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Lunchtime Blogging

July 28, 2009   

Been crazy busy with work lately. Not so unusual, but it’s pretty exciting. I wish I had a couple of breathers to just sort of clean up all the messy corners and tighten up the loose bolts, but time is limited.

Sleeping badly lately too, probably far less than before getting pregnant. Hip joint and left shoulder hurts like a mofo. Hip joint pops every time I get up and hurts like a joint that shouldn’t pop.

Clearly have been tweeting too much, as I can only seem to write in fragmented sentences.

Looking forward to the new season of America’s Best Dance Crew. Woo!

The public areas of the house are starting to tidy up  and feel nice.

Trying to figure out when to have my mom come out to help with the baby.

Found out yesterday that my sister told my dad I was pregnant. It is nice to know he knows. I’m still reluctant to talk to him, for complicated reasons. I may write him a letter. He has a job as a security guard and is working. With my grandmother’s recent passing, I don’t want to have regrets about not reaching out to him later, but it is still really hard.

It kills me that even with all the money I make, I don’t make enough to  pay all the bills here, shore up our financial security, and still get my mom off food stamps. I breaks my heart that she’s still on food stamps. It just kills me.

I’ve finished the Sookie Stackhouse series (up to the most current one out) and started Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. She got me with her free Kindle book, Darkfever.

Looking forward to getting away to Hawaii in August. At the same time, I think about my dad in Korea and my mom and think, gah, is this really, really ok? Couldn’t I be helping them more? I know there are things I need to do for myself too but in the long run, what will make me happier?

A blogger I read regularly is getting divorced. It saddens me more than it should, given that he’s a stranger.

I’ve been cooking Korean food the last few days. Simple Korean food (not restaurant food) really feeds more than my body; making it and eating it calms me, makes me feel rooted, and other touchy-feely bs that kinda makes me want to hurl, but there it is, undeniably making me feel good. Truly, it is comfort food.

I feel tired. I feel restless. I feel like things are changing faster than I can really take in. I don’t feel like myself, but a wimpier, weaker, whinier version of myself. This too shall pass. I’m not used to it, but it’s not like it’s a permanent state.

I recently reread my NaNoWriMo project from 2 years ago. Or has it been three years already? It wasn’t as good as I had hoped it was. Oh well. It was a learning experience, and I think I can come up with something better.

I’d like to organize my photos. I wish I had more photos as a baby.

Seppo and I talked about how amazing it was that we are where we are in life right now. I was born in my grandmom’s house, lived in houses without running water or indoor plumbing or a modern stove (cooking was done over the fire), and now I live in the Bay Area, in a great neighborhood, living a comfortable life, calling some incredible people my friends, with access to all sorts of material and cultural goods and experiences. It’s crazy. Honestly, if I thought it was just through my own hard work and not also through a series of incredibly lucky events and helpful people, I’d be the most arrogant ass on Earth.

Life, despite all the little bumps and bruises, is great. The bumps and bruises are tiny, insignificant. Our child-to-be has every chance to live to great life, and I just have to make sure he doesn’t become an entitled person, but an appreciative one. πŸ™‚

Financial peace*

December 5, 2006   

*I am totally jinxing myself. πŸ˜‰

Most of my life, I’ve been a prisoner of personal finance. My family worked hard as a whole, we didn’t live lavishly or get into deep credit card debt, yet we were always on the verge of financial ruin, and tomorrow always looked bleak.

It was a point of individual stress, familial strife, and interpersonal resentment. Each and everyday. Saving up and paying down debts and just trying to keep our heads above water was a daily struggle. Would we make rent this month? Would we have to be late with the car insurance payment? Would we be getting enough/proper nutrition? Would kids pick on us for being poor? Will someone call at 7am on a Sunday and yell at us to collect our late payments? Barely, sometimes, maybe, yes, and sometimes.

Anyone who knows me knows that I get on these obsessive kicks. I might obsess over writing a novel, or trying to make my best friend a scarf, or watching a new reality tv show. Right now, I’m obsessing over personal finances. Yeah, no kidding? Heh.

When I was younger, I was obsessed with becoming wealthy. Clearly, I was this way because I felt that it would remove all of our family problems. It’s not true, but that’s what I thought at the time. It’s like my every waking thought was about how not to be poor.

I grew out of that, of course. I don’t need to be rich. I wouldn’t say I’d mind it, but I don’t need it. Not anymore.

Anyway, for the first time in my life, I feel — and I know this will sound strange — financially free. And I don’t mean that we are financially independent; not by a long shot.

I guess it’s that I no longer feel burdened by money problems. Finances no longer equal a source of strife and fear. Our cash flow is positive, our retirement accounts are doing well, we are valued at our jobs, and we are making great progress on our debts. We have a good savings buffer for unexpected emergencies and it’s easy to budget for treats like gifts or the occasional vacation. The best thing was being able to pay for our wedding and honeymoon with cash, coming into our marriage without new burdens.

I look at the future projections, and I am no longer filled with fear. I don’t stay up at nights wondering if I’ll have to work until I get too frail to work, or if I’ll most likely be able to pay my medical expenses when I’m old, or if we’ll ever be able to have kids, or if we’ll be able to fix up the house. Not anymore. Because the answers are clear. They are all doable, and without causing too much financial strain.

We live “below our means”, however you want to interpret that, since we pretty much do whatever we want and get whatever we want, on a reasonable basis. We can budget for a vacation and not feel guilty about going — we just need to find the time! πŸ™‚ We can splurge occasionally and get an XBox 360, an HD tv, whatever.

Our clothes are not expensive, but that’s a choice, not a necessity. Our Civic is old, but again, that’s a choice, not a necessity. We could get a nice fancy car. Or keep driving this guy until it dies, which we will. It’s cheap to insure and gets good gas mileage.

It’s so different to make frugal choices because they really are genuine choices I am making, rather than the only possibility. When it’s the only possibility, it feels crushing, demoralizing, like a little trapping box. When it’s a choice, it feels so great!

Because we live like we make much less, it’s easy to save. And it’s easier to absorb the impact if one of us were to lose our jobs. We wouldn’t have to change much to make it work. Being in the Bay Area and being able to say that is immense. And it’s an immense relief.

The house is great. Sure, it has holes. But I don’t mind them. Seriously. Not at all. We’ll have money in the spring to fix things up. It’ll be great. When we eventually sell it, many years from now, we could probably move into a smaller house for less cash than we sell this house for, given the improvements that have been made upon it (and improvements to come). We wouldn’t necessarily have to upgrade to a bigger or more expensive house. We won’t have to get into greater debt with each move. Having lived in a big house for years now, I think we both realize that this is more house and more yard than we know what to do with, so we don’t have a hunger for more. I mean, except Seppo’s desire for a solid gold toilet. But that can easily fit into a smaller house. πŸ™‚

I don’t know. I feel great about life. We have so many choices open for us now. We can start to make our decisions based on what we want to do rather than what we must to in order to keep our heads above water. We’ve been able to do that for a long time now, but it’s just recently that I’ve been able to see the big picture enough to see it.

I ::heart:: Yodlee

December 3, 2006   

I love Yodlee. What is it? It is a company that provides “financial application solutions”. In human-speak, it lets you keep track of all your financial accounts.

Several months ago, I got MS Money 2006. It’s a piece of trash. Don’t get it. It’s bulky and a pain in the ass. It can’t seem to ever connect to any of my accounts and keeps insisting logging me into my MSN profile even though I don’t want to. It didn’t know what to do with the fact that I was putting all my expenses on the credit card to pay them off at the end of the month (or throughout the month). For instance, if I spent $300 on food and $200 on entertainment on the credit card then immediately paid it off with my bank checking account, it would show up on my monthly spending pie chart with $300 for food, $200 for entertainment, and $500 for credit card payment. That in essence makes it look like I’ve doubled my spendings. There is a similar problem with simple transfers between checking and savings accounts, where the withdrawal and deposit doesn’t automatically reconcile as one transfer.

I’m sure there is a way to make it work. And I’m not an idiot or a technophobe. I’m a software engineer! I’m tech-savvy. I love to find interesting solutions. But frankly, my experience with MS Money sucked. Giant donkey balls, to be crass.

I’ve been a big fan of “My Portfolio” that Bank of America provides. Through it, I can add all my financial accounts (bank accounts, mortgage loans, school loans, 401(k) plan, whatever you can think of) and even most of my frequent flyer mile plans.

I learned a few weeks? months? ago that Yodlee’s technology is what powers BofA’s portfolio. However, when I went over to their site, I couldn’t figure out how to use their service directly, instead of going through their client corporations like Fidelity, BofA, Wachovia, etc. But a few days ago, I saw this link to their registration page.


Going through their site directly means that I have access to the full network of accounts that they provide. The clients only have a subset of the network selectively turned on.

This means that I can track everything, even my Comcast bill, my PG&E bill, whatever, along with all my financial accounts. I can track all my frequent flyer mile and rewards programs, even the hotel ones (that’s for you, Uyen). There is a little calendar that tracks when all my payments happened and when I have bills coming up (it accepts eBills, either directly or through the bank account that I can add). It makes great charts for me, and the automatic reconciliation of transfers between accounts and not double-counting credit card pay-offs is AWESOME.

All I have to do is add Seppo’s retirement accounts and maybe two more of the utilities and ALL our cash flow will be tracked. It handles simple budgeting as well. It’s all I’ve wanted and more!

And it’s all free.

Check out the demo video here.

You can thank me later.

The things we learn

November 14, 2006   

My dear friend Roopa (congrats on the new phase of your life!) and I chatted on the phone Sunday. When we talk, we talk about one thing, about a million different things; it’s all the same but different.

We cover pretty much all of life, let’s just say. πŸ™‚

Something in our conversationt triggered a thought about the things we are taught by our parents in regards to interpersonal relationships and personal finance.

You know how we all (ok, our friends and family, not all of the world) understand the dangers of not having sex ed taught in school? The problem is that we can only teach what we know and if we never get formal education on it from knowledgeable sources, we end up having no real source of information and end up teaching nothing, or crap instead of facts. Then people end up pregnant and full of diseases. (Even with the best of education, this happens, but at least some knowledge can help.)

You know, all that good stuff.

I was thinking that that’s not too far from how we learn about personal finance and relationships. We learn what our parents tell us, but they only know so much, and some of them are barely stumbling around life themselves. We learn what we can from doing and observing, and sometimes reading and researching, talking to our peers, etc. They aren’t terrible ways to learn things, but wouldn’t you rather learn from a solid knowledgeable body?

Knowledge about relationships [side note: I made a typo and wrote “elationships” at first. What a nice idea, being elated in your relationship!] and finance, along with a clear concept of what social responsibility means, are some of the most important tools we can arm ourselves with in life. Yet a structured learning curriculum for these things are not considered the norm.

I feel like I’ve spent my life thinking about relationships. Who hasn’t, frankly? But we get tidbits of knowledge here and there, figure out a bunch of stuff on our own, and some with our friends and family. There some crap on tv that purports to give you solid advice about relationships, but that’s fluff that’s not worth paying attention to. Isn’t that how it is with sex ed when you don’t learn about it school? Heh.

I’ve spent the last couple of years, and the last few months in particular, learning about personal finance. I’ve been relieved to find that Seppo and I are on a decent track. What I’ve learned, and what I’ve learned that I do not yet know, can fill all of wikipedia and Ask Metafilter.

My parents didn’t have the advantage kind of knowledge I’ve been able to gather in the last few months and will undoubtedly continue to gather as I get older. If they had, they would have done their best to teach me.

I don’t really have a conclusion. I wonder why some of the most crucial tools are not only not taught in school, but not even considered to be the kinds of things you teach as a part of a general curriculum. I guess we have so many basic skills that we are having enough trouble teaching already that it would be difficult to squeeze in more “soft” skills.

Still, it would be nice if we could formalize some of the stuff I’ve been learning.

A random smattering, like every other time

November 7, 2006   

Lately, I feel like all I do are summary posts, but I’m busy as hell.

Tonight, I went to dinner with Hoa. Which was awesome. I don’t know what it is, but it’s so easy to talk with her. She is defintely an active listener, which is something I really appreciate, but I also think we had some similar experiences growing up which gives us an easy rapport. Or so I think from my side of things, while she sits on her side of things wondering why she feels sorry enough for me to meet me occasionally. πŸ˜€

Uyen finished her half marathon at the astounding time of 2 hrs and 3 minutes! Holy crap! They both deserve to be mucho proud of themselves. Congraulations!!

We opened a savings account at at 5.5% APY. I had been looking into CDs with a CD ladder scheme in mind (ask me about CD ladders because I will be glad to answer), when I found that the highest non-credit union CD rate I could find for an amount we could afford topped out at 5.65% APY anyway.

Don’t be an idiot; vote. Don’t make excuses; vote. For the love of God, this is what makes a democracy. And if you see any funny business at your polling site, report it. I have no idea where. But I’m sure you’ll figure something out.

Both Seppo and I are making great progress. They both seem like they are telling stories, like they are really a part of a greater narrative. It’s very satisfying. This year is different because I’m not plagued with thoughts/fears of whether I can do it or not. The last two years have taught me that I can do it. So this year has been about the quality of the content. Caring about the quality has made this a much more all-consuming process. I feel so nervous when Seppo reads my words. Not that he will or won’t like them, but more that they will feel meaningless or trite and leave him feeling nothing. He’s my only audience so far, so all the pressure is on him. πŸ˜€

On the reading front, Colin lent me The Time Traveler’s Wife. I am only about a quarter way through it, and I love it already. It’s clever, but not self-important, interesting, and warmly written. It’s a little awkward when it’s called for. I have an awful feeling about something I am guessing will happen in the story, but I hope it doesn’t. But if it doesn’t, I’ll think the author will have wasted a really great opportunity. Oh, the conflict.

Still busy. Going pretty well.

Berkley Bowl.
Wow, I had never been to Berkley Bowl before. And we’ve lived in this area for more than five years. It was great! The vegetable selection was astounding. Two thumbs up.

Battlestar Galactica.
Wow. Times ten. I can’t believe the stuff that’s happening in the second half of the second season. Definitely give it a try, but it’s really best to start at the beginning.