Looking Back: 2021 Money Pie

It's money pie time again! This year I spent 10% more than I did last year, mostly due to home expenses, travel and dining out as I will detail more below. Once again this year, I spent the time to itemize my Amazon, Costco and Target trips so that the categories were more accurate (at the beginning I used to just call the whole expense "groceries" or "shopping"). 

Home: This category includes mortgage, insurance, property tax, utilities, internet & phone. As you can see, it makes up a large chunk of my spending. Why is this? Well, I decided to refinance late in 2019, which lowered my monthly payment. Instead of spending that on something else, I decided to keep paying the same monthly amount and in 2021, I decided to add a little extra. Why do this when interest rates are so low, you ask? This could be a post in itself, but the short answer is that I am diversifying. To top it off, I had some tree work done, which is not cheap, and also had to buy a couple of other unexpected items. 

Travel: This category includes airfare, car rental, lodging and any groceries, dining out or transportation incurred while traveling. In 2021, not surprisingly, I spent 110% more than I did in 2020 on travel. Of course, in 2020, I spent practically nothing, so the numbers are a bit misleading. It was still my second highest expense of the year. As I have said in years past, I am a pretty good saver, but I find travel to be one thing that is worth spending money on. I never consider it a waste of money.

Groceries & Dining Out: Although groceries was my third highest category, I actually spend 11% less on groceries in 2021 than I did in 2020. However, I made up for that in spades by spending a lot more in dining out. In fact, I was so glad to go back to eating in restaurants that I overdid myself by taking several different friends out to fancy dinners. My favorite? Monsieur Benjamin. Oui, oui! 

Transportation: This includes Lyft/Uber, public transportation, car insurance, maintenance and registration, gas, tolls & parking. It was really high because I am still driving to work, which not only entails a daily toll but the gas cost really adds up, especially in California where gas is currently over $5.00 in some places! 

Health: This category includes health insurance, out of pocket costs, massages, medicines and vitamins etc. Health insurance costs went up last year (again) but I spent less in out of pocket costs. At the end of 2020, I finally canceled my gym membership, which saved me about $300 in 2021. 

Entertainment: This category includes music, theater, and running & camping expenses. This year I did not spend much on this as I did not go to many events and I  had a lot of camping stuff left over from last year that I could use. 

Shopping: This category includes toiletries, clothing, misc. home items & appliances, pet stuff, electronics and books. The main cost in this category was office supplies, more specifically a new printer. I spent $0 on clothing. 

Misc.: This category includes gifts, haircuts, fees for credit cards, taxes and education expenses. Mostly, this category was gifts, as I spent nothing on haircuts this year (I used YouTube and cut my own hair once and had a friend do it another time) and was reimbursed for my education expenses. 

Well, there you have it. 2021 in a nutshell. 

What did you spend the most on in 2021?


Best of 2021: Travel

In 2021 I took more time to do things that were closer to home, as well as doing a few short trips within the US. I also finally bit the bullet late in the year once COVID started dying down and things started opening up (of course, that did not last long!) and I went on one international trip (my first in over two years!!) Here were a few of my favorites, in no particular order. 

Oregon: I went to Sisters and Portland where I did some hiking, running, eating and snowshoeing! 

Deschutes National Forest - Snowshoeing

Deschutes River (near Bend)

The High Sierras: Multi-day backpacking trips. 

(1) Mammoth + The North South Lake Loop: I took this with JG at the beginning of July like we usually do. This year was not too snowy, so were were able to cross over to the Eastern Sierras and get pretty high without encountering snow (we have not always been so lucky). In fact, JG got a bit of sunstroke or the like, as it was blisteringly hot! My favorite parts were the off trail sections. Although difficult, the views are amazing. Two of my favorites were the Darwin Bench and the hike up to Puppet Lake. Of course, Evolution Basin was beautiful too, if you want to stay on trail. 

Minaret Lakes

Cross Country - somewhere near the Palisades

(2) The SEKI Loop: This was planned with four other people, but two of them left the trail early, so it just ended up being JG, PEB and me. We all hike at different speeds, so we spent the days hiking on our own mostly, checking in from time to time and then making camp together at night. Much of it was on the JMT, but it had a nice variety of wooded vs. high granite vs. creek paths vs. long vistas. My favorite part of this trip was jumping in every lake or creek I could find along the way. 

Palisade Lake - yes, I swam here.

Other Sierras

(1) Desolation Wilderness: Our first trip was in winter, where we did a bit of snowshoeing and camping on (wet) snow. The second was done as a weekend trip; unfortunately it was right when the Dixie and Tamarack fires started, so we were glad to get out on Sunday and check the status of both of them. However, we had a good time exploring a couple of lakes we had not seen before, as well as camping at one we had gone to last year and had wanted to spend more time at. 

Winter at Echo Lake

Leland Lakes

(2) Emigrant Wilderness: Another great trip, this time to show my brother some of the cool stuff I had found with JG in years past. Once again, we stayed in a place I had not been to, and it was beautiful (see photo below)! 

Camping at Rososco Lake

My brother's first major cross country experience (can you see him in this photo?)

(3) Yosemite: After my exam, I hightailed it to the Sierras and was one of the first to get a permit after the roads opened! I really enjoyed the Grand Canyon of the Sierras (Tuolumne River) as well as many of the sweeping views I found both while hiking and in my camp spots. 

Tuolumne River

Colorado: I decided that instead of doing an international trip in September like I usually would, I would do something fun and domestic, so I went and hiked the Colorado Trail from Durango to Twin Lakes. My friend KH joined me for the latter half, and it was fun to see some new scenery and to spend time with her. My favorite part was the San Juans. 

San Juans

High point of the trail + my worst day on the trail (due to weather) 

Europe: At the very end of the year I decided to sneak out of the country for a few days and finally got to see Prague, a city I had been wanting to go to for years. There were still a lot of COVID related restrictions, but it did not put a damper on my experience at all. 

The Palace - South Tower

The Vltava

Well there you have it. This year was a lot more travel than last year, that is for sure. I hope next year I will finally get to take the trip back to Nepal to finish Everest Base Camp trek (it has been planned for the last two years) but in the meantime, I am having fun improvising! 

Where did you travel this year? If you did not travel, what fun things did you do close to home? 


Best of 2021: Books

Even if I don't post all year long, I have to post my favorite books each year! I know that I like reading about and getting inspiration from other people's favorite book lists each year, so I thought I would keep the tradition alive myself as well. 

Here are my recaps from prior years: 202020192018201720162015201420132012, and 2011.

This year, I did not read as many books as last year, but I wasn't stuck in the house/backyard as much and I had to study more. However, many of the ones I did read were good! And without further ado, my favorite 11 books for the year (because it was too hard to just choose 10). 

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel: I guess I always have a WWII book (or two) on my list! This was about a woman who helped forge papers for the Resistance for people trying to flee the Nazis during WWII. Many of them were children and in order to preserve their real identity, the names are put into a book using a code. There are a few twists along the way and I really enjoyed the pace and the subject matter of this book. 

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon: As promised, another WWII book... this book is about an Australian woman who becomes a spy for the British and the Resistance throughout the war. The Germans are looking for her but she keep evading them as she smuggles weapons and people into and out of France. I love stories of the Resistance and especially the strong women who played roles in the organization, so this book was right up my alley. To top it off, it was based on a real person! 

Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: This book was first published in the 60s and I read this book when I was young and really enjoyed it, although it is sad. I decided to reread it this year and although it was a little young for me, I still enjoyed it the second time around. If you have not read this children's book, it is about a boy who acquires two hound dogs and teaches them how to hunt racoons. Its a classic boy and his pet(s) story that it is very touching. 

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab: I am not normally a huge fan of fantasy, but this book was different. It is about a girl in the 1700s who gives up her mortality and has to live out her days in eternity with people who do not remember her as soon as she leaves the room. 300 years later, someone does remember her and she has to deal with the issues and emotions that this new development bring about. 

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz: A struggling writer hears a fabulous plot from one of his students who is writing a book. Next thing he knows the student has died without writing the book. So the writer writes a new book using the student's plot and he becomes famous. Everything is great until he realizes that someone knows that he stole the plot. In trying to find out who is harassing him, he looks deeper into the student's life and finds out some amazing things. This one kept me entertained and on my toes and I could not put it down!  

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn: Yes, it is another WWII book. This one is about three ladies who work at Bletchley Park, a super secret British operation, where the most creative minds help to crack codes sent from the Nazis. After a while, it is noticed that someone in their midst is betraying them and they try to find out who it is, but things don't always go so well. 

The Four Winds by Kristian Hannah: It's the dust bowl and the drought has dried up Elsa's family's farm in the Great Plains. She does what many others are forced to do, she heads west with her two children looking for a better life, and work so that she can feed her kids. She struggles to find both in a dog eat dog world of farming in California, where the owners exploit them and the townspeople shun them. She shows resilience and bravery in a less than perfect world. 

The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano by Donna Freitas: This a book about a woman who does not want kids, or maybe she does, or maybe she has them after all, or maybe she doesn't...it is her life, told in several scenarios, and how things go if she chooses one thing over the other. 

Admission by Julie Buxbaum: We all heard about the admission scandals a while back, where the rich actress pays for her kid's records to be fudged to get into a good college? This book is a fictional recap of this scenario. Told from the view of the kid, who does not know this is going on but still gets ostracized because of it, it is entertaining, infuriating and heartbreaking at the same time. 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir: The Earth is going to die and our main character, a mild mannered science professor, has to save it...by going into space. After a long journey, he awakens from a coma and finds his shipmates have all perished. Now he is alone and time is running out!! Once again, Andy Weir is ingenious, creative and fun. 

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I have to say, I am impressed by the ease at which I can read books written by TJR. She is entertaining and funny and her characters are annoying but likable. She does a good job making you see people as human, warts and all. I have enjoyed the books I have read so far by her and this one was no exception. This is about some kids in Malibu who throw a party that people will never forget. 

It really was not easy to choose this year. Here are a few more good ones that almost made the cut: The Book of Longings, A Good Neighborhood, The Book of Lost Friends, A Promised Land, The Paris Library, The Best of Me, The Great Influenza, The Last Bookshop in London, The Light of Days, The Secrets We Kept, Between Two Kingdoms, Count The Ways. 

Have you read any of my favorites? What was your favorite book of 2021? And why? 


Looking Back: February

 I am not sure if it is because February was a short month or what but all I can say is what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks happened to February!? I do not feel that it was especially productive, but still things sailed pretty quickly from January to March. Maybe this is a good thing, as it means one day (week, month) closer to, dare I say, "normalcy?" Here's hoping. Until then, one day (week, month) at a time, we keep paddling. Yup, I am in a sailboat with a paddle. 

Running: In February, after two months of solitude, we came out of lockdown. I started back doing a once a week run with my running buddy. However, I still had quite a few solo runs, several of them in the pouring rain and the majority of them still on the road rather than trails. I ended up with 215 miles. I have been having fun finding weird things in my neighborhood, like this series of wooden creatures on a local trail. 

Plumbers crack

Forrest creature

Reading: Two things dragged down my reading numbers this month. One: I am reading a book called Dark Money for a work book club and it is dragging along! It is about the Koch brothers and I have learned a lot but man it is boring at times. Two: I have been studying a lot. However, I did read 12 books and my two favorites were Code Name Helene (WWII alert!) and A Good Neighborhood. For more details you can go here

My study buddy

: Hahahahahaha. What? Snore emoji! I went back and forth to work, I went grocery shopping and I went to the gas station. My big traveling lately has been done on YouTube (places like this), which is helping me to plan about 10 summer camping trips of which I will hopefully get to do a few of. 

Misc.: I have done a fair bit of puttering in the garden and we have actually had some rainy days but not enough of them, so the backyard days have been more plentiful than I thought they would. I did some digging and moved some dirt around and did a ton of weeding. In a couple of weeks, I will make sure the drip system is set up and I will throw some veggies in the dirt! It is very satisfying and a nice break from studying. I am also tentatively planning a few summer things, although I am keeping my expectations low while also being cautiously optimistic. 

What was your favorite book in February? Did you go anywhere or do anything? 


Looking Back: January

The first month of the new year pretty much went the same way as the last month of last year went; we were still under lockdown, which meant more solo runs, audiobooks, and puttering around the house. I also started studying again, and am doing that about 15-18 hours per week. In addition, it's been raining, so the weeds are getting out of control, but that is a task for another month! 

Running: I have been trying to run three times per week, once during the week and once each weekend day. I can get out early on the weekends so can be "mask-less" for a couple of hours before I start having to put it up from time to time, and on the weekday run, I have found a neighborhood route where I see fewer people, even though it's the middle of the day. This has resulted in a lot of neighborhood exploration runs and I have found some interesting kitschy gardens and funky gates around town. In January I did 14 runs for a total of 230 miles. 

These guys just people watch all day, I guess.

Survivors will be shot again.

I love the pretty blue tiles.

Reading: Due to being home, I once again read a lot! I already put a couple of five star ratings on books and my goal is to try to write an actual review blurb for (not just star) a few books a month. My favorites were The Book of Lost Names (WWII French Resistance), The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (Immortality), Tell the Wolves I am Home (AIDS, love, being a teenager) and A Promised Land (Obama). They were all good, although I felt that Obama's book was a bit too long and wish he would have edited it a bit more. It was a 30 hour audiobook; thank goodness for 1.6x speed! 

Travel: Crickets again! I traveled to and from work. I did not even go to the grocery store, as I stocked up at Costco in December and am working my way through my stash of fridge meals. 

Happy New Year! Brought to you by happy eggs! 

Misc.: I am back on the study bus, so as much as I would like to say that I was super productive around the house, I mostly studied, worked in the yard (the balls/seeds falling from the maple tree are the bane of my existence), read and puttered. 

What did you do in January? What was your favorite book so far this year? 


Looking Back: 2020 Money Pie

Unfortunately, in 2019 the system that I use for compiling my data had a glitch and I decided not to recreate everything, so I never got 2019 data all put together. This year, I was interested to see how my spending stacked up to prior years, as I did not spend as much money on travel, which is generally my second biggest category. I also wanted to break out some of my shopping a little more fully, and so I spent some time looking through my Amazon, Costco and Walmart receipts since a lot of those are multiple categories, whereas in years past I just called Costco "groceries" and Amazon "shopping." 

So without further ado, here is the pie!

Overall, in 2020 I spent 94% of my average over the years of 2016-2018, or 6% less than normal. The categories that decreased the most in dollar terms were Travel and Dining Out and the categories that increased the most were Groceries and Health. 

Home: (Increase 2% YoY) This category includes mortgage, utilities, garbage, taxes, insurance and garden. As you can see, this is my largest category by far. However, I spent a little more than I normally do in this category, and I chalk that up to the fact that I decided to start paying a little extra toward my principal midway through the year. Otherwise this category dollar-wise has been very consistent through the years and is always my largest.

Groceries: (Increase 62% YoY) Woof! I spent a lot more on groceries than I normally do, which is probably due to the following: (1) I bought a lot of non-perishables online and I probably went a little overboard. (2) I stocked up at Costco a few times. (3) I decided to experiment with making my own dehydrated meals and also tried some new foods for camping trips (that could be its own post!) (4) I  cut out sugar and am eating more natural items and I tried a lot of new products for this as well (this could also be its own post). However, an interesting note is that if you add groceries + dining out, I spent less in total this year than I do on average (almost 20% less). 

Transportation: (Increase 14% YoY) This category is often my third biggest as it consists of daily public transportation commute costs plus any car related costs like gas, tolls or maintenance. This year, due to COVID, I actually did go into work every day, but I drove instead of taking public transportation, which upped my car related costs significantly. In addition, I had to buy two new tires and a new side window for the Red Rocket in 2020. 

Travel: (Decrease 64% YoY) This includes any flights, meals, lodging or activities while traveling. This year I took one flight and paid for one that I did not use. Otherwise, I took a couple of road trips. I tried to be more diligent with breaking down my costs, so this does account for all camping, food, gas etc. that I used while doing the road trips, but there were a lot of cooler and backpack meals and wild camping, so the number was very low. 

Misc.: (Decrease 36% YoY) This category is mainly gifts. There are a few credit card fees in there as well, but they are minimal. Normally this includes education, hair cuts and massages, but well...I paid for my education in 2019 and it's still postponed, and there have been no hair cuts this year and I decided to put my one massage in Health instead. 

Entertainment: (Increase 10% YoY) This consists of any running, camping, music or national park related items or any other fun activities (excluding travel). This category was larger than normal because of my different allocations this year. In prior years, running shoes were under "shopping" but this year I decided to put them under entertainment. In addition, if I bought food that was only going to be used for camping (a bit of a grey area at times), I categorized it here. The big ticket items were a new tent, two concerts and three pairs of running shoes (I always buy them if they are on sale). 

Health: (Increase 69% YoY) This consists of gym membership, health insurance, doctors visits and things like vitamins and protein powder. This year my insurance increased a little, and I also spent some money trying to figure out a pain I had in my foot at the beginning of the year. However, I did finally cancel the gym membership that I was paying for every money but not using! 

Shopping: (Decrease 29% YoY) This category was mostly toiletries, home supplies and kitchen gadgets, with the bulk of the total going towards a new Ninja. Actually my second largest subcategory here was pet supplies. Gato had fleas a few years ago and I have happily spent money on flea treatment and prevention since then. Fleas give me nightmares.  

Dining Out: (Decrease 90% YoY) Most of my dining out is covered in travel. In fact, I only dined out a few times in January and February when I had some friends visit and we went for beers etc. Otherwise, I bought burritos for my two office mates mid-COVID but that is it! 

The Verdict?: I am now an expert at online shopping. I know where to find a good sugar-free jerky and that MRIs and pet supplies are expensive. Reading and weeding are both free. Owning a house is not. I wonder if next year's grocery number will be lower because I will still be working my way through all of the beef sticks and protein powders that I bought this year. 

Did you spend more or less in 2020 than you normally do? Which categories do you think differed the most year over  year? 


Looking Back: December

Well, that was an interesting month. On December 7th, California imposed another Stay at Home requirement, so I got a lot of stuff done around the house last month!

Running: Definitely not my highest running month ever, but December went out with a bang when I realized on the 29th that I was less than 5,000 feet away from having a total feet climbed of 400,000. So on the 30th, I went and ran up and down a hill near my house a few times and on the 31st instead of drinking champagne, I went and did a trail run to get those last few thousand feet of climbing in. I ended the year with 400,433 feet of climbing. 

Reading: In December I read my most books ever for one month. None of them were total duds, although I did give one book two stars only because I did not like the tone of the narrator (I listened to it as an audiobook and the author was the narrator). My favorite was Christadora, which made it into my top books of 2020. A few others I enjoyed were Gimme Everything You Got (an easy, fast YA read), The Black Swan of Paris (who doesn't love a WWII French resistance novel) and On Tyranny (an interesting comparison between Nazi Germany and the current US).

Travel: Crickets! The furthest I traveled was my commute to work. Oh, I also went to Costco once for a grocery haul so I would not have to go to the store a lot during the shut down. Other than that, I guess going back and forth from the kitchen to the bathroom were my big forays for the month! 

Misc.: I actually got a lot of those little annoying things that you do not like doing done in December. I cleaned out several closets, sorted and threw away paperwork, finally deep scrubbed the bathroom grout, installed a security system myself (it even works!), went through that darn junk drawer and other assorted things like that. I also worked in the yard a couple of times each week, as the Maple tree just keeps giving! I am also doing a lot of video calls!

How was your December? What did you do for the holidays? Did you read any good books?