How We Travel Frugally on the Plane

Photo by Luke Porter on Unsplash

Many articles nowadays talk about frugal travel in terms of finding the cheapest plane ticket, booking luxury hotels with points, get a travel points credit card. Those all seem like common sense but what was the tipping point for us to travel frugally is actually a few things we bring on the plane.

  1. We pack tortilla wraps on the plane.

Yes, specifically tortilla wraps. We used to pack sandwiches on the plane, but usually the mayo, mustard, and the juice from the tomato make the bread soggy by the time we sit down on the plane and THIS GIRL does not like soggy bread. I recently found that if we switched to tortilla wraps, it holds much better and we can pack a much bigger portion in the wrap than a sandwich can hold in between its two flimsy soft bread slices!

I usually would get freshly sliced sandwich meat from Walmart in their deli section because 1) it is much better than the pre-packaged ones, and 2) you can get the proper amount and not waste half of the sliced turkey laying in the fridge at home.

Whenever we go on trips, we get sandwich meat a lot. It’s something easy and tasty. But have you ever gone to the deli? Personally, I don’t usually go up to the deli and ask for sliced sandwich meat, so I always get caught off-guard when the nice lady behind the counter asks me how thick I want the sandwich meat to be. I usually awkwardly say, “um… regular sandwich meat thickness?”

Well, yesterday when I was at Walmart, I saw this sign that blew my mind:

I never realized they actually have names for different thicknesses! Though, the names are not as creative, in my opinion. But now I know when I go up to the deli that I want it “shaved” (I love very very thinly sliced meat).

2. Shamelessly bring your favorite snack

I once saw this girl backpacking through the Appalachian Trail with a GIANT bag of chips strapped on top of her bag as if it’s her most precious possessions on a through-hike. I think after seeing this girl, I have come to terms with where I can bring a big bag of chips. Mr. Code Junkie loves chips, but he does not enjoy flying. So we decided we are going to bring a big ol’ bag of kettle cooked sea salt & vinegar chips (yes it’s VERY specific!) even if it counts as our “personal item.” 

I also bring dried mango and these cocoa covered almonds I found from Walmart. Now, the plane ride is more like my personal picnic time!

3. Bring an empty Nalgene bottle

Ok, it doesn’t specifically have to be Nelgene but I am properly obsessed with them. I first bought one for backpacking because they NEVER leak, you can’t break them even if you drop them on sharp stones, they have a life-time warranty (say what!), and they have a GREAT amount of surface area for me to put all the hiking stickers! I also use it as a hot water bottle in my sleeping bag on cold backpacking nights or cold nights at home. 

At Torres del Paine

This bottle started coming with me everywhere I travel, and it’s really useful. After going through security to pop to the nearest coffee shop and ask for some hot water (for some tea you brought through security) or some hot bean juice (coffee) for Mr. Code Junkie. It saves so much money not having to make a habit of going to Starbucks and being attempted to buy a pumpkin spice latte or that unicorn frappuccino (remember it was a thing?). 

What is the first domino that starts your frugal habits?

 

 

Building Wealth One House at a Time by John Schaub

This book has much detailed and down-to-earth advice on how to buy income property/rental property. I love the beginning and the end of the book, but the middle section about seller financing was lacking some serious details for me to understand how it would all work out. Overall, I have learned a TON from this book. My notes below do not include seller financing, preforeclosure, and foreclosure. If you are interested in those areas, I recommend checking out his other book called Building Wealth Buying Foreclosures possibly borrowing from your local library (because these books are expensive!). Otherwise, read my notes below!

General advice on income properties:

  • Buy a house in the best neighborhood you can afford
  • Don’t buy corner lots
  • Don’t buy houses with extra frills: wallpaper, fancy trim, pool/hot tubs
  • Buy in a good school zone
  • Buy in a neighborhood that’s on the way up
  • Buy close to where you live and study the market

Strategies for surviving the market crash: 

  • Get your home paid for.
  • Use options to buy in a hot market: a contract that gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation to buy.
  • Avoid personal liability on dangerous debt: debt you can’t repay from the cash flow on the property that is security.
  • Limit your losses: if you own a losing property, cut your losses.
  • Renegotiate debt that you cannot pay

Cause and effect of cycles:

  • When rents are cheap relative to prices to buy, either rent will increase or selling prices will fall.
  • Construction cycle: smaller Homebuilders rely on banks for construction loans typically one year in length. When they can’t sell, they are under pressure to pay. You could buy houses at a bargain price in a down market by just paying off the construction loan.
  • Older neighborhoods where renters are being displaced by owner-occupants who buy and fix up a well-located but older home will increase in value. Look for this trend and houses that you can rent for a few years while the neighborhood improves. They often are a better investment than new neighborhoods.

Finding opportunities that others miss:

  • Empty houses
  • Houses that need work – especially in nicer neighborhoods
  • Out of town owners
  • Landlords who are not maintaining their property
  • For sale by owners
  • Letters to owners who may need to sell
  • Foreclosures

Ask questions to know what the other party wants

  • Are you the owner?
  • Where is the house?
  • How large is the house?
  • How large is the lot?
  • How old is the house?
  • Does the house need any work?
  • What school district is the house in?
  • What are the neighbors like?
  • How long have you owned the house?
  • Have you made any additions or remodeled?
  • Is the house listed with a realtor? If so, when does the listing expire?
  • Do you have a current appraisal? If so, how much?

Step 2 questions:

  • Sounds like a great house, why are you selling?
  • Can your existing loan be assumed?
  • What’s the balance on your loan now?
  • Are your payments current?
  • What will you do if you don’t sell? Is the owner moving away? When? The day they move, most owners are really ready to make a deal.
  • How long has your house been on the market?
  • How much did you pay for the house? (If the owner balks at this question, tell them you want to buy in a neighborhood that is appreciating. Ask if the house has appreciated since they bought it. You can point out that you can learn this info in the public records and would appreciate their time-saving assistance.
  • If you don’t sell the house, would you consider renting it? If the owner’s answer is yes, you may be able to buy it from him or her with a small down payment. The owner won’t get much down when he or she rents it.

Use your time wisely:

  • Ask questions on the phone. You will be surprised how much sellers will tell you
  • Rank motivation and potential profitability from 1 to 10. Use this to compare houses to decide priority.
  • Motivated seller: asking them questions like “are you ready to sell your house today?” Or “can you be out by this weekend?” To show you are interested in buying NOW.
  • before sitting down with seller, write down your strategy using figure 4.1

Knowing what a house is worth before you make an offer:

  • If you are buying on a street with many foreclosures or short sales, calculate your best offer, and then reduce it by 20%
  • pay no more than 10% down, pay no more than 10% interest, buy at least 10% under the market
  • 72/rate of return = years of a house that will double value
  • Buy properties that produce enough rent to pay the expenses and repay the loan
  • Buy properties that are relatively easy to manage and easy to sell
  • Borrow the longest term possible

Making an offer:

  • Let the seller make the first offer
  • Never never never try to think for the seller
  • Make your first offer an offer you know will make you money and see how she responds. If you decide you’d like to buy this house for about $175k, the seller wants 250k, offer 160k. If they make a big move in your direction, go up to 165k, then settle the difference at 175k. If they move to 245k, offer them 175k, with 10k down, balance payable at $1000 a month including 3% interest.
  • Don’t let the seller shop your offer (get you to bid with another buyer). Tell them you have two houses you like theirs better but if they don’t accept the offer by end of day, you will buy the other house.

Renting a house:

  • Spend the money to clean the whole house
  • Introduce yourself to the neighbors and ask them to keep an eye out for you. Tell them if there is a problem with the tenant you want to know about it and will do everything in your power to fix it.
  • Usually, a tenant can afford to pay between 30-40% of their income as rent.
  • Rather than charging a late penalty, give tenants a discount for paying on or before the first of the month. Pay on time and not call for maintenance to earn the discount.
  • Give tenant phone numbers to call for “emergencies” – 911, police, plumber (for leaks). Then have your weekend off.

#5: How I Built a Wooden Ladder to the Loft

We are in a little holding pattern right now on our barn renovation as we wait for our contractor to come back and finish the drywall. We finished the insulation in July and decided to build the ladder to the loft ourselves. It turned out to be very easy!

Here’s the video I followed to build the ladder. Shout out to this random very handy guy on YouTube that broke down the steps for making a ladder. 

I wrote out the materials I bought. I was able to get all of them from Lowe’s.

  • Speed Square $10(to make the ladder 75 degrees from the floor)
  • Timberlok screws $30 (I bought a box of 50 with the bits)
  • Power Tools $179 I have Makita and I absolutely love them
  • Lumber: 2x6x16 ~$25

One of my biggest hangups is that I don’t yet have a table saw (or any kind of wood cutting tools) and I rely heavily on Home Depot/Lowes to cut the wood for me. Here’s a step-by-step guide I followed to ensure I had a successful trip out of it.

So I asked the lovely associate working there to cut 4 blocks of 20 inches out of each 16 ft lumber, and I took the rest (about 9.5 ft) in my tiny car (sticking it out of the sunroof!) back to the barn. *Pro-tip: when cutting these steps, they don’t have to be exactly 20 inches, but they do need to be exactly the same length with each other. Once you cut the first piece, use this piece as a guideline for all other pieces that will help you build the ladder straight!

The hardest part is probably trying to screw all of the steps together which I followed the youtube guy’s suggestion but it’s a lot harder than it looks. In the end, I was able to get them semi-aligned with each other so that the steps are visually leveled. Next time, I think I’ll buy clamps like this to help align the steps before drilling and attaching the screws.

Alas, I climbed up this ladder and it didn’t collapse underneath me!

If you’d like to read more about my tiny barn building process, here are all the other articles. Happy building!

How I Saved $70 in Two Hours

My best friend Ms. Bakes-A-Lot came from Ireland to visit us this weekend and it was wonderful to get to spend time with her for 5 full days! On Saturday, she asked me what kind of pie I wanted her to cook while she was in town. Without hesitation, I said “TIRAMISU!” Granted that is not a pie, but she indulged me and agreed to teach me how to make tiramisu. 

So we went on a road trip to Walmart to shop for ingredients. While we were in the store, Ms. Bakes-A-Lot asks me if I had a mixer. Being the minimalist-wanna-be, I have eliminated almost everything in the kitchen that I don’t use daily. I said, “I have a fork?” Then added, “that’s what I use to scramble eggs,” as a justification that I do not need a mixer in my life.

Ms. Bakes-A-Lot sighed and said, “well, if you want tiramisu, we have to get a mixer; even a handheld one will do.”

Here’s a sneak-peak of the tiramisu bite we made.

So we went to the aisle where they sell mixers, and my eyes went to the biggest mixer there is–the KitchenAid. I told Ms. Bakes-A-Lot I have been making bread and lots of Chinese pork buns lately and I’d love to buy a mixer that can also make a dough. I’ve done my research for many moons now and couldn’t decide whether I wanted a KitchenAid or a Bosch Universal Plus dough mixer. I’ve been lusting over both of them but never pulled the trigger.

Ms. Bakes-A-Lot looked at the KitchenAid prices and she realized that it was on “rollback” (Walmart’s way of saying it’s on sale). She informed me that $199 is a great deal for a KitchenAid because they are usually close to $300! Sure enough, we googled KitchenAid and it is selling at $259.99 online.

Unfortunately, the Walmart we were in did not have a white KitchenAid and I had my heart set on it being white so it matches everything in my kitchen. So Ms. Bakes-A-Lot suggested that we go to a different Walmart 10 minutes away and try our luck. (We live in Walmart-ville here in Arkansas.) When we got to the next Walmart, it was a lot more crowded, and my hopes to find this white Kitchenaid on sale started to diminish. We walked to the kitchen gadget section, and to my surprise, there is a white KitchenAid! But it was marked at $259 while other KitchenAids were $199. After reading the tag, it seemed like the white color was still full price while other colors are on sale. We took a picture of the on-sale tag with the other colors and took the white KitchenAid to the checkout.

Ms. Bakes-A-Lot wisely profiled the checkout cashiers, and we picked the kindest looking person to stand in line for and it paid off! When the cashier rang up the KitchenAid, of course, it said $259 + tax on the screen. I asked the cashier if the price is right because I saw the tag said it was $199. She said, did you take a picture of the tag? So I showed her my picture (while patting myself on the back) and she did her little keystrokes and got a manager to approve the markdown. Off we go with my white KitchenAid! 

So the moral to the story is:

  1. You should never settle for just “good enough,” even in KitchenAid!
  2. Look for a cashier that’s easy to talk to and be nice to them.
  3. Take a picture of the price before going up to the register.

I am now also a proud owner of a lovely white KitchenAid and Mr. CodeJunkie is so excited for the doughs and pork buns I’ll be making!

Tiny Saga #4: Framing & Insulation

When we tore out the garage door, we also demolished the second-floor subflooring. We also added 2’x2′ around the studs to make them 6′ in depth (it used to be 2’x4’s on the roof) on the roof to comply with the city inspection code on insulation later on.

We rented a local dumpster service for the demolition of the subflooring and the garage door. These guys are so professional and extended extra days because my handyman was running a little late. *Pro-tip: always negotiate (and do it nicely). Our local dumpster service guy was very friendly and told us if we rented it for a Friday pick-up, he will most likely not have time to pick it up, and leave the dumpster for the weekend and pick it up Monday. This allowed us extra days to throw all the construction trash on the weekend. Conversely, the dumpster companies are usually less busy mid-week, so negotiating Tuesday – Tuesday (8 days) rental would be a lot easier than a Friday – Monday (4 days), and sometimes they’ll even be cheaper!

The sub-floor of the loft consists of 2x8s based on the size of the loft in the building code for our area (see below). 

Because the wall studs were 20 inches apart (instead of the 16 inches for dwellings), we had to add one new stud in between each old stud in order to pass inspection. This made the space between each stud 10 inches and inevitably made insulation a lot harder. Each insulation strip we bought (store-bought is usually 16 inches) needed to be cut to 9-10 inches wide and installed. For future reference, I would have insisted on making a stud at the 16-inch mark because it would make insulation a lot faster.

The biggest hurdle we found was trying to find someone to spray open-cell insulation foam on the roof. It is hard to find anyone who wants to come and spray the foam because it is a very small area. We had one guy who bailed out on us after 5+ weeks of waiting. Eventually, we found a guy recommended by our realtor who came the next day and sprayed in the foam. It is important to note that when you ask for spray foam, make sure to ask if they are going to use their own generator because the guy who came and sprayed ours asked if he could plug into an outlet. But because he needed a 220v and we don’t have an outlet with the same voltage, he decided to just hook the spraying machine up to his generator. Had we allowed him to use the electricity in the house, we may be paying a lot more in our electric bill that month. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it would be a negotiating point for pricing at that point.

It took another two weeks for us to put in the wall insulation. We had to wear full-body suits, gloves, and masks to ensure the fiberglass doesn’t get on our skin. It is now so hot and humid in the summer of NW Arkansas, we had to take frequent breaks as we put in the insulation. Towards the end, Mr. Codejunkie and I found our rhythm: I would cut the insulation batting while he installs them and measures the next cavity length and width.

It was definitely a celebratory moment when the city inspector came in and gave us the green light for the completion of the inspection. It took the inspector a total of 2 seconds and he gave us the green slip right away!

A couple of lessons I learned was: 

  1. Always ask the inspector for ideas at the beginning of your project. 

I asked the inspector about insulation when I presented the project to him. He’s the one who told me about adding 2’x2′ on the roof studs and spray foam insulation. Had I not know that I would have found out the hard way and thinking the insulation cannot be done because prior to this, I didn’t know there was a difference between spray foam, batting, and blown-in insulation!

2. Waiting for 2 weeks is the maximum I will do for subcontractors.

Of course, this is just a general rule for dealing with new subcontractors instead of the ones I have worked with many times before. But I will not wait for a subcontractor for more than two weeks.

I would have never let this slip if I were running this construction as a business, so I should reconsider using this subcontractor after he has stood me up twice (he ended up standing me up 5+ times).

This subcontractor was recommended by my trusted electricians. He also installed the A/C and heating unit in my house. He runs a small business of insulation so he gave me a very cheap price on open-cell spray foam. He also talked about insulation and energy efficiency passionately. The only drawback my electricians warned me was that this guy is hard to get a hold of, and I just had to keep calling him. So I did. For many weeks, I called him every week around Monday, and he often told me that he’s sorry he’s busy that day, but he has it on his schedule to come out later in the week to spray the roof and ask me to call him back later in the week to remind him. I would follow up with him later in the week and he’d say, “I have another job lined up that I want to spray both yours and the other house together since you have small square footage. This way I don’t have to set up the spraying machine twice.” It made sense, so I thought I could just call back again. Usually, the project gets delayed because his other project gets canceled. I thought if I were diligent and friendly, eventually, I could get him to spray the insulation. It struck me that he had no respect for me when I called after 5+ weeks of waiting and following-up weekly, he picked up the phone and said: “are you doing your weekly call and begging me to do work for you again?”

Since then, I found another insulation contractor to spray the foam onto the ceiling and I’ve decided to put a time limit on how long I would wait for a contractor to show up for the job.

For my other tiny house articles, check out this page that contains them all.

#3 Getting on-grid: Connecting Plumbing and Electricity

After we finished the plumbing inside the barn, it was another couple of weeks of waiting until the plumber came back to connect this plumbing to the front of the house (to the city water, sewer, and electricity). Originally, I looked into being off-grid, but it was a lot of day-to-day hassle to deal with composting toilet and rainwater shower/water tower, so I decided to hook it up to the city’s sewer.

Plumber Austin trying to connect the sewer after the rain. I definitely have more respect for these guys after seeing what they go through in order to get the sewer line to work.

The electricians also needed to lay their wires in a similar route but after they inquired with the city inspector, the city inspector asked them to dig two separate trenches (which was SO UNNECESSARY!). Our electrician (and we) tried to explain to the inspector that there isn’t any space to dig two separate trenches 2 feet apart, but the inspector insisted on us digging twice. Sometimes the city rules don’t make sense in practicality, but we know the inspector wasn’t nitpicking on us as we befriended him early on in our project. It is always key to befriend your local city inspectors and meet them in person to explain your project prior to starting your project. 

We complied with the city requirements and as a bonus to this extra step, I got to ride on my electricians’ tractor for a glorified minute, dug one single scoop of dirt while Mr. B took a photo!

The yard, on the other hand, having been torn up twice in two months, was left with a yellow sandy scar throughout the summer. Tali seems to be enjoying the sandy soft ground quite a lot.

If you want to read more about our tiny barn progress, here’s ALL the articles

#2: Plumbing Update in Our Tiny Barn

While everything is happening outside with the removal of the garage door and installation of the front window, the plumbing inside the barn was underway as well. 

At first, I downloaded Sketchup and used it for free for 30 days to sketch out how the tiny barn would look like inside. I drew a downstairs (left) and upstairs loft (right) 3D model. 

Ultimately, there are other small changes made to this plan, like the bathroom and the water-heater swapped with each other. Other than that, there are no big changes.

Now it is the hard part to gather all the subcontractors around our area to do some of this work. We interviewed three plumbers around the area and got quotes from all of them. We ended up choosing this guy Trey who’s the most honest upfront with all the costs and detailed out his worn and it turns out he was totally a hidden gem. 

Here’s the areas that we needed the concrete to be cut out. 

This took us a few tries to find a contractor to be willing to come out for this job. Apparently, around this area of the town, there are so many construction sites going on, nobody wants to come out for such a small job. Eventually, we found a guy 2 hours away who’s willing to come out and bash out some concrete for us. It was rainy season in Arkansas in the Spring, and it was pretty muddy in here for a while.

At first, I really didn’t want to hire out for plumbing because it is probably one of the most expensive parts of this whole build. But once I saw how muddy and slippery the condition was when the guys were working here, I was very glad I hired out for this job. It’s like one of those scenes from Dirty Jobs!

Pros definitely got this job done a lot faster than I have imagined. This whole thing took about a day and half! Now the gravel is in to hold the pipe in place. You can see it just passed inspection (with the neon green sticker on the right pipe) and they are getting ready to pour the concrete back in.

The toilet and vanity will be on the left, and a 3’x5′ shower on the right. Here’s a much more satisfying photo of after-clean-up:

Finding yet another person to pour the concrete back. We contemplated on doing this ourselves because we couldn’t get anyone to come out. After a week of struggling, our handyman took pity on us and just poured it in for us one day. This is when the concrete was still setting. It looks satisfyingly flat and wonderful!

If you want to read more about our entire process, here’s ALL the articles we have!

#1: I’ve Decided to Build a Tiny House

In 2017, after moving to this little town of Arkansas for 6 months for my job, I decided to buy a house (a regular one). I really wanted to buy a tiny house at that time but North West Arkansas wasn’t ready to sell me a tiny house. So instead, I settled for a regular one, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, with a barn as garage (yes, it comes with the swing! and yes it’s slightly dangerous but I got on it for a few tries). 

I’ve used this garage for two years, the garage door was not automatic and I manually pulled it up and down to open and close it. Last year, the roof started leaking so in order to prevent more water damage and potential mold issues, I spent about $6,000 to replace the roof.

At this point, the garage door is almost non-functioning. It would stay ajar like this in the above picture and I used a 2×4 to prop it closed from the inside. Yes, very classy.

Because the bottom of the barn is all rotting away, and little critters (like possums and cats) are actually using it as a shelter during the winter, I decided to cut down the bottom 4 ft of the plywood, replace them, and put new siding altogether to protect the shed. Of course, now it needs a new door as well.

You can also see a hole towards the back of the barn covered by a piece of plywood to prevent critters from coming into the barn. It was a bleak sight to see the state of the barn!

After replacing the siding wood with plywood, we put up these basic plastic white siding to protect it from rotting again.

This barn looks nothing like the barn I used to own! It reminds me of the Ship of Theseus, a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. If I’ve changed almost 99% of this barn, is it still the barn I bought? 

Beginning of this year, since we’ve decided to take a break from Airbnb-ing our spare bedroom in the house, I’ve been trying to figure out other ways we can still get into rental properties. I thought about converting this barn into a tiny house. After learning everything about the building code and inspection requirements from the city, we got approved for the permit to start construction! Always check with your city/county rules before starting a big project that requires water/sewer connection because the requirements might be so far out of your perception. . . which happened to us.

With the concept of adding a full functioning bathroom, we want to insulate the barn properly and have the door be the entrance/exit. So we took out the garage door and replaced it with a 4×7 window. 

Because we are doing this on a budget, we didn’t have a lot to spend on windows. I called around the local shops that sell windows to look for a “mis-ordered” window, one that was ordered wrong either by the customer or the shop. Those windows are hard to sell, especially custom ordered ones. I told the local shop the dimension of my garage door, and they found a big window they are eager to get rid of because of mis-order. A win-win situation! I got this lovely high-quality window for about $400. 

Here’s a picture of the barn with the exterior finished.

I found the other windows from Home Depot: egress window 3’x5′ and small kitchen window 19″ x 31″.

Now the next big part is plumbing and electrician. Check out the 2nd of the tiny house series here and the entire series can be found here.

What I Learned from Track Every Dollar for 6 Months

I have always read about money management and negotiation for salaries. I’ve always wanted to become good at managing my own money but never seem to be able to apply the practices in these self-help books to my life. It will usually be a flash of excitement, then I will give up fairly quickly.

Last September, I started reading Vicki Robin’s book on “Your Money or Your Life” and it has made some gradual but significant changes in my life. One of the habits that stuck with me after reading this book was to track every single dollar coming in and out of my life.

Here are things I have learned after tracking every single dollar for 6 months.

  1. I stopped eating out & going to coffee shops.
  2. I stopped feeling guilty about spending money.
  3. I projected how many more years I need to work.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash
  1. I stopped eating out & going to coffee shops:

If I had a dollar every time I swear to not eat out anymore, I’d be financially independent just from that. I could never stop myself from habitually eating out. It is especially hard when you are hungry after a long day of working, and there is one thing on your mind, food. I was spoiled growing up eating whatever I wanted, and I kept that going well into my adulthood. So when I am hungry, my default is whatever my brain wants now, I must do everything I can to make that happen.

I realized that each time I eat out, I am spending approximately 2 hours of my salary ($30). That is 25% of my daily hard work to be just one restaurant meal. 

After starting to track my expenses, somehow I was able to limited going out to eat at a restaurant to only 2-3 times a month. In the past 2 months, I only went out once (but that might have been the Coronavirus. . . ).

Tips I have learned:

Evaluate your restaurant spending after the restaurant visit. When I do this, sometimes I consider the spending worthwhile and sometimes I don’t. It is intriguing to find out after a day or two whether I found that restaurant outing was worth the money.

The times that are worth it:

  1. It’s a friend I am not super close to and I don’t want to be weird and invite them home for a meal.
  2. I went to a new restaurant that I’ve been meaning to try.

In those cases, I put a little “+” sign next to the expense, and write out the reason.

The times that are NOT worth it:

  1. I have had stomach issue afterwards because of certain allergies the restaurant cannot accommodate.
  2. The restaurant is not great: service is slow, or food is mediocre.
  3. I was super hungry and just wanted something instantaneously.

In those cases, I add a “-” and also note down the reason. This helps me to see what are some of the reasons why I want to go to a restaurant, and when I regretted going. It has helped me cut down on the times I go to restaurants.

Side note of getting super hungry and making bad decision, I have also started making food that can be frozen for a later date, like dumplings and buns. They have saved many nights where temptations were high, and Mr. CodeJunkie all of a sudden whips out the freezer drawer and finds my favorite food (Chinese food!) and gently guiding me from the being hangry and wanting to eat out.


Photo by Andy Lyon on Unsplash
  • Coffee:

I love coffee, especially specialty coffee, lavender flavor with almond milk. It usually costs $4-$6 (yes I know, I can’t believe I paid for this). I also love the social aspect of sitting in a coffee shop, listening to the low murmuring of people, and strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you. I write blogposts in coffee shops because I feel that’s the place when inspiration comes. Sometimes I get a little peckish so I will order a beautifully made macaron, or a cupcake. These all add to my coffee shop bills. 

I realized that I could make coffee at home, and also add as much almond milk and lavender syrup as I want. I can also put it in a fancy cup, and stare out of the window while typing on my MacBook, pretending I am solving world hunger.

I stopped going to coffee shops altogether.  Truth to be told, I don’t think I am making that many more friends by going to coffee shops. I stopped drinking coffee altogether since last year, and have found tea to be more suited for my body.

Exceptions would be when Mr. CodeJunkie and I visit new places, I usually find hipster coffee shops for him to enjoy a cup of black coffee, and me, probably some sweet treats. Those coffee shops usually comes pretty neat neighborhoods to wander in as well.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

2. I stopped feeling guilty about spending money on travel

My relationship with money mostly looks like when an ostrich facing unpleasant but life-threatening danger: by burying my head in the sand. On the one hand, I want to be the millennial that purchases experiences rather than physical things. I want to travel around the world and see everything. On the other hand, I feel guilty when I spend money on traveling, from flights to expensive hotels and fancy restaurants. I would be spending money during vacation without a budget (no guardrails!), but when I come back from vacation, I am scared to look at my credit card bills. I told myself, this is a “one-time-a-year” expense.

Vickie’s book encouraged me to look into the fundamental reason I want to travel. Is it for the social praise? I’ve definitely done some of those before: like visiting the Eiffel Tower. None of those things actually added much value to my experience. Rather, I just wanted to have an iconic photo and be able to put it on Instagram.

The book led me to question if those types of travel are the things I actually enjoy, and would want to keep doing. It also begs these fundamental questions.

  • What are other things you enjoy during your travel?
  • Can you get them without spending that much money?
  • What is the fundamental value of traveling?
  • Does destination change this value?
  • Can your destination be closer, have less expensive food options, a different time of the year, and still achieve the same result?

If we remove the social praise aspect from travel, what is left for me is to see the endless possibilities of  ways to living. I have met people who believe in things that I might consider completely outrageous or impossible and they teach me that there is never one way to live your life. Because of that, I changed my travel destinations to different and less touristy places in the world. I started appreciate local hikes and greeneries. 

I also made a more conscious effort to not bring my phone (or put it on airplane mode with downloaded maps) when I am traveling, or even just going on hikes. I find that I am able to focus on the present better instead of using the energy to think about the best places to take an insta-worthy photo, or whether I should wear makeup to look more photogenic.


Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

3. I projected how many more years I have to work

Being able to account for every single dollar coming in and going out of my life, I started building mathematical projections. I built one within google sheet but there are numerous sources online that helps you do this. If you want to learn more about my spreadsheet, let me know and I am happy to share a cleaned-up version of it.

When my total monthly expenses (blue) equals to my monthly investment earnings (orange), I can stop working. The investment “earnings” are calculated by using my total investment divided by 25, which is the 4% rule. Surprisingly, I met that in April this year (by accident). I have to continuously meet this in order to retire. But this also shows you, the less you spend, the faster you will get to your retirement (if nothing else changes).

I realized I am closer to become financially independent than I thought. This has helped clear my mind on what I should prioritize in my life.

Overall it was a success for 6 months, to be able to tell you exactly where I spent my money. Here’s a summary of it if anyone is interested.

What are your biggest expense after mortgage? Do you track your money? What’s your best way to save money?