Monday, June 25, 2007

Carnival of Personal Finance #106 is up

The Carnival of Personal Finance #106 is up.
Usually, I like to mention a few of my favorite articles. However, there were just so many articles that I liked this week that I couldn't pick just a few. So check them all out.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Template Change

I decided to change my template since I've been looking at other blogs and it seems that many others were using the same template as me. I guess since money is green, green makes a good color for a money blog....
Anyway, I think I like this one better.

How Safe Is Your Safety Net?

Awhile ago, I posted that I don't have a 401k or any sort of "retirement fund". I know that this is far from the norm considering that I'm writing a personal finance blog. Everybody knows that the key to financial independence is to lower your debt and increase your retirement fund. Right? (Well, everybody who's interested in this type of thing at least. I suspect that many "normal" people are not too far from where I am.)
I further state, for those of you who didn't read that post, that the reason that this doesn't bother me is because I believe that the world (as we know it) is going to end in five years and money will cease to exist.
Naturally, someone (Frank, but I can't go to his website...) asked..."Don't you want a safety net? Suppose you're wrong and the world DOESN'T end in 5, 10, 50 years? You're putting a lot at stake."
A very fair question indeed. One which requires a two part answer:

1. Yes, I do want a safety net. But my idea of a safety net is much different than other people's ideas. Most people think that it's best to save a lot of money that you'll have on hand when it's time for your retirement. But the majority of people put their money in the stock market. How safe is that really? What's going to happen when the gazillion baby boomers collectively start withdrawing even a modest $1000 a month to cover their expenses in retirement? Will there be enough people putting money into the system to keep that up? Is the stock market just as much of a ponzi scheme as Social Security? I'm not an economist, but I do have common sense. And the stock market just doesn't hold up to my common sense.
My idea of a safety net is working towards living sustainably. I need a place to live and food to eat. If I were to own a house outright and be able to grow the majority of my food, then I wouldn't really need much money. To be honest, I haven't really thought that much about the cost of things, but I would estimate needing $50/month for internet and maybe another $50 for food that I cannot grow myself. Then maybe another $100/year for clothes. Of course, potential big expenses could come from medical needs and taxes and I'm not even going to try to estimate those on the fly. But I don't have a lot of needs or wants. Electricity could come from solar panels. Books can come from the library. And I have a whole big beautiful world to entertain me. That's all I need. It's more important to me to reduce the amount of money that I need rather than increase the amount of money that I have.
2. What if I am right? What if money did suddenly cease to exist? How much of your life did you waste acquiring and saving for something that you didn't need? Would you wish that you had spent more time with family? With yourself?

I realize that everyone has different priorities. But to me it's more important to spend my time living now than it is to save money so I can live life later.

June Mid-Month Money Pick-Up

I've been a bit frazzled by our recent legal issues but fortunately, we met with a lawyer and there seems to be no real problem. Score one for us.
This has prevented me from posting about the results of my mid-month money pick-up. Last month, I announced that I was going to start tracking all the money that I picked up off the street. The results this month have been wholly unremarkable.
Before I started tracking, I had picked up at least $5 and was expecting similar results.
The biggest score of the month came on the 15th of May, the first day of the money pick-up. I found 45 cents in the used car that I had bought. Technically, I'm not sure if this should count as we had bought the car 2 weeks prior to that. But since it was just on that day that I found the money, I decided that it could be counted.
I then had a very very long dry spell of not finding any money at all!
Just when I thought that I would never find any money again, I did find one penny, and a few days later found a quarter and a nickle.
I did find another penny once when I was jogging that I did not pick up. I ran back to get it, but realized that i had no place to put it, so left it for someone else.
All this brings the grand total from May 15-June 14 to a whopping .81 cents.
Still better than nothing, I suppose.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Yesterday, we hit a bit of a snag with the business planning. We're planning on primarily focusing selling NCL cruises since that's the only cruise line that is allowed to only sail in Hawaii (others have to include at least one foreign port).
Well, my husband called up "NCL Japan" and the guy that he spoke with was very condescending and basically said "You can't do that." or, if we were going to go ahead with it, we would have to associate with another travel agency which was associated with NCL Japan, presumably giving commissions to two different companies. He generally made my husband feel like a sham or something.
I was dumbfounded. I mean, first...who's side is he on? My husband called to introduce himself and say that we are going to sell cruises for HIS COMPANY and the guy shot him down. Second, could there possibly be some kind of Japanese law that says that American companies cannot market directly to Japanese clients? And if so, what would prevent a Japanese person from seeking out an American company to do business with?
The iffy thing here is that Japanese travel companies advertise significantly higher prices than the ones that we can get in America. A cruise is an additional $1000. One night in a hotel is an additional $100. That type of thing. I don't know why. I don't know if this is a legal arrangement or merely a "gentlemen's agreement" between Japanese travel companies to fleece the Japanese people.
But in any case...our position is looking good. I talked to a lawyer who does business law, and while he doesn't specifically know about Japanese laws, his initial response was "Well, *everybody* does it!" (He was actually a pretty funny guy and spent about 30 minutes on the phone with me, pretty much "shooting the s*it". I have some calls in to other lawyers who know more international law. Then I had my husband call the Japan Association of Travel Agents, who also said that there was no problem with what we wanted to do.
So what is up with this guy?? I 50/50 think he might not actually be a legitimate representative of NCL. One CS rep at NCL told me that he was legit...but this same CS rep also told me about shorter cruises that I could buy through NCL's website which don't exist. The rep that I talked to today said that she didn't know about a Japanese office, that it wasn't listed in her book of contacts, that there was no "main office in California" (as the Japanese guy had told us), and that the website in question "looks dated".
Tomorrow I am calling the main NCL office to try to get some more facts, but we'll see.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Some of My Secrets

Let's face it. Most PF Bloggers are coming from a similar space. They're working hard to get rid of their debt and build a nice, safe retirement fund. They're trying to increase their net worth. They've read all the same books about personal finance, which, as far as I can tell, all say the same down your debt and increase your savings and investments.

I'm not knocking this at all. I read a lot of the PF blogs and I really appreciate hearing everyone's different stories about their struggles or accomplishments. I think it's infinitely more interesting to hear about Joe Schmo's "journey to riches" than it is to read Suze Ormond's same old same old "story of how I got there and how you can too".

This is a safe space to be in. I know that if I write an(other) article about the best way to attack your debt being to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate and work your way down, I'll get nods of approval from PF bloggers.

But in a lot of ways, this is not who I am. I've hesitated to "come out" with who I really am because in some ways it's a little scary. I know that I'll set myself up for a lot of criticism for not "following the rules", or even for not believing that those are the actual rules to begin with. I worry that without having those "5 Ways to Decrease your Debt" or "Investing 101" types of articles to fall back on, I'll run out of things to say. In presenting a truly alternative perspective, will I alienate myself from the PF Blogging community?

Yet the time has come to really let you know who I am. Following is a list of 10 things that you probably didn't know about me. 10 things that you might not have ever expected a PF Blogger to say. 10 Dirty Little Secrets. I don't pretend that they make a whole lot of sense when you put them all together. I have strong opinions without facts to back them up and I'm not ashamed of this.


1. I'm 30 years old and I don't have a 401k, IRA, or any other sort of retirement account. When I first had a corporate job, they showed us those little comparisons of how much you have if you start saving when you're 25 vs if you start saving when you're 35. I was only 22 at the time, so I thought "Hey! I've got a few years to start!" I never started. Then I moved to Japan, where that wasn't an option. Now, I'm starting a business and have no income.

2. Despite what all the experts say, the fact that I don't have any retirement savings doesn't concern me.

3. I don't believe that the stock market is a worthwhile investment. And yes I also mean index funds and mutual funds. I think it's going to explode and everyone will lose all of their money. I don't have any proof of this or facts to back it up. It's just what I think.

4. I used to work as a psychic friend for the Psychic Readers Network. So you should probably go back and read number 3 again.

5. I did once get burned by the stock market. This may be why I have such animosity towards it.

6. One reason that I don't really care about not having retirement savings is that I think the world (as we know it) is going to end in about 5 years. Part of this "ending" is that money and time will cease to exist. And no, I don't mean that we will switch to using only electronic funds and thus "physical money" will cease to exist. I really mean that the entire concept of money will cease to exist.

7. My freshman high school teacher had us read Ayn Rand's Anthem. I liked it, so I also read many of her other works. My favorite is Atlas Shrugged, except for that whole like 100 page speech at the end. However, every time I would be heavily into reading Ayn Rand, my mom would point out that I was acting like an asshole. I'm pretty sure that's not a coincidence.

8. The only debt that I've ever had is student loans. Student loans are now down by more than half. I could pay them all off right now, but then we wouldn't have money to live off of while starting our business. I have a credit card, but I pay it off in full each month. I'm a hippie and I don't like expensive things.

9. Number 8 was a bit of a lie. I had a $250 limit credit card when I was in college that I didn't pay off. I also had a dentist bill around $750 that I didn't pay until it was in collections because I had been told that insurance was covering it and I didn't realize that I had to pay it. Luckily, those things are not on my credit report anymore. Hence, they don't exist and I can rightfully claim number 8.

10. If you're the type of person who likes to put labels on people, well...I'm an "anti-capitalist anarchist". I'm also starting a business. I'm not sure what I think of that either.

So there you have it...a bit more of a complete picture of who I am. What are your secrets?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

We've Registered our Business!

Good news. We finally officially registered our business yesterday and our application was approved today!
I cannot believe how easy it was. I'd been putting it off because I imagined a long wait in a government office, with a lot of paperwork, getting to the desk and being told that we didn't have all the necessary paperwork and then having to go to the back of the line again.
However, it was super easy. I found out that you could get registered all online. A few clicks later and it was all done. It was so easy that I was worried that we had made some sort of major mistake. But today I got the email saying that we were approved.
It's such a relief!
Our business name?? Best Smile Travel.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Burning Desire to Go Shopping

So, we've moved into a new apartment where we've started with nothing but a few suitcases packed with clothes and our computers. We've slowly been acquiring necessities, but recently I've been burning with desire to buy the things that I just plain want. Some of these things are probably things that others would consider necessities, but their falling to the wayside because of the lack of immediate need.
Here are the things that I've been wanting:

  • cable TV
  • if not cable, then at least an antenna so we get *some* reception
  • if not even that, then a netflix membership
  • an exercise ball
  • a vacuum
  • spice rack (actually a pretty good deal as it comes with many spices which are quite expensive here)
  • dryer sheets
  • food processor
  • extra swimsuits for me and hubby (we only have one each and go swimming frequently)
  • many different cleaning supplies
  • books
  • little decorations to make the place feel more homey
  • plants (despite my "black thumb")
  • potato masher
  • convection oven (we have no oven)
  • an "island" for the kitchen to increase available counter space

That's all I can think of for now. They're little things, but because we don't have an income right now, I hesitate to buy them.
I do, however, think that when we go to the store today I'm going to pick up the antenna and the exercise ball. If hubby complains, I'll point out that his rice cooker cost $45 and I didn't complain about that. Haha.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Eat That Frog!

I just finished reading the book Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy. The subtitle for the book is "21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time".
It was a pretty good book--nothing absolutely mind-blowing if you've ever done any looking into things like planning, being proactive, and/or increasing your effectiveness.
But the idea that caught my attention is the idea that's the premise for the book's strange title. Tracy states (and I'm not sure if this is his own metaphor or not) that if the first thing that you do when you wake up in the morning is eat a big, ugly, live frog...well, that's probably going to be the worst thing that you do all day.
Put in realistic terms, you should tackle your biggest, ugliest project first.
From a personal finance standpoint, that could be many things:

  • simply deciding to take control of your finances
  • tackling your debt
  • paying down the debt that has the highest interest rate
  • learning how to effectively invest the money that you do have

Or perhaps you already have all of those things under control and your "big frog" is more along the lines of getting into an exercise routine, learning a new skill that could advance your career, or taking the time to do things that really matter to *you*.
I'm not going to lecture you on what your big frog should be. Only you can decide that for yourself. However, whatever you think your big frog is, I do hope that you eat it.
Bon appetit!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Hooray for Free Pizza!!

Last night I ordered a pizza. I was very excited to do this because I haven't had delivered pizza in two months, and I haven't had even a frozen pizza in a month (Our apartment does not have an oven). Pizza is my favorite!
I got a pretty good deal on the pizza because we had a coupon, so I was pretty excited. We were getting an extra large pizza for the price of a small, so I knew that we'd have some leftovers.
The pizza came, but I had to meet the guy outside because he couldn't find our address. No big deal, it was his second night.
But then when i went upstairs and opened up the pizza...well, it had been tied too tight on his motorbike or something because the top of the box had been pressed so hard against the middle of the pizza that all of the cheese and stuff came off. then, they also had this little thing of garlic oil that you're supposed to be able to choose to pour over your pizza. Except that ours had opened up and poured all over the box and the pizza was soaking in it.
So I called up and complained. And I said that I was going to eat this pizza anyway because I was hungry, but could they send me a coupon. And they said they would! For a free pizza (I was expecting just a discount)!
I'm so happy because this is the first time that I've complained about something and actually got something out of it.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Carnival of Personal Finance #103 is up

Clever Dude is hosting the Carnival of Personal Finance #103.
He's got a cool 24 theme going on and my article is featured in the 14th hour.
Unfortunately, he makes references to season 6 of 24, which i have not watched. Grrrr. I have to wait until it comes out on Japanese dvd so that my husband can watch too.
Fortunately, I can sometimes will myself to have the brain of a goldfish and immediately forget things that I have read.
Anyway, check it out!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

And You Thought Your In-Laws Were Bad

A bit of background before continuing with this...
My husband is Japanese. From Japan Japanese, not Japanese American. His parents are quite is in her 70s and dad's in his 80s. He has a brother who is 13 years older than him (My husband is 28, brother is 41).
We spent about a year and a half saving up money so that we could move to America and start a business. Yes, we have "a lot of money" relatively speaking. But considering the fact this this is money that we are supposed to be living off of while we get the business going, it's not exactly "disposible".
During the time that we have been together:
1. His family insisted that we pay for them to go to our wedding in upstate NY. In addition to this, my husband wanted to put them up in the castle/hotel where we were going to get married (significantly higher in cost than, say, Econolodge.) and not only that, but they had to have the "best room" (which, to my American mind, should go to the "happy couple"). All of this was going to cost in the neighborhood of $5000 (To put this in perspective, we were trying to do the whole wedding for $5000.)
2. While coming to America for the wedding, they also wanted to see New York City. My family is from Rochester, which is quite far from New York City. This trip would have cost an additional $2000 or so.
(We canceled the "big wedding" because of this and had a small ceremony in Vegas, just us and my brother.)
3. My husband had not been working for 5 months. When he did get a job, the day that he got his first paycheck, his mom called and said that she needed to borrow $1000. This was more than half of his paycheck. His first paycheck in 6 months. This was not the first time she needed to borrow large sums of money.
4. When we had a small wedding celebration/Bon Voyage dinner with his family, his mother repeatedly insisted that her gift to us was that she paid to raise my husband. Um, like my mom didn't pay to raise me? And my mom gave us $4500 as a wedding gift. (To be fair, his parents later gave us about $500 and his brother the same.)
5. Before we left for America, my husband's brother made my husband sign a "brother's agreement" saying that we would never come to the family for financial help. Two months later, my husband's brother helps himself to a $2000 loan from our account. What the &*(^?!?!

To me, and I think to most of my (white) American readers, it seems like I've married into the family from hell. But as it turns out, these types of things are apparently quite common in Asian families. Make Love, Not Debt had an article about this a few weeks ago. Many others from Asian families piped up with similar experiences.

Now, I have to admit that the idea of "taking care of your parents" is something that I particularly valued about Asian cultures. My mom is a single mom and I always worried about what would happen to her when she gets older. I want to be able to take care of her. I appreciated the fact that my husband wouldn't question that this was a responsibility.

However, it seems that this idea is not just "taking care of your parents" but also "treating them to the finer things in life". My husband frequently has ideas that start with, "Hey, I've got a great idea...How about we (do something that involves spending a lot of money on his parents)?" Fortunately for him, he's also started including my mom in these plans. Otherwise he'd get smacked too many times. ;-)

I actually would love to be able to pay for our parents to come to Hawaii. I'd love to be able to buy them nice things. But right now, we've got a limited amount of money to spend and no income (currently) coming in. It's just not the right time. It's very frustrating to me that my husband has so much pressure put on him to do these things now.

I know that this is one of the prices that we have to pay for being in an inter-cultural relationship. If anyone is in a similar relationship, perhaps you can share some experiences of how you deal with this.