Archive for July, 2007

I want to save enough money to have a down payment, I really do. But many times I just don’t have the energy to put that into action. Food is my most “spendy” area – most of the time I’m too tired to cook or even go grocery shopping.

In other words, I spent $25 on dinner last night.

If you’ve read the article Every Penny Counts in the New York Times, you’ll know that those homeowners got their down payment by saving every dollar – there were certainly no $25 dinners for them. One of the buyers profiled said she’d play a game called “do I want a latte or a house? do I want an iPhone or a house?” etc, etc, and always managed to starve off the impulse purchase because she recognized the bigger goal of amassing a down payment.

I tried that last night and asked myself, “do I want a creme brulee or a house?” and while I really would like to buy (a house), I really wanted to enjoy what I could buy right now (creme brulee). Delayed gratification… gotta work on that.

P.S. It was a delicious creme brulee.


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Why California?

Californian properties are expensive, especially for a new grad.

So, I could buy a beautiful house or condo in some other parts of the country, but my decision to buy a residential property will be more than just a hard-headed calculation of where I’d get “more bang for my buck.”

I grew up in California. My friends and family are here. It’s my state. There are things I’d rather do without… (ahem!) the traffic, the high cost of living, the pollution in some areas. But other things, I love. The culture, the museums, the weather, the FOOD.

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New direction!

My dear readers,

I am re-focusing this blog to document my journey in saving for a down payment in the expensive California real estate market. As such, this blog will be renamed to be, appropriately enough, Well-Heeled: California Dreamin’. This is me dreaming (and making that dream come true) of a down payment so that I can buy my very own piece of California.

Most of my previous posts will be pulled off to make for a fresh start…. BUT – with this development comes a silver lining. Now that my blog is focused more on saving for a down payment instead of the broader scope of topics I wrote on before, I can give a bit more personal information to my blog readers… for one, I live in California. (As evidenced by the title. You’re not surprised, are you?)

Due to some recent developments, I feel it is safer and more appropriate to re-focus my blog in this way so that I protect myself and my employer. So… the change of direction.

I hope you will all bear with me during this transition and that you’ll still stick around. I’ll still have my net worth updates and my goal bars for emergency fund, retirement, and down payment. 🙂

My goal is to save $50,000 by the end of December 31, 2009.

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Down payment woes

I want to buy.

A house that is.

Okay, not really a house. A townhouse. Or a condo.

Something (relatively) affordable. Emphasis on relatively.

A 15% down payment on a $500,000 condo is $75,000. That is NOT a small chunk of cash. It’s time for me to build up some relatively liquid, non-emergency funds.

I estimate…. a five-year horizon? I’m crossing my fingers that the housing market will have settled down and have truly become a BUYER’s market.

One can always hope. 😉

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Taxi wiz

I don’t know if this is old news to New Yorkers, but I found a nifty website that estimates the cab fare from point A to point B.

Check out Taxi wiz. After taking several cab rides in NYC, I find the estimates are pretty accurate (as long as there aren’t gridlocks).

Taxi wiz also provides estimates for six other cities: Las Vegas, Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago.

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One of the biggest perks of my corporate apartment is its WONDERFUL kitchen. It’s not big, but all the appliances are new and easy to use. The cabinets are stocked with utensils, plates, cookware, pots & pans, a set of knifes, and even a cutting board.

If there’s ever a time to learn to cook, this is it.

I was going to go to brunch with a friend today, but she was too tired to get up. So… the change of plans allowed me to exercise my inner Food TV wanna-be.

I went to the local Food Emporium and bought some mushrooms, eggs, garlic salt, oil, shallots, bell pepper, bananas, and soy milk. I made a delicious mushroom omelet with shallots (the shallots were a little burnt, but I’ll know next time to lower the heat, saute the mushrooms, sprinkle in the shallots, then add the eggs. I saved the bell pepper for later).

It is my imagination or are groceries more expensive in NYC? On the other hand, I have NO idea what produce are supposed to cost. I’ve never shopped for groceries by myself before.

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My first apartment

The post below was posted at Free Money Finance. Thanks to FMF for letting me guest post.

After finding a job and graduating college, I have experienced another rite of passage: hunting for my first apartment.

Some things I’ve learned from my search:

1. Define my negotiables and non-negotiables. In other words, separate the “needs” from the “wants.” I detest commuting, so first priority was to find a place close to the office. Everything else was secondary. So that meant that the 2 bedroom with hardwood floors & indoor pool 10 miles away was never in the running.

2. Set aside a sum of money for the security deposit, application fee, broker’s fee, etc. I didn’t use a broker, but the application fees ($25-$35 a piece) can really add up. Apply to 3 apartments and it’s almost $100. Having cash equal to 2 month’s rent ensures that I wouldn’t lose out on an apartment because I couldn’t afford the holding deposit.

3. Send certified mail with signature receipt. If I’m sending $2,000 in money order to a landlord I’ve met once, I DON’T want the money to get lost.

4. Find good roommate(s). Living with a roommate allows me to 1. lower my rent, and 2. have someone to talk to when I get home from work. I lucked out that my good friend and I will be renting together – we are both responsible and credit-worthy. Having a roommate that I can depend on to pay her share of the rent and be friends with is a huge plus.

5. Have a basic agreement to prevent hurt feelings and misunderstandings. My roommate and I are both fairly low-key. We’ve agreed to not have cable or housekeeping service. The apartment doesn’t have AC, and it doesn’t get that cold until the middle of winter, so I don’t foresee a lot of arguments over electricity or gas usage (’cause, honestly, who’d want to fight over 2 degrees over the thermostat?). The only “want” we want is high-speed DSL.

Housing around my work area is quite expensive, but so far the process has been fairly painless because of both luck and preparation.

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My work place is too far from my parents’ place for me to seriously consider living at home after college. In some ways, I’m glad. This means that I never had to weigh the benefits of getting my own (shared) apartment against what I could be saving ($500+/month) if I lived at home.

According to this article by Kiplinger’s, more than half of all college seniors move back home after graduation each year. The temptation of saving so much money on rent and utilities, not to mention free meals, is strong indeed.

My parents didn’t pressure me to live at home, but if I wanted to they probably would’ve been happy to have me. Before I found a job, Mom did jokingly mention that that I can save a load of money if I live at home for just one more year.

Did any readers/bloggers live at home after graduation? Did anyone decide not to despite the potential savings?

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I’ve been busy trying to get ready for my trip…. so my apologies for the nonexistent posting over the last week. Do I still have readers left?

One of the things I’m looking forward to is New York’s Restaurant Week, when over 200 restaurants across the city are offering 3-course prix-fixe dining for lunch ($24.07) and dinner ($35.00). It is my chance to eat at places that normally would be way, WAY out of my budget.

I am so excited. Anyone from NYC have advice on what restaurants I MUST try? I need to book my reservations soon. 🙂

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The motto of the personal finance set is to pay yourself first (pay it into savings). Frugality is lauded and spending is condemned. I don’t disagree, but am probably a good standard deviation from the norm (for personal finance bloggers). Compared to many of the other bloggers, I actually spend quite a bit of money.


I just returned from a vacation to Vegas, and two months ago I was vacationing in St. John. My first night in Vegas, I gambled myself to a $200 loss. That night I stewed in bed thinking how frivolous it was for me to be in Vegas, and how much all of this was going to cost me. The next day a few more friends flew in, and we did more gambling, had a nice dinner, went out to the clubs, and had a great night. Even though I spent and lost much more than $200 that night, and felt much less guilty. Why? Ultimately, I realized it was OK for me to treat myself. I wasn’t incurring credit card debt, and do pay myself first – nearly 45% of my annual gross salary goes into savings.


Could I save more? No question. I could downsize my apartment a tad, eat out a bit a less, and go on fewer vacations. However, do I need to or should I? Probably not. Spending money in itself is not wrong. The purpose of accumulating money is to ultimately spend it. The only reason to save money is so we can spend it another day. Saving is a means to an end. But how do we know when we can treat ourselves? Is it based on how much money we make? How much we already have? Or how old we are? Most decidedly, a combination of all three.


I think the first step is always to look at what we already have to our name. We should never spend so much that it’s going to decrease our net worth more than one percentage point. So if your net worth is zero or negative then you shouldn’t really be treating yourself. As a general rule, I think if you’re putting 30% of your gross pay into savings, you’re doing OK. You probably can spend the rest and still be fine. As for age, I believe this is where I’m probably going to be more unconventional. I say spend more when you’re both young, and old.


It’s true you’re only young once. I don’t think you need to go into debt to fund a lifestyle that you can’t afford, nor should anyone live a life that they don’t want. However, having been just through my twenties, I have no regrets spending where I did. Yes, I have less in my bank had I forgone the New Year’s Trips to Barcelona, Miami, etc. with my friends, but those are the type of trips you can only make when you and your friends are young and mostly unattached. When you’re old, I say spend, and donate enough that hopefully you don’t leave very much to your children or grandchildren. I preach this not only because I personally don’t want a dime from my parents, but because I firmly believe that inherited wealth is in general, a disservice to future generations.


I’m not trying to promote spending itself, but rather spending within a context that can be guilt free. We save so we don’t have to deal with the stress and guilt of spending too much. Spend where and when you can without the guilt. I know for instance I have always valued vacations, new experiences, nice meals, and nights out with friends. On the other hand I don’t place too much value of nice clothes, cars, or most other physical stuff. I wouldn’t be able to afford lots of new nice clothes and nice vacations. Most people have to choose the things that are truly important to us, and for everyone it’s a different mix.


I wouldn’t mind have nice new threads, but I know that by buying new clothes would entail cutting back on something else I value more. Actively choosing where we spend our money is the first step towards having a financial plan, and having a plan leads to everything else.


Note: This post is guest written by Dong of Askdong.com, a blog about personal economy. Dong is a 30something who lives and works in Boston.

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