The Value of Having a Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

Today, I wanted to pose the question, “Is having a CFP right for you?” When I first graduated from dental school, I was absolutely lost. Along with the feelings of excitement and pride with my recent accomplishments came a subtle (but over-powering) dread, and a very heavy, invisible weight. I knew I needed guidance, but did not know who to reach out to. I did not exactly have adults in my life who could act as good financial role models (my long historical relationship with money detailed here), and there are very few people I know (outside of my fellow graduates) who really had the problem of paying down half a million dollars in student debt at 26 years old. So I reached out to Andrew Davis, the CFP behind SeamlessFP, who happened to be the husband of a dental classmate, and whose work focused on guiding newly-graduated dental students, specifically. I think it was the best decision we ever made.

On the flip side, there are people who would argue that CFPs are a waste of money, and that money could be used elsewhere. Which is a fair argument. I myself am a big fan of avoiding outsourcing tasks as much as possible. It will take a bit of work, but handling your own finances is totally a doable thing! However, it requires time, which I have value over money. Delving into research isn’t such a scary thought for me, but spending all my free time learning the nuances of taxes, S corporations, estate planning, investments, and more is NOT an enticing thought. So what I want to discuss today is the value of having a CFP to us, and then I leave the decisions to you.

The value of having a CFP

The list of pros for having a CFP versus not having one is quite long, which is a good thing!

  • Pro: Outsource financial planning to free up time, in order to pursue interests, hobbies, work, etc.

As mentioned before, outsourcing financial planning frees up a lot of our time. Time is a resource scarcer than money in the modern world. People seem to always be running out of it, but are still quick to occupy it with tasks, necessary or otherwise. When you think about how much your time is worth, in dollars, can you really put a price to it? Time is the one thing you are constantly running out of, and will never be able to replenish, making it an extremely valuable resource. Being intentional with the tasks I choose to occupy my time is very important to me. Spiritual uplifting, emotional replenishing, mental healing, these are the things that matter and make it a life worth living. NOT constantly worrying, thinking, and dealing with money.

  • Pro: Peace of mind that we are hitting our financial goals in a very step-by-step (and legal) manner.

This is for the DIYers out there. I am a lover of DIY projects and take pride in my ability to be self-sufficient. However, no matter how much of my free time I put into studying the nuances of finances, I cannot possibly keep up to date with the ever-changing rules and regulations. Mike used to do his own taxes with TurboTax and that worked sufficiently well, but once we got married, added in an S-Corporation with its own separate payrolls, well things got too complicated. We started asking ourselves, “How do we know we are following all the rules? How do we know about the fine-print clauses that benefit us? Who will be flagging our attention with every change?” A financial planner gives us peace of mind, knowing that we are on track to hit our goals in a efficient (and legal) manner. There are many minute details that one could miss, but it makes us feel better knowing that we have someone else helping us with that.

  • Pro: Keep up to date with new changes.

The new Tax Bill that passed last year is a great example of this. Even now, nothing is quite set in stone as to how these changes will apply to us. By having a financial planner, we were alerted to the possible beneficial change for S Corporations in the upcoming year, something we would never have known, but definitely can impact our financial plan.

  • Pro: A resource for learning more.

This, by far, is the most beneficial to me. Andrew has been instrumental in educating us about our finances and different paths we can take to achieve financial freedom. He has recommended books, blogs, podcasts, and other resources. He was actually the one who introduced us to the FI community: a community dedicated to reaching financial independence by using life optimization “hacks”. We would not have gone so far on our financial road to freedom without life hacks such as co-housing, travel hacking, YNAB, and more!

Financial planning VS Investment Planning – What’s the difference?

It is important to differentiate between financial planning and investment planning. We do financial planning, which requires a long-term life plan, created by the marriage between our financial past and our dream futures. Our first meeting with Andrew was not something we expected to have. It began with a meeting dedicated wholly to gaining a deep understanding of our personalities, goals, and dreams. It almost felt like a therapy session, with questions such as, “If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you spend your time doing today?” Don’t let that deter you. I think that first meeting was essential to setting the foundation on which we created our entire plan. The process continues to be a constant reassessment of life. Initially, we listed our priorities as traveling, buying a house, yoga subscriptions, guitar lessons, sticking with loan repayment program, and working until we were 65 years old. Now our life still includes travel, but our goals have shifted to standard repayment, renting for the next few years, working less hours, being a blogger, opening a coffee shop, and early retirement from our lines of work, which would possibly lead us to newer lines of work. In this respect, Andrew acts as more than just a financial planner. He is a psychologist, therapist, educator, mediator between spouses, confidant, & friend. This is NOT to be confused with investment planning, where someone advises you where to invest your money. That is included with financial planning, but not the other way around.

The importance of being a fiduciary

A fiduciary requires that someone acts in the best interests of a client. It is important that your CFP is a fiduciary in all aspects. Conflicts arise when CFPs have affiliations with third parties that may sway their advice towards promoting something that benefits them. For example, a person can receive a profit for selling an affiliate insurance. The insurance may be great, however, that person has a motivating factor that would make him want to promote that particular insurance. Even though it can be beneficial for you to sign up with that insurance company, the decision was not completely unbiased. We did not even realize the importance of being a fiduciary until we learned the concept from Andrew himself. 

If you are not sure whether your CFP is a fiduciary, ask! Try to find a fiduciary in all aspects. You want to ensure that you are being treated fairly at all times. Do not be afraid to ask how they get compensated, so that you can truly see where they are getting their money. It may seem awkward to inquire about it, but it is your finances on the line.

What a CFP has done for us, so far

  • Budgeting Help: Our CFP introduced us to budgeting, setting up our YNAB budgeting tool, and helped us develop good budgeting habits. 
  • Analysis between two potential jobs: When Mike was considering making the move from one company to another, we needed help analyzing whether it was a reasonable financial move. It was not simply a comparison between the two different income, but also required factoring in 401k investment matching, health benefit options, life insurances, difference in commute, and level of interest in the line of work.
  • Investment Planning: He has given us advice on how to manage our 401k portfolios as well as given us other investment tips when we reach out for help. We retain full autonomy as to where we want to invest and how much, but having a third person to go over the pros and cons at each step has been helpful. 
  • Health Benefits: We needed help deciding on a health plan, and have chosen one that works well for us thanks to Andrew’s help. After an analysis of our options, an HSA option was also open to us, and we decided to take advantage of that privilege.
  • Renter’s Insurance: Prior to our new place, we did not have renter’s insurance. After seeing the benefits of having that extra coverage at a small monthly cost, we decided to sign up for one right away!
  • Connection to a CPA: Taxes for SCorps can be a bit tricky. A CPA is advised so as not to miss a thing. Initially, I was going to go with the same person my parents have used for years. But after an hour-long interview with him, it became clear to me that he did not know much about taxes as they applied to dentists specifically. He did not even know about the different student loan forgiveness programs, or how an SCorp can be used for tax deductions. It was useful to be referred to a CPA who frequently does taxes for dentists specifically.
  • Set up my SCORP: This was so beneficial to me! It is possible to create a corporation easily online, however, he walked me through the pros and cons of having an SCORP so that I could make an informed decision as to whether this is something I wanted to do. The application for the SCORP was easy but we did meet some humps along the way that he quickly helped me to resolve. 
  • Setting up Gusto and ways to automate my SCORP: Once the SCORP was set up, our CFP took care of creating an automated payroll for me. We use Gusto to manage my payroll, and once it was set up, he easily walked me through the different ways that we can keep track of the payroll via my SCORP. All I have to do is wait for my payments, the system takes care of the rest!
  • Introduction to financial life hacks: I learned tricks such as travel hacking from Andrew and it was he who introduced us to the FIRE and FI communities.
  • Analysis of student loan repayment options: This is the part about our finances that has most affected our lifestyle. He walked us through the different student loan forgiveness programs that we qualified for. After a thorough explanation of each, he created an extrapolation of our financial futures under each repayment option. By using physical numbers, we were able to predict the lifestyle changes associated with each student loan option. Once we had our budgeting in order, he brought to our attention that we were able to pay down student loans without the forgiveness program, thus saving us more than $100,000 in the long run, as well as buying our freedom 15 years earlier than planned. That decision itself was so life-altering for the better, and we would have never gotten to that point on our own. 

We personally benefit from SeamlessFP

Andrew Davis is the CFP behind SeamlessFP. He focuses on helping newly graduated dentists create a financial plan. He does work with non-dentists occasionally, or dentists who have been practicing for a long time. I only know this because we have referred people in those categories who now are working with him too.

There are multiple options one can choose when working with SeamlessFP. A person can do a one-time consultation in order to gain help on a particular goal or project, or they can choose the full life-planning package. We chose to do the latter option. I did not want help with simply setting up an SCORP. I wanted a more thorough analysis of all of our financial details. I was determined to tackle as many aspects as possible to optimize our financial situation. After every meeting, he will upload a list of tasks via an online portal to be completed. This is helpful for people who need someone to hold them accountable to ensure that they continue moving forward with their financial path. Together, we re-analyze continually to see what we can change to optimize even further. A yearly re-cap meeting is held as well, where we go over our dreams and goals for the future (5, 10, 25 years out) so that we aren’t dully following a pre-set path. Besides, a lot changes in a year!

What I like most is that he is eager to help clients learn more about their financial options and situations. It is clear that having his clients make their own decisions (given the facts) is important to him. I can ask him one question, and we will go over the entire topic in detail, prior to him answering my question just so that I know the reasoning behind his answer. It’s scarce to find that these days, and I wholly appreciate it.He may give suggestions but he really makes sure you know that ultimately, the choices are still completely yours to make. It’s easy to see that his goal is to help his clients find the happiness they seek, by eliminating financial stress from the equation. It also helps that he is very accessible via email or text. Typically, responses occur within one day. Additionally, if you choose the latter option, there is unlimited access. Anyone who knows me will easily tell you that I am the type to ask multiple questions, always in search of a deeper understanding of all things. So a CFP who embraces that is gold. Off course, you want to make sure that the CFP you choose is right for you, if it’s right at all. If you have any interest in learning more about our friend Andrew, you can easily set up a one-hour phone call to speak with him and see what services he can offer you and which package is best for what you are trying to achieve.

Overall, I just wanted to shed light on how a CFP has changed our life in this blog post. As always, you do you.

 

Curating Closets: Special Occasions + Up to 40% off Nisolo Shoes

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Curating closets for special occasions can be a bit of a tricky thing. For one practicing minimalism, it is fairly easy to determine which clothes can be used on repeat, day after day, but anything that categorizes into the minimalist camp can fall into something short of, well, special. What of weddings and other such occasions where a basic tee and denim jeans just won’t cut it? The magic is not in the noteworthiness of daily garments , but in the versatility of special occasion attire, shoes included.

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A wedding, in particular, is the one social event that most people partake in. It is probably the best example of a special occasion there is, and the peak of the season is right around the corner, so it is here that we focus our attention. Leading up to the event, everyone from the bride and groom, to the wedding party, to the guests, are concerned about one common thing: what to wear. We are not going to probe into whether our concerns should be focused on other, less vain things, because the truth of the matter is, that’s what people are obsessing about, socially constructed or not. Today, I just want to answer the question: “How would a curated closet hold up to a social occasion?”

When I got married, I wore two pairs of shoes. The first was a pair of very old wedges that I had purchased 5 years prior, where the fake pleather (redundant?) was peeling off of the sole and edges. I decided to wear these for the sole reason that they were 5-inches tall and got me just a tad bit closer to my 6-foot-3-inches soon-to-be-husband. But the practicality of these shoes were close to none, so I also had a plan B, which was to switch into my second pair of shoes once the pictures were over with. My second pair was a pair of Keds sneakers.

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Old, reliable wedges, for photo-taking.
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Sneakers, for dancing.

The point is that both of these shoes had purposes other than looking pretty on my wedding day. One was very old with a well-used past, and one was new but had potential for a well-used future. On the contrary, my mom has her wedding shoes still kept in a box. I am not sure if she wore it any time else other than on her wedding day. I know for some, the sentimentalities of wedding shoes and dresses are strong, but those simply do not line up with a minimalist or practical lifestyle.

I would implement this same thinking when it comes to dressing up the rest of yourself for these events. I have a handful of dresses that I would be equally as willing to wear on a warm summer day or a cool winter evening. Never mind that the material is a bit nicer than cotton and linen. What’s the point of having clothes if you never wear them? No one cares how pretty it looks drooping from a hanger in a neglected section of a dark closet. These practical reasoning are what will guide you towards building an intentional and minimal collection.

Taking it a step further, same goes for jewelry. There are three necklaces I rotate every day. I would feel comfortable wearing those to any occasion. I used to like these over-the-top gaudy bits and baubles, the type where you’re blinded the minute you step out into the sun. Or these heavy chains back when rock-star-metal-meets-delicate-dresses was “in”. If you missed the fad, you didn’t miss a thing. Nowadays, I would rather go without. I’m more comfortable with myself that way anyway, eliminating the constant worry about whether I chose the appropriate accessory or not. I’ll opt for the simpler life that lends to a more peaceful state of mind.

So to answer my question, a curated closet will hold up quite well to special occasions, if it is appropriately curated. It isn’t to say, categorize all the fancy schmancy stuff under “useless”. Rather, verify that the fancy schamncy stuff is not so over-the-top that it fails to be somewhat useful. Also, maybe change perspective about whether a party dress can be worn in the fields on a summer day. Let go a bit of the sentimentality of things, and understand that they are just things, which, if not enjoyed, will lose purpose. Be fond of only attire that makes you comfortable on all occasions. And lastly, sometimes, just do without the special. The word itself implies the singularity of an item, the fact that it can only fall under one occasion. Instead, work with what you’ve got. That’s the advice we told our wedding party. Mismatched? Newsflash: No one on the dance floor even notices.

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On that note, Nisolo releases a Party Collection today, which in actuality is nothing but a curated gathering of their already-existing everyday footwear. Sounds a bit like my routine! If you have a hankering to outfit the entire wedding party with practical wear, up to 40% off their shoes. Women, this way. Men, over here. But honestly, just enjoy the party!

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Finances: How YNAB Helped Us Pay $84,000 Towards Student Loans in One Year!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Looking back on it, it seems absolutely nuts that we have been able to pay $84,000 towards our student loans in the last year. Prior to getting our finances in order, you could say that I was not one who was highly motivated in monitoring my spending. Or rather, I may have been highly motivated, but not entirely good at it. Honestly, I did not know where to start.

I was never afraid of budgets. Some people are. They are afraid that it would be too limiting, or depriving, to set financial constraints on their having fun in life. I get it. YOLO, right? But honestly, that’s just the rub. YOLO. You only get one life, and I don’t want mine consistently anchored down by debt. I want to be free. So it was not the budgeting that scared me, but the lack thereof. In fact, I was always in search of ways to budget. However, I had no idea how to do it efficiently.

We used to implement that all-too-familiar way of assessing our spending by guessing, eye-balling, rounding up and down (depending on our mood), or sometimes, ignoring all-together. Additionally, much of our analysis was performed retroactively. As in, “Oops, I spent too much on groceries last month! Roughly $100 too much.” The estimates, off course, were always too low, and the recognition harbored a bit too late, after the spending was already a done deal. Yikes!

Enter YNAB. YNAB is kind of like that high-school teacher that slaps your wrist and sets a vagabond teen straight. The acronym stands for “You Need a Budget“, and is better than an angel on your shoulder keeping your finances in check. It is a very easy system that is based on the age-old envelope system of budgeting. It used to be that, without computers and programs such as YNAB, people would use envelopes to budget their money. Each envelope would stand for a category. For example: “Groceries”, “Rent”, House Maintenance”, “Savings”, etc. With each incoming paycheck, a person would split the cash in between envelopes, allocating a certain amount towards those categories for the upcoming month(s). One can never accidentally overdraw from an envelope, because once the money runs out, that’s it! In order to overspend in a category such as “Dining Out” for example, one would need to proactively choose to take out money from another envelope, thus consciously deciding to decrease spending elsewhere.

With the invention of things such as credit cards, this becomes an obsolete practice, but I think it is one that is very useful. Instead of retroactively analyzing our spending, we should be proactively planning for our financial futures. In YNAB, you can create categories of your choosing that would be equivalent to those envelopes. You can be as precise or as general as you would like. We prefer to be more general, because it makes categorizing easier. Our categories are separated into “Needs”, “Financial Goals”, and “Wants”. A few examples include:

Needs – Rent, Auto Insurance, Utilities, Cell Phone, Groceries

Financial Goals – Student Loans, House Savings

Wants – Activities/Hobbies, Travel, Mike’s Fun Money, Sam’s Fun Money, Dining Out

So as paychecks roll in, we are proactively placing budgeted money into each category. Every dollar we earn is accounted for, down to the last penny. The goal is to budget appropriately, so that none of the categories need adjusting during the month. Metaphorically, you don’t want to borrow from any of the other envelopes. It did take us a while to get a feel for how much we spend in each category, but that’s the fantastic thing about YNAB. It summarizes previous spending in the months prior really well. Over time, we were able to know exactly what number we would need to budget in each category to be absolutely prepared.

A word on those summaries. This is a wonderful way to get a picture of how much of your spending is going towards your “Needs”, your “Wants”, and your “Financial Goals”. For us, because of our student loans, 50% of our income goes straight towards hitting our “financial goals”. We try to keep “wants” to a low 10% of our income, travel included, which is why travel hacking is so important for us. Also, there are graphs to show you how much your net worth is rising, as well as comparisons of “Income VS Expenses”, if those are motivating at all for you.

All of this can technically be done on an Excel sheet, but it would take a lot of time and effort. What I love about YNAB is that it can link to your bank accounts and automatically record every transaction, whether that’s money going in or money coming out. The only thing left to do is to categorize each transaction. Also, YNAB will remember which transactions fall under which category. For example, we frequently shop at Mother’s Market and Whole Foods for our groceries. I no longer have to categorize those things, since YNAB will automatically do that for me, thus making my job easier.

Off course, YNAB comes with a fee, which luckily for us, is waived by our financial planner. The cost to use YNAB is $89.99 annually, which seems like a lot, but when I look at the number we paid towards student debt ($84,000), I don’t feel bad at all! I think that fee is totally justified, plus it makes the whole budgeting process easier and much more motivating than if I had to go through all of our bank accounts and credit cards and physically input each and every transaction, create analytical comparisons and graphs and pie charts, and let our financial situation take up all of my free time.

If you are someone who wants to know where their money is going, wants to plan for the future, or is already doing both but wants a simpler process, try out YNAB. I hear too frequently the saying, “I don’t know where my money goes!” It’d be nice if we never have to say that ever again. Plus, once you know where it goes, you have the power to redirect it, kind of like we have!

How I Flew to Mexico City for FREE with Southwest Airlines + 40K Bonus Points

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

When our financial planner first sat down with Mike and I to discuss our long-term goals, travelling the world was up there on our list. It was the one common ground we had. A future home? Maybe. Kids? Not sure. Interests? Cars. Art. Travel? YES! ABSOLUTELY!

All of this was learned before we decided to change gears and pay back the student debt, full-force. Unfortunately, a $6,500 monthly student payment for ten years does put quite a damper on the travel. So, we found another way.

It’s no secret that we travel the world by travel hacking. Using credit card sign-up bonuses to rack up free flights was something we started doing last November. It has been a little over six months, and we have been able to buy the following flights for 2018:

Mexico City, San Francisco, Portland, Calgary, Sydney, and Christchurch. Also on the list, Costa Rica, for which we have the points, but are waiting for a few of our travel hacking friends to catch up so that we can all travel together!

Now I know that with travel hacking, one may not need to pay money for these flights, but they do still pay for them in points. What if I told you that I was able to fly to Mexico (and San Francisco, and Portland, and Costa Rica) for COMPLETELY FREE? As in, I did not spend any points at all to fly there, nor did I spend money. How, you ask? Southwest Airlines!

Southwest Airlines has an awesome program that grants a person a Companion Pass. The Companion Pass allows you to take someone with you on any flight, for free. Since Mikey has the Companion Pass, I (his companion) can fly with him wherever he goes for zilch. For those of you without a permanent significant other, no worries! You can change your companion up to three times in one calendar year. So take multiple friends on multiple vacations and voila! Problem solved!

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How to get Companion Pass:

There are multiple ways to get Companion Pass. Mike and I were lucky enough to strike a deal in November of last year, which we shared with all our friends, who also got in on it. The deal was an automatic Companion Pass until the end of December the FOLLOWING year (2018) as long as you open a Southwest Airlines card. This is the one we opened in particular, although there are other options to choose from. Additionally, you receive $40k bonus points if you hit a minimum spending of $1,000 in the first 3 months. This was very easy to do since Christmas time was around the corner from when we signed up. So we used our new Southwest Credit card to pay for upcoming gifts and events that came hand in hand with the holidays, and planned to hit the minimum spend by January of 2018! Free 40,000 points, to spend however we want!

If you missed the deal, there IS another way. Reach 110k points in their rewards program in one calendar and receive the Companion Pass until the end of December the following year from when the points were unlocked. It is crucial to note that all 110k points must be reached in the same calendar year. You may be saying, “This seems like a lot! How am I ever going to reach 110k?” The answer lies in opening multiple Southwest cards. Opening one personal SW card and one Business SW card will give you 40K bonus points and 60K bonus points respectively! Additionally, everytime you refer one friend to their credit card, you will receive 10k bonus points. So referring one friend on top of opening two cards will lead you to the grand total of 110k points in one calendar year!

Since the Companion Pass lasts until December of the FOLLOWING year, you can see how the best tactic would be to hit the 110K points in the beginning months, such as January and February. If you do this, then you can get close to 2 years of Companion Pass privileges. In order to do this, you may want to consider opening the credit cards before the holidays and spending as you regular would on the cards WITHOUT hitting the bonus in those last few months. Once January hits, spend the little additional amount necessary to hit the target minimum spending in order to get your two bonuses, and refer a friend. Simple! It is very important you DO NOT hit your bonus before January, otherwise it counts for the previous year. All the points for the 110k needs to be in the same year. It is crucial. The worst that can happen is you divide the bonus points between two years (December and January), thus disqualifying them from counting towards the same Companion Pass.

Why Choose Southwest? 

Undoubtedly, there are a lot of credit cards out there that one can choose to start with, but we decided to make Southwest one of our first ones because Companion Pass is just too good to pass up. We do not know of other cards that will give you a free flight for every flight you take. With the Chase 5/24 rule, we knew that 2 Southwest cards have to make up 2/5 of those 5 cards. (The Chase 5/24 rule states that you will only be approved for a Chase credit card if you have opened less than 5 credit cards in the last 24 months. Which means that if your tactic is to open two Southwest credit cards in order to get Companion Pass, the sooner you open them, the less likely that you would accidentally violate the 5/24 rule prior to achieving Companion Pass.)

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Another great perk is that Southwest flies all over the United States, as well as  to international destinations such as Bahamas, Mexico, and Costa Rica, to name a few. Love Hawaii? Rumor has it that Southwest will be opening up flights to Hawaii sometime this year too!

Any hidden costs?

It is important to note that while there are two Southwest personal credit card options, Southwest has recently disallowed the application to both personal credit cards for one person. You must apply to a personal card and a business card in order to gain points that can combine. Also, it is important to note that there are annual fees associated with some of the credit cards that we use. These fees could be considered as a “cost” toward the flights. However, the bonus points rewarded to you after hitting the minimum spending offsets these fees, since they can be used to redeem flights that add up to much more than the single annual fee. Because annual fees are charged at every anniversary, it is important to remember to close the credit card prior to the anniversary date, to prevent being charged a renewal fee for another year.

Lastly, if you purchase flights with points, there may be taxes associated with the purchases. For example, Mike used points to buy flights to CDMX, San Francisco, and Portland, but he was taxed with roughly $11 for SF and Portland and roughly $25 for CDMX. These prices are minimal compared to the price of the flight, but they do still exist, and as a firm believer in full disclosures, I think it is imperative that this is stated in this post.

If travel hacking is something you are new to and would like to try, I really recommend starting with the Southwest Airlines credit card. Especially if you have a travel partner with you at all times! If you feel like you need to learn more about travel hacking first before committing, I suggest starting here.

Happy travels!

 

Frugal Challenge: Become Vegetarian One Week, Every Month!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I’ve attempted a lot of frugal life hacks in the past year, all with the goal of paying down my student debt of over $550,000 in less than ten years. These include co-housing to reduce rent, travel hacking to jet set around the world for free, and more. It seems I am very much up for these challenges, so I figure, why not start a series detailing some of the frugal hacks we come up with!

This month, we decided to start a new challenge. Become vegetarian for one week, every month. Seems arbitrary, but you can’t really deny that meat and fish are very expensive to buy. Even more so, when you have a determination to never come home from the grocery store with anything packaged in plastic. Because of that, we cannot buy meats and delis from large discount stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club. We also cannot buy them from cheaper sources such as Albertson’s and Ralphs. Pretty much, we have only been buying meats and fish and deli and cheese from Whole Foods, which sells them wrapped in paper. With the change of going zero plastic last year, we have watched with heavy hearts as our grocery bill went up and up and up. The fact that I gave up beef and alcohol more than a year ago hasn’t helped. So we decided that it’s time we wrangle in the grocery expenses, without going back to plastic.

We were talking to our friends about the meat dilemma when we were visiting San Francisco. It’s amazing what everyone else is thinking but not saying. Once the topic was brought up, it seems that we’ve all struggled with the concept of pricey meats at one point or another. One of our friends said that he knew someone who split an entire cow among him and his guy friends to reduce the cost. It requires contacting the farm and ordering the cow at a discounted rate, but, split an entire cow?! That’s SO much meat going into the freezer. It’s a great idea, but I am not sure it’s one I am ready for, especially since I gave up beef and Mikey will have to finish all of that. Also, the minimalist in me shudders at the thought of so much excess in the house. So Mike and I kept on thinking…

Our solution? Vegetarian for one week per month, to test two things. Firstly, if we can get better about eating more greens, and secondly, if it helps the financial aspect. This was week one. The verdict: Our grocery bill was LESS THAN $25! For two people who bring lunches into work every day and dine at home every dinner, that is spectacular!

How did we do it?

We meal planned our way to a lower amount. Mostly, all we bought this week was produce. I cut down the costs as well by baking my own bread, as well as preparing pizza dough from scratch and freezing them, so that they were readily available for the weeknights. Before we even stepped foot into the market, we took inventory of things we had at hand. For example, olive oil allowed for homemade pesto sauce that required just a handful of pine nuts and basil. Since pizza requires just a smear of the stuff, we now have pesto for weeks of pizza, readily available! Additional toppings for a pesto pizza included two mushrooms, one red onion, pepperoncini, and a can of olives. Since we were already getting basil, why not add margherita pizza to the list? This would only require us to buy two more ingredients: tomato sauce ($0.89 per can) and a single tomato ($0.99 per pound). The tomato sauce will also last for weeks upon weeks, or could be used for pasta at a future date. The total cost for 8 pizzas (with extra sauces for the future) was less than $6. Granted, home-made sourdough took half of Saturday to do, but I enjoy the task and it was so worth it.

Our meals this week consist of:

– Egg sandwiches using homemade bread with homemade tomato soup or pasta salad for lunch, a couple days of the week.

– Vegetable pizzas – I prepped enough dough for 8 personal pizzas. To be honest, neither of us can finish one personal pizza per meal. At most, maybe 3/4 of a pizza is eaten, therefore leaving 3/4 of a pizza (each) for lunch the next day given that I cook 3 personal pizzas in the evening. Which is what we do!

– Fried Rice – The most basic of fried rice was taught to me by my dad. It used to be a staple at our house when we were growing up, because it feeds many mouths and costs very little. I carry that tradition, today.

– Vegetable Stir Fry – It was the simplest and easiest thing I could think of, after the fried rice. Plus, more veggies!

– Vegetable laden omelettes. Breakfast for dinner, anyone?

We did cheat a little… but only because there was left-over ramen from last week, which also meant left-over pork belly slices. Mike was happy we were able to eat meat for a day. But no meats were purchased this week, thus resulting in a total of $25 in groceries. So that’s fine by us. Final ruling: roll-over meat from previous weeks does not count. Additionally, no intentional cheating allowed (a.k.a. purposefully buying extra meat the week prior!). We make the rules up as we go.

Let’s see what we come up with next month!

How about you guys? Willing to try going vegetarian for one week? How do you go about cutting the grocery bill, without purchasing plastic?

At-Home Cold-Brew

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

It’s my favorite season again; cold brew season! Iced coffee in glass cups behind tall windows, as your whole being gets warmed by a magnified sun. It used to be that I would enjoy nothing more than biking to a favorite local coffee spot, ordering a glass of cold brew, and being swallowed by a nook with one of their magazines to peruse. I wouldn’t say “gone were the days”, but I did shift some habits within the last year, and paying $4 a cold brew a few times a week stopped being something I looked forward to. Luckily, I’ve got Mike to guide my hand in creating my own at home. The truth of the matter is, it’s a very simple process that hardly takes time or work at all. It can be steeped overnight as you sleep and dream of coffee things, and then pre-prepared and stored in the fridge in batches of 10-20 cups. According to Mike, it should only last a week in the fridge, but that’s not much of a problem at our house. Plus, I consider less than $1/cup a frugal win. The best part? Accessibility of iced-coffee drinks, at all times.

Tools You Need:

There are a few gadgets that you will need in order to make cold-brew at home. These are some of our gadgets that we are not impartial to.

  • Scale – I own this one, because it weighs heavy-enough things for bread-making as well. I also like this because I can toggle between grams and ounces. Mike has this one that he uses for coffee exclusively, which is what we mostly use when measuring coffee bean and water weight. It is especially useful since it has that timer, essential to latte pulls and drip-coffee!
  • Grinder – The grinder plays a huge role in the quality of your brew (or espresso, or latte, or what-have-you). We used to just live with the results of a sub-par grinder, until last Christmas, when our gift to each other was a high quality grinder that has been spewing out delicious pours ever since.
  • French Press – Mike has owned a French press way before a Chemex or an espresso machine, and this may have been his first introduction to coffee. To be honest, prior to the habit shift of making cold-brews at home, all the French press has done the last couple of years is look pretty on a shelf. I am so glad that I can finally make use of this beauty once again.
  • Chemex – You can use any drip-coffee vessel, but we love our Chemex. We like the style with the glass handle, but there are ones with a wooden middle, if aesthetics are more of a concern. We use it for extracting hot coffee brews as well, but the summer time is going to change that.
  • Filter – We used to buy disposable paper filters for our Chemex. Over the holidays, Mike’s sister gifted us a pair of reusable hemp filter, and we have never thrown a filter out since then. Surprisingly, it is such an easy clean up process. You simply wash it like you would a towel and hang to dry.
    A similar one, here.
  • Fresh, whole coffee beans (To make about 10 cups, use 125 grams of coffee beans to 500 mL of water. For about 20 cups, use 250 grams of coffee beans to 1 L of water.
  • Water
  • Serving vessel or container – To store my cold-brew concentrate, I simply use mason jars (surprise, surprise). We DO have refillable howlers and growlers, wherein Mike likes to store already-diluted cold-brew.

The Process:

  1. Weigh the appropriate amount of coffee beans and grind them at a medium-coarse setting. If you are using the same grinder as us, we usually have the setting around 9E.
  2. Set the French press on top of the scale and add the ground coffee. Tare the scale.
  3. Fill the French press with the proper amount of cold water. Use a spoon to stir the coffee, making sure all the grounds are wet.
  4. Put the lid of the French press into place and press the filter down just enough to submerge the coffee below the water. Let the coffee steep at room temperature for about 12 hours. Usually we prepare this part in the evening around dinner time. We then leave it on the counter overnight and it is ready to be prepared the next morning. You can also make this in the morning before you head off to work, and then in the evening, you can continue the steps and let it cool in the fridge overnight. Really, this is very flexible for multiple schedules.
  5. After 12 hours, slowly plunge the filter to the bottom of the French press.
  6. Place the filter in the Chemex. Pour the cold brew concentrate from the French press through the filter, letting the coffee drip through.
  7. Before drinking, you will need to dilute the cold-brew concentrate using the following ratio: 1 part concentrate to 3 parts water, making sure to use a scale for accuracy. For the non-picky, you can always eyeball it, or decide based on your taste preference. For the especially particular, measuring is the way to go. Pour over ice. This can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week, before it starts to degrade. For me personally, I just store the concentrate and ration it out whenever I am ready to drink. Mikey likes everything pre-prepared for even more accessibility throughout the week. To each their own!

 

A Mother’s Day Gift Guide

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A list for Mother’s Day and last-minute gift buyers. Not because I myself am a mother, but because I know what my mother would want. For the smart, loving, strong, creative, fashionable, busy, stressed, but most importantly, deserving mothers in your life, a few gift ideas below.

– A pasta attachment set, for making fresh, healthy, home-made summer pasta an easy chore on a weeknight, or a creative hobby on the weekend.

– A caftan, for the upcoming summer days, where vacations to tropical areas or pool days with the kids run amok.

– An easy read, when the brain is fried from a long day and needs unwinding. I recently finished this and would highly recommend.

– A pair of reliable kicks, for some quick, slip-on action. Perfect for the park, the pool, the hammock, what have you.

– A tote that can carry it all for the busy mom.

– A light cardigan, for cool evening breezes, on patios watching sunsets.

– An upgrade to her living space, for those with a green thumb.

– A gift card, for the self-sufficient, or particular.

In an effort to ground Mother’s Day to something a bit less material, an organization which you can support to help local mothers and women who are in need.

– Grandma’s House of Hope in Orange County serves uniquely challenged women who fall between the cracks of existing programs. These invisible populations include human trafficking victims, breast cancer patients, and women with severe mental and physical diasabilities, mothers included. Consider a donation, for Mother’s Day.

Curating Closets: Reliable, Ethical Shoes with Nisolo + a 20% discount!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

When it comes to curating closets, the process is simplified when there are particular brands that you trust. Ones that would have your back, or in this case, support your feet. For shoes, I undoubtedly have a single preference, and that would be Nisolo. Nisolo means “not alone”. Founded on the longing to foster the interdependencies of relationships between consumers and producers, Nisolo has since its foundation expanded to encompass not only social impact, but environmental sustainability and social good as well. One only needs to look at their impact report to understand why it is that we need to support companies such as these. The report opens with their unique vision:

“To push the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction— where success is based on more than just offering the cheapest price—a direction that not only values exceptional design, but the original producer and the planet just as much as the end consumer.”

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While the above images are simply highlights of what the report details, it summarizes what the sixty-plus page report says. Additionally, some things to note.

Certified B corporation

B Corp certification is similar to fair trade, but determines environmental and social impact beyond product attributes or production processes. Rather, the assessment takes a deep look into a company’s leadership, governance, suppliers, employees, communities, etc. in order to determine (and ultimately score) the social and  environmental impact an organization has on all of its stakeholders.

Environmental sustainability

To minimize their carbon footprint, the majority of Nisolo’s raw materials are intentionally sourced and processed in close proximity of their production facilities. Third party suppliers to the factories are frequently visited, and encouraged to use environmentally friendly practices. When possible, they purchase from tanneries that have received certification from The Leather Working Group, the most well regarded third party certification in leather processing.

All Nisolo jewelry is made from upcycled materials in Nairobi, Kenya, and their first venture into vegetable tanned leather, a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly tanning process, has come via their new partner factories. Unlike most tanning methods that use chrome and other chemicals (which can create a severe impact on the environment if not properly disposed), vegetable tanning uses natural oils from bark or plant tannins, which reduce the product’s environmental impact. 

Defying Gender Norms

Nisolo has a female co-founder, as well as an executive team that consists of  40% female. Of the current staff, over 69% are female.

Education

Nearly all of the Peruvian workers had ended their education early due to a financial situation. To help combat this, Nisolo works with two universities in Trujillo to offer their producers discounted rates and opportunities to attend school at nights and during the weekend. 

They are proud to share that 100% of their producer’s children are attending school, and of the students in the university, 100% will be first generation graduates.

With that being said, I am proud to be an affiliate for a company that I so whole-heartedly believe in and support. To learn more about the ways in which Nisolo is pushing the fashion forward to a better future, read the entire impact report here.

The Shoes Themselves

Company ethics aside, what of the shoes? It is important to note that I have graduated (happily) from that stage in my life where I thought uncomfortable shoes were pretty. In fact, when curating my closet, comfort sits quite high on the list of boxes to check off. Additionally, shoes must be simple and versatile. I want them to match multiple outfits so that I could make use of them as much as possible. Shoes are meant to be worn. There was a time when I used to own over fifty pairs of shoes. Blame it on a pair of feet that never grew since the eight grade, but really, it was just a disgusting habit of over-consumption of very cheap products that were so trend-specific that they were essentially useless, most of the time. There was a neglecting of forty of those pairs, because they matched only one or two outfits in my closet, at most. However, simplicity does not mean plain. The shoes that I look for still have to be stylish and in line with my taste. Also, what I love about Nisolo shoes is that they are affordable, especially for the high-quality material and attention to detail that you get. A factory-produced Nike shoes is comparable in price to a pair of environmentally-conscious leather shoes that support an artisan who otherwise would have no access to a market. To me, the choice is very easy. Lastly, I want them to be timeless, and I want them to last. These two must go hand-in-hand, for timelessness explains the longevity of the style and the latter explains the longevity of the physical product. Without the other, the shoe would enter a landfill way too soon. I would like to confirm that Nisolo has definitely passed all of these requirements with flying colors, time and time again, which is why I keep coming back.

Below are some of the shoes I own from Nisolo’s Women Collection. They just recently released a curated Mother’s Day collection that features some products perfect for mothers at a 10% off rate. Also, subscribers will receive 20% off their first order, so do head over using the link above, scroll to the bottom of the page, and subscribe with your email to enjoy this awesome discount.

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With summer just around the corner, this is going to be my go-to shoe for the upcoming season. It was last year and it will be again this year. There is something so traditional and timeless about a pair of Huaraches. Excited to announce that new colors have been recently released!

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This is undeniably my most worn shoe outside of work. The Sophia Slip On is so versatile, that I have half a mind to also purchase the Sophia Slip On in brandy as well, which happens to be on sale right now. It’s easy to put on, very comfortable, but also sleek and elevates any outfit.

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These Ava Ballerina flats are easy to dress up or down, and are probably my most versatile shoe. I can see toe-cleavage-haters extremely disliking this shoe, but personally, I’ve got no problems.

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These are my favorite boots. They are Nisolo’s chukkas from 2016, although for 2018, they have their Isa Chukka Boot in the light oak, an updated version that looks pretty similar.

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The Oliver Oxfords are so comfortable that these are actually my every day work shoes. Which means I wear these five days a week and am able to run from room to room, maneuver a foot pedal, and still get compliments on my footwear. If you prefer a more modern style, check out the James Oxfords or the Emma D’orsay Oxfords.

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I get people asking me about these flip flops all the time! Which just goes to show that the simplest of silhouettes can be extremely attractive. These Isla Slides are fantastic, and new versions are soon to be released! Stay tuned!

These are just some of the Nisolo shoes I own, and I absolutely enjoy every single one of them. Mike as well is very fond of Nisolo’s Men’s Collection, so much so that he donned Nisolo shoes for our New Year’s Eve Wedding.

How about you guys? Reliable shoes?