The last few weeks have been tough. We had been arguing over everything from getting the carpets cleaned to buying orange juice. We are both exhausted and we are hardly spending anytime together. But last thursday, we finally we managed some couple time so we went out for dinner. The mall seemed the logical choice. It was convenient and we had not yet explored the dining options there beyond our usual table at PF Changs.The Beau tried a pizza from the piźza stand. I was hungry and opted for the 3 meat rice bowl (Meat lover’s special) at bibigo. It was surprisingly good.
There was a sweet chicken, some beef mixed with pork with an egg thrown into it as well. In total, it was $14. A bit pricey for a food court. But then again, what isn’t these days?
I took this photo a few days ago and the beau wants me to print it out. Any idea how I can get it done cheaply?
2017 has been a year of change and learning to roll with the punches.
Here’s hoping 2018 will be a bit less exciting.
The major changes that happened this year:
a) I got my first research grant
b) I moved to the US to be with the beau
Getting the grant was cool. Managing it, not so much. I’m not sure if its because of the steep learning curve, or maybe I’m just not cut out for it. But either way, I’m not sure if I’ll apply for a research grant again. Or if I would want to try to edge my way into an academic position in the future.
As for moving. Well, that’s been the long term goal for a while. But because of the grant, a lot of balls had to be thrown in the air, and it jeopardized a few of our long term goals like being able to save for a house. We’ve spent quite a bit of our savings on lawyer’s fees to get me a green card and ideally I would be able to work here and work on saving up enough for a downpayment. But because of the grant, I had to take No Paid Leave, which basically ties me down to a job that isn’t going to pay me for a year since I’m technically on leave. Its very frustrating. Of course, I have a choice. I can quit. But it seems irresponsible. That said, I’m giving it 6 more months. I had 6 months of being frustrated while still being in Singapore dealing with the useless bureaucracy inherent in a large institution and I almost quit while I was there. Unfortunately, due to a policy stating that I cannot give notice while on no paid leave, I’m still stuck unless we manage to raise enough to pay 2 months of salary in lieu of notice.
Which, of course, brings me to the goal setting part of 2018.
After I got here, I realized that the beau has a lot of debt. Credit card debt (bad bad debt) and student loan debt (not bad bad but still, bad enough). Which makes our goal of saving up for retirement and a home to call our own in major jeopardy. He has no financial plans whatsoever, and in the past 10 years, has made many stupid financial decisions. That’s not to say that I’ve been the poster child for sound financial decisions, but other than having to figure out how to cough up enough cash for the 2 months salary in lieu, I’m not in debt. But I definitely still have financial responsibilities in Singapore that need to be taken care of. Still. As a type A person. I definitely panicked. And we have definitely been having our fair share of arguments. Of course, I’m not perfect, but I’m realizing that I don’t know my husband as well as I should and I probably should have been more insistent on sitting down and talking with him about our finances before we got married. See? All the stuff that I said I would do when I was single, but yet I never did it. I swear, love makes people blind. I know. So cliche 😦 On the upside, we don’t have children. Nor are we planning on having any. So really, all we need to do is pay off debt and save for retirement. And buy a home. And pay for 2 cars. And the insurance. And and …
I know. #firstworldproblems
And instead of concentrating on the negative, I’m going to focus on fixing the problem. To prepare, I’ve been reading a lot of blog entries on how to save, micro-save/invest, pay off debt, etc. And even though we are not millennials, it certainly feels like we act like them (minus the potential for income growth) so I read the “If you can” booklet by Dr. Bernstein. You can be nice and buy the book from Amazon, or just download it for free (he was actually nice enough to cache it somewhere for free). And I also read “Smart Couples Finish Rich”. Which made me realise that we have very different values when it comes to money. Still, all is not lost. He’s happy go lucky. I’m a plan plan plan kind of person. That’s ok. We can do it.
So with the core financial values of “freedom” and “security” in mind (I mean, there were supposed to be 5 according to Mr. Bach, but honestly, it all boiled down to these two core values) I have decided that our financial goals for 2018 (in order of priority) are:
- maximise our 401K and IRAs
- pay off credit card debt
- pay off student debt
- downpayment for a small condo
Obviously, these are very vague goals. I mean, what does maximising 401K really mean? To the beau, it means putting enough to get the employer match. To me, it means putting in the full $18K allowed by the government in order to maximise our tax advantage. But to him, it means not being able to pay the rent. So my bad. I didn’t look at the small details. Oops. So we came to an agreement. We increased his contributions from 6% to 10% and in July, we’ll see if we can increase that by a bit more. We are going to try to save a bit to put into the Roth IRAs as well. The goal is to put at least $2K in there. Now, if we are in our 20s, this won’t be such a bad goal. But for a couple with a median age of 45yo between the two of us, it seems like we are either never going to retire or we are both going to end up in poverty.
But, its a start.
And I think that’s the most important bit. It’s a start. Who knows, maybe if car sales improve, he’ll feel more motivated? Or maybe after 6 months of me nagging at him, he will cave. Haha. But the short-term goal in order to meet Goal 1 is 10% of pre-tax salary will go to his employer-sponsored 401K. That way, he will have 16% contribution of his salary towards his retirement funds. But in July, I’m hoping to increase that to 20% (14% from him, 6% from his employer). Officially, the goal is to save $1k for his Roth, but I’m optimistic that with a little bit of nudging, we can probably hit $3.6K since that will be only $300 a month on average!
He also accumulated over $16K in high-interest credit card debt. I used the 0% APR offers on my credit cards to pay that off. But one of the offers will expire June 2018 and the other won’t expire until April 2019. The one that will expire in June 2018 still has $7K outstanding on it (or I will face 18% APR *shudder*) and the one for April 2019 only has $5K left on it. We are going to focus on paying off that $7K and making the minimum payments for the April 2019 one. So to be honest, in order of priority, the $7K debt really needs to be paid ASAP and then I think we can work on improving his retirement contributions while still paying off the 2nd credit card.
As for his student debt, he currently has $35K (including interest) on his student loans with Nelnet. I’ve read that if we increase his contribution, it might decrease the length of his loan and possible total interest repayments. But the steps we are planning on taking to tackle that is to a) see if we can get it refinanced at a lower interest rate and b) see if he can increase his monthly payment. His current interest rate is 5.125%. If we can get it for lower and for a shorter term, that should lower his overall interest payments. To that end, I’ve put in the paperwork to see if we can change his payment scheme from a graduated payment to a regular payment. And every month, if we have a bit of money left over, we will see if we can apply a bit of that to the student loan as well. According to Nelnet, even if we make an extra payment, it reduces the next payment, but the extra money doesn’t actually go towards the principal. But by increasing it, I think we can still reduce the loan because if we finish paying it off earlier, it will still lower the overall amount we have to pay. Plus there is the payoff amount. So if we try to put in a little extra each month, and maybe save a bit extra each month into a savings account, at some point, we might save enough to be able to just pay it all off! Obviously, we won’t be able to pay off the full $35K in a year. But the plan is in 5 years, I want to pay off this whole darn thing. But there is also the option of refinancing. I think the private student loans will apply extra payments towards the principal. So we’ll research that as well.
And last but not least, the downpayment on a condo. With the rate at which property prices are going up, I’m not sure if home ownership will ever be a reality for us. But I feel like even though it’s not the highest of priority right now, it still needs to be placed as a priority because without owning my own home, I feel like I’ll never truly feel secure. I hope to be able to save at least $60K. That should be a 20% downpayment for a decent 1 bedroom. But I also know that by the time we do save enough, that might actually only be enough for 10%. And I wasn’t ok with having to pay a mortgage insurance due to the lower downpayment. But with all the changes to the tax code happening, that may be the reality we will face.
I know a lot of financial experts will take a look at my financial goal list and shake their heads because I didn’t add in an emergency fund. But to me, the house fund and emergency fund are the same. For now. If an emergency does come up, we will have to dip into the house fund. I realize that saving for an emergency probably should be higher up there. But we each pick our poison, right?
But hey. At least I’ve visualized what our financial goals for 2018 will be. And as every SMART person will know, a visualization of goals is the first step towards Achieving a goal.
So in order of priority:
- $7K to pay off Discover Credit Card debt
- increase 401K contribution to 14% in June
- Refinance or increase monthly payment to student debt
- $300/mo for IRA
- minimum payments to Capital One credit card debt
- double minimum payment to Capital One after paying off Discover debt
- $20K in house/emergency fund
I can’t wait to cross them off one by one.
So turns out being a stay at home wife really isn’t easy. For one thing, I’ve completely lost my independence. At this point, I’m kicking myself for agreeing to go on no-paid-leave. I’m also regretting not taking more active control of my money while I still had an active income. Don’t get me wrong. My husband isn’t being a tight-wad or anything. But he’s a car salesman. And car sales are not doing well. Everyone is waiting for the big recession. But my optimist of a husband still thinks things will turn round. Sigh. In the meantime, he’s spending like its still the 90s. Added to that, he has a stay at home wife who doesn’t know how to cook, or clean. Its a mess. Its a good thing he’s a strong believer that love will fix everything.
I do too. To a certain extent. But on the more practical side of things, I realise that we need to learn how to budget. And how to stock away some savings for when things go south. He’s being really sweet and has really really cut back on his expenditure via buying all those CDs (*groan* who still LISTENS to CDS??? My husband apparently) but I got him hooked on Starbucks coffee (*oops*) and I’m having a hard time weaning him off it. We have both tried to start cooking more but my lack of cooking skills is a huge impediment.
In the meantime, we both got talked into (well, by we, I actually mean ME) into buying a whole life insurance policy. I know, probably could have made a more prudent move through other more active means….but I suck at money. And even though the overall fees are high, and in the long run, we probably can make more by other means….but I think this is a good step towards making us START saving.
I also started a stockpile account for us. Each trade is $0.99 which is way cheaper than the CapitalOne Investing account that I have languishing (in case anyone is wondering what I want for xmas…*cough*). I also started a M1 financing account for us as well since for the first year, they manage your money for free using roboadvisors (well, not completely free since the fund have management costs, etc but that’s true even if you sign up with vanguard, etc) and then they put your money in these portfolios that they choose so you have a diversified investment (Stockpile lets you buy fractional shares in individual stock) but there’s a minimum starting investment of $100 (we are saving up the $100 to get started) and then a WealthSimple account because they will manage $5K for free for the first year, have giftcard offerings (*ahem*) and require $0 minimum to start with autodeposits (I’m starting my husband off on $5 ‘cos I mean, he’s not going to notice $5 coming out of his account every month…). If you click on my link, I think you help me get $10k managed for free for a year (which let’s be honest, I’ll never use since I doubt our investment will reach that high with just $5 going in each month) but you get the $5k for 1 year (and more if you get others to sign up as well).
Anyway, I think that’s the plan for now. $5 a month into WealthSimple, $5 a month into Stockpile. Slow steady investments. Not much, but then again, this to me is a means of building up an emergency fund. What do you think?
So …. yeah. I finally did it. Made the big move to California to be with the be a. It’s been nerve wrecking and intense. Fodder for multiple entries. But my attention span has been rather limited especially with the thousand worries I’ve been carrying. But that’s ok. It’s a personal blog which means I write. When I want to. When I can. Right?
Anyway with all the money worries we’ve been facing you would think I would have cut down on my luxuries. Turns out I haven’t. Well. Not really. I’ve been drinking more home brewed coffee which is supposed to be cheaper but on weekends I treat myself to some froufrou coffee. And today I learnt that starbucks still has their Fall edition reusable cup. And it’s going for $1 instead of $2. I totally saved right? I like these cups better than the $16 tumblers they sell. For one thing. It’s cheaper. If i lose it the heartbreak isn’t so bad. And I still save the same amount with each cup of coffee I buy. Plus when I drop these they don’t crack. The number of coffee tumblers I’ve cracked over the years may have been enough to buy me the new pair of boots I’ve been staring at in Nordstrom rack for the past month!!! So if you are in the market for a limited reusable cup….ask the barista if they have the fall version and if theirs is half off!!
And just in case you are wondering. I’m on no paid leave. Which means I’m not working and not getting paid. But not technically unemployed. I’m on it because I wanted to move here to be with the Beau but wasn’t willing to give up on my research project. So here we are. Unpaid researcher. Story of my life. I know. I should have known better than to voluntarily take on financial hardship. But I thought no big deal. I’ve been a student all my life. Cutting back will be easier. Nope. Almost weekly arguments about our spending and our lifestyle. It drives me nuts. But it’s ok. We’ll work it out because even when I’m mad at him. I still love him. I just have to remember that we are very different people and we deal with things very differently.
In addition to being thankful to having found each other so late in our lives. I’m thankful for the love and support my in-laws have given us.
So Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!!!
On Saturday afternoon, while sitting on the bus to Johor Bahru, I wondered out loud if it was possible to go on a day trip to Melaka.
Turns out we can.
Except because we left Singapore in the mid-afternoon, our day trip was going to involve spending a night in Melaka. Which, really, isn’t a big deal.
So how did we do it? Simple. First, take a train to Bugis station and get on the express bus to Johor Bahru. There are many options but we chose the yellow express bus on Queen Street. When you buy a ticket to Johor Bahru, you are actually buying a ticket to Larkin bus terminal. Which, we later found out, is not the terminal at the Malaysian Immigration.
After you have cleared immigration, most people would turn right to go to the City Sq mall. Walk straight until the end where there are escalators and on Platform B, there will be buses taking you to Larkin Bus Terminal. Its located about 15 mins away from Johor Bahru center.
After alighting from the bus, walk to where the ticket counters are (you will pass by a few clothing stores, and some hawker stores). We basically got tickets for the bus that was leaving in 5 mins and hustled on over after forking over RM 20.90 per person.
Once we were on the bus, it was smooth sailing all the way (no restroom break, no jam!) and arrived in Melaka at 5.30pm. At this point, I was panicking a bit because we didn’t pack anything other than our passports and some cash. There was no change of clothes, no PLAN on where to stay for the night. After arriving at Melaka Sentral, we hopped on a taxi to Jonker St for RM20. Luckily, there was free wifi around the area where the church was. I whipped out the expedia app and swipped on the Holiday Inn because I desperately needed access to a computer for work purposes. It was a bit more expensive than I hoped and there were certainly cheaper options. But well. A business center was something that could not be compromised on. After that, we walked along Jonker street looking for food. I started off with some gula melaka iced latte at this hipster coffee joint belting out some old jazz classics.
The coffee is super sweet but so refreshing on such a hot humid day. After the drink, we wandered around Jonker Walk, buying random kueh from the various food stores, and tried on a few cheongsams. I almost bought a
I almost bought a kua but realised that my figure would probably change by the time I’m ready for my traditional wedding ceremony. And then we realised that we really needed to buy something to wear the next day. I was already wearing my green elephant pants so we bought 2 t-shirts from a store for the next day. Then we headed to Mahkota where there was a Uniqlo for the other neccessities.
We checked into the hotel and took a quick shower before heading out to Jonker walk again for the night market.
There were lots of quick accessories and more clothing stores. And a lot more food. We got more street food and a coconut jelly. I briefly considered getting a Henna but didn’t think my workplace would appreciate such impulsive behavior.
By the time we finished the walk, I was exhausted, and it was 9.30pm. So we headed back to the hotel where I proceeded to check my email. BIG mistake. I finished up my assigned tasks before heading back to the room to sleep for a few hours.
The next morning, we feasted on the buffet breakfast at the hotel before heading out again. We climbed up Bukit St. Paul. Only the outer shell of the church remains.
After the brisk climb, we headed back to Jonker walk for a second breakfast. We found a chendol place that served quadruple duty as a currency, gem museum and tribute to Mao. They also had some nonya laksa. The chendol and laksa were both very good.
After getting our second wind, we proceeded to walk around the area again. We found one of the oldest mosque in Melaka, an old kwan im temple and more food stores.
But we were completely stuffed. So we settled for some curacao coffee instead.
After that, we headed back to the hotel, took another quick shower and checked out. Got a taxi back to Melaka Sentral and took another bus back to JB where we stopped for a quick dinner. Unfortunately, we were part of the unfortunate crowd that got stuck in JB immigration around 5pm. Took about 2 hours to clear immigration, another hour to finally board a bus back across the causeway. Luckily, clearing Singapore immigration was much quicker (30 mins) and we caught the first causeway link out of Woodlands. We then took a train from Kranji back home. The journey from JB to Simei took 5 hours. Maybe we should stayed another night in Melaka?
And to a beautiful day!