Managing finances after marriage

My husband and I do not combine our finances. We do not have a prenuptial agreement. In theory all our assets and liability are owned by both of us. We had the same arrangement prior to our marriage when we were living together. It might change later on in life but I think it works for us, for now.

To set the background, before we met, I already owned my first property. He bought his first property six months after we started dating. We lived separately and managed our own household independently. When we go out, we always split the bill. This includes vacations. I let him pay for dinner for special occasions.

We lived together after 3 years of dating and decided to live in my condo, mainly because I have a 2 bedroom condo. His place is newer and can be rented easily. We split the rental income and expenses in half around that time. I also kept a spreadsheet and divide all communal expenses in half. Money were transferred by the person with a credit balance.

We then decided to purchase a property. This was the tricky part. I know the amount I can afford for downpayment. We searched for more than a year until we realize that we need to increase our budget. This is where my then boyfriend stepped up. He put in more in downpayment when we purchased the house. I sold my condo and offered to pay him for my full half, but he turned it down. Fast forward to a year and one month we were married. I still pay for half of the household bills, but our method now is not stringent.

How we split the household bills

The biggest expense is the house which is divided by half. We divide the utilities based on type. For example, I pay for internet and water, sewer and garbage,  and he pay the cable and electric. Our food is mostly from Costco and we alternate the payment every month. We don’t necessarily calculate the total and perhaps sometimes he pays more or sometimes I pay more. At the end of the year it evens out.

But aren’t we supposed to be a team?

We are a team. Before marriage, we have a goal, to buy a house and to live a life the way we want it. We regularly discussed retirement and came up with some numbers in mind to achieve it. We know each other’s net worth and think of this as ours.

Advantages of this process

I like our method. I don’t need to see his daily expenses and he doesn’t need to see mine. Since we managed our household before, I trust that he will not come home with a new car or purchase something big without letting me know. Having this accountability as an individual makes us very independent of each other. We chose to be together because we want it, not because of the convenience.

I also think that this works for us because we earn enough as an individual. He gets paid more, but I reached a point where I can afford what I want with my own salary, and I earn more than enough. It also works because even if he earns more, he respect that fact that our lifestyle should not be based on his earnings. He doesn’t ask me to go to a high end restaurant, or get a nicer car.

This also gives us independence to spend on things that matter more to us. For example, I bring lunch to work. Our group eats lunch in the kitchen together and I like the camaraderie that it brings. His group goes out to lunch so he eats with them. We also have different hobbies. We choose to spend our money to things that brings more utility to us. We also don’t need to ask for permission to purchase something big, but we do tell each other before purchasing and seek each other’s opinion. I probably told my husband that my computer is ancient before I purchased a new one.

Disadvantages

I realized that there are disadvantages. For example, we don’t really know our actual spending as a household. This data is a key in order to cut expenses on certain categories.

For now, this works. We never fight about money, ever. We respect each other and don’t need to hide our spending. We’re responsible for our own action as individuals and don’t necessarily need to rely on each other financial. This may sound so unromantic, but for me this is a true definition of romance. I have a marriage based on love, respect, loyalty and friendship. I can sleep very well at night.

Forming a habit of frugality

It has been a quiet end of 2016 for making money dance. In reality there were many changes that happened around that time. Lack of energy kicks in after a long day of work and this blog was neglected. At the same time, I started questioning the purpose of this blog. Fortunately, no major mishap happened around that time.

To recap 2016, I got married, went on a honeymoon, traveled for work and took on a new role. I’m now managing a team of 12 and it is still growing. It took some time to get used to the ne
w role. I had a lot of self doubts regarding my decision. I don’t necessarily need to take on a new role. I’m great with what I do and my pay is more than enough. That said, we only regret things that we didn’t do, so I dove in and hope for the best. I’m still here and thriving. I’m glad I made that decision but also warned myself that self doubt will happen again. The best part of my new role is seeing people grow, and helping them succeed. This happened fairly recently when I helped an employee get to the next level. The process took a lot of time and energy but is the most rewarding part of my job. I’m now growing my team to support my company globally. I work in a very large company, that is probably a part of everyone’s life. This is a new challenge and I know that there will be days that I will experience more self doubt.

I stopped writing mainly because I think a lot. My hours didn’t change, but I do a lot of thinking about work outside of normal work hours. This drains my energy. This is the time I question the intent of this blog. I like what I do, and get paid really well. Do I really want to retire? Retirement for me doesn’t necessarily mean not working at all. It means doing what I want and what I love on my own terms. Right now, I like what I do but it is still not on my own terms. Having this option is my definition of financial independence. It’s a wake up call.

The good news is, frugality is a habit for me. I could have easily purchase a big ticket item or started
eating out more around that time, but I didn’t. I realized that a lot of my spending decision is so ingrained in me that I no longer seek happiness by purchasing material things. Forming this habit is the key to financial independence. As a result, I have the freedom to quit my job or take a lower pay with less responsibility, if I feel the need to slow down. At the same time, it also gives me freedom to challenge myself, take on more risk without being afraid to make a mistake. I chose the latter. Being frugal gave me the option to think bigger and take out the constrains that comes with fear of getting fired. This help my decision to get out of my comfort zone and push myself.

Some day I will be able to do what I want to do on my own terms. For now, I’m very grateful that I have the option to slow down if I need to.

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.
This 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.

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.

Supplies:

  • 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.

This is the hutch after

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.

 

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:

ottoman

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.

Supplies

  • 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!

 

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.

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.

My 9 year old macbook

I recently purchase a macbook air. Prior to this, my personal laptop is a Macbook, circa 2007, running an OS X. I call her snow white and this post is about her.

Can you tell she's 9 years old?
Can you tell she’s 9 years old?

Snow white is my very first purchase from my first paycheck after college. I have a work laptop but decided to keep a personal one because I thought that it will help me keep my work life balance. I’ve never uses a Mac before but I wanted something totally different from a PC, both look and feel. I’ve had so many experiences with Snow White. She traveled with me, have all my photos from the past 9 years, and aside from the battery, it is still in great working condition. She seems ageless and never gave me any issue until now (or actually it’s not her, it’s the third party software that don’t want to support her). I started looking for a new laptop when it reached 7 years. I thought at this time, this laptop is fully depreciated according to IRS, so I “deserve” a new one. I was about to purchase and look at prices for the same laptop. It will cost about $1000 + for me to replace it. This was a big purchase so I figure that I really need to justify the cost.

I delayed the purchase because in my opinion, Snow White still 100% meet my needs. I chose not to upgrade the OS because I know that the hardware can’t keep up with it and at that point, it will be very frustrating to have a slow computer. It lasted for another year until most of the apps are no longer supported. It didn’t bother me since I only use it to write, peruse at photos and surf the net. Actually, the laptop has more processing power than a chrome book which really the only thing I need.

I continued using Snow White. I told myself that I will purchase one once the computer no longer meet my needs. It came to a point when chrome is no longer supported and I cannot access my drive to any browser. Crap, I need to update the OS. At this point, I’m hitting a 9 year mark and it became a fun challenge to keep my laptop until it hit 10 years. A decade for a computer is unheard of! Well, I obviously didn’t hit that mark but I did look at the option of extending her life.

yes, she's not perfect

Cost or purchasing new vs changing and upgrading the hardware

New computer will cost $999 for the basic macbook air. Tax included, it will be $1099. Extending her life will cost roughly $300. This is the cost of the solid state hard drive, ram, batteries and OS. Obviously, extending her life is a cheaper route and it’s a fun experiment to tinker around her. I mean how hard would it be?

It was a hard decision, but after 9 years, I don’t think a $300 investment on her is worth the cost. The processor will still be running the same. I can choose not to upgrade her to latest OS and wait until that is no longer supported, but at this point, it’s just a matter of months and a laptop is a must have in my household.

She’s still in my office. I still plan to upgrade her as a fun project with my little sister. I mean how often can you open and dissect the inside of a macbook? I will try my best to respect her and be very careful when I open her up. Who knows, maybe Snow White v2 will emerge and can be repurpose some other way.

Until next time!

 

Pet Insurance: Is it worth it?

Recent events made me think of getting a pet insurance. I was pretty emotional at that time and I was regretting the fact that I canceled the health insurance that I got for my fur baby in the first place.

Having a pet is pretty costly. I learned this the hard way when we got her. Funny thing is, the biggest expense is not her, but cost of vet visit and recently her emergency vet visit.

After calming down a bit, I calculated the cost of health insurance this year (we still have 1 week to go as of today, so this might change a bit) and if it’s worth it even for this situation. It turned out that not having a health insurance still saves us about $200 in total cost since we still need to pay the deductible and monthly premiums. At the same time, insurance will not really cost the routine checkups which I expect to pay every month.

An article published by consumer reports suggested that pet policies are not worth the cost for a generally healthy animal. This is what I’ve read when I canceled her insurance, after 6 months. A logical person will obviously self insured, which is what I did and put the money aside for any future expense. Even if I paid the 6 months premium, I actually still came ahead without the insurance. I am glad I can pay for the emergency vet visit, but it made me think how many people will take debts for their pet.

Having a pet changed my life. I know it is just a dog, but I cannot imagine being put in a situation where I need to choose whether to put her down or cover the cost. Realistically, accidents do happen and I cannot predict her health in the future.

 

An emergency vet visit

My puppy ate a chocolate covered raisin and it cost me $698 in emergency vet clinic.

I have a little furry baby. I got her almost a year ago and so far she’s doing very well. Having a pet will definitely cost you some money, so make sure that you have the budget and the time to take care of it.

Let me first to admit that I am not a dog person. Growing up, most dogs are stray dogs and they are everywhere without proper vaccinations. I was thought to stay away. My partner grew up with a dog, and really want one. It took 3 years of convincing for me to agree. We got a house with a yard and it was time to get one.

My furry baby is the sweetest dog. Really, I will not want any other dog, just her. So when I accidentally dropped a chocolate covered raisin on the floor and she got to it before me, I panic. I search on the internet and all of them suggest that a little bit of chocolate is ok, but raisin — a big NO!

I called my vet and they say the same thing and told me to go to emergency clinic. I knew it will be costly, but I still rushed her. 30 minutes later, I was signing a document telling me the cost of the procedure… holy cow, $450!! I knew it will cost a few hundreds but not that much. I hesitated a bit, but I know that I will regret it if something happen to her because of this. So I sign away. During the procedure, they were not able to get the raisin out… damn! So what’s next? The vet injected some charcoal that is supposed to bind the food with it so they can get it out later on. Ok, then, how much will cost me, well another $200. Again, I know I can’t just say no, so I signed the invoice. An hour later, I got her. She seems normal now, but I think she got a kennel cough from the place.

So yes, that is probably the most expensive chocolate covered raisin I’ve ever had! Silly me for that accident.

Spring cleaning – why I will never hire someone to mow my lawn

Spring is upon us. Every door in our neighborhood have fliers on their door step —  you know asking you for your money in exchange to 20 minutes of  them in your yard, pushing a mower. Or maybe more, they might even trim your bushes and pull weeds in exchange for more money. I actually know a lot of people who hire someone to do this and are shock to know that I don’t. I mean c’mon Mr. Flores is so affordable and the value of your house will increase, etc, etc, etc. Well, I don’t think they can ever convince me. Why, you ask? Well, aside from the cost, here’s at least 3 reasons why.

1) Relaxation —  I actually look forward to being outside, getting some sunshine and tending to my small yard. It might be weird, but pulling weeds and doing something with my hands is actually very relaxing.

2) I get to know my neighbors — At this day and age, we rarely know our neighbors. We moved here about a year ago and overtime that I work in the front lawn, our neighbors will actually cheer on us and introduce themselves.

3) My furry baby gets a lot of socialization — My puppy is usually on a long leash tied to our front porch and she gets to watch people of all kinds walk by. Really, she sees them all from strollers, bikes, flag, costumes, etc. Sometimes she will bark if it’s new but she’s very popular in our neighborhood and she gets a lot of petting at this time

I’m pretty sure there’s more here but aside from the above, I also get to save at least $75/week, quote that was given to us by a friend’s gardener.

How about you? Will you hire someone to mow your lawn?