Reflections on my Thailand Trip

I’ve been home from my Thailand vacation for nearly two weeks. My journey was occupied by elephant riding, golden Buddhas and temples, boat rides, ladyboy cabarets, plenty of shopping (from floating markets to modern malls), and even bottle-feeding a baby tiger. Here’s an update on where I’m at post-vacation and follow up on a couple of trip goals.

Jet Lag

Jet lag recovery has been tedious; I just can’t seem to get my body back to its old self (and time zone). I’m no stranger to traveling great distances (Australia and East Africa to be exact), but jet lag from this trip is more significant than before. Likely due to me being older. Swell. I also had a nasty head cold the entire trip and slept poorly. I prefer those reasons to the former and will stick to them fervently. The first night back in my own bed, I crashed for 14 hours solid, which was truly glorious. But every night since then has been a crapshoot. Here are a few remedies I’ve tested to help my biological clock get back into LA mode:

  • No iPhone, TV, or bright lighting 1-2 hours before bed
  • Taking a hot evening bath
  • Ensuring my bedroom is very dark and cool
  • Exposing myself to sunlight in the morning
  • No caffeine after noon.

Some nights I’ve been taking an over-the-counter sleep aid, which allows me to sleep until morning. On the nights I don’t take it, I wake up around 2am and have trouble falling back asleep. I’m not a fan of using drugs to catch some z’s, so I picked up melatonin a few days ago to help get me on track in a more natural way. At twelve days back, I’m finally seeing light at the end of the jet lag tunnel.

Minimalist Packing

I’m happy to report that my packing plan worked out well! Of the 17 people in the group, I had the least/smallest luggage by far. Some others had two huge suitcase full of stuff! I only had to wear a few items twice, which was just fine (the humidity wasn’t as brutal as expected). Some thoughts for next time:

  • I didn’t love one of my shirts and pairs of pants. Typically, it wouldn’t be an issue, but with so few clothes I should love every item. Naturally, I wore both of them on the day we took the most pictures.
  • I didn’t need to bring the travel hairdryer. We stayed in nice hotels that provided them (although their websites didn’t specify) and I hardly used it anyway.
  • I didn’t need my rain jacket. Useful if it had rained and a necessary item when going to such a climate, but I could’ve done without. I put it on for ten minutes the one day we had a bit of sprinkle, but I quickly got too hot and ditched it.
  • I didn’t wear my hat. I considered it a couple of times, but I either didn’t have it with me or didn’t want to deal with the impact it would have on my sweaty hair. Vain? Maybe. I still managed to thwart a sunburned face.

The big snafu in my packing plan was that upon LAX check-in, I was told my carry-on suitcase was 7 pounds over the weight limit. WHAT!? How could summer clothes, two pairs of sandals, and toiletries compute to being overweight? It just so happens that China Airlines has a carry-on weight limit of 7 kg (15 lbs).  Most airlines (in my experience) don’t have such weight restrictions (only size), so I assumed China Airlines was the same. My bad. Should’ve done more advance research on that. I went ahead and checked my suitcase, as it truly wasn’t a big deal. But the plot thickens! After more than 20 hours of travel, I landed in Bangkok two days later and my suitcase wasn’t there to join me (along with those of at least a dozen others). Noooo!

Seeing as how there was nothing I could do (other than filing a report with the airline), I found my hotel transfer and got my vacation started with an hour-long foot massage while developing a plan to buy a fabulous new Thailand wardrobe. That plan was short lived when I was awakened at midnight with the happy news of being reunited with my stuff. Crisis averted.

Christmas Gifts

I was elated when my family agreed to forego Christmas gifts from me on the 25th to instead receive exotic trinkets from my trip. However, this caused me more stress than usual over getting the most awesome gifts possible. Souvenirs were no longer a little token of my travels, but an expectation of something cool enough to be considered a Christmas gift. The added challenge of my limited luggage space for the return home didn’t help, either.

I tried to not let this pressure get the best of me. My thought, time, and effort in selecting each gift is what matters. Worrying about what others will think is completely unproductive and unhealthy. I picked up a few gems (including a sterling silver elephant necklace, a wood carving, and a table runner) as well as more standard items (couple of scarves and dresses, Chiang Beer and Red Bull t-shirts) that seemed to please my crowd at home just fine.

The minimalist in me was surprised and confused at the sadness I felt upon giving away some of these gifts. They were pretty cool and I wanted to keep them for myself! I felt this much more prominently than on any former vacation. I focused on the pleasure my family expressed in receiving the items, keeping in mind that none of those physical things could ever match the experiences I lived while in Thailand.

I already miss this…

 

Bimonthly Savings Update – January 2017

Happy New Year! Thanks for visiting my blog, which has been going strong for two years now! I wish you a 2017 filled with laughter, kindness, and success (with plenty of restful sleep in between).

And now on to the money stuff. Investments have been steadily growing for the past two months since the presidential election, so all accounts are up. I don’t know how long this gravy train will last and am not terribly concerned. I’ll continue to play the long game with good old fashioned dollar-cost averaging. I like things simple.

You may notice, however, that my Salem Five savings took a hit. That was to pay for my fabulous Thailand vacation in December. I’ve got an automatic transfer for $400 a month into that account, so it will bounce back in no time (along with a bit of belt tightening in the new year).

Home value: $390,234

Current net worth: $353,300

Minimalist Packing for Thailand

As I prepare for my 12-day trip to Thailand, I’m excited by the challenge of bringing the least amount of stuff with me, while still being weather-appropriate, comfortable, and looking super cute. I thought YouTube would be a good place for advice…nailed it!  A couple favorites are this full playlist from LightbyCoco and packing tips by Estee Lalonde.

The weather in Bangkok is predicted as hot and humid (about 90 degrees F and 60% humidity). Being a SoCal native, I’ve handled my fair share of heat, but not that kind of humidity. We’ll see how my wavy hair holds up.

My research has led me to attempt bringing just two bags, both of which I will carry on my flights:

1. Carry-on suitcase

I’ve had this green beater of a suitcase for about 15 years and it’s still going strong. It rolls smoothly and is just big enough to carry on, so why replace it? Here’s what I’ll put inside:

Tops:

  • Black t-shirt
  • Dark grey t-shirt
  • Light grey t-shirt
  • Black & white striped t-shirt
  • Pink tank (wear on flight)
  • White cotton button-up (wear on flight, not pictured)
  • Black cardigan sweater (wear on flight)
  • Rain jacket

Bottoms:

  • Green chinos (wear on flight)
  • Black capris
  • Denim shorts

Dresses:

  • Black sleeveless short dress
  • Black & white sleeveless dress

Shoes:

  • Black sneakers (wear on flight)
  • Black sandals
  • Silver flip flops

Other clothing:

  • Animal print scarf (also a wrap or beach cover-up)
  • Bikini
  • Pajamas & slipper socks
  • Bucket hat
  • Socks (3 pair)
  • Underwear (6 pair, not pictured)
  • Bras (2, not pictured)

Other items:

  • Mini first-aid kit with ibuprofen, band-aids, alcohol wipes, anti-diarrhea medicine, etc.
  • Toiletry bag (pictured below) with toothbrush & paste, hair items, a little make-up, menstrual cup, face wash & oil, sunscreen, bug repellent.
  • Travel size hair dryer. I typically wouldn’t bring something like this on vacation, but I’m determined to look somewhat cute, dammit. Although straightening in the humidity will likely prove futile.
2. Carry-on shoulder bag

I decided to bring this bronze tote bag on the plane with all the essentials I’ll need to access during the flights. It will also be used as my overnight bag for a couple nights of the trip and will house my black cross-body purse that I’ll carry with me daily.

  • In the bag: book, journal, pen, snacks, phone charging cord, empty water bottle
  • In the pouch: earbuds, eye mask, tiny moisturizer, lip balm, sleep aid, mints/candy
  • In the purse: passport, wallet, hand sanitizer, tissue, glasses, sunglasses, smart phone

I’ll be doing my family Christmas shopping while on the trip. I expect all of the above will leave me just enough breathing room to cram in those goodies on my return.

(Image: kalexanderson)

Impromptu Thailand Adventure

I did something spontaneous a couple of weeks ago. I booked a trip to Thailand! It’s a bit unlike me to make such significant plans so suddenly, without months of meticulous vacation preparation and budget obsession. But the stars seem to be in alignment, pointing me towards taking time for myself to experience a new part of the world. Here’s a glimpse:

  • It’s been over two years since I’ve taken a big, international trip (safari and climbing in East Africa. AMAZING.)
  • I’ve never been to Asia. This will be my sixth continent (I’ve got my eye on you, Antarctica).
  • My workplace closes for a week around the holidays, so I only have to take four vacation days to cover the two-week trip.
  • Speaking of work, there was a shake-up at the studio last month where a significant number of employees got laid off. I survived these cuts and feel that my position is relatively secure this year.
  • I have the money in my savings, as well as a nice stock-pile of unused travel rewards points.
  • I found a tour company that specializes in trips for single people. Their itinerary falls at the ideal time to a place I’ve been wanting to visit. Strangely perfect.
  • As a single person, I’ve learned over the past 15 years that when a travel opportunity arises, take it. Especially if it’s with a friend, but even if it’s going solo. I won’t be on earth long enough to see everything, but I might as well take a stab at it.

In addition to simply enjoying the exploration of a new land, I have other personal goals for this trip:

Renewed appreciation for my awesome life
  • When it comes down to it, I lead a life of privilege and excess. It often doesn’t feel like it, but compared to most other people in the world, I am rich and have an excessive amount of personal freedom. Travel helps me remember that.
Do not stress about spending
  • As a reader of this blog, you surely realize by now that I’m pretty damn anal about my finances. On past vacations, I’ve found myself getting anxious about money and how much I’m spending, particularly in the final days as the tab rises and the reality of returning home sets in. When similar thoughts creep in on this trip, I will remind myself that the experience is priceless and invaluable towards my personal growth. I am worth every penny. I will make more money, but I will never get this time back.
Minimalist packing
  • Carry-on only, baby! The weather will be hot and humid. I’ll be taking a capsule wardrobe of items that can all be worn in different combinations while still looking fab. I’ll break down my packing strategy in my next post.
Journal every day
  • I usually do this when on vacation, but not in real life. I like taking time each evening to reflect on what I experienced that day. There’s no way I can remember all the details and having them documented for later recollection is priceless.
Eat whatever I want
  • Two words: Fish. Sauce.
And just when you thought that it couldn’t get any better….
Thanks to this trip, I don’t have to buy Christmas gifts for my family! They’re all much more excited to receive Thai treasures, rather than stuff I order on Amazon. My lack of visits to the mall is the best gift they could ever give me back. It’s a win-win. 

(Image: Jared Kelly)

Time for Another Refi?

5583561290_8714669389_zI’m smack dab in the middle of refinancing my condo. Interest rates have been incredibly low for many years now and are poised to increase. I’ve already taken advantage of them in 2012, securing a fixed-rate mortgage at just 4%. I thought I was all good for the long haul; no more refis for this girl! But several recent factors make me think doing it all over again is worth investigating:

  • Los Angeles home values are consistently on the rise, giving me ample equity to avoid PMI. In my last refi, I just barely missed the 20% threshold and accepted a slightly higher interest rate to avoid a monthly PMI payment.
  • My badass credit score (over 800).
  • Availability of my savings to cover potential costs.
  • Referral to a close friend’s broker (and family member) who’s worked with several of my friends and coworkers with positive results.

In addition to the usual internet research, I consulted my financially savvy friends in this decision. I love that we can talk turkey about real numbers without dancing around in avoidance of revealing anything too money-specific. Here’s what I considered:

How much money will a refi save me?

Upon asking the broker about current offerings, she gave the following two best options for 30-year fixed:

A. 3.75% with no costs, reducing my monthly payment by $117.

B. 3.625% with about $1,200 in costs, reducing my monthly payment by $132.

I briefly considered a 15-year term, but the monthly payment would put me out of my comfort zone. I also think that my money would be better spent maxing out my 401k and Roth IRA, rather than shoveling so much into one asset that I plan to hold for a long time.

Is it worth paying up-front costs to get a lower interest rate?

Math required ahead! Looking at the $132 savings of option B alone, it will take me nine months to recover the $1,200 costs. I can live with that.

But in comparing the two scenarios, it will take me much longer to hit that break-even point. Sure, option B saves me $15 more per month, but is that worth forking over $1,200? That $15 savings becomes $180 a year and $5,400 over 30 years. It would take me 80 months (just over 6.5 years) for the savings to reach the price paid. I’ll likely keep the condo at least until then, but so much of this decision depends on the next question…

Does a refi make sense for my future plans for the property?

Rule of thumb for refinancing is the longer you stay in the home, the higher probability of its financial benefits. I have no intention of ever selling this place. Its got so much going for it, mainly being in a desirable area of the San Fernando Valley. It’s in a completely walk-able neighborhood (somewhat rare for So Cal), is in a great school district, and is close to several big film/television studios.

Ideally, I would like to own this condo for the rest of my life. I bought it from a bank at a low price just as the housing market was collapsing in 2008. Even before this refi, my monthly nut (mortgage, property tax, and HOA dues) is just under the average rental rates in the area. I could continue to live here indefinitely, rent it out for a profit if I decide to move, and even return to it as my low maintenance home in retirement. Of course, this could all change in the future, but I have to base decisions on my current life situation, rather than the immeasurable amount of events that might happen someday.

Short-term savings vs. long-term cost

Saving up to $132 each month sounds awesome, but will starting over with a new 30 years cost me more in the long run? After more math, turns out that it will. Despite the fact that my monthly payment will be reduced, lengthening the term from 26 years to 30 years will cost an additional $12,400 (option A) or $6,800 (option B) over the life of the new mortgage. I found this with a super simple “How much does that loan really cost” calculator.

To counteract this, what if I invest a portion of my monthly savings? With option B, let’s say I add half ($66) into either my Roth IRA or Betterment savings each month. Over 30 years with a modest 4% earnings rate, that would be an additional $39,000 in my nest egg (using this calculator). I feel that I’m anal-retentive enough about my finances to do this consistently.

What’s next?

With all of the above in consideration, I am moving forward with a refi and leaning towards option B. My math may not be perfect or taking every small aspect into consideration, but it makes sense to me. And seeing how it’s my home and money, that’s all that really matters.

As of writing this, my loan has been approved, but I have yet to lock the rate and associated costs. That will be key! My broker is watching the ever-fluctuating market (especially since the recent presidential election) and will let me know when the iron is hot. I hope to land the ideal situation for my awesomely humble home.

(Image: Derek Bruff)

Volunteer Burnout

426011335_62be4f4fc5_zVolunteering is a wonderful thing. There are so many organizations that do amazing work and rely on people to give their time for free in hopes of helping others and making a difference. Do it. Now.

Unfortunately, I’m experiencing major burnout from just this. Let me explain. I purchased my Los Angeles area condo almost nine years ago and I’ve been on the HOA board since day one.

As you may or may not know, condominiums typically have a Home Owners Association (HOA) made up of volunteers. They make sure the community and/or building runs smoothly when it comes to common area maintenance, residents following the rules, handling the occasional emergency, and maintaining a balanced budget. All great stuff that’s super important.

When I moved in, I was eager to help out; totally stoked that I actually bought property in LA! I was quickly recruited to join the board and happy to do so. The following year, I took the position of Secretary, seeing as I had wicked good note-taking skills from many years as a coordinator. Over the next four years, the core five board members changed little.

The time came when our president had had enough (looking back, I suspect he experienced the same burnout), no one else wanted the job, so I stepped in. Jump to today, nearly three years later, and I’ll say that I’ve been a pretty damn good president. I’m organized, pay attention to details, and don’t let things slide through the cracks. But these past few years have brought an onslaught of issues that have worn me down.

We’ve had a major construction project lasting more than two years, asbestos abatement, an emergency assessment, two liens, one foreclosure, several owner deaths, bursting pipes, and even a five page nasty letter about a board member mailed to all residents (don’t get me started on that one). It’s like having a part-time job that I do for free and don’t like.

During my HOA tenure, I have experienced a good amount of satisfaction knowing that my time and effort contributes to building a better community, as well as protecting the financial investment of my condo. This time last year, I was also ready to quit, but the other board members asked me to stay and I begrudgingly agreed in order to help wrap up a few big projects. Since then, I see myself getting annoyed easily during our monthly meetings and frustrated with each email or phone call about another random problem to solve . I just don’t want to do this anymore.

I expect that it will again be difficult to leave this year; no one else wants to be president, let alone on the board. But this time around, I will not cave! I won’t let guilt convince me to do something I don’t want to do. I’ve given so much of my time and now it’s someone else’s turn to step up.

But this will not be the end of my volunteerism. I feel it’s important to shift focus from something that mainly benefits me to working for the benefit of others. In the wake of last week’s presidential election, there are an overwhelming amount of charities that need support in the form of time or money. As a fan of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, I’d like to throw out his suggestions of where one can start here.

I’m excited to move on from this project that no longer brings me satisfaction to one that could make a difference to someone more in need. I could use a state of mind shift right about now.

(Image: Herman Turnip)

Bimonthly Savings Update – November 2016

Just when you thought I may have disappeared forever, I’m back with another savings update! For the last several months, my creative blogging juices have dried up. I was questioning where to go with this project and if it’s worth my time and effort.

Then yesterday, right after my morning meditation (which I’ll tell you more about in a later post), I got inspiration on some new ideas and decided to shit (and not get off the pot)! Future posts will not likely be weekly, but they will keep coming on topics related to money, health, and living my best life. How awesome is that?!

So let’s get back on track with this update! I’m a bit surprised that my investment accounts are down a bit since September, but my overall savings amount, home value, and net worth have minutely changed. My main emergency savings recently took a dip due to paying my property taxes.

monthly_11_06_16

Home value: $389,020

Current net worth: $341,796

Bimonthly Savings Update – September 2016

I’m back after a bit of an absence. Did you miss me much? I thought so. Let’s get up to speed with a savings update! As I would hope/expect, all accounts are up by a good chunk, with the exception of the ESPP account from an old employer. Oh well. It’s nice to see some significant progress in my 401k, which has nearly doubled in value since May due to the 18% I contribute and 2% from my employer. My home value took a $10k hit…whatever.

Monthly_09_01_16

Home value: $388,786

Current net worth: $342,007

Where in the world?

208898190_ba01ee572f_zI now have a shiny new travel rewards credit card and am already more than half way to earning the  50,000 point bonus. I’ve also done a bit of research on round-the-world travel and “gap years”. One great resource I found is BootsnAll. This site will help you plan a trip anywhere in the world for a reasonable price. I signed up for their free RTW30 Sabbatical Edition email series. Every day for a month, I get a new email with step-by-step guidance on how to plan and prepare for my “career break”. I expect them to be extremely useful once I’m ready to plan out my adventure.

But before I can start too much of that planning, I need to figure out where the hell I want to go. Do I want to travel around the globe? Or would taking my time exploring the United States (and possibly Canada) be just as cool of an adventure? I’m going to start out with a good ‘ol “Pro vs Con” list and see what discoveries abound.

United States Travel

PROS

  • Logistically, it would be  much easier. Minimal foreign currency, language barriers, sim card swaps, public transportation, etc.
  • It has the potential to be cheaper, since I could do it all in my car (no airfare, unless I hit up Hawaii or Alaska)
  • Great opportunity to see old friends and family that live across the country (Washington, Idaho, Minnesota, Arizona, Illinois, Alaska)
  • Exploration of places I might want to live in the future. I could see myself ditching the So Cal craziness in favor of a more nature-friendly, slower paced lifestyle.
  • Could I take my cats with me!? Seems crazy at first thought, but it might actually be do-able if I can’t find them a temporary home.
  • Cheaper and faster to get home in case of a family emergency.
CONS
  • I wouldn’t get exposure to foreign people, cultures, and lands (although I can image many places seeming like a different world than Los Angeles)!
  • Some would say it’s less exciting and exotic than seeing the world.
  • Driving around in my car seems almost too easy. I could go anywhere at any time. Something about the limitation of not having a car is exciting.
  • Easier to bail out of the trip early when it gets difficult or lonely.
International Travel
PROS
  • I’d get to see distant places and experience foreign cultures that not many Americans do.
  • How cool that I could literally go around the world!?
  • It would be hard, but in a good way. Taking me out of my comfort zone and facing me with daily life challenges.
  • The experience has the potential to expand my mind and world much more than if I stayed in the US.

CONS

  • International travel has the potential of being considerably more expensive, mainly due to long distance airfare.
  • Added hassles of things I take for granted now, such as medical insurance, money conversion, visas, my cell phone, laptop, wifi, etc.
  • Challenges that come with not speaking the language.
  • I think I would get more lonely on an international trip.

How interesting to see that my pros for US travel is the longest list.  That could be because it was the section I started with…maybe I got all of the good ideas out early and didn’t feel the need to repeat them? Or am I telling myself that’s what I want to do, deep down?

And I am keeping in mind that this is not necessarily the one and only period of extended travel in my life! I could start with the US this time, and then go international in a few years. Or if we’re getting totally wacky, there’s no reason why I can’t do BOTH this first time around! I know that whatever I choose, it will be the right decision. Just gotta make it and commence preparations!

(Image: Hans Splinter)

Living with less waste – Reusable tissue

IMG_4055I spent a wee bit of time on Saturday afternoon preparing for a new method of reducing my household waste.  I’m making my own bathroom tissues! Don’t worry, I’m not talking TP. Just a jar of tissue-sized cotton scraps that I can use to blow my nose, remove make-up, etc.

Right now, I buy disposable facial tissues and use at least one a day. Making the switch to cloth napkins and towels has been pain-free, so I figured this is a good next step to tackle. For any of you skeptics out there, Kleenex has only been around since 1924. For hundreds of years before that, people used cloth handkerchiefs and did just fine. A little snot isn’t going to gross this girl out!

My inspiration comes from a YouTube video sharing ideas for a zero waste bathroom. The whole project took less than an hour. I was already preparing a new bag of clothes for donation and realized that I had two cotton tank tops that would work perfectly. With my quality fabric scissors, I cut them up into squares slightly smaller than the standard facial tissue size.  Both tops gave me 14 squares. I figure that’s enough to test out whether reusable tissue is something I want to jump whole heartedly into.

I already had a mason jar that I’d picked up second-hand a few months back. I stuffed them inside and it now sits on my master bathroom counter! Stupid easy.