5 Tips on Renting Out Your First Property

Here’s a quick update 5 months after I purchased this rental. The biggest difference (visually) is painting this kitchen and adding all the new appliances. I ended up renting this place within 2 days of listing it on Zillow while I am in Iceland on vacation. It was definitely a rollercoaster ride of 5 months but totally worth it. Here are xx lessons I learned from having this first investment property. 

1. Painting kitchen cabinets & adding knobs

TL;DR: would totally do it again.

I debated on painting the kitchen cabinets. On the one hand, the motto I go by for rentals to prevent myself from overspending is “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it,” but on the other hand, this kitchen looked very dingy with the old brown cabinets, brown colored linoleum floor, and brown walls. By painting the cabinets a lighter color, the photos popped so much more. Most people I showed the before/after photos thought I also painted the walls. I didn’t. It just brings in so much more light to the kitchen which people spend a lot of times in. Some tips about painting kitchen cabinets which I either found from watching youtube videos or from this experience:

  • Use painters tape and number the cabinet doors when you take them off so you can put that exact door back on.
  • I had leftover wall paint which has “eggshell” finish. You really want “high gloss” finish for kitchen cabinets for ease of cleaning. So I bought a pint (very small!) of high gloss white color to go on top.
  • White color: white dove Benjamin Moore (see other popular white comparison here) – you can match color and get a cheaper paint with Lowe’s / Home Depot brand.
  • Green color: Tranquility Benjamin Moore (see example here by Younghouselove)
  • Do you need to spray the cabinets to not have hand-painted streaklines? Depending on the market and the type of the house. For this base-line 3 bedroom 2 bath starter rental, I’d say no. I painted them by hand and the streakline looks kind of cool if I may say so myself.
  • Use an oil based primer to cover existing colors on the cabinets. I used Kilz
  • Use a separate brush for the primer, keep it in the fridge wrapped in a dog poop bag to keep it moist, work fast, and throw this brush away because washing this brush was SO ANNOYING.
  • I bought the kitchen handles from Amazon (small & large).

I think having the kitchen refreshed with a coat of paint really helped me renting out this house very quickly and helped me get the rental income I wanted to be. 

2. Get to know your neighbors, yes, around the rental

TL;DR: would totally do it again.

I learned this from Building Wealth One House at a Time by John Schaud I read in 2020 (see my notes here). I find getting to know my neighbors are really helpful when you need to borrow tools, ask them to keep an eye on the property when you are on vacation, in case your dog runs away, etc. Overall, it gives an inclusive feeling for you and the neighbors you are in it together to protect your neighborhood. If your tenant turn out to be someone sketchy, they will be the first to let you know!

3. Why I decided to hire a management company

TL;DR: would totally do it again.

I am usually very hands-on with my projects. After we bought this house, we lived in it for two months while renting out our main house in the summer on Airbnb. During this time, I realized I really hate dealing with tenants, especially entitled adults with young children. Balancing pros & cons, I decided to find a management company to handle everything for this long-term rental. This is totally a personal decision, and depending on your personality and your time commitment, it might be better for you to self-manage. I thought I was going to self-manage just to save the 10% management fees, but it’s not really worth the headache for me. So I outsourced it and now I can free up my time to find better deals or just enjoy my quiet time!

With the management company, I don’t have to do maintenance and a lot of the small repairs. I can also get quite a good price on it because the management company has a low-cost handyman that goes around all their properties and takes care of the small repairs. It would cost me a lot more time and headache to do it myself. 

I also don’t have to worry about the tenant’s background checks, changing air filters, collecting rent, or possibly evictions. For someone as frugal as me, I am very surprised that I truly enjoy having a management company taking care of everything. 

4. Do a little cosmetic repair that doesn’t cost much

TL;DR: would totally do it again.

The last owner left me some blinds for the window in the garage. One day I was sitting in front of the window working and the sun was blazing on me, and it became so hot, I finally decided to install the blinds. It only took about 15 – 20 minutes to figure out how to put them up, but they made a huge difference for the room to look less basic.

5. Rented out my own house on Airbnb while renovating this rental

TL;DR: would probably not do it again.

My original thought process was for the couple of months this rental is not rented, I could live in it but rent out my own house on Airbnb which would bring me income to offset the couple of months of no rental income. I don’t think I would replicate this in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I planned everything out. Financially it made sense, but emotionally and logistically, it was a little hell-ish. I had to travel back and forth between my rental (where I live) and my airbnb (my main house). There would be days where I drive between houses and Walmart multiple times cleaning, trying to get supplies, forgotten things, etc. At the end of the day I am just beat. 

I made a small amount of money after all the furnishing. Overall, the profit did not outway the trouble + time + expenses. I would not want to replicate this in the next deal. But for some people, this could be an option, and possibly hire an Airbnb property manager (they usually charge a lot higher than long-term rentals, about 25%-35% which you will have to consider when calculating your profit).

Overall, it was a great win for 2021. It was a great experience finding my first rental and successfully renting it out. Share in the comments your lessons learned from your investment properties!

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

  • How much I’d Recommend: 9/10
  • Date finished: 10/4/21
  • Being Mortal, recommend borrowing from your local library or buy a used copy

🚀 Three sentences to summarize the book:

  1. This book is not just for people who are older. It’s for everyone as everyone is mortal.
  2. It addresses very hard but necessary questions about what we value the most at the end of our life.
  3. Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology.

☘️ How did this book change the way I think/work/learn:

  • This book makes me think about what I define my life purpose is, and life purpose can change so quickly, and how even if one’s mobility, single source of life purpose became impossible because of old age, a new purpose can be found in caring for others, contributing to the community, etc. One can survive merely on medical interventions, but living requires a lot more. It requires a purpose to give us the will to continue.
  • It also makes me realize that a lot of the times doctors don’t have all the answers, and diseases are part of human life & aging. We are all headed in the same direction, but to make the journey not a painful one, it has to be consciously thought-out, and deliberately discussed choice.

📒 Favorite Quotes:

  • Death, of course, is not a failure. Death is normal. Death may be the enemy, but it is also the natural order of things.
  • We think, nostalgically, that we want the kind of old age my grandfather had (where his son & daughter-in-law took care of him until he died at age 110). But the reason we do not have it is that, in the end, we do not actually want it. The historical pattern is clear: as soon as people got the resources and opportunity to abandon that way of life, they were gone.
  • Historians find that the elderly of the industrial era did not suffer economically and were not unhappy to be left on their own. Given the opportunity, both parents and children saw separation as a form of freedom.
  • We cling to the notion of retirement at 65—a reasonable notion when those over 65 were a tiny % of the population but increasingly untenable as they approach 20%. People are putting aside less in savings for old age now than they have at any time since the Great Depression. More than half of the very old own live without a spouse and we have fewer children than ever before, yet we give virtually no thought to how we will live out our later years alone.
  • The only way death is not meaningless is to see yourself as part of something greater: a family, a community, a society. If you don’t, morality is only a horror.
  • As our time winds down, we all seek comfort in simple pleasures—companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight on our faces. We become less interested in the rewards of achieving and accumulating, and more interested in the rewards of simple living.
  • Yet while we may feel less ambitious, we also become concerned for our legacy. And we have a deep need to identify purposes outside ourselves that make living feel meaningful and worthwhile.
  • Whatever the limits and travails we face, we want to retain the autonomy—the freedom—to be the authors of our lives. The value of autonomy…lies in the scheme of responsibility it creates: autonomy makes each of us responsible for shaping his own life according to some coherent and distinctive sense of character, conviction, and interest.
  • This is why the betrayals of body and mind that threaten to erase our character and memory remain among our most awful tortures.
  • People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys find that their top concerns include avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete. Our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet these needs, and the most of this failure is measured in far more than dollars. The question therefore is not how we can afford this system’s expense. it is how we can build a health care system that will actually help people achieve what’s most important to them at the end of their lives.
  • On Hospice: “99% understand they’re dying, but 100% hope they’re not,” she told me. “They still want to beat their disease.” “A nurse has five seconds to make a patient like you and trust you. It’s in the whole way you present yourself. I do not come in saying ‘I’m so sorry.’ Instead, it’s: ‘I’m the hospice nurse, and here’s what I have to offer you to make your life better. And I know we don’t have a lot of time to waste.”
  • Hospice has tried to offer a new ideal for how we die. Although not everyone has embraced its rituals, those who have are helping to negotiate an ars moriendi for our age. But doing so represents a struggle—not only against suffering but also against the seemingly unstoppable momentum of medical treatment.
  • Two-thirds of the terminal cancer patients in the Coping with Cancer study reported having had no discussion with their doctors about their goals for end-of-life care, despite being, on average, just four months from death. But the third who did have discussions were far less likely to undergo cardiopulmonary resuscitation or be put on a ventilator or end up in an intensive care unit. Most of them enrolled in hospice. They suffered less, were physically more capable, and were better able, for a longer period, to interact with others. In addition, six months after these patients died, their family members were markedly less likely to experience persistent major depression. In other words, people who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end-of-life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation and to spare their family anguish.
  • A landmark 2010 study from the Massachusetts general hospital had even more startling findings… the result: those who saw a palliative care specialist stopped chemotherapy sooner, entered hospice far earlier, experienced less suffering at the end of their lives—and they lived 25 percent longer. In other words, our decision making in medicine has failed so spectacularly that we have reached the point of actively inflicting harm on patients rather than confronting the subject of mortality. If end-of-life discussion were an experimental drug, the FDA would approve it.
  • Four crucial questions at end of life in la crosse wisconsin:

  1. Do you want to be resuscitated if your heart stopped?
  2. Do you want aggressive treatments such as intubation and mechanical ventilation?
  3. Do you want antibiotics?
  4. Do you want tube or intravenous feeding if you can’t eat on your own?

Crucial quesitons to discuss with your doctor:

What do you understand your prognosis to be? What are your concerns about what lies ahead? What kind of trade-offs are you willing to make? How do you want to spend your time if your health worsens? Who do you want to make decisions if you can’t?

How much you are willing to go through to have a shot at being alive and what level of being alive is tolerable to you?

  • I’m sorry things turned out this way ⇒ I wish things were different.
  • What do you want when you are dying ⇒ if time becomes short, what is most important to you?
  • The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You want Robert e Lee, someone who knows how to fight for territory that can be won and how to surrender it when it can’t, someone who understands that the damage is greatest if all you do is battle to the bitter end.
  • People die only once. They have no experience to draw on. They need doctors and nurses who are willing to have the hard discussions and say what they have seen, who will help people prepare for what is to come—and escape a warehoused oblivion that few really want.
  • We want information and control, but we also want guidance. The Emanuels described a third type of doctor-patient relationship, which they called “interpretive.” Here the doctors role is to help patients determine what they want. Interpretive doctors ask “what is most important to you? What are your worries?” Then, when they know your answers, they tell you about the red pill and the blue pill and which one would most help you achieve your priorities.
  • if to be human is to be limited, then the role of caring professions and institutions—from surgeons to nursing homes—ought to be aiding people in their struggle with those limits. Sometimes we can offer a cure, sometimes only a salve, sometimes not even that. But whatever we can offer, our interventions, and the risks and sacrifices they entail, are justified only if they serve the larger aims of a person’s life. When we forget that, the suffering we inflict can be barbaric. When we remember it the good we do can be breathtaking.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

  • How much I’d Recommend: 10/10
  • Date finished: 10/4/21
  • Show Your Work, recommend borrowing from your local library or buy a used copy

🚀 Three sentences to summarize the book:

  1. A book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion
  2. A book for someone who doesn’t want to be a sell out
  3. A book for an introverted artist

☘️ How did this book change the way I think/work/learn:

This book makes me think of creativity differently. I always struggles to share my crafts, writing, climbing, reading, pottery, everything I do creatively while wanting to make money (to be self-sustainable hobbies). This book shows me that 1) it is totally possible, 2) it takes time, 3) how to not be a car-salesman about your crafts.

📒 Favorite Quotes:

  • Scenius: an ecology of talent, a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas, and contributing ideas. Scenius just acknowledges that good work isn’t created in a vacuum and that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.
  • Be an amateur. David Foster Wallace said that he thought good nonfiction was a chance to “watch somebody reasonably bright but also reasonably average pay far closer attention and think at far more length about all sorts of different stuff than most of us have a chance to in our daily lives.
  • The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others. Don’t worry, for now, about how you will make money or a career off it.
  • “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.” —Steve Jobs
  • Overnight success is a myth.
  • Once a day, after you’ve done the day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share.
  • Be open, share imperfect and unfinished work that you want feedback on, but don’t share absolutely everything.
  • Tell good stories, work doesn’t speak for itself.human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them. The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work effects how they value it.
  • Don’t brag, don’t get cute. Just state the facts.
  • Create some tutorials and post them online. Use pictures, words, and video. Take people step by step through part of your process. “Make people better at something they want to be better at.”
  • Don’t be a human spam. Be an open node.
  • Don’t ever ask people to follow you. “Follow me back?” Is the saddest question on the internet.

The Best Guide to Iceland – The Path Less Travelled

When COVID seemed like it was almost stampeded out by the newly invented vaccines in March 2021, Mr. Code Junkie and I were hopeful to go back to our normal life. So we made travel plans to go to Iceland for the first time. Little did we know, COVID came back with a vingence wrecking havic with the Delta variance as its new weapon. After debating long and hard about it, we still decided to go to Iceland and take extra precautions (and paid for cancellable flights, in case it didn’t work out.)

What type of travel style do we like?

This is not a typical “MUST DO”/”MUST SEE” itinerary trip report. We try to practice slow, eco-friendly travel while supporting-local economy. We enjoy submerge ourselves into the local living and experiencing different lifestyles and creating connection with the local communities as much as a two-week time would allow. Because of this, even though it is our first time going to Iceland, we decided to not do the ring-road or the golden-circle, and ventured into the deep Westfjord.

Itinerary In A Glance

We decided to go in the fall (a bit shoulder season for Iceland) to avoid crowd. September is also around equinox time which means we are more likely to see some good aurora performance (and we did!). 

  • September 3 – 5 Reykjavik (2 days)
  • September 5 – 9 Snaefellsnes Peninsula (4 days)
  • September 9 – 16 Isafjord/Westfjord (7 days)
  • September 16 – 18 Reykjavik (2 days)

Detailed Trip Reports

Day 1: Reykjavik

Explore Hallgrimskirkja, a Lutheran church built in 1945. 

Have a coffee at the local favorite, Reykjavik Roasters.

Buy some fresh bread from Braud & Co. for the next morning breakfast.

Grab some groceries from the famous Bonus (see my separate post on groceries in Iceland).

Day 2: Glymur, 2nd highest waterfall

Drive 45 minutes to the trailhead of Glymur.

Do some balance beam activities.

Meet some locals 🐑

Cross a freezing but shallow river. Do not suggest crossing the river barefoot while screaming, though it is good cardio and vocal exercise.

Walk back down the river while observing the “U” shape fjord cut out by glacier while dancing with two arms up. It’s a “U”!

Day 3: Snaefellsjokull

Discover a hot spring next to an un-named volcano crater.

Jump into said hot spring, and soak for a LOOOOOONNNNNNG time while watching sheep. AHHHH

Live in a lakeside cottage.

Day 4: Djupalongsandur Beach

Test your strength and see if you are ready to work on a fish boat. Mr. Code Junkie is qualified to “sit at home work on IT problems.”

Stroll by a yellow heart shaped pool with VERY questionable water. 

Feel the power of the sea as you look at the remains of a ship wreck, 1948. 

Day 5: Hike up the Snaefellsjokull Glacier

Who needs legs? Feet? Nah, I’ll just go ahead and amputate them.

Day 6: Stykkisholmur

Demolish some fish & chips @ Hafnarvagninn.

Hold your food baby, then check out this big Súgandisey Island right behind the harbor.

Watch sunset at Sheep’s waterfall.

Watch the aurora dancing across the sky with a cup of hot cocoa.

Day 7: Isafjord

5-hour drive to Isafjord.

See lots of rainbows, and wonder if there are pots of gold when you are not in Ireland?

Even though there are so few cars and so many opportunities to cross the street, the locals like to cross the street right as you pass, at 90km/h, just to test your break skills 🙂 BAAAAAAAA!

Day 8: Troll’s Seat

Hiking up Troll’s seat, hoping to find a troll, but no luck. 

Fumbling with this very well-made metal box to sign the Troll’s seat guestbook.

Hey trolls! Come out and play.

Day 9: Dynjandi Waterfall

Wondering if there is a spiritual sanctuary behind the waterfall…

Stop by the sleepy little town Flateyri with lovely wall murals.

Your newly established Icelandic parent takes you on a boat ride to see whales. You keep your eyes on the horizon looking for whales while trying to keep down your breakfast from 2005.

To avenge the sea, you decide to go to a seafood restaurant as soon as you step off the boat. You feast in the treasures of the sea. Yum.

Day 10: A rainy day to stay inside and nap

Day 11: Valagil Waterfall

Hike a waterfall in the rain.

Visit a cute fox who’s having fun digging for worms (or perhaps gold coins???)

Day 12: Brewery and Chill

Going to a brewery? We’ll decorate it with a rainbow. Velkominn to Isafjordur indeed.

Taste some local mango wheat beer.

Some intense chemistry going on over here.

Day 13: Sandafell Mountain

Hike up Sandafell Mountain with a lamb sandwich in your backpack. Summit = lunch!

Reading the sun dial. It’s wrong, Garmin watch is better.

Go to Önundarfjordur pier/beach by Holt. Discover lots of treasures on the beach.

Day 14: Reykjanes (by Reykjarfjordur)

Visit a seasalt factory, Saltverk right by Reykjanes.

Finding a geothermal beach. HOT!

Get your brain swirled and find out you do not have COVID so you can go home. Yay.

Day 15: Fagradalsfjall Volcano

Celebrate you survived the volcano with Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hotdog.

And chips, AND milkshake.

Day 16: Flying home

Seeing Fagradalsfjall volcano from the distance while driving to the airport.

Try to spot the polar bear on Greenland glacier.

Other Helpful Resources:

Traffic:

  • Roundable rules in Iceland (note: it is like Mario Cart traffic circles)
  • There is NO turn on red in Iceland. You must only turn right when light is green.
  • If you go into a one-lane tunnel, the person who has pull-over on their right gets to yield to oncoming traffic.
  • Watch for suicidal sheep crossing

Aurora & Weather & Volcano:

COVID:

Glacier hike: Go West

Lodging (Airbnbs)

Rental Car: Blue Car Rental, highly recommend based on our experience and reddit.

Subreddit for traveling to Iceland: r/visitingiceland

Skyr is life now 🙂

The 9 Secrets to Gardening That Nobody Tells You

1. Plants die and it’s not always your fault

I always thought it was my fault plants die. I started gardening back in College, not extensively, but more like buying one of those “gardening packets” from Barns and Noble kids section, and wanting to grow elephant ears. I really hope I am not the only adult who did that. Some of those sprouted and I was watching them so closely everyday that they might have just died from over-exposure of my burning-eye-contact, as if I could see them growing visibly by staring at them. Well, they didn’t survive.

Then I moved on to planting roses in the front garden for my host family, without knowing there are many kinds of roses, and the long-stemed red roses sold in a bouquet is probably one of the hardest things to grow. Also, I bought them from Walmart, not the best source for plants as they may have transported a long way, from somewhere else where the climate is totally different. Well, surprisingly, out of the three, one of them still survived until my host family sold the house last year. 

Since then, I moved to California, and killed many more succulents. I blamed myself for them as people told me “succulents were the easiest to take care of.” Well that is another lie (see point #9). 

Eventually I moved to Arkansas, and planted an orchard, started my vegetable/herb garden and grew garlic, kale, tomatoes, carrots this year. I realized that plants die sometimes, and it’s not really your fault. It could be many things that kill the plant: pests (like aphids, these green little tiny devils, caterpelers, bright colored and with horns), fungi (like fire blight, what a horendous name!), rodents (those squirrels who ate my sunflowers), drought (sometimes no matter how much you water, it’s not gonna save the plants), soil (bad soil could make it hard or almost impossible to grow), temperature (too high, too low, too humid). 

All of that to say, it’s not you! Sometimes it’s simply not the right environment for the plant. I used to beat myself up for it as if it’s my fault. Now I take the Darwin approach – stay back and observe, may the strongest plant survive. I don’t stress about watering my plants in the morning anymore. Surprisingly, gardening became more enjoyable because everything that actually survives and produces are cherry on top. 

2. Plant a lot of backup seedlings

Now that we got the biggest one out of the way, the rest are how to deal with the fact that not all plants will survive. The easiest solution is to plant a lot of seeds. This is why one plant/flower produces SO MANY seeds. Because they know nature works in a way not every single seed would survive and sprout. So now, I sow multiple seeds in one pod, and I sow more than what I would transplant into the garden. This way, I have some “spares” if something doesn’t turn out. If certain seedlings are weaker, I can swap it out with a stronger plant as well. 

3. Buy from a local/semi-local seed company

Don’t buy seeds from Walmart, Home Depot, or worse, Barns and Noble. Try to find a seed store that’s local (as in either the seed is from this local farm, or they obtained their seeds from somewhere that’s in the region). This will give you the highest chance of these seeds sprouting in your region (zone) AND survive. I buy seeds from Southern Exposure, and I look for the little sun icon to make sure that it’s especially well-suited to the South East region. For example, citrus trees, something that grows well in California is never going to survive in Arkansas.

I also bought a pack of carrot seeds from Home Depot once at the beginning of my gardening journey, and none of them sprouted. So, I thought carrots were hard to grow. This year, I decided to give it another shot, and bought seeds from Southern Exposure, they sprouted beautifully and this year I have tons of carrots to eat. It makes me wonder how long ago those Home Depot seeds were collected & kept in the store? Seeds do expire (die) after a while – they are less viable year after year. If you haven’t had success with a specific plant, try another source of seeds from a local company.

I also bought two paw paw trees from our local Arkansas orchard: Ames Orchard & Nursery last year and they’ve been surviving so far even though I haven’t babied them much. Having plants that are regional/local to your area would increase their survival and decrease the time spent tending to them. 

4. Spiders and snakes are your friends!

Yellow Garden Spider, we named “Aragog.” There is another orb weaver spider that comes out at night and we call her “Charlotte”

Well, maybe not the ones you hug and cuddle with. But they keep the pests away. I have learned to speak with them like we are in the same platoon fighting the war against pests that invade my garden.

I got this big gal (see left) earlier in the summer (and she used to be a smaller gal until she caught a giant caterpillar and divoured it in a week). I looked up this type of spiders online and found they are not venomous. They are surely scary looking though!

I also found a garden snake a couple of times chilling underneath cardboards. I am not sure if it’s the same snake, but I call it “Nagini” 🙂 I find giving them names make me less afraid of them, and I realize they are important guests of my garden eco system!

5. Plan Plant Planogram

I learned from one of the gardeners either from youtube or spotify podcasts that they draw out their garden in advance, and plan out where all the crops would go, when they would be replaced by the next season crops. I started doing it this year, and it has greatly helped me realize that I need to lower my expectation of how many plants can be planted in one place. It also allowed me to have some room for their growth. 

6. Be a laidback gardener

I used to stress out about my garden when I go on vacations. I feel anxious because I feel like everything would die and I would have come back to a dead backyard. It turns out plants are quite resilient. Sometimes, I even luck out on having more yields because I let the plants be. This year, I had to leave the house from May to August, and did not spend as much time tending to my garden. It definitely became a little unwielding when I came back, but it was not as bad as I imagined in my head. I still enjoyed plenty of harvests, including 5 lbs of garlic, with almost no effort at all. So why stress? Gardening is supposed to be fun and relaxing.

7. Experiment with homemade compost

Good soil is expensive, yet good soil is one of the biggest factor of successful gardening. The best way I’ve learned is to make homemade compost (whether with a tumbler, bokashi, or have a 3ft cube yard waste pile)

8. Collect seeds, even if it’s not heirloom

Heirloom – plants that are heirloom, meaning the seeds they produce will grow the same plant/fruit, are considered more desirable in the gardening community because you are saving tons of money every year by collecting your own seeds instead of buying new ones. However, for a beginner gardener like me, I haven’t kept track of things that are heirloom. Even with seeds that are not heirloom, it would be fun to plant and see what would grow! 

Collecting seeds are great fun as I started to learn what each plant seeds look like as well. For example, I would’ve never knew calendula seeds were this jagged horseshoe shaped alien looking parts of the flower.

9. Succulents aren’t that “easy” depending on where you live

I now have grown a lot of vegetables out of seeds but I still struggle keeping succulents alive. The other day I inherited a bucket of succulents from my friend who’s neglected them for 3+ months and some of them were on the brink of death while others thrived. It occurred to me that a lot of the big box stores combine different types of plants together such as aloe that needs a decent amount of water with other succulents who only needs water once every month or so. No wonder some of them died while others thrived in the neglect. 

What are some of the less-talked about gardening knowledge you’ve learned?

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

  • How much I’d Recommend: 9/10
  • Date finished: 7/29/21
  • The Psychology of Money, recommend borrowing from your local library

Wow. It was a beyond fantastic book about wealth and greed. My favorite part of the book was the postscript on “a brief history of why the U.S. consumer thinks the way they do” which I quoted at the very bottom of this post the ending of that history to present time. Housel really boiled the truth down to very simple observations. It is fascinating to read.

  1. We all do crazy stuff with money because we’re all relatively new to this game and what looks crazy to you might make sense to me. But no one is crazy — we all make decisions based on our own unique experiences that seem to make sense to us in a given moment.
  2. Your personal experiences with money make up maybe 0.000000001% of what’s happened in the world, but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.
  3. Bill Gates experienced one in a million luck by ending up at Lakeside Highschool (a U.S. high school that has a computer curriculum in 1968). If you give luck and risk their proper respect, you realize that when judging people’s financial success—both your own and others’—it’s never as good or as bad as it seems.
  4. Be careful who you praise and admire. Be careful who you look down upon and wish to avoid becoming. Some people are born into families that encourage education; others are against it. Some are born into flourishing economies encouraging entrepreneurship; others are born into war and destitution. I want you to be successful and I want you to earn it. But realize that not all success is due to hard work, and not all poverty is due to laziness. Keep this in mind when judging people, including yourself. Therefore focus less on specific individuals and case studies and more on broad patterns.
  5. The hardest financial skill is getting the goalpost to stop moving. Know when it is enough.
  6. Social comparison is the problem that makes you want more.
  7. Good investing isn’t necessarily about earning the highest returns, because the highest returns tend to be one-off hits that can’t be repeated. It’s about earning pretty good returns that you can stick with and which can be repeated for the longest period of time. That’s when compounding runs wild.
  8. Getting wealthy vs. staying wealthy: money is about survival. You will get the biggest return if you are able to stick around long enough for compounding to work wonders. Optimistic about the future, but paranoid about what will prevent you from getting to the future – is vital.
  9. You can be wrong half of the time and still make a fortune:
  • You could invest $1 a month from 1900 to 2019 regardless of market – you will end up with $435,551
  • You could invest $1 in the stock market when the economy is not in a recession, and save your monthly dollar in cash, and invest everything back into the stock market when the recession ends – you will end up with $257,386
  • Or it takes a few months for a recession to scare you out, and then it takes a while to regain confidence before you get back in. You invest $1 in stock when there’s no recession, sell six months after a recession begins, and invest back in six months after a recession ends. You will end up with $234,476.

The moral to the story, don’t time the market.

  1. Controlling your time is the highest dividend money pays. Money’s greatest intrinsic value – and this can’t be overstated – is its ability to give you control over your time. Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of wellbeing than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered. More than your salary, more than the size of your house, more than the prestige of your job.
  2. No one is impressed with your possessions as much as you are. You might think you want an expensive car, a fancy watch, and a huge house. But you don’t. What you want is respect and admiration from other people, and you think having expensive stuff will bring it. It almost ever does — especially from the people you want to respect and admire you.
  3. Spending money to show people how much money you have is the fastest way to have less money.
  4. Building wealth has little to do with your income or investment returns, and lots to do with your savings rate. The value of wealth is relative to what you need. You can save just for saving’s sake. And indeed you should. That flexibility and control over your time is an unseen return on wealth.
  5. Reasonable > Rational: Aiming to be mostly reasonable works better than trying to be coldly rational.
  6. History is the study of change, ironically used as a map of the future. The most important part of every plan is planning on your plan not going according to plan. Harvard psychologist Max Bazerman once showed that when analyzing other people’s home renovation plans, most people estimate the project will run 25% – 50% over budget. But when it comes to their own projects, people estimate that renovations will be completed on time and at budget. Oh, the eventual disappointment.
  • The biggest single point of failure with money is a sole reliance on a paycheck to fund short-term spending needs, with no savings to create a gap between what you think your expenses are and what they might be in the future.
  1. Long-term planning is harder than it seems because people’s goals and desires change over time. We should come to accept the reality of changing our minds. The trick is to accept the reality of change and move on as soon as possible.
  2. Everything has a price, but not all prices appear on labels. Every job looks easy when you’re not the one doing it because the challenges faced by someone in the arena are often invisible to those in the crowd. We are not good at identifying what the price of success is, which prevents us from being able to pay it.
  3. Beware taking financial cues from people playing a different game than you are. When a commentator on CNBC says, “you should buy this stock,” keep in mind that they don’t know who you are. Are you a teenager trading for fun? An elderly widow on a limited budget? A hedge fund manager trying to shore up your books before the quarter ends? Are we supposed to think those three people have the same priorities, and that whatever level a particular stock is trading at is right for all three of them?
  4. Forecasts of outrageous optimism are rarely taken as seriously as the prophets of doom. Pessimism just sounds smarter and more plausible than optimism.
  5. The more you want something to be true, the more likely you are to believe a story that overestimates the odds of it being true.

The summarized notes on Money

  1. Go out of your way to find humility when things are going right and forgiveness/compassion when they go wrong.
  2. Less ego, more wealth – saving money is the gap between your ego and your income, and wealth is what you don’t see.
  3. Manage your money in a way that helps you sleep at night.
  4. If you want to do better as an investor, the single most powerful thing you can do is increase your time horizon.
  5. Become ok with a lot of things going wrong. You can be wrong half the time and still make a fortune.
  6. Use money to gain control over your time.
  7. Be nicer and less flashy.
  8. Save, just save. You don’t need a specific reason to save.
  9. Define the cost of success and be ready to pay it.
  10. Worship room for error. A gap between what could happen in the future and what you need to happen in the future in order to do well is what gives you endurance, and endurance is what makes compounding magic over time.
  11. Avoid the extreme ends of financial decisions. Everyone’s goals and desires will change over time, and the more extreme your past decisions were the more you may regret them as you evolve.
  12. You should like risk because it pays off every time.
  13. Define the game you are playing.
  14. Respect the mess. Smart, informed, and reasonable people can disagree in finance, because people have vastly different goals and desires. There is no single right answer; just the answer that works for you.
  • Independence, to me, doesn’t mean you’ll stop working. It means you only do the work you like with people you like at the times you want for as long as you want.
  • True success is exiting some rat race to modulate one’s activities for peace of mind.
  • Good decisions aren’t always rational. At some point you have to choose between being happy or being “right.”
  • How Morgan Housel invests: we invest money from every paycheck into these index funds—a combination of U.S. and international stocks. There’s no set goal—it’s just whatever is left over after we spend. We max out retirement accounts in the same funds and contribute to our kids’ 529 college savings plans. Effectively all of our net worth is a house, a checking account, and some Vanguard index funds.
  • one of my deeply held investing beliefs is that there is little correlation between investment effort and investment results. My investing strategy doesn’t rely on picking the right sector or timing the next recession. It relies on a high savings rate, patience, and optimism that the global economy will create value over the next several decades. I spend virtually all of my investing effort thinking about those three things—especially the first two, which I can control.
  • You can scoff at linking the rise of Trump to income inequality alone. And you should. These things are always layers of complexity deep. But it’s a key part of what drives people to think “I don’t live in the world I expected. That pisses me off. So screw this. And screw you! I’m going to fight for something totally different, because this—whatever it is—isn’t working.”

Housel’s summary on most recent events, Trump, and the future.

The unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been in decades. Wages are now actually growing faster for low-income workers than for the rich. College costs, by and large, stopped growing once grants are factored in. If everyone studied advances in healthcare, communication, transportation, and civil rights since the Glorious 1950s, my guess is most wouldn’t want to go back.

But a central theme of this story is that expectations move slower than reality on the ground. That was true when people clung to 1950s expectations as the economy changed over the next 35 years. And even if a middle-class boom began today, expectations that the odds are stacked against everyone but those at the top may stick around.

So the era of “This isn’t working” may stick around.

And the era of “We need something radically new, right now, whatever it is” may stick around.

Which, in a way, is part of what starts events that led to things like World War II, where this story began.

History is just one damned thing after another.

On Local Community

I hated having to find a contractor when I first moved across the country to Arkansas. It wasn’t the first time I moved across the country and I know how it works. You pack up your stuff, label them on the box, put the new address into GPS and start driving.

I guess I don’t need to mention Arkansas is different than L.A., in the most obvious ways.

Arkansas does not have the beach, the sunshine, boba teas, acai bowls, or Ahi Pokes. L.A. has Trader Joes & In & Outs, and Arkansas has Walmart & Chick-fil-a. Even the smallest thing like finding a vet was difficult. My L.A. greyhound vet always told me, greyhounds process anesthesia differently, and they will not put her under while cleaning her teeth. Arkansas vet told me they MUST put my dog under regardless of breed when they clean her teeth. I still absolutely hate this.

When I first moved here, it was exhausting having to find a new grocery store that sells ribs and will cut them for you. People here don’t understand that Asians like having shorter pork ribs (so you can fit these ribs in a pot, duh!). I had to find a new dog sitter, a new car cleaner, a new mechanic, a new vet, a new apartment, a new doctor, a new dentist. In L.A., those things are easy. You just go on google or yelp and find the highest rated business nearest to you. Thousands of reviews detailed to the last review left only 5 minutes ago. If you ever felt like their service was not up to par, a 3-star could get everything fixed real quick. Arkansas was like a different country, one that was left behind by the world. Yelp only has McDonalds, Wendy’s, and Chick-fil-a. Google reviews were non-existing. People don’t use Meetup; they use Facebook. At the beginning, even my apartment, built 2 years ago, was NOT on google map. Imagine that. I had to put a pin and tag this pasture on google as “home” to get directions.  

Last month, I started renting my house on Airbnb while living in a rental. The day the first guest was arriving, I went over to the house in the morning to turn on the AC for her. And that was the first time this year I turned on the AC. I turned it on and left. A couple hours later around noon, I checked the thermostat temperature on my phone app. I realize it had gone up instead of down. My first guess was the thermostat must not be updating since I am not at the house. Well, you guessed it. There was nothing wrong with my thermostat; my AC was broken, dead, in the middle of a heat wave. 

That week the temperature was record high in Arkansas; temperature went up to 105 F at one point during the day. My airbnb guest surely isn’t going to pay $150 a night to be stewing in their own sweat. I called one of the AC companies from google search of nearby AC professionals, and the receiptionist immediately stopped me as soon as I said I needed someone to come and look at the AC. “We are at least a week and half out,” She told me. “Everyone is booked solid since it is so hot.” I took a deep breath trying to calm down and scrolled through my phone for other AC professional contacts in my phone.

Then I realized that there was an AC guy, David, I used for the barn. He came and connected the mini-split for the barn earlier this year. Someone from a Facebook group of local moms had recommended him (the group’s name is “Bentonville Moms in the know”, which I quite enjoy the blatant cheesiness). So I gave him a call but his receiptionist told me the same thing, everyone is swamped, but she gave me a list of other AC guys around the area to call and try my luck, and promised to put me on the waitlist for David. 

About 30 minutes later, after being rejected by probably the entire AC professionals in town, sitting in my living room, I finally broke down and started balling in tears. That’s when David called back. He said he remembered me, remembered coming to connect my barn, and he will be finishing up his work at 5pm but he understand it is urgent so he will come over on his way home to take a look. I was so thankful. It feels like someone has got my back, and wouldn’t leave me completely alone, stranded in this humid house without AC. 

David came as promised, a little after 5pm, he called and told me he was on his way to assure he was coming. When he showed up at the door, I could see there were little salt marks on his face from the dried up sweat. I can imagine he probably just got down from someone else’s attic and drove to my house. David smiled a little, took his glasses off and wiped his forehead with a hankerchift, and put his glasses back on. “Trouble with the AC, I see?” He walked in and put down his tool belt by the AC & Furnace and started working. 

I have dealt with my fair share of contractors while renovating my first house. The industry is male-dominated and with my look and my height, I felt contractors would try to upcharge because they think “this little girl doesn’t know what’s going on but she will pay us. Let’s charge her extra.” Perhaps it is cinicism, maybe there are some truth to it. Or maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t know. But I’ve always been extremely cautious with contractors.

David told me that the coil for the AC was broken. I knew he was right because last year, the same thing happened but the prior AC guy pumped some freon in, and told me the leak was fixed. David asked if I knew the AC was under warranty. I said, yes I registered it myself. He was very relieved. He said, “I ALWAYS register for my customers because it saves them tons of money when parts break like this.” He said, “don’t worry, I’ll pump some freon to get you going for now and that will last you a good few weeks. And I’ll order the parts, we can schedule some time when you don’t have Airbnb guests, and fix this. My estimate of the whole thing including my labor would be $xxx.” And actually, his final numbers (he gets paid by the hour) was a little less than his estimates but almost spot on.

The entire time David was working, he hummed a very quiet and joyful tune. The fact that he wasn’t stressed made me feel like there’s hope, and that he would be able to fix this in no time and life would go back to normal again. Sometimes he stops to push his glasses back up his nose. He would walk in and out of the house frequently to get yet another gadget I can’t name, but he always closes the door behind him, to make sure he doesn’t let cool air out (not that there was much cool air to start with). He would wipe his shoes on the door mat every single time he comes in, and at the end, he took a papertowel from his truck, and wiped the dust off where he was working.

That’s one of the first times I felt Arkansas wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t so bad that Arkansas is 10 years behind the time. Because behind L.A.’s convenience, best services, best reviews, and most innovative products, much of human connections have been long lost. There is nobody like David in L.A. Everyone is out for themselves and if you want something you MUST pay. I didn’t value the community and connections when I was in L.A. because I never understood fully what it was like to have neighbors you can rely on to watch over your house, to have contractors who become friends, and friends to look after your dog when you go out of town. I was very self-sufficient in L.A., but also alone. I had to be. I have no one to rely on. Strangely in Arkansas, I can trust almost complete strangers and become friends with them. 

This is when I realized I would probably never move back to L.A. I was building a career back then in L.A., but now I am building a life. 

 

Notes on A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

  • How much I’d Recommend: 9/10
  • Date finished: 7/21/21
  • Notes on A Nervous Planet, Recommend borrowing from your local library

It’s a lovely book of short articles Matt Haig wrote about battling with anxiety and depression in his life. It’s quite funny and very informative. It actually made me feel very peaceful knowing someone out there is going through very similar things in life. I finished this book in 2 days and wrote down a lot of quotes. I am almost inclined to buy a copy of this book and keeping it to go back and read more – which doesn’t happen to me a lot. I’d still say, borrow it from the library first and see if it’s your cup of tea because it seems that people who’s never had anxiety/depression (or won’t admit they have) won’t be enjoying this book much.  

  • Couldn’t aspects of how we live in the modern world be responsible for how we feel in the modern world? Not just in terms of the stuff of modern life, but its values, too. The values that cause us to want more than we have. To worship work above play. To compare the worst bits of ourselves with the best bits of other people. To feel like we always lack something.
  • If the modern world is making us feel bad, then it doesn’t matter what else we have going for us, because feeling bad sucks. And feeling bad when we are told there is no reason to, well, that sucks even more.
  • it sometimes feels as if we have temporarily solved the problem of scarcity and replaced it with the problem of excess.
  • for instance, personally I need to know why i have a fear of slowing down, like i am the bus in Speed that would explode if it dropped below 50 miles per hour. The reason is simple, and partly selfish. I am petrified of where my mind can go, because I know where it has already been.
  • I am a catastrophizer. I don’t simply worry. No. My worry has real ambition. My worry is limitless. My anxiety – even when I don’t have capital-A Anxiety—is big enough to go anywhere. I have always found it easy to think of the worst-case scenario and dwell on it.
  • i worry that I upset people without meaning to. I worry that I don’t check my privilege enough. I worry about people being in prison for crimes they didn’t do. I worry about human rights abuses. I worry about prejudice and politics and pollution and the world my children and their entire generation are inheriting from us. I worry about all the species going extinct because of humans. I worry about my carbon footprint. I worry about all the pain in the world that I am not actively able to stop. I worry about how much I’m wrapped up in myself, which makes me even more wrapped up in myself.
  • Years before I ever had actual sex I found it easy to imagine I had AIDS, so powerful were the British Government’s terrifying public awareness TV slots in the 1980s.
  • I stepped off the Paris Metro and into wispy mouth-burning clouds of tear gas. At the time, covering my face with a scarf just to breathe, I thought it was a terrorist attack. It wasn’t. But simply thinking it was one was a kind of trauma. As Montaigne put it, “He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.”
  • Even the best news channels want high ratings, and over the years they work out what works and what doesn’t, and compete ever harder for attention, which is why watching news can feel like watching a continuous metaphor for generalized anxiety disorder. The various split screens and talking heads and rolling banners of incessant information are a visual representation of how anxiety feels.
  • The whole of consumerism is based on us wanting the next thing rather than the present thing we already have. This is an almost perfect recipe for unhappiness. We are not encouraged to live in the present. We are trained to live somewhere else: the future.
  • To see the act of learning as something not for its own sake but because of what it will get you reduces the wonder of humanity. We are thinking, feeling, art-making, knowledge-hungry, marvelous animals, who understand ourselves and our world through the act of learning. It is an end in itself. It has far more to offer than the things it lets us write on application forms. It is a way to love living right now.
  • Far and away the biggest regret [old people] had was fear. Many of Bronnie’s patients were in deep anguish that they had spent their whole loves worrying. Lives consumed by fear. Worrying what other people thought of them. A worry that had stopped them being true to themselves.
  • How to stop worrying about aging: understand that old people aren’t actually that worried about old age.
  • There was no clocks until the 16th century. 16th century pocket watches didn’t even have minute hand. But now, we have time, we were told what to do where to be when to do something. We often find ourselves wishing for more hours in the day, but that wouldn’t help anything. The problem, clearly, isn’t that we have a shortage of time. It’s more that we have an overload of everything else.
  • Don’t play the ratings game. The internet loves ratings, whether it is reviews on Amazon and Tripadvisor and Rotten Tomatoes, or the ratings of photos and updates and tweets. Likes, favorites, retweets. Ignore it. Ratings are no sign of worth. Never judge yourself on them. To be liked by everyone you would have to be the blandest person ever. William Shakespeare is arguably the greatest writer of all time. He has a mediocre 3.7 average on Goodreads.
  • Life isn’t about being pleased with what you are doing, but about what you are being.
  • How to be happy: Do not compare yourself to other people x10.
  • The cure for loneliness wasn’t always to have company, but to find a way to be happy with your own company. Not to be antisocial, but not to be scared of your own unaccompanied presence. She thought the cure to misery was to “decorate one’s inner house so rich that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone.”
  • When I first became ill, age the age of 24—when I “broke down”—the world became sharper. I felt the wearying pressure of advertising, the frantic madness of crowds and traffic, the suffocating nature of social expectation. But when I am well I forget those things. The trick is to keep hold of that knowledge. To turn recovery into prevention. To live how I live when I am ill, without being ill.
  • Don’t grab life by the throat. Life should be touched, not strangled.
  • To be aware of breath is to remember you are alive.
  • We are frequently encouraged to want the most extreme and exciting experiences. To act on a heady impulse for action. To “Just Do It” as Nike always used to bark at us, like a self-help drill instructor. As if the very point of life is found via winning a gold medal or climb Mount Everest or headlining Glastonbury or having a full-body orgasm while sky-diving over the Niagara Falls. And I used to feel the same. I used to want to lose myself in the most intense experiences, as if life was simply a tequila to be slammed. But most of life can’t be lived like this. To have a chance of lasting happiness, you have to calm down. You have to just be it as well as just do it.
  • Don’t let anyone or anything make you feel you aren’t enough. Don’t feel you have to achieve more just to be accepted. Be happy with your own self, minus upgrades. Stop dreaming of imaginary goals and finishing lines. Accept what marketing doesn’t want you to: you are fine. You lack nothing.

FIRE Progress: After Tracking Every Dollar for 18 Months

A year has passed since my first post about tracking expenses. It was hard at times, especially at the beginning of COVID lockdown in March 2020 where the stock market tanked for a few weeks. It was difficult to see my “networth” plummet 40% all in one night. In this year, I’ve continued tracking my expenses on google sheet (click here to get a template) and learned a couple of lessons from tracking my expenses.

1. I changed from habitually eating out everyday to eating out only once a week and KEPT this habit.

It has been a year since I have limited my dining-out-habit, so I don’t quite remember what it was like when I ate out almost every single day anymore. I now have a budget of $150 a month for restaurant bills. I would like to reduce it down to under $100 in the next 6 months. But it is nice to eat out on Saturday after cutting two lawns with Mr. Code Junkie. Saturdays become more of an exciting ritual of hard labor followed by our favorite food.

I originally started by making my favorite coffee drink at home (lavender latte with oat milk). Then, I stopped drinking coffee altogether because it affected my sleep & appetite. Slowly, I started realizing alcohol also affects my sleep & next morning’s energy. So I quit drinking as well. I still enjoy going to coffee shops or bars with friends, but I would have some seltzer water instead.

I realized it was hard for me to change a habit (or almost an obsession, like coffee and chocolate), but it was REALLY hard only for the first 3-5 times I say “no” to that habit/obsession. The more I say no every time the option presents itself (like friends asking me to go to coffee, or walking by the chocolate aisle in a shop), the easier it is next time to control my cravings & dependencies on the habit/obsession.  

2. Reflect on the money spent and evaluate whether it was worth it

Having tracked every single expense, I was able to go back at the end of the year to see what I’ve spent my money on for the whole year. I found that I bought some stupid stuff this past year: reserved a van for Vegas (I really thought we could pull off living the Van-Life ) and ended up not using it, bought a work-out program and only used maybe once, bought more garden seeds than i can plant. Admitting making mistakes is part of the journey. It is also helpful for me to make better decisions in the future.

3. Budget for Incidentals (on top of emergency funds)

There are some expenses I did not budget for. In 2020, I had some health issues that ran up the medical bills. Even though I saved money for emergencies, I realized that these incidentals were not emergencies. There should always be a budgeted item for incidentals (whether it’s medical last year or home improvement this year). Since then, I have adjusted my budget to include about $3,000 – $5,000 incidentals a year. This has also been added to my retirement calculation so that I will have enough money in retirement if something breaks.

4. Able to make bigger decisions about finances (e.g., buying an investment property)

Earlier this year, I bought my very own first rental property because I had saved up enough portfolio to justify taking out a portion of it as down payment for a rental house. I wouldn’t have been able to confidently pull the trigger had I not track all my income & expenses to know I have the capacity. Here’s a short video on how to calculate rental property investments from my favorite real estate podcast. 

5. Having more meaningful money conversations with friends and family

Some of my friends are very supportive of my FIRE plans, but others think it’s a bit luxurious to be able to think retirement in general (let alone in 5 years). Regardless, sometimes we talk about prices of vaccums and rice cookers, sometimes we talk about buying/selling houses, and I can see from their point of view a lot better now. I can see both ways, one way of wanting to spend money and buying the best thing, and another way of saving money and finding alternative solutions to the problem. For example, you can buy a $150 rice cooker, or you could just use a pot to make rice. Same goes for coffee!

6. Having a constraint (budget) makes you more creative

Earlier this year, I had to furnish the tiny barn after spending a lot of money on the construction already. So I was trying to find creative ways to furnish it. I found these two chairs from our neighbor’s lawn for free while walking my dog, and I carried them both home (looking like a weirdo). They were two very old wooden chairs and one of them was a little unstable, but I Youtube’ed how to refurbish old chairs. I repaired, spray painted, and re-upholstered them with Riflepaper fabric. 

Another example – I had some leftover wall paint from renovating the barn. I really wanted to use them to paint the cabinets in my rental house, but I realized that the finish for these paint were eggshell (they are not shiny & smooth) and that might make the cabinets hard to clean. Instead of buying new paint, I found some polyurethane to apply to the top of the cabinets to give them a shinny & smooth protective coat. They came out great and I saved some $$$. Here’s a before & after photo for your enjoyment!

7. I enjoy the things I purchase more

Because I realized that every dollar I spent is earned with my own time, I am more careful with spending. I am spending less on things I love to buy but do not bring me as much joy: clothing, entertainment, drinks, candles, fancy arts & crafts tools, and decorations. The only  thing I bought relating to arts & crafts were some watercolor trays (with colors) and cold-pressed paper which brought me a lot of joy to learn how to do watercolor.

8. Getting closer to financial freedom

As I sent my friend hillsandhigher off to her retirement in Italy this July, I am truly envious! Although, fairly speaking my friend has been saving up for years for this moment and seeing her success makes me feel that it is possible to retire early.  I am making small but steady progresses here and there: renting out the barn, the house, and becoming a real estate agent. I’ve been watching my networth grow after recovering from the ecnomic down caused by COVID and steadily climbing. It encourages me to work harder towards my financial independence.

9. No-buy days

I now try to schedule no-spend days where I don’t buy anything. I find it an easy hobby to just log onto Amazon and buy something small, like a $10 charger, a $50 blender, or a nice little alarm clock! When Mr. Code Junkie took a business trip for a few days, I decided to not buy anything (including groceries) and see what I can make out of things I have at home. I discovered so much food in plain sight that I did not eat before! I am planning on implementing this in the next 12 months of FIRE journey.

10. Buy less, use less, waste less

Sounds more like a “Live, Love, Laugh” banner. 

Buy less: I strive to be a minimalist, mainly because clutter stresses me out. There are some side benefits for being a minimalist. When I started gathering things I don’t need around the house, I know I should not by stuff I don’t truly NEED because I will be donating them 3 months down the line. I try to save items I want to buy for at least a month and see if I actually need it before purchasing. However, this does not apply for things like: AC filters. You really should change your filters every 3 months!

The other day, we were having 4th of July cook out with greyhound parents, and for some reason we were talking about what temperature we leave our AC on. The AC for our house is always set around 78, if we turn it on at all. I grew up without AC so it is not as difficult to sit in the heat.  One of the greyhound parents K said they leave their AC on 72 during the day and 68 at night because they like to sleep in the cool. When I said I only turn it on occassionally and it stays at 78, our friends were all shocked. Although, after hearing this, K’s bf would not allow her to turn the AC lower than 77, to save their utility bills. Sorry K… Alas, sometimes it is wonderful to have AC, especially after you cut grass on a hot day!

What are some of your discoveries, tricks, and tips on tracking expenses and living frugally?

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

  • How much I’d Recommend: 8/10
  • Date finished: 6/30/21
  • Why We Sleep, recommend borrowing from your local library

It’s a pretty enjoyable book, but you know that feeling when you have a bad cough and look up on WebMD and try to self diagnose and you feel like you have cancer? That’s kind of how I feel about reading this book. It feels like if you miss one night of sleep, hell, just a few hours of the sleep, you might as well just end right there because your brain will not recover completely ever again, you will have hyper tension, which leads to heart disease and cardiac arrest, you might get depression, schizophrenia, and just die from lack of sleep.

Other than that, it’s a pretty easy read. Here’s some notes from the book.

  • If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made.
  • We sleep for a rich litany of functions, plural – an abundant constellation of nighttime benefits that service both our brains and our bodies.
  • Two main factors that determine when you want to sleep: 1 circadian rhythm (internal clock), 2 Melatonin (chemical sleep pressure)
  • Circadian rhythm is not precisely 24 hours but slightly longer.(24 hours and 15 minutes)
  • Sunlight methodically reset our inaccurate internal timepiece, even during an overcasting day.
  • It controls timed preference of eating and drinking, moods and emotions, amount of urine, core body temperature, metabolic rate, release of hormones.
  • Suprachiasmatic nucleus – samples light inside your eyes to reset the 24 hour cycle.
  • Morning larks and night owls are not “by choice”. Usually it’s genetically determined. 40% of people are early larks, 30% night owls, and another 30% lie somewhere in between with a slight leaning toward eveningness.
  • Melatonin: there is a significant sleep placebo effect – the most reliable effect in all of pharmacology. Over the counter melatonin is not regulated by FDA and can be 83% less than that claimed on the label, to 478% more than stated.
  • It feels harder to acclimate to a new time zone when traveling eastward than when flying westward. It’s easier for you to stay up a little longer (stretch your internal day) than to going to bed early (shorten your internal day). Ability to learn reduces and short term memory loss due to frequent time-zone travel
  • While you are awake, you produce adenosine. Caffeine can occupy the receptors of adenosine to make you feel that you are not sleepy. Caffeine peaks at 30 minutes after drinking, half-life is 5-7 hours.
  • Circadian rhythm and sleep-pressure do not sync up with each other. They are two separate systems that are ignorant of each other.
  • If you feel sleepy mid-morning, you are likely not getting enough sleep, or the quality of your sleep is insufficient.
  • Am I getting enough sleep?
    • After waking up in the morning, can you fall back asleep at 10 or 11 am? if so, you are not getting sufficient sleep quantity and/or quality
    • Can you function optimally without caffeine before noon? If no, then you are most likely self-medicating your state of chronic sleep deprivation.
  • What you experience during deep NREM sleep is one of the most epic displays of neural collaboration that we know of. Though an astonishing act of self-organization, many thousands of brain cells have all decided to unite and “sing” or fire, in time. It is a highly active, meticulously coordinated state of cerebral unity.
  • We do not dream in deep NREM sleep, nor do we keep explicit track of time. It is a near state of nocturnal cerebral meditation (different from brainwave activity of waking meditative states).
  • The brain paralyzes the body so the mind can dream safely.
  • Both NREM and REM sleep are equally important. When sleep deprived, the brain will attempt to get NREM sleep first, but in subsequent nights, the brain will get more REM sleeps. But none of this would ever “gain” back the sleep you lost.
  • Birds and aquatic mammals can sleep with one side of the brain at a time, leaving another side of the brain alert or conducting life-preserving tasks.
  • Humans sleep a little lighter in one side of their brain when they are in new environment to ensure safety.
  • REM sleep require both halves of the brain to be equally asleep.

How should we sleep: 1) mono phase – sleep once a day for 8 hours 2) biphase- sleep sleep the regular 8 hours but take a 20-40 min nap during mid afternoon.

  • Myth: Early 17 – 18 century Western Europe had a new way of sleeping: two long bouts of sleep separated by several hours of wakefulness. There is no anthropological reasons to do this, suggesting it is not the natural, evolutionarily programmed form of human sleep. It is rather a cultural phenomenon popularized with Western European migration. No biological rhythm of brain activity, neurochemical activity, or metabolically activity that would hint at a human desire to wake up for several hours in the middle of the night.

humans are special when it comes to sleep:

  • We have 20-25% REM sleep when primates usually have 9%
  • We sleep 8 hours when other primates sleep 10-15.
  • we sleep laying flat (exclusive terrestrial sleepers) while other primates prefer sleeping on branches or in nests
  • Extra REM sleep allows 1) our degree of sociocultural complexity and 2) our cognitive intelligence

What may at first blush have seemed like a modest asset awarded by REM sleep to a single individual is, I believe, one of the most valuable commodities ensuring the survival and dominance of our species as a collective.

  • Drinking while pregnant is not recommended because alcohol (even 2 glasses of wine) will disturb baby’s REM sleep which prevents baby’s brain development. Drinking while nursing is also not recommended for the same reason.
  • Teenagers’ sleep have more NREM to help them mature their frontal lobe and aid their transition into early adulthood. Young children’s circadian rhythm makes them sleep earlier at night (and more) and rise earlier than their parents while adolescents’ circadian rhythm makes them stay up at night, and rise later than the parents.
  • Adults lose their deep sleep (NREM) as they age. Their sleep become more fragmented (waking up at night) mostly due to medication and weakened bladder. Senior adults circadian timing regresses, leading to earlier and earlier bedtimes.
  • Sleeping (NREM) helps slowly upload all your information absorbed during the day into your memory, salvage those that appeared to have been lost soon after learning. Naps make your memory better.
  • Sleep (NREM) also help us forget – we have yet to harness this power to battle trauma, drug addiction, and substance abuse.
  • A pianist would practice a piece for many times and cannot play it perfectly, but after she goes to sleep, and next morning she wakes up, can simply play it perfectly. Sleep helps our motor skills so simply “learn offline.” Similarly, chromic lack of sleep increase sports injuries in adolescent athletes.