Sunday, May 26, 2013

I Have Discovered the Broiler

One of the problems with a chronic illness is that it leaves you very, very drained of energy. I've consistently struggled with cooking after a long day of work, because I just lack the energy or ability to spend much time standing at the stove.

Recently I decided to try out the broiler function on my stove, and it's life-changing. Fish in 8 minutes! Crispy vegetables! Perfectly made polenta! It's like something out of an infomercial and it was already in my kitchen.

The current favorite dish is crispy zucchini, which I happened on after buying 5 zucchini for a dollar.

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1 zucchini
olive oil

1. Grease an 8x8 baking dish or cast iron skillet. (I use the skillet.)
2. Slice the zucchini into 1/4" rounds and arrange in a single layer in the pan.
3. Mix together the parmesan and panko, adding pepper to taste.
4. Drizzle the zucchini with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle the panko mixture over the zucchini.
5. Broil until the panko is browned; about 6 minutes. Serve immediately.

The crunch factor on this is amazing. It seems to go with almost everything we eat, and I've been serving it alongside a meat and vegetable instead of pasta, rice or potatoes most evenings. It's even become a last minute snack a few times. The panko Parmesan mixture also holds its own as a breading for fish and meat as well.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Managing a Windfall

Chinese people traditionally give cash gifts instead of stuff at holidays and weddings, so for every birthday and New Year's since he was a baby until he married, his family gave him cash in traditional red paper envelopes. These are called ang pao in Malaysian Hokkein Chinese, or hong bao in Mandarin.

I'm holding non-traditional Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse hong bao I purchased in Flushing, Queens for Chinese New Year 2013, the year of the snake.

While I always thought I was fiscally responsible when younger, I pale in comparison to CodeMonkey, who was so devoid of consumerist desire he handed every single red envelope to his parents, unopened. My in-laws, being sensible people, invested them on his behalf, and the money sat and grew until my father-in-law, impressed by my financial savvy, decided to reveal the existence of this account to us and offered to send the money along.

I confess that when this happened, my jaw nearly hit the floor. I asked my husband if he ever once considered spending all that money on toys, clothes, candy, ANYTHING, and he said he'd had everything he'd needed, so why would he? My husband is awesome.

This leaves us with the sort of problem most would kill to have. The money is enough to finish funding our Roth IRAs for this year, pay off the last of my student loan debt, and leave about $7,000 besides. We're trying to figure out what to do with that leftover money.

1. Add it to the emergency fund.
We have three months of expenses in there now; this would bump it up to about 5 months' worth.

2. Invest it in a taxable brokerage account.
We could invest this in another Vanguard taxable fund, since we've maxed out the IRA space for this year. Potentially we could move this into a Roth IRA come 2014.

3. Put it in checking and slowly draw it down while funding a 401k.
I become eligible for a 401k in August, after a year at my employer. We could then put 100% of my remaining 2013 pre-tax pay into the 401k, allowing us to maximize tax-advantaged saving space and slowly draw down the $7,000 to bridge the gap between CodeMonkey's income and our expenses until the money is gone, when we could reduce my 401k contribution.

4. Save for an apartment.
Every time I've run the numbers for our area it's been better for us to rent than buy, but maybe we should start saving up for some tangible property? $7,000 is hardly an adequate downpayment, but maybe it's a good way to start one.

Ok, not really at all. But I figured I might as well mention it as an option.

I'm typing this while sipping a Tall Chai Latte from Starbucks, which is the first sugared thing I've had since I announced my quitting. Not great, but this has to be the longest I've gone without sweetened food in months, if not years, so I'll chalk it up to a small victory. And I normally order a venti. Baby steps, I guess?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I'm Quitting Sugar

Yesterday I ate: a Belgian waffle with Nutella, a Starbucks Morning bun, a bowl of lentil soup, and a slice of opera torte. Obviously the amount of eating out is appalling, but so is the sugar content of all that.

I've become dependent on sugar to the point where I crave it every few hours. This is clearly not healthy, and it's making my skirts fit a bit too snugly as well. It's outrageous (and outrageously expensive) to consume that many sweets.

So I'm quitting sugar. Not naturally sweet foods like fruit, or refined flours like bread, just the plain old stuff derived from beets, corn and cane. I'm not shooting for forever, just a week. Anyone can manage one week without sweets, right?

I had Greek yogurt with strawberries for breakfast this morning. It's 10:40 a.m. and the vending machine is calling my name. Must resist. This is ridiculous.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I Loathe New York

Ok, not loathe, not really, but we're coming up on our one year anniversary living here, and it's made me think a lot about it. We'll be here for the foreseeable future for CodeMonkey's career, so I'm accepting this with the best grace I can muster, but it's a trying place to live, if you want to build financial security.

There's All These Rich People
Living in New York, particularly Manhattan, is something of a luxury good, and whole industries have sprung up to cater to those with money. The best of every luxury good is available here, should you want it. When we lived in the Albany area, the whole culture was much more middle-class, and so you were never tempted by high end items, because they simply weren't for sale locally.

You Need More Willpower
This brings me to my second gripe--because of the high population density, you see and must turn down more tempting things. When CodeMonkey and I drove to work Upstate, we'd pass (and have to resist) one Starbucks en route. These days, I pass one in Flushing and five in Manhattan when going to work. There's a Starbucks across the street from my office, which is not helping me resist $5 high-sugar drinks. Willpower is a muscle that wears out like any other, and I find myself pushing its limits on a regular basis.

We're downsizing to a studio this summer, because with CodeMonkey's current career transition, we need to reduce our spending to keep meeting our goals. I'm not particularly looking forward to paying a small fortune to live in a shoebox, and I suspect we'll end up living with a baby in a tiny space too. I long for the reasonably-priced three bedroom apartment we shared in Albany.

I grew up in the middle of the woods. The lack of trees and overabundance of people makes me vaguely panicky.

That being said, there are things I really love:

Neither CodeMonkey nor I adapted well to driving, and we're much better off taking the subway. This helps balance out the exorbitant rent. We've both been steadily losing weight because of all the walking we're doing.

More Opportunities
Within six months Upstate, CodeMonkey was running out of musical opportunities. While he enjoyed showing up and immediately getting plum positions, there were limited opportunities for growth. Likewise, I worked for the only company in my field; in the city there are many, many more opportunities for both of our careers. In general, we're both finding there's as much work as we have time for.

Quality of Life
I love that I can walk to a half dozen Chinese groceries, instead of driving thirty minutes to the only one in the region. I enjoy the wide variety of ethnic food in my neighborhood. I like that I can go to a different knitting group every night of the week, if I want. That being said, all that eating out does add up!

If I wasn't married to CodeMonkey, I don't think I'd have moved here on my own, but it's not that bad on the whole.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Marry Young, Prosper

CodeMonkey and I got married at 21 and 24, when I was a new graduate and he was a college student. I am convinced that this is the single smartest thing I ever did.

No, really. Believe me, I heard the dire warnings from my family, friends, acquaintances and nosy passerby. I'm familiar with the research about higher divorce rates among couples who marry young. But it's probably the one decision in my adult life I never experienced a moment's doubt or regret about.

I was expecting to enjoy some benefits of marriage: the ability to sponsor my husband, rights to shared property, social legitimacy, shared health benefits, etc. I wasn't expecting, though, that marriage would help us build wealth in an aggressive way.

It Creates Accountability
While CodeMonkey and I don't stop each other from making large purchases, we do discuss our general financial direction with each other. Even if my husband never said a word, I would feel uncomfortable bringing home an expensive purchase when we'd discussed trying to max out our IRAs. Likewise, he has confessed to avoiding buying lunch out because he knows we're trying to save. It helps to have another person checking in on you. We push each other to achieve our financial goals.

More Incomes, More Savings
CodeMonkey and I have lucked out and been gainfully employed continuously since college graduation. While two people can't live as cheaply as one, we've really benefited from being able to leverage two incomes. Individually, our living expenses would probably be more than half the sum of our shared expenses.

Thinking Long Term
A savvy reader will point out that the first two benefits are hardly exclusive to marriage and could just as easily be enjoyed by living together. But the great thing about being married is that because we have committed to a future together (and we have recourse to a court to divide assets should our relationship fail) we can prioritize our collective best interests over our individual ones. Since CodeMonkey and I are yoked together for the long haul, it makes sense for us to use some of his income to help pay off my student loans. Our little two person family will benefit from having fewer monthly payments and frittering away less money on interest. Were CodeMonkey and I not married, this would not be in his best interests. Likewise, I have quit jobs twice to move when CodeMonkey got a better position. This has arguably hurt my career path, but it has substantially improved the economic outlook of us as a couple. I don't know that I'd have made those risky moves if I was simply his live-in girlfriend.

Time Is On Our Side
We've been leveraging our dual incomes to invest aggressively. Since every dollar saved in our twenties is worth far more after compounding than dollars saved later, the money our marriage has allowed us to put away will impact our long term net worth in a very big way. I think that our marriage has allowed us to build wealth on a level that would have been impossible for us as singletons.

Obviously, all the wealth-creating benefits of marriage disappear in short order if you divorce. But for us, I suspect getting married young, and staying married, will make a bigger impact on our net worth than anything else.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

I Love the 21st Century

It's a typical Saturday morning, and I'm doing the usual routine. At present, I have one appliance kneading my bread, one washing my dishes, one washing my clothes, and done drying the clothes. The twenty first century is indeed a marvelous thing.