2.01.2016

Looking Back: January

Well here we are, starting another month again. I know February is going to fly by, even though it's a leap year this year! January was also quite quick, even though I had a couple of relaxing days at home. Of course, those also go by fast as well! Let's see what happened this month.

Running: In January I ended up running 173 miles and climbing 24,000 ft. This is my highest mileage month since May of last year, when I had two ultra races and one trip to Yosemite. This means that so far I am on track to make my goal of 2000 miles and 250,000 feet. In addition to that, I had 35 biking miles, which is approximately two and a half times per week of bike commuting (which goes along with my 2016 goal).  I also had 6.5 miles of hiking  and no strength workouts (which is a fail on my once per week goal).

Reading: I guess that instead of doing my strength workouts, I read! This month I read 8 books. The best five were probably the following:

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alere Saenz
The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercranz

Travel: I actually had a month of weekends close to home with lots of local activities this month! It was a good month of family and friends and lots of running. I even had one weekend where I tweaked my back and stayed home and relaxed / did nothing all weekend. Other than that, I have been getting some small things done around the house, working on my yearly purge and trying to enjoy this time while I can. I am glad to have this chance to relax, as activities each month start to ramp up soon! My February weekends are already all booked up.

What did you do in January? Which months are the calmest/busiest for you? 

1.28.2016

What I Learned: Getting Financing

Last year was very hectic for me. The reason for this is that in addition to working and running a few races, I was in the market for a home. There are a lot of moving pieces involved when buying a home, especially when you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is one of the hottest places to live (and the most expensive) in the country.

I thought I would break down my search into a few posts, starting with the beginning, which was financing. Oh the joys of getting a loan. Now, I have no idea what the right or wrong way to go about this is, but I will talk about the way that I did it, and what seemed to work for me.

First, I pulled my credit report. I have heard, and I am not sure if this is true, that it is better to pull it 6 times in one month than 6 times over the course of a year. So I pulled it, knowing that the lenders would also pull it. Luckily, it was in good shape.

The next thing I wanted was a pre-approval letter. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for, but I did know that a pre-approval letter was better than a pre-qualify. With a pre-approval, the lender gets mostly all of your paperwork and then they use that to figure out how much they will be willing to lend you. This is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is hard to figure out how much you can afford. I spent a lot of time on the internet plugging in numbers, but until the lender actually used my actual hard data to get an amount, I was just guessing (with the help of Google).

The second reason that it's important is that it helps to submit the pre-approval letter with your offer. This can help convince the seller that you are serious about the offer, and it will make them more comfortable that your agreement is not going to fall through due to lack of financing. In the Bay Area, your offer will most likely not get accepted without a pre-approval letter.

To get a pre-approval letter, you have to figure out who you want to try to get a letter and/or a loan from. How do you figure this out? Good question! Once again, I turned to Google (and Zillow) to find out who could give me the best rate. In addition, I asked several people who they had used and how their experience had been. I got a lot of different answers. Zillow named two internet banks and Bank of America as having the best rates. Two of my friends used Quicken (internet bank) and Bank of America.

So, I contacted one internet bank, Bank of America (who happens to be where I have had my accounts since I was a teenager) and Citibank. What happened next was this:

The internet bank asked me to fill out a form with my financial info and send it back to them. The lady was very nice and the operation seemed legitimate. I filled out the form and sent it back and got a pre-approval letter the next day.

Bank of America connected me to Texas. I finally got routed to a local agent, who barely spoke English (sorry!) and tried to talk me into getting a 5/1 arm (adjustable rate) instead of the 30 year fixed that I asked her for. She then asked me to send in about 400 different kinds of paperwork, including all of my Bank of America  bank statements. I sent them all to her and did not hear back from her for three weeks (when I called her, her message said she was on vacation).

Citibank sent me an unprofessional email with no signature or logo that looked like a 12 year old had sent it, asking for 400 different kinds of paperwork. I told them I would feel more comfortable seeing a real person and giving my documents to them and the guy blew me off.

Since the Citibank guy seemed unprofessional, I contacted a third option, a local broker, and I sent him all my 400 different kinds of paperwork. He was very helpful and even helped me run a few different scenarios, depending on my down payment and/or desired purchase price. The guy was easy to reach on the phone and answered any (dumb) questions I had throughout the entire process.

The verdict: The amount I could qualify for was less than I wanted, since they could not count bonuses or overtime unless you could show two full years and proof that it would be ongoing. Bummer. So that meant the amount I thought I could spend was not the actual amount... in addition, I found it very strange that they ask you how much you want to spend. Can't they just crunch all the numbers and then tell you what the absolute max is?

My advice: Try a bunch of different lenders. You have no commitment to them. Once you have all of your 400 documents in pdf form, you may as well send them to as many lenders as you can!

In addition, my realtor told me a few tips. (1) the big banks (BofA etc) take forever to get you an answer, sometimes meaning you lose the house because you can't get financing in time. I know this as well because I work for a big bank and I see some of the frustration over how long thing take. (2) The internet banks will give anybody a pre-approval letter and will often give you the number YOU want, rather than what you can really afford. This causes problems later when it comes to getting the actual loan. Due to this, often times sellers will not accept offers if the letter is from an internet bank.

So, there we have it, my new understanding of financing in a nutshell.

Have you gotten a home loan? What advice or tips do you have for others regarding the situation? 

*Disclaimer: I am not a professional. Any opinions I give are my own and you should do your own research before making any rash decisions. :) 

1.25.2016

Be It Ever So Humble: The Ten Cent Tour

I have had several requests from people to give everyone a tour of my "new" house.  I have to admit, I have been putting it together little by little and it's still not fully settled in, so that is why I have been stalling on the "house tour". Three months after I moved in, I finally got a couch, and I am still working on sorting things out and deciding where their place in the house (or the Goodwill bag) will be.

The new house is a 2 bedroom, 1 bath and is about 1,000 SF. The reason I chose it was that the location is convenient to the freeway and public transportation. I also really loved the hardwood floors and the large backyard. It's also on a dead end street, and only has 8 houses on the street, which I see as a plus. Without further ado, here are a couple of photos of the new place.


Front of House (right before lots of raking!)

Front Porch (my parents made the wreath)

Kitchen

Kitchen

Living Room

Living Room

Living Room

"Office" (haven't figured this room out yet)

Sun Room / Reading Nook -- window seat

Sun Room / Reading Nook -- corner nook
Bathroom

As I mentioned and as you can see, I still have a long way to go! I need to put up photos, especially in the living room above the couch,  and I still need to organize things and do a major purge. I am not big on decorating, but have been having fun doing a few DIY projects, which I will have to share later. I have also done a bit of work to the front and back yard, but will have to save that for another post as well!

Do you like decorating? When you move, how long does it take you to get everything sorted in the new place? Where is your "go to" place for home decor?

1.14.2016

Take the Money and Run

It's that time of year again! Money pie time! This year was fun because a coworker loved that I did this last year and decided to join in the fun. We have been presenting each other with our "pie" each quarter to see where things have gone over time. 

Here's the breakdown! But first, a couple of notes. First, I did not include any savings in this chart. I do put aside money for retirement as well as an emergency fund and a fun money fund. However, as this money is not technically an expense, it is not included. Also, I excluded my down payment, as it would have inflated the "home" category to over 90 percent. 

Home: Like last year, this includes rent and utilities but this year, as well as taxes and insurance, this category was also furnishings heavy. As I said, I did not include my down payment. However, there were still a lot of things, such as blinds, appliances and other misc items, that I will not have to buy every year, but that were a big expense this  year. I was a bit aghast at the high percentage, but if I just had rent/utilities only, it would be closer to 33%, which is about right, according to articles like this

Travel: I hope I never have to make this category smaller. I have mentioned this before, but I will skimp on most everything before I give this one up! As you can see I forwent shopping for travel this year. I have a great trip to Europe, as well as several other trips around the US to visit with friends, and several road trips to do active things around California. 

Transportation: This category is mostly commuting, but I also rent a car approximately one weekend per month in order to visit family or friends or to go to a running event. I did not try to separate the costs for running related things into the entertainment category, as they are often all intertwined. 

Groceries/Eating Out: Funny that these are almost the same! I probably only eat out about once a month, so this shows that when I do eat out, it is a major event! Eating out also includes coffee shops and beer, which is probably the majority of my expense in that category! I also put all Costco trips in the grocery category, even though there were some other odds and ends in the basket usually.

Misc: This includes haircuts, gifts and donations, credit card fees.. things like that. The bulk of it is gifts and donations. I think I got my hair cut twice last year!

Health: This includes pre-tax deductions and any copay or charge for contact lenses etc.

Entertainment: This includes movies, baseball games, and running related (or other hobbies) expenses. Truly this year I did not spend a lot on running gear, only race fees. Also, like I said before, my transportation to running events was either carpooling or it went into the transportation or travel category. It may be better to try to separate those out this year to get a more accurate idea of where the money is going.

Shopping: If it's not food, I don't buy it! This category included clothing, toiletries and items from Target that were not home or running related. I literally bought maybe 4 (Banana Republic) shirts for myself this year from a thrift store, and that was about it! k

So, what did I learn from this? I am pretty happy about where I spent my money in 2015. If needed, I could definitely spend less on travel. Currently it is not necessary, but it would have to be the first thing to get a haircut if I needed some extra money. As you can see, I don't really spend a lot on unnecessary things, except for travel. I am also happy about how much I am putting aside and am trying to increase my savings amounts if I get a raise this year, instead of just spending more.

What is the biggest piece of your spending pie? Do you keep track of where your money goes? What are your financial goals this year? 

1.11.2016

Look Ahead: Goals 2016

Last year I did not post my goals because I tend to be a private person and a lot of my goals I don't feel that I really want to put out there, even though I do have a list of my own. This year, I will post a few of my goals however, in the hopes that posting them will keep me honest! 

1. Run a 100 mile race. This was on the list last year and I did not quite make it. However, this year I am ready to try again! I have a couple races in mind, but it's hard, as they are all lotteries. We shall see which one chooses me, I guess. After I find out which race I will do, it will be time to get the training schedule sorted out. Which brings me to my next goal.

2. Run 2,000 miles / climb 250,000 ft elevation: Last year I ran about 1,800 miles and climbed about 250,000 feet, so this goal is attainable. However, I also want to be smart about my training, as last year I got injured which put a damper on my running, which was not fun at all. I would like to train smart and to have a plan, which is something that really helps me when it comes to setting goals. I have a "little red book" where I plan to keep track of my miles and my training in general, in hopes that it will help me in the long run (pun intended). 

3. Read 52 books. Last year I read 77 books, but I feel like with an increase in running comes a decrease in reading. So, to be realistic, I will try to read one a week and if I have time for more than that, then great, but I don't want to be stressed or annoyed at myself for setting an unrealistic goal. 

4. Read 12 books from my own shelves. I am copying Lisa on this one! I think that it's a great idea to actually read books that I already have (and then possibly give them away) instead of keeping them for no reason. To be clear, if it's an excellent book, I may keep it, but if it's not, its going in the Goodwill pile! 

5. Ride my bike to work 2 times per week: Last year I ended up riding my bike 102 times, which would average out to about 1 time per week. This year I would like to improve upon that plan, as I really enjoy getting out early and getting a bit of exercise before I head to work! So far, so good, as last week I rode my bike into work twice and would have done it more but it was pouring rain the other three days of the week! 

6. Practice my Spanish: This one is hard to quantify, but I would like to improve my Spanish by talking to a friend for at least 5 minutes once a week, studying and learning at least 100 new words per week and possibly taking my vacation this year to a Spanish speaking country.

7. Try new things: This goal is multi faceted. I would like to visit 12 places that I have never been before. This can be a running trail or a city or a country. I would like to learn one new recipe a week or 52 in a row; either way is fine with me. I often make "new" things but usually they are just tossing a few things in a pot and calling it good. We shall see how it goes, as I am not really a recipe follower except in baking, but I would like to try! The last is to try 6 new things this year. Last year, one of the things was snowshoeing. I also tried Russian food for the first time. You are never too old to learn a new trick!

8. Spend less than I spent last year: You may think this is easy, because hello, I bought a house. However, I am not including my down payment in my "expenses" for 2015. Every year I break down my spending to see where I spent the most (will be posted soon!) and this year I was a little embarrassed by my spending. I am still quite frugal and a lot of it did go into the house (my "home" category was over 50% of my expenditures), but I need to cut back a bit and put more money into savings! 

This is all the goals I am going to post here, but I also have a couple of personal financial and life goals that are going on a separate list as well. I have found that it's best for me to have about 6 - 10 goals, otherwise they get overwhelming and I cannot complete them and then I get frustrated. So, along with the 8 here, I have two others that I would like to accomplish this year. 

What are your goals for 2016? 

1.08.2016

Looking Back: December

December was packed full of fun and family and food! I am sad to see it go, while at the same time am looking forward to starting a new year full of fresh new things! I am going to keep this one short, as I mostly already talked about a lot of these same things in my Best Of posts.

Running: I picked things up at the end of the month and managed to run 142 miles in December. In addition, I had 4 strength training sessions, 15 miles of biking and 6 miles of hiking. All in all, I would call it a success, as my total "activities" equaled 40. My goal for the month was 30, but the fact that I ride to AND from work, equaling 2 activities per day, really upped the numbers more than I thought it would.

Reading: In December I read 5 books; my favorites were:

The Beekeeper's Apprentice: A fun play on Sherlock Holmes with a new assistant, teenager Mary Russel. Its fun to see them solve mysteries and to see the inner workings of Holmes' mind through Mary's eyes.

The Architect's Apprentice: Set in late 1500s in Istanbul, this is an interesting glance at life in those times. We get to meet a white elephant, the sultan, his architect and the 4 apprentices and to learn their stories.

 Inside the O'Briens: Another good book by Lisa Genova (Still Alice) which goes into the heartache that comes to families along with Huntington Disease. Like Still Alice, I couldn't put it down.

Travel: December was mostly filled with holiday travel, and I got to see many old friends and family and to meet many new family members as well!

What was December like for you? What are you reading right now? 

1.06.2016

Best of 2015: Running

Ten years ago, in 2006 (*whoa! ten years!), I said to myself, "self, you need to get your butt in gear" and I signed up for the Bridge to Bridge Race in San Francisco. It was a 7k and I finished in 43 minutes, which is just under a 10 minute mile. Before signing up for this race, I was a lackadaisical runner. I would run three or four miles once or twice a week if I was having a good week. I think my longest run at the time was about 6 miles. But I got it in my head that I was going to run the Mardi Gras half marathon in New Orleans, which is in February, and this was step number one.

Fast forward to almost ten years later and my "self" of those days would never fathom where my running journey would take me. This year, I ran about 1,800 miles, which is not the most number of miles that I have ever run in one year. I also had some struggles with motivation and I had my first DNF which probably was part of the problem. I had a couple of injuries. I would not say it was my most productive running year. However, I feel that this year was more about quality over quantity. So, without further ado, the best of 2015 running.

1. Going to Yosemite: In May I went with my family to Yosemite Valley and in August, I went with some friends to the Tioga Pass area. Both times I had a great time running around, seeing things from a perspective that not a lot of people get to see Yosemite from, and enjoying the fresh air and the outdoors. I love the Sierra Nevada mountains and hope to plan many more trips into their midst in the coming years!

Cathedral Lakes (photo credit: John)

Half Dome (photo credit: Dad)

2. Winning top female in my age group for the Pacific branch of the USATF: This was unexpected actually, as I don't really keep track of the standings, plus they are a bit confusing to interpret at times. However, right before the last race of the season, my friend told me that I was currently second and that all I had to do was beat the first place girl at this race. I spent the whole race checking to see where she was and to make sure that she did not get in front of me. In the end, it was just enough to secure first place in my age!

John Muir Trail (photo credit: John)

3. New friends and good friends: I say this every year, but there is just something about endless hours of running with someone that really cements a friendship. You see the good, the bad and the ugly and usually you still stick around. I still run a lot by myself, but have been lucky to meet a lot of new friends as well as firm up relationships with a lot of existing friends. I love it when time spent together with friends can be outdoors instead of at a bar or something!

Pacing at San Diego 100M (photo credit: Chris J.)

4. Pacing: This goes hand in hand with number three, but there is something so satisfying with pacing someone! They are doing their best and they have a goal and they are tired and it's the middle of the night and it's cold... I never have anything to do with their success, but it sure is a great feeling to be part of it! This year, I paced a friend who ended up getting 10th overall, another who got 2nd overall, and one unofficial pace with a friend who finished UTMB. I also helped crew for a couple of friends and it is also very inspiring. I am so proud of all of them and so honored that they chose me to be there with them for their big day.

Multnomah Falls, OR

5. Road Trips! This was a favorite last year as well. So much so, that we added flights to our "road" trips! I spent many hours in the car this year, on the way to Auburn, Squaw, South Lake Tahoe, San Jose, Marin county, Sonoma county, Yosemite and more! In addition, I flew with friends to Portland OR for the Gorge Waterfall 100k, and I went to San Diego to pace a friend at the SD100. All were fun times and it's good to get out and see more of my state as well as to explore other states in the name of running (**and beer).

Taylorsville, CA (photo credit: Mom)

6. Dad's first half marathon: This goes hand in hand with number 4, but I thought it deserved a spot of it's own. My dad ran his first half marathon this year and I could not be more proud! He did excellent, scoring first in his age group and 7th overall! I "paced" him, if you could call it that, because I could barely keep up with him! He ran at just over an 8 minute mile pace!

So there you have it. This year of running has been more of an emotional one, in both good ways and bad. I wasn't the fastest; I did not run the most miles, but I had a lot of fun. I also know that the good definitely outweighs any bad, no matter what! Here's to a great 2016 full of running and friends and road trips!

What were your favorite active moments of 2015? What's on your fitness agenda for 2016?