Living Above My Means

Lemur Madagascar
Brown Lemur - Kirindy Forest, Madagascar
It's been a while since I last wrote.... Well, to be fair I wrote a few posts but never really flushed them out to post them. I also started realizing that I was writing just for the sake of writing and running a personal finance blog, it wasn't because I really cared or was, for lack of a better word, invested in those topics. Over the past year or so I've decided that in order for me to stay invested in this site I need to write on my terms, not just because I'm trying to meet some specific schedule.

Anyways, the last time I wrote I was basically about to move to India for 4 months for work. I thought while I was there I would have plenty of time to write since I would be far removed from friends, family and a lot of life's other distractions. I ended up being busier than ever. Work took longer for me to do the same things for a few reasons. The first being that I was training more people so my time was more scattered. The second main thing was that the internet connection was simply slower, and needing to be on the companies US network simply made things slower.

India wasn't what I was expecting, some things were more modern than I was expecting, other things simply were not. Uber happened to be a lifesaver for me while I was there. Not having to haggle over how much a taxi to and from work everyday was invaluable, especially being a foreigner, the locals simply expected to price gouge me and that I wouldn't know better.

While I was there I managed to live like how I imagine most Americans live their lives, by not saving any money towards their futures. For 4 months I lived above my means, and it was nice but I don't think I could sustain it long term. My situation is probably still different than most Americans though, while all my extra income goes towards saving for early retirement, for most people it would go towards paying down debt or kids college funds or something else. But for the point of this post, I spent every last dollar I earned and then some while I was there.

A few things to note about this. 1) I typically save about 60% of my income. 2) I was living in India, a place where day to day expenses are much cheaper than the US.
Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe

So how did I spend so much? Easy, travel. While I was in India for just over 4 months, I was only in the city that my company sent me to for 3 weekends. Every other weekend I traveled somewhere since it was really a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to fly to Mumbai for a weekend, or go to Dubai for a weekend without having to feel the effects of jet lag. While I had many trips that started on Friday going straight from work to the airport, and flying back Sunday night or sometimes a red eye that arrived Monday morning. I also had a few longer trips where I took vacation time to see other countries too. Here is where I went: Mumbai, Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), Jaipur, Sri Lanka, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Seychelles, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Madagascar.

I got to see a lot of amazing things while I was abroad, offering wild lemurs water from shells (see above), the worlds tallest building, the worlds largest waterfall, and I still have a stack of billions of dollars from Zimbabwe. Which as of September of 2015 their currency is officially no longer in circulation, it's mostly just sold to tourists for much more than it is actually worth, for reference 1 trillion dollars might not even get you on a public bus there, which I assume was very cheap. Also, bus fares were not posted on busses because the cost of the bus in the morning might change by later that night because of how bad inflation was there. They have officially switched to U.S. Dollars now.

A room with a view - Singapore
Also while I was travelling I did a lot of nerdy finance things. I saw the stock market in India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Zambia. Most of those I had to go out of my way to try to see. Zambia was strange since it was a small office that wasn't open mid day on a weekday. But I'm also not surprised since there are days where no stocks are traded on the exchange. From looking at their website they announced that there were 8 trades made yesterday, talk about illiquid investments. This now means I have visited a total of 8 different stock exchanges. None of them in the U.S. (Japan was the other). I'm also not saying I got to go inside each of these exchanges, some were closed, others simply didn't let people go in, but I was outside the building and most likely took a picture, or was yelled at by security for trying to take a picture.

Anyways, living above my means was a lot of fun. For a while.... But I was incredibly tired of travel by the time I returned home. I did not want to travel for a while after that. I've never traveled that many places that quickly before, or taken that many red eye flights. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but I think I am meant to travel more slowly, not on a plane twice a week, living out of different hotels every day. Sometimes I stayed at really fancy places (see photo above of the view from my room in Singapore), but that wasn't always the case. I stayed in dorm room youth hostels a few times too, I actually had the most fun at those places because I got to meet other travelers who obviously also loved to travel as well.

The lesson I learned, yet think I already knew. Travel slower, enjoy it, savor it. One day I will be back to revisit some of these places, it's just a matter of time.

Allée des Baobabs - Madagascar
The Avenue of the Baobabs (The Roots of the Sky) - Madagascar

Celebrate Average

unknown artist
It doesn't take much to be average, in fact the very definition of average means that there is a pretty good chance that you are average. Chances are, there are many areas of your life where you are either above or below average.

Since we probably can't be above average in everything in life. For example, some people can't really sing, others can't dance, and others don't know how to manage money!

I'm also guessing that it's going to be impossible to be above average in all areas of your life so it's probably best to focus on the areas that you think are the most important.

Everyone likes money. If money wasn't important then people wouldn't work for it. So I think that this is an area that that everyone should focus on. There are so many people out there that dig their heads in the sand when it comes to finances because they just don't want to know how badly they are hurting themselves. Some people don't know how much debt they have, others haven't really looked into saving for their futures. Trust me, years from now you'll want to be one of the people that tied to get ahead of the pack, the earlier you start thinking of these things the happier your future self will be.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis the average American was only saving 5.1% of their disposable income in May of 2015. To me, that doesn't look like a very difficult number to beat. Even if you can't beat that number now, you should strive to beat it in the future.

Here's my advice on what you should strive to be above average at (not a complete list):

Be the best person you can.

Save as much money as you can, later in life you'll be happy you can retire - 20 years from now you probably won't care about that new iPhone or flat screen TV.

Set high goals, but be realistic about it. You probably won't be an astronaut, but you could have a solid job with job security.

You won't get everything you want in life. We can't all have the dream home, new car, latest gadgets. There's a reason they have a term called a "starter home" no one starts off in their dream house. Learn where the trade offs are and be happy with what you have, don't be envious of what you don't.

Celebrate average.

Working Towards Retirement is Like a Marathon

Every year there's a 12k race in San Francisco called Bay to Breakers, tomorrow will be the 103rd running of the race. Its path starts from the bay and ends at the breakers (where the waves break at the ocean, not an 80's hip hop dance crew battling it out to Run DMC).

Pointless Entitlement Awards
Somehow during the races 103 year history, the people of San Francisco turned it into a very "San Francisco" type of event. After the actual runners go, a parade of thousands of costumed participants follow behind, drinking and partying their way across the city. There is an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 participants (with about 33,000 participants that are actually registered in the race) most people, myself included just find the closest point of the race to their house and begin following the route to the hip hop crew that will meet you at the end. After 3 to 4 hours of drinking and stumbling up and down San Francisco hills I usually fizzle out and find a bus or cab to take me home for a late afternoon nap (since the drinking starts before 9am).

One year I dressed up as an apathetic coach, I wore warm-ups, a visor, and carried a whistle. I also had a bunch of participation awards - the most backhanded compliment if there ever was one - to hand out to the other drunk costumed people that obviously didn't come to run the race. Before I would give them an award I would ask them to "tell me something that you are mediocre at?" Let me tell you, people have a hard time admitting that they aren't very good at something. To help them stumble to an intoxicated answer I would throw out suggestions to jump start their brains:

"public speaking"
"Telling your significant other that you love them and appreciate them in your life."
"break dancing"
"money management"

Most people deferred to "public speaking" some people said, "thinking while I'm drunk." I don't believe anyone claimed to be mediocre at drinking... Go figure, everyone was a professional drinker there. As I said before, a participation award is like a back handed compliment, a pity prize for attempting something but not even coming close. You can't brag about it because everyone else got the same thing.

If working towards retirement is like a marathon, then the participation award is Social Security. After 30 years of working you get back a part of what you contributed over the years. It might be enough to barely scrape by in some parts of the country but not most, and if you have any sort of emergency, you won't be able to cover it.

Saving for retirement doesn't happen overnight, you have to start slowly and let your savings grow for years, decades in fact. The longer you save the better chance you have at a comfortable retirement. Even if you can't save a lot, save something, your future self will thank you for it because when you're done working you want to make sure that you have more than just a participation award to show for it.

Consult With Your Future Self

I wasn't happy. I didn't like my coworkers, my boss was basically evil, but for the longest time I didn't change anything. Eventually, I finally knew that it was time to move on, but why did I wait until a breaking point to do it? I was scared. I listened to the news enough to fear the job market. I thought to myself, "even if I get a different job, if things don't work out, I could be let go and I would be worse off than I am now."

Yasagure by Ryohei Hase
Yasagure by Ryohei Hase
But I was over it, I had reached the last straw that broke the camels back. I started really looking for a new job. Not the kind of half assed looking that you do when you kind of want to leave your job but it's easy so you don't really try that hard, maybe only sending out one resume a week. But I was done, so I was looking for a new job like I was unemployed. I tried to send out at least 1 resume a day because it was time for me to get out of there.

Make your Mom proud this Mother's Day!

Sulcata - Plato
Happy Mother's Day from Plato
This is Plato. Eighteen years ago he was a Mother's day present for my mom, back then he was the size of a quarter and would get stuck on blades of grass in the lawn. Today he weighs somewhere around 65 pounds and is probably a little over half way done growing. (Yikes!) 
I can’t say that Plato was the most well thought out present, as he’s required numerous different enclosures while growing up (and eventually barricades to keep him from causing damage to the house), but he’s an extension of the family now. He's simply a force of nature in my parents back yard. Would we ever give him up? Not unless we had to. But would I ever consider a gift like this ever again? Not a chance in hell.

Which brings me to the idea of what should you get your mom for Mother’s day. I know that my Mom always says that she doesn’t want anything, or “just a card” is a common response I hear every year. So instead of giving extravagant gifts (or a lifetime responsibility of a tortoise that will outlive us all), why don’t you make your Mother proud this Mother’s Day!

Everyone's Mother will tell their children that they are proud of them, but in reality, do you think that your Mom is proud of how you handle your finances? Really think about it for a minute? Would she approve of you stashing away only 4% of your paycheck every month while having that flashy new car or that huge enormous flat screen TV? Most Mom’s that I know don’t care about those kinds of things.

Would your mom be proud of all the debt you still have remaining? Or your scrawny savings rate? How about the balance of your retirement accounts? You have one of those right?
Maybe this year instead of getting your mom a Kindle that she’ll use for a few months and then forget about, what if you gave her a card that said, “Thanks for all the love and support all these years, I couldn’t make it to where I am without you. By the way I have killed all my debt and I’m financially stable, you can now close the bank of Mom and Dad permanently, thanks!”
I bet your Mom would love that.
Oh, and flowers. Mom’s love flowers.

When to give up on your dreams

It's been about 8 days now that I've had a scratchy throat, though the past 2 or 3 have been the worst.

I'm sick.
Once Upon A Time No More
Once Upon A Time No More by Mimi Yoon

But I didn't want to admit it to myself. I thought if I could just ignore the facts I could power through it and it would all be okay. I have a hard time admitting when something is wrong, and I think this is fairly common for a lot of people. Most people don't like to admit to being sick, they have the mentality of trying to ignore what's in front of them, just like I did. Hoping that if they ignore it, it will go away.

But is this healthy behavior? It happens in more aspects of our lives than just our health. Growing up adults will tell you that you can be anything when you grow up, but that's a lie. I could never have been a professional athlete, (well, there's still a chance I could be a professional bowler if I drop everything now an start practicing) I doubt I could have ever been an astronaut either. At some point you're probably better off getting hit with a dose of reality and following what makes sense as compared to what you dream about.

The New American Dream - Go Fund Yourself!

Instant gratification is more prevalent than ever these days, right now Amazon is starting to roll out a new service in some places called Amazon Now which will get you your order within an hour of when you clicked "buy".

Today is the era of NOW.

Everyone wants results now, most people don't have the patience and discipline to build something from the ground up, slowly and with hard work.

Continue reading at Makin the Bacon...

I'm Outsourcing My Job

I recently wrote about how I replaced myself with a robot at work, and while I didn't really mean that I was actually getting a robot to do my job, though that might be kind of cool. I meant that I was detaching myself emotionally from my coworkers and optimizing my efficiency at my work.

This time I'm outsourcing my job, and I'm actually being more serious about it than I was about the robot thing. My company is sending me to India for 4 months to train new developers to do my job over in Hyderabad.

I've already bought my plane tickets so there's basically no turning back now. So it's finally about as official as it gets. To be fair, the goal of this is more of a global expansion than it really is about outsourcing my job. My job is not actually in danger here, but if everything goes well with this expansion then there might be less of a need for more developers over here in the US.

I Replaced Myself With a Robot at Work

I love bacon. Seriously, it was one of the hardest things about giving up food. I was actually up cooking bacon on the last night of my "give up food for a month" challenge so that once it turned midnight and it had been a full month, I could start off eating again with Bacon!

Anyways, from time to time I will be contributing over at Makin the Bacon either till Karen thinks my articles are stupid, or I run out of things to say... Either could be likely to happen, eek!

push button receive bacon

Robots are cold hard calculating machines.

Perhaps it's their pragmatic approach to work that makes them so efficient. Maybe it's their lack of empathy so they don't waste time gossiping with coworkers. Or maybe it's because they don't need sustenance to keep going so things like lunch breaks and food comas are irrelevant.

Continue reading at Makin the Bacon...

Should I buy a stock before or after a split?

Before I begin I suppose I should define what exactly a stock split is. It's when a company divides its existing shares into multiple shares. The number of existing shares increases but the overall value of the shares remains the same. If a $100 stock does a 5 to 1 split then for each share of the stock that you own before the split will then become 5 shares and the value of each share will be reduced in an equivalent manner, thus the new value of these shares becomes $20.

Sam Flores
Mural by Sam Flores
Last week one of the stocks I own, Visa (V) did a 4 for 1 split. While my overall investment remains financially the same, I was wondering if it would have made sense to add to my position before or after the split.

Why can't we just be honest?

I've heard about the idea of radical honesty before but certain things about it made it hard for me to ever seriously consider. In a way you just don't shy away from topics that can potentially cause other people discomfort and you state your feelings bluntly using observations. The idea is to remove the little "white lies" that we tell for the sake of social norms.

by Hellovon
Only recently has this idea been occurring to me more often, and this time it's in the context of work. Which could potentially be one of the worst places to ignore social norms. You see, some of my friends have become managers at work and their role is new to them. I believe that part of their jobs is to have that radical honesty in evaluating work performance for the people they manage. Separating the "friend" from "subordinate" is probably new to them so they have a hard time giving honest feedback.

The Path of Least Resistance

Mutual Metaphors by Mars-1
Mutual Metaphors by Mars-1

The other day an anonymous commenter wrote:

"Zee, I see from your recent posts how unhappy you really are at your current job. I ask, why don't you look for something else, something in a completely different field even. You are not living paycheque to paycheque, maybe the universe is telling you to take that leap. Of course your goal is not to work at all but might as well try and find something better until then."

First I would like to say, thank you anonymous commenter, really, thank you. I appreciate you reading and taking the time to even comment on something I wrote. It's nice to know that someone noticed a theme with my work lately and suggested that I make a significant change to it.