One of my dreams is to visit the primeval old growth redwoods. Coastal redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) are the oldest and tallest trees in the world, reaching over 300 feet tall and living 1,000-2,000 years old. The only place in the world where coastal redwoods exist is on a narrow strip along the coast of northern California, beginning at the border between Oregon and California and extending down to the Bay Area.
And a couple weekends ago, armed with printouts from redwoodhikes.com, we made it happen. We focused on three parks: Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Jeddediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Along the way, we also stopped by numerous beaches and dipped in the Smith River, the last wild river in California.
Read on for a trip recap after these pictures…
James Irvine Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Grieg-French-Bell Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Day 1: Fueled by coffee and biscuits, we started our road trip early in the morning and got to Humboldt Redwoods State Park by the afternoon. We drove through the Avenue of the Giants, and while you can drive straight through if you are pressed for time, there are so many stops along the way that’s worth at least a 15 to 30 minute visit. After a stroll through the visitor’s center, we went to the Rockefeller Grove, which is a grove of very straight, very pretty – if you can call something so old and massive pretty – redwoods. We dallied until 6pm, and then finally got back on the road for our bed & breakfast.
Day 2: Our second day was a full day of hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – we hiked the James Irvine trail from the visitor’s center down to Fern Canyon (4.5 miles), then did the 1 mile loop around Fern Canyon, then went to Gold Bluffs beach, then headed back up James Irvine trail. I’d say we conservatively did 10 miles (and probably closer to 11 or 12) that day – the furthest we ever hiked. In addition to the amazing scenery, CB saw a black bear and captured him on camera. If you are interested in hiking, Prairie Creek has probably the best and most numerous trails of any of the redwood parks.
Day 3: After the previous day’s double-digit mileage, we were ready to take it easy. We went to Jeddediah Smith Redwoods State Park in the morning and drove through the craggy, dusty, unpaved, 5 mile Howland Hill road where tree trunks cut into the path and moss hung upon prehistoric-looking tree limbs. It. Was. AMAZING. We stretched our legs on a stroll around Stout Grove (we had originally planned to hike the 5.6 miles Boy Scout Trail – hahahah). Jeddediah Smith has a reputation for being the “wildest” redwoods park, and I can definitely see why. It felt like we were on another planet. In fact, the battle scene on “forest moon of Endor” in the Star Wars Return of the Jedi movie was filed in the park.
After Jeddediah, we drove to the South Fork of the Smith River, where I took a swim in the clearest, warmest water I’ve ever experienced. It was glorious.
Day 4: On our way home, we drove back through the Avenue of the Giants, stopping by the Grieg-French-Bell Grove with its amazing ground cover of redwood sorrel and ferns. I turned a corner and the entire floor of the forest was covered by these clover-like plants – it looked like a scene straight out of a fairy tale. I’ve seen so many amazing sights on this trip, but that first glimpse of the grove was still something like magic. We followed the trails on and off for almost an hour before we realized we need to get serious about going home. On the way out, we saw a couple pose for pictures at a redwood just outside of the grove, then get into their car and drove off. I wish I had told them about this grove – to be steps away from such magic and miss it seem like a real shame.
If you want to do your own journey through the redwoods
When to go: Summer is definitely the best time to go if you are looking for the nicest and most predictable weather. It never gets very hot in the redwoods because the trees block out the worst of the sun.
How to get here: The redwoods are 4-7 hours north of San Francisco. Most people would fly into San Francisco, then rent a car and drive up. You can also fly into Medford, OR airport, and then drive south for 40-60 minutes to reach Jeddediah Smith. But tickets to Medford are very expensive and flights extremely limited. For most people, driving from San Francisco would probably be the wiser choice.
Where to stay: We stayed at the Historic Inn Requa – a bed and breakfast tucked away in the middle of nowhere near the mouth of the Klamath river. We chose it because it was between Jeddediah Smith and Prairie Creek parks. I really enjoyed the stay, even though the walls are thin, the room was small, and the fixtures old. I’d describe the overall style as a cross between cozy and shabby chic. On the other hand, the breakfast was hearty (try the homemade toast and jam), the view amazing (I saw seals in the river from the downstairs living room), and the rates reasonable. If you choose one of the small rooms without a river view, it’s $119-$129/night even in summer. The bigger bedrooms with a river view range from $149 to $179.
What to do: See the redwoods and swim in the Smith River! I would recommend, 100%, everything I’ve seen on this trip. If I absolutely had to rank them, well, I couldn’t.Also, amazingly, all the parks and sights I’ve mentioned in this post are free. I would’ve paid $20 per person, per park, and have felt the experience to be worth the cost. California really is amazing.
Where to eat: I have to say that food was not a priority on this trip, even though I had very good memories of the meals (I think all the walking had worked up a big appetite) at the two sit-down restaurants we ate at: Trinidad Bay Eatery in Trinidad Bay and 101 Hawaiian BBQ in Crescent City. I recommend the burger and the clam chowder at Trinidad Bay Eatery, and the fried noodles with chicken katsu and malasadas (Portuguese donuts) at 101 Hawaiian BBQ. Both places are not too expensive and you can leave full for under $20 a person including tip.
If you stay at the Historic Inn Requa like we did, know that there are basically no restaurants within a 15-20 minute drive. The Inn offer a dinner for $30/person with seating at 7pm during the summer, but we opted out because we didn’t want to be constrained by time.
Our journey through the coast redwoods was one of the most amazing and enjoyable vacations CB and I have been on, and I’m glad we chose this destination as our anniversary trip. When the light hits the trees just so, I can understand why some people call groves of redwoods nature’s cathedral. Because holy and majesty are the words that come to mind when looking at these old trees. Imagine – these trees existed for hundreds of generations before we were here, and I hope that a sapling today will grow and stand for hundreds of generations after we are gone.
My good intentions of being a more engaged and active blogger have fallen by the wayside because of those things called Job and Life. But I’m coming up for breath and have exciting-to-us milestones to share.
First one: 2014 Roth IRAs fully funded for both CB and myself, and 2015 Roth IRAs started. Also, retirement accounts finally crossed the $250K mark. Fidelity’s guidelines say that you should have saved 1x your salary by your 30th birthday, and we’ve definitely achieved that and over, mostly because we’ve been on single income for what feels like forever. Of course, if we were to fall behind on our x-times salary benchmarks because our incomes have zoomed upward, I would not complain at all.
Second milestone: I’ve filed our 2014 taxes… AND figured out how our taxes are calculated! In previous years we simply blindly entered numbers into a tax preparation software and waited for numbers to be spit back out. This year, I decided to make a stand on the corner of our-taxes-aren’t-so-complicated and I-am-of-normal-intelligence and created an Excel spreadsheet with figures and notes and columns, looked up tax tables and exemptions, read up on difference between credits and deductions, and verified our refund for ourselves. For both federal and state taxes.
THEN I plugged in expected income for 2015 and estimated our 2015 taxes. I am really proud of myself and tried to show CB my masterpiece, but unfortunately he was less enamored with the Excel than I was.
The good news is that this year we are getting back a whopping $6,000 refund because we made so little money in 2014. The bad news is that next year, depending on amount of bonus received / amount withheld, we could owe up to $5,000-$8,000. Of course, I’d rather make more and pay more than make less and pay less. So I am not going to complain about higher taxes when they are a consequence of higher income.
Third milestone: I just booked our Christmas vacation. We are going to Munich and Salzburg in December. Our out of pocket costs will be around $1,500 for the two of us, for an entire week, thanks to airline miles and hotel points. This booking was completely spur of the moment, and our choice of destination is 95% driven by availability of award flights.
A lot of personal finance bloggers I read have aggressive income goals, side-hustle goals, and debt-paying goals. I admire their drive, but in reading those go-get-’em posts I also have to admit, somewhat reluctantly, that my own personal finance aspirations have slowed down. That was an aha moment of zen for me – that sometimes, good enough is good enough.
Research have shown that willpower (like time… and money) is a finite resource, and that when you pay more attention to one area of your life, you will inevitably have fewer resources to devote to other areas of your life. I’m acknowledging, that at this point in my life, I need to be happy with good enough finances.
This means that I am not prioritizing saving more money or making more money above everything. I know what I can accomplish with my existing income and obligations, and I need to be content within those limits for this period of my life.
I’m trying to extend this “good enough” mentality to other areas: we don’t own a house and our apartment is still not quite the vision I had hoped it’d be – we won’t be winning any Apartmenttherapy Small Cool Contests anytime soon – but it’s cozy and priced-right and I love living there, and that’s good enough. I’m not the absolute best performer at work, but I’m doing OK, people like working with me, I’m learning, and I’m learning how to set boundaries and carve out personal time, and that’s good enough. I’m not saving 50% of my income or managing a million-dollar business, but I’m saving a respectable percentage and I make a decent salary, and that’s good enough. I can’t send my parents on a Mediterranean cruise or fly them to Europe first-class, but I can take them to Europe on POINTS in coach (muahahaha), and that’s good enough.
If I am really honest with myself, I will say that there is a gap between where I am and where I thought I’d be – where I wished I would be, but that gap shouldn’t suck all the joy out of life. In a culture where everyone is trying to excel, it feels like failure to say that I want to be happy with good enough. But I do. I try to do my job well, treat my friends kindly, be a loving wife and be a thoughtful daughter. Sometimes I exceed and sometimes I fall short. But most of the time my actions are good enough… and that, is good enough. And I’m going to be happy and grateful that my life is filled with more of good enough than not enough.
We have two cars: a mid-1990s Honda that CB bought second-hand 5 years ago and a 2013 Honda that we purchased brand new.
Even though these cars have been for the most part very reliable, fuel-efficient, and reasonable to insure, the cost of car ownership adds up. The state of California kindly reminded me of this fact when it mailed us our annual registration renewal notice.
Gas price is what we typically notice the most when thinking about auto costs. So I rejoiced when gas prices went down (I remember very clearly when gas almost breached $5/gallon mark) and felt a bit bummed when they started climbing again. When I actually crunched the numbers, however, it’s clear while gas prices affect us, other aspects of car ownership affect us even more. And unlike gas prices, there’s no chance of those costs experiencing a significant decline.
What we spend…
$105: February spend on gas
$220: monthly car note on Car #2. Only $650 left until we pay the whole thing off!
$91: vehicle registration renewal for Car #1
$250: vehicle registration renewal for Car #2
$740: 6-month insurance for both cars
$2.35: tolls paid YTD
$48: oil change
Annualize the costs (excluding the car note) and we pay over $3,000 a year to service our two Honda babies. And as Car #1 get older and older, our annual spend might go up to $4,000 if we need to do more significant repairs…
How much do you spend on your car(s) a year, not including car payment?
Almost exactly two years ago, I itemized the all the money I’ve spent on food in a month in a post titled Foodie Finances (what the subtitle should’ve been: A foodie and her money are soon parted. As I detailed in that post, during March 2012, CB and I spent over $800(!!) on groceries, dining out, and coffee and snacks.
But now I think we are turning it around. And the secret is no secret at all: more groceries, less eating out.
Look Ma no restaurants!
Since moving to the Bay Area in January (and paying the rent that comes with living in such an expensive area), CB and I have made a concerted effort to rein in our food spending. Furthermore, I eat out Monday through Thursday because of work, and by the time I’m home, cooking at home is a joy. And so, we haven’t eaten out for personal reasons this entire month, with the exception of a late night In-N-Out run.
Our food spending for January totaled $497.22 (maybe plus or minus a few dollars that might have missed our expense tracking). This figure includes “pantry start-up” costs for basics such as flour, salt, pepper, and sugar as well as all the meals/snacks that we are personally responsible for – i.e. every meal CB eats and my meals on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
We’ve been basically buying anything we wanted – organic cage-free eggs, organic ground beef, and pre-washed, pre-cut veggies. We’ve also been taking to short-cuts where it makes sense: frozen pie crusts instead of made from scratch, frozen fish filets and chicken breasts instead of raw, and frozen chocolate chip cookie dough! Our deal was that if we don’t go out to eat, we can get whatever we wanted in terms of groceries. We get most of our foods from Trader Joe’s, a little bit from Target/Walmart, and all of our Asian groceries from a local Chinese supermarket chain.
I’m pretty happy with our food spending. With just a little bit of effort, I think we can bring our food spending around the $400 mark, which is a level that we’re very comfortable with. Plus, we still have a fridge full of foods that should last us another 1.5 to 2 weeks, so hopefully our February expenses will be close to $400 than $500.
Another benefit is that cooking and baking every weekend has helped me explore some new recipes and get better at the foods I used to make. My repetoire now includes: chicken pot pie, all sorts of quiches and omelets, waffles from scratch, ramen with homemade miso soup, mapo tofu (unfortunately, not from scratch), spaghetti meat sauce, sliders (photographic evidence above) and chicken marsala. Nothing fantastically delicious or beautiful or innovative, but solidly in the range between “not bad” and “pretty darn good.” The one (biased) recipient of my cooking – CB – seems pretty happy with whatever I make so I guess that’s what’s important.
Has your food spending changed significantly (up or down) in the past couple of years?
I hope 2015 is filled with many things.
On the financial side, I want to max out all the retirement accounts that we can and finish paying for CB’s masters program. We are also on-track to finish paying off our car by the end of May. I want to be more thoughtful on how we spend money, and live on $35,000 a year in a very HCOL area.
On the career/school side, I hope I continue to grow in my position, and I hope CB finds a great internship in software engineering / software security that he enjoys and that will lead to a full-time offer in 2016.
On the family side, I hope my dad’s health holds steady (and even, maybe, improves? Although not deteriorating = improving in this case, unfortunately) and my mom’s health holds. I hope to plan a few family vacations, including one to London/Paris while my folks are still healthy enough to travel.
On the health side, I want to start a regular yoga practice of at least 10 minutes of yoga a day. I also plan to go hiking 2-3 times a month, and hit up lots of National and State parks for some healthy and frugal fun… annnnnd even get into camping!
On the personal growth side, I want to stop comparing myself to other people, or at least compare less, or at least stop dwelling on the negative feelings those comparisons tend to inspire. I think I am getting better at it… very, very slowly. Or maybe it’s two steps forward, 1.5 steps back.
Guest post by Jeff Stevenson
The cultural conversation seems to be making vacation time more of a priority in the world’s wealthiest nations. First-world countries work their citizens very hard. We won’t get into the nuanced debates of why that is or isn’t a good thing, but suffice to say, relentless toil has been regarded as a virtue for years, while intentional rest is only now starting to see its day. If you find yourself among the number of people planning for a future vacation, you may be wonderful how to pay for it. I’ll talk about some of the best ways, some obvious, some not, about how to fund your next vacation.
1) Find an Employer Who’ll Pay For It. The new wave of businesses pays for employee time off, at least a week or two a year. If you are lucky enough to work at a place like this, take them up on their offer, and enjoy pay as long as you can get it, in whatever luxurious locale you choose. If you don’t have paid vacation, and no such employment is available, at least work for someone who will let you get away on your own dollar. 24/7/365 workplaces are for the birds.
2) Make it a Priority. At my house, travel is our #1 luxury. We have a big jar for it, marked in bold Orange letters, “VACATION!!!!”. Every time one of us wants to spend money to go do something, someone yells “vacation”. We sit down and evaluate the activity as a family. If it’s a movie we’ll say, “OK, that’s four $12 tickets, plus $15 in popcorn. We’ll stay home, and put $63 in the vacation jar instead.” We do this everytime we want to go out to eat or something. Sometimes eating out wins, but other times the vacation jar does. We add this cash to our regular vacation savings.
3) Save a Fixed Amount of Your Income. We do 10%. By the end of the year, we have more than enough to go somewhere special. And since this money has been saved for this specific purpose, we usually splurge. We try to get out of the country whenever we can. Our two kids have already seen more of the world than I had by the time I was 3 times their age. It’s something I want to do as long as we can. Accounting software can make budgeting a lot easier.
4) Do the Credit Card Miles Thing. I have several financial “hobbies”, money practices I learn about in my spare time. Travel Cards are one such hobby. I “churn” cards, not with the best of them, but I hold my own. We’re usually able to fly where we’re going for free or close to it. This is the only trip like this we take annually, so our miles go that far. And once we get where we’re going, we make sure to save on accommodations and stuff. The places we go usually end up being a lot cheaper than the US, so our money goes farther.
5) Work on the Road. If you want to get really serious about this, do work you can turn in online. That way you can earn money for a couple of hours every day and make your time away a more extended vacation.
There are plenty of other ways you can fund and budget for your vacations, but it’s all a matter of prioritization. If getting away by yourself or with people you love is important to you, you’ll find a way to make it work. Try the above methods and add your own. You deserve it, after all.
School loans, rent or mortgage payments, car payments, car insurance, utilities, health insurance, groceries — the amount of money automatically eaten up each and every paycheck can leave you precious little wiggle room for saving. For many young adults, just getting through each month unscathed and free from over-draft charges is a monumental accomplishment — even with a steady job. Why make a tough situation tougher by tightening your belt even more in order to save for a vacation? Actually, there are a lot of reasons, but two should suffice. First: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and second: It’s totally possible to save money for travel even when you’re already within the squeeze of a tight-fisted budget. From avoiding credit cards to picking up a part-time job, here are seven tips for squirreling travel money away on a shoestring budget.
1. Skip the Credit Cards
Credit cards can seem like a great idea, especially because of all the perks offer. Of course, everyone knows balances should be paid every month in order to avoid the hefty interest fees that can pile up, but credit card users have a tendency to accumulate debt anyway. The average American household with credit card debt owes over $15,000. While you may think you won’t end up like everyone else, there’s really no way to guarantee you won’t unless you never, ever resort to credit cards. So, use your debit card, cash, and checkbook to make purchases, so you’re always spending money that you already have.
2. Scour Discount Airline Sites for Deals
Once you have a little money set aside for you trip, it’s time to start scouring discount airline sites — like www.flights.com— for great deals. Check different combinations of dates to your intended destination. Check flight prices at different times of the day. As soon as you see a good price come through the pipeline, snatch it up, and make sure you give yourself enough time to save for the rest of your trip before you have to take it.
3. Cook More
Cooking for yourself — even if you’re single — can save you a remarkable amount of money. If at this point in time, your budget allows you to go out to eat twice a week, cut that down to once a week, and put the $15 you save into a savings account for travel. While you may need to up your grocery budget by a few dollars to compensate for another meal at home, you’ll still end up saving around $50 a month —$600 a year — for travel or anything else.
3. Pick up a Part-Time Job
I know. I know. You already put in a 40-hour workweek, and you deserve a little time off, but picking up a light part-time job — even for just a few months — can really pay big dividends in savings. Tutor a few students each week at $20 an hour. Give your neighbor piano lessons. Work retail during the holiday season. Whatever you’re able to fit into your schedule, set aside all the money you make, and your travel fund will be big enough for a fabulous trip in just a few months’ time.
4. Hold a Garage Sale
Do you have any rare baseball cards from your childhood? What about vintage designer duds that no longer fit? Books? Records? Music gear from that time you were in a band? If you’re serious about traveling on a small budget, relieving yourself of unnecessary worldly possessions can bring in some quick cash. Even a weekend garage sale that gets rid of the clutter in your apartment can easily net you anywhere from $50 to $200.
5. Work While You’re Gone
This option may not be for everyone, but if you’re looking into long-term travel and you still have school loans, car payments and the like to keep up with back home, it’s a choice that may alleviate some financial stress. If you do any freelance work from a computer, you can probably find a way to keep at it, at least part of the time, while traveling. From blogging to database work, freelancing can keep money coming into your account even when you’re away. Other options include teaching English, bartending, and working on a farm or in a restaurant. Be sure to check into all the visa and legal requirements of the destination to which you’re headed regarding work, and get all your ducks in a row before you leaving.
6. Pick an Inexpensive Destination
When it comes to how much money you need for travel, the world is a remarkably uneven place. While you may be dying to tour the English countryside for three weeks, you’ll find it’s much cheaper to travel in Cambodia. Pick a destination that’s reasonable given your budget, and you’ll see more of the world at a faster and less money-centered pace.
So, make a little wiggle room and start saving. Traveling the world is possible on almost any budget, so long as you’re wise and willing to make sacrifices.
The title of this post says it all.
In short, CB and I are planning to move in together to a studio or one-bedroom closer to his school. Well, he will be moving in – I’ll be signing the lease and spending the weekends there, thereby continuing my role as a weekend wife for my weekend life! Har har har. I still travel a lot for work (and want to continue traveling for work) and my office is out of state. I still have a lease in Work City and will probably be looking for a subletter as I’m only in Work City 2-3 nights a month.
Anyhow, in addition to trying to find a subletter in a city that has many affordable rental options, we are trying to find a lease in a city that has one of THE most expensive rental market in the country. Before we sign a lease in the SF Bay, we have to FIND an apartment and be approved for an apartment and beat out the 981923479703 other people who wants the same apartment. Or that’s what it feels like. There’s one word for it, and it’s this: demoralizing. All those things I’ve heard about SF real estate are true, and it sucks.
I’ve never seen so many Craigslist housing ads without pictures or correct grammar. One apartment complex has 15-minute showings twice a week, and apartments stay on Craigslist for barely TWO days before being rented. Landlords and managers do not return your calls because they are inundated with interest.
It’s enough to make me swear off living in the Bay forever (hahah who am I kidding! The Real Estate gods are not fooled – they know that I, along with a million other people, will scrimp and save and kick and claw to get our own little piece of the Bay).
Wish us luck. We need it.
Somewhere along the way I’ve turned into someone who likes hiking. Albeit hiking with nights spent in comfy bed and breakfasts, but maybe camping isn’t too far off. So what’s better than celebrating Thanksgiving in the place where Thanksgiving was (purportedly) first celebrated – in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle.
Have you heard of Palo Duro? I haven’t, until I read a blog post from another blogger. Even though Palo Duro is the second grandest canyon in the U.S., after the Grand Canyon, it seems to be virtually unknown based on the blank stares I’ve gotten when I talked about my hiking plans. I was so surprised to find out that was such an amazing natural wonder in the middle of Texas – if there is one word that I think of when I think of Texas topography, it’s “flat“. I loved our trip to the Texas Hill Country, but in terms of sheer natural wonder, I don’t think Palo Duro can be beat in Texas. CB and I almost couldn’t believe our eyes as the canyon unfolded before us – it’s like a big hole right in the middle of the Texan high plains.
It was the perfect Thanksgiving – during the day, we took on the 6 mile round trip Lighthouse Trail to the famed Lighthouse rock hoodoo that is Palo Duro’s most recognizable landmark. This was the first time I’ve ever hiked 6 miles in my life, and aside from the last 0.5 miles of some seriously scary ascents and descents with slippery gravel and sharp drop-offs, the trail was very moderate and pleasant. Then, in the evening, we drove back to Amarillo to our bed and breakfast, and had a delicious Thanksgiving meal with our BnB host and her family.
The whole getaway cost around $500 - we spent about $50 on gas, $10 for entrance into Palo Duro Canyon State Park, $20 for entrance into the Panhandle Plains Museum, and around $350 for hotel and food. Money well spent.
And last but not least, this trip has inspired me to plan a last minute jaunt to the Grand Canyon for Christmas.
What would you prefer:
(A) $160,000 compensation in a very demanding job with ever-changing deadlines, 60-80 hour weeks, unpredictable schedules, lots of travel, and higher “prestige” and perks
(B) $110,000 compensation in a less-demanding job with predictable deadlines and schedules, 40-hour weeks, no travel, and lower “prestige” and fewer perks
Let’s assume that both positions offer learning opportunity, good coworkers, the usual degree of office politics, and decent benefits.
That’s a choice that a friend was recently talking to me about. Her current job is Job A, and her previous position was more like Job B. We were discussing what’s the better choice, and how that answer might evolve with our personal goals and life stage.
Then I read an article in the New York Times about big investment banks now “requiring” junior bankers to take a couple Saturdays off a month. Most analysts are happy, but some say that they are worried this “less rigorous” lifestyle will result in or is a result of lower bonuses. Back in the boom years, an analyst could make $100,000 or in bonus alone in one year. Now, some say the bonuses are “only” $70,000. The person quoted in the NYT said that most analysts would rather have the bigger bonus than the extra weekends… (I HIGHLY suspect that statement, but who knows. Maybe this is why I wasn’t cut out for banking).
I also found Stephanie’s blog, where she and her husband made the choice to take a lower salary in exchange for decent hours. Instead of making $160,000 in BigLaw and working 90 hours a week, her husband is making ~$35,000 to $40,000 and working more regular hours.
At a certain level, the marginal dollar becomes less important, especially when you are comparing decent numbers. The difference in lifestyle and ability to accomplish financial goals between $30,000 and $50,000 is significant, while the difference between $150,000 and $170,000 is smaller, and the difference between $1 million and $1.02 million is basically a rounding error. Even the same percentage difference, at a higher salary, becomes less meaningful…
I want to set up our life and our finances so that in the future, when we decide the marginal hour is worth more than the marginal dollar, we have the financial wherewithal to act accordingly. In the short-term, that means saving enough money to pay for all of CB’s tuition so we both come out of grad school without debt. That means keeping my head down and telling myself “I can do this” when the hours get bad, and never forgetting the purpose of all of this.
At what point does the marginal dollar outweigh the marginal hour, and at what point does the marginal hour outweigh the marginal dollar for you?
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?
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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Japan 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.
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)
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.
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
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