Tag Archives: saving up

But I want that…

Not buying is so much harder than you might think. Back in February, I adopted a rather hardline approach to my finances and declared: “I am no longer going to buy things I don’t need” (since we’ll be getting rid of everything next Spring). So easy, right?

Well, what might that entail?

Superfluous purchases, of course: Nice dinners out at restaurants instead of cooking. Going to the gym. Buying clothing that we won’t take with us. And so on.

How’s that going?

Yeah, not so well (I’m trying). But not entirely horrible. I did quit my gym, though I still assert that the YMCA is much better than any corpo-gym conglomerate out there (no soul sucking contracts and they do help the community). I started running in my neighborhood and doing half-assed sit ups in lieu of the treadmill and workout machines. No progress on the gut-o-meter yet, though.

Eating in is always difficult when you live in an area that has so much good food. Two nights ago it was Burmese, last night Tapas, and just now (for shame), a French soul food lunch (I did leave my turkey sandwich at home). I’ve tried to be diligent with grocery shopping, and I really do love cooking, but lately it seems it can be just as expensive to make your own food.

Everything does cost more in California.

As far as clothing, I know I will go utilitarian once we leave. I look forward to having 5 shirts to my name. It makes life easier, and I doubt anyone would notice, since I wear the same thing every day.

And in that, I realise the absurdity of living in the first world, where we worry about having TOO much…and ponder TOO many choices. We are truly lucky.

The least I can do is donate all of my clothing on our departure. Though, I’m sure there are better ways to do it than just going to Salvation Army (will have to look into this).

Streamlining to save is indeed quite an arduous task. It takes discipline and focus. Two things I’m hoping Mia will help me with once she returns to the Bay Area in a few weeks.

In the meantime, I should probably go patch up the holes in my shoes.

-Adam

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To cash in or not to cash in

Well, we all know (maybe) that selling off your 401k under normal circumstances is probably a less than intelligent thing to do. My parents berated me early on in my “professional” career about getting my retirement fund off the ground. And in 2005, that was a great idea. Times were good. I put away a sliver of my earnings (7%) and saw my company matching 100% of my first 5% (sounds more confusing than it actually is). Ah, yes. Those were the days.

Have you looked at your 401k lately? I have and it’s enough to consider therapy.

Maybe you’re smart enough to have kept your money out of the stock market. But for those of us in it, a lot of experts (read: people who have no clue) may tell you to weather the storm. Alright, I see the appeal and it sort of makes sense. Sort of. I have a chunk of change sitting there and it’s buying stuff up. Now that some stocks are so cheap, I’m buying up shares in a massive quantity while I sleep. So, of course the optimist’s view is one that espouses to wait it out–markets will return to a healthy state, and I’ll have a portfolio that’s thick and rich (literally). No need to get nervous nelly and sell it off. But as every annoying, yelling guy and gal on MSNBC will yell at you: “WE HAVE NO IDEA HOW LONG THIS IS GOING TO LAST!” Is it time?

Well, there’s the obvious hitch (of course)–we’re traveling the world for at least a year and this is a good chunk of money that could help us out. During this time, no money will be getting saved and more money will need to be spent. Where is all that money coming from? See my previous posts. But so, so much more could come from my juicy, tempting and fatally failing 401k fund, right?

I’ve actually stopped my contributions this year. That 7% I was throwing in? Yeah, well it’s going directly to my ING account instead. They seem to be able to hold onto it. I’ve lost more than 60% of my total portfolio value in the past 14 months. I just don’t care to throw more money away right now when the primary goal is, duh, saving.

So, I ask, what would you do in this situation? I’m still young (sort of, right?) and have plenty of time to start a fund back up if I indoctrinate myself back into corporate America (not likely). Is there harm? Well, I consider the government taking a third of it as harmful, but that’s just me. Apart from the inevitable tax nightmare, what else is at stake?

Weigh in, why don’t ya:

-Adam

_The Grown-Up’s Guide to Running Away From Home_ & savings goal updates

So, there it is. Wedged between the maps, “rough guides” and travel diaries on the shelves of my favorite travel bookstore, Get Lost, is The Grown-Ups Guide to Running Away From Home. Now, normally, I am not one for whimsy. If you can tell anything from my previous posts, I love a healthy dose of reality. But something about this book was begging me to pick it up and flip through (this was, of course, before I stumbled upon The Practical Nomad). After a quick skim, it seemed like this book was pretty relevant, and the price was right, too. Why the hell not?

Now that I’ve actually read the thing, I can say wholeheartedly that I still hate whimsy, and that this book was not even remotely penned for anything like what Mia and I plan to do. The author, Rosanne Knorr, seems more interested in letting people know how to continue their yuppie lifestyle–just on a villa overlooking a Tuscan sunset.

While she does address some of the practicalities involved with living abroad, many are dusted over with nary a concern for the harsh and necessary details. The guiding principle of this book seems to be, “with enough money thrown at it, it will work out.” This is not for the budget traveler. Now, the title may seem clear enough to you–grown-ups. Although only 27, I consider myself a “grown-up,” but much of the myopic nature of this book confounded me. The intended audience seems to be those suffering from a midlife crisis with enough money to bankroll a getaway excursion. Hardly any practical travel tips are discussed, in fact, a lot of the things Knorr suggests seem really expensive. A quick scan through the book again yielded no mentions of hostels. At times, the book comes across as a condescending, xenophobic how-to guide for being a dick in another country (I think this is already second nature for enough people, do we need to teach it?)

Don’t even get me started on the anecdotes (that must have been sent in by readers of earlier editions?) and how corny they are. One woman laments(?) how that they hated to leave behind all their furniture in states, but how nice it was that their new Moroccan home came fully furnished. Well, save for her pesky husband Bob, and how he just HAD to have his darn rototiller. “He can’t live without it!” Gag.

If you’re a disgraced AIG exec with money to burn, you probably already have this in your Amazon checkout cart. For younger travelers looking for more in-depth travel and relocation advice, keep looking. There’s better stuff out there.

Enough with my foaming of the mouth. Yesterday was pay day, and also teabagging tax day (apparently), so it’s a milestone for the piggy bank. Given that our planning has gone into overdrive lately, this is the first chance for me to strike a raw budget (have mercy, no Excel) and set some serious cash aside. I was surprised after crunching the numbers that I was able to stash away about 7% of my final savings goal!

The middle of the month is always a better financial time for me, since most of my bills come due at the end of the month. In the past, this usual excess of cash was a false buffer, one that usually evaporated with enough time (a week?). Saving money is a habitual act (must.not.buy.beer.) Once you start doing it long enough, it becomes automatic. I’m not fully automatic yet, but it’s getting a lot easier.

– Adam

Maximize earnings potential (or something)

Back when we started talking about our leave (oh, the faraway land of February), I made a general estimate about the amount of money we might need in order to support ourselves overseas for 9 to 12 months: USD$15,000. Mia and I were on vacation, visiting my parents in Florida, and to me, the whole idea of dropping out of our daily lives (map in hand) to take up travel was still a “maybe.” The money, I figured, would be sorted out sooner or later.

Of course, the $15K was only an estimate, and not one thoroughly informed by the intricacies or unexpected things world travel entails. I had to start somewhere, I guess, and that seemed like a good, round and terrifyingly hard to reach number. Now that I’ve had a chance to do some more extensive research, a better number for us to have would be a nice, even more terrifying USD$20,000. Some will argue that even that isn’t enough, but our plans for workshares and volunteering will come up in future posts.

After I left Florida and got home, I started sorting through my finances. Bills, bills, BILLS. Ack. What could I cut? (How about running for FREE, outside [weird] instead of in a gym for USD$65 a month?) What could I absolutely not live without? (The internet. Do I even need to explain this?) And where the hell am I going to find this damn money? (TBD.) I figured I would try to save at least $12K myself to lift some of the burden off Mia, who is in the midst of a disparate transition from college to this bleak work-world.

The bad news is, I’ve never been a good saver. Back when I was a Boy Scout, I did indeed earn the Personal Finance merit badge, but my Mom taught the course, and perhaps nepotism (er, joke?) allowed for my slack on the specifics of how it actually “works,” and prompted the slide into the financial tumult I found myself in a decade later. Racked with student loan and personal debt from a cross-country move (and several other questionable moves) and years of knowing better, but not doing better, I am faced with some serious issues.

My salary is good, and would be GREAT, have I none of the aforementioned. But frankly, the goal is too strong to let the equally irresponsible financial sector pin me down to grinding away for “the man,” just so I can make good on my debts (Up the punks!) Not that I plan on running away from them (down the punks!), or declaring bankruptcy (hardly an easy task anymore). Rather, it’s time to own up and figure out how I can maximize earnings to keep me afloat overseas while squelching debt at home. Yeah, I cringed after typing that last sentence.

Over the past few years, I have occasionally taken part in research or focus groups to earn extra cash. My casual participation would yield $75 here, $100 there, and always free pizza and soda. One time we got an advertising company to pay us each $100 and buy us pizza and beer (always better than free soda).

Now, more than ever, these little paychecks have me scouring market research groups’ sites and Craigslist looking for opportunities to voice my opinions on everything from cell phone service to hair gel. One thing I can guarantee–they love a talker. Get your gab on and you’ll be hearing from these folks again.

Keeping up on this kind of thing can be tiring, especially if your day job frowns upon you scouring the internet for other work. But if you don’t mind getting up early (before work, of course), and checking Craigslist, you might find the most opportunities. The Bay Area isn’t exactly rife with early risers, so I’ve gotten plenty of call-backs for focus groups from replying to ads as soon as they go up.

Maybe a year or two ago, I would have frowned or look down on this kind of hustle and bustle for cash. Nowadays, with our journey (and co$t) in clear view, I’m prepared to take on any extra task. So, I ask you, “do you need your lawn mowed?”

-Adam

_The Practical Nomad_ & savings strategies (part 1)

As some of my friends know, I have been devouring Edward Hasbrouck’s The Practical Nomad.

It’s probably the best how-to, what-happens-if, and what-the-eff-do-I-do-about-XYZ book I have seen yet. Not only is this guy a well-versed, intrepid traveler, he is also a Bay Area resident! If you have any interest at all in extensive (or even limited) world travel, definitely pick up this book.

I’m definitely not the saver I need to be (yet), but I am on my way!

Late last year, I signed up for a Mint account (I know, I’m late on this one), and so far as I can tell from their detailed spending graphs, I spend a lot of money on coffee every day. On my way to work, between lunch and dinner, and sometimes on my way home — it all adds up to an incredible amount.

My average daily intake? about $6.30. Okay, you might be thinking that’s not much, and to many, coffee is an essential, not a luxury. But let’s take a closer look at those numbers:

Multiply intake by the 4 or 5 days a week I’m in the office and you get? $31.50 a week!

It gets worse – that averages out to $126 a month, and over $1500 will be spent by the time we leave. Thanks for the info, Mint, but what do I do about it? Unfortunately, this kind of financial info doesn’t go very far if you don’t know how to change your habits.

Luckily, this is an easy one. A lot of my coffee is consumed in transit anyway, so I purchased a mini French press coffee maker that will make only a couple cups at a time–perfect to top off a travel mug on my way out the door.

Now, now, the French press is not a new concept for me. I already have an 8-cup press, but I don’t have the time every morning to drink through it, nor do I want to waste 6 to 7 cups of coffee when I’m in a hurry. At USD$14 and coffee at about USD$8, this thing will pay for itself in a week.

Every drop helps, right?

-Adam

It’s all for sale

Selling my first sentimental items this week was only a test of the further dedication I must adopt in order to see our savings goal for the trip come to fruition. Some might look at the stack of 45s I put on eBay as nothing more than some screamy, crappy music that should have been left in the nineties. But how do you just get rid of the soundtrack to your teenage life?


Note: not an actual important record related to the story.

Last week, I thumbed through the thousands of records I have and picked out the ones that would be the hardest for me to sell. It had to start somewhere, right? Why not get the nittiest and grittiest out of the way first.

I tried to choose a batch of records that I loved and have had for a while (and to be honest, a few that could really net some cash). I’ve put out a handful of records myself, either of my own music or friends’ bands, but those will never get sold at any point (they will eventually make up the “care package” I’ll be sending my parents before we leave). Besides, the things that are most valuable to me are probably worthless to others.

The first night of the auction, I had some terrible, winding and cyclical dreams. I’m pretty sure that in my lucid state I kept coming back to our initial decision to leave. It was like my mind was still reeling and spinning about–even in a state of rest–trying to process the flutter and excitement that comes with these grandiose plans.

After the rough night of semi-sweaty, shifting sleep, I checked the auction. Overnight, It had crept up to $40. I started to wonder if I was doing the right thing.

Later that day, I was looking up hostels in Paris. A lot of friends who had traveled Europe insisted that accommodations at hostels could regularly be attainted for US$5-10 a night. Nevermind that some of these people had not traveled in years, I took their anecdotal advice at face value and assumed that some rooms would be at least close to that price.

On the other hand, I was a little skeptical, considering the weakness of the dollar, paired with the general slump (as we are all painfully aware of) the global economy is in. As I started browsing hostel sites, my naivete and lack of world travel became frightfully apparent.

“Forty dollars a night for a private room?”

Screech, halt, stop the record. I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t the fun of traveling (and the point of hosteling) to stay in the dorm-style room with 12 other weirdos and raise hell all night? Look, I’m all for economy stays, and know full well we will need to do that to make our money last, but that’s not the kind of romantic Parisian stay I had in mind. Sensing defeat, I started to convince myself that the imagined 2 weeks I had wanted to devote to Paris may have to dwindle down to less than one.

As I listened to my headphones on the train ride home that evening, a familiar song came on via the shuffled playlist. Unwound’s fiery “Totality” snapped me out of my morose commute. It’s one of those songs that make you want shout out loud until every son of a bitch on the train is banging on seats, jumping up and down, and screaming their lungs out. It also happened to be a single I was selling in my eBay batch.

I walked home a little faster than usual that night as a wave of optimism washed over me. As soon as I got back to my computer, I pulled up the auction. Still $40. Damn. Well, it had only been one day.

I slumped into my chair and looked at the stack of records sitting next to my desk. Quite suddenly, I started thinking about all the terrible, miserable times I actually had around the time I listened to them the most. This indeed was the soundtrack to a part of my life all right, just not one I needed to keep feeling nostalgic for. Did I really care about these pressed pieces of wax? In a sense yes, but the more I pondered it, the more they started to look like a private night’s stay in Paris.

Only a few thousand more to go.

-Adam