How to Meet Excellent People, Eat and Drink, and Support a Fantastic Cause for (Basically) Free

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Last night, I got dolled up in an evening gown and heels, got my makeup professionally done, and went to a $1,000/seat gala. For dinner, I had amazingly tender short ribs, bright green beans, creamy mashed potatoes and finished it off with a deliciously rich tiramisu.

Total out of pocket cost: $5.

How did I accomplish this? I was a volunteer.

Sometime last year, I was decluttering and I thought, I have too many fancy dresses. And then I figured, ok I’m single and I don’t actually have places to wear such fancy clothes. I should get rid of them. OR I should start attending events where I can wear these dresses.

And because I love my dresses, I was set on option number two. Lucky for me though, Washington, DC is a hotbed for fundraiser galas. And not having a date is no obstacle – all galas need volunteers.

One of my 18 Resolutions for 2018 was to attend a gala. The first one came in January with a charity that I perform pro bono services for. I had so much fun meeting the other women and dancing the night away (during our dead time in between volunteer services) that I signed up for another and then another.

I have volunteered at four galas this year. At the first, we danced the night away (but spend quite awhile loading way  too many decorations into vans). At the second gala, I ran into my old boss (haven’t seen him in 10 years and he’s a great guy) and had amazing tastings from some of the best restaurants in the city. At the third gala, I was truly impressed with the honorees, and I got to explore a hotel close to my apartment, which hosts A LOT of galas. At last night’s gala, a vendor advertising their makeup services touched up our makeup. I took home a beautiful leftover bouquet of flowers including orange roses, my favorite.

Throughout the whole adventure, I’ve met a number of great ladies who love doing things by themselves. I’ve done a lot of work helping great causes and had a great doing it. Total cost – cab rides home (which may be tax-deductible).

I should mention that I did do work at these events. I stood at information booths and walk around silent auctions helping the rich and semi-powerful spend too much money on good causes. There’s a lot of work involved in volunteering but it’s typically not laborious and it’s for a good cause.

So if you are bored of another Netflix and chill night, have too many unused ball gowns and dancing shoes, consider volunteering your time to a gala near you.

What do you think of this idea?

 

 

 

S%&* Bad Advice Personal Finance Bloggers Give

Save money on hideous harem pants! Source

The beauty of getting financial advice from regular people bloggers is that you get such a breadth of experience and advice. The downside is that no one is policing these people from saying really terrible and stupid things and giving the worst personal financial advice I’ve ever seen. Look, I’ve done some stupid things to save money, but I don’t recommend those tips to anyone else. I’ve seen a lot of the advice below on different blogs and I think, hey, no one follow these, ok? Let’s not be jerks. Let’s not condone bad, stupid advice.

1. Rent out an extra room.

Who are these people that have extraneous rooms to rent out but are low on money? In any case, even if you are one of these mythical people, this is bad advice because you might not be able to find suitable people to rent out your extra room, and it might be against your lease or condo agreement to rent out on Airbnb. If you are low on money, perhaps the easiest to thing to do is rent someplace smaller instead of figuring out how to rent out extra rooms.

2. Don’t spend money on [X].

X tends to be luxury items – designer clothing, daily lattes, fancy cars, cable TV, vacations. But they might also be purchases that the person loves. Personal finance is personal. There are very few things that people buy that are universal bad ideas (except lottery tickets and scams). Personal finance shouldn’t be about giving up arbitrary things but giving up things that mean very little to you so that there’s sufficient funds for things you really care about – whatever those things are.

3. Student loan and mortgage debt is “good debt.

This was more prevalent advice before student loan debt toped $1 trillion. While student and mortgage debt may be unavoidable for some, there’s nothing desirable about having the debt.

The “good” label really refers to the moral superiority over having this debt. In terms of impact on your finances, I would venture to say that student loan debt is the very worst debt because 1) it can’t be discharged in bankruptcy; 2) is the fastest and easiest way to get into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt; 3) can’t be settled for a lower payment; and 4) you can’t return or sell the product you purchased to alleviate some of the debt.

4. Eating others’ leftovers or diving in the trash is a good way to save money.

If I literally had no money for food, I would still rather skip meals than eat out of the trash. It’s like French kissing strangers, except the stranger has been rotting in the garbage can and tastes bad.

Food prices have decreased dramatically over the decades. Food is cheap. Ramen, beans and rice, frozen veggies, eggs, pasta – you can eat a delicious dinner for less than $1/meal – why eat someone’s gross leftovers for free?

5. Save money by not tipping.

This is how you actually save money – eat at home or eat at a place where you’re not expected to tip. Don’t be a jerk to save money.

6. Get free meals by going on dates.

First there is the inherent risk that if you go out, your date will not cover the cost of dinner or may even expect you to cover the cost of it. Second, if you aren’t interested in dating this person, that’s a waste of your time. Time is more important than money. Third, you’re making the rest of womankind look bad. Some people will argue that men should pay for dates. Some people argue that everything should be split. Everyone thinks that each person should be prepared to pay for the meal.

Generally, these tips don’t save a lot of money but have the side effect of making you a terrible person and hurting others. Let’s not follow these tips because being a stingy miser that everyone hates doesn’t mean you’re good with money.

Four Ways I Cut My Data Usage by Over 75%

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I am a late adopter to technology. I got my first personal smart phone in 2013. So it should come as no surprise that I haven’t yet developed the habits to max out my data. I have a 2GB/month plan and usually use slightly under that limit.

But when I switched service providers and upgraded my phone, my data usage shot up.  Soon I was being warned that I was approaching my limit, just two weeks into the month.  I suspect there’s something wrong with how my new phone sucks up data. But rather than just upgrade my plan to a larger plan, I was proactive and reduced my usage.  Last month, I used 0.3GB of data.  Here’s how I did it.

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Make These 5 Easy Items from Scratch to Save Mega Money

The philosophy that saves me the most in my grocery budget is to shop less. It saves money, but more importantly, it saves time.

If you buy processed, pre-made products, once you’ve finished them, you’re out of food. If you buy raw ingredients like flour, yeast, sugar, butter and salt, you can continue to make meals for weeks. For instance, if you want a nice loaf of bread, that can cost you $4 at the store. Once you’re done with that loaf, you have no more food. But if you buy $4 in flour and $4 in yeast, you can make 6 loaves of bread (and if you store the yeast in the freezer, you will never run out). In addition to the obvious cost savings, rather than making six grocery store runs, you only need to make one.

I’ve only picked items that are really easy and cheap to make. They require few ingredients, very little time, and no advanced techniques. The only equipment required is a blender, a slow cooker or a mixer. It’s easier to use a stand mixer for some of them – but they can all be made without one.

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This Stupidly Easy Tip from My Parents Has Saved Me Thousands of Dollars

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It’s remarkably easy for me to feel ashamed. And the problem when I’m ashamed is that I clam up. And the problem with clamming up is that I don’t get help. But one time I told my parents about a problem and it helped. A lot. (But for whatever reason I never tell them my problems anymore. Maybe I should look into that).

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The Futility of Spending to Improve Your Social Status

I confided in my friends that I was afraid of going car-free because I thought it would make people think I was poor. I’d be the weird kid biking everywhere while everyone else showed up in their cars. They all responded the same way: driving my 18-year old Honda made people think I was far poorer than being car-free.

And so, without adding or subtracting a cent, (and actually subtracting one car), I was now wealthier in the eyes of others. But how strange to think that someone who doesn’t have an asset could seem wealthier than someone who has that asset (a car, even if beat up). Wouldn’t one naturally think that the person who has more stuff is wealthier?

It got me to thinking, we buy these markers of success in order for us to look a certain way but sometimes we are completely wrong about how we are being perceived.

I asked my friend, who is a fancy businessman, if he thought I was broke based on how I’ve furnished my apartment (a strong Ikea theme). And he said no, because one’s bank account isn’t reflected in one’s possessions. I think this may be how wealthy people think in general. I mean, when I first met him, he was wearing a NASA shirt that he bragged that he got for $6. Wealthy people appreciate a good deal.

On the other hand, I have a friend who always seems to be going on shopping sprees at expensive stores – Lilly Pulitzer, Kate Spade, Stuart Weitzmann. And then she spends a lot of time selling stuff on consignment. It’s like a rotating door of expensive clothing, kind of like fast fashion with bigger price tags. And honestly, hearing about her expensive clothing habit made her seem poorer because it didn’t seem like she valued money or time, no matter how expensive the tags were.

So really, we may live a certain lifestyle to be perceived a certain way, but we really have very little control over how we are perceived.

What financial habits do you think make a person look wealthy or poor?

My Cheap Mostly-Natural Beauty Routine

I’m one of those annoying people who will scrutinize ingredient labels on all my personal care products and eventually leave the store empty handed because nothing will match my expectations. Either that or if I find something with good ingredients, I’ll see the extravagant cost and just vow to buy the top two ingredients in their most natural form.

Now I’m not exactly a hippie. This is not my complete beauty routine – though it does represent a lot of it. I mean, I’m a blonde Asian, and my hair wasn’t bleached by any kind of natural process. But that doesn’t mean I should add to my toxic load. For me, it just makes sense to have the simplest products that I know will work without all sorts of other ingredients I don’t want. It’s also easier on the wallet. Plus, non-natural products can sometimes be filled with tons of ingredients, like silicones, that appear to make your hair healthier but are really wreaking havoc in the long run by creating a barrier to your skin and hair that prevents better ingredients from getting through.

So without further adieu, I’ve searched and found the following to be good, effective products, none costs more than $20 and they’ll last you a long time.

Skin

I don’t wash my face. I read a blogger write once that her face improved so much after she stopped washing it. So I stopped washing it and had the same result. I don’t work in a mine or some really filthy area so it’s fine. At the end of the day, I remove my makeup with coconut oil ($11) and take a cotton pad soaked in witch hazel ($2.5) and tea tree oil ($14) and remove any sweat or dirt from my face. For moisturizing my face, I alternate between Radha Argan Oil ($14) and Rosehip oil ($14).

I’ll do a weekly mask with Aztec Healing Clay ($9). I also like to do a little mini peel ($5) in the office when my skin needs a little pick me up. I know sheet masks are quite fashionable right now, so I bought a bulk order of cotton masks off eBay and I put some cocktail of oils and aloe vera gel ($9) and just zone out.

For the rest of my skin, I use grapeseed oil ($8) to keep it soft and moisturized. I will often just squirt some oil directly onto me and add it to my baths. In the summer, I use monoi oil ($15) on my legs to keep bugs away. It works as well as other bug repellants, doesn’t make me smell weird and also keeps my legs silky.

After taking some time in a sensory deprivation chamber, I’ve started paying more attention to keeping my hands in tip top condition (having little cuts on your hands and then going into a massive saltwater chamber is a new kind of pain). I’ve relied on old favorite, Burt’s Bees cuticle cream ($6). For a somewhat greasy hand lotion, I use lanolin oil. I just started this and more research may need to follow.

I find that I don’t really need deodorant but sometimes I like to use Schmidt’s rose deodorant ($10) because it smells good.

Hair

The fact that saved my hair was learning that my hair needs both moisture and protein in balance. And no matter how “moisturizing” a hair conditioner can say it is, it can actually be a major source of protein; thus, an oil may be the better way to go to get moisture without additional protein. A good, inexpensive oil that can really penetrate into your hair is castor oil ($9). Once or twice a week, or just when my hair is looking parched, I’ll pour castor oil into my hair (my hair just sucks it up) and let it sit for as long as I can stand – sometimes overnight. Then I wash it out with conditioner. Castor oil can also be applied to your lashes to make them grow or used in oil cleansing.

My hair can get really dry throughout the day, just being out in the sun or in the dry air of my office. I started using a leave-in conditioner from Mielle Organics ($13) and it makes my hair much more presentable throughout the day.  This is one of the only products on here with more than one ingredient but the ingredient list looked pretty good to me and it’s available at CVS.

Lips

The best beauty secret I have is pure lanolin($8)  for your lips. It’s super hydrating and I think makes them plump up over time. I also use a scrub made of kosher salt and olive oil to exfoliate.

What natural beauty products do you use?

How I save over 4 hours a day (your mileage may vary)

Who couldn’t use an extra hour a day? I will admit that the ways I save time won’t work for most people, but maybe some of this could be useful to someone.
1. I combine my commute with exercise. (savings: 1 hour)
I actually exercised pretty irreglularly before I changed my commute so it’s hard to say that I actually save an hour. I really just get an hour of stuff done that I wouldn’t normally do. If you counted the time I spent feeling guilty about not working out though, that would bean hour a day in adn of itself.
2. I combine weight lifting/stretching with work and TV (savings: 20 minutes)
I try to stand while reading or on the phone. I try to do squats and lunges while working as well.
Limiting TV is important for saving time. But I still love watching TV when I get the chance (The Great British Bake Off mostly). I tend to only watch TV while working or foam rolling or doing housework. It doesn’t constitute JUST dead time. I wouldn’t allow it.
3. I only eat one meal a day (savings: 2 hours)
This counts savings in planning for, buying, prepping, cooking and eating food and cleaning up for 2 meals. This also saves the time of digestion lethargy. Technically it could count the hours I spend working to save the money to pay for these meals too but that’s a bridge too far).
4. I limit time for decisions in the morning (savings: 20 minutes)
It took me years but I finally have a work wardrobe where I would be happy to wear any outfit from. I still have favorites and there are some that I would rarely reach for if given the option, but I will wear everything. This saves me time in the mornings because sometimes I just can’t make a decision and during those moments, I just pick the next thing on the line. And it’s fine!
5. I use dead time (20 minutes)
This includes playing a language lesson while I’m brushing my teeth and getting ready. I also carry a book so I can be prepared for inevitable metro delays. I listen to podcasts when doing particularly monotonous tasks at work.
Part of this involves having these things queued up. Whenever I hear of an interesting book, I immediately add it to either my hold list or to my later list on my library account. It will go on the hold list if there’s a long list of holds but it will go on my later list if I can get the book immediately and already have books at home or coming up on holds. Every week, library holds become available and my library lets me keep them out for 3 weeks each. This is often plenty of time when some books I just skim, or ultimately don’t like, and some I read and relish.
6. I limit social media (20 minutes)
Well for the rest of you this probably could save 4 hours a day, but the only social media habit I adopted was Instagram, which I scroll through weekly instead of daily.
Basically my tips boil doing to cutting out extras (some would say, necessities), limiting choices and multitasking.
What do I do with all this extra time? To be perfectly honest, if I didn’t bike to work, I wouldn’t work out during the day. So it’s not exactly like I have an extra hour a day – I’m just getting in an hour of biking that I normally wouldn’t. The same goes for stretching and foam rolling. Overall, I’m in much better shape and probably less likely to get injured. I guess it just means I can’t use lack of time not to exercise.
But I also always make time to sleep or just stare out into space and play. If I was just a machine and wouldn’t let a second go by unproductively, I would get too stressed!
What are your tricks and tips for saving time?

Marveling At Our Dumb Luck

Sometimes I read stories on the internet about people failing on their spending bans or whining about how being in debt means they are in constant FOMO and it makes me really sad.

Sad that these people exist in the world. And that they’re typically from my generation.

When my parents came to this country, they had nothing. My mom ate rice and soy sauce as her meals and worked multiple jobs to get herself through school. My dad served in the Navy. I mean, there was a level of sacrifice that people in my generation do not have any concept of.

I’m not saying I in any way shared with the tough experiences they had. I had a much easier life because of their sacrifices. But I think it’s because I know what they went through, and because of how I was brought up, and knowing that money doesn’t grow on trees and we are so privileged to have anything at all that these little things we do to “save money” are not tough – they are ridiculously fun and wonderful.

I drove the same car for almost 18 years and I was ridiculously happy doing so. I spend on average $34/week on groceries and that’s luxurious.  Deciding NOT to buy clothes for A FEW DAYS is an AMAZING PRIVILEGE. Skipping lattes and spa services for the rest of your life – all of this stuff should be super easy to do.

I read this story recently on a Quora answer to What Motivates You. It’s got a lot of really great answers to I recommend you reading it. But this one was the one that showed up in my feed and honestly it’s something I think anyone who can’t figure out how to stop getting manicures needs to read on a daily basis.

After I read this story, I wanted to try to find it again. I remembered the man’s name was Idris and that he was a cleaner in Bangladesh, which turned up this result:

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It links to this article that discusses the worst job in the world – diving in liquid sewage to claw out blockages, without any protective gear and with only a stick for safety. I’m not sure this is the same Idris. But I can understand why Idris may have washed himself literally in public toilets to clean himself before going home.

Risking his life diving into raw sewage as his livelihood and this guy is still happy! How could I not be?

Why You Should Live Below Your Means

One of the many life skills that you want to learn at a fairly young age is the skill of being an ultra-thrifty, minimal kind of little wisp that’ traveling through time . . . in the sense of learning how little you actually need to live, not just in a survival mode, but in a contented mode . . . . That gives you the confidence to take a risk, because you say, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Well, the worst that can happen is that I’d have a backpack and a sleeping bag, and I’d be eating oatmeal. And I’d be fine.’

-Kevin Kelly as told to Tim Ferriss in “Tools of Titans”