How to Get to and from Alameda and San Francisco

Now that I no longer live in San Francisco (sniff) and have been commuting for over a month now from Alameda, I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of different options available (smile). Since knowledge is power, let me list and describe how to get to and from Alameda and San Francisco. It will make you want to move to the burbs!

Bus

The O (the letter, not the number) bus will take you directly from Alameda to the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco. There are stops all along Alameda, but once it leaves the island, it goes straight to the Bay Bridge, bypasses all the bridge traffic, and dumps everyone at the Transbay Terminal at Beale St. & Howard St.—which is the temporary location while the new terminal gets built.

Pros: Relatively clean, smooth ride once you get on

Cons: Buses are never on schedule

Reliability: Medium: While the timing is finicky, it’s pretty reliable. The bus will come at some point.

Issues: Accidents on the Bay Bridge

Cost: $4.20 one way

Convenience: Direct ride

Casual Carpool

Casual Carpool allows in-bound SF drivers to form a carpool by picking up 2 passengers, bypass bridge traffic, and pay a discounted toll of $2.50 vs $6. There are 2 pickup locations in Alameda (Webster & Santa Clara or Park & Encinal). Same route as above (O bus) except the drop-off is at Fremont & Howard. While it is a little weird getting into a car with strangers, Casual Carpool has been around since the 70s and is safe.

Pros: You always have a seat. Can’t beat the price.

Cons: Strangers/safety – but shouldn’t be a concern; Casual Carpool is typically only one way since there isn’t a benefit to carpooling in the opposite direction on the Bay Bridge.

Reliability: High: If a carpool car isn’t there when you arrive, one will come soon.

Issues: Accidents on the Bay Bridge

Cost: $1 gratuity, but not mandatory or expected

Convenience: Direct ride

Bus and BART

I would say the majority of commuters take a combination of bus and BART. Depending on where you live in Alameda, the 51A bus will take you either to the 12th Street Oakland or the Fruitvale Oakland BART station. If you prefer to drive, there is parking at Fruitvale. I’ve also seen free Alameda BART shuttles, including one from the new Alameda Landing to 12th Street.

Pros: Everyone else is doing it. If you’re late because of BART issues, most likely other coworkers are in your same shoes.

Cons: Dirty—as in you need to take another shower. You are lucky if you get a seat.

Reliability: Medium to Low: The bus system in the East Bay is highly unreliable. BART has to be fairly reliable since so many take it, but there are always issues. Today there was a delay while the cops tried to track down a transient who was bothering everyone (of course, he was in my car, aggressively panhandling).

Issues: BART strikes, technical and mechanical issues of all kinds, medical emergencies, fire, reroutes, service shutdowns

Cost: Bus is $2 for a local single ride; BART is variable depending on stop, but from 12th Street Oakland to Montgomery San Francisco is $3.30

Convenience: Combination of bus and BART is grueling. BART often has issues.

Ferry

The San Francisco Bay Ferry is the best way to commute to SF. There are 2 Alameda terminals: Main and Harbor Bay. Both have free parking. Very reliable, have never had an issue. 20 minute ferry ride from Alameda Main terminal to SF Ferry Building.

Pros: Always on time, always have a seat, clean, café onboard, plus alcoholic beverages for after-work happy hour. Everyone is happy.

Cons: I personally suffer from seasickness.

Reliability: Ultrareliable

Issues: None

Cost: $4.80 one way with Clipper Card

Convenience: Extremely convenient

There you go. Pick your poison and happy commuting!

How to Manage Your Finances for Early Retirement

Now that we’ve bought a new home and we’re taking on two mortgages, I have become laser-focused on our finances. Here’s my guide to controlling your finances and saving money on the path toward early retirement.

Wages

You know the mantra, “Live within your means.” How much you earn controls everything else. If you want to increase your standard of living, you have to make more money. The simplest way to do this is to find a higher-paying job or to negotiate for more with your current position. I have successfully negotiated for more a handful of times in my career so I will touch on that. Choose a time when your services are critical to the company (i.e., pre-IPO, pre-product launch). Let’s say 6 months from now your company is going to launch a new product and you are the product manager. BAM! SHOW ME THE MONEY! Having 1-2 offer letters for other positions or other companies would be ideal. Tell your boss that your services are wanted elsewhere and you are thinking about other career opportunities. Do you think they want their product manager to leave during this critical phase? Hell no. They are going to match whatever you are requesting.

Best thing you can do to improve your finances? Make more money!

Save for Retirement

The #1 thing you want to do with the money you’ve made is to sock it away for retirement. You shouldn’t even see it. It automatically gets deducted from your paycheck and grows and grows until you’re ready to tell your employer Sayonara, it’s beach time! Max out your 401k which is currently $18k for 2015. Typically employers match a percentage of your 401k contribution, so make sure you at least contribute that matching percentage. This is what I did when I was straight out of college making peanuts.

Maximize Pre-Tax Accounts

In addition to our 401ks, I maximize our medical, commuter, and daycare spending accounts. That’s tax-free money right there!

Mortgage / Rent

Now let’s talk about expenses. The highest expense for most people is housing, which is either mortgage or rent.

We’ve all rented at one time or another. I am predisposed to finding the cheapest possible rental to accommodate a basic standard of living. If you are a single person, you do not need to rent a 2-bedroom apartment. WTF?! I have never understood people who feel they need to have extra space for all their crap. Kondo that shit! For those of you who don’t understand the Kondo reference, please read the international bestseller on decluttering by Marie Kondo. One of my biggest pet peeves is clutter. I go berserk when I see people buying these big homes just so they can fill it with more shit! Crap is cluttering their lives and their minds!

Rent is simply wasted money, so do not set aside an exorbitant amount of your precious wages toward rent. Rent = flushing money down the toilet.

Of course there are exceptions. Before we become parents, Dean and I were in a San Francisco rent-controlled apartment with parking and all utilities included and I did not want to give it up!

If you can buy a home, all the better because you are building equity. Also buying real estate can be a huge wealth creator. Most of the wealthy people I know own real estate. Buy that dump in the best neighborhood, fix it up, and you will be on your way to early retirement.

Love this calculator: Is it Better to Rent or Buy?

Insurance

Another expense is insurance which is kinda mandatory. Car, home, life, and umbrella insurance. We have car, home, and life insurance and I am looking into umbrella insurance. Shop around. I shop around every year for the cheapest insurance, yet appropriate coverage. Our son is protected with 15-year term life insurance, with coverage that is more than enough to pay off our mortgage should anything happen to me or Dean.

Other Bills

Expenses for cell phone, cable, internet, car, gym, utilities, garbage should all be analyzed and negotiated. We save by not having gym or club memberships. We don’t have car payments. Our employers cover our phone bills. Everything else needs to be negotiated often! Call back until you find a representative who is willing to deal.

Taxes

We have an amazing CPA, introduced to me by Dean. Before we had Franco, I would tell Dean that our CPA was the best thing he brought to our marriage. Our CPA is a tax strategy guru and I can always count on him to minimize what we pay to Uncle Sam. Find yourself a tax guru. Taxes are a major expense and if you can find yourself a tax guru who understands what tax vehicles to use on your behalf, then you are golden.

Those are the basics. I could go into more detail with savings (should also be automatic), credit cards (pay down highest-interest debt first), investing (excess cash in a checking or savings account is not ideal), but I will leave that for another day or for a professional.

Meet with a Financial Advisor

I highly recommend meeting with a financial advisor if you are not comfortable managing your own finances. I’m very comfortable managing money, but I elicited the advice of a financial advisor to make sure we are on the right track. She confirmed that we are, contingent on the following:

  • Dean and I both max out our 401k each year.
  • We save an additional $1,000 every month.
  • When we retire, we will net $2,000 every month from our rental properties.
  • While our financial advisor is not modeling in any college education expense for Franco, she has modeled private school expense for Franco from kindergarten through senior year in high school.

If all of the above holds, then we will both have enough to retire when Franco is 18 years old.

I can provide a referral for a financial advisor if you need one. No cost involved for running the analysis and putting together the plan.

Now go forth and plan for your early retirement. We’ll see you on the beach!

More Sun, Less Screen

A lot has happened in the past month, hence being MIA on the blog. I’ve been in shock or depression or both, or really just so overwhelmed that with any down time, all I’ve wanted to do is crawl into bed and rest.

We lawyered up and went into mediation to settle a real estate dispute. For four hours, we sat in an office while the mediator (a retired judge) bounced back and forth, talking to the plaintiff (us) and the defendant separately. Mediation should be a case study in Negotiation 101. Each party has their bottom line figure, and it’s the mediator’s job to get us to come to a resolution before time is up! Thankfully, “The matter settled on terms acceptable to all parties.” I didn’t want to go through this whole rigmarole. The legal system scares me (queue the music to the Serial podcast) and I freaked out that we would end up paying for a lawyer and losing our case. But I have to give credit to Dean who insisted that justice would prevail once we pushed through. Sadly, in order for justice to prevail you have to have the money to pay for a lawyer. Either that or I guess get a public defender, or find someone who will take up your case pro bono? Seems like it’s very easy for people of power (i.e., nail salon owners, Bill Cosby, slumlords) to take advantage of those without means or resources.

We closed on a new home, no thanks to my chosen lender. The transaction was so delayed and so traumatic, I can’t even say the lender’s name without wincing and telling everyone who will listen, STEER CLEAR! THEY SUCK! We closed one week past our contractual date, and I had to dial for dollars to make that even happen. I figured one week was more than enough time to have appliances delivered, schedule movers…yet it came down to the wire. We signed title at 5pm and had movers scheduled to come at 8am the following day. It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done. Thanks to Oasis Moving Company for quickly and efficiently moving us from SF to Alameda in 7 hours. They charged $100/hour for 3 movers and a 24-foot truck, plus $20 for gas. $720 total. No extra charge for mileage, stairs, tax, etc. Chinese movers are the best!

We found tenants for our place in SF, and have decided to maintain that 2-unit property as a rental (versus selling). Based on our open houses, there are cool people who live in or want to live in the city. Sure there is a strong contingent of techies, but I still believe that SF city dwellers are hard-working, talented and most importantly diverse (both culturally and socio-economically).

On top of the move, I went into my busy season at work with the ritual of waking up at 4am once every quarter to get into the office to report earnings. I’m also suffering from sea sickness, commuting by ferry. I’ve done every natural remedy short of taking medication (Dramamine or the Scopolamine patch). The Sea-Bands worked, then they didn’t. I read that your body can get acclimated to them at which point they’re useless, which seems to have happened to me. It’s quite unnerving coming into work, feeling nauseus/hungover, with that condition not going away until a good night’s rest. Then it was back on the ferry again in the morning. I’ve reverted back to taking the bus and train to work. I’m waiting for the Relief Band—which emits an electrical pulse to your wrist—to arrive from Amazon. Will try that and see how that goes. If that doesn’t work, it’s on to the patch for me, but wary that a potential side effect is drowsiness. Not sure how that is going to jive when I’m supposed to be productive at work! If anyone has any thoughts or feedback, I would love to hear.

Lastly, on a bright note, my dad and I celebrated our birthdays belatedly (his 70th; my 40th) with about 50 family members at our new home. It was sponsored by our real estate agent Carol Brubaker who cooked up a whole spread of sirloin burgers, chicken and pork dogs, teriyaki chicken, grilled veggies, baked beans, potato salad, deviled eggs, spinach salad with beets/feta/bacon, watermelon, grapes, pickles, olives and lots of wine. We also had Filipino food—lumpia, pancit, suman—and ice-cream cake. Can’t go wrong with ice-cream cake! The party was truly epic!

Happy 40th Birthday to Me

I turned 40 on June 18. Happy birthday to me.

Most of my friends know, I love throwing parties. Why the hell not? We are on this earth to celebrate! Whether it’s the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage, Pride Weekend, a major birthday, a non-birthday, or even a death, lives should be celebrated.

I am writing this post with a pained heart because I found out today that a friend’s 9-year-old son passed away. I feel honored and blessed to have met Tyler. He was the happiest, sweetest boy. There is both sadness and profound joy that he graced us with his captivating presence.

I almost cancelled my birthday party because of some majorly huge stressors in my life. I’ll get to all of that in another post, but Dean convinced me otherwise. I celebrated at Ampersand flower shop in San Francisco with 30 friends from all walks of life: high school, college, work, Burning Man. Whether you were at my birthday or not, family and friends mean a lot to me. This is what life is all about, enjoying each moment, savoring our relationships. Some of my friends brought tears to my eyes, oh the stories they were telling about what our connection was or what memory stood out about me. I certainly felt special. Best birthday ever.

Take Time to Read the Classics

When was the last time you read a classic? A real classic novel.

I recently finished Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and it blew me away. I couldn’t believe I’d never read it before. It’s truly a masterpiece. It was never something I was interested in reading, thinking it was pornography in prose. It’s not. It’s very smart and a study in psychology because the book kinda plays a head-trip on you. Even though you know the narrator isn’t someone to be trusted, you start to feel sorry for him, and in the end start rooting for him. Very trippy.

Full disclosure: I did not read it. It was read to me by Jeremy Irons who did the most impressive reading I have ever listened to ever. Best audiobook of all time.

“The Fault in Our Stars.” “Gone Girl.” “The Help.” We’ve all read these books and they’re ok, maybe good, but they’re not exceptional. So why do we limit ourselves to what everyone else is reading? I’m not propositioning that everything we read must be Shakespeare or Ayn Rand or Faulkner, but every once in a while…can we try? Classic literature deserves our time and these books are great for a reason.

I urge you to suggest a classic for your next book club choice and let me know how it goes. Here’s a good site for reference.

What was the last classic novel that you read?

What was the last book that you read?

How does your book club choose what to read?