Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Does an Income Dollar Amount Equal Effort?

On April 15, I read Penelope Trunk's article about how much money you need to be really happy. While this concept isn't exactly news, it made me think about how much money would really be worth the effort. I made this graph as a way to visualize where I've been on the scale.

When I lived in Alexandria, I diluted my Suave shampoo so I could have a sports car. The car itself had a high payment per month (over $500/month). The insurance, even though I'm female with no accidents, was $2200 a year! The taxes, on top of all of that, was over $350/six months just to park my car on the street to get a dent. It was an expensive choice. If I had to do it all over again, maybe I would have chosen differently. I was apathetic at the time whether I wanted better clothes or a car with a turbo.*

There was a night where I made my own pizza out of the ingredients in the fridge. When I took it out, it burned my hand and I dropped it. Since I was so hungry, I was very upset that I dropped the pizza, even if it was hurting my hand - that was all of the healthy food I had until the next paycheck, which was the next day.

Hopefully I will never go back to that lifestyle, as I had see-through toilet paper, and could not afford to go to the cool places surrounding the Alexandria area. I was definitely at a point where I took a cooler to where my friends lived because groceries were cheaper in their area. What a horrible experience! The irony was that I was about 15-20 lbs heavier at the time, because I was so enamored with free food (e.g. bagels, ice cream, etc.). On a side note, salads are rarely free :)

 If we were just looking at money as dollars, and not as some metric for how much effort is required for that amount, then I could use more. There are nice $1M condos to buy, we could retire sooner, we could get going on our hobbies without worrying about income. That would be totally cool with me. Unfortunately, I get the sense that more money = crazy lifestyle with no time to yourself.

Right now I don't have a lot of time, so squeezing out that last bit for a few extra thousand dollars is ludicrous. The money isn't worth it (especially after taxes).

What makes me kind of happy is that there are other articles saying that being a good saver is better than making extra dough. According to me (of course), I'm an excellent saver. I could probably stretch $30K way farther than the average bear because I can prioritize and discard what's unimportant. 

Undiluted ketchup is important.

After my sports car, I bought something more reasonable. It was everything I could want in a car, especially if I were to spend more than 45 minutes a day in it (my total commute can range from 1.5 hours to 4 hours a day). I eat better, and spend money to make salads and healthy food at home. Affordability is no longer an issue, but it's still expensive to eat right and make good money decisions. 

I hope if I get to the point of making $700K per year, that my decisions will be whether I get a driver for my car or not... whether I go to the French Riviera or not... whether I decide on the dryer that automatically folds clothes or does taxes. 

*These things still seem almost equal to me. You spend a lot of time in your car, but you get a lot of respect from your clothes (as a woman). Which is more important? Is there something else that's more important?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Things Made for Women, For Women's Enjoyment

Today I was reading my Allure magazine that somehow arrives free at my house, when it struck me that there are some things that are "pretty," or made for women's enjoyment, and some things that are "sexy," or made for men's enjoyment. Of course, this is making a lot of assumptions and overgeneralizations, but developers (of anything) must figure out their audience before they go forward with advertisements. There is plenty of research on what works on the opposite gender, so no need to cover it here. Similarly, there is a lot of information out on items created for men's enjoyment (for men), like cigars, whiskey, and spray-on hair.

So in no particular order, Things Made for Women, For Women's Enjoyment:
Anything you wear that is fluorescent: makeup, jewelry, nail polish, clothes, hair color. Looking different is great! You can establish your rank among the women-folk by standing out. Be aware that these things are for your own enjoyment - not for anyone else.
Photo courtesy of
Katy Perry. Photo courtesy of
Barbie shoe earrings? Photo courtesy of

Rompers or jumpsuits. Easy to wear, not aesthetic. 
Love is relative. Photo credit:

Big big earrings!! While I'm personally a big fan of weird themed earrings, it's definitely not giving off the "smart" vibe if they are extra large.
Jessica can pull this off because she's cute. Photo courtesy of
Conversely, tiny dogs. Ironically, the guy ends up walking it eventually.
Yo quiero mama! Photo credit:
Couches in women's rooms. Guys don't know about these, which is funny since everyone could benefit from a lounging area (bathroom or not). They are no longer a requirement in newly built facilities, but they were at one point (I had to design a distribution center for my Facilities class).

Kawaii, a sect of cute things from Japan. The word literally translates to adorable, precious, lovable, or innocent, according to Wikipedia. This category includes things like Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and any inanimate object with a smiley face paired with abnormally large pupils. See below.

Anything Oprah. This lady has an empire and a religion. Annoyingly, she will talk about her feelings about money rather than the subject straight out. I hope this gets better over time because she's a pretty good role model.

The Lifetime Channel.
Shampoos that smell.
Leg warmers.
Different designs in silverware.
Designer handbags.
Bath bubbles.
Stuffed animals.
Pictures of "non events."
Showers (i.e. parties).

You get the idea. :)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Is Important at a Wedding?

This is wedding season, and there's so much advertising directed at people to spend money on their party. I usually hate other people's weddings (sorry for being an apathetic guest), and try to duck out of the reception as soon as it's considered not rude to leave.

Yes, that cake is on the floor.
Opera Catering Service in Kuwait, by Chef Omar Addihaoui

I've come to realize most of my resentment comes from the show of too much. A wedding can be a time and money sink, depending on the couple.  At the end of the day, the little bubbles favors in the shapes of cakes, the cake with a live trapezist, awkward toasts, the rituals, the rentals, and the showers... it's just too much. There's nothing inherently interesting or beautiful about any of that. However, times have changed, and the only thing keeping up are the companies trying to sell you M&Ms with your engagement pictures printed on them.
No M&Ms?! Photo credit:
My wedding is almost a month away, and I've managed to keep my budget of $5000 fairly well, although there were some radical changes in the last six months. Keep in mind that this wedding is family only, and I invited 24 people - Less than 20 have committed, including us.

I won't list all of my expenses, but the top five that made up the bulk of the budget:
Food: $700 I'm getting Tommy Bahamas to cater with heavy appetizers since the event is 6 pm - midnight. I could have probably gone cheaper, but I know the food will taste better than the meat-like balls I've tried at some other places.
Photo credit:
Hotel: $800 Since the event is small and out of town for almost everyone, I'm covering one night of the stay for everyone. I figured this would be a better than favors, spa packages, etc.
Dress: $295 I got something online, and it fits perfectly. Plus it's more beautiful than anything I've seen in the stores around here. The only catch was that I didn't do my internet store research - the website is no longer available, so I assume neither is the company.

Everything else was relatively inexpensive to obtain. The venue, which is a cabana right on the beach front, was $40 for the day. A 9" round, butter cream frosting marble cake was $70. I expect beer and wine and decorations to be about $200 each. Accessories and salon trips will be less than $100.

How in the world did I do this?? I figured out the top three things that are worth buying for a wedding.  I wanted a dress, a cake, and the family. Everything else could be reused from somewhere, DIY, or ignored completely. We decided that since this is a night event, lighting would be more important than flowers for example. I ignored these other things:

  • Cake topper - Seriously? $30 for a bling monogram? Great scam.
  • Tuxedos - We are going to be at the beach - self explanatory.
  • Photographer - although I might get a bridal portrait after I come back from the honeymoon. This is one of the most expensive items you can get for your wedding. I will also say that some of the photographers are quite the rip off because they take below average pictures. Good for them for successfully marketing their crappy skills.
  • Redoing my invitations after the initial venue bumped me. 
  • The "wedding" part. I am technically already married, as we signed the papers at the courthouse back in February. It doesn't change anything except referring to Jason as "my husband," and now we're wearing rings. I might change my name after coming back from Europe... No rush.
  • A bridal party for the wedding. I have my sister helping me out, so she's technically my matron of honor.
  • Bridal shower party. 
  • A registry. People are very confused by this, but we don't need anything. 

After a heck of a lot of research, I've seen a lot of different wedding types. Having a good time is independent of how much money is spent during that time. Jason warned me not to be so cheap that I would end up wanting a second wedding to make up for lack of the first. The result is usually these types of weddings, hence the dress and the cake requirement (because sometimes the dress isn't enough as you can clearly see).
No one touches Wonder Woman's man. Photo credit:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Five Smartest Decisions I Made in the Last Decade

High school really sucked. I had a 40-hour part time job making hot dogs for minimum wage, no wheels, and perpetual motivation problems when it came to anything except writing. Of course, for those who knew me at the time, they will deny this and comment that I was making straight A's and could manage rides with all of my friends. Well, this was true too... but state of mind is a funny thing.

Today I feel very much in control of my life, and I attribute it to five smart decisions I made since then.

1. After a lot of relationship research (i.e. dating), I settled down with someone I can easily talk with and who cares about me. He's a nice person and sends me flowers randomly. We give each other energy.  We make decisions together. I will not say how many people I have dated, but it might be more than 20 and included all types (even a unicyclist).  Those folks were very nice, but they weren't for me. I pride myself in finding a person I could spend several lifetimes with (if that were feasible). He encourages me to be entirely authentic and pursue something I'm passionate about. He also keeps me honest and on the "high road" when it would be easy to slip into bad habits. Because of the accountability with someone I love and respect, I have been very productive, healthy, and overall happier, which makes this the most important decision I've made. 

2. Finishing a technical degree. This was my mom's suggestion, which was a good one. I'm going to go ahead and take the credit, since I am the one who finished dynamics with a B (plus another 133 credits of undergrad and 30 credits of graduate classes). I could have easily slipped into a language arts degree, which would have been fine except I didn't really know what kind of career I wanted. I knew that no money = hard life, so getting out of the current situation was a shiny carrot (I had graduated from hot dogs to enforcing the towel rule at the gym for minimum wage when at the undergrad level).

3. Living on campus. Dorms gave me free reign to enjoy the "college experience" of staying up late, talking with all kinds of people, and finding strategies for being creative on a budget. I also didn't have to clean bathrooms or kitchens - whew! This was probably the inception of me really walking in "turbo mode," since that was my main mode of transportation. I was totally inspired by the freedom of schedule, co-ed room parties, and doing that thing where you look cool while hanging out wasting time reading on a grassy patch.
Photo credit:

The biggest impact from this decision was learning that my lifestyle could be whatever I wanted it to be. I really appreciated things like the seasons, weather, good shoes, and Armin Van Buuren's music.

4. Doing a job that was totally in left field for me - teaching. As a technical trainer on Capitol Hill, I learned the importance of dressing well, as well as how to communicate without too many "ums." I can't say that I was particularly good at this job, which thickened my skin to criticism. This job also allowed me to travel to 17 states that I would not have visited otherwise, including Guam, and meeting a lot of cool people. Besides the whole "being on your feet for hours" and "lots of airport time," it was a sweet gig. I got burned out after being on the road three weeks out of the month, but all in all, it gave me confidence that I can manage doing something I wasn't trained for.
Not part of the training. Lessons in Guam.

5. Paying off all of my debt. Before I received money from Dad's estate, I had credit card and car debt on top of student loans, which totaled around $40K. It wasn't the best situation, especially since I decided I NEEDED a sports car after I started getting a steady paycheck. Also, at one point, I could only afford the credit card minimum. So I made the decision at 24 to get rid of my debt. At 26, I had zeroed out my credit card debt by paying triple the minimum (sometimes more). My car and student loan still were costing me $14K each, so I made the decision to work on my car loan. When my Dad passed, he left me some money, to which I paid off the remaining debt (although I definitely got some new shoes and a couple of steak dinners too). If I had kept going though, I would have finished my car debt and started working on my student loans. The point is that I prioritized what was owed and am now working on savings (plus other things I want like LASIK, braces, etc).  I also scrimped on things like cosmetics, furniture, and wardrobe pieces. There were a lot of hand-me-downs in the beginning, and that was OK for me.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lazy Liz

There's an internet meme going around called, "Bachelor Frog." See below for reference:
Photo courtesy:

This is me, and I would like to refer to myself as Lazy Liz whenever I take a shortcut.  Here would be my input, for example:
Forcing flip flops over socks to get mail.
Making peanut butter-icing sandwiches. (not that great by the way).
No clean socks? Buy more.
Caffeine = sleep.
Sniff test jeans.
I'm sure our carpet was off-white.
Making the bed takes away from something important, like hair styling.
I ate your leftovers.
What's the difference between shampoo and body wash?
Latte's are coffee all dollied up at the milk station. Seriously!

Anyway, we all take shortcuts and don't do the things we think are ideal. Ahh :)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Success: Noted

Sometime around the year 2000, I wrote in my journal that all problems could be solved if all the notes we wrote on scraps of paper could be collected on one big wall. We could see everything together and make sense of all combined variables. I believe we unconsciously do this, and try to recreate the attempt in our daily lives. All of the notes I write look something like:
"Trapiche Malbec, Argentina 2008"
"HW 5 due by April 29"
"Call Mom"
"Eggs, spinach, salsa... (grocery list)"
"Full Metal Panic (an anime I've been wanting to check out)"

So it looks more like a to-do list, but if you were to add all of my to-do lists together, you could see my habits. For example, I like anime, wine, eating eggs, and sticking to deadlines, as those things are typically subjects I write down. Over the years, I've been able to troubleshoot my diet, my skin, and basically all other personal problems by looking at the topics written down. There is a definite correlation between my immunity (or lack of) and the amount of bread and carby food I eat. When I eat a relatively higher diet in protein, I notice little wins like my skin clearing up, less water retention, and fast growing nails, which are all related to health. I write down all of these things, so to later see what works and what doesn't.

Physical health is also related to my mental health - was I stressed with school or barely scraping by? How were my relationships like at that time? See what I did there? I just connected health and money and relationships in an organic way. While correlations between these things sometimes aren't readily apparent, it's helpful to see all of the data as a set instead of just a select metric (e.g. weight on a scale every day).

Other observations through note writing:
Problem solving and coping with something are directly proportional to the amount of good sleep I get.
Lifting weights leans me out way better than running several miles a day.
Certain people give me energy, and certain people drain energy.
Knowing myself is invaluable for decisions about money or lifestyle.
People change.
I change.
Change is cool.

A note about change... I've been keeping journals since I was in fourth grade, although the frequency of my writing has varied throughout the years. Some journals include copious self discovery while others are merely records observations. If nothing else, I can see the change in myself and in others, and it's pretty neat (I finally found some good hair products, and a great hair stylist for example).