September 2022: Financial Snapshot

Hi! Wow, we’re already at the end of September, and I did remember last minute that I had to update you on my financial situation coming from August. It’s a pretty fun month, since I had 3 paychecks due to the weird biweekly situation with pay, and I’m glad to report that there has been a lot of progress in the net worth view as well.

From the financial perspective, here’s what happened:

Income$6,5003 paychecks, baby!
Expenses$8,200Still haven’t figured out how to adequately measure combined expenses, and also combined income since we split our spending. Maybe count inflow of money from spouse as “income”?
Assets$10,600Slowly but steadily adding to investment accounts
Debts$40,700Combined student loans
Net worth($31,800)

We added a good chunk of net worth through repaying more of my student loans with a sizeable part of the paychecks. Can’t wait until all those payments are going straight into our investment accounts!

Another thing I wanted to talk about this month was how much I really struggled with feelings of deprivation and how I still intrinsically tie some of those things to purchases. I know logically in my brain that the more aggressively I save, the more I will be able to retire early, but I also live in the fear of not having enough time to enjoy the simple things in life, some of which unfortunately is tied to money. And due to the budget and my spouse and I’s pretty frugal nature, we don’t usually spend on things that aren’t important to us or give us happiness. So I just try to give myself grace and remind myself that this spend is good spend in that it contributes to my quality of life and happiness anyway, and that there is already enough aggressiveness in our saving/repayment rate that our path will still be relatively short compared to others in the rat race.

I had a bad breakdown about this topic because of the guilt I felt with non-necessary spending, and my spouse basically balanced out the guilt I felt with good advice and his more relaxed perspective on our financial path. It feels good to have a partner that can do that, and still be well on our way to an early retirement for both of us.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with our progress for this month, and looking forward to our continued progress in the coming months!


August 2022: Financial Snapshot

Hey! I’ve decided to start posting updates on how my finances have been on a monthly basis because 1) I finally got a job which allows me to 2) make some good progress on my financial goals and take steps toward FI.

I graduated from my masters program this summer after taking on a lot of debt and finally got started on loan repayments and setting up the foundations of my new life.

Due to ridiculous interest rates that keep rising because of inflation, COVID disruptions, and the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, paying off my student loans is my number 1 priority, then I will be focusing on building up our emergency fund and then investing our assets. For now, here’s where we are at as of August 2022:

Income$7,400Received my bonus this month, hence the large income amount
Assets$8,600Most of these are in cash
Debts$44,300Combined student loans
Net worth($34,700)

For some context where I’m coming from, I took out around $70,000 in loans in 2020 and had 0 assets and income since I was a full-time student. So to actually progress in loan payments was an awesome feeling!

Another thing I’m struggling with is the tracking of separate/combined finances. I’m tracking my own personal income and assets but also tracking combined expenses and debts. We keep parts of our income separate and have a combined account for shared expenses.

Hopefully this tracking will serve as motivation and a progress report for when I look back over the months/years.

Life Things

The continuing struggle of consumerism

I have been rereading Fumio Sasaki’s book which I found in the local library to encourage me on my journey towards looking for less. The more I live in the U.S. and am exposed to American levels of consumerism, the more it becomes difficult honestly. Also, getting more used to the comfort of living in a first-world country opened my eyes to how many consumerist solutions there are for literally almost any problem you can think of. Specialized jackets, specialized pillows, everything delivered to your house, same-day delivery – it’s so easy and comfortable to fall into the trap.

One of the most common strategies I see touted online is to give a 24h or so leeway before purchasing an item. When 24 hours is up and you still want to buy it, buy it. The problem is this doesn’t work for me. My mind has an obsessive quality to it and it won’t stop randomly thinking about something if I decide I want to buy it. It can go on for many days before I forget it, so I don’t follow this rule or else I would just be buying everything.

Two things I’m trying out now are to refrain from buying new things when other things are still in shipping, and to stop dining out during the weekdays. To be honest, this has not been a habit of mine until I lived here. I am not in a city so it is not comfortable to just walk out to a restaurant or a grocery and buy food. The grocery is around 10-15 minutes away by foot, which is fine, but going back lugging heavy groceries is not fine. However, I now have access to an Amazon Prime account so I am using their Amazon Fresh delivery services for free to try out grocery delivery. This is still more expensive than actually going to the grocery and just buying food, but it’s healthier and cheaper than dining out during the weekdays when I’m out of groceries.

The shipping thing is something I came up with when I noticed that during the holiday season (which is basically November to January because of Thanksgiving and winter break), I would always buy at least one thing every day. So in order to curb the spending a bit, I opted to start with this rule and then hopefully progress to rules like Buy Nothing Week when I’m able.

Hope you’re all keeping safe!


A Quick Update

Hi LFL! I just wanted to kick off a quick post as I have fallen out of the habit of writing for myself, and so being able to write something personal out should be a good start to restarting that habit.

I have been enjoying my summer break a lot, learning valuable lessons through my internship and have in fact recently completed my final presentation to the department leaders. It went really well and I’m looking forward to taking the next 3 weeks to enjoy summer before launching back into grad school.

I had a COVID scare but it was thankfully not COVID and I have since recovered.

I have joined the local library and started borrowing books.

I want to learn how to drive. (Much needed here in the States! Or maybe even just culturally needed. People are quite shocked to hear that an adult does not know how to drive.)

Lastly, I am planning to go to Florida and enjoy some much needed beach time to soak up the sun. Look forward to more updates in the near future!


Rediscovering Art

Art has always been a dear friend to me, as I grew up dreaming about becoming a mangaka, to visiting museums and becoming heavily involved in the music scene. Funnily enough, I ended up in business through a twisted turn of events, and I actually weirdly enjoy it. Business is multidimensional and complex, making for some intellectually stimulating discussions, mostly about people.

But I find that the more I throw myself into work and school, the more effort I have to put in to include art in the picture.

Recently, I rediscovered the importance of art again through a podcast called Interesting People Reading Poetry. They feature people from various walks of life who talk about their favorite poem. There was an episode about an elegy, and the words of the poem, the artist’s interpretation, and the music that accompanied it, were all intensely moving. I felt myself become pensive and somber, thoughtful about the meaning of life and saying goodbye to the past in every new phase I enter. Did I ever give an elegy to the parts of myself and my old life that I left behind?

It’s striking how much one can adapt the meaning of art to their own experiences. And it’s part of why I like it so much. I hope art can be something essential I can keep in my life while I continue looking for less.


Food in the US vs. Me

I had watched documentaries like “Super Size Me” and have heard stories from friends who had traveled to the States, but I was still shocked by the food sizes that are available here in the U.S. Most everything is massive. And I mean MASSIVE.

I went through a Wendy’s drive through and got a small drink. The drink that arrived was the size of a Large back home. On my first trip to a grocery store, I was surprised by how huge the produce was, and how I could find no small milk containers, which ended up with me throwing about half of my milk away in the trash (yikes!).

Although I realize that throwing away things you don’t need is a part of keeping possessions to the minimum, I also try to be environmentally-conscious and hate throwing food or drink away. It’s also harder to consume these huge sizes as a small person (don’t need that much food) who lives in a tiny household with different diets (not everyone will drink cow milk or eat salad).

As a result of these huge food sizes, I gained a couple of pounds in my first 30 days right away, after remaining at the same weight for basically my whole life. In the end, I developed some hacks to try to bring portions back to a normal level for my body’s needs:

  1. Realize that sizes are huge. I think that half the battle is being aware of what and how much you’re eating in the first place. I try not to eat meals mindlessly (a struggle!) and when I order out, I make a habit of eating only half of what I bought and setting aside the other half for the next meal.
  2. Get the smallest sizes. I’ve made the mistake of buying regular sizes before, and I could not finish them. I rein myself in from ordering any other size than small, because based on experience, I’m probably not going to finish eating it anyway.
  3. Groceries are king. I like eating out, but COVID has made dining in a lot more attractive and is safer. I recently overhauled my complete diet by trying to actually build a healthy one, and have been going to the grocery to get my complete list. I find grocery trips fun, mostly because it’s the only time I get to go out of the house, and there is a certain satisfaction in knowing you’re eating healthy food that’s homemade.

My American friends laugh at me when I tell them these things, but I have definitely heard the same sentiments from other foreigners in the area. How about you? Have you been to the U.S. and what was your impression about food sizes?


Decluttering Events

One of the big demands of an MBA degree is just finding time for everything. While going back to school is an exciting prospect, there’s so many things you can do while you’re in the switching phase of your career, not to mention for someone like me who moved abroad to pursue a degree.

I am constantly bombarded left and right by invites to job fairs, conferences, coffee chats, virtual seminars, club events, hang outs, reminders for pending internship applications, business newsletters, LinkedIn learning, plus the constant pinging of the cohort group chat on academic matters. It’s enough to drive someone insane! At the beginning, I had a hold of it, but now the inbox flow is getting overwhelming and I definitely need to declutter this part of my life.

As I thought about it, I realized the root was really knowing my priorities. Since I’m switching careers, I’m in exploration mode and have a whole host of things I think I would do well at or be interested in. Product management, project management, consulting, tech – the possibilities are endless and there are so many info sessions that I can’t even keep up anymore.

The first step to declutter events was really to decide which career, for me, I should prioritize. Thinking long-term about what I wanted in work and life, I decided to seriously invest my time in product management, and have started shelling out money as well to learn more about it and network with professionals in the field. The funny thing is, prior to business school, I was supposed to transfer to a product management position in my own company. Ha!

Hopefully in the following weeks, my inbox will slow down its receipt of new events, and I’ll be at peace with the decision I’ve made. When that day comes, I’m sure I’ll appreciate all the unharried time I have just doing things that are important to me.


Networking vs. Mindful Connections

In business school, there is always a strong emphasis on building and using your network. All my life, I have only made connections with people I feel I would get along with, which frustrated my bosses and other people trying to teach me how to network. However, I have long considered networking for the sake of an ulterior motive slightly manipulative and therefore inauthentic.

I’ve started doing networking again, in an attempt to find champions for my internship search, and it’s been a lot more enjoyable this time around. I don’t feel inauthentic because I do authentically want to learn more about their backgrounds, and I’ve met some cool and helpful folks that I would like to keep in touch with. Yet I still feel a bit overwhelmed by meeting so much new people in a short amount of time.

I think a lot about how to maintain these new connections. Are they mindful? Or was my old approach to meeting new people more mindful? This definitely feels more intentional, but the old friends I made seem to have built into more natural friendships, or is that only because of the ease of developing relationships in the context of a fixed situation (school, work)?

For people that I do not have bonding opportunities with on a regular basis, how do I nurture these relationships? How do I even know that they want me to maintain these relationships, especially if they started off as formal meetings to gain more knowledge? It is doubly harder in today’s remote world. At least in person, you can kind of sense if the other party likes you or not. It’s harder for me to guess via phone call.

What I’m doing so far is just reaching out and seeing if they reach back to me. If not, after a few tries, I assume the interest to maintain the relationship is not mutual, and I just drop all contact. Time will tell if this is actually the most useful method.


The Big Move

I moved halfway across the world to the United States in order to pursue further education. This halted all my decluttering activities as I had to basically pack my whole life into 2 suitcases and hope I could just buy anything I needed without it costing too much.

After a grueling 24-hour flight with layovers, I landed in the East Coast and have started rebuilding my life in terms of the things that I need to support me. This first month was filled with Amazon purchases of essentials, such as deodorant and moisturizer, as well as nice-to-haves like a ring light I purchased for my desk interviews.

While I feel bad that I have been spending too much, more than I would spend normally, I think that I should be gentle to myself because I am undergoing a huge change that definitely affects a lot of parts of my life. Throughout the few weeks I’ve been here though, I’ve discovered something that made me very happy:

Buy Nothing groups! I discovered Buy Nothing when I was still back home, and was actually in the process of setting one up for my community. But since my move date got pushed up unexpectedly, I abandoned that plan. But there were several active Buy Nothing groups in my area, and I joined one to see how it was like. It was really active, and the members are very kind towards each other, which was encouraging. I hope to participate and give away some unneeded things in the future as well!

Another thing that was amazing was the prevalence of Facebook Marketplace. While I am not a big Facebook advocate, the active Marketplace made it easy for me to get a desk and a chair for less than $50 combined, while some of my classmates spent upwards of $200 on their furniture alone. As a student who is living on borrowed money, I do not want to have unnecessarily huge purchases and these were lifesavers for me!

I fixed my drawers in Marie Kondo fashion, with the folded clothes standing up, which saved me a lot of space. But I have yet to declutter everything in this apartment.

I will share more updates and photos next time, once I can set aside time to fix my surroundings. See you then!


Declutter 2: Books

I don’t know a single person who finds it easy to throw away books.

I think that’s probably because I myself love books and used to be a voracious bookworm, so I must have surrounded myself with a lot of like-minded people growing up. I was raised in a household with its own tiny library and I used to buy books, not clothes, as retail therapy.

I actually went on a book-buying spree earlier this year as my credit card provided me with free book gift certificates as rewards for my good payment behavior so I found myself stockpiling a lot of books that seemed interesting. Eventually though, I wasn’t able to read them all due to the precarious act of balancing my hectic work schedule, doing extracurriculars, and resting.

Therefore it was with apprehension that I approached the task of decluttering my books. First, all of them were scattered in various places around the house, making it a lot more tiring to get them together and dump them on a table, unlike my clothes which were all in one box. Second, since my family is big on books, sometimes I could not remember which books were mine or were actually owned by someone else.

It took me a day to round up all my books and then go through them one by one, determining which ones I did not want to keep. I’m not sure if it’s because my ability to “detect joy” is better now that I went through all my clothes, but sorting through my books was faster this time around. Yay!

In the end, I chose to discard roughly fifteen to twenty books. What did I do with these?

I find it wasteful to throw away books because they’re a great channel of knowledge transfer! It seems lame to throw away things that others can still benefit from. Since all of my books are in perfectly usable condition, I posted them all up for sale online at greatly reduced prices. It feels nice to think that other people will be getting these books at cheap rates and will love them and learn from them just the same.

To make sure I didn’t needlessly hang on to these books out of sentimentality or change my mind halfway, I set myself a deadline – August 15 – where I can donate whatever hasn’t been sold yet. To be honest, I’m not sure where you can donate books, but I’m sure there is a place out there that would gladly have them.

For the books I decided to keep, I utilized the bookshelf in my old room and organized everything by height. It looks so neat and tidy! I’m sure it would be a breeze to clean it up.

Coming next: Papers!