2016 Spending Recap

I started tracking my monthly expenses on this blog, but stopped after September. As I mentioned here, there were days where I lose sight of the goal. This is why it is surprising to me that I actually spent less than the previous year. This included my wedding expenses that I paid for.

In 2016, I spent a total of $44,162.13. Housing is 48% of my spending followed by wedding expenses. Without these, my spending is about $15K.

My spending decrease by $3k from $47K to $44k. I didn’t start tracking my monthly spending since the beginning of 2016 and stopped in October of 2016. Even with this mishaps, I still managed to decrease my spending. This is a great example that forming a habit of frugality works.

I doubt that this spending will decrease this year. There are big changes coming up in 2017 that warrant another post. I am very happy and quite surprise when I saw this. I feel that I reached the optimum. This year, I would like to focus on more on increasing my income. A few things to keep in mind about my spending:

  • The spending doesn’t include taxes and health insurance that are taken from my paycheck.
  • The housing is 50% of our monthly mortgage. My husband and I split this evenly. This financial agreement warrants another post for more explanation.
  • Housing expense includes home insurance and property taxes that are paid through escrow. Property tax increased from 2015 – 2016 and again in 2017. I manage to appeal my 2015 given that we just bought the property. I find the 2017 appraisal reasonable and didn’t appeal it. If you own a home and believe that the appraisal was higher than it should be, you should always try to appeal it. I will write a post more on this.
  • The wedding expenses are what I paid for. We spent about $18K in total on this. I will elaborate more on this on another post.
  • The gifts are for my family and friends. This do not include any donation I made through another fund.
Category20152016Comments
Home$26,398.05$21,383.14First year of living in our house. I was on a 15 year loan from my previous condo. I sold the condo after buying a house on a 30 year loan at a lower rate. This is where I choose to spend my money
Wedding Expenses$1,957.39$6,952.46Wedding expenses that I paid for my part.
Food & Dining$3,487.38$2,599.96Having a nice kitchen have it perks and I started cooking more
Education$2,518.25$2,499.00
Bills & Utilities$2,659.78$2,244.01
Gifts & Donations$4,315.77$1,955.49The gift was unusual in 2015. My parents helped me prep the condo for sale and it's my way of saying thank you. 2016 is more normal
Travel$1,658.77$1,662.342015 trip was a trip to India. 2016 trip was a trip to Portugal and Asia
Auto & Transport$1,681.62$1,562.53This includes gas, registration, parking and occasional cab rides through lyft
Shopping$407.10$1,448.74I bought a new laptop in 2016
Pets$1,975.49$1,109.15Remember the vet emergency visit
Business Services$0.00$354.27CPE fees for my CPA
Entertainment$78.42$174.27
Health & Fitness$141.48$158.48Doctor's visit
Personal Care$0.00$55.25Haircut
Fees & Charges$30.65$3.04Fees from investments
Total$47,310.15$44,162.13

 

Want to know more – just ask. If you have any recommendation where I can manage to decrease this, feel free to comment. I thank you in advance.

Tracking: I track my expenses using mint. I really like the app and made categorizing my expenses very easy. I enjoy looking at charts and the comparison feature is fantastic.

 

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.

Wedding on a budget: Cake and Cake Topper

We purchased our wedding cake through the same vendor that cater our wedding. We can opt to pay a fee and purchased the cake somewhere else but chose to buy it from the same vendor to minimize the logistic of transporting the cake. I did not hire a wedding planner and I don’t want to coordinate anything during the day of the wedding.

Our cake cost $372.50. I chose to purchase a 2 tier wedding cake to cut and a sheet cake to serve the guests. To save, I purchased a sheet cake instead of a 4 tier wedding cake. It taste the same and half the price.

Another unnecessary expense is the cake topper. We provided our own to save some more. Looking online, the cake topper price varies from $10 – $50. I got lucky and saw a cake topper from Walmart for 75 cents. I painted it in gold to match our color theme.

Total cost, $373.25.

Weddings don’t need to be expensive. There are many ways to cut your expenses as long as you keep an open mind and prioritize. The rest don’t need to be perfect.

 

Checking Account Coupon Codes

I received a coupon code from chase, giving me an extra $300 dollars if I open a checking account. It looks too good to be true so I carefully read the fine print. Please, if you do receive one like this, read the fine print. There are very few banks that do not charge service fee, and chances are you’re signing up for one. Here’s the cost associated with opening a checking account:

1. I need to sign up for direct deposit – cost $0

2. I need to keep the account open for 6 months. At an interest rate of .01% APY, keeping $15,000 means that I’m foregoing $12 of interest every month if I keep it on my savings account at Capital One 360 at 1% APY. Total cost is $60.

3. I need to keep a balance of $15,000 in chase account or have an automatic payment to chase mortgage account, otherwise I will need to pay $25 for service fee. My mortgage is not from chase so that is not an option. Total fee for 6 months is $150.

Rationally, the best way to avoid the fee is to move money from my savings account to checking account. As long as interest rate keep at 1%, I’m better off opening a new bank account and hold on to it for less than 25 months or close it after 6 months.

For customers signing up without $15K, or mortgage from Chase, I will translate this marketing to this “Get $150 as a new Chase checking customer and make sure to close the account after 6 months”

This marketing scheme just didn’t work for me. I’m not a fan of multiple accounts and it is just not worth the hassle.

If you truly want a free savings and checking account, I recommend, Capital One 360. I’ve been a customer since 2006, when it was ING Direct. Capital One eventually acquired them. They lack physical location, but have an awesome interest rate. You can withdraw from any AllPoint ATMs. These are usually ATMs located in the gas station, 7-eleven, grocery stores, restaurants and bars — yes, I mean bars.

9 tips for buying a wedding dress online

According to this article, the average cost of a wedding dress is $1,259. Additional alterations can run from $200 – $400. I couldn’t justify the cost of buying a new gown, because I know that it will only be worn for a day. Instead, I bought my dress online and saved so much, not just with the dress but with the alterations. It took some time and a lot of research, but I ultimately found the dress. This will not work for all, especially if you’re set with a specific style, but if you keep an open mind, buying a dress online is easier than you think and can be a lot of fun.

Tip 1 – Try on some clothes in-store and check out what you like and what you don’t like

This is the fun part. I went to 5 different stores to check out their gowns. I tried on different styles. I realized that it’s a lot easier for me to decide on what I don’t want than what I want. Going through the iterations also made me realize what fits me well, and the style and fabric that is most comfortable with the venue

Tip 2 – Take some pictures of dresses you tried on

Once you tried it on, take a lot of pictures. Ask for the designer and the style number. Go back home and see if you can find it online. If not, look at the same designer and the year. Design and styles are very cohesive. There’s a big chance that you can find the same style. Use these photos while shopping online as a resource.

Tip 3 – Go to a reputable online store

I visited 3 online stores while shopping for a gown

  • Nearly Newlywed – this store curates the dresses and guarantee authenticity. The seller sends the dress to get inspected, which is then shipped to the buyer.  They also have a 5 day risk free return. You can order as much dress as you want for $25 return shipping fee. This is a good choice if you have a specific designer dress in mind. Since this is risk free, you basically pay for your peace of mind. Prices of the gown are only 20 to 30 percent off the original price.
  • Tradesy – this site sells high end designer items. They also guarantee authenticity but returns are set by the seller. The price are set by the seller. If you’re lucky you might find one on a good deal.
  • PreOwned Wedding dress – this site have thousands and thousands of wedding dresses. This is where I bought my dress. It can be overwhelming but if you know the style and size, it’s easy to filter it. You deal directly with the seller and can negotiate the price. I had a smooth transaction and only paid 20% of the original price, including shipping.

Tip 4 – Ask for receipt, both the original and dry cleaning purchase

If you’re dealing with the seller directly, ask if she kept the original receipt and the dry cleaner receipt. This is important if you are planning to sell the gown after.

Tip 5 – Get the wedding venue details

If the wedding is outdoors, chances are there will be some dirt in the gown, especially the hem. You can either plan for this to be included in the price or negotiate the price

Tip 6 – Ask for specific measurements, both street size and gown size.

This is very important to me. I want to save some money on alterations so I specifically look for the gown on my size, including the hemline with a shoe in mind. If the seller can’t give me measurements, I move on.

Tip 7 – Secure the shipment

Depending on the price of the gown, you can get some insurance to ship it. I personally didn’t bother. I just asked it to be delivered at the Fedex office to guarantee my signature

Tip 8 – Use secure payment

Paypal is the option at preownedweddingdresses. The seller will send you the invoice to pay. It’s the only way to file for a claim in case you had an issue with the seller.

Tip 9 – Be polite

Buying online is a very different experience. I don’t think you can be a bridezilla here. There will be sellers that don’t respond right away and you just have to be patient. Once you find a dress you like, contact the seller, but don’t rush into buying it. It took me about a month with some back and forth from the time I first contacted the seller. This is very important if there’s no return policy. At the end of it, I feel like I know the seller personally and it’s such a joy to give life to the dress once again.

Cost of my Gown: $436.00 (including shipping)

Enjoy and happy hunting!

 

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.

DESCRIPTIONAMOUNTWHAT ARE THESE?
Mortgage & Rent1800This is where I choose to spend my money
Furnishings523.17Some new to us furnitures and supplies
Student Loan200
Groceries185.69A very low Costco trip
Internet66.1
Restaurants47.24This is mostly brunch
Cash & ATM40This should be all restaurant spending too
Mobile Phone33.88
Shopping33.56part of the decor
Gas & Fuel26.22
Gifts & Donations25Donations
Gift22Sister's present
Home Improvement10.95part of the house furnishings
ATM Fee3oops on this.
Grand Total3016.81

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!

 

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)….

DESCRIPTIONAMOUNTWHAT ARE THESE?
Mortgage & Rent1800This is where I choose to spend my money
Gift363Laptop and some other donation
Student Loan200
Utilities184.59Decrease from the previous bill (yay)
Travel141.8Hotel. We stayed overnight when we drop off my sister and I paid for the hotel.
Veterinary133Fur baby's annual exam + immunization
Internet66.1
Restaurants46.39
Furnishings42.13I started re-decorating my place
Fast Food34.77
Gas & Fuel33.91
Mobile Phone33.88
Rental Car & Taxi9.36Lyft
Coffee Shops9.21
Groceries3.58Our last trip to Costco on 7/31 lasted us for a month 🙂
Grand Total3101.72

 

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.