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Archives for October 2013
So, I feel like for the two-plus years I blogged while still in debt I talked a big game on investing but never actually did anything. I was reading some, but not enough. But since August, I had some funds that I had marked for investing, which was just sitting as cash in my brokerage account. I own three individual stocks in my retirement account as well as a few mutual funds, but I wanted to look at buying shares of a lower-cost ETF. A lot of personal investors have raved about ETFs, and although I prefer holding a few stocks I have valued and understand deeply, I think the ETFs are good holdings as well.
I had my eye on the Vanguard Small Cap Value Index Fund (VISVX), but realized that the Vanguard Small-Cap Value ETF (VBR) was the same set of holdings and had a lower expense ratio (0.10% vs. 0.24%). I didn’t realize that ETFs and Index Funds were different (that’s how amateur I am) and Investopedia has a helpful reference page on the two.
Also, the ETF was offered through my brokerage account commission free, and since I wasn’t buying that many shares, it was nice to remove that $9.95 commission. As far as the index fund vs. ETF, they shared many similarities, but I liked the ETF’s pricing, which trades throughout the day, while the index fund is like a mutual fund and is only priced once per day when the market closes. So, while the government shutdown was sending shares all over the market tumbling, I decided to purchase the shares I had been thinking about for over a month that day at a respectable price, and VBR shares have climbed since. Of course, the market is pretty highly valued at the moment, and we may all see a correction soon. I have to decide whether I want to take my profit on these shares and then look for the next opportunity or hold on tight because I think the holdings in the ETF are still values. At the moment, I am comfortable holding.
My next venture into investing is choosing a stock or ETF for my Roth IRA. That account also has some commission free ETFs, but I may wait until the next downward cycle to make my purchases.
What do you think of this market? Are we headed for an ugly correction?
It’s been two months since I paid off my debt. I am saving 20% of my income in retirement and ESPP accounts before I even see my paycheck, and a little bit more with automatic savings. It feels pretty good, but not quite good enough, you know what I mean? My side income efforts have slowed down and I need to figure out how to get back into that. Setting goals since I started this blog has helped me tremendously, it’s almost uncanny that writing it down and focusing on it has helped me with so many things (paying off debt, finding a new job, moving to a new area to name a few). So I really need to figure out what my money goals for 2014 are. Goals related to money can be broken down into a few categories:
- Stuff I want to buy (consumption)
- Stuff I want to buy as assets (stocks, businesses, properties)
- Things I want to do (experiences, travel, education)
- Things I want to build (blogs, new businesses, do-good stuff)
Stuff I want to buy
In 2014, I need money to buy:
- DSLR camera
- A new laptop
Really not a lot of “stuff” on my list these days. I buy clothes when I need them and try to buy higher quality than I have been used to so it will last. My laptop is over 6 years old. It still runs well but a lot of video and apps have slowed down and it also heats up pretty fast. As in, my legs turn red if I put my laptop in my lap!
Stuff I want to buy as assets
Not counting the money I put aside from my paycheck, I want to increase my savings so that in 2015 we can put close to 20% down on a house. And that is a house with a yard, which, in South OC means at least $500K. Probably more. So that’s a lot of freaking money. In addition, I want to reopen my Etrade brokerage account, and invest in a handful of companies. However, it’s hard to start with just a few hundred bucks. I need to have a few thousand to make a first purchase of shares.
Things I want to do
Well, there’s a pretty big event happening in my life in 2014, so there are a lot of things in this category:
- Have our wedding in June 2014
- Go on a two-week honeymoon (location undecided) in June-July 2014.
- Take a 10-day vacation in November or December 2014.
Things I want to build
I just want to build stuff. Make stuff. Lock me in a room with some kind of metaphorical puzzle to figure out and I am as happy as can be. So in 2014, I should be well on my way on these things:
- Working on 2 other blogs I’ve been in the works with forever
- Take on another consulting project
- Get back into staff writing
There are other ideas in this category but I am getting a little overwhelmed so I am going to stop here for now.
Grand Total: ~$45,000
OK, so my money goals for 2014 include me setting aside $45,000 besides my living expenses and 20% savings. Or $3,750 per month or $121 per day. That seems like a LOT OF FREAKING MONEY and I am going to not freak out right now. I think I can do this. In fact, I can do more than this. Big goals keep us going right?
Are you planning for 2014 yet?
I am a minimalist, but I am also a maximalist, and I don’t see a problem with either side.
So what is a minimalist?
Basically it’s someone who wants to live with as little as they possibly need.
Some people put (stupid) rules on this like only allowing 100-items in their house (each pair of underwear actually counts here), or only owning everything in neutral colors so that everything matches; whereas others like me are far more flexible.
I see it more as a philosophy, or a new perspective on what all that stuff really means to you, not necessarily requiring you to follow certain rules to call yourself a minimalist.
So what is a maximalist then? The exact opposite of a minimalist.
For these folks, “more is better, too much is never enough”, as the saying goes.
You might think that the two are never to meet on common ground, but from my point of view being a minimalist and a maximalist aren’t that far off from each other because in the end, they both just want to live their life to the fullest, they just can’t seem to agree on how much stuff it takes to do so.
So how can a minimalist be a maximalist?
As I mentioned above, some (extreme) minimalists say you can only keep 100 items in your possession, but how they actually achieve this with children and not cheating by considering all of their clothing as “1 item”, is beyond me.
As a minimalist, I only want to buy and keep the things that bring me the most utility and pleasure, but what my definition of “need” and “want” can differ from other people, let alone other minimalists.
For instance, I see furniture ranking on a pretty low scale of importance in my life.
Beyond a table, chairs, a futon to sleep on the floor, and perhaps a shelving unit of some sort, I don’t really see what else I could need.
For instance, most apartments come with closets and shelving units of some kind, so I don’t need a dresser.
I am completely uninterested in buying a couch that weighs a ton that I’d have to rent a moving truck for to haul around when I shift from place to place, and I live in fear of short, squat coffee tables that always inevitably find my knees and toes to leave bruises on.
As a result, I can say without any reservation that the only piece of furniture (if you can call it that) I currently own is a Japanese futon on the floor.
I don’t even own a table, or chairs at the moment because there’s a counter in the kitchen that came with built-in chairs, which I use as an office but also as a dining area.
This sounds completely depressing and far too close to student living to many folks. They see student living at its worse, or think I’m just being cheap because I don’t want to grow up and “be an adult” by buying a whole whackload of furniture at my nearest big box store.
When people imagine how I live, they inevitable look around their comfortable nest and see a home that they have created, with a great cozy couch with gorgeous lamps on their matching end tables, or perhaps a huge bed frame complete with box springs, and a mattress covered in decorative pillows.
They see comfort, a home, and feel as though it is lived-in, stylish, warm and personal.
As a minimalist, what they see is not what I see.
I usually see clutter first, which I guess, is a symptom of being a minimalist.
Next, I see heavy items that probably cost money to purchase (new or used, it still costs money if you had to buy it).
Then I envision future costs if I ever had to move or shift these things around, because I’d have to hire 4 burly men with a huge U-Haul truck to pack all these things in, not to mention the time I would have to spend worrying if they’ll scratch my end table.
Lastly, I see unnecessary, non-functional items (decorative pillows on the bed for instance), and it annoys me that I would pay all this money for a space, only to fill it to the brim with stuff I don’t even use.
A comfortable home is not really what I see.
In contrast, if you were to ask to see my electronics, that’s when you’d think I’m a full-out maximalist because there would be no way a true, hardcore minimalist would own more than one laptop (if that), right?
I own no less than the following:
• 5 laptops
• 10 hard drives
• E-Book reader containing about 389 e-books right now
• Personal organizer
• 2 MP3 players
• 3 digital cameras
• …but no TV, radio, or sound system
I am a maximalist in this regard, because I own an abundance of electronics, yet I am also a minimalist because for me, it fits my philosophy: if I use it regularly, need it, and/or love it, then it serves a purpose for me.
Every item I own in that list, serves its individual purpose (of which listing it would bore you), but suffice it to say, I am someone who likes to back up things three times and am paranoid enough to own a laptop just to store my digital documents on.
The fact that I own all those laptops but don’t own a TV just goes to show that I don’t find that owning a TV serves any purpose for me, because I just watch all my TV shows online or on DVDs that I watch on my laptop.
So why would I need a TV? Or a cable subscription?
Then if I got a TV, I’d probably need that darn couch too, with a knee-bruising coffee table and matching end tables.
Ultimately, we all just want to live with what we want and need
See, even in my example above about having a bed full of decorative pillows – if each pillow means something to you and gives you joy to see it, then by all means, keep it.
No one is asking you to shave your head, live with only 2 pillows and a mat on the floor. What is being asked of you however is that you take the time to consider whether or not that pillow serves a purpose for you or if it’s just going to annoy you every time you have to move it off the bed to sleep.
Being a minimalist also doesn’t clash with my maximalist side.
It’s really just seeing what you truly consider important and what you don’t, and living your life the way you want to.
In short, being a minimalist just means I don’t want to let anyone tell me what I should have in a home (couch, end table, coffee table, bookshelf, TV, lamps, decorations), and I come to my own conclusions about what really meets my needs and wants and as a maximalist, I maximize those priorities as much as possible.
The rest is just unnecessary clutter and noise.
It’s been a while since I have done a book review. It gets harder and harder to do the books I read any justice with a half-assed book review. I’m making an exception to my own rule of needing to finish a book before you review it, as I am only halfway through The Feminine Mystique and it is one the best books on contemporary Western (North American) society I have read, and it was written in 1963. The attitudes and perceptions of the 1960s and previous decades have had a huge impact on women, women’s perceived place in society, in the office and at home.
I’ve never focused on women’s rights because I was raised in such an equal household. I never felt that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do anything, and a lot of times I wanted to do the things that “only the boys did” just to be different.
I feel lucky to have grown up that way and it certainly influences my mindset to this day: I’ve always worked in male-dominated fields and I am perfectly comfortable with that, and if I have ever felt the influence of the feminine mystique in the attitudes of others, I generally brush it off and take on a breezy, “I’ll prove you wrong” attitude. And you know what? It’s worked out for me.
I Don’t Have To Be Defensive About Being A Woman
But this book is allowing me to stop being defensive about being a woman. I admit, I have always taken an attitude along the lines of “Yeah, I’m a woman, but I’m as smart as any guy. I’m as good an athlete. I’m funny and I can hold my own and I am not all twisted up into knots about my image and my ability to catch a man.” So even though I have always had respect for a hard-working, self-made woman, I’ve belittled the idea of womanhood for a long time. It’s because there were just too many bullshit Secret commercials (remember the one that implied the most important times of a woman’s life were her wedding and her kid’s milestones?) and ridiculous romantic comedies I could not relate to. My friends are a bunch of crude and crazy women and we don’t really get a lot of the usual female stereotypes. So I always dismissed this idea of feminism and women’s rights, because I thought “I’ve got it figured out for the most part.”
Why The Feminine Mystique Is Absolutely Fascinating
Betty Friedan proved me wrong. This book is so fascinating. Although it was more prevalent in the 50s and 60s, Friedan investigates why so many women were choosing to become housewives instead of pursuing their educations or careers. And then why those same women found themselves unfulfilled, empty and frustrated. She analyzes the huge impact Freud and “Freudian” theories influenced our roles in society, our ideas of what is acceptable and expected from men and women. She is funny, candid and a timeless writer: just like my favorite fiction authors, she captures the moment and the idea.
My favorite part by far has been The Sexual Sell. Friedan herself sums it up best:
“Why is it never said that the really crucial function, the really important role that women serve as housewives is to buy more things for the house. In all the talk of femininity and woman’s role, one forgets that the real business of America is business. But the perpetuation of housewifery, the growth of the feminine mystique, makes sense (and dollars) when one realizes that women are the chief customers of American business. Somehow, somewhere, someone must have figured out that women will buy more things if they are kept in the underused, nameless-yearning, energy-to-get-rid-of state of being housewives.”
The rest of this chapter was just as enjoyable and mind-blowingly revelatory (is that a word?) Seriously, this books gives names to ideas we’ve all vaguely had. It’s worth reading for any man or woman who wants to understand our society. I’m just past the halfway mark, and this may need another book review, but for now, I am grateful to Friedan and the movement that came after her that has allowed me for so long to simply live my life exactly as I want, enjoy my career and find fulfillment outside the home, without ever once questioning it or feeling guilty for not being home making a sandwich for my man! (Side note: those sandwiches look really, really good).
And now, everyone, I must go back to not shaving my armpits and changing all mentions of “history” to “herstory”. <Insert additional feminazi stereotype here.>