Retirement: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Today I want to talk about my parents. They are currently in Taipei, traveling all over Asia, enjoying the retired life.

My mom and I can spend hours talking about finances, budgets, retirement…all things related to money and wealth. I’ve always said that if I had inherited my mom’s exact brain, with my ambition, I could have ruled the world. She’s a genius when it comes to numbers, whereas I’ve had to work really hard to develop my analytical skills.

Before they went on vacation, we were talking about money as we usually do. And I was bemoaning the rat race of living in San Francisco. I will save that post for another day. I waxed on about how getting ahead in life was all about the big wins: significant raises, large bonuses, side businesses to provide additional income, and real estate investments.

She laughed and shook her head. She completely disagreed. She listed examples of people who have great jobs and appear wealthy, yet are nowhere near retirement. My parents, in contrast, are squarely middle class. My dad was in the navy, worked for the post office, and retired a while ago. My mom is an accountant who is now retired at age 66. She could have retired sooner, but liked her job so she kept at it. Another thing about my mom is that she could have climbed the corporate ladder, but refused. Even though she was a working mom, family came first. She didn’t want the burden of long hours or the stress of managing people and instead was always home at a reasonable hour to be with me and my sister.

Considering my parents’ poor immigrant background, their massive savings as they enjoy retirement together is extremely impressive. So how did they do it? If you ask my mom, she says it’s simple. They rarely ate out. Both my parents packed their lunch for work every day. I don’t think they’ve ever set foot inside a Starbucks. They never paid full price for anything. They’re not flashy people so they weren’t spending money on stupid stuff like fancy clothes or cars. They scrimped so that we could go on vacation, get braces, have piano lessons, and go to private Catholic school from first grade through senior year of high school. And even though they never made a ton of money, they consistently give to a handful of charities.

As I see my parents tagged in Facebook photos, tracking them from Tokyo to Taipei, then on to Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Singapore, I am filled with pride at how deserving they are of these memories and experiences. But also I wanted to point out that anyone can do it. You don’t have to be an entrepreneur or someone with a high-paying job or win the lottery to retire and enjoy your twilight years. My parents did it. Dean and I are determined to do it too. And of course, we’d love for all of you to join us. Let’s cruise around the world together!

Destination? Retirement.

The Presidio Officers’ Club

My busy period at work has ended and baby Franco is starting to sleep better. Yay! Life is good and you’ll start to see me get back into a better blogging schedule. It’s really strange but as soon as Franco hit 5 months (as of a few days ago), he’s down to 0-1 feeds in the middle of the night and we weren’t even trying to wean him. It just happened. Hallelujah!

I’m kind of a bitch on a normal basis. When I get very little sleep, WATCH OUT. The fangs come out.

Last Sunday, we went to the Presidio to check out the newly-renovated Officers’ Club. It reminds me of the Crissy Field Center–part museum, part cultural hub, part classrooms. We walked around and stumbled upon actors performing Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Then we headed to the new restaurant Arguello which is within the Officer’s Club. We ordered guacamole and several tacos which were mind-blowing. I know it’s odd to characterize mexican food that way, especially since we live in San Francisco, but I’m telling you the food at this restaurant is TOPS! The chef/owner Traci Des Jardins has several other resaurants: Jardiniere (one of our faves), Mijita (at the Ferry Building), Public House (at AT&T Park) and the newly-opened Commissary at the Presidio (need to try that as well).

It was a gorgeous afternoon to take in the Blue Angels. We are so spoiled over here!

Death with Dignity

I have been so moved by 29-year-old newlywed Brittany Maynard’s bravery as she approaches the end of her life from brain cancer. She has moved with her husband from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon, one of five states that allows people to end their life with medication prescribed by a doctor for terminally ill patients. In her shortened time with us, she is advocating for everyone to have this option available to them.

Please watch this video, then scroll down for a link to sign Brittany’s card.


I just learned today that this courageous woman is my friend’s sister-in-law. My heart goes out to Brittany, her friends and family, and the Diaz family. Please sign this card to show your support.

How to Overcome an Addiction

I did it! I’m no longer a sugar-holic! After a lifetime of consuming cookies, ice-cream, cake, chocolate croissants, cupcakes, hot chocolate, candy, cheesecake, you name it…on a daily basis, I’m totally over it!

After a 21 day detox, I no longer crave sugar. It’s incredible. As someone who got her “fix on” every single day, this is, obviously, life-changing for me. No more Starbucks runs. No more standing in line for frozen yogurt. No more trips to the vending machine for a Twix bar.

After the detox was over, I thought maybe I’ll do another 21 days. But I figured that was a bit draconian. So here’s my guideline: I’ll only eat processed sugar if it’s offered to me. Donuts at the office? Bring it. Cupcakes at a baby shower? Gladly. But I will not spend a dime to buy myself a sugary treat.

There’s one scenario that’s really hard for me. On the weekends, I love strolling Franco around in our neighborhood and sitting down at our local bakery and having a hot chocolate. Not being able to do that is really tough. I guess I can always get tea, but for now, I know I need to avoid the aroma of baked goods. I can see myself caving in with a hot chocolate and one of their pear tarts.

I will say that when you give up an addiction, you’re really just transferring one addiction for another. In my case, I now eat more salty snacks and drink more alcohol.

But otherwise, I feel great! No more sugar rushes. No more ups and downs.

Now if I can just get my baby to sleep through the night!

Tips for Securing Apartments in Popular Cities

I live in San Francisco where a million dollars will buy you a 2-bedroom, 2-bath, 1200 sq. ft. condo in a nice neighborhood. Not only are home prices and rents sky-rocketing, the path to securing a home or apartment has gotten ultra-competitive. I partnered with Zillow, one of the best real estate sites, to share the following wisdom on securing an apartment in a city with a competitive real estate market.

By Jennifer Riner of Zillow

Large metropolitan rental markets are inherently competitive. Young professionals working downtown often prefer living within walking or public transportation distance of their offices. However, the cost of rentals in high-demand cities often leads to sticker shock for first-time renters.

The median rental listing in New York City, for instance, is $2,600 each month for a two-bedroom unit. Even more shocking, the median list price for two-bedroom apartments in San Francisco is $4,400 per month. Compare New York City and San Francisco to smaller, stable markets such as Atlanta, where a two-bedroom apartment may cost around $1,400. Potential city center leaseholders might be forced to rethink their desired locales.

Given the high demand for rentals in major metros, landlords are able to price their units astronomically high and remain successful. The nature of these markets also leads to short listing periods, quick decisions and strategic application practices. Therefore, renters must get organized prior to searching for apartments in the concrete jungle.

Consider the following tips to find and secure the right rentals in competitive markets.

Start Early

Be on the right schedule for rental searches. It’s beneficial to preview units a few months prior to renting to analyze the current and shifting markets. Vacancies don’t last long in competitive areas, so use these units as comparable properties, as they’ll likely rent within weeks. Potential applicants should begin their official searches about a month before planned move-ins. Landlords usually know the number of vacant units one to two months before leases end. Some begin advertising, scheduling showings and accepting new applicants as early as two months prior to vacancy.

Be Realistic

Most financial advisors warn against spending more than 30 percent of gross monthly income on rent. However, new graduates, no matter how hard they work, might only be making around $40,000 per year before taxes. With such low salaries, young professionals should budget $1,000 per month or less on rent.

In New York City, the typical studio costs $2,150 monthly, equating to almost 65 percent of monthly income, assuming a $40,000 salary. Either New York City leaseholders search for better paying positions, or stretch their budgets while jeopardizing their potential savings. Fact is, if residents don’t have at least $2,000 to spend on rent, they should look to live outside of Manhattan. The same rules apply to more expensive markets such as San Francisco. Consider outlying suburbs, where list prices are significantly more cost-effective than their city counterparts.

Pay Upfront

It pays to bring cash. In a competitive market, landlords search for the most responsible tenants to fill their vacancies. Deposits show landlords that tenants are financially capable of providing reliable, timely rents. Deposits also give property managers and landlords the incentive to choose one applicant over another. And, in a region like New York City where applicants scramble to sign the best leases, motivators are important. Be aware that most hot-market landlords also require first and last month’s rent upon lease signing. For a $2,500 per month apartment, the total initial payment might amount to $9,000 upfront, including the security deposit.

Be Prepared

New York City landlords don’t have time to waste on ill-prepared applicants. Show up with state-issued identification or passports, solid references, cosigners (if necessary) and credit reports in hand. Reference lists should include full names, phone numbers, email addresses and addresses. Select trustworthy associates to provide accurate and positive information. Previous landlords are great references, so maintain good rapport – even if living situations prove less than satisfactory.

Discuss any disclosures openly and honestly. For instance, foreclosures and short sales appear on credit checks. Disregarding such items may come off as devious, forcing landlords to assume applicants are untrustworthy. Regardless of track records, check credit reports before applying for leases. This way, any discrepancies or blemishes can be fixed or explained appropriately.

As renters become more seasoned at leasing in the city, they tend to automatically adapt these practices. However, stay up to date with individual market and industry trends, and adjust search processes to reflect these shifts. Down the road, high demand may require even earlier rental searches – potentially two or more months in advance.