s Parade Day. Of course I don’t intend to buy him hot cocoa at Starbucks often, so I decided to grab a tub of hot cocoa and 2-for-$5 whipped cream at the supermarket for the fun of it.

Using November as a baseline, it looks like the food budget could be about $650/month (after deducting Thanksgiving dinner) for the 3 of us. This would need commitment from me to cook at least 4 times a week. I’m sure you know that I work full-time, so dinner preparation usually occupies my mind by noon. This aspect of cooking is something, I believe, a lot of non-cooking folks don’t get but that’s another post to come. 🙂

Overall, to bring down food spending from $1k+ to $750–with prepared T Day dinner purchased at that–deserves us pats on our backs! I’m so happy to have experienced this month.


One week of no dining out or buying take-outs

I can’t write enough about how pleased I am about this progress. I like to cook, it’s therapeutic, but there were days that I just can’t be bothered. I know that there WILL be days that I won’t be bothered cooking, and I’m hoping that those will be few and far in between. I think I got my cooking groove back.

Every day since last weekend, I have reflected on the reasons and circumstances why we ate in. I can account the change to planning better and having the determination to achieve our $15k emergency fund goal ASAP!

We have a plan to visit my family in Christmas 2012 and to save money on airfare, we HAVE to buy them in summer. This plan is budgeted for (at a minimum the budget can afford at $50) but because it depends on the completion of the $15k, it only has $100. 😦 We need at least $6k by August for airfare. That’s why I’m in a hurry to reach $15k to give us breathing room while saving for $6k. Just so you know, $6k is a liberal budget. I over-budget for things because over time I realized that there are things I just have no control over.

So far, we have spent $170 on groceries with some of the food bought still waiting to be cooked. Yesterday I cooked 2 entrees that will last us until Tuesday night I bet. 🙂 The good thing about Asian food is that the older they get, the better they taste. 🙂 I’m on a cooking roll and they are all delicious!

It’s true that budgeting, and anything money-related, is psychological. I don’t know why I didn’t feel like having Sunday brunch in a café when I typically think about it from Saturday afternoon. The house felt such a cozy place to be in yesterday morning. Our toddler went to a playdate for the most part of the afternoon, and J and I decided to watch pay-per-view movie. Instead of spending $20+ (not including gas, parking, and who knows what), we only spent $5. It just felt right to be home yesterday, but we had talked about going to a movie theater all week. We just decided on it an hour before play date started.

We’re going camping this weekend. We’ll sleep in a yurt. I’m actually looking forward to it and I’m not the camping type. We’ll be spending 3 nights in it and we’ll obviously need to pack food to cook and eat. That should be fun! I’ll try to remember to post pictures of camping when we get back. Below are links to very informative videos that even kids should watch I think.

Funny SNL folks.

Have a lovely week!

Cash helps my determination

It sure feels different handling money. Because I have this need to be organized, I make sure that my notes are folded in a pile in my tiny purse. I cringe when I think about pulling folded notes and counting my money in front of strangers. I’ve seen people do it, I don’t think it’s weird, but when I do it I think it’s showing people my money regardless of how much I have. I have this thing about pulling out money, like it’s tacky or something.

Image from

It’s irrational, I know. There are plenty of irrational reasons why I spend. I mean I want to know where our money goes but I don’t have a strict self-imposed limitation on how much to spend. Yes, I do budget but it has always been a guiding information but I don’t feel shackled when I run out because I know I can rely on savings if I need to.

The money manager is me. Jonno asks me if we could buy this or that because he doesn’t touch the budget I set monthly. So, I bear the weight of budgeting and I feel I let down myself and my husband. Of course he has no idea that I feel this way, because he would think that I’m doing great. After all, we have $10k saved within 4 months.

That was my turning point, the savings. The plan is to have $15k by end of December. It has been $10k for more than a month, maybe even 2. We lost so much time and money spending aimlessly. So that’s where we are now, at least where I am. And it’s not even wasted spending. We went to San Francisco for 3 days not only to visit it but to also meet a friend from NZ who traveled to the States. We bought a car for $1,500 and bikes that we enjoy.

At the rate of saving $1k a month (at least), February 2012 is the projected month to reach the $15k goal. I’m beating myself for that, hence the determination to truly reduce eating out and non-budgeted spending. Like I said in an earlier post, we believe that spending in cash would truly keep me determined. I’m getting there. I haven’t thought of ordering food for a week now.

Do you spend cash? If you do, what for and how often?

In the meantime, I’m back in reality.

I can’t believe it. After spending a week daydreaming about extended travel, I’m back to being the desk-strapped full-time worker, mother and wife. It’s like I lived in fantasy for a while and I’m back in reality again.

There was a moment in that week that brought me back. I was sitting on the steps in the backyard and imagined having nothing to do, no purpose to get me out of bed at a specific time, no specific direction for the day, and easily I felt that I deflated into reality. It’s weird.

I start thinking about saving more money for little mister’s college education, saving more for retirement, and what about the tiny house we want? It’s not good to feel that a learning experience, eg. world travel, would set us back. It’s not real, it’s just my perception!

What I’m hoping for is that, after we pay off the student loan and saved money, I would feel invigorated by world traveling again. I don’t think the feeling and want are really gone. There are a few things that I need to do and focus on at the moment that distract me.

I’m beginning to realize that not doing any purposeful work while on the road might get me bored with the lifestyle. I’m hoping to get my hands dirty in the hospitality or food industry. I didn’t work until I graduated college. I used to be envious of kids who worked at fast food chains. 🙂

Anyway, I downloaded the e-book My Exile Lifestyle by Colin Wright. That boy is cute! I’m thirdway into the e-book and have found similarities between Colin and I.

It really seems to me that I need to do extended travel with my spouse and son. I strongly believe that countless good would come out of it. All these distractions of insurance, budgets and savings are only going to build a solid foundation for the dream of traveling the world. So I guess it’s okay to be immersed in them for a while. The target is to kick it off after we pay off the student loan in less than 5 years. Timing wise, the debt payment schedule works along with a growing toddler. He’d at least be 7 years old by then. The travel experience would make for a wonderful and exciting quality time for the our little family.

Small houses and extended travel

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~Mark Twain

Since my previous post about wanting to be more physically present as a parent, I’ve mentioned to my husband plenty of ideas that have excited me. I believe that these ideas would mean more quality time with my child and husband. I just went crazy for 3 days imagining and setting goals!

1. Live in a Tumbleweed house.

He showed these tiny houses to me a few years ago, but at the time my interest was elsewhere. As I’ve solidified my minimalist principles over the years, the idea of living in a small space has attracted me. Imagine not needing a vacuum cleaner! I like sweeping anyway. Imagine life of simplicity! So delicious to think about.

I found Land Watch when we were stumped about where to park our tiny house. This set up feels so viable and attractive to us, particularly the aspect of renting it because we want to…

2. Go on extended travel.

While living as a transient during the transition from NZ to USA, I stayed in a furnished studio with only the basics and I was content. I knew that I could do that for the long haul and not crave for extravagance or affluence. I didn’t have cable, but I enjoyed renting videos for $1 each. I walked a lot, used public transport, and realized that I like living in the city than in the suburbs.

Anyway, I checked the internet for families who have done this sort of thing and I was inspired. Oh, much needed inspiration! So I talked to my husband about this idea and the outstanding concern is his career. His career path tends to be location-dependent as it requires people interaction. I work in IT and can work anywhere. I’m willing to do entry-level jobs in IT if we travel extensively. Jon mentioned that he could teach English as an option, which is not bad at all. The idea that only one of us works at any given time is ideal. We can spend more time with our kid!

I’ve found awesome blogs: Soultravelers3, Delicious Baby, and My Family Travels to name a few. All I can really do for now, other than live as a minimalist and a frugalist, is to drool.

3. Take the kid to the Galápagos Island.

Image from

We almost decided to do this for January 2012, but the goal to replenish our emergency fund won over. Our target EF of $15k is projected for November and I can’t wait! If we really want to travel for at least a year, we need to be wise with our finances now. What this brought upon was more resolved to…

4. Pay off the friggin’ student loan.

And all of its $35k glory. After we reach our target EF, we plan to double our student loan payments to $1k. Aack! I’m still nervous about putting in such a big amount to the student loan but this is the only debt that has chained him. But, it’s time to get rid of it. If there’s one thing I learned from choosing to be with someone with student loans is that I don’t want my child to have to go through the same fate at all!!!

Out of excitement, we created 2 savings accounts – one for our travel plans and another for our cave (dwelling/house/home/abode) that we are not sure what will be yet. We’re quite happily renting a friend’s house and, to be honest, I’m not interested in being a home owner again. After having lived with such flexibility, I just don’t know if I will ever want to have a mortgage again ever.

We’ve pretty much decided to wait until our kid is 5 or older to do extended travel. We want him to remember some of it and still give him the opportunity to see the world through a child’s eyes. My husband and I hardly talk about taking him to Disneyland, but we will; it’s just not a priority.

One goal, two goals, red goal, blue goal

While tinkering with our account on Mint, I decided to play with the Goals feature. There was already one goal–the emergency fund–that’s being tracked. We can’t track the student loan because the company is not in the list yet, but I had already requested so let’s see what happens.

I added new goals:

  1. Save for college
  2. My retirement (here in the US)
  3. Husband’s retirement (continuation)
  4. Grand Design Project

We have our Kiwisavers still in NZ that we can’t take out yet until we’ve reached one full year of living overseas. It doesn’t do us any good that it’s sitting there because the government does not contribute to accounts whose holders are living and working overseas. Kinda sucks, but it makes sense because why would they give us benefit when we’re not paying taxes, right?

So for now, what I’m doing is researching on investment companies to find one where I’m going to invest my Roth in. I would’ve chosen Traditional IRA but I don’t plan to retire and get my money when I’m 70.5 years old. I just don’t see myself working that far out in my life. I would rather be doing other things, such as traveling, cooking for a living (maybe own a café), teaching pre-school kids…the list goes on and on, but those mentioned are strongly my inclination.

I would’ve done those things now but they aren’t exactly paying much. I earn a good living, a really good one in terms of money. It’s a career but it’s not all that to me anymore. It used to be the guide in my life, but after having a child I realized that life has more to offer.

Based on our goals to retire at 55 (me) and 65 (him), about 90% of discretionary funds after paying fixed expenses MUST go towards funding retirement! That means we might not be able to fund our Grand Design Project, which was inspired by the show itself. I strongly recommend that you watch a few episodes of it before you buy a house, and even if you’re not, the show would still be good for your soul. 🙂

With very simple finances, I’m able to see the picture. Thanks for that! I wonder how others with complicated finances do it? It being many things actually–buying a large house, vacationing, shopping, sending kids to school, funding retirement, etc.

There are risks involved that some people choose to take. I know at some point my strategy will change because we would really love to build our own home someday and have our child experience living in it before he moves out and lives on his own. I know he’s only 3 but saving takes time!

So, really, what makes sense is to complete funding our emergency fund and then pay off student loan. Blech.

I want to have a lot of money because I want to have REAL choices

That’s probably the longest blog title I’ve ever chosen but it’s the most direct and self-explanatory. I will still explain though. 🙂

What are real choices?

I define them as choices that you can make, without hesitation and without limitation, immediately following a decision.

I want to be able to have a choice between travelling to Santorini or to somewhere in Asia, make a decision, and then buy tickets. Just like that. No worries about where to get the money or time.

Even if I knew where to get the money, I also want to be comforted by the fact that I have plenty, plenty saved and have consistent income stream that I could afford to not worry about the future.

This is my goal, and that’s because I know that with having real choices I could finally try something, like knitting, without worry of time. I would like to be able to live my days not relying on my alarm clock.

Wouldn’t it be nice to live a life without being held back by either time or money? I could take my kid to OMSI every day if he wanted to, or to various events in and around Portland, and travel overseas with the family…so much to do and explore out there!

I’ve been feeling really limited these days. I wonder so much about when I’d have real choices. I sort of decided to retire at 55, just like my parents did. Not sure if I could do that, but I’m certainly thinking of ways to retire earlier!

I think this is just my Friday self blogging…