In order to connect to the internet today, all you really need is an obsolete smartphone with a wireless signal and transportation to get to the local Starbucks or McDonalds, and you’re good to go. It was much different when I first connected to the web. In our household, we had a 2nd phone line for our 28.8 kbps dial-up modem. When DSL modems and routers became a thing in the early to mid 2000’s, that was sort of a game changer in our household, because then it meant that we could all be connected to the internet on different computers at the same time. In the old days, when your sister or parent wanted to use the internet, you had to find some other activity to occupy your time. The struggle, people.
Our first computer was so old that it didn’t even have Windows on it. Only Microsoft DOS. I bet it was crazy expensive too. “Cloud” storage? Are you kidding with those internet speeds? I feel a little old. Kids today have no idea…
Somewhat recently, I recall a rather notable personal finance blogger (happily married, of course) ranting on Twitter about not wanting to see dating advice on personal finance blogs. I vehemently disagree with this mindset! I think it would be fantastic if PF bloggers, particularly those who have found some dating success during the age of highly competitive, low attention span dating apps, shared their knowledge for the rest of us sad single people who happen to have an awkward enthusiasm for personal finance and have had trouble seeking a long term connection.
You can’t really look at your money in a vacuum anyway. Money and life are interconnected in so many ways. In my case, money management is something that has been natural and a lot of aspects of it are second nature to me. Dating? Learning how to successfully do that is akin to learning a foreign language. Right down to the aftermath. That is, the more time I take off from dating, the more I seem to forget about the lessons that I’ve learned along the way.
As I continue to prepare financially for an extended road trip, I’m learning that I’m becoming a lot more comfortable with the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to not optimize your finances to squeeze the most dollars out of your opportunities. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think my life purpose is to maximize my money, but this is the first time I’ve really considered leaving some real cash on the table when it is clearly offered in front of me for the taking.
As it sometimes happen in the life of a blogger, you feel inspired to pre-empt a previously scheduled post.
This past weekend, I hosted an Australian woman who I had met in Canada five years ago. This is my favorite part of traveling. The people we meet and the connections that we develop. Remember that secret announcement that was coming up? Well I was GOING to be like “SURPRISE! I had a blogger in town and we recorded a podcast!”, but we had so much stuff to do and fit in our 3 days together and I was exhausted from exploring that it just never happened. But we did have several conversations where I literally said “this is why we should do a podcast”.
Like the time Toni told me she opened up Chrome in Incognito mode to book a flight in American version of an airline’s website rather than Australian to save $20. I had no idea that was a thing. How even though she has plenty of student loan debt, this is her EIGHTH trip to North America. Toni has been to more U.S states than I have. She’s a super interesting person. One of her hobbies is to go around the world and visit filming locations. I am fortunate to live within 30 miles or so of the city of Covina where the old WB network show Roswell was filmed. A show I actually watched, so I was definitely on board with adventuring through Old Town Covina. I’m sure a post on the Roswell filming locations is coming soon over there, so subscribe to her RSS feed and stay tuned.
One of the things Toni asked me was why I am not doing the working holiday in New Zealand. The last time I chatted with Toni, that was the plan. About six months ago, the plan was basically to do a quick tour of Asia and eventually settle into New Zealand for a year. I went back on forth on this a lot. I asked my dad “if I drop everything and go to New Zealand for a year, aren’t I just putting my life on hold?” and my dad, who is completely awesome, told me “No. I think that is you living the life that you want to live.” Right? Cheers for supportive parents. The exchange rate is favorable right now. I’ve been to New Zealand before and I enjoyed it. But clearly, I’ve chosen a very different path.
There are definitely financial reasons to stay in the country, and If there’s a theme I want to get across in this blog, it’s that you don’t have to choose to travel somewhere else over America to travel inexpensively while having a good time, but there are so many other non-financial reasons, and this is the post that fleshes them out.
Keep reading if you’d like to learn why I’ve chosen not to venture abroad at this point.
I’m never one to pass up some alliteration in a blog post title. Sorry not sorry.
Keep reading if you want to creep my actual expenses from August and September 2016, and my income from September 2016. The books have been opened! There’s no going back now.
This post contains my referral link for a service I have personally used.
One of the luxuries that I do allow myself to partake in on occasion is getting a massage. You can be the laziest person ever and book this massage. Because they come to your house. All you need to do is launch the app, put in your credit card, book it, and be ready to strip down when a stranger comes into your home with a massage table and oil. The best part: the tip is included!
I feel bad that he or she has to go up three flights of stairs with a massage table to get to my apartment and doesn’t expect a tip out of it. Not my business model though. It is such a convenience to have an in-home massage and not drive around in my car all oily. I can just hop in the shower after they leave. You don’t need to subscribe to any membership packages or prepay for a certain amount of massages. (In fact, it’s not even possible for you to do either of those things) I’ve used Soothe twice and the woman actually went to high school with me.
She picked me the second time because she recognized me from the first time and I guess I was easy to work with. Why did I book a second massage? Because I was successfully able to refer someone! I’m too cheap to pay $100 for an hour massage. I have no idea who, but I posted it on a web forum and someone random clicked it. Thank you stranger.
The most important questions from their FAQ:
Q: How does Soothe work?
A: Soothe allows you to order a five-star massage to your home, hotel, office, or event in as little as an hour. We match your massage request with a vetted, certified massage therapist available in your area at the specified time. At your appointment time, a therapist will arrive at your door with massage table, fresh linens, lotions, oils, and music to ensure a relaxing massage. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy your massage.
Q: Do I need to tip my massage therapist?
A: No. Unlike traditional spas, Soothe will never ask you to tip. We take good care of our therapists and pay them above industry standard.
Click this link to utilize my Soothe referral code. If you use it, I will get $30 credit towards a future Soothe massage and you will get $30 off your first Soothe massage. Fair warning though, if you love the first one , you just might keep getting them and the full price massage is, I think, a little bit on the luxury side. However, $70 for an hour long massage is pretty normal at a traditonal spa around these parts. And that’s before you add the tip.
So the previous month of this little blog here has been a bit of a sneaky beta test. My blog has been around for a month and I’ve published an absurd quantity of posts. I’m more proud of some of them than others. I do wonder if the frequency of posts might have overwhelmed potential readers from investing the time to follow along on my journey. The main reason I posted so much was that I needed to devote enough time to answer some questions for myself.
Do I like writing? Yes.
Do I like finding images and editing them? Not so much. But I was given tips on how to be more efficient and successful in this area.
Do I like commenting on other people’s stuff? Of course yes. Been commenting well before I started this blog.
Is applying for and implementing affiliate links easy? YES! Super duper easy! I thought there might be minimum traffic requirements, or quotas to meet, and while every affiliate platform is obviously going to be different, there are definitely some programs that don’t care that you are just starting out.
Redirecting my Focus.
I will be drastically scaling back the quantity of posts, and by taking my focus away from writing, this will give me more time to find / create better images and work on building my social media presence in preparation for the main event on this blog.
Let’s not kid anybody: the whole experience of a “mini retirement” and going on an extensive road trip is a lot more exciting to read about than why you should buy life insurance or volunteer to be on your HOA’s board of directors.
I can only write so many “well, I’m not ready to talk about the road trip, but I’ll talk about this other thing that’s not even remotely related to the road trip and might even bore people” posts.
I have heavily edited or nuked entirely some of my existing posts.
I’m proud of all the authenticity that I’ve felt comfortable showing. On my previous personal blog, I would always delete stuff the following morning because I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to publish it out to the world, but I didn’t do that with this blog. I don’t ever expect to stop writing authentically, but some of the things I put up just aren’t in alignment with my original vision for the blog, which is to document a road trip and hopefully inspire others to take a similar risk in their own life, whether it be a road trip, a gap year abroad, a cross country move, or a drastic career change.
I’m narrowing the focus of this blog.
I want to inspire the random people who find this place. I’m not going to tell them how easy it is to quit their job, but if I’m transparent about what I was able to accomplish in the short term by cutting back on some creature comforts and luxuries, maybe somebody else will do the same thing. We all have our own financial (and psychological) comfort zones, but there isn’t a rigidly defined asset or income level, or maximum debt exposure level required to take some chances in your life and shining too many lights on any of those side topics might be a distraction from the potential reader appreciating the whole road trip experience and applying it to wherever they may be in their financial or life journey.
According to my Google Analytics, I’ve had 1179 page views so far. My hosting package was purchased assuming 1000 monthly page views. Hopefully SiteGround lets me slide on the slight overage. 🙂 I’ve had a 57% bounce rate which means just under half of you aren’t just clicking one page and then saying sayonara to my crazy ass. That’s so reassuring. I was able to achieve this with zero promotion other than throwing my blog posts on Twitter with the occasional second tweet later in the day. Some of you kind souls actually re-tweeted me or linked to my posts on your own. I I did not expect this, and I very much appreciate it.
Mad props to Justin for leaving the most prolific amount of comments. 🙂
What you can expect from this blog for October
I will be going to a Monday posting schedule effective immediately:
10/3: State of the Blog Update
10/10: September Expense Summary & Commentary. I will in fact use hard numbers for how much I spent. I was going to do this for the road trip, but I might as well start now.
10/17: September Savings Progress and Commentary. I will be using hard numbers for this as well.
10/24: October Fitness & Nutrition Update. Unless I think of something better. 😉
10/31: SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT! So much excitement!
Five Month Money Challenge
Starting with this month, any penny I don’t spend is going right into my short term savings account. Even if the market crashes. I won’t be doing net worth updates. Showing people what can be achieved with buckling down and committing to a short term savings goal is more interesting than vaguely describing the effectiveness of my long term investments. There will be no dividend reinvestment (except in retirement accounts). So the less spendy I am, the more cash I will have, and the more cash I have, the longer I can support myself on the road and beyond. I also have a lot of possessions to sell or donate in the coming months, so it will definitely be interesting to see how much cash that all generates.
I absolutely expect my traffic to go down during this period, but this is okay. I’d rather invest in some other areas for my blog than rush my writing and put out content that I’m only mildly passionate about. If you’re reading this, I probably value your opinion. Please give me your two cents via the contact page.
Yesterday afternoon I was listening to a new (to me) podcast, the Introspectology podcast. Jeff Sandquist of Intentionally Wandering was the guest. I discovered Jeff when Cait Flanders went on his podcast earlier in her road trip. I really enjoy hearing Jeff’s approach to life. He has a great podcast and I highly recommend it. This is how I find that it usually tends to work with the internet. I read a blog that I like. (Cait’s) I stalk that person around the internet. They hang out with another blogger I haven’t heard of (via comment section, podcast, etc), and I get to a discover a new person who I enjoy following. And Now I’ve discovered Jo through Jeff. That whole six degrees of separation thing.
You Don’t Need To Be a Money Nerd.
Let me tell you right now that you definitely don’t need to be a money nerd to volunteer to be on the board of directors. Even to be the treasurer. In our case, we were using an association management company that would do all of the heavy legwork for us. We would meet every other month (because we got the management company to give us a discount for not having to come out every single month, and it just wasn’t necessary to meet every month.) The skills you need to be a competent homeowner’s association board member would be: listening skills, anger management skills, and critical thinking skills. That’s it. I’d say the middle is more important than you might think because if you have a thin skin, frustrated homeowners will take everything out on you and that can easily bring you down or make you angry. If you can’t control your emotions, you’re not going to enjoy the board of directors experience. Every state is a little different of course.
The Hard Stuff Gets Outsourced.
The management company would bring us nicely printed (black and white, of course. Save your fellow homeowner $$$ ya’ll) books of all the financials, and all the homeowner correspondence. We would have two sessions. The first would be the “regular session” that homeowners could attend and listen in on. You would also have a homeowner forum at the end for any homeowner to voice his or her concerns. NOBODY comes to these things. The only time that someone shows up is when they receive a notice about an increase in their HOA fees and they want to complain about it. I ALWAYS attended the HOA meetings before I ever volunteered to be on the board. I think that’s why the board appointed me to an open seat despite my fellow homeowners not giving me the necessary votes. It wasn’t uncommon for us to ask to ask the association manager “what would your other associations do in this scenario?”
Nobody Else Will Volunteer.
Around the time I purchased my condo, the board TRIED to install sub-meters for the water. There is kind of a water shortage in California. Who is going to bother to install low flow shower heads, low flow toilets, and fix their leaky water heaters in their condo unit’s when the “association pays for the water bill”? Nobody. That’s who. That first meeting that I attended right after my purchase was the ONLY time I saw more than two other non-boardmember homeowners at a meeting. Needlessly to say, there was much complaining, we didn’t go through with it and we continued to have ridiculously high water and sewer bills that we could do nothing to reduce because you can’t force a homeowner to replace their leaking water heater. Penny wise Dollar foolish. You are a part of the association, people. Paying your own water bill is a lot cheaper than incurring an unexpected four to five figure bill due to water damage. Homeowners liked the idea of us buying an association earthquake insurance policy, but not if it was going to cost them more money per month. So we actually never had Earthquake insurance on upwards of 300 units. In California. Super smart, right? The next year, everybody saw an increase in their HOA fees due to rising costs on everything. If we had subbed-out our individual water usage perhaps the dues would not have gone up as much the following year.
You Get To Be a Nosy Neighbor.
I’m not sure if this is a “plus” or a “minus”, but in addition to regular session, there was “executive session” (which almost always ran long). The purpose of executive session was to review and discuss various things on the agenda and to approve any actions. The kinds of decisions we had to make were things like approving accounts to send to collections. We’d also have to approve invoices for any unexpected maintenance. Those were the interesting tasks. The not so interesting tasks were reading the e-mails about all the people who would complain about their neighbors. “Betty Sue doesn’t pick up her dog’s poop.” “Billy Joe upstairs is too loud at night” You might issue a fine if it was a repeated occurrence of something particularly bad. It always amused me that people would purchase ground level units and complain about noise coming from above. You bought a downstairs unit in a converted apartment building!
You Develop Negotiating and Bargaining Skills.
The strategies I learned as a member of my HOA’s board were very helpful when I morphed my career from customer service into purchasing. I learned that you should ALWAYS ask for three bids. There are so many HOA’s (and businesses!) out there who will just go with a vendor because Joe Schmoe on the board has a distant uncle’s friend who will probably “give them a deal”. No. This is not how you responsibly make a sourcing decision on behalf of your fellow homeowners. You have a fiduciary responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the association. Don’t be lazy or stupid. You could be sued. Definitely DON’T volunteer to be on a board that isn’t going to provide you with director’s and officers insurance. What’s the point?
In addition to the sourcing aspect though, negotiating with your fellow board members was also a fascinating experience. Maybe we don’t need to paint our buildings yet, but we probably should trim the trees before branches start falling on cars. That HOA had a monthly budget that was well beyond any level of income that I will ever see and so I was exposed to monitoring a much bigger budgeted sum of money than I would ever spend in my personal budget. It was very fascinating experience.
As a HOA board member, you can expect to be under-appreciated. It’s a very thankless job. But the benefits outweigh the frustrations. If I was not on the board, I would have been oblivious to so many issues happening around my community. Your condo is a financial investment. If you live in a HCOL area, it’s probably a massive investment as a proportion of your net worth. You want to know what’s going on to make sure your investment has been a good one and continues to be a good one. A lot can change in between the time of purchase when you review the then-current disclosures and documents and whenever “now” may be. It was shocking how many people would buy a place and just didn’t give two shits about what was going on. If I didn’t have that valuable board member experience….perhaps I might even still be an oblivious condo owner today?