Posts Tagged money

Do You Belong?

Sometimes we feel out of place, like we just don’t belong. Even introverts like me need to be part of group. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging is right in the middle. Acceptance into a group (or many groups) helps us become fully actualized humans.

But who decides if we belong? Is it based on our own judgement or the reaction of others?

Four Seasons living room

Mr. HalfFull reads a magazine in our suite at the Four Seasons.

Living the High Life

As a result of a live auction fundraiser and my dad’s generosity, Mr. HalfFull and I had the opportunity to spend the weekend at the Four Seasons in DC.  I felt a bit strange about staying there.  Under normal circumstances, I would never book a room at the Four Seasons; it’s for rich people!

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Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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The Benefits of Marriage

Mr. HalfFull and Ms. HalfEmpty enjoy the sunset on their first day of marriage

Mr. HalfFull and Ms. HalfEmpty enjoy the sunset on their first day of marriage

As you’ve been watching various tax forms appear in your mailbox, perhaps the marriage penalty has come to mind. But even this half empty thinker knows there are some benefits to marriage!

One of those benefits is sharing food. (Of course it’s not the only or best benefit, but stick with me…)

I don’t cook. Of course, I could cook. But I don’t enjoy it. Perhaps it has to do with my affinity for order and cleanliness. Cooking seems awfully messy for my taste!

gourmet foods paper

It looks like I learned something about cooking at some point in the 90s.

That isn’t to say that I never cooked. In high school, I got an A in Gourmet Foods. (I got A’s in everything, but that’s not the point!) We cooked and baked all sorts of things that I would never dream of making now. We made pumpkin pies from real pumpkins with crusts from scratch…ridiculous!

We even separated whole chickens. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a whole chicken in my life. I realize it’s cheaper, but it seems impractical for a single person, especially one who doesn’t like dark meat.

Recipe binder title

Mr. HalfFull’s mockery of my high school Gourmet Foods binder

I’m lucky to have found a partner who enjoys cooking and grocery shopping. Knowing my dislike for the kitchen, he finds it terribly amusing that I still have my Gourmet Foods recipe binder from high school. He even made a label for the binder reading, “Ms. HalfEmpty’s A+ Recipe Binder, Circa 1995” and constantly ribs me for my scores over 100% inside.

binder tab

The first tab of my “A+ Recipe Binder” for Quick Breads showcases my more than perfect score. Ha!

Last weekend, Mr. HalfFull commented that I’m becoming quite the “microwave chef.” You may think that’s an oxymoron, but my usual microwave cooking involves a bag or a box that goes in the microwave, followed by me pushing a few buttons. Sometimes I even have to uncover and stir in the middle of cooking. What a process!

But when I was lauded as a microwave chef, it was far more complex and a creation of my own. Mr. HalfFull bought a plastic egg cooking container for the microwave. Some of you (like my mother) may be freaking out about plastic leaching chemicals in the microwave. But most of my self-prepared meals are in far less sturdy plastic containers, so it doesn’t phase me.

Microwave Egg Cooker

Don’t worry, I cracked the egg before I cooked it!

The egg container allows me to cook a fresh egg without additional oil or butter and without creating splatter on the stove! After cooking the egg with spices, I added it to bread and various cheeses, and stuck the concoction in the panini machine. Thus, earning the title microwave chef (even though I used two kitchen appliances)! Yes, it was delicious.

Since my cooking skills and desire are in the low to non-existent range, Mr. HalfFull and I enjoy eating out. This gives us the opportunity experience a benefit of marriage — being cute and sharing meals. It also affords us the chance to take more risks when ordering because we know we’ll have a fallback. When done correctly, it can also help us save money and eat appropriately sized portions (instead of restaurant-size portions) with variety.

But sometimes, we go all out. Like on New Year’s Eve, we went to one of our favorite local restaurants and each ordered the prix fixe tasting menu with a small plate, main plate, and sweet plate for each of us. So instead of a 3-course meal, we each got a 6-mini-course meal!

If you’re thinking about eating healthier and have a partner (married or not) to split with, check out the ideas in my meal sharing post for Northern Virginia Magazine.

  • Do you enjoy cooking? Did you always or did you grow into or out of it?
  • Does cooking an egg in the microwave make one a chef? =)
  • Do you share meals?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Waiting for My Vision

I left my job in May.  I didn’t have a horrific boss and wasn’t forced to work long hours.  Day-to-day things really weren’t that bad.  So why did I quit?

It may sound idealistic, but I want to wake up and be excited to go to work.  After two acquisitions, I was no longer in a corporate culture of my choosing; I wasn’t motivated to excel.  I don’t want to work just to have a place to pass time and earn money.

Life at Work

supercomputer

Ms. HalfEmpty coding in a server room…at work, of course!

My degree is in computer science, but over the years it has become increasingly clear that it’s not my passion.  I always got A’s in school and certainly have an aptitude for it, but the interest just isn’t there.  I was never the girl who had a server farm in her basement, spending each evening coding my own side projects.  In fact, I don’t think I would ever code for enjoyment.

In 2010, I stopped coding.  I left my project as a software engineer and looked for other projects within the company.  This was incredibly eye-opening.

I didn’t think it would be difficult to find a non-coding job.  I had built a reputation as a solid employee.  Surely, someone would want me on their team.

And they did…to code.

I would apply for job after job.  But all the calls I got were for software engineering positions.  My résumé had marked me as a software engineer, and no one wanted to hire me for anything else.

After a while, the phone interviews got a bit comical.  A manager would call me and ask all sorts of detailed technical questions about frameworks and design patterns.  After a few questions, I asked which job he was filling.  Invariably, it would be the software engineering role, when I had applied for a different position on the same project.

Eventually, I did end up in a project management role, and later, a consulting role.  I was grateful for the opportunities and did well, but still wasn’t inspired.  I held out hope that there could be something more.  But staying in the same environment wasn’t helping me get there.

When I announced my departure, everyone wanted to know what I was leaving to do.  I didn’t have a good answer…or a plan.

Deciding to Leave

Palisades Park

Ms. HalfEmpty had it rough as she napped around the world!

Quitting my job was scary.  It was a lucrative career; I was the breadwinner of my household.  Financially, I worried if things would work out. Without my regular income, I would be living off savings. I wondered how long that would be feasible.

But part of my assurance came from the 30/40 World Tour.  Last year, I was on a Leave of Absence for 3 months with no income while traveling around the world. Plus, I was spending money to travel, while still maintaining mortgages and car payments back home. So that was reassuring and gave me a little more confidence to take the plunge.

Life After Work

I had a surprisingly rough time over the summer.  At first, I was quite industrious. I started taking things apart in the house.

I spent more time on my home desktop computer, which is near the hall bathroom.  This caused me to notice an intermittent drip from the toilet.  It was so infrequent that it was hard to pinpoint. It didn’t occur immediately after flushing, and I could never see the actual drip. Eventually, I got fed up and decided to replace everything in the tank. I’ve replaced flappers, but never actually removed a toilet tank.

As a teacher, Mr. HalfFull was off for the summer, but he was taking grad school classes from 7-10 PM. Of course, I started this repair project while he was in class. At around 9 PM, I realized that I needed a hacksaw to shorten the new pipe. So I was done for the night.  Upon his return, Mr. HalfFull was rather surprised to find his toilet in pieces on the floor!

Ceiling Fan

Oh Ceiling Fan, your incessant ticks kept me up at night!

Then I tackled the ceiling fan in my bedroom. It started making an intermittent ticking noise that made it difficult to sleep because it was so irregular and nonrhythmic. The airflow in my bedroom isn’t that great, making the fan especially critical in the summer.

So I took it apart. Don’t worry, I put it back together too. And the noise stopped!

Then I noticed a dripping sound in the master bathroom toilet and decided to replace that one too. By then I was a pro, armed with a hacksaw and plumbers wrench ahead of time!

During this time, Mr. HalfFull became fearful of what he would find in pieces when he returned home.  He was especially worried that his TV and stereo system would be disassembled with cords and cables all over the place.  But his fear was unfounded!

Eventually, I ran out of projects around the house and wondered what I was supposed to do with myself. Since Mr. HalfFull was taking classes on a compressed summer schedule, he had papers to write every week. He seemed busy and productive. But what should I be doing?

I thought that being spontaneous and unscheduled would be wonderful. I was no longer stuck at a desk during business hours. But it wasn’t wonderful. I had no purpose. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing.

You may be reading this wondering how I could be so unhappy with a decision I made myself. I wasn’t laid off. I wasn’t fired. It was completely my decision to leave.

I was happy that I left, but it was hard to not know what I was going toward. I’m a planner. I’m practical. What the heck was I doing?

Vision of the Future

Time Travel

What is the nature of time?  When will Ms. HalfEmpty’s vision come?

Over the summer, I read a book called Einstein’s Dreams about the nature of time. The short chapters each tell a fable based on a different theoretical flow of time — circular, captured, frozen, etc. One passage in particular spoke to me:

This is a world of changed plans, of sudden opportunities, of unexpected visions. For in this world, time flows not evenly but fitfully and, as consequence, people receive fitful glimpses of the future.

For those who have had their vision, this is a world of guaranteed success. Few projects are started that do not advance a career. Few trips are taken that do not lead to the city of destiny. Few friends are made who will not be friends in the future. Few passions are wasted.

For those who have not had their vision, this is a world of inactive suspense. How can one enroll in university without knowing one’s future occupation? How can one set up an apothecary on Marktgasse when a similar shop might do better on Spitalgasse? How can one make love to a man when he may not remain faithful? Such people sleep most of the day and wait for their vision to come.

Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

Without my vision, I spent much of the summer slumbering. Naps are divine, but I was using them as an escape. When you have no plan, it’s much easier to sleep than seize the day. It requires no planning, and you can’t fail.

But I really wanted that vision of my future. In fact, I still do. I want to know the right path for me. I want to know that my efforts are not wasted. I want to know the future.

  • Have you ever left a job without a fully defined plan?  Why?
  • Have you made a career change?  How did you reinvent yourself?
  • Have you been surprised by the emotional aftermath of a decision you willingly made for yourself?
  • What home repair projects have you tackled yourself?  Did you take your household by surprise?
  • Have you had your vision?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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What Does World Travel Cost?

People often wonder how much it costs to travel around the world.  The answer is whatever you want!

There are people who enjoy camping, while others will only stay at 5-star resorts.  I fall somewhere in between.  I enjoy my creature comforts, but I’m not over the top (unless you want to bankroll my next trip and then I’ll go all out).

On our 30/40 World Tour, we didn’t camp or stay in dorm-style hostels.  We always stayed in private rooms and almost always had private bathrooms, except when it wasn’t an option on group tours like our “sailing” safari in Fiji and bus tour through Australia.  We stayed in a range of hotels from the $13 internet special to a 4.5 star resort with more staff than guests.  We even stayed for free with familybrand new friends, and while volunteering.

For the most part, we didn’t rough it and our final price tag shows it.  Our 10 week around-the-world tour of 8 countries ran us $25K.  To top it off, we were still maintaining mortgages, car payments, and utilities at home.  Although we did cancel phone, cable, and internet service during our time away.  While taking on all these expenses, I was on a 3-month Leave of Absence from work and had no income.  So the trip was not an inexpensive proposition.

Flights

The biggest chunk of money was spent on flights — $4K/person.  It may sound like a lot of money for flights, but when I priced out a couple of different RTW (Round the World) airline tickets, they were $6K/person.  Plus, those RTW tickets did not allow some of the exotic locales we visited due to number of hops or milage constraints.  I was quite pleased with our individually booked flights because we almost always flew direct, and were able to use a week-long layover (included in the price of our ticket) to visit New Caledonia.  Our flights ranged from $137 to $946 per person.

Flight Costs

The cost of each flight purchased for the 30/40 World Tour

Expense Categories

I was curious to see how we allotted our money across various categories while traveling.  As mentioned above, our biggest expense by far was transportation including flights, car rentals, trains, airport shuttles, ferries, and subway rides.  I separated out the transportation (sailing and bus tour) where accommodations and meals were also included.

Expense Categories

All expenses by category on the 30/40 World Tour

Our next biggest expenditure categories were accommodations and food.  Some of our accommodations in Fiji and Mauritius included meals, and are categorized in the Lodging with meals category.  Food and shelter seem like reasonable expenses.  We had to meet our basic needs!

After transportation, lodging, and food, our next largest category was cash.  Oh what a black hole of undocumented expenditures!  Cash was withdrawn from ATMs in country and probably spent on food, taxis, and other cash-only vendors.  We never converted cash to a new currency, so I always tried to withdraw a small amount and spend it all before leaving the country.  It may sound a bit gauche, but in New Caledonia I used my leftover cash and coins to pay our hotel bill and charged the remainder.  The clerk was super nice about it, even though I was being a hobo.

We only spent 2% on entertainment, which included all the theater performances and a museum.  Gas was for our rental cars in New Zealand.  Goods consisted of toiletries that we purchased as we ran out (since we could only carry 3 oz. of each), a few gadgets (universal travel adapter and auxiliary cable for the rental car), sunglasses (after I left my mine in a hotel room), and a cute hat.  Our other expenditures were for internet, laundry, and spa services.

Expenses by Country

So where in the world did we spend $25K?  As you can see in the chart below, we spent most of it on flights.  But the country where we spent the most money was New Zealand.  That’s not surprising since we spent the most time there — 3 weeks.  We were only in the US for half a day and in the UAE for less than 2 days, so those bars look pretty small in comparison.

We also had almost no expenses in UAE and Germany since we stayed with Sir Expat and my cousins.  They were super generous and treated us to everything! So those countries skew low.  Spain is also lower than normal since our lodging and meals were covered for a week during VaughanTown.

Country Expenses by Category

Total expenses in each country in various categories

To try to normalize the data a bit, the chart below shows the cost per night in each country.  Again, this is skewed by staying with relatives, so don’t think UAE and Germany are inexpensive places to visit.  They certainly are not …unless you know people!

Remember that we also stayed in a range of lodging styles, so the chart below isn’t meant to compare similar living expenses in each country.  It’s merely a representation of what we spent while experiencing life on islands without electricity to splurge hotels like Sofitel when we needed to recover.  Our food also ran the gamut from quick sandwiches to extravagant sit down meals throughout the trip.

When splurging, one of Mr. HalfFull’s favorite phrases is, “How can we afford NOT to do it?”  Often when you’re far from home, it’s wise to take advantage of the chance to experience things that may seem pricey because the opportunity is fleeting.

Another factor is the strength of the US Dollar versus local currency.  All amounts in this post are in US Dollars.  While we were traveling, the US Dollar was stronger than the New Zealand Dollar.  But our American currency was weaker than the Australian Dollar and Euro, which made things seem more expensive for us.

Average Country Cost

Average cost per night in each country

Credit Card Fees

Before we left home, I called my credit card companies to uncover their foreign transaction fees.  Visa and MasterCard always charge 1%, but your card issuer (Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, USAA, etc.) can charge an additional percentage.  So my USAA card was only 1% because USAA does not charge an additional fee, but one of my other credit cards ended up being 3%.  While my credit card foreign transaction fees ranged from 1% to 3%, I discovered that my bank debit card did not charge a fee.

It makes me a bit nervous to use a debit card, especially while traveling, since it taps into my actual bank account and doesn’t give me time to review or dispute charges.  But no transaction fee sealed the deal.  We used my debit card throughout the trip for ATM withdrawals and purchases.  But we still used credit cards on sites like hotels.com that process in US Dollars so foreign transaction fees were not an issue.

Tracking Expenses

Before our trip, I had always used an old-fashioned paper checkbook register.  This matched nicely with my old-fashioned paper planner.  Although I’m far from being on the bleeding edge, I have always embraced technology.  But I was still attached to these paper relics.

My work environment necessitated a paper planner.  I also occasionally write paper checks to businesses that don’t accept credit cards.  Since I no longer have duplicate checks, it made sense to record those checks in the checkbook register at the time of the check writing.  It also forced me to practice simple math, which we rarely do anymore.  Hopefully, this will save me from embarrassment the next time a 6-year-old tries to stump me with a rapid-fire addition or subtraction problem!

But the paper method drove me crazy on the 30/40 World Tour.  It just wasn’t practical.

As I mentioned earlier, I was very worried about using a debit card linked to my bank account.  What if there wasn’t enough money to cover an automatic mortgage payment?  Questions like that made me nervous and drove me to spend a lot of time tracking receipts in my paper register.  The problem was that currencies fluctuate.  All my receipts were in local currency, but my bank account was in US Dollars.  So I had to estimate the USD amount to track in my register.

But I never knew when the transaction would clear, meaning that the USD amount could change from day-to-day.  Granted, we didn’t visit any places with highly volatile currencies, but I’m a perfectionist who balances her checkbook to the penny.  Pretty close just doesn’t cut it for me.

Trying to keep track of all that on paper with a running balance was a mess.  So I moved to an electronic register — a spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet allowed me to track currency fluctuations easily and was much easier to maintain since I could move pending rows and know the true balance at any time.

I still use the spreadsheet today, so I no longer practice simple math.  Keep your 6-year-olds away from me! =)

Verdict

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on our trip and experienced a range of living styles from staying on an island where toilets only flushed at high tide to a boutique hotel with flower petals on our bed.  You can always spend less, but life is about choices.  We were constantly reminded that you get what you pay for.

  • What country was most expensive in your travels?
  • What do you splurge on while traveling?
  • Do you subscribe to Mr. HalfFull’s philosophy on splurging?
  • Do you use any antiquated tracking systems in our world of technology?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Delicious Food & Dirty Laundry

My mom is going to be very excited about this post.  For months she’s been asking me why I only post about New Zealand.  I tried to assure her that other countries would come; I explained that since I had spent 3 of 10 weeks in New Zealand (the most time of any country on the 30/40 World Tour), I would have more experiences to share about that segment of the trip.  But alas, it’s time to move on to our first country without English as an official language — New Caledonia.

Both Mr. HalfFull and I studied French in school, but neither of us are fluent.  I wasn’t particularly worried about my language skills, but perhaps I should have been.  The real problem is that I haven’t practiced in years, so it took me a bit of time to retune my ear.  By that time, our week in New Caledonia was over!

Also, I’m a perfectionist.  When I spoke in French and the other person would respond in English, my pride would shatter.  I would leave thinking about the interaction — analyzing my vocabulary, sentence structure, and conjugation.  Sometimes a fancy verb tense would come to me in my sleep and I’d be armed for the next day of ordering and eating.

Speaking of eating, the food in Nouméa was delicious!  I love French pastries, breads, and cuisine in general.  In fact, bread was the reason Nouméa made it into the elite eight countries on the 30/40 World Tour.

Noumea

Ms. HalfEmpty relaxing on the Nouméa beach while watching swimmers on the dock and Duck Island in the distance

Mr. HalfFull has dreamed of eating a baguette on the beach in Nouméa since he read about it as a young adult living in Hawaii.  How indulgent is it to be sitting on the beach in Hawaii dreaming about another Pacific island?  But he’s been telling me that we had to visit “the Paris of the South Pacific” for years, so we put it on the itinerary.

man with baguette

Old man walking down the street with baguette in hand

Perhaps it was no coincidence that one of the first things we observed was a man walking down the street with a fresh baguette in hand — no wrapper or bag!  Mr. HalfFull’s dream was playing out nicely.

Sandwicherie

Ms. HalfEmpty prepares to order from the sandwicherie in French

We enjoyed our fair share of baguettes as well.  We found a little sandwich shop across the street from the beach that we frequented daily.  It was basically just a counter run by a couple — she interacted with the customers and he cooked.  There was no seating, so we would often take our sandwiches across the street to sit on a public picnic bench on the beach.  The sandwicherie was one of the few inexpensive (but still delicious) food options, which also made it appealing to students on group trips and US military guys in port for R&R.  The sandwicherie had a very specific list of sandwiches, but by the end of the week I was using my rediscovered French skills to create my own ingredient lists.

pastry

Ms. HalfEmpty excited to try a fresh tart from the bakery

We also enjoyed walking to a nearby bakery for breakfasts.  The pastries were so flaky and delicious!  We had croissants, pain au chocolat, and various tarts.

money & breakfast

Mr. HalfFull shows off the huge bills and numerous coins weighing down his wallet while enjoying coffee and a pastry

Many places like the sandwicherie and boulangerie did not accept credit cards, so we got cash quickly.  But the bills were so wide that they didn’t fit in a normal wallet.  I wonder if they sell special wallets in New Caledonia or if people generally fold their bills lengthwise.  We also learned that cash can be quite a weight lifting exercise with so many coins, rather than bills.

With only three pairs of underwear, it was necessary to do laundry in New Caledonia.  Our hotel charged about $4 per pair of socks, so that seemed a bit steep.  Thus, we set out on a quest to find a laundromat.  It was not an easy task.  I’m sure most tourists pack enough clothes and don’t need laundry services while traveling, but we were in a different situation.  We asked around and most people had no idea.  Finally we found someone who said they thought there might be one in a certain area.  We finally found it in a shopping center at the docks.  I guess people with houseboats need laundry service too!

When we arrived the proprietor was speaking with a customer at length.  It seemed like the conversation would never end, so I started to look around at the signs hoping I would find some information about hours and prices, but no dice.  We didn’t even know if the sea of washing machines were self-service or if we needed to drop off our laundry.  I don’t have an extensive laundry vocabulary in French, but once I spoke to the employee (who spoke no English), I learned that it was full service laundry priced by 5 kg loads.  It all worked out nicely in the end; I practiced French and got clean clothes!

  • Have you ever visited a place you read about?  Did it live up to your expectations?
  • Have you tried your foreign language skills abroad?  Did you get frustrated or were you successful?
  • Do you think walking around with a baguette in hand is sanitary?
  • What foods were especially delicious abroad?
  • Have you had difficulties with laundry while traveling?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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