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The price of dignity: $15

October 5th, 2014 at 01:40 am

Yesterday, I did something I haven't done in years.

I went to the salon!

Back in January, my hair was getting extremely long and my co-worker offered to cut it for me. She seemed very confident (and had been asking to do it for months), so I agreed, but it did not take me long to realize that she bit off way more than she could chew. My hair is very thick, full, and slippery, and she was really struggling to cut through it. As tortuously long minutes ticked by and she continued to saw and hack and hem and haw, my distress level was starting to rise precipitously.

Finally, I had to put an end to it. I had started off with waist-length hair, and by the time I made her stop, my hair was down to chin-length, and could barely be tied back into a tiny, pathetic stub of a ponytail. The left side was visibly longer than the right, and the back was all sorts of different lengths. It looked, to put it bluntly, utterly ridiculous. I was completely traumatized by the experience.

But in the interest of good workplace relations, I had to smile and nod and pretend that I loved my new haircut -- as well as endure the painfully polite "compliments" from all my other friends and co-workers. There was nothing that I wanted to do more than to run to a salon and get everything fixed (in a wild moment of panic, I even considered hair extensions), but if I'd went out and got it redone immediately, the charade would have been up.

So I gritted my teeth, ironed my resolve, and spent the next nine months growing my hair back out. It has been a miserable, embarrassing, and painstakingly long wait, but the time has finally come that my hair is long enough to handle a trim without an immediately noticeable loss of length.

I found a coupon for a $9 haircut at a local salon, and went. I was extremely nervous after what I'd been through, but the stylist made me feel so comfortable, and he did exactly what I wanted, which was to even out everything while taking as little off as possible. The difference is subtle but immeasurable -- the comment from the SO was, "You actually look like you have a proper haircut now."

Lesson learned. Some tasks should best be left to the professionals. I don't think the trauma of the past nine months was worth a free haircut. I have never been so relieved to hand over money in a very long while. The guy certainly earned it. That $15 (I gave a $6 tip) was so worth my peace of mind... and my dignity. Whew.

Celebratory leeks

September 18th, 2014 at 06:11 am

Convo from this morning, with the SO who also paid off his student loans earlier this year --

SO: I wanted to have a FUCK YEAH NO MORE STUDENT LOANS reward.

SO: But then I did the thing I always do when I attempt to reward myself.

SO: Go: "Do I really need to?"

SO: But maybe we can have a nice Fuck Student Loans dinner some day.

SO: Probably not.

Me: Why don't we have a nice Fuck Student Loans purchase of leeks, and make, I dunno… pho or something.

SO: Snicker.

SO: AWW YEAH.

SO: Sounds good.

(Pho is one of our favorite meals, but we shop sales 90% of the time and leeks are NEVER on sale.)

And for anyone who's keeping track, we did not get the celebratory walnuts last weekend (still balked at the price when not on sale, heh), but we did get a $2 bag (14-oz) of discontinued Skittles from Ocean State Job Lot, because apparently Skittles went gelatin-free in 2010, and I HAD NO IDEA. I haven't had Skittles since 2002 (when I went veg), so I was totes excited.

I love that we can appreciate the little, inexpensive things. They honestly make us way happier than typical consumerism.

Millionaire

September 10th, 2014 at 07:04 pm

Yesterday, I vested into some more of my employee stock options, the ones I got three years ago before the stock price shot up almost six fold. I logged onto Mint and checked my net worth -- it's jumped up to almost up to $600K.

Out of curiosity, I then asked the SO for the balances on his accounts, and added everything up, and… holy moly.

Together, we are now worth over one million dollars. We are officially millionaires. (WHAT!! Whoa.) It's a bit surreal. We are now, in actual fact, the millionaire(s?) next door. Big Grin

And we shall celebrate this fact with walnuts.

Frustrated with Financial Advisors

July 8th, 2014 at 03:47 pm

My workplace will occasionally bring in financial advisors to give seminars and one-on-one consultations. I've been to two of these sessions, meeting with three advisors total, the most recent of which was just this past week, and have come away frustrated at the lack of productivity every time.

I understand that it's a free service, the scope of their help is limited by time, and they're likely not expecting someone like me, but I think it goes beyond that.

The main crux of the issue is that we simply don't see eye-to-eye philosophically.

For this most recent meeting, I tried to go prepared. In the past, showing my various account balances just resulted in sputters of disbelief and a request to repeat my age, so I brought my complete Social Security earnings history. When I say that my spending is such that a withdrawal rate of $20K is sufficient to maintain my lifestyle, I get asked what kind of car I drive and what model phone I have, so I actually tallied up the entirety of my annual spending to demonstrate that I am not, in fact, grossly underestimating my expenses.

But it didn't work. I still got asked to repeat my age. I still got told soothingly that "circumstances change", that expenses rise over time, and that once I get used to a higher standard of living, it's difficult to go back. The advisor took one look at the grocery line on my budget and told me, pityingly, "Well, you don't look like you eat much".

That last comment just made me laugh, because it shows how deceiving appearances can be. Now, I am a tiny, tiny person, so I guess it might seem like I "don't eat much", but that's not the case at all. I actually love eating and cooking, and I even briefly attended culinary school and worked as a prep cook at a restaurant before my pharmaceutical career took off. Our pantry is stocked to the brim, we make all our food from scratch, and we eat like kings -- all on a fraction of the cost of average households.

But what's more, that comment also betrayed the tacit assumptions made by the advisor. I am tiny because I don't eat, and she feels sorry for me because she assumed that I'm purposefully depriving myself, and that I will let it go at some point. It's fairly galling to me, mostly because it really reminds me of the condescending comments I've gotten my entire life when I tell people that I don't want kids, and they're like, "Oh, you may say that NOW, but just wait and see..."

Um, no. I know what I want, it's not the same as what you want, please don't project yourself onto me while ignoring what I actually say, because it causes you to come to incorrect conclusions about me, which makes me quite grumpy.

The truth of the matter is, at our current level of spending, we have almost everything we could possibly want, and I frankly don't know what else to spend money on. I don't want a bigger house; I actually prefer it small and cozy. I don't want a fancy car -- I barely even want a car at all, although I accept that I need one at the present time. I don't want a smartphone, I'm perfectly fine with my six year old phone, and I don't even have texting or a data plan.

And as for food... When I can make gorgeous artisan bread for less than a dollar per loaf, why would I ever want to spend more? And even if I go hog-wild and stop subbing walnuts for pine nuts in my pesto recipe because pine nuts are too expensive, I still don't see my grocery bill increasing by that much, because at the end of the day, any raw ingredients, even pine nuts, simply don't add up to more than a few hundred dollars a year.

Perhaps the hardest fact for these financial advisors to wrap their heads around is that I really and truly do not find consumerism to be all that appealing. For me, frugality is not a form of masochistic self-deprivation; I genuinely find it much more satisfying to live a simple and efficient lifestyle. As a result of these dispositional differences, all of their advice and experience is predicated on a set of assumptions that do not apply to me.

I think this is a big part of why haven't felt comfortable and in sync with these financial advisors. (Hell, I think this is a big part of why I feel out of place in this world. :P)

There was a bit of good news that came out of this session, though. After I finally got her to stop fighting me on the validity of my numbers, she conceded that she does think I can early retire in ten years. Actually, she doesn't think I need more than five years, especially if I can line up a side hustle. Obviously, I won't just take her word for it, but at least this tells me that I'm not on a wild goose chase. This is a realistic and achievable goal.

I just have to work out all the details.

Summer is watermelon season

July 1st, 2014 at 12:27 pm

I adore watermelon -- it is one of my favorite fruits. I'm generally not a big fan of summer (too hot, and sweating is gross), but one thing I do look forward to is watermelon.

This week, one of the loss leaders at my local Stop 'n Shop was a whole watermelon for $3.99.

I picked through the bin, tapping and weighing each one, until I found a behemoth that clocked in at 20.62 lbs.

Afterwards, I ran the math -- $3.99 / 20.62 lb = $0.19 per lb

Hee! I am very pleased with myself.

When it rains, it pours

June 26th, 2014 at 12:05 am

Back in the beginning of May, during a particularly heavy storm, water seeped into the basement of our raised ranch, and a small patch of carpet got wet.

I'm not home much at all (I work out of state so the only person at home during the week is the SO), and we don't spend much time downstairs in the basement, but as far as we're aware, this was the first time water had gotten into the house.

All right, it's confession time. I'm a few different things, but handy is not one of them. I grew up in city apartments with my nose buried in books, and I'm lucky if I can identify -- much less wield -- a screwdriver. The SO is also very mechanically/manually challenged. He is utterly flummoxed by wonton wrappers and never learned how to ride a bike.

Suffice it to say -- neither of us had any clue what to do. How big of a deal was this leak? Is it a sign of progressively bigger problems to come? Or was it a one-time fluke due to extraordinarily heavy rainfall? I wasn't there to see it happen, so I don't even have a sold conception of how much water there was, although the SO claimed he blotted through an entire roll of paper towels. (But have you also seen boys with paper towels? Do they ever use less than an entire roll on a spill?)

So we try to investigate what might be wrong. There might be a small crack in the foundation where the leak was, but maybe it's been there all along and is just superficial. The gutters weren't quite sloped right and were dripping a bit. The ground near the house has settled a bit, so some water is running/pooling against the side of the house.

Any or all of these could be plausible explanations for the water, but given our lack of expertise in these matters and the number of 'horror stories' one finds on the internet, I feel like I have the housing equivalent of medical students' disease.

First, the SO called some "dry basement" people. It turns out that they all want to tear up the floor of the basement, drill holes in the foundation, let all the water in to relieve the hydraulic pressure, and pump it out with a sump pump and generator -- all to the price tag of $3000 to $10,000. Um, WTF? No thanks, it was a bit of wet carpet, not a full on flood.

Then he called some gutter people, thinking that it's fairly low-hanging fruit, since the gutters shouldn't be dripping anyway, even if the drip is unlikely to be the sole cause of the water. Their offers ranged from a basic repair/tune-up to fancy patented proprietary systems.

Shortly after the initial leak, the SO dug a trench that re-routed most of the runoff around the house. It was kind of hideous looking, but it was definitely catching the water, and there hasn't been another leak since. He wasn't sure if the amateur trench would hold, so he called professional landscapers. Those proposals ranged from "Why are you wasting my time with something so minor? Call me back when you have a real problem to fix" to multi-thousand dollar projects.

If I'm being totally honest, I'm not sure we need most of these services, for a problem that may not even recur. However, the SO is kind of insecure about his lack of home maintenance expertise, as well as a fair bit more paranoid than me (his mind always goes to the worst-case scenario, which is great motivation for saving money, but fairly harrowing for everything else in life), so he feels better about being a bit more proactive rather than waiting and seeing and risking additional water damage.

He hired a gutter guy to replace the leaking gutters and add an extra downspout ($300). He also hired a landscaper to replace his hand-dug drainage ditch with a rock-lined dry creek bed ($900). He's also contracted with another landscaper to reslope the yard ($500) and reseed the lawn (that got torn up by the creek bed installation).

In addition to all of the above, he also wants to take down a dead tree that he's been eyeing for the past few years ($1000), and exterminate some carpenter bees ($200). Now he's also looking at window guys, because one of the windows seems to be rotting out a bit, and he's also considering hiring an asphalt guy to reseal the driveway ($850).

I am trying really hard to stay calm about this, because these are, by far, the largest expenses I've seen. On the other hand, I don't want the house to fall into disrepair, and I'm fine with hiring professionals to handle jobs we can't do on our own.

But we are feeling a little overwhelmed and in over our heads when it comes to dealing with the expense of home ownership and maintenance. I know we can technically afford everything, but is getting all this work done the right course of action? I guess you live and learn. This might be the one area where we will suck at conserving resources.

Fuel efficiency this week

June 20th, 2014 at 08:12 pm

Snapped a photo of my mpg gauge after this week's driving --



This is one of my best figures yet. Sometimes I feel like I over-purchased on my car, but fuel efficiency was my single most important criteria, and I've gotta say -- I'm pretty pleased that I can pull off gas mileages that are practically on par with hybrids.

Not only does it save on gas, but it also saves the planet!

Flash Forward

June 16th, 2014 at 05:00 pm

It's been a while, but I am back, and I am rebooting O Capitalism!

When I started this blog back in 2006, I had just graduated from college, and was starting to work through the ins and outs of being on my own. After figuring out the basics of frugal living and financial management (including the magic of compounding interest), and especially after landing a terrific new job, I sort of went on autopilot for a while, and stopped thinking about and working at personal finance.

However, a lot has happened over the past six years, and here's the whirlwind cliff notes version. After changing jobs, I bought a house (2008), my SO moved in (2009), we got some cats (2009, 2010), I lost my job (2011), I earned a Master's degree (2011), I found a new job out of state (2011), I paid off one of my student loans (2011), I replaced the 14-year-old car I inherited from my parents (2013), I refinanced my mortgage (2013), and that brings me to now.

This year, 2014, I am turning 30. It's hard to believe that time has flown so fast, but I am officially bidding good-bye to my 20s and young adulthood. I feel like I need to reassess where I've been, where I'm going, and plot a fresh new course for the next decade. After all, this is a long game.

Let's play.

While you were gone...

March 23rd, 2008 at 09:59 am

I've been sitting here, trying to decide how to portray this past year, whereby I transformed from a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed academic wannabe to, well, a corporate whore. Wink

For anyone in biomedical research, especially in academia, the

Text is funding situation and Link is http://scienceblogs.com/transcript/2006/07/nih_funding_stagnates.php
funding situation is getting dire as NIH grants become more and more scarce. Labs, including my own at Yale, were running out of money, and new grant applications still get continually rejected. My PI's (principle investigator, also known as the boss or head of the lab) attempt to solve this problem involved hiring more postdocs, and pushing his staff as far as they can stand, and then some, to try to eke out the publications that the lab needs to renew existing grants and land new ones.

I don't think anything has shaken my faith in science more than reading and generating data for my PI's grant applications. I'd do the experiment once, and get a small positive effect. I'd repeat it, and get a small negative effect. The third time is the charm, and will finally answer the question, right? Nope, the third result is *no* effect.

If I had to draw a conclusion, it would be that there is no effect. What ends up happening? The PI grabs the result that fits with his hypothesis, plops it into the grant application like it is fact, and pretends that the other two results don't exist.

Meh?

I've heard the justification. "We must put our best foot forward in the grant application to get the money FIRST, and then we can explore the complexities in greater detail AFTER," he explained. Um, okay. That's great and all, but if your hypothesis is WRONG, or even seriously flawed, you won't be able to publish those coveted Shiny Papers In High-Impact Journals, even if you get the money.

Right? Or am I missing something here?

And then there were my PI's ill-conceived attempts to save money, like giving every lab member a monthly budget for their experiments. Now I take care of keeping the lab stocked with "common" lab supplies, while the other lab members ordered the specific reagents they needed for their own experiments. But after the budget got imposed, everyone was afraid of ordering reagents and spending money, so they all ended up coming to me and asking me to order their reagents for them, since I'm "in charge of ordering stuff"; but really, they just wanted my name on the bill instead of theirs. In fact, in the weeks prior to my departure, I was informed that members of the lab were specifically saying amongst themselves, "Oh, X, Y, and Z reagents are expensive, but we need them for the experiment! We must make Mimi order then before she leaves!" Rolleyes

I could go on and on about how the budget crunch, and my PI's clear inability to effectively manage his funds and his staff, sent everything into a downward spiral, but I'll spare you the grisly details. Let's just say that I grew increasingly bitter, disheartened, and I completely burnt out.

By the summer of 2007, I was already sending out e-mails and scoping out new jobs. I got my driver's license, moved in with my boyfriend, and started carpooling to work so that it forced me to adhere to a consistent work schedule, rather than pouring in countless hours of unpaid and thankless overtime. I also enrolled in culinary arts classes at a local community college, because all I could think about at work was how much I'd rather be cooking at a restaurant. It's the same kind of manual labor, minus the biohazard.

I got a break during November, when attending a conference. (Me and three other postdocs crammed ourselves into a tiny motel room for five days to cut expenses. After that experience, we vowed never to do that again. Two guys, two girls, two bed, and one smoker did not a pleasant experience make.) I found out that a major pharmaceutical company in the state was hiring. Immediately, I sent in my resume.

The Monday before Thanksgiving, my PI comes into the office while I'm alone (I'm always the first one in, so he knows when he can find me alone), and asks me "what my plans are". I answered in the usual fashion, that I was going to stay until next summer, and then move on to industry. He replies that the funding situation is bad, and that I should start looking for jobs as soon as possible; the job market's not great, it may take me eight months to find something; I should even consider looking out of state! But, if I do get an offer, they'll probably want me to start right away, so I can leave earlier than next summer if I want to. Even next February!

Hint hint.

My PI can be incredibly passive-aggressive and manipulative, I can recognize a layoff warning when I hear one. Lovely. Maybe it's because he found out that I was no longer working 15 hours a week in overtime, thanks to my need to catch my carpool? Or that I was taking culinary classes, which had nothing to do with the Lab To Which Everyone Must Devote Their Entire Being? Or that my name is associated with all the major lab supplies expenditures? Or did he just choose me because I was the only staff without a family, and had the best chance of landing another job? Or because he knew I'd planned on leaving anyway? It didn't matter. It was done.

(Did I mention he had this talk with me the Monday before Thanksgiving? I had a really crappy Thanksgiving.)

But then, in December, I got a call back from Major Pharmaceutical Company. They wanted a phone interview! And then they wanted an in-person, on-site interview! I went out and spent $250 on an interview outfit, including $150 at a specialty shoe store on the only pair of shoes that fit me that I found acceptable. (As it turned out, I'm a size 4.5. Department stores don't even carry below a size 6, so I had to go to a specialty shoe store and pay the premium.)

The day after my interview in mid-December, I get a phone call. They're making me an offer! And paying me $10,000 more than I'd asked for.

I had a good Christmas. Wink

I told my PI of my job offer in January, and gave him my two weeks. I could tell by his body language that he was surprised and even dismayed that I would be leaving so soon (it kind of figures that he realizes at that particular moment that I am not, in fact, easily dispensable), but I insisted that my new job wanted me to start as soon as possible, and I would be taking a week off between jobs (the ONLY time I have EVER taken off), and two weeks was all that he was going to get.

My PI completely avoided me my last two weeks. He didn't attend my farewell lunch. I couldn't even find him on my last day to say goodbye.

And so, I closed that particular chapter of my life, and turned over a new leaf.

On January 28, 2008, I officially became a corporate whore. Smile

And corporate whore-ism never felt so good. Wink

A year later

March 22nd, 2008 at 02:54 am

So, it's been over a year since I've last posted here.

Oh, what a difference a year can make.

I guess I should re-

Text is introduce and Link is http://amberfocus.savingadvice.com/2006/08/12/a-little-bit-about-myself_12702/
introduce myself. I'm Mimi, I'm 23. I graduated from a SLAC (small liberal arts college) in 2006 with a degree in biology.

The original
Text is genesis and Link is http://amberfocus.savingadvice.com/2006/08/07/i-have-health-insurance_12466/
genesis of this blog coincided with my getting hired at my first job as a research assistant at a major academic research institution (key financial word being "academic"). I was just starting to get mired in the big, scary world of personal finance, and this blog was where I worked everything out.

This return marks a new chapter in my life, because it coincides with my getting hired at my second job.

That's right, I ditched my academic job, and sold out to industry.

This new development wasn't terribly off from my
Text is original and Link is http://amberfocus.savingadvice.com/2006/09/03/i-think-im-kind-of-screwed_13835/
original
Text is plans and Link is http://amberfocus.savingadvice.com/2006/09/10/retirement-projection-spreadsheet_14154/
plans. I was going to work for two years as a tech at a university, and build my CV; then, I would switch over to industry, and ramp up retirement savings on the increased salary for two more years; and then I would go to grad school with the peace of mind of knowing that although I would live in drudgery for six years, I am set for retirement even if academia chews me up and spits me out.

So I'm not too far off -- I left academia after 1.5 years rather than 2, but I landed the industry job I was counting on. But life has a way of being unpredictable, and throwing curve balls your way.

That's why I'm back. It's good to be back. Smile