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sweet seattle I think I might love Seattle

Seattle is a city in which I’ve never lived. I’ve only visited twice, for less than a week each time (and it drizzled, as expected, both times). But Seattle is also a city that gives me the vibe that I’d really LOVE living there. Who knows, perhaps we’ll give it a try in the next 5 years, or even sooner.

Why Seattle might be a pretty good place for us:

  • The greenery! The natural beauty! The hiking! Lately, I’ve been making a concerted effort to go hiking every weekend. And the more I do it, the more I enjoy it. And the Pacific Northwest has so much natural beauty and verdant landscape, and that’s something I’m realizing I want, more and more.
  • The job market seems OK – the tech sector, while not as big as the Bay Area’s, seems strong enough, and there are several big name companies and lots of start-ups in the area that could be future possibilities for CB and me.
  • No state income tax. Enough said.
  • People seem really laid-back and chill. And those are our types of people.
  • The housing market is manageable – Redfin informs me that we can get a bungalow in a central-ish part of town for less than $400,000. Miracle of miracles!
  • There’s public transportation, which is another aspect I will value strongly in a future, more permanent locale.
  • Good ethnic food, especially Asian food (albeit probably not as good nor as varied as California’s).
  • We have friends up in the area, and we have friends who REALLY like Seattle. And we really like these friends. So I figured if we like them and they like Seattle, well, then, we might like it as well.
  • There’s a major airport, this is important because not being able to fly makes me so, so antsy.

And here are the reasons we may not move to Seattle:

  • The gray! The rain! The SAD! We can buy UV lamps and book winter getaways, but this will just be something we have to accept if we decide to move here, and having both grown up in sunny SoCal, I don’t know how we’d adapt. I imagine it’s the same for most people.
  • Distance from family. All our family live in Southern or Northern California, and it’s going to be hard to be more than an hour’s flight away. I love my folks and I’d want to be closer to them.
  • The Seattle-Tacoma Airport is not really a hub for any major airlines – it’s going to be difficult to give up direct flights to lots of locations. I’ve also heard that SeaTac is quite an expensive airport to fly in and out of.

In any case, this is all just daydreaming and thinking out loud.

But I’m curious – do I have any readers who live or have lived in Seattle? What says you about the Emerald City?

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach - I lived there for 8 years and really liked it. Pros: the city has so much to offer, and it’s very livable. And the outdoor recreation is wonderful, and it’s SO pretty. It’s also more affordable than Cali, but I moved there from Detroit so it was more expensive. There is a also live music.

    Cons: Ok but keep in mind I left in 2003. At the time, traffic was tough but manageable. When I was there a year ago to visit, traffic was out of hand. Insane! But coming from Cali this might not be a big deal. If you work on the eastside, you probably want to live there because crossing the bridges is terrible. The weather can also get to you too, but if you take up skiing or snowboarding, you start to look forward to the rain because you know it’s snowing in the mountains.ReplyCancel

  • jeff - I wouldnt toss out Sea-Tac airport just yet.

    http://online.wsj.com/articles/delta-alaska-airlines-go-to-war-
    over-seattle-1404076082

    Seattle is a pretty fun place, but i’ve only been there once.ReplyCancel

  • Dy - Hi! I live in Seattle now (well, the suburbs, anyway), and I love love love it… I came back after a five-year stint in Washington DC many years ago, met my husband, fell in love, married, bought a house, had babies, etc. etc. Seattle’s definitely home.

    The ups: People REALLY appreciate sunshine when it comes, and foreigners and transplants don’t really realize how much sunny, non-rainy weather we actually get. EVERYONE goes out when it’s sunny; when it’s overcast is the perfect time for a park or walk along the rivers or in the woods… We have TONS of greenery; this isn’t like any other industrialized city I’ve ever seen. We have TREES, people!! Everywhere! It’s a great place to raise kids (especially my super pale, redheaded ones), and housing is very affordable right now.

    The downs: Yeah, sure, it rains, but if you truly love Seattle, you’ll ignore that part. The public transpo system SUCKS – it takes 2-3 times longer to get where you need to go, AND you have to transfer a million times to do it if you don’t expressly live downtown. The train is nice for those of us in outlying communities. The traffic, also, sucks; we are DEFINITELY at capacity for the lanes – you can tell by how the HOV lane on the freeway is often just as slow as the solo lanes. They keep saying they’ll fix it, but instead, they just keep making our bridges toll bridges and building new stadiums for teams we don’t have. No state tax is true, but we do have a pretty high sales tax – about 10% atm. And, they slip in levies just about EVERYWHERE with no voter input.

    Do the pros outweigh the cons? Well, I’m still here!! :D I would definitely recommend Seattle to anyone who is even slightly outdoorsy, who enjoys quiet communities and safe neighborhoods, and who likes the ability to “change their scenery” without having to drive 10 hours to get away from it all.

    Good luck in your choice!ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Thanks for this very helpful comment! I’m hoping to plan a visit to Seattle next Spring. In any case, it’s fun to daydream about potential cities.ReplyCancel

      • Dy - Ah, spring :) If you can, try to aim for the end of the Spring instead of the beginning; in school growing up, they taught us that March was “In like a lion, out like a lamb”, meaning that it’s still basically winter at the beginning – cold, wet, rainy, windy – and by the end, it’s beautiful and sunny and mild in weather. April is the “April showers bring May flowers” rhyme, of course, and it’s true here… we get some nice, warm rain in April. Either way, be sure to bring a water-resistant jacket with you, because even in nice weather, in March/April, the nights can be a little chilly. Good luck! I’ve been reading your blog a LOOOOONG time, and I’m super excited to be able to comment on something I know about!ReplyCancel

  • Taylor Lee - I’ve been to Seattle once so I’m not a very good judge, but it was definitely raining at the time (April/May) and I’m pretty sure the never-any-sun thing would get to me.ReplyCancel

good choices When The Universe says Stop Spending!

Last night, I ordered a $250 Kate Spade patent leather clutch (in the shape of a fan! Be still, my heart) from Bloomingdales.com. Today, I received an email that my order has been cancelled because they need some additional information that I didn’t provide in time (who expects a response to a non-work email / phone call in less than 24 hours?!).

I thought about re-doing the order, then I thought again: this failure to get Bloomingdales to take my money may be a sign from The Universe that I should not spend $250 on a patent leather clutch, no matter how stylish and fancy it is. Instead, I deposited the equivalent amount into my Roth IRA.

Score 1 for the sign from The Universe and Discipline.

Have you guys heard of BrightScope? It’s a company that scores a company’s 401K plan among several dimensions. The 401K, alongside IRAs, is one of the only major tax advantaged retirement vehicles middle class Americans have access to. And with pensions on the decline, it’s more important than ever to have, and use, a good 401K plan.

BrightScope gives every company’s 401K plan a score that depends on the program’s design (total plan cost and company generosity) and performance (participation rate, salary deferrals, average account balances). In short, the company has more control of the design aspects, and employees have more control over the performance aspect – but a good design such as higher company matches can drive good performance such as higher participation rates.

The higher the rating, the better the plan in terms of both design and performance. In addition to the rating, BrightScope provides information on net plan assets, total number of participants, percentile performance compared with all other rated plans or plans of the same size. It’s a very interesting peek into a company’s 401K plan – especially your own!

brightscope examples1 How good is your 401K plan? BrightScope helps you find out
For example, IBM is doing very well, with a 87 BrightScope rating. There are over 200,000 plan participants, and the average plan balance is a hefty $240,000. Consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble has a 79: the plans has very low fees and the company is generous with matches, but employees aren’t contributing enough to their plans, hurting the company’s BrightScope rating. The white-shoe law firm Perkins Coie has a 85 rating, and 2,000 plan participants with an average balance of $220,000! I’m guessing that this balance is driven up by all the partners and high earning associates?

My own firm is in the top 15% of firms for company generosity and lowest fees, but participation rates and salary deferral are below average. My mother always said that her plan isn’t very good – and BrightScope supports her observations: my mom’s 401K is rated a mediocre 62 - with middling company generosity and average fees. The good news is that at least people in her company are saving – salary deferrals are above average.

Does the BrightScope rating jive with what you know / think of your own 401K?

Over the long weekend, CB and I went on a mini-hiking trip to Pedernales Falls State Park and Enchanted Rock State National Area in western Texas. As newbie hikers who enjoy our creature comforts, our itinerary of hiking + BnB + hiking + nap fits us perfectly. Pedernales Falls took my breath away. I literally spent an hour saying “this is unreal” while gesticulating wildly in disbelief as I traipsed over the limestone pools of blue-green water in the canyon beneath the Pedernales Falls Rock Overlook.

pedernales falls Pedernales Falls State Park + Enchanted Rock

The next day we went to climb Enchanted Rock, a big pink granite dome that rises out of what feels like the middle of nowhere. At the top of the dome, though, are vernal pools and vegetation, and trees, growing out of the bits of dirt that come from who-knows-where on this giant rock! It makes me think of the Jurassic Park phrase: “life will find a way.”

I’ve written before about how incredible – and what an incredible value – National Parks are. Well, there is so much beauty in our State Parks and Natural Areas as well. Pedernales Falls State Park only cost $6 a person, and Enchanted Rock was $7 a person. So much awesomeness… for less than the price of a movie ticket! Less than the price of a burrito at Chipotle! Less than the price of a wedge of triple cream brie at Whole Foods!

Exploring these State Parks has inspired me to check out other State Parks. In fact, I’m planning a hike in the Big Basin Redwoods State Park for Thanksgiving.

What are your favorite State Parks?

  • Jane Clare - I love Enchanted Rock!! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I camped there for my birthday this year and we hiked to the peak for sunrise – it was most definitely unreal! It’s also only a hop, skip and a jump away from Fredericksburg, Texas which also boasts some spectacular scenery, wineries and sweet-smelling fields of lavender and wildflowers! Absolutely beautiful! I would suggest visiting during the springtime (for a more specific time frame check out this website: http://www.bluebonnetlove.com/) which is when the bluebonnets and other Texan wildflowers bloom!ReplyCancel

    • Jane Clare - Also, I have lived in San Antonio for about six years now so if you need any suggestions or have any questions please feel free to ask! I used to host couchsurfers regularly and have a ton of resources for enjoying San Antonio off the main drag (although the River Walk is a must see…)ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Thanks! We went up to Enchanted Rock before 10am and was so happy it was relatively cool. If you have suggestions for other state parks in Texas or Oklahoma, let me know!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - Wow this place is beautiful! I’m definitely adding this to places I want to visit :)

    We don’t really have any fun state parks in the St. Louis area :( ReplyCancel

  • Money Pincher - Wow your picture is breathtaking! Depending on how things go, I am planning to go on a road trip with the BF to drive along the Rocky Mountain to check out Yellowstone Park, Banff, Yosemite next year.ReplyCancel

  • Jenny - Wow, looks amazing! For a TX State Park adventure that looks pretty amazing, check out this post from another blogger who lives in DFW: http://lagliv.blogspot.jp/2014/08/palo-duro-canyon-and-summers-last-hurrah.htmlReplyCancel

ocean Im back! And heres whats been going on...

Hello there – it’s been a while! In the weeks since I last wrote, I (1) spent a month traveling to Japan and Europe, spending $10,000 in the process; (2) moved to a new city with exactly 4 dresses, one suit, and 5 pairs of shoes, thereby getting a crash course in minimalist living; (3) started a new job that has a 401K(!!).

Money & marriage – one small step at a time

CB and I have taken a small step towards integrating our money in practice as well as in theory: we set up transfers between our checking accounts. Now instead of me writing him a check or vice versa, we can just use the handy transfer option. We are still aiming to pay for most of CB’s tuition in cash – and thanks to the fortuitous substitution of transferable community college credits for a private university course, we only had to borrow $7,000, instead of the planned $10,000.

Vacation-planning, already?

Even though Christmas is still 4 months away, I’ve already started planning. I have to get away for the holidays or else I don’t feel that I’ve really taken advantage of the time off. So the plan is for us all to meet in San Antonio, Texas to see the Riverwalk, visit Texas Hill Country, and watch the traveling production of Lion King, my mother’s favorite musical. I’m not sure how much this will all cost, but I imagine the house rental will be $1,000-$1,500 for a week, depending on how fancy we want to go. I’d like to pay for the house rental as a Christmas present for my folks, so that’s something I’ll have to budget for.

The monthly paycheck

Speaking of paying for things – I’m now earning a paycheck! But the paycheck is monthly. I’ve never had a monthly paycheck before, so it might take some adjusting to. Mostly I’m just happy I’ll have income again after two years of graduate school. Do people have any advice about getting used to a monthly paycheck? (Maybe something like – know that money gotta last you the whole month?).

No ‘poo no more

I gave up the no-shampoo experiement and have never been happier with this hair decision. In lieu of not shampooing, I purchased a 100% Pure shampoo that cost $18 and is sulfate-free and detergent-free. It’s SO MUCH better than washing my hair with nothing but water. I resolve to never do that again unless I am forced to by circumstance.

So about that MBA…

After graduation I had some time to reflect back on the MBA experience. The big question is… was it worth it? (I wrote a little bit about it in Corporette). Overall, I had a really good time, I made good friends, had good professors, rounded out my business education, and got a good job. If I could’ve done it more cheaply, though, I probably would have. More importantly, I would have made more of a calculated effort during undergraduate years to get a job in a company that paid for full-time or part-time graduate programs. But hindsight is 20/20… so I’m trying to be generous to the 22-year-old me who did not have that foresight.

I didn’t calculate business school ROI before I went (the shame), but I did calculate my breakeven period once I got my full-time offer. Disregarding inflation and compounding interest of the money I could have saved had I kept working, I will have “made back” the cost of business school if I stay in my current job for 2.5 years. I hope this means that MBA will ultimately turn out to be a financially, and not simply personally, rewarding experience.

Our near-term retirement goal…

…Is for CB and I is to get to $250,000 in retirement funds by the end of this year. This will require me to max out my 401K, max out the Roth IRA for CB and I, and the stock market to not crash and burn. I am hopeful on all three of these points – although if #3 happens I can go on a stock-buying spree.

  • debs@debtdebs - Welcome back and congrats on the new job. I’ve read of others giving up on the no poo thing. Alas, maybe I will not try it even though my nephew has been successful.ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ evolvingPF - Glad to hear you’re settled in your new city and have started your job!

    Regarding the monthly paycheck… I’ve only ever been paid monthly and have always thought that being paid every other week would be way more difficult since many bills are only once per month. Bimonthly would be the same as long as you don’t use the money until the following month. Just base your budget on the whole month? How were you doing it before?ReplyCancel

  • NZ Muse - Yay! Sounds like an awesome month.

    I was paid monthly at my last job and I eventually got used to it. Now I’m back to fortnightly and it feels like I’m getting paid ALL THE TIME.

    Monthly is hard because rent is paid weekly in NZ.ReplyCancel

  • Amber - I’ve had a monthly paycheck before. I had my salary direct deposited into a savings account, then automatically transferred half of my regular budget into my checking account on the 1st and 15th of the month.ReplyCancel

  • save. spend. splurge. - I gave up no-poo too.

    To make monthly paycheques work, you need to have money in reserve. That’s it. Once you get into the groove of paying everything out of a reserve and not a paycheque, it’s easy.ReplyCancel

  • Deena Dollars - Congratulations on the new job! :) I’m so excited for you (and CB). Sounds like things are going great. I have never had a monthly paycheck, but in grad school I had quarterly ones – my advice is to keep a cushion in your checking account. I know you do have savings, but for day-to-day mental accounting it will help if you put $X in there, and try to maintain the cushion, but not allow it to stress you out if that fluctuates up or down a bit due to paycheck timing. I’m sure this isn’t the way they’d say it in business school, but cash flow problems are different than not-having-enough-money problems. :) ReplyCancel

  • Liette Seguin - Welcome back! Glad to hear that you have a new job! Keep it on buddy!ReplyCancel

  • Money Pincher - Congrats on the new job! I watched the Lion King musical a while back and loved it. Not sure if it will be them same one?ReplyCancel

  • Jenny - Congratulations on starting the new job! Your Christmas plans sound lovely.ReplyCancel

  • Will (First Quarter Finance) - Holy cow, you’re busy! Heck, I’m gonna subscribe just for the motivation!

    I could never imagine life without shampoo. I get cranky if I haven’t showered within the past 48hrs.ReplyCancel

  • Sue D. - Hello! I just started reading your blog from seeing you on Corporette and am loving it. I run a green beauty blog and thought I would recommend a shampoo for those of us who want clean hair , but not the other junk thats in it. Acure Organics make a great clean shampoo thats half the cost of the 100% Pure one and works great. whenever It starts to feel like a lot of build up you just throw a huge pile of baking soda in with your shampoo and you’re golden. Finally acure (and other companies) all make dry shampoo that’s great, and you can always throw in some cocoa powder since you’re a brunette too! I hoped this helped! Love the blog.ReplyCancel

  • SP - I’m paid monthly for the first time as well, but it is pretty easy to get used to. It does make rent / mortgage easier since it always bothered me that my biggest bill was out of sync with my paycheck schedule.

    Hope the job is going well! Also, hope you post a bit more :) ReplyCancel

  • John - Best wishes on beginning the new job! Your Xmas plans sounds charming.ReplyCancel

  • Myles Money - Congratulations on the new job and on the awesome trip: how was it? And, unless it’s a typo, how on earth did you manage to get return flights to Japan for $78.80?ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I cashed in my miles. So not really “free” as miles have an economic value, but also, not cash either. ;) ReplyCancel

  • Little House - Congrats on the job. I’m on the once a month pay check cycle and I like it. When my pay check comes, I pay all of my bills for the entire month, so everything is planned in advance. I think it’s much easier since I only have to sit down once a month and pay bills.ReplyCancel

If a wine-tasting excursion in Italy, snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of Bora Bora or skiing in the Swiss Alps is on your bucket list for when the kids leave home, you’re not alone. Many empty nesters take this time to embark on adventures to parts of the globe they were not able to visit before. If you’re thinking about spending on vacation now that you’re an empty nester, it’s a good idea to create a travel budget that will keep your financial future in mind. From scheduling automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account to enrolling in online bill pay, use these vacation budgeting tips to help make your dream trip a reality while planning for life in retirement.

Tips for vacation budgeting as an empty nester

The house is quieter than it’s been in years, and you likely have an increased amount of money and free time. Before you spend the extra funds booking your trip abroad, consider opening separate checking and savings accounts designated to spending on vacation. Look at your monthly expenses, including how much you are contributing to your retirement savings, and determine how long you would need to save to be able to travel. Then, use our vacation budgeting tips below to prepare for your big trip:

  • Automatic transfers: When you decide how much you can afford to set aside each month, schedule an automatic transfer to move money from your checking account into your vacation savings account. Automatic transfers are also a good way to make sure retirement savings are made.
  • Reward points: If you’re a member of a loyalty program or receive points for using a debit or credit card, consider cashing in your points for accommodations or airfare.
  • Online travel deals: Many travel agencies feature group vacation deals online. If you have a flexible travel schedule, check online couponing sites for special offers and consider an all-inclusive deal that includes your flight, accommodations, and meals.
  • Off-season discounts: For many vacation destinations, the summer is typically a busy tourist season. Consider traveling in the spring or fall, as you may be able to save money on your trip.

Managing expenses abroad

To avoid going over budget, it’s a good idea to track your spending on vacation. Contact your cell phone carrier before you leave home, and purchase an international data plan for your phone. Then, download your bank’s mobile banking app. Whether you’re at the airport, on the beach or relaxing in the comfort of your hotel, mobile banking provides easy and convenient access to your checking account domestically and abroad. If you have bills that are due during the time you’ll be away, consider scheduling online bill pay before you leave to minimize the stress of making sure your bills are paid on time. Also, notify your bank before you leave that you’ll be traveling internationally, and ask if there will be account fees if you use your card abroad. There will likely be ATMs in the metropolitan areas, but you should consider ordering foreign currency before you leave so you have some cash on hand if immediately needed. The exchange rates of foreign currency will likely be different than the U.S. dollar, so make sure you factor in fees and conversion differences while doing your vacation budgeting.

Planning for your financial future while spending on vacation

Now that your nest is empty, you may be ready to go on your dream vacation. While you likely have more spending money now that the kids are out of the house, it’s still important to keep your financial future in mind as you get closer to retirement. As you plan for your next big trip, create a vacation budget that will allow you discover the world without tapping into your retirement savings account. Use vacation budgeting as a guideline for what you can spend abroad, and determine how many nights you’ll be dining out and what activities you’ll want to do while you’re there. You’ll likely want to buy souvenirs, but consider choosing something you or your kids could really use in the future. Open a checking account for spending on vacation, and try to limit what you buy or do to what you can afford from that account. Consider applying these tips to your vacation budgeting as an empty nester, and experience the world in a whole new way.

Sponsored content was created and provided by RBS Citizens Financial Group.

 

  • No Nonsense Landlord - Great tips. Off-season travel, and even off day travel, saves a bunch. If you have the time to leave and return on a Tuesday, rather than a Saturday, it can be a significant savings.ReplyCancel

  • Nik @ Midlife Finance - Great insights! Perfect planning and right timing will make your vacation not just enjoyable but also not that expensive.ReplyCancel

  • Noreen Astin - I am interested in discount travel deals, particularly to Asia and other less-visited continents. We are empty nesters.ReplyCancel

cheap meals in japan Cheap sit down meals in Japan   how to get full and satisfied for under $10Japan can be an expensive place to visit, but I’ve found it a surprisingly easy place to get cheap and delicious meals. Of course, we purchased snacks and rice balls at convenience stores and had a satisfying breakfast or lunch for under $5 (those rice balls are filling!), but there are times when CB and I just wanted to sit down and relax a bit.  The best thing is that even on a budget, Japanese meals are prepared with care and attention – for the same $10, I’d venture to say that the quality of food in Japan tend to be much higher quality than that in the U.S. or Europe. I’ve noted the prices for both Japanese Yen and US dollars, and the information is accurate as of July 2014.

Here are three of my favorite sit-down places to eat- all chains with multiple locations in Japan – where one person can get full for under $10, and definitely under $15. And because there is no tipping in Japan – in fact, the servers will run after you if you leave change – you can be sure that a $10 dish will actually cost you $10. All three are very foreigner-friendly, with pictures and friendly (if not fluent-English-speaking) staff.

Gogyo

This restaurant’s signature dish is ramen kogashi, or burnt ramen (pictured above). The ramen broth is ladled with spoonfuls of lard burnt at 300 degrees… I assume that’s what those black flakes are. Horrible for your arteries, I’m sure, but delicious for your taste buds, I can attest. A ramen kogashi (with your choice of either miso- or soy sauce-based soup) only cost 850 yen, or around $9. One of my biggest regrets is that I only went to Gogyo once. I believe there are 5 Goygos in Tokyo and Kyoto. It is SO GOOD. Go to Gogyo. Go go go. http://ramendining-gogyo.com/shop_kyoto/index.html (unfortunately, it seems like the website is only in Japanese)

Marugame Seimen

Udon noodles with tempura. Udon noodles is the thick white noodles that people often eat with hot soup and tempura batter-fried meats / veggies. CB and I had a fabulous dinner here – two hot bowls of udon and five pieces of tempura for just 1,500 Yen, or under $16. Marugame Seimen has locations all over Tokyo and Kyoto, including two of the most popular tourist spots: Shibuya (http://www.toridoll.com/shop/search/store?id=110441), and Shinjuku (http://www.toridoll.com/shop/search/store?id=110661) http://www.toridoll.com/en/, and you can check out some pictures and prices here: http://www.toridoll.com/en/shop/menu.html. I recommend the classic Kake Udon with shrimp and kabocha tempura.

Ootoya (大戸屋)

This is probably the best value for your meal in Tokyo/Kyoto. I went to this place three times in our 10-day trip! For 600-1,000 yen, you get a teishoku set meal which consists for a main dish, a rice, miso soup, pickled radishes, and maybe even a salad depending on the dish. CB’s and my highest bill at Ootoya was 2,400 Yen or $25, because we splurged on an ice cream dessert. When we just ordered the teishoku meals, we spent less than $10 a person.  www.ootoya.com

  • Jenny - I haven’t tried any of these places! Now I’m on a mission :) ReplyCancel

  • Money Pincher - Japan is one of the places on my “to visit list” and the main reason to go there is to try out their RAMEN!

    I’ll keep these places in mind when I plan my Japan trip!ReplyCancel

  • The Wallet Doctor - These sound delicious! Japan has some truly awesome food, but it can be a bit pricy. I’ll be on the lookout for these.ReplyCancel

  • Annie Logue - We ate breakfast at McDonald’s in Tokyo – not exactly traditional, but it helped save money for Japanese meals later in the day.ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ Urban Departures - This post makes me want to travel to Japan even more. And eat some ramen.

    So not Jiro’s sushi at $300/person dinner for you? :) ReplyCancel

  • No Nonsense Landlord - There is some great Japanese food out there. I have never been to Japan, but in Hawaii, where I lived for 11 years, there is a lot of Asian influence on the food.

    Never be afraid to try something, you may never get the opportunity again. Of course, anything with live bugs, or worms, I would pass. Even if I never got the chance again.ReplyCancel

Whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure, it pays to do a little bit of research in advance to get the best deals. Although there are often last minute deals or discount coupons available for hotel rooms, it can be a bit trickier to avoid hidden charges and get a fair price on a rental car. It’s not uncommon to agree to a quoted price only to turn up at the rental counter and be presented with a far larger bill than you were anticipating. The following are a few handy tips to avoid sticker shock and get the best possible car for your money.

carhire Getting the Best Deal on a Rental Car

Image Source: Mary and Angus Hogg/Geograph.org.uk

Don’t rely solely on comparison websites.

When booking flights and hotels, you probably use aggregators like Kayak.com or booking sites like Travelocity or Booking.com. There’s a wealth of comparison sites and search engines to help you narrow down your choices and find the best deal. However, it’s important to just use these as a guide when you’re looking at rental cars. Car rental comparison sites tend to only focus on the biggest companies, overlooking local operators who might be able to give you a bigger deal. Get a feel for your options with these comparisons, but don’t neglect the small, local companies.

Look at cars before booking.

The type of car you choose will influence your price, but this doesn’t always mean that you have to choose a sensible, medium-sized hatchback. Pricing models will vary between companies, so while one may charge you more for an SUV another would charge you the same price as a family sedan. Part of the fun of renting a car is driving a vehicle that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to. Splash out on that sports car if the price isn’t much higher than a basic model! You can click here for more inspiration in that department. Just be sure that you know what the price is before you agree to an upgrade.

Buy your own insurance.

One of the biggest unexpected costs of renting a car is the insurance. Car hire firms offer a range of extra policies to choose from, including personal insurance, theft waiver, and collision damage waiver. All of these can cost an arm and a leg, so it’s better to take out your own stand-alone policy rather than buying insurance from the car rental company. Your travel insurance may also cover third-party liability claims or theft, so be sure that you’re not paying twice for the same benefit.

Search for discount codes and coupons.

Social media accounts, online coupon sites, and services like Groupon are all worth checking before you make a booking. You may be able to find a discount code to shave more money off of your car rental.

Make a booking directly from the rental company.

Just as smaller, localized companies may offer you a better deal than the big names, you can also save money by booking directly from the car rental company’s website. Use aggregators and search engines to research your options, pick up a discount code, and head over to the car rental company’s own reservations system to get the very best price. Be sure that your rate quote includes costs such as insurance, sales tax, and airport concession fees or you could be looking at a nasty surprise when you go to pick it up!
Always read the fine print and shop around before you get a rental car, and you’ll be able to choose the best fit at the right price.

  • Michelle - Car rental insurance is always so expensive. Some credit cards these days offer car rental insurance as one of their benefits though, which can make renting a car much more affordable.ReplyCancel

In welcoming the second half of 2014, I’m going to shed my Moderator skin and try behaving like an Abstainer for the rest of the year in a bid to max out my 401K and pay for CB’s private school tuition at the same time.

That means that from July to December 2014, I am refraining from less-than-necessary purchases. What are necessary purchases, you ask? Well, I’ve expanded my definition to things that might not be considered truly necessary for survival but that I think are reasonable for me to acquire:

I can spend money on:

  • Bed – I’ll be moving into a new place and although I will not die sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor, I think a bed ranks high enough on the “necessary” list that I can get one.
  • Desk and chair – see above.
  • Sunscreen, cleanser, and moisturizer if/when they run out.
  • Groceries – d’uh
  • $25 worth of happy hours & meals out with coworkers and friends per week – I still want to be social and go out.
  • Barre/pilates classes if I can get the classes down to below $10/class – Groupon and Amazon Local deals will be my friends.
  • 1 flight a month to visit CB and a flight home either during Thanksgiving or Christmas.
  • Covered parking at home and work (if I am not traveling for work).
  • Hangers – I think if I max out my 401k for 2014, I’d like to get myself a set of petite-sized hangers to celebrate.

I will not spend money on:

  • Bedding – I have enough comforters, sheets, and pillows. I may want a new duvet set, but I do not need them.
  • Makeup – again, I have more than enough foundations, lipstick, and eyeshadows to last me through 2014.
  • Clothes and shoes – I really want a pair of nude wedges, but I’m delaying that purchase until 2015. Also, no clothes means no new dresses for the plethora of weddings I have to attend this year. I do not need a new dress for every wedding, because I have ENOUGH! Must repeat to self as necessary.
  • Restaurant meals/takeout/drinks/lattes when I’m by myself – meals out should be a social activity.
  • eBooks – the library (and Project Gutenberg) are my friends.
  • Any personal technology items – I have a smartphone, a laptop, an iPad mini, and a netbook. I really truly do not need any more personal technology.
  • Deena Dollars - I’m cheering for you! :) ReplyCancel

  • Athena - I am cheering for you as well! It’s great sometimes to really cut back and reign in the spending. I’ll be starting school in the fall so hopefully I can do something similar. :) ReplyCancel

  • Sandra Mercier - I wish you all the best!ReplyCancel

  • Jack @ Enwealthen - Good for you!

    Life is full of temptations. Building the willpower to stay on the path you’ve selected will benefit you in all areas of your life.

    With a new child on the way, we’re in a similar thrifty mode. It’s amazing what you can do without when you truly prioritize your needs.ReplyCancel

  • Liette Seguin - I’m cheering for you too. Hope to hear more from you!ReplyCancel

  • save. spend. splurge. - I’d like to follow this but realistically.. telling myself to do more than just not spend on retail is a recipe for me to want to spend even MOREReplyCancel

  • The Wallet Doctor - Sounds like a solid plan. It’s really valuable to understand where you need to spend, what’s reasonable and what can go. Good luck!ReplyCancel

multigenerational living Multi generational living: the new way of the future?

Multi-generational living on the rise despite historical stigma

The US has a thing about living alone: moving out of your parents’ home and living without roommates has been long deemed a sign that you have achieved adulthood. I come from a culture where it’s normal, even expected, for folks to live with their parents until they get married – and even then, it’s viewed as a sign of financial maturity to keep living with family until you have saved enough for a down payment on your first home. That’s why my ears perk up every time I see articles about the “boomerang” generation (twenty- and thirty-somethings who move back home) and multi-generational living. I think multigenerational living will be, by necessity and maybe even desire, become a much more common way of life in the years forward.

A new AARP Magazine article on the “changing faces of American families” highlights the Hua-Puiches, a family of four who has moved in to the same house as the wife’s mother. This move doesn’t seem to be driven by finances – one spouse works in software and the other is a writer – but a desire to be close to family and allow the kids to get to know their grandmother. (Vanessa, the mother, also writes a lovely blog called Three Under One that I’m having so much fun reading). I think that idea is grand. Where did we get in our heads that the only way to be successful and “adult” is to stake out our own piece of land? Isn’t there something wonderful and precious in pooling resources and spending time with each other?

Living at home for practical and sentimental reasons

A New York Times Magazine article on Boomerang kids is full of comments by folks who can’t understand why people move home, and who see the move as nothing but utter failure instead of the pragmatism that it can be. If a young person finds job opportunities near their parents and live in an expensive part of the country – i.e. not one of these cities where it’s easy for Millennials to “make it”, why shouldn’t they live at home as long as the parents are OK with that arrangement? Far from being something to be ashamed of, or even something to be merely tolerated, I say multi-generational living should be celebrated and embraced, both for their financial benefits and for the closeness it can encourage within families and communities.

A 2010 Pew Research study shows that multigenerational living is at its highest point since the 1940s, driven both by a weak economy and by demographic changes. It’s no surprise that a household with multiple wage-earners are better able to weather economic downturns and achieve a higher degree of financial resiliency. Furthermore, in families that put three generations under one roof, grandparents may be able to provide emergency childcare (if not full-time care) and kids will get the benefit of knowing their grandparents more closely.

Some cities are fully embracing the trend: Portland, Oregon has made it easy for folks to build a “granny or in-law unit” on a main property so that homeowners can move relatives in or rent out the unit for additional income. That’s an easy way to have a smaller environmental footprint and lower your housing costs, for all involved.

I would live at home in a heartbeat

As I’ve gotten older, my feelings on living with family has evolved from “must be avoided at all cost” to “I guess it’s financially smart” to “I want to buy a complex for my parents and myself and be able to eat my mom’s fried rice every day and live happily ever after!” Right now, I am living on my own because I’m several states away from family. But I have decided to live with a roommate to keep down the costs and to have some companionship. In addition, CB and I have decided that if he were to find a job in a part of California where we have family, we’ll be living with those family while we save for a down payment. It’s the smart thing to do for us, and in the meantime we’ll be enjoying the company of parents and relatives as well as gaining financial security. I have several friends in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, who are living with family right now. When I hear that, I think, “good for them!” and even feel a tinge of envy. I would love to live at home, not even for the financial benefits, but so I am able to see my parents more often.

When I’m older, I hope to participate in multigenerational living of my own (by choice, not because anyone will be out on the streets). While CB and I are still unsure on the questions of kids, I do know that I want to move my parents closer to where I’m at – I envision a duplex or townhouse where we live side-by-side, or house big enough to accommodate all of us.

Do you think multigenerational living is here to stay? And would you want to have all three generations under one roof?

  • Dee @ Color Me Frugal - Wow, good for you! I think it’s cool that you have that kind of relationship with your parents that you could live with them. I could NEVER live with either my mother-in-law or my mother again- both usually drive me crazy a few days into a long visit! But if it works for you, more power to you!ReplyCancel

  • Jess - I lived at home for a couple of years in my mid-20s (after spending a few years post-college on my own). I can confidently say that it was an experience that neither I nor my parents enjoyed a bit.ReplyCancel

  • save. spend. splurge. - I used to want to live with my parents, but in the past few years, I’d only live with my mother, not my father. OR my mother in law. She’s great too.ReplyCancel

  • Laura - Not to be morbid, but if my mom outlives my stepdad, I have a feeling she will end up living with us. She is my nanny for my 19 month old while I work and we’ve got another one on the way, so I don’t see that arrangement changing! We lived with my grandparents for 5 years when I was really young and I loved it and was so close to them. My mom is super close to my daughter now and I’m sure as she gets older that will continue. I think it would be a good thing for everyone, even though it might be a bit stressful at times.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Congrats on your second little one!! I lived with my grandmother when I was young and I didn’t realize how precious that was. Now that she’s gone I wish I can go back.ReplyCancel

  • Pecan - I’ll happily live with my parents but cannot imagine living with my in-laws mainly because my husband doesn’t get along with his parents and their conflicts drive everyone crazy. Unfortunately they are feeble health-wise so they will likely move in with us at some point.ReplyCancel

  • Vanessa - Thank you so much for the kudos! I just added you to my blogroll and I look forward to reading more of your insights.ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - I live in Chicago while my sister lives in our home town. She firmly believes it takes a village to raise a family and she constantly talks about having our older family members move in with her. I, on the other hand, do not want that.ReplyCancel

  • Kirsten - I’m a private, independent person and I need my space so you’d think I’d hate this idea, but we are onboard. We’ve thought about getting a house with a mother-in-law apartment for my aunt to live with us and we’ve also thought about moving in with my husband’s family. Both would involve interstate moves for someone. But with two small kids, it sure would be nice to have the help.ReplyCancel

  • SP - I like the idea (esp. with an in-law apartment). It is practical for financial and social reasons!

    In reality, it probably won’t happen for us since our families are so far away. We also both have siblings that would be more likely to take in a parent if the time / need came. I really really like the idea of staying with relatives to save up for a down payment. the stigma is not very strong any more, at least not at the younger age levels.ReplyCancel

  • engineer2freedom - Bravo for this sentiment. I think it’s disgusting how the mainstream media tries to portray this living arrangement as a sign of failure in the US and UK. I think the reason is that it is a way to truly fight back against the system. The combined family unit can vastly reduce combined living costs and the media is clearly funded by those corporations that have a lot to gain by everyone being brainwashed into thinking they need their own expensive home in order to be considered a “valid” human being. I also think it is a proud and responsible tradition still displayed in many parts of Europe (Ex UK) and Japan.

    But we must be cautious. Just think, if this gets to be a trend people may not even need credit cards or enormous amounts of debt and what will become of those poor banking companies when people are not beholden to them? It could truly be considered a revolutionary act. Perhaps these inconsiderate people will soon be classed as “Terrorists” as they might upset the status quo of the banking elite? Clearly everyone should be borrowing beyond their means at all times to be good citizens!ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ Urban Departures - I wouldn’t be able to live with my mum, as much as I love her. My dad yes, but not my mum. That said, I wish I lived down the street from my parents and next door to my siblings. I could not live with or even near my in-laws.ReplyCancel

  • MakintheBacon - After having gone away to university, I found it quite difficult moving back home and living with my parents while I searched for a full-time job. I was so used to the freedom and independence I had while I was at school. The house actually felt more small and cramped when I came back.

    I love my parents, but I love my independence more. My dad told me I could live with them until I got married and I thought to myself, No way Jose! I like my space.ReplyCancel

fidelity myplan calculator1 Retirement calculators: love em or leave em?

I have very mixed feelings about retirement calculators. Perhaps that’s why although I’ve been saving for retirement since my early twenties, I almost never run retirement calculators. (I think the last time I did it was in 2010, with the Pudding Index). And when I do, I don’t really pay attention to those numbers.

Why?

It’s just way too early. I’m almost 30, so at normal/early-ish retirement age I am still 30 years away from calling it quits from the workforce. My goal in terms of retirement savings, ever since I first started as a junior in college, was simply to max out the Roth IRA and then save as much as I can in the 401K.

On the one hand, retirement calculators can provide some guideline answers into the questions: “Am I saving enough?” “Am I on track to retire at age XYZ?” “How much will I have when I stop working?” On the other hand, these calculators are only as good as their assumptions, and when calculators tell me I’m “over-saving” I think, “no such thing!” and when they say I’ll have to eat cat food in my dotage I think “well… still can’t save more!” (Gotta balance retirement savings with shorter term goals).

A lot can happen in 30 years, and given all the assumptions that have to be made to make those retirement calculator projections, I know the numbers from calculators won’t change my behavior today – they won’t make me feel better about saving less, and I can’t/am not willing to save more than I am already, at least not at my current projected income level and anticipated expenses.

To me, retirement calculators (or any personal finance calculator, actually) have two purposes: information and motivation. Bottom-line: my timeline is too long and the assumptions to uncertain for me to count on the information, and I’m not motivated either positively or negatively, by the results I get from the calculators. So I don’t pay much attention to those retirement calculators. I just save as much as I can, try to keep a solid asset allocation, and cross my fingers and hope for the best. It’s a leap of faith, you might say.

However, if you do like retirement calculators, here are the ones that I have the most fun with:

  • Fidelity MyPlan - I love the narrator’s voice, for some reason.
  • Flexible Retirement Planner - Runs Monte Carlo simulations and gives you probabilities of a portfolio outlasting your life instead of a specific number. This calculator requires Java to run.
  • Pudding Index - Fast and simple. Plus, who doesn’t love pudding?
  • AARP Retirement - Great because it takes into account your spouse’s retirement savings and expected Social Security as well as your own.

Do you use / pay attention to retirement calculators?

  • save. spend. splurge. - I do and I don’t.

    I can’t count on them because I don’t have a steady income or savings, so I can’t say for sure: “$50,000 every year saved”.. or whatever. I just have to take it as it comes and see how it goes in the future.

    I am not too concerned though.ReplyCancel

  • Deena Dollars - I agree that retirement calculators do not feel like they teach you much about your individual situation. I mean, they illustrate general principles like early saving, compounding, etc. – but the idea that your salary now can be adjusted for inflation and carried forward for 30 more years seams so unrealistic in today’s economy when people change CAREERS several times throughout their lives, typically. I found the Monte Carlo retirement simulatior you provided above really neat, though! :) ReplyCancel

  • Newlyweds on a Budget - I don’t really pay much attention to retirement calculators bc it doesn’t really change what I’m doing and it also doesn’t take into account our pensions. WE have 10% of our income in a 401k and this is the first year we’re trying to max out our Roth IRA as wellReplyCancel

  • rob - I started saving in my 20s, never gave it much thought until I was in my mid-50s – now that we’re in our 60s & retired having a great time! Save as much as you can, enjoy life now, & sleep well at night knowing you’re taking care of your future!ReplyCancel

  • Karin - Leave them! I find them so frustrating because they don’t take into account that (i) my husband and I live way below our means, (ii) we started saving a bit late as a result of law school and (iii) we have high incomes now but who knows if they are sustainable? We max out our traditional 401Ks and we’ll start maxing out our Roth IRAs next year now that we’ve purchased our first (and probably last, with NYC prices) apartment. Beyond that we have daycare, private school and college costs to save for and student loans to pay down.ReplyCancel

  • SP - Leave them. For the same reasons as you. I just save as much as I can, always, until I get closer and can re-evaluate this strategy.

    BTW, there was a really interesting article in HBR this month that talked about the way we view risk in retirement accounts. I’d never thought of this before or heard it looked at in this way, which is strange considering I’ve spent ~7 years in the personal finance blog world.

    http://hbr.org/2014/07/the-crisis-in-retirement-planning/ar/1ReplyCancel

piggy bank family Borrowing money from family (it can be win win)

A lot of people say you shouldn’t borrow money from family, or that you should draw up complicated documents or have really in-depth conversations about it. I realized that in my family, this isn’t really the way things go. Siblings lend/borrow from each other to take advantage of real estate opportunities or help out the kids (my generation)’s education. My aunts have borrowed from my mom and my mom has borrowed from my aunts, and my grandmother had lent money to all her children. So far, everyone is still talking to each other.

So with that as the background, I approached my mom about potentially borrowing $10,000 to cover CB’s fall quarter tuition/expenses. I plan to cash flow the rest of his grad school tuition once I start work in August, but as the fall tuition is due in August, there’s a wee bit of a cash timing issue. Fortunately, my mom understood, took a look at her checkbooks, and agreed to lend us the $10,000. In fact, mom has a similar arrangement with my aunt, and she views it as a win-win situation – the lender is helping out family and getting a higher interest than he/she would in the open market, while the borrower is enjoying a lower interest rate than the market demands.

This means a lot, because taking out this family loan will save us money and time. A $10,000 family loan only costs 4% interest with 0% origination fee (and no application required). In August 2015 I’ll repay my mom $10,400. On the other hand, if CB were to borrow the same amount from Stafford loans, we’d have to pay 1.072% origination fee and 6.21% interest. So, I’m very grateful that Mom is helping out our cash crunch. The hope is that CB can also graduate debt-free and then we’ll both greet 2016 without any graduate school loans. At that point, we’ll probably still have ~$10,000 extremely low-interest college loans, but I plan to take our sweet time in repaying those.

 

  • Money Beagle - It sounds like you put together formal terms and there’s background of making it work, so I like the odds. When it’s done ‘informally’ that can lead to pretty big trouble.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - It is informal – we are not drawing up any documents. But she’s my mom. She knows and I know that she knows I’m going to pay her back. If you can’t trust your own kids who can you trust?ReplyCancel

  • The Wallet Doctor - Sounds like a good plan. I think the key to making family borrowing work is for everyone to have a clear understanding of the terms and conditions. So long as you are all on the same page, I think it can work.ReplyCancel

  • debs@debtdebs - My Dad lent me money for a downpayment on a home many many years ago, and it was considered a win-win based on the interest rate scenario like you described.ReplyCancel

  • Pauline - I do the same with my mum, also at 4%. Being self-employed I don’t even think I would get the loans anyway and she always has plenty of cash so she enjoys the better interest. If I were in a difficult situation and unsure to repay though, I would charge a credit card instead.ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - I have borrowed money from immediate family in an informal fashion. It was not a big deal, because it was paid back in the terms that we had set. But I can easily see how this could be a problem if there are no terms and guidelines.ReplyCancel

  • Slinky - The difference is that everyone in this picture sounds relatively well versed in good financial management and has a solid financial footing. Your family has money available to lend and your family are good investments.

    In my experience, that’s definitely the exception to the rule. It’s different lending out your life savings to someone you aren’t sure will ever pay you back, but you feel like you should because they’re family and they’re going to .

    Good general rule: If this person was a stranger, would you lend to them?ReplyCancel

My month-long no shampoo experiment started by accident. I finished using my bottle of shampoo a few days before graduation, and I didn’t want to buy another bottle before I had to move. I have also read a little bit about this “no-poo” movement online, and thought it couldn’t hurt to go without shampoo for a week or so.

Then I went on vacation with my parents and forgot to bring any hair products. I don’t like the brand my mom uses, so I just skipped shampoo for that whole trip as well. Then I just kept going, and now here I am, one month after putting nothing in my hair except water.

hair 1 Month of No Shampoo (No Poo) Experiment

Here are some things after my one month:

  • The first week, my scalp was so oily I almost gave up. I have thick, coarse, wavy hair that is prone to oily roots, and that’s probably the only thing that will cause me to go back to shampoo.
  • I almost never blow dry my hair (once a year, if that) and I do not color or highlight my hair either – if I did either of those things, I think it’d be harder for me to do no-poo.
  • I never have that ‘squeaky clean’ feeling I’d get after shampooing. I miss that feeling. When I run my fingers through my hair, the strands feel oilier. My hair looks, however, better than it feels.
  • My hair doesn’t smell bad. It just smells like hair.
  • Many folks swear by the baking soda / apple cider vinegar mix to rinse their scalp and an oil treatment for the ends of their hair. I haven’t tried any of those methods (mostly due to laziness), but I probably will if I keep up with no-poo.
  • Based on my completely unscientific powers of observation, I think my hair grew faster than normal during the month of no-poo.
  • I want to buy a boar bristle brush as I think that will help distribute the oils in my hair more evenly (i.e. away from my scalp and closer to the ends).
  • There were a few days when I thought my hair looked really great, and there were days when I hated the way my hair felt and fell. To be honest, I think my hair looks best the 2nd day after shampoo. I’ve read a lot of posts where people raved that their hair has NEVER LOOKED BETTER and they are never going back to shampoo again. That hasn’t been my experience, but it hasn’t been so bad that I’ve gone back to shampoo.
  • I wash my hair once every 2-3 days. I’m hoping to be able to end up in a place where I can wash my hair twice a week.
  • During this month I put my hair up in French braids a lot – there’s nothing like a good French braid to keep greasy hair looking presentable.

I’m satisfied enough with Month One that I’m willing to continue no-poo for a while longer, maybe incorporating the vinegar rinse and boar bristle brush. I’m not so satisfied with no-poo that I’ll swear to forsake shampoo forever.

  • save. spend. splurge. - I do this. I wash my hair once every 3-4 days depending on how active I was during the time. Some days, I wash on the 2nd day because I was running around or sweating a lot.

    I DO NOT however, wash my hair daily. It dries out my scalp, gives me more dandruff and is horrible.ReplyCancel

  • d - I used to shampoo my hair every day. After hearing a lot of talk about how it’s worse for your hair to wash it so much, I cut down to every other day. Then I went to my dermatologist (for an unrelated matter) who looked at my scalp and told me that I had some light dandruff, which I didn’t realize. She asked me about my hair washing habits and I told her my story. She scoffed at the idea of cutting down shampoos and said I should wash my hair every day, especially since I’m Asian (she’s also Asian) and Asian hair is fine with repeated washings because it tends to be thicker, and the straight, monochromatic strands show off grease more. I’m back to shampooing every day now.ReplyCancel

  • NZ Muse - I tried this for about a week. I know you probably need longer for a fair shot but I just don’t think it works with my limp, oily hair. The longest I can go is every other day for a wash.ReplyCancel

  • Cassie - My hair is wavy on top and thick and curly underneath. I wash my hair on average every 5-7 days, partially blow dry it maybe every 2nd week, and flat iron it once every month or two. Last year I went in to get my hair cut, and I asked the stylist how the ends looked. She said they looked good, really healthy. I told her afterwards that I hadn’t had a hair cut in approximately a year. Got a sour look for that one, but it appears that whatever I’m doing is working!ReplyCancel

  • debt debs - I really want to try this. I’m hoping maybe this summer when I am on holidays I will give it a go. My nephew has done it for years with great results.ReplyCancel

  • Cat@BudgetBlonde - Thanks for sharing! I wash my hair about twice a week. It pretty much stays in a ponytail. :) ReplyCancel

  • Amber - I went a month, I think, with just water, and basically felt like my hair looked like crap every day and was pretty ready to go back to shampoo. Once I started with baking soda and vinegar, I started washing my hair every 7-10 days (and I rinse with water every time I shower, also) and I feel like it looks pretty good, pretty consistently. I’ve been doing that for almost 4 years now! But I’m thinking of coloring my hair so my no ‘poo days are probably coming to an end soon.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - This gives me hope. I’m going to try out the baking soda and vinegar mixture. Would be amazing to only wash my hair once a week if I can keep the oilies at bay.ReplyCancel

  • Cindy @ GrowingHerWorth - I attempted to go no-poo, and failed miserably. I have thin, straight hair that starts to look oily and stringy after about 12 hours from washing. The baking soda and apple cider vinegar didn’t help me any. My hair felt gross all the time, looked terrible, and the ends started looking really damaged. I’d like to get to the point where I can go at least a day without washing. But so far, no luck!ReplyCancel

highlightlowlightsurprise Highlight, Lowlight, Surprise

Sometimes, a conversation is better with structure.

CB and I usually talk late at night, when we are both pretty tired from the day, and our conservation isn’t the most scintillating. Then I remembered an idea I read about – the “highlight, lowlight, surprise” structure, where  we’ll go over the highlight of our day, the lowlight of our day, and something that surprised us or was unexpected. This has to be an improvement over our typical – “how was your day.” “It’s OK. I’m (insert one: tired, busy, stressed, hungry) or fine”) .

When I brought this idea up with CB, I was afraid it’d sound a little cheesy. But I’m really happy with the results so far. I like the structure that this gives our conversation – it’s much easier for both of us to share something unique/interesting/meaningful with this framework, and it only takes 4-5 minutes. We can go into the details or talk about something else if we have time or we feel like talking. Often times, the highlight/lowlight/surprise will lead to tangents about other topics or food for thought, but even if our call is just for 5 minutes, I still feel great.

This is mine for yesterday:

  • Highlight: leaving my barre class (the first in a while) feeling relaxed and optimistic. Exercise endorphins… they are real!
  • (Second higlight, just because): finding some 10-year+ photos of my mom and I, looking really happy
  • Lowlight: stupid tiff with my dad over drinking glasses
  • Surprise: there’s apparently drama among a texting group of Mom’s friends. These people are 60!! I guess drama in texting knows no age limits.

I’m curious to hear yours. (Also, does anyone else use this framework with their friends/significant others?)

  • Dee @ Color Me Frugal - Love that! So simple, yet way better than “the usual.” My hubby and I usually fall into similar conversation, as nearly every how are you is followed by “tired, stressed, hungry,” etc.ReplyCancel

  • save. spend. splurge. - I don’t, but I like the idea. Although my news would only involve the baby.. so it’s kind of boring :) ReplyCancel

  • The Asian Pear - I’ve never heard of this. I guess it’s a good conversation starter though especially for between parents and little children after school.ReplyCancel

  • SarahN - I taught the bf about my family’s three good things dinner table tradition. (Cause let’s face it we can all whinge endlessly!) he’s since adapted it and always asks “what was good in your day?” Still challenges me (and him) to be positive no matter what we faced :) ReplyCancel

  • deb @ debtdebs - We used to do this with our 4 kids round the dinner table. It brought about great conversation and was a certain way to be sure everyone was included and had their say!ReplyCancel

san francisco real estate Real estate tales from crazy San Francisco (p.s. they are all true!)

I spent the weekend in the iconic City by the Bay, and guys, I think I have a problem. I am falling more and more in love with San Francisco and the entire Bay Area. This is worrisome because I am not, oh, a multi-millionaire AND I’d like to not spend 50% of my income on housing AND I’d like to eventually buy a house someday (and retire).

There are many stories out there about how crazy San Francisco real estate / rental market is. I’m here to tell you – it’s ALL TRUE.

Case in point #1: a friend said she got her apartment in the Lower Haight neighborhood by overbidding on rent. As in, the landlord asked for $x,xxx and she said, please, let me pay you $x,xxx + however much more so you will give me this apartment.

Case in point #2: another friend said she went to every appointment showing with copies of her pay stubs, credit report, previous landlord references, friend references, bank statements, and a checkbook. So she can move quickly before the next guy can even think about whether he wants the place or not.

Case in point #3: a friend who was looking to sublet a room in his apartment had prospective tenants bring him wine, beer, ice cream, and snacks in an attempt to secure the room.

Case in point #4: a friend is paying $1,200 for a small dining room-converted-into-a-bedroom in the Mission district. The room that can never heats up right and she shares 1 bathroom with two other roommates, but she considers it a bargain because it’s rent-controlled. Market rate is at least $1,700, she says.

Case in point #5: CB and I wandered into a couple of open houses in Noe Valley, an especially sunny and pricey part of San Francisco. The asking price for single family homes (3-bedrooms, ~2,000 sq. ft) is $2 million in that area. And, during one open house I overhead another person who looks to be in his 20s or early 30s say “the down is $400K, I have that but I’d have to dig into my savings.” Cue MASSIVE jealousy and despondency, which we then attempted to cure with a jaunt to a chocolate shop.

Do you have crazy real estate stories to share about San Francisco / Bay area? Let’s hear ‘em!

  • save. spend. splurge. - This sounds horrific. It better be worth it to live there then….

    I had no idea it was that insane. My uncle lives around the area but I never knew it was that competitive!

    Toronto isn’t that bad. Thank goodness. It’s a million bucks for a wooden shack that needs a lot of work but at least rents are reasonable.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - My friend in case #1 said that it’s hard to make almost $150K and still feel squeezed once she makes her rent payments, but she also knows that it doesn’t help to compare herself with the techie millionaires, and SF makes her so happy. So I guess for her (and for many, many other people), SF/Bay and its culture, weather, nature, and job opportunities are worth the price.ReplyCancel

  • Erin - I wish I could find it now, but I read an article a few weeks ago about a house in San Francisco that sold for $1.4 MILLION OVER asking. The final sale price was 67% more than asking.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - 67%?! Holy guacamole. I’ve heard most places sell for 15%-25% over the asking price. It’s depressing.ReplyCancel

  • Deena Dollars - (1) I was in SF this weekend, too!
    (2) I am extremely familiar with the spot you photographed above. :)
    (3) My 235-square foot apartment in SoMA that I lived in until summer 2012 was renting for $1,600 at the time (near the CalTrain, so prices are extra inflated by people who want to commute to the South Bay/Peninsula). Now, that apartment is renting for $2,400. It’s the size of a dorm room.
    (4) I feel your pain. I love SF so much, and there’s a pretty reasonable chance that is where it will make more sense for fiance to find a job (and my company has an office in Oakland). My wallet is already crying in anticipation!ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Oakland should a little more affordable, but I guess everything looks affordable when 1-bedroom apartments are going for $3,000. Ha!

      But if we both move to the Bay, we can hang out and talk about how crazy real estate over brunch! :) ReplyCancel

  • Cristina - I lived in SF for 5 years, and will personally confirm doing #2 and #3. Being extremely overprepared/aggressive is the only way to get an apartment in SF! You need to show up ready to take action, preferably with a six-pack or bottle of wine.

    When we moved out of one place, we had new prospective tenants offering to pay the entire year’s rent up front. I live in L.A. now, which is not exactly a low cost of living area, but relatively speaking it is like a dream.

    SF is a fun city, and I thought that all of the hassle was worth it to live there. Not forever, but it’s a great place to spend your 20s.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I’m curious to hear your thoughts on SF/Bay vs. LA. My impression is that the job market / public transportation is better in SF, but housing in LA is definitely easier/cheaper. I’d love to live in the East Bay and just visit the City when I feel like it. Of course, East Bay real estate is no picnic either.ReplyCancel

  • SP - Yes – when I heard of the concept of a “rental packet” with paystubs, credit, a personal letter, references from previous landlords, etc. I decided that I’d be looking elsewhere!

    We’ve been casually going to open houses, and I’m always shocked at how young other viewers look. How can they afford this? Then again, we can’t always afford the ones we look at either. :)

    We looked at one listed in our price range this weekend, but the maximum we’d pay is 15% over list, and it will probably go for at least 20% more. There probably will be 20 bidders. It’s annoying! Isn’t it just rude to list it so low?!?!ReplyCancel

  • Little House - Sounds like San Francisco is in another housing boom. I love California, but sometimes I think I’m crazy to stay here!ReplyCancel

  • Her Every Cent Counts - Indeed rent here is ridiculous. I live outside of SF and rent isn’t quite as bad as in the city but it isn’t great. I absolutely love it here and work in tech so hard to move — it’s just really hard to save living with rent costing $2350 a month for a 1br in the burbs. Ugh. I’ve always wanted to move up to SF but between the commute to work and the RIDICULOUS housing costs I’m not going to… not unless I win the lottery.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - Yep, this is all spot on. The stories like this could go on forever.ReplyCancel

  • Lorrwill - Sadly, when you live here, these are NOT crazy stories.ReplyCancel

  • Billy - We’re two nurses, just competed a relocation to Sacramento last week. We left 500SQF shoebox, 3200 / month rent for nearly 2000SQF, 2000 / month (fairly high in Sacramento), a killer kitchen (our refrigerator has two doors and a fucking ice maker!), a two car garage / storage, warm sunny (every day), and a community of Huns beings who make eye contact, smile, and say hello just because. Oh, and we were able to roll our saved income in to something else and are now for three weeks. You decide what’s important to you.ReplyCancel

    • Billy - That’s “completed NOT competed (ironic slip?) And, “a community of human beings, not HUNS (necessarily).”ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I heard Sacramento is a nice place, but I think it’s harder to find jobs there unless you are in the state government or in healthcare. I agree though, the savings are substantial!

      Also, 500 sqft for $3,200?! I hope you were living somewhere really cool/trendy, or else my dream of getting to the Bay is looking further and further off…ReplyCancel

  • Slinky - Talk about sticker shock! I’m uh….going to stay over here in the midwest with my 1500 sq ft farmhouse and 2 acre wooded lot for less than any of those numbers.ReplyCancel

  • Coach - I think I understand that these are crazy stories, but they are the expected norm in Sydney, Australia. It is not only expected that you’ll do these things, but people are now arranging private showings and submitting applications without event inspecting just so they can secure a place. $1200 is a great deal if the room is close to what you need.ReplyCancel

Since my last post I have packed and shipped all my stuff, finished grad school, and went on an AWESOME and not-at-all-frugal  vacation with my parents to New York City, Boston, Montreal, and Quebec City. It was their first time to the East Coast and to Canada. I’ve been to Boston and New York City before, but what struck me the most was the picturesqueness of Vieux Quebec, the walled old city. That place is probably as close to a real-life Disney set as there ever is. My parents both loved Quebec City, and seeing my mom’s face light up is my most treasured memory of this trip.

The other thing I realized is that I LOVE being a tourist. I’ve read some bloggers who make a distinction between “travelers” and “tourists” (usually with the implication that travelers are more authentic), but well, being a tourist is pretty great. Apparently, I love doing unabashedly touristy things such as going to see the most significant sights, taking tons of photos, and doing walking tours with people who dress in costumes. My whole family does!

We ate out every night at places and got desserts almost every meal. Speaking of food, we had many great meals, especially in Boston at my favorite place, the Courtyard Cafe at the Boston Public Library, and Montreal. We strolled and walked and took the subway when convenient but also splurged on taxis when we got tired. We sat in the Orchestra section of a Broadway show, and did not stand in line for day-of tickets at the TKTS discount booth in Times Square. We went up to The Top of the Rock observation deck. I hired a private guide to lead us around Lower Manhattan. We took trains when flights would have been cheaper (but less comfortable). My parents bought souvenirs, a few landscape drawings by a street artist from Quebec City and a book from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

It was a great trip – a bit hurried as we covered 4 cities in 12 days, but I’m glad we went to the cities that we did. I’m glad we didn’t cut out Montreal as I was considering at the beginning. I was impressed with Montreal – it seems very affordable (our 1-bedroom AirBnB in the center of Le Plateau was less than $100 a night), extremely clean, and the boulevards are beautifully lined with trees, restaurants, and boutiques. Unfortunately I will never live in Montreal because 1. The winters. The winters!, and 2. je ne parle pas français. If only the whole year has May weather – I would be motivated to learn French in that case. 

All in all, I calculated that this trip cost a total of ~$7,500-$8,000 for this family of tourists, or an average of $220 per person per day. On the one hand, the trip wasn’t extravagant, or at least, it didn’t feel extravagant in the way that a 5-star hotel suite or limos or first-class flights would feel extravagant. On the other hand, I – and my parents – almost NEVER spend money without calculating fairly detailed budget, and on this trip, while I kept an eye on menu prices and we had breakfast inside our apartments many times for convenience as well as cost, we didn’t count the pennies. Or even the dollars. So that was extravagant for my parents, as this type of spending is probably 4 standard deviations away from how they normally spend. My parents paid while I offered to cover our accommodations ($2,400-$2,500). My dad has always liked to see places, but now I think my mom has caught the bug as well. She has already said she wants to do a family vacation to Europe in 2015.

  • Erin - GOOD FOR YOU!

    I’ve been reading your blog for years and years now, and have always admired your ability to focus on both the micro AND the macro when it comes to personal finance. There is a lot to be said for traveling on a shoestring budget and making your money stretch as far as possible. But there is also a lot to be said for splashing out and simply enjoying yourself with few (if any) holds barred.

    On one hand, I’d say this was the trip of a lifetime and so you and your family very rightly did it up. But I hope it’s NOT the trip of a lifetime! I hope you guys go on to enjoy many, many more trips where your primary concern is to spend time together, eat good food, see great sights and simply enjoy yourselves, without the constantly worrying about the budget.

    Congrats on finishing graduate school as well….that’s amazing!ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Thank you Erin. I really hope it’s not the trip of a lifetime, as I hope to have many more trips with my parents. I’ve already mapped out about 3 different itineraries in my head for our Europe trip. :-) ReplyCancel

  • Alicia @ Financial Diffraction - Oh those are some of my favourite touristy places. My hearts second-favourite place (after my home province) is Montreal. I used to spend so much time there. I love it :) Surprisingly, I haven’t been to Quebec City… yet!

    Glad to see you had a great time. I think that would be an awesome trip with the parents. Whenever my parents come to visit we go and do touristy things. Nothing major, but go to a museum, or a nature park.ReplyCancel

  • NZ Muse - Sounds rad. Unfortunately we had barely any time in Montreal – overnight, got in late and left early – but liked what we saw. Didn’t get to Quebec, but I daresay we got our French fix in Paris.ReplyCancel

  • Kitty - We just went to Montreal and Quebec City and was amazed at the reasonable prices too! (granted we’re in the SF/Bay area so we’re use to sky high prices) But gosh the Citadelle was cold and windy. Do you have any tips on traveling with your parents? I’m in early 30s, my parents are in their 60s. They’re healthy, but I’m setting up a family trip (likely renting a condo in Hawaii next year) with them, and it’ll be first trip we take as a big family (me and my spouse, my sister and their S.Os, and my parents) and also the first trip that the kids will be paying for everything. So not sure how to budget/plan for this?ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - It sounds like you have at least 8 adults going – parents (2), you + spouse (2), two sisters and SOs (4?), plus however many kids. I’m not sure if you can find a condo big enough to accommodate everyone, but I would try to find condos that are right next to each other or that are within a minute’s walk of each other in the same resort. Then each family can just pay for their own place (find a condo with 2 master suites, if you can, if you need to share with sister and her SO) and split the cost of Mom & Dad’s accommodations.

      In terms of food, I’d put in $20 or something a day into a communal pot for buying milk, bread, for breakfast, etc., and then you can take turns picking up the tab dining out or you can keep the receipts and divide everything evenly afterwards. Much of it will depend on how financially responsible/responsive your sisters are and whether you have similar financial resources. It’s harder to split everything evenly if one person in the family is a doctor and another person is a teacher.

      Have fun on your trip! I think it’s an amazing gift you are giving your parents. I’m sure they will treasure it.ReplyCancel

  • save. spend. splurge. - The winter is pretty nasty in Montreal, especially if you consider that with the corrupt government there, the money slated to clear the snow from the streets goes to line their pockets instead, so you kind of need a 4×4 or a truck to make it through Montreal sometimes with all the snow that builds up :P :P :P

    I hope you went to Vieux Montreal! (Old Montreal). It’s my favourite tourist-y part of Montreal. That, and the stretch of St-Denis and St-Catherine.. both are very nice as well.

    Quebec City is nice, but I prefer Montreal.. call me biased.

    Also, learning French is not hard. It’s surprisingly close to English, just say everything you would say in English but with a French accent ;) ;)

    (This is kind of what I do. I’ve managed to guess at a few words this way, verifying with BF that my guess was correct)ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - We did go to Vieux Montreal – went on a nice walking tour and saw Notre Dame Basilica. It was lovely! I liked both that area and Le Plateau.ReplyCancel

  • Jack @ Enwealthen - Congratulations on graduating, and a well planned trip!

    Despite being a tech person, it is still amazing to me how much money you can save using AirBnB. The quality of the accommodations for the price in most areas I’ve been is surprising. I still tend to go for the hotel for the short trips, but for anything more than a few days, renting someone’s place, especially for a family or group, is usually a great deal and a great experience.ReplyCancel

  • Mathieu Lebrun - Wow! That was amazing! Congratulations on graduating! And your wonderful trip!ReplyCancel

This is the night view from our balcony in the Condado district of San Juan, Puerto Rico. This was somewhat of a spur of the moment trip – a good girlfriend wanted to go somewhere to celebrate the impending end of our graduate school journey, but she had visa issues that precluded traveling outside of the U.S. So Puerto Rico was the perfect solution. It didn’t hurt that we found roundtrip tickets for $250 and that our lagoon-side accommodation, with a balcony, was only $120/night. Neither of us have been to Puerto Rico before, so this is a chance to just relax, recharge, and lounge!

Isn’t it beautiful?

condado Hola Puerto Rico

  • Raquel@Practical Cents - Wow, That was definitely a good deal on the airfare. I’m really do back for a visit. I hope you enjoy my beautiful island.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - We went to the forts in Old San Juan today. I loved it… I think I have a slight preference for San Cristóbal.ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - Amazing! We went a few years ago and it was one of our favorite trips. Have a great time! :) ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - It’s going well so far. :-) Even the heat hasn’t bothered us too much, because there’s always a breeze.ReplyCancel

  • Mel @ brokeGIRLrich - San Juan was always one of my favorite ports when I worked for the cruise line! I hope you guys made sure to drink some Bacardi while you’re there!ReplyCancel

  • The Wallet Doctor - I love Puerto Rico. It is such a fascinating place. I hope that you get to try some delicious plantains while you are there!ReplyCancel

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be on my way to Boston where I’m meeting up with Mom & Dad for our first ever family vacation to the East Coast. It will be great because I will be done with finals!! and I will get to go on vacation with Mom and Dad.

When I was growing up, our family never took big family vacations. My mom was too frugal for that, and my parents would use all their vacation days to visit my grandparents in Asia. So no money + no vacation days = no big family vacations for us. The only trips I remember were a trip with my aunt and cousins to Canada, to Stanley Park, and a combined family trip to Yosemite National Park in California in the late 1990s.

So, as I mentioned, this week-and-a-half family vacation is our first big family vacation ever, and I am so so so excited. This will be my parents’ first time to Canada, and my first time to Eastern Canada. I want to make sure they have a good time so I researched the heck out of AirBnB locations, emailed many friends and fellow bloggers for their tips on location and sights, and dug deep into bank account to the tune of $2,700 to pay for all of our lodging for this trip. I love to give “vacations’ / “experiences” as gifts, and I’m glad that we’ll have the money, the time, and the health to all go together.

I really hope my parents have a good time, and that I’ll be able to take them to other destinations before too long. My dream is to do an European river cruise with them in the next couple of years, and make sure we hit some big travel highlights (London, Paris, etc.) while they are still healthy enough to travel.

The other thing I realized is that as I get older, my desire to be closer to my parents – physically – has gotten much stronger. So funny. When I was growing up, it’s all I can do just to leave the nest and FLY AWAY. And now I realize that there’s something really great about hanging out with family. I hope that family vacations will become regularly scheduled programming and I’ll get to experience many new places with my parents.

  • Emily @ Urban Departures - My childhood was similar in that we never went on family vacations because of a money. We went on a cruise one year, which at the time, cost a lot of money and took my parents a couple years to save up for. We had a blast. I would love to take another family vacation, including my siblings, but it’s difficult because of the different schedules (i.e. school, work or other familial commitments).

    And I totally understand the desire to be near family. I’m lucky to have my parents live 20 minutes away in a neighbouring city, but sometimes I wished I lived down the street from them.ReplyCancel

  • SavvyFinancialLatina - That’s so cool! I’m currently in the stage of wanting to be as far away from my parents as possible. I think it’s just a cycle that comes with age…ReplyCancel

  • The Asian Pear - Have fun! Eat lots of lobster rolls and clam chowder. :)

    I want to take my parents on a west coast trip in the future. Maybe next year when things slow down at work. =/ReplyCancel