Monthly Spending – September 2016

September is a pretty average month. I don’t have any big spending and it’s been consistent month over month. On average I’m spending a little more than $3K per month since I started tracking my spending every month. This month, I even purchase a “new to us” furniture for the house which led me to projects I wrote in here and here. Even with that, I didn’t really spend much. It was my sisters birthday month, so they also received some present. I used some gift cards to purchase that.

I did notice that I bought snacks 3 times this month – all the same large hershey milk chocolate bar. It’s not expensive, but I didn’t realize that I’m eating that much candy every month. The bar is only $1.79 per bar (the largest one) but I’m eating that whole thing almost every week. That’s a lot of sugar intake. This is one of the benefit at looking closely on your spending, regardless how little it is. I’m not against eating candy, but if I think about the times that I bought one, it acted more of stress reliever than me craving for a candy. As I said, I took on a new role and I’m still trying to navigate what it means and ways to handle stress. It’s good to see this pattern, so I can stop it.

My spending is just a little below August. I used mint and download it on excel. From there, I look at every line item and check if there’s something unusual. This month, I even spend $3 for an ATM fee – oops.

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Repurposed Hutch to Media Tower

Continuing on to the month of interior decoration, my second project is finding a media tower. I searched around and saw something similar to this or this. After seeing the price (we’re talking about $700 – $1200), I knew that I have to be creative. I quickly search the internet for media tower DIY and behold all this projects on Pinterest. It took a couple of weeks of searching craigslist, before I found the hutch listed by a non-profit consignment store. It cost $80 + tax, but since we don’t have a truck, we have to pay for delivery — another $120 for delivery. I also got a $20 merman end table, and $20 arm chair. Since I know that we will have to rent a truck anyway, regardless where we get the hutch, I opted to pay the delivery and purchase the 3 items.

an old boring hutchThis is the hutch before. It’s old and dated, but it works. The size is perfect. You can see in the left that we’re using an older bookshelves from ikea. This is a very heavy hutch and it took us some time to move it from the living room to the spare room.

I decided to paint the hutch dutch white, similar to the old console table, which I painted before this project. Since I already have the paint, primer and materials, I didn’t have to buy a new one.

Here it is after

hutch converted to media tower


I used a shellac primer here. This is probably over kill but I already have it and don’t want to buy a different one. I used Behr Marquee Dutch White to paint the whole shelves. We also took out the doors from the upper cabinets and created a hole in the back. I thought about buying a new holder, but the old brass knobs looks great with the white cabinets.


  • shellac primer
  • paint (Behr Marquee Dutch White)
  • Sander (150 grit)
  • screw driver
  • 4 inch roller
  • brush (used a good one with smooth finish)

Since I already have the supplies, I only spent the $200 for this project. Without it, it will cost roughly $260. The hardest part of this project is moving the hutch from the living room since it is one piece and very heavy. There’s also a lot of waiting. It probably took a full 2 days. I sanded and prime for one afternoon, and painted the outside for another afternoon. I also painted the inside on a different day and waited a week for the paint to cure.

Just for fun, here’s the end table that I got with the purchase, for $20
. The makers mark shows mersman 8405. It’s the exact diameter that I’m looking at and I really feel that I scored a deal with this end table.

Merman end table


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Repurposed Coffee Table

This months’s hobby (or as what my husband say, obsession) is redecorating our living room. When we move in our house about a year an half ago, we didn’t buy any additional furniture. We moved from a condo to house and I postponed any big purchase, aside from a pet and a wedding.

Recently, I’ve been looking around to see if there are little improvements I can do in terms of interior decoration, without necessarily breaking the bank. I started repurposing what we have. First project is repurposing an old coffee table.

Old coffee table

I inherited this piece of furniture from my parents. It’s actually a bit to big for my couch set, but I like the style and it is solid wood. I thought about refinishing it or painting it but decided to try and change it to an ottoman.

There’s a lot of instructions out on the web for this. I didn’t do anything special. It cost me $69.68 for materials and supplies. I shop on labor day and Joann’s fabric are having a huge sale. Otherwise, this will cost more. The foam alone is $35/yard and fabrics are not cheap.

Here’s a photo after:


It took 2 half days with tufting being the most time consuming. It looks pretty good if you ask me and we’ve been using it for about a month now. The fury baby decided to take off the tufting, so those buttons are gone – you can tell that she’s planning on it from the very beginning.


  • 2″ high density foam (I used a coupon and got this for 60% off)
  • batting
  • Button, tufting kit
  • Fabric
  • Staple Gun
  • Staples
  • Spray adhesive
  • Drill
  • 6″ needle (yes, it’s long)
  • upholstery thread

Step 1: Measure the table and decide placement of the buttons. I used a diamond tufting technique and drill 14 holes, starting with 3 holes, then 4, repeating it twice.

Step 2: using adhesive spray, place the 2″ high density foam

Step 3: Using the needle, mark the placement of the hole in the high density foam

Step 4: Cut the foam where the buttons will go

Step 5: Prepare the buttons. Follow the instructions from the kit

Step 6: Place the batting, pull it in and place it using a staple gun

Step 7: Place the fabric

Step 8: Sew in the buttons (tip, the more you cut into the foam, the easier it is to pull the buttons)

Step 9: Pull the fabric in and place it using a staple gun

Step 10: Admire your work!


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Monthly Spending – August 2016

This post is late. One month late. August has been a whirlwind. New opportunity came in at work and that took some time. A lot of time which warrants a longer post. So, let’s just say that August was all about work.

At that same month, my sister went to college and we went on a good old road trip and drop her off. It was a fun trip and brought back all the memories back when I moved in to my dorm room. Our gift to her is a new laptop, which was split between my sister and I. She paid some part of it, since she decided to get a higher end.

img_0063Our fur baby also had her annual exam. We were lucky enough to find a vet that is walking distance. Reviews were pretty good and I was happy with the new doctor. Fur baby got all her immunization and the doctors recommended that she lose a couple of pounds. Fur baby was definitely spoiled by her grandparents when we’re gone, but she’s back to normal now.

I didn’t hit my spending goal this month. I think I lapse a bit for the last two months and didn’t really track my spending. Despite of this, I was surprised that aside from the gift, I was actually on track with my spending. This just let me know that I should also budget for gift.

So here you go – my spending for August (September to come next)….


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My new found hobby is selling on eBay

Cute but I never used it.
My first sale

It all started when I was decluttering my closet and realized that I have too many pair of shoes. I accumulated quite a bit since college and I didn’t even use most of them. It took a while to accept the fact that my feet cannot handle heels or narrow shoes. I experimented for a while and brought some minimalist shoes. Finally after trial and error, I found one brand that have a wide toe box and have a very minimal support with Merrell. So in 2015, I started selling some shoes on eBay. It’s a fun hobby and it makes decluttering a lot easier because I know that I am getting some money back. After over a year and shipping at least a dozen pair of shoes, here are some things that I learned and the process along the way.

1. Signing Up

Signing up is straight forward. You need an e-mail address and complete your profile. Your address will estimate the shipping cost, so make sure that this is accurate. During sign up you will get a user id. You can use this ID as a marketing tool. I see some sellers that specializes on certain products and have their names associated with it.

2. Getting Paid

PayPal is the fastest way to get paid and chances are you already have an account. As a seller, I only accept PayPal.

3. Inventory

Legos - these are actually consider collectibles now
Legos – these are actually consider collectibles now

Start by going through your house. This hobby all started out while I was decluttering my closet. Aside from your closet, look around your house. I listed my old legos, nintendo, game boy, and business clothes – all of them just collecting dust. Now, my grandmother even asked me if I can sell her shoes on eBay. This month alone, I sold 4 of her shoes.

4. Listing the item

Once you create a draft, eBay will ask you for a title. Include as much detail as you can. Brand, size, gender, color. eBay has some features that will help you add more details. Title is important because search is index here.  You will also be able to add a detail description. I tend to include some personal anecdotes, and reasons for selling it. Being honest is key here. If the product has some flaws, put it here and note it in the photo. For clothes, include the detail measurement. Don’t rely on the brand size. Get a measuring tape and include all the details. This is also where you note if you are accepting returns

Tip: To save time, I create a draft in my computer all at once, then add a photo later using my iPhone. 

5. Pricing

Be reasonable with the price. Forget the original price you paid for it. I know it can be hard, but you have to be realistic. Look for a comparable sale. I tend to lower my price for at least 10%. I like the auction style and I tend to not have a reserve price. Once, I sold 3 pair of bras for .99 and someone bought it for $10.  

6. Photos

This used to take some time, but eBay definitely improved its sellers portal. It’s pretty easy to add photos now using your phone from the app.  A pro will probably used a mannequin to photograph clothes. Don’t worry if you don’t have one, I used my white wall and used a nice hanger. All my clothes are also ironed so it still looks nice in the photo. For shoes, I actually received a request to post a photo with my feet on it, so I started adding it. 

7. End on a Sunday night

I start and end on a Sunday Night. I read that people tend to shop more on Sunday night. This also helps me since I can send the product the next day.

8. Shipping – pricing it right

I don’t include shipping in the price. This is actually hard since eBay will calculate the cost base on my location and the buyers location. I never had an issue yet. Once I did a free shipping and I barely made anything after eBay and PayPal Fees. Once you sold an item it is important to ship it fast. 

Tip: Aside from changing the status to ship, make sure to add the tracking number and send the seller a note. It makes it more personal that way. 

9. Provide feedback to the buyer.

I didn’t realize that this is important until I received some feedbacks from my buyers. Once I have some feedbacks, I saw activities of my listing grew.

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Stock market and my way of investing

I recently read an article stating that majority of millennials (under age 30) don’t invest on stock market. In fact the survey suggested that only 26% own stocks. The market rallied the past 6 years and most millennials missed this opportunity.

Reading through the article, 53% of survey partcipants don’t invest because of lack of funds. I was not surprised there, given that our generation suffered from the financial crisis and had a hard time getting employment. What surprised me the most is the lack of knowledge about stock, with 23% citing this as a reason for not investing. Given that we are generation who grew up with information on our hands, I expect that millennials will have a way to know this. I can understand that millennials don’t trust the market or don’t want to take the risk. This is my reason for not investing and here’s how I overcome it.

Keeping it simple and calculate the risk you can take

My advice to my fellow millennials is to keep it simple. Unless you’re really serious with investing, there is no need to know about derivatives, stock options or other financial products.

If you’re employed, start with a tax deductible investments. This will limit the amount of research you need to do and hopefully, signing up is easy. Here’s how I allocate my money.

401K – I started investing through my company’s 401K. This is probably the easiest and most simple way to invest if your employer offer this. Investments can be limited. I started by looking at the cheapest ETFs and allocate my contributions evenly. I think of this investment as “money I never had” — hence lessening the perception of the risk. After a year, I saw my investment grew, I started getting excited which lead me to maxing out my contribution the following years.

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) – After maxing out my 401K, I started contributing to an IRA. There are two types of IRA, traditional and roth. Traditional IRAs are tax deductible while roth IRAs are not. The amount of deductions for traditional IRAs phases out depending on your income. I started out with traditional IRA and now contribute to Roth. I do pick stocks on my Roth IRA. I take more risk on my Roth IRA and consider this as my emergency fund. The principal is not taxed if I need to withdraw it. If your company don’t offer 401K, you can still contribute to an IRA. Mad Fientist wrote a really good article, comparing Roth and Traditional IRA. I have my Roth IRA through Fidelity. I like that I can pick my own stocks.

Health Savings Account (HSA) – Another way to invest is through your HSA, if your company offers high deductible health plan. Individual contribution max out to 3,350 in 2016 tax year and is tax deductible.

Legos – investment?

Taking a bit more risk

Now, after maxing out your retirement account and you are more comfortable with investing, you can even try investing using an after tax dollar. I still keep it simple and here’s how I invest.

ETFs – After maxing out on tax deductible investments, I started buying ETFs. I chose Vanguard ETFs since the expense ratio is the lowest and it’s free to trade if you have a Vanguard account. I obviously have a Vanguard account. I chose 4 ETFs  and I contribute every month and buy it at market rate. I buy it every second Tuesday of the month. The process of investing every second Tuesday of the month started when I was in college. I signed up for Sharebuilder (now own by Capital One 360) and it cost $2 per trade if you trade every second Tuesday of the month. My initial investment was Apple, IBM and Costco. There was no minimum amount to invest at the time. I no longer have a Sharebuilder account but I continued with this process. I don’t even try to beat the market. I took the timing out of the equation, hold to my investments and make sure that it is diversified.

Choose a product you believe in and invest in the company – This only applies if you can handle the risk. I don’t read the annual statements but looked at the product. Some of the stocks I owned that performed well: Apple, Costco, FB and Amazon. I also lost quite a bit on Real 3D. I really thought that 3D was cool after watching Avatar, but I have to sell this at lost. Sometimes, instead of buying ETFs, I replaced it with stocks and invest on it for that Tuesday.

If you really don’t want to invest on stock, at least open a CD or a high percentage savings account. I like Capital One 360. But seriously, try out investing on stocks through retirement accounts. Think of tax deductions as gains  right away.



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Monthly Spending – July 2016

Spending is finally going back to normal with all the wedding detail behind us. Marriage life, so far is a bliss.

I’m starting to see some effects of tracking my expenses line by line – instead of looking at the the total. For example, since the man and I can carpool to work and I can walk/take the bus back home, I don’t drive to work anymore and no longer have to pay for parking. I’ve been walking quite a bit now, at least 2.5 miles every weekday and it’s been part of my routine. The biggest advantage of this is actually not the savings, but the fact that I can incorporate exercise on  my daily routine.

I also made a trek to ikea this month. It’s quite a drive, so I combined a visit to my parents and a visit to ikea. My sister also wants to go and we made a day out of it. I enjoy the design in the showroom, though I’m not really a fan of their products. I returned some wedding items that were not used and got a frame, which sadly need to be return.

This month, has definitely been interesting. Despite of our trip to costco twice, the last one being July 31st, I still hit my spending goal. I didn’t really cut on anything. I even went out and forgot my lunch twice this month.




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You’re past does not dictate your future

I recently visited my family. I don’t live far, so there’s really no excuse for me to not see them. Recently though, I find myself getting more and more distant. For some reason, every time I called, there’s always family issue, most of them financially. The problem just seems to pour in and I can only do so much.

Thoughts cloud my mind during my drive back. Questions like how I got out and got so lucky to be financially stable rushed in. Is it really just luck or is this something that everyone can achieve? Is it normal to be in debt and my position which seems normal to me is so unconventional?

You’re past does not dictate your future, unless you let it.

Determination is a big factor that comes to mind when I think about my ways of getting out of poverty. I didn’t grew up in a rich community and I attended the worst public school in the city, so odds are really not on my side. But I was determined. In high school, I took all AP classes (2 of them), and took some classes in the community college. I didn’t listen to teachers or counselors who told me to enroll in a community college before applying to university. Not that there’s anything wrong with the community college – they are actually more realistic with their advice, but I chose to dream big.

I seek help, knowledge and advice – and I (try) listen to it. When I was in college, I look for every help that I can get, be it financial aid, tutoring and business school application assistance. I realize that I’m not as smart as I thought and whatever I learned in high school did not prepare me for college, so I look for help. I studied until I am at par with my classmates.

I studied abroad and realized that other first world countries are living on small houses, biking to school and making their own food… and they are happy! It took me back to my roots, growing up in a third world country, I dreamed of bigger house, cars, clothes and shoes because I thought that it is how people should live. I was wrong and I learned that by living abroad.

My first employer out of college created a program for first generation college grad with intensive leadership training and I participated on it. This lead to promotions and more career opportunities in the future which then lead to higher earnings.

I have a loving family who instills the importance of education and hard work. I don’t think I can be where I am right now without their support. Granted, my views changed, in college and now, but my parents never once told me that I can’t achieve my dreams — regardless of it being unrealistic (at the time), or impractical. I grew up with my parents telling me that I can be whatever I want to be.

I tell my siblings that if I can do it, so can they. In fact, anyone can… learn from your past and used that experience to guide your shape the future that you want.

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My thoughts on lending money to family or friends

My recent conversation with a very good friend made me realize that I have a very different view on lending money to family or friends. I don’t believe in it.

I’ve been on a couple of situations where a family member asked for a loan. The first one was from an uncle that I haven’t seen for years. I was really surprised when that happened. My grandma approached me and asked if I can  loan my uncle some money. I flat out said no. I didn’t put thoughts to it. I was even annoyed since I haven’t seen my uncle for years. I’m not closed to him. I was a recent graduate, saving to buy a place. I’m not comfortable parting from my hard earned money. To this day, I am really glad that I stick to that decision. It also set the tone to my family.

The second time was a bit more difficult. I am pretty comfortable financially. My brother needed a car and my father is helping him find one. They found one and I got a phone call from my father asking if I can put a downpayment. Hmmm… this is different. This is for my brother. I want to help out, but I don’t necessarily want to give a loan. So I ask for more information about the purchase. He wants to buy a sports car. I know he needed a car, but heck he doesn’t need that kind of car! I told my father no, I can’t lend the money. I didn’t give any reason. I can tell that he was surprised. That evening I searched craigslist for a reliable car and I send him the details.. well he decided that he doesn’t want my “taste”. Eventually, my father co-sign a car loan with no downpayment.

Looking back, I know I made the right decision. My sister lend my brother some money and I can tell that it’s so awkward when he brag about his business, making some dough… and he can’t even re-pay my sister. More so, when he needed some money, he will “borrow” from my sister. My sister then eventually stopped. Lessons were learned the hard way.

I try to think that I’m generous when it comes to my family. I’ve been very lucky with my situation and I owe them that. Instead of lending money, I actually just give it. I can tell if my parents are on a difficult situation — they don’t need to ask for my help, it’s always there. But I also don’t like to enable a purchase decision that I know is not good in the long run financially.

I will probably assess every situation differently, but I know that I’ll be more comfortable not loaning the money than asking for it back.


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Monthly Spending – June 2016

June, June, June.. I will never forget you. This is the month I got married and went to Dublin and Greece with the man. I was basically out for most of the month traveling after the wedding. Before that my in-laws were in town to helped us prepare for the big day. I was surprised to see that my spending was actually lower even with the travel expenses.

Most people will be surprised that I don’t have a budget. I never did. I just don’t spend on things that will not make me happy to begin with. I make sure to maximize the utility of every dollar and for it to serve me well. I’m not against budgeting. In fact I even told my parents that they should try it out since they can’t seem to control their spending. My method started out of necessity, when I don’t even have any money to begin with and I have very little to spend. It just rubbed on for years, and now it is just second nature to me.

What I do is track my spending. In the last few years, when I looked at my annual expenses, I looked at the top 5 and asked myself if it’s worth it. This year, I’m tracking every line item through mint as it goes and monthly through here. My hope is to keep on finding ways to optimize my spending.


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