Saturday, March 18, 2017

Back in Asia - Trip 2 of 3 for 2017

I was told at the end of 2016 that I was on the budget to travel to Asia three times in 2017.  I don't think I've traveled this extensively since 2006 or '07.  I remember going three times a year 10 years ago.  It was right before I started having babies and the trips back then were three weeks long.  At least they are shorter now.  I'm down to 11 days and that includes travel!  My schedule is as follows:

13th Monday - flight to Newark, then Hong Kong
14th Tuesday - arrive in Hong Kong at 8 or 9pm, spend night near China boarder
15th Wednesday - stop at international grocery store and get breakfast foods for the week, drive into China, 1.5 hours, work in plush toy sample room until 7 or 8pm in evening
16th Thursday - drive to another part of China to visit an IC office, 6 of us stand over an engineer for 4 hours until we get the sound/mouth movement needed.  Poor girl.  I'm sure she was glad when we left.  Return to our sample room and work till 7 or 8pm.
17th Friday - work in sample room
18th Saturday - work in sample room
19th Sunday - work in sample room
20th Monday - work in sample room return to Hong Kong in evening
21st Tuesday - fly to California
22nd Wednesday - meeting with client
23rd Thursday - return to Baltimore (home)

I'm not sure what condition I'll be in when I get home but for now I feel fine.  Strange how the body adapts.  I'm praying for down time after this trip and dreaming of all the fun things April will bring - Easter, Church Revival, a birthday party with friends from Maine, ladies children's day event from church, and time with friends.  See, my 2nd Asia trip was supposed to be in April and I might have missed these things.  It was hard taking this trip with short notice, but it will be better when April is here.

The question I'm asked the most by friends and family in the US is this - what do you do when you are in Asia?  Well, I've accumulated 16 years of Disney plush toy design experience and I direct a team of pattern makers on how to make the plush toys look like the Disney character.  I don't speak Chinese and I don't sew patterns.  I create spec sheets and correction through Photoshop and Illustrator and a translator is needed to communicate with the team.  We go shopping for materials, visit printing factories, embroidery factories, mechanism and IC factories while I'm here.

When I'm in the US, I review plush toys through photos.  Being here in person allows us to get 200% more work done because we can work faster in person.  There are no delays.  So when we get big projects from Disney, I have to come here to work.

My job has given me amazing flexibility to work from home in Maryland so when Asia travel is needed, I do it.  In time, there will be more creative people hired to work here what I'm doing now and this will not be always necessary.  I might even miss it one day.  For now, it's my life and I'm going to make the best of it.

This is the view outside my hotel window at 8:49am:

The bridge has been like this since I was here a year ago.  I'm wondering if it will ever get finished.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

KFC in China

KFC in China is completely different from KFC in the US.  I tell people here and they look at me in surprise. I tell people in the US and they are also surprised.  How can an international chain have a completely different menu?  Well, I guess they are smart enough to appeal to local taste.  Chinese love chicken.  It's more popular here than McDonalds for the price and taste.  When I first started coming to China, 15+ years ago, the menu was very basic.  It was not the fried chicken we associate with KFC but lots of basic wings and ribs.  No giant inflated chicken breasts that we think are normal in the US.  No gorgeous potato wedges.  Just a very basic menu.  I'm pleased to see they've grown in China to include sandwiches!


I ordered the one with an avocado next to it.  It had a yummy spicy sauce in the center and guacamole.  The chicken inside the sandwich was brown meat.  I must confess, I've been so brainwashed into thinking white meat belongs inside a chicken patty that my brain screamed it wouldn't be good even though the taste was just fine.  I had to literally not look at the inside while eating it.

We had regular fries and a Pepsi.  I don't even drink soda in the US but it was somehow very fitting in this location.  Next time I'm trying the green tea ice cream cone!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Frugal Living ~ February 2017


Welcome to my February edition of what works and what doesn't in frugal living!  For me it's a month of no work travel and a very relaxed work schedule because it's Chinese New Year in Asia so work is slow.  I'm spending more time with friends and relaxing rather chasing side-hustles with my free time but there is still room for experimentation so here's a summary of what works and what doesn't work for me.

Apps that don't work for me:
  • Checkout 51 app - I downloaded this app a few weeks ago.  It promises to save money on groceries.  You go through the list of items it's promoting on Wednesday, select the ones you are interested in and then upload your receipt.  The only problem for me is that I don't buy many brand items!  I have the same issue with coupons.  I rarely use them.  I'm sure a very savvy person who loves brand products might enjoy combining coupons with this app.
  • Swagbucks - I know some bloggers who swear by this app/website but I think that big blogs benefit hugely from driving traffic to Swagbucks.  Here are the reasons this app does not work for me:
    • Every time I try to take a survey, the app tells me they've already exceeded the amount of people who can take the survey.  Simple fix guys - update your coding to NOT show the survey once you've had enough take it!  
    • On the website there is an inbox full of suggestions, some of which lead to gambling sites.  That just seems extremely counter intuitive to saving money!  It bothers me.  I don't want to see it.
    • So far, it seems like a tremendous amount of time is needed to click on stuff to earn Swagbucks.  
    • If an app is not productive or interesting in 1-2 months, I move on.  
Easy apps that earn minor spending $$:
  • ONGO surveys app - The first 10 or so survey's gave me $0.10 because I did not qualify and $0.50 for "about me" survey's.  At one point I earned a whopping $2.00 for a phone survey but after 2-3 months I finally got a decent survey.  It was a lifestyle one about entertainment and I guess we have considerable entertainment habits to contribute because this one netted a cool $10.00.  I'm now up to $19.00 for doing very simple and occasional surveys. My only suggestion is to turn off the notifications because it has a very loud "kaching" money sound when a new survey pops up and it always caught me off guard when I was out in public. 
  • Shopkick app - I'm in love with this app.  I use it every time I got to a store which seems to gained enough points to keep my Starbucks card loaded.  I only go to Starbucks once or twice a month and it's nice to have free money for a treat.  
Long Term Strategies:
  • Samaritan Ministries - I've written briefly about our switch from traditional insurance to this Christian health care sharing network.  We're two months in and it's going great!  Here is our strategy:
    • Last year our monthly payment to Evergreen Health Care was $660 per month for two adults.
    • This year to Samaritan Ministries it is $440 for two adults (our kids are still on the Maryland Children's Health program for $66 per month)
    • We are putting the differences into our own healthcare savings plan, $220 per month
    • Samaritan does not cover regular doctor check ups so our savings will go to annual health care checks and prescriptions that are not covered.
    • Samaritan will pay 100% of our medical bills should we have a serious illness or medical situation that requires hospital care and they have enough members that with our low monthly payment of $440 all medical needs submitted do get paid for.  In fact, some months they reduce our bill by 5% if they take in more money then is needed for the month needs.
    • At the end of the year, the money I've saved from putting $220 into health care savings, will go into my long term savings account.  Twelve months of savings is $2,640 of which we will probably use 1/3 for 4 annual doctor check ups.  When we had Evergreen, we were paying our monthly bill of $660 + co-pays with each doctor visit and subsequent bills of a percentage of the office visit that was never covered.  I'd much rather pay out of pocket for preventative health care visits if my monthly bill is lower.  At the end of the year, if we have money left over, this will feel like the greatest deal ever! 
  • Phone Contracts:
    • Next month I plan to tackle our phone bill!  We are planning to go off the grid with contract phone bills, buy cheap phones with no contract and putting our iPods to use with a purchase as you go wifi device like KarmaGo.  I'm still working out all the details!  End of March our contract with AT&T ends and thus ends our days of phone contracts!  I want to get our mobile and wifi costs down to $50 per month.  Currently we are paying $130 for two iPhones.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Painting CAN be done with a two year old

I seldom paint with the kids because of the mess and attention everyone needs for paint, water, etc., but looking back at the results makes be realize it's well worth the effort and I should really do it more often.  Painting is more than an art, it's freedom of expression and the more we close ourselves off from art, the harder it is to make art.








Surprisingly, the baby did not end up with paint on her clothing, hair, or face!

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Tiny Snowman

The news keeps talking about huge epic storms sweeping the country but somehow they keep missing our area!  This is our 4th winter in Maryland and all prior have had significant snow.  Somehow this year we've had 2 snows, each about 1 inch!

We've already got spring flowers coming up because it was so warm in January!  I sure hope it doesn't end badly for the local orchards - a late extended cold spell will do that.

Here's our tiny snowman made after we got a 2 hour delay this morning!  He's so small I couldn't get the rocks to stay in for a mouth!!


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Trials and Tribulations of Driving in California

Despite flying to CA almost annually for 15 years, and living in LA for two years from 2002 - 2003, I still get lost every single time I visit.  Well, maybe not lost, but I seem to have lots of trouble with the GPS.  Maybe it's because the Los Angeles and surrounding areas is in a constant state of road repair?  This last trip at the end of January found me clinching the wheel as the GPS stated in it's most alarmed voice "driving into oncoming traffic on a one way street".  It was not a one way street, it was re-routed traffic and others were clearly going the same way.  Still, it's un-nerving!

This past trip I decided to rent a truck, because I like driving trucks, but all they had was a F-150.  I had to literally hop to get into the truck!  The guy next to me at the rental place was like, "wow, you look really small in there".  It was a big truck.  I felt like I was driving a battering ram.  The biggest stress factor was that small cars literally disappeared into a blind spot and drove me into wild waves of panic.  On the plus side though, I found more than one car in my rear view mirror having second thoughts about cutting me off as I puttered down an off-ramp hoping I was taking the correct exit.  That was empowering.

California parking spots are very small so parking also very stressful.  Fortunately I was early for my  meeting had had time to circle the block before street parking at my destination and had the great fortune to find a spot that didn't require parallel parking!

My trips to CA are like a Navy Seals mission, I'm in and out in 20 hours.  I get up at 4am to leave for the airport at 4:45.  The airport drive is 1.5 hours.  My flight usually leaves at 7 or 8am.  A flight takes 6-7 hours depending on stops and then time goes backwards 3 hours for PS time zone so I get in around 11 or noon.  Hopefully I've managed to eat somewhere along the way because when I get to Burbank all I want to do is rent a car and get the drive to Pasadena over with!  My meetings are always the same day around 3pm so I have about 3 hours to get myself to Pasadena without dying in a car wreak along the way.  After a 2 hour meeting, I head back to Burbank and drop off the rental same day.  My flight the following day is usually 8am and gets in at 6pm local time.

When dropping off a vehicle at the Burbank airport rental car zone, there is no transport to the Marriott hotel which is located across a very busy 6 lane wide street.  It's very annoying to have to walk across a street with luggage but even stranger to consider asking an Uber or Taxi to pick me up and drive me the quarter mile distance!  It's probably not a big deal in normal circumstances but after being up at 4am and getting to car rental zone at 6pm, which is 9pm EST, my brain is fried!

The best part for me is always the return.  One very long day of travel with nothing to do but READ! On this particular return, my favorite author, Alex Berenson, had just released a new book giving me one glorious day to read with no interruptions!  And by interruptions I mean of the "mommy mommy help me" type.

Here's the link if you want to check it out:  https://www.amazon.com/Prisoner-John-Wells-Novel/dp/0399176152/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486684814&sr=8-1&keywords=alex+berenson

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Frugal Living - January 2017 - Part 2


Here is my January big money saving idea!

My State Farm agent gave me a book on repaying student loans.  I read the entire book on a trip last year and got one big idea!  Everything else in the book was standard knowledge for me.  But this one big idea is going to save us in interest payments this year!

I have a student loan with a balance of 11K.  I'm so aggravated by this loan because it's just been hanging out on my budget for 16 years!!!  I've had so many other priorities and the payment is rather small so I've left it piddle in the background.  I've talked to professionals who say,
"don't let it bother you, the interest rate is low AND you get to write off the interest on your taxes"
But I want to have all debt paid off by the time we are 50, in 8 years, and I'm tired of paying on this loan.

So here's my big idea!

I'm already paying $100 extra per month on the loan.  What if I took out an interest free credit card for one year, and transferred $2000 of the student loan onto that card?  Then the $2000 for one year is not gaining a single penny of interest!  I'm now paying $166 a month + my student loan payment of $215.  If interest free credit cards are still available next year, I'll do the same thing, and again the year after until this debt is gone!

This happened after years of frustration in seeing my student loan balance barely shift after I paid $100 extra every month.

Full disclosure - I paid a $60 fee to move this balance to the new card but the card paid me back a $100 bonus after I spent $1000 in other expenses.  Total win.