Personal Finance: Introduction to Budgeting

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

PLUS: Download our personal budgeting spreadsheet below!

So we're starting a Personal Finance series!
Personal finance/investing can be super f*cking complicated if you don't come from a family/background that regularly discusses it or with much financial literacy -- which is super common. I graduated from an undergraduate business school and had a major in Economics, and I still find the topic very dry and complex (which is probably why I couldn't do Finance/investment banking!)

For those of us who aren't particularly passionate about investment banking but very, very passionate about returns on investments and what they can afford us (shoes! books! donations to coalitions and non-profit organizations of our choice!), so we're compiling the quick and dirty finance lessons we wish we'd learned in high school. Obligatory heads up that the "personal" is "personal finance" is very literal, and your strategy will shift hugely depending on your priorities/salary/etc.

Topic 1: Introduction to Budgeting
Here's a cute first-date question: what does your budget breakdown look like and how much of your discretionary income do you allocate to self improvement? 
I don't think budgeting is synonymous with frugality; you could budget very closely and still have zero savings because you've ~consciously allocated~ the majority of your discretionary income to sample sales. The point is, even if you're very comfortable spending the majority of your money (or if you have no choice because cosmopolitan costs of living are ridiculous), you shouldn't be surprised by where your money is going each month.
I like to do all of my budgeting in Google Sheets because it's super accessible (as in, I can give it a quick peek on my work laptop, on my phone, etc.) so that I should never, ever have an excuse to accidentally overspend.
The basics of budgeting are (1) fixed sum or percentage-based allocations to different categories of expenditures, (2) a table of dated entries crediting and debiting each category and method of payment.
In fact, I've put one together and shared it below for you to use.
It's pretty simple (and please don't over-analyze the sample entries; I made them up, including the income). You divide your income into percentage-based allocations (ex. 20% of my paycheck goes towards my rent.) The worksheet automatically populates the dollar amount of your budget based on the percentage inputs.
Your entries require a bit more grunt work; track your expenditures (either by keeping your receipts or through an app), then categorize & subcategorize them to deduct from your budgeted allocation. For example, on March 13, I spent $34.00 on a baby shower gift from Nordstrom's. The workbook deducts $34.00 from the money I allocated for discretionary gifts.

The workbook also keeps track of your surplus (the money you estimated you'd spend but didn't) and rolls them into a running total for end-of-month savings. This is the number you want to maximize!

The workbook is also totally customizable, so you can play around with the categories, like adding student loan payments or changing the percentage allocated to rent.

Upcoming topics -- stay tuned:
Side Hustles & Extra Income
Planning for Retirement
Personal Finance Apps
Habits for Financial Health

Love always,

Fitness Friday: No. 2

Friday, April 26, 2019

(CL Editor's Note: This was written in late March. I've actually already finished my half-marathon and will publish a post about that soon.☺)

My half marathon is in 2 weeks, so I wanted to write about how I started running and how I trained for this. No joke, I couldn't even run a mile a year ago. The last time I had truly run was back in middle school when I did track and field and even then, I was doing like long jump or something! In high school because I swam and played water polo, I was in a ~ special ~ PE class where we had a class period to practice the sport we were in and therefore, I never ran. I did run one mile once though for some required national physical exam and I remember it being very painful (a wow am I tasting blood and wow why are my ears ringing painful).

After I started my full-time job in late May and joined my first project in mid-June, I noticed that for some reason, consultants loved running. It's probably because when you're travelling or in a hotel that just has a couple free weights and some treadmills and ellipticals, you learn to run. It also so happened that on that team, more than 3 people were marathoners! I was feeling inspired by them and by Leona's completion of C25K (a great app - Couch to 5K) and decided I'd pick up running.

Not going to lie.. C25K starts you off pretty "easy" and even that was painful for me. You walk for 5 minutes and then run for 5 and then walk more and run more, etc. I could barely run for 5 minutes but it got easier as time passed. Also not going to lie, sometimes I cheated and would walk a little more or skip some of the days, but I did complete the C25K program and ran The Color Run for fun to celebrate my ability to run 3 miles. Honestly quite a feat considering that when I started C25K, I did doubt if I'd ever be able to run more than 15 minutes.

Now, I run around 10 miles a week. Usually I will do one long run (3 - 6 miles) on the weekend and a couple short runs (1-3 miles) on the week days. I have run 7 miles once or twice and ran 12 miles once in the last couple months, so I do think I'll be able to finish a half-marathon of 13.1 miles! Apparently, if you can run half the distance then you can definitely finish the half-marathon. On my off days from running, I cross-train by taking a class at my gym, lifting, doing stairmaster, or using the elliptical. The elliptical is one of my favorites because it's good for cardio, but no/low impact on the body. I've learned that my legs and body probably weren't made for running as my knees and ankles will usually hurt so the elliptical is great on my days off. I try and use the Nike Run Club app that has a half-marathon training program, but definitely don't follow it strictly.

The secret to running is running gear, mainly running shoes. Shout out to Jinny for educating me on socks, shoes, compression, etc. when I first started really wanting to run more. It really was a game changer for my ankles and legs to get running shoes. The next secret is running outdoors! For me, it's way easier to run outdoors than indoors as running on the treadmill is super hot and boring. I can easily run 2+ miles outside, but if I'm on the treadmill, running even 1 or 2 miles can be super challenging.

Looking back now, I have had some bad timing as I was in London and took time off from training and will be going to St. Charles, Illinois for a week-long work training the week before this half-marathon. Regardless, I'm super excited (and scared) to run the Shape NYC Women's Half-Marathon on April 14th. I'll write another fitness update when I've finished it, but feel free to reach out and ask about running! 

Happy running,

The Catalogue: No. 28

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Recently I got a NY Times subscription in an effort to lead a life as a more well-rounded individual (but let's be honest, I just wanted to read more Modern Love columns). I first encountered this column in college, because they do a "College Essay Contest" that someone at my college had been a finalist for. After that, I couldn't stop reading them. Each story is unique - some are sad, some are happy, some are moving, some try and teach the reader lessons, but all the ones I've ever read have been good.

Here's a sample of some of my favorite Modern Love essays:

White Shirt, Black Name Tag, Big Secret

  • "It was weird to see him not wearing his white shirt, tie and black name tag, but it was just as weird for me not to be wearing mine."
  • "I was using what trainers call "approximations," rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. You can't expect a baboon to learn to flip on command in one session, just as you can't expect an American husband to begin regularly picking up his dirty socks by praising him once for picking up a single sock."
Honey, I Swept the Floor!
  • "Why do so many husbands feel the need to boast about completing simple household chores? With mine, it’s all about branding."

Putting Love to the Stress Test
  • "When two self-described tech geeks slide into a relationship that seems too easy, they design a month long trial to expose its flaws."

Someone also created an amazing website to see all of the Modern Love columns together using the NY Times API.

Happy reading,

The Catalogue: No. 29

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Hello, yes, it's me, LC on the verge of another spectacular supernova of sheer exhaustion and overwhelming gratitude that my life is so full.

I wish I could shake the version of me that was just a few months younger and smugly blogging about "creating" pockets of time to achieve lofty goals like read a billion books and meditate before bed and keep abreast of current affairs and gas prices and political scandals. Such are your twenties. Each newly released version of yourself makes the previous iteration - functional, well-received, even - look like shit.

So anyways, I've been traveling and complaining and honestly just looking forward to being left alone, but here's what I've managed to read while brushing my teeth in the mornings:

Five Lies Our Culture Tells | David Brooks for The New York Times
The truth is, success spares you from the shame you might experience if you feel yourself a failure, but career success alone does not provide positive peace or fulfillment. If you build your life around it, your ambitions will always race out in front of what you’ve achieved, leaving you anxious and dissatisfied.
I can make myself happy. This is the lie of self-sufficiency. This is the lie that happiness is an individual accomplishment. If I can have just one more victory, lose 15 pounds or get better at meditation, then I will be happy.
The Taiwanese Populist Advancing China’s Interests | Chris Horton for The Atlantic
Han being elected Taiwan’s president, many here fear, could destabilize the island’s uneasy relationship with China, erode Taiwan’s hard-earned democracy, and draw into question the loyalty of a strategically located American ally.
(Okay, so I couldn't find a good pull quote for this, but Taiwan's current political state is fucking wild and honestly worth following if you want to root for the underdog, be massively disappointed 99.9% of the time, and experience a plot that is both dystopian and deja vu).

A Journey — if You Dare — Into the Minds of Silicon Valley Programmers | Nellie Bowles for The New York Times
The backdrop to this book is that something is broken about Silicon Valley. To understand what isn’t working for so many people it’s necessary to scrutinize the coders themselves, their personalities and biases. The very particular culture they’ve created infuses everything they produce for the rest of us. Because deeply introverted people were drawn to coding, they did not prioritize positive human interactions. A community that indulges thoughts of anarchy was wary of adding any guardrails to the programs and products it produced.
Throwing Weight Into Sound: Kaveh Akbar on Poetry and Power | Kevin Young for The New Yorker
Poems are rarely on the side of power. What would a poem in praise of the political status quo look like? A brochure? White text on a red baseball cap? The Kurdish poet Abdulla Pashew writes: “If a word / can’t become . . . winged bread / to fly from trench to trench, / then it might as well / become a brush to polish the invader’s boots.” This isn’t an ideological stance; it’s a craft issue. The status quo is so certain of its righteousness, so convinced of its own goodness—like the old king early in the poem—its speech becomes a closed loop. 
How China Turned A City Into A Prison | Chris Buckley, Paul Mozar, and Austin Ramzy for The New York Times
Interactive, so no pull quote, but worth spending time with. What's happening to Uighurs in China is overwhelmingly awful.

Bok Choy Isn’t ‘Exotic’ | Cathy Erway for Eater
Prior to the turn of the 20th century, Chinese immigrants transformed California’s Sacramento River Delta into one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. Many of the early Chinese immigrants were from the Pearl River Delta region of China, near the city of Taishan, and brought a deep agricultural knowledge and advanced irrigation techniques to the West Coast. They also had a lasting impact on the cuisine. “A lot of green vegetables were part of their cuisine,” says Ichikawa. “Things would have been different if it were a different group.”
I am so tired and want to take a very long nap in a very clean, dim room and then perhaps read a few collections of poetry. Or even write my own. Until such luxuries manifest,

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