<![CDATA[Jingjing Yu - Projects]]>Wed, 28 Aug 2019 19:29:45 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Is Solar Panel Worth It?]]>Thu, 25 Jul 2019 13:41:35 GMThttp://jingjingyu.org/projects/solarPictureMs. Ice Queen sunbathing in the backyard.
Solar Panel is a hot topic these days. It's been on my radar for a while, especially now there is a new solar panel company in town (thanks Instagram for creeping on my google search). My social media channels are filled with green energy advertisements and people rave about how they should limit their carbon footprint (first of all you should be stop driving your F250 pickup to work, Robert, you disgust me). 

Here's the basics of my understanding of Solar Panel and its financial impact. I set up a calculation to show you how many years it will take for you to break even, and you can use this to decide whether or not it is worth it to do it now.

1. Figuring out how much kwatt you will need

You can use this estimate tool PVWatts to figure out how many kwatt you need from the solar panel to be completely independent from the utility companies. After entering your zip code, you should be able to see ​"SOLAR RESOURCE DATA" in the next page. Click on "go to system info" on the right hand side and get more details on your zipcode. 

So based on this analysis, it seems to me that I should have at least enough panels to harvest 4 KWatt overall to break-even from the utility companies. Side note: this is actually surprisingly accurate based on my monthly electric bills.

2. How much does it cost to put in solar panels?

Mr. Money Mustache built his systems around $1.08 per watt - which is super cheap.  By his dollar per watt ratio, I should be looking at $1.08 * 4,000 watts = $4,320

But reality check hits me like a giant frying pan on the head. I called one of the local companies here, and they gave me a quote of wapping $21,000 for a 4 kwatt system, claiming that I only have to pay $87 a month and pay it off in 25 years. WOW! Maybe they think I am made of money, or stupid, or BOTH! 25 years of paying the solar company instead of the utility company? Why would I ever do this to myself and dig myself a giant hole in debt?

I followed Mr. Money Mustache's link to a DIY website where you can purchase the solar panel kits and install it yourself. The panels for 4 Kwatt is $6,300 and I am estimating labor cost (of hiring a handyman to install this panel with me) will probably cost me between $500 - $2,000 which brings my dollar per watt close to $1.50. 

($6,300 + $500 installation) * 70% (tax break 2019*) = $4,760 / 4,000 watts = $1.19 per watt
($6,300 + $2,000 installation) * 70% (tax break 2019) = $5,810 / 4,000 watts = $1.45 per watt

*There is a tax credit of 30% of the solar credit. IRS form 5695 for residential energy credit. This credit will be phasing out from 2020 onward. Tax credits are "dollar for dollar" off the tax bill you owe to the IRS, so it is correct to be thinking that 30% of the solar installation and material costs per IRS instruction.    

3. Break-even point

This is where the important part of calculation comes in to decide whether it is worth it for you.

Cost of the system / annual electricity bill = Break-even years
$5,810 / $908 = ~6.4 years

In the grand scheme of things, this is actually a good number to have. You want the number of years break-even to be as short as possible by lowering the cost of the system (not by increasing your electricity bill!) However, in my situation, I am not planning on staying in this area for more than 3 years, and keeping as rental with solar panels may be hard to maintain.  Once this house becomes rental property, the tenant will be responsible for the utilities. Therefore, I would be investing this money into saving someone else's utility bills. 

Of course, the house you buy may be a permanent resident of yours. In that case, I think solar panels are a great idea this year considering the tax credit is phasing out. 

4. What not to do:
  • Do not install solar panels just because it is the "new fab." Actually calculate your own electricity bills and ask for estimates of solar panels before making a rash decision.
  • Do not be rushed into saying yes to a solar panel system just because the tax credit is phasing out. You will lose a lot more than this little tax credit if you didn't calculate the actual break-even point or the amount you are willing AND ABLE to spend on solar panels.

There are other steps to be considered if you decide to make this a DIY project (and it will be cheaper and more rewarding I am sure). Here's more details from MMM on obtaining a permit, and you may need to hire an electrician at the end to connect the power harvested by solar panels back to the city grid.

Overall solar panels are a great way to reduce electricity bills (just electricity, nothing else!). There are many other ways to conduct an audit of electricity usage in a house.  By just looking at my electricity bill trend, it is very easy to notice that I have spikes in the summer and winter for using my A/C and Furnace. Having cutting that out, and reducing the time relying on the AC to cool your house in the summer, and furnace to heat up in the winter, this will reduce my annual electric bills by half, alone. 

Happy sunbathing :)

<![CDATA[Deciding to be Happy]]>Sat, 20 Jul 2019 02:30:48 GMThttp://jingjingyu.org/projects/hLife is great these days, and will get better as each day goes by. You and I are both going to be pretty well off, find our fulfillment in life, and all the meanwhile, learn a shit load of cool stuff. 

Maybe there will be dips here and there. Everyone eats a shit sandwich somewhere sometimes. But overall, our lives have already been great so far.

It seems that the world thrives on tragedy and fiasco these days. People complain about the weather, their jobs, their spouses, bosses, in-laws, the president, and that coworker who got the promotion and totally doesn't deserve it. Media of course can't make as much money telling wholesome stories like "a fluffy fox mom with three cubs were in the grass by the Eastern Pennsylvania suburb this morning...", but rather they'd want to report "hackers took over the Twitter account of the London Police Service..."

​When have we become so oblivious of the things that we already have? Our freedom, liberty, abundant source of food, air quality, the occasional polite strangers that helped us out at one point or another. 

Don't fall into this negative trap. Don't.

Of course, you may have heard this proven hypothesis that happiness is marginalized, that experiment where the lottery winner or the person who lost a limb from a tragic accident both eventually have their happiness level return back to before the incident that has happened to them. This seems very gloomy of a theory actually is liberating in a way that we can personally change our happiness level.

I am here to tell you that deciding to be happy IS A THING. 

Here's a funny story about deciding to be happy. This one time I insisted on buying an electric lawn mower and mowing the lawn myself despite of everyone I asked said I should get a gas mower, because I am an independent strong woman who needs no help (RAWR!). The first time I used the electric lawn mower, I was so frustrated with it because I have to have an extension cord following me around all the time, and trying not to run through it with the mower. Of course, the second time I attempted to cut my grass, I cut the extension cord half way through mowing the lawn. Man, so that was very short lived, I thought. My rainbow colored bubble of being this fierce female warrior was popped in this hot summer day and I was very distraught and embarrassed at the same time. It took me about an hour to let my emotions subside, but afterwards, I felt hard to cheer myself up again. I was driving to the hardware store to pick up another extension cord and I was playing the scene of me cutting the wire over and over again in my head, and at that moment I had been dwelling on this for two hours now. I realized I was punishing myself for such a small mistake that is fixable, almost funny, and so very small! I thought to myself, I can still think about it and relive it however my brain wants, but I am deciding to be happy from this second on. Almost like a switch, my brain is still contemplating on the event that has happened, but the negativity of how incompetent of a human being I was started disappearing.

This probably requires frequent practice to say to oneself, I have decided to be happy today. You don't need anything to be happy. You don't have to chase happiness. But you can decide to be happy, today, this very moment, and it will come.

"I don’t know why we take our worst moods so much more seriously than our best, crediting depression with more clarity than euphoria. We dismiss peak moments and passionate love affairs as an ephemeral chemical buzz, just endorphins or hormones, but accept those 3 A.M. bouts of despair as unsentimental insights into the truth about our lives. It’s easy now to dismiss that year as nothing more than the same sort of shaky, hysterical high you’d feel after getting clipped by a taxi. But you could also try to think of it as a glimpse of reality, being jolted out of a lifelong stupor. It’s like the revelation I had the first time I ever flew in an airplane as a kid: when you break through the cloud cover you realize that above the passing squalls and doldrums there is a realm of eternal sunlight, so keen and brilliant you have to squint against it, a vision to hold on to when you descend once again beneath the clouds, under the oppressive, petty jurisdiction of the local weather."
-- We Learn Nothing, Tim Kreider]]>
<![CDATA[Is Chase Sapphire Reserve Card still worth it after 5 years]]>Tue, 09 Jul 2019 14:53:25 GMThttp://jingjingyu.org/projects/chaseMs. Tali has gotten some snoozing this morning and woke up wondering if she ought to cut out more expenses in her life. One of the things I am not sure about is whether it is still worth it to keep my very fancy Chase Sapphire Reserve card considering the hefty annual fee of whopping $450! So Ms. Tali, being so savvy at the simple yet powerful google sheets, has whipped up this magical formula for you to also find out if it is still worth it! 

After the initial shock and euphoria of having 100,000 points (in this case 50,000 points for people applying now). I believe initially I calculated that these 100,000 points were worth about 3-4 years of annual fees but after that I wasn't sure if the benefits of points from spending alone was worth it to keep the card.

Of course the Sapphire Reserve card is more than just the two factors (points + foreign transaction fee) I calculated on the google sheet. Some of these notable benefits are actually hard to calculate how much value it is worth, and predict whether or not you will be using it for the next year. So I did not include it in my pure and shiny mathematical calculation.

The card reimburses for Global Entry / TSA Precheck which I didn't have for the past 12 months, so this was not taken into consideration. If you want, you can always add $20 (prorated from $100 of 5 years Global Entry) to your saved amount. 

Sapphire Reserve also gave you access to Priority Pass which is a lounge access when you are at the airport. I have personally used it when doing international travels and have shitty layovers in Atlanta. This usually cost me $50. Arguably though, Ms. Frugal-hound Tali would not have gone to lounges and spent this $50 had I not have the Priority Pass, so technically this "saving" should not be considered into the calculation.

Sapphire Reserve also has trip insurance, baggage delay insurance, travel incidental and emergency medical coverage. However, I did not consider these as I have never used them in all the years I have this card. Therefore it is sweeped under the "nice to have" category but should not influence my decision. 

The simple rationale behind this calculation is that the annual fee for Sapphire Reserve is $450, but right off the bat, there is a $300 travel credit which is automatically applied when you put a charge on the card that constitutes as "travel" for Chase (cha-ching!). So, for the sake of the calculation, my savings needs to be bigger than $150 for it to worth my while.


Like most people, when I applied for the Sapphire Reserve, I had the Sapphire Preferred card which I downgraded it to Freedom Unlimited (no annual fee!). This card gives me 1.5 points on every purchase. Therefore, anything I accidentally put on my Sapphire Reserve card that doesn't give me +3 points is not really a "plus" in my calculation.

Foreign Transaction Fee:

Of course sometimes this is unavoidable when you travel internationally and want to put the charge to this card to avoid foreign transaction fees, which brings me to part two of the calculation: anything I spent outside the country on this card saved 3% of transaction fee.

Here's for the tech / financial savvy and impatient people:

No more reading, and plug your numbers into this Google sheet  I made this morning (instead of doing actual work). You can click "make a copy" from the "file" tab and enter your own value.

Here's the step by step for the rest of the world or people who likes to read. 

1. Go to your chase sapphire reserve statements (online or on paper) and look for the section where it tells you how many points you've been collecting each month.
2. Enter the "+3 points" numbers (there are two, one for travel and one for dining) and "+1 points" to the Google sheet.

3. Look for any foreign transactions you have had in that month. Add this amount to column E of the sheet.

Usually for me, when I use the Reserve card, I'd choose local currency. I have found that Chase's exchange rate usually comes out ahead than using US dollars at the merchant when you swipe your card. 

​4. See the result!

I was surprised at the amount of money saved after the annual fee is $300+! Getting charged foreign transaction fees would bother me so much that I would have kept this card even if it was just breaking even with the annual fee. Although, knowing that I have spent this much money just in the past 12 months was also another dose of medicine for me to lower my expenses! I will be re-evaluating my spending again to see what are the essential purchases some other time.
<![CDATA[A week with no grocery bills]]>Mon, 08 Jul 2019 02:33:41 GMThttp://jingjingyu.org/projects/gThe week before my 4th of July vacation, I decided to try and clean out my house from all the residual food items I have accumulated from Stone Age. I thought I'd make it interesting by making a short week without going to the grocery to buy anything.

Breakfast - yogurt & roasted oats + walnuts
Lunch - ate some prepped chicken thighs from Sunday (meal-prep day) + some veggies
Dinner - frozen Salmon from some time ago, defrosted and cooked with lemon juice

Breakfast - yogurt & roasted oats + walnuts
Lunch - lots and lots of carrots because there are 50 sticks in one bag. Why have so many carrot sticks in one bag?? Leftover salmon from the night before. I feel like a proper rabbit chewing on the carrots at my desk.
Dinner - cooked some fried rice with eggs. I always have rice and eggs at home for some odd reason. 

Now this is the day I am starting to get bored and really want to go to the store and buy a bar of chocolate to reward myself from being so good for the past TWO DAYS! This was a tough day. I forgot my wallet somewhere and had a lunch meeting with a higher-up person at work. Of course after learning my misfortune, she chivalrously offered to pay for my meal. I almost wanted to post on the subreddit's unethical 
life hack - lose your wallet somewhere in the house next time going to a social event!
Breakfast - some random half opened bag of chips
Lunch - Thai food paid by my colleague, which incidentally I also got sick from. Maybe free food isn't always good!
Dinner - leftover yogurt in the fridge surprisingly not expired yet

Breakfast - work had an event where there was donuts! The glorious moments of working!
Lunch - leftover carrots and some questionable ground pork with lots of pepper
Dinner - some leftover bananas, granola and yogurt


Moral to this slightly crazy experiment, there are way more food at my place than I thought I had, and I should be doing this more often to make sure I eat all the food I have before going out to buy more! 

Bonus trick I learned from vacation was to make a day of a week "diner meal day" where everyone eats whatever is leftover in the fridge to clear out all the food. It apparently inspired interesting dessert creation such as ice cream cone and fruit loops around the top!
<![CDATA[How I Overcome Fear of Biking]]>Tue, 25 Jun 2019 01:17:55 GMThttp://jingjingyu.org/projects/bSince I moved to Northwest Arkansas, life couldn't have been easier. My commute to work is about 5 minutes from home. Some days I roll out of bed, and put on clothes, and head to work without even opening my eyes. 

That is, until I started reading Mr. Money Mustache (MMM). MMM has this thing where people should be biking, everywhere, period. So I decided to try it out. 

I got my road bike with skinny wheels out from my house, and put my helmet on, and went into the rain this morning to work. It wasn't as bad as I thought. Then lunch time comes in, and I realize I have a lunch date with a friend who works in a different building across town. So I asked her if she could meet me somewhere walking difference from my office. YES! Avoided using the car, again!

When I was getting ready to leave for work, I wanted to head over to the local market (8th street market) to get some chocolates as a gift. This would be a new route for me as I have not rode my bike there before. I am always afraid that I'd run out of sidewalk and accidentally swerve into the oncoming traffic. Since Northwest Arkansas is still quite rural, many of their big streets don't have side walks. All they have a patches of thick grass, or even worse, a drain ditch to drain the rainwater. PANIC! ​I looked up the route beforehand but of course Google has not updated their maps in 5 years and this city is completely unrecognizable every 6 months. So that was no good. I decided, there is only one way to find out. So I left the building and headed the only way I knew how to get to the market.
As it turns out, after many scary encounter (mainly in my head) of almost head-on collision with oncoming traffic, I arrived at the market safely just to find out the chocolate shop doesn't open on Mondays. SHUCKS!

I turned my bike around and pedaled home. My friend summarized this trip as a mega-success as I "worked out in the beautiful weather and did not gain any calories or lose any money!" 

So the moral to this long rambling story is that, you concur your fear by doing the things, one step at a time. Maybe there is a less busy route you can take; maybe there is a less busy time that you can be on the road without cars honking at you; maybe today is the day to blast music and let traffic deal itself behind you! Whatever it is, I'd say, doing it once is better than not doing it at all!

But after one stressful day of full planning on which route to take my bike, I think tomorrow I shall treat myself with my car :)]]>
<![CDATA[A Floating Shelf in the Laundry Room]]>Mon, 24 Jun 2019 03:08:07 GMThttp://jingjingyu.org/projects/a-floating-shelf-in-the-laundry-roomI saw a very a floating shelf from Instagram (yes omg it is a time-sinker) the other day and loved the idea of this floating shelf right above the washer / dryer. 
I bought some wood from Home Depot (who also cuts it to size for you)
  • 64 inch 1 x 2
  • 64 inch 2 x 6
I already have some tools and supplies at home for the rest of this installation:
  • Power drill and screw driver
  • Wood screws ( 2 inches) x 7
  • Level
After some struggle (as always) with screwing the wood screws into the stub, I was able to somewhat put this very simple shelf up in the laundry room!