I met Hiro on Twitter when I saw her byline said she saved 50% in NYC on a $60k salary. That is insane. After chatting back and forth she also told me she was an AVM survivor and would still be able to save $100k by 30, and that she loved food (just look at her Instagram).
The woman has suffered incredible setbacks health-wise and yet she’s still ahead of a ton of people financially and is so bright and happy. I asked her to answer some questions so that millennials can realize any setback they suffer is temporary, and that you can really accomplish anything. Visit her blog here.
This is a continuation of our highlight of amazingly inspirational people. We did one on Finance Stoic a couple of months ago.
Take home: $2,900/mo ($1,450/paycheck)
Taken Out Pre-Paycheck per Month:
Roth 401k: $400
Savings Rate (of Take Home): ~52%
Monthly Cost of Living: $1200~1400 / mo
Rent: $800 / mo (split with roommate)
Utilities + Wifi: ~$65-90 (split with roommate; depends on whether we’re using AC or not)
Food: According to Mint (I categorize all my spending), I spent $1440 on Food (groceries and restaurants) in the past 6 months. That averages out to about $240 / mo
Shopping: Generally < $50 / mo (can range from $0~800 depending on if I have a large purchase like furniture, or most recently, my $250 Fitbit)
Laundry: $20-40 / mo (one of those city things…)
Subscriptions: Netflix – $11, Gym – $21 (just recently switched back to the $10 plan)
Savings: $1,500 / mo (automatic transactions)
Savings Account: $750
Investment Portfolio: $750
(Any Side-Hustle Money I make goes directly into Savings (ranges from $20~250 /mo atm))
Take Home – COL – Savings = ~$100-300 /mo (I usually keep it in my checking so I have surplus for any large purchases I want to make)
I don’t really buy much, because I’ve been living in my apartment for 3 years now, so most things are already there and I rarely have to restock unless I’ve run out of all the toilet paper or paper towels. Most things last for months, so when I am about to run out, I spend $20 bucks to restock for the next 3-6 months. Last year, I did a deep cleanse by decluttering my apartment, and unearthed ungodly amount of shampoos, conditioners, soap, etc. that were all squirreled away, so I think I’m good on those for quite a long time (I’m a hoarder…).
[Olivia: Oh man, I should clean my apartment. I’m looking forward to all the tiny beauty products I’ve never used. And possibly my pantry. Thank you for the idea!]
Mostly, I only buy food. And I’ve been around the area for long enough time that I know what’s cheap and what’s delicious, and rarely find the need to shift the algorithm. Groceries are fairly affordable (and abundant) around where I live, so I don’t have the problems I had in when I lived in the Upper East Side of having to grapple with the concept of spending $6 for a quart of milk.
I admit, I don’t really know much about the stock market. My boyfriend is a stock nerd, so he sometimes advises me on balancing my portfolio, but I’m the “set it to default and let it ride” kind of person most of the time.
Most of my net worth is in Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolio (free robo-advisor), and the breakdown is 69% Stocks, 16.7% Fixed Income (International Emerging Market Bonds, US Corporate High Yield Bonds), 6% Commodities, and rest cash. With my Robinhood, I put in $800 into AUPH some time last year, and I’m still holding it.
I have an HSA account, but I don’t invest it even though I’ve finally gotten the value up to investable values. Since my medical costs are high, I don’t even count it towards my Net Worth, since it’s actively being used and replenished in unpredictable ways.
For my 401K, I have an account at MassMutual, where I invest 100% into T. Rowe Price Retirement 2050 Fund. For the past 2 years, I was putting in a varying amount into Roth 401k, but as of a week ago, I switched over to 10% Traditional 401K contribution. I’m hoping that the switch will help me grow my net worth faster, and grow the investment. Otherwise, since the market is low right now, it’s a good opportunity to buy more at a lower price.
I max out my Roth IRA, and have 99% of it in POWERSHARES QQQ ETF [Nasdaq 100 tracker] and SPDR S&P 500 ETF, about 50:50. I opened the account back in January to deposit the 2017 max, and once I got my tax returns, maxed out 2018 contributions as well.
How Do You Save So Much Money IN NYC?
It’s definitely a lot harder to save money in a HCOL city like NYC, not only because the cost of living in general is expensive, but because we are constantly surrounded by so many ways to spend money.
Keeping up with the Joneses? More like Keeping Up with the Kardashians here. Everywhere you look, there are people decked out in clothing that cost more than half a year of my rent, with half a dozen paper bags from brand name stores on 5th Avenue.
A lot of my peers regularly make 2x+ what I make. When I started out working full-time, I made less than 1/3rd what my younger sister started out with right out of college. It’s demoralizing to constantly be reminded of your lower pay and inability to spend money like other people around you, but at the same time, I believe the necessity to really budget and learn how to hustle will serve me very well in the future. I know how to save money. I know how to live on very little in an extremely HCOL area. I am confident in my ability to shave my expenses down, and know that living frugally actually isn’t impossible (and also that I really don’t need much to feel pretty content). Knowing these things about myself so early on has helped me already in having higher net worth than majority of my 6-figure-earning peers, at the same time setting a good rhythm for my future spending habits.
What Is Your Anticipated FIRE Date?
I honestly have no idea about this one. I’m reading commentary on how you need $2 million a person to retire these days, or how nothing is going to be enough, or we won’t have Social Security, etc. etc.
Honestly, as long as I have a place to stay, I don’t cost much to maintain. So I am hoping that (especially with a paid off home), I can retire within a few decades. Unless I become a stay at home wife or mother (then you can NEVER retire… hah).
I wasn’t raised in a household where money was an issue since we moved to the US. So I didn’t really learn how money works or how much effort and time goes into getting it until I moved out from under my parents’ wings. My savings rate is a little over a whole paycheck, and I’ve basically been working on creating a lifestyle that works at a very low cost and resisting the lifestyle creep at every raise.
I’m in a very different place from where I was financially when I moved to NYC in 2014, but because I took such an “alternative” route to finding my career (I have a masters degree in education, but I ended up pursuing a career in IT), it gave me a good foundation of the “Hustle Life,” and figuring out ways to make it work with little income.
Even when my peers were living lavish lifestyles with six figure salaries right out of college, I managed to focus more on saving money rather than trying to keep up. Ironically, I have one of the highest net worth amongst my college friends, even though I am one of the few not making $90k+. I’m not afraid to decline events based on cost, am very open about what I can and cannot afford, and in turn, my friends know that I keep to my budget. Some of them appreciate my food choices, because I manage to introduce them to delicious cheap food they never explored before.
My rent is cheap, my food choices are affordable, and I don’t have many expensive hobbies (they’re are walking, writing, photography, and eating…. all fairly cheap in grand scheme of things). I love learning, which, thanks to the internet, I can do fairly easily and for cheap or free, so most of my time is eaten up making money or learning.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m wasting my youth spent in the “capital of the world” by not getting out much, but then again, maybe I’ll have more money and resources to do what I REALLY want in the future, when I have my health again, and actually know what I want out of my life!
Would You Mind Sharing Your Instagram With Us?
My “real life” Instagram is at @atihsa, and I’ve had the account since college. One of my hobbies is taking photographs of food, so there’s a lot of foodie photos there.
Since I moved to NYC without a job, I didn’t have much income ($300/week from babysitting 2 days a week). Right from the beginning, I knew I couldn’t eat the kinds of food everyone else was eating, and had to find alternative places to eat. But at the same time, I love eating and I love food, so I knew I needed to find myself cheap yet still delicious food. So I’ve spent the past few years finding my “go to” delicious eats for less than $20.
For the first few years, my budget for eating out was under $15 for entree (I didn’t order appetizer or drinks or desserts), for an under $20 with tax and tips. I’ve been largely successful in finding delicious places to eat for very affordable costs, especially Asian food. When friends come to visit, I loved sharing the cheap eats locations with them, because they come in expecting to have to pay $50/meal. I can share with them a 3 course meal for $15, or feed 2 people on $25, and they are generally very happy to find this new layer of NYC that no one talks about.
Of course, I splurge sometimes too, but because my general eating-out costs are so low, splurging once in a while doesn’t hurt my budget as much as if my base eating-out costs are higher. I also don’t drink, which saves me A LOT of money.
[Oliva: Oh yeah, I looked at that cost one time. It was so much money!]
When I look at my Instagram account, it does seem extremely lavish and seems like I’m eating out all the time. But of course I would only be posting photos when I DO eat out and it’s worth posting (I posted way too many photos of Soup Dumplings, so I haven’t posted those in a while…) Favorite meals are $15 for Hand Pulled Noodles + Dumplings, or $25 to share 3 Crab + Pork Soup Dumplings with a friend (pretty amazing feeling to pay a meal for 2 with $40, then get over $10 in change that you can then go spend on other Chinatown goodies!).
Have You Done Side Hustles In The Past?
Side hustles I have done in the past are tutoring ($50/hr), babysitting ($15-20/hr), dog walking/cat sitting ($15-20/feed or walk), website management, user interviews, and writing. I also have listings up on websites like TeachersPayTeachers that bring in a few bucks here and there, as well as the periodic affiliate deposit from Amazon Affiliates. I’m currently looking towards more ways to increase my passive income.
Before, I used my side hustle money as my living expenses, especially when I was making $14/hr. Now, I put it all directly into my savings account to pad it up, but I don’t contribute into IRA or Solo 401K. I feel like I haven’t gotten to that point yet… And to be completely honestly, I hadn’t even known about Solo 401k until just recently! I DO max out my Roth IRA though (I opened one earlier in the year and put in $11,000 for 2017 and 2018), so at least there’s that!
What Special Ways Do You Use To Encourage Yourself To Save More?
In the beginning, saving was a necessity. I am a very very anxious person, so even the prospect of not having enough money or falling into financial hardship was a very scary concept for me. So whenever possible, I squirreled away a few dollars here, a few dollars there, even when I wasn’t making very much. I love seeing numbers go up, so looking at my bank statements motivated me to keep going. [She explains her strategy in her blog post where she pays herself first.]
Since I am not in that much of a financial bind anymore, and I have a good amount of assets (at least to tide me over in case any emergency came up), it’s harder to find motivation, since it’s all a numbers game. I’m not trying to pay off debt, I don’t have a big purchase coming up like a car or a house, and I don’t spend that much money in general, so I’m at a “goalless” state right now, other than perhaps that I want to have a comfortable amount of money saved up so I can retire early. (But I don’t even know what that number is, I just know it’s A LOT.)
[Olivia: She also did a $10.32/Day challenge in NYC here. I was stressed just reading that, but she came out with a surplus!]
So I’ve been resorting to catering to my love for notebooks and numbers, by keeping a Bullet Journal where I keep a running tally of my savings, and setting financial goals that are within the next year or 2. This whole “Have $XXXXX by 60” is way too broad for me. I needed things that are closer. So I picked a random number and date: $100,000 net worth by 30 years old. Turns out, I’ll reach this milestone within this year (if the market doesn’t crash, anyways). So I adjusted it to $100,000 net worth by 2019. Having tangible goals that I can “number out” helps me to keep motivated and focused, and I love being able to fill out my paper trackers to see how far I’ve come. Digital numbers are great, but there’s something special about writing out my calculations and coloring in blocks in a “$20,000 saved in 2018 tracker” in a journal.
So far, I’ve saved about $12,000 this year, including my 401k contributions, so I’m well on my way to $20,000 savings goal for 2018!
How Do You Deal With Health Costs?
[Olivia: If you want to read about her brain surgery process, you really need to read her blog post about it here. The summary here does not do it justice.]
My medical history is actually quite complex. When I was in college, I was diagnosed with Arteriovenous Malformation, which is when overgrown blood vessels, which look like a bird’s nest, cause issues. It can happen anywhere in your body, but in my case, I had 3 in my brain.
I had a craniotomy when I was 22, and have been seizure and AVM free since then. However, this came with its own set of issues, as I was now a brain injury survivor. I had to relearn how to sit, walk, and use a spoon, as I couldn’t move even my fingers.
Back then, I was on my parents’ insurance (thanks, Obama!), and was able to stay on it until I was 26 (if I needed to), which allowed me to graduate graduate school and have a bit of a buffer before I had to either find a job with benefits or buy into the exchange. And by the time I had graduated college and moved to NYC, I was no longer going to specialists or on any medication, so my medical costs were non existent other than the routine checks.
So I didn’t feel the real burden of mounting medical costs until last summer, when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis after almost half a year of chronic pain. Once the doctors’ visits started and the drugs, I was facing $500-600/mo for every appointment, $200-300/mo for every blood gets, and $75/mo for the drugs until I hit my $1500 deductible. So this went on for a few months until they started paying for ANYTHING. And even after they started paying, I was still responsible for 20% of the fees.
I spoke to my benefits and payroll administrator at work, and immediately started maxing out my HSA (I think I was putting in $400/mo into it around then), and even then, I was juggling medical bills to see what I can pay now without having to pay out of pocket, how long I can hold out on the bigger bills so I can make sure I have enough funds, etc. It was pretty stressful, which exasperated my arthritis, as my RA is triggered by stress. And if you’ve ever had issues where you had to go to doctors offices often, you know just the fact you have to set up appointments and go and keep up on the bills, test results, and medications is a full time job.
Once I hit the deductible, the payments vastly reduced for 2017, so for the last few months of 2017, I was able to keep $1500 in my HSA that I was able to roll over for 2018. Unlike last year, I don’t have to worry about running out of funds. I’m still maxing it out every paycheck, but also have ea $1500 cushion until I hit my deductible again. (I had already hit around $900 in February, so when the next appointment rolls around next month, I’ll probably hit my deductible for 2018.)
I chose the DHCP (high deductible plan) after doing the calculations on how much the costs would be if I used them to 100% for every plan my company offered. Sadly (?) with the benefit of HSA and the company match (I believe they contribute $500/yr or something like that into HSAs), having a high deductible plan was the cheapest option. And my coverage isn’t affected by the type of insurance I selected, so it was all purely financial.
For the future, even if my illnesses subside, I plan on maxing out my HSA whenever possible, to prepare for future medical financial catastrophes. I know all too well, with my medical conditions in the past decade, that even in times of peace, I can’t be too cautious about what might be right around the corner! I was pretty lax for the past few years, because I had assumed the worst of my medical life was over, but now I know that ANYTHING could pop up, and I need to be prepared!
[Olivia: I love that she shares that life still isn’t easy, and reminds us that it’s not all roses here, no matter how it looks.]
Did You Have Any Student Loans?
So I didn’t have any student loans coming out of college. One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me (other than raising me, I suppose!) was that they paid for my and my sister’s college. We both went to a state university, but collectively, went to 10 years undergraduate and 1 year graduate.
It’s one of those things, looking back, that really allowed me to take the risks that come with moving to a city without a job lined up, and being able to take very low paying jobs for the sake of job experience, as I did. If I ever have kids, I hope to be able to give them the same gifts. Would be the “last thing I’m paying for” kind of thing, after 18 years of raising them. Hah.
Do You Have Any Splurges?
Yes! Definitely! So one of the obsessions I’ve always had are bags and purses. I just LOVE them. In the past year or so, my “need” to buy them have gone down a lot, but I’ve also actively curved my enthusiasm by unsubscribing from all e-mails promising me sales and discounts.
In the beginning, I didn’t have much money I could spend on these, so I inevitably looked in the sales section or got cheaper versions of what I wanted. Which, in the end, since they weren’t what I ACTUALLY wanted, I ended up getting bored of, and wanting more after a while.
After I realized my tendency to want to continue buying newer things because I kept on buying things that weren’t actually 100% what I wanted, I decided to change my methodology of purchasing. Instead of spending $100 on 5 purses that were “Eh-Ok,” I decided I’ll spend as much money as I need to for one single purse that I LOVE. So these days, the purses I do have are much more expensive than they used to be (some of them are in the $350-450 range), but I love them, and I don’t have the impulse to buy more, because I’ve basically gotten myself a collection of purses that I LOVE for almost every occasion.
Another spendy thing I do is photography. I have a Nikon D7000 DSLR (that I can no longer use because it’s too heavy for me with my arthritis) from back in college, and a few years back, purchased a Mirrorless Sony A6000, which is much more compact and easier to carry. These cameras are obviously not cheap, and each lens costs almost as much as the camera itself. But I enjoy photography, and it’s one of my only hobbies that I spend money on. On the same vein, I buy my phones for the camera quality. So I bought a Google Pixel outright for $850 last year, which I hope will last me at least another year. I am in love with the photo quality, and it’s my daily companion.
My philosophy is, I save money and don’t spend them on frivolous things so that when I DO find something I want, I can really put as much money as I need to to get the perfect thing I will love and use a lot for years to come.
What Are Your Favorite Free Or Frugal Activities In NYC?
Eating, definitely. They aren’t frugal or free, but I do it very affordable. I also love exploring by foot various parts of NYC, and taking advantage of the transit system that will basically get you anywhere you want for $2.75.
I hangout with friends window shoppings and taking walks, ducking in for a drink at cafes, or walking around all over Manhattan.
Since embracing minimalism, I don’t have the inclination to buy as much, and enjoy window shopping a lot more. And even better when the items are outrageously priced AND look like something no one would ever wear around 5th Avenue!
And taking advantage of the amazing selection of ethnic food ingredients, I have been experimenting with cooking different types of dishes. Something you can’t readily do when you don’t live in an area with such cultural diversity!
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