27 February 2014

Leaders of the New School

Listening to: Taylor Dayne, "Heart of Stone." Yeah I just found out about Taylor last week. Yeah, last week. As per usual, my Eighties music butler struck again. Lilly was jamming out while we were working and I'm like "Who is this, Belinda?" She proceeded to educate me and now I can't stop going through Dayne's greatest hits. Technically I know "Love Will Lead You Back" and "Tell It To My Heart" and all that stuff but when you don't know the artist, it's not the same, right?

The other big shocker is that Dayne is white. This rocked my world like when I found out that Billy Ocean was black. Related newsflash: Donna Summer is black. This is just getting embarrassing right? Bill Simmons has the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars, a "list of sports figures whose names would seem to indicate that they are of a different race or ethnicity than they actually are." Should the "sings like they're a different race/ethnicity club" be dubbed the Taylor Dayne All-Stars? Anyway, up next from my personal Eighties music butler is Jody Watley and Stacey Q. (I wouldn't know anything worth knowing without Lilly.) Also, read this: "Tig Notaro Meets Taylor Dayne Again and Again (2012)," plus accompanying video.

There’s a me-sized hole on our couch from the last few weekends of sitting around and burning through movies. I found myself watching stuff in marathon sessions, like six hours at a stretch. At least they were thematic so I could declare them as fiftyfifty.me minors. For example, I started off with J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call one night and then, intrigued by more stuff on the sub-prime lending fiascos, went through The Flaw and then The Pit, a movie about Wall Street commodities trading.

A couple of days later I started at Patriot Games and then with more political thrillers needed in my system, I called up Jack Ryan again in The Hunt for Red October and then The Sum of All Fears. If Clear and Present Danger was streaming I probably would have sat through that too. (Now I feel all but obligated to watch Shadow Recruit.) Were the films actually good? Eh, mostly average, but when you need that CIA fix you need that CIA fix.

And then I discovered that HBO Go had all their old series on tap and shot through Band of Brothers in about a week. Ten hours, one week. That's a lot of binge watching but nothing compared to what was about to come. I discovered Deadwood on a Friday night and finished the whole thing by Tuesday. Feining for a Western, I queued up Clint and Sergio's Fistful of Dollars but couldn’t get into it. So I dove into Deadwood instead and twelve hours later, emerged with the entirety of Season 1 under my belt. I seriously only got up to go to the bathroom.

Deadwood was on from 2004-2006 and is set in the 1870s during a South Dakota gold rush. Timothy Olyphant plays the white hat sheriff while Ian McShane is perfectly cast as a morally ambiguous saloon owner who Godfathers the town. The series is semi-historically accurate, with cameos from a series of Western folk heroes such as Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, and Wyatt Earp. Each episode ends on such a compelling note that I had to press on.

By the time I’d finished all three seasons -- the show was cruelly cancelled early -- I was thinking in writer/showrunner David Milch’s Shakespearean tinged lines, and wanting to call everyone “cocksucker.” The show has a ton of viciously fun profanity, wanton murders, and all sorts of bad things, plus the ingenious machinations and changing alliances hold your attention in both awe and disgust. I could go on forever, but I’m too busy trying to figure out where Deadwood falls in my personal pantheon of TV series. I’m almost afraid to admit it but it might rank above Mad Men right now. And I fucking love me some Mad Men.
For most of 2007, I worked at a home mortgage place up in the Bay. I had the 7am - 4pm shift and it was horrible. The job was mostly mindless and after getting the hang of it and doing great for a few months, I lost interest and soon quit. I did learn a lot though, as we credit checked people for approvals, set them up for loans, and participated in all the stuff that are now red alarm terms: subprime lending, interest-only mortgages, , adjustable-rate mortgages, etc. Basically, I too had a small hand in the coming financial meltdown.

Out of curiosity, I Googled my old company to see what had happened to it. Apparently, a few months after I quit, the company fired five hundred employees as part of its restructuring, and there’s no doubt I would have been let go too. Looks like I got out of Dodge just in time!

11 February 2014

The Greatest Club of All

Listening to: Lady, "Money."

I’ve done a lot of great things in my time, but this could be one of the very best. For the past year, Ameer and I have been tracking our expenses using a very special Google Doc. 2013 was our first year of Budget Club and it was a tremendous success. There’s a wild thrill to tracking every penny and dime you spend. Trust me, there is.

When I was younger, aka two years ago, when someone asked me “where does your money go?” I wouldn’t have been able to tell them. Now, after a full year in Budget Club, I know exactly where my money went. Unfortunately it’s all mundane stuff. Food, shelter, travel, karaoke, and bubble tea. No luxury boats or Wolf of Wall Street stuff on the list. But no matter, part of being in Budget Club is learning to be fiscally responsible. Extravagance is eschewed, it’s all about saving money! I know, it sounds very un-American of me, but I still participate in consumerism on a regular basis, don’t worry. Plus I take photos of things I want but can’t have, which is almost the same buying stuff.
Anyway, without further ado, we invite you to join Budget Club. All it takes is a commitment to tracking your expenses. That’s it. You can use Mint, you can use a piece of paper, whatever. However, we highly recommend our Google Doc, which is full of magical formulas. Somehow when you adjust the budget tab on the document the other tabs get changed. I don’t know how this works, it just does. Grab a copy of the template and try it out for yourself. Below is the how-to and some spreadsheet explanations. Plus a podcast episode we made, just for you.

Remember, it takes a lot of diligence (and anal-ness) to do Budget Club but the rewards are many. Give it a few months and as my accountant sister loves to say, "Better log it!"

Budget Club spreadsheet | Budget Club podcast

Getting Started:
  1. Go to the “budget” tab and input your income. Then fill out your fixed expenses, variable expenses, and annual expenses. Finally, throw in some tags you know you’ll likely use. Get that “money left to budget” box to zero (show in red at H4).
  2. Enter your variable monthly expenses as you go, categorizing and tagging each item. You can edit these at any time so don't spend too much time on this.
  3. At the end of each month, you need to lock down rows F, H, K, and L because those could change in the future if the master budget columns change. The locking down process prevents those individual columns from being affected by future edits. Instructions for locking down are included in light blue on the January tab.
Sometimes we get asked why we bother with a spreadsheet when there are clearly lots of options for personal finance out there. Well, I tried a lot of things but I kept returning to a Google Doc because it was customizable and easily shareable. Also, I use Spendee because it's pretty and an easier way of tracking each expenditure versus just using Evernote or Notes. I find that the attractiveness of the interface encourages me to input numbers. So yeah, Spendee.

Budgeting vs Reporting
Last year we simply had a huge list of categories for everything. This year’s innovation is to separate out the categories according to what’s useful. According to AMR’s financial planner, budgeting should be broad, used for all inclusive categories. Who cares if you flew, drove, biked, subwayed, it’s all just “transportation.” So, for budgeting purposes, the fewer categories the better.

However, when reporting, you want details. Under “food” I want to know if I was eating out, buying groceries, or just getting lots of snacks. The list of tags should be numerous because you can only analyze your spending when you have a clear idea about what's being purchased. In short, it's good to aim for five or less categories, but populate your sheet with as many tags as necessary. Go crazy.

The “Ann” tab
This is the tab for annual expenditures. Last year we used to have individual months where big amounts of money came in or out, wrecking our carefully balanced budget. No more! Instead of getting slammed because you just bought a new computer in February, you can now balance that out over twelve months. It offsets the big purchases and allows you to plan more responsibly. You can use the Ann tab however you like but we recommend throwing in vacations, holiday gifts, tax returns, and various one-off items in there. Note: This will change your variable expense, as the Ann tab is basically a mini-budget within the overall budget.

The last thing I’d recommend is to do this with some friends. We have a Budget Club of four people and it’s super fun to compare notes and be in competition to see who “won” the month. Basically the winner is whoever overspent the most, and they must be shamed until the next month. The social aspect of Budget Club is one of the best parts. Well, that and warm fuzzies you get from tracking all your expenses.

Feel free to ask Ameer or I if you have any questions. Or suggestions. We love suggestions!

06 February 2014

I'll Be Your Shelter

Currently pushing: This post from Melissa Beck, ex-Real Worlder and writer of one of my favorite blogs of all time, Princess Melissa. She doesn’t update much anymore but this is a 5,000+ word doozy with a great ending. And yeah, it's about babies.
Last year at this time I was putting my thermals and new-ish collection of scarves to good use. Despite the cold I was out as much as possible, trudging around Manhattan, going anywhere even if it was freezing out. One memorable night, I trekked from LES to Hell’s Kitchen, even though it was snowy and slippery all over.

By the time December rolled around however, I was ready to resume my usual snowbird ways. After experiencing one weekend of nastiness in New York -- when my hi-tops were so filled with slush that it felt like I was walking on the beach -- I jetted back to San Diego and was greeted with eighty degree weather upon arrival. I stripped off my thermals in the airplane restroom, tossed my jacket in my suitcase, and pulled out my sunglasses. Usually when I get home I’m a bit resigned and wondering when I’ll leave again. This time I was like, "Why do I ever leave San Diego, it's so dumb!”

I've still been checking New York weather every day, mainly to well, schadenfreude. Sorry winter sufferers, my only contribution to your struggles is to suggest shacking up with a winter boo. So here’s the post from a few years ago about winter boos. Stay warm friends! (This will sound like #warmweatherproblems to you but my drafty house is freezing all the time and I’m basically draped in blankets twenty four seven. And I've used the heater once or twice. True story.)

Mentally I’m still trapped in the tail end of 2013 and trying to catch up on everything. I thought I would be ready to move into 2014 by now but it’s past Chinese New Year and I’ve barely got my shit together. So many things to wrap up online and offline. I was making a priorities list for the upcoming year but at this point I better just get to it.

A new strategy to be a super productive person is to do things in two hour blocks. It’s too easy to get sucked into something but if I can limit myself to two hours doing any one thing, I think I’ll be making progress. Thus, two hours of Internet, two hours of reading, two hours for a movie, two hours for eating, two hours to write something, two hours for Hearthstone, etc. This new plan will hopefully force me to do varied things instead of my days ending up in the traditional "I just spent ten hours online, what the hell happened?" rut.

My favorite term for the new year is “personal admin.” When people ask me what I’m doing, it’s usually catching up on email, updating online stuff, organizing, etc. The shorthand way to say all that is just “personal admin.” Don’t you love it? It sounds important and overcompensatory at the same time. Below I’m going to dump some items of stuff I’m doing, or did. Am doing. Whatevers.

  • fiftyfifty.me: Year three of Lilly and I’s books and reading challenge. We’re adding another goal too, thus the +PLUS. Lilly is doing recipes, I’m doing I don’t know yet. However, I am going to read fifty books this year, it's a promise.
  • Rich in Color: Audrey and Crystal started this blog focusing on diversity in YA books last year and I helped set up the site but then totally fell off. I vow to contribute more this year. Here’s my first post for the year, "Splashes, No. 1."
  • The End Starts Today: I kind of fell off music somewhere near the back end of 2013. I mean, somehow I was five months late on Lorde. Five months! This year I’m back in and scouring for new music for my Select Sundays.
  • Oodles of Noodles: I kept track of all the soup noodles I ate last year. Why would I do this? Why not? Anyway, it was fun and looking at the archive will make you drool. I’m stopping the noodle diary for this year as I’ve got too many blogs, Tumblrs, everything already going on. I'm never going to stop eating noodles though, never!
  • Kinda Messy: Oh yeah, I also have been building websites since last year. Nothing fancy, just basic sites for good people. (Who knew folks still paid for websites?) Anyway, here's a portfolio section and everything! Get at me if you need a website.
If you haven’t heard about Soylent, it's a food replacement shake that is blowing up. Okay that "blowing up" might be relative but with over two million dollars in crowdfunding and another million or so in seed money, it clearly has a market. And that market could be me! I have long wished for a magic pill that would replace regular meals so I'm in on this. I don’t know if Soylent is safe but I’d like to give it a shot for a few weeks at least. For one, it’s gotta be better nutritionally for me than the massive amount of ramen, burritos, and junk food I consume. For two, it's cheap. For three, it's obviously the future! I don’t think I would want to live on just Soylent but as a supplement/replacement it seems like a fabulous idea.

Over holiday break we were hoping to have a miracle fruit party but that never happened and I feel so incomplete. Can life go on?