5 Important Things I learned in 2 Years: Life and Finances 

jennifer ngan photography
I used to wonder why people would give up their sense of security to live out in the woods, give up all their possessions to travel the world, and washing dishes for a couch to sleep on.

Then I thought, hey, maybe they don’t want to have a 9-5 slave job, and let the years pass by like in a blink of an eye. Perhaps they want to be nomads and live off the beaten path.

Living minimally seems like a lot of effort when you have things. Things like a large TV, a Netflix subscription, Amazon Prime, smart phones. Though it is true that that those people described above are on the extreme end of the spectrum, it is also quite unrealistic if you have attachments. And when I say attachments, I don’t mean to stuff, I mean to your family, your parents, your friends, your neighbors, your community. There are ways to live consciously without sacrificing all of the comfort we know and love.

In 2015, i embarked on an adventure that i thought would be fun, but I realized it sort of changed my perspective. I got out more, saw more things and appreciated deeply.

Here are some insights I’ve learned along the way

Book Trips Often, Even If They’re Short

I often go for these because they sync up with my weekends, holidays and anytime I need to maximize my time off from work. Making short trips out to local destinations gives you something to look forward to, and being the foodie that I am, another reason to explore restaurants and eateries as well as a change of scenery. I always remind myself that where you live is also someone else’s vacation destination. I could not be more grateful to live in California and soak in the contrast of being in the city all day, visit the woods, hike alongside beaches and visiting historic streets.

Stay Digital – De-clutter Your Stuff- Donate

I started keeping all of my travel itineraries on my phone. I have hundreds of e-books, and photos saved onto the cloud. They’re with me wherever I go and they take up no space. Most of everything I need to get through my day is accessible by my smartphone. Decluttering is really important – it’s something I am still working on, but since the beginning of this year, I’ve donated 40% of my clothing, bought a lot less and opted for experiences over things. I used to be a makeup hoarder and had a high monthly budget (or lack thereof..) for makeup. Now and again, I’m still enticed by a limited edition release of an eyeshadow palette. But I’ve gotten better and realized I didn’t need those things to make me happy. In fact, I purged about a third of makeup that I didn’t use but hoarded.

Be Smart About Money, and Invest

I’m not a professional investment adviser by any means but I’ve read enough about money to know that it’s something that comes and goes. In today’s society, everything is defined by those little green papers. We can’t get away from that. And I like simplicity when it comes to investing. I have a Vanguard account where I invest in mutual funds, contribute to them regularly and earn on dividends, and returns in the long-run. I choose to stick with funds that have a “high risk high rewards” because I’m at an age group where I can afford to do that. Some other reasons why i prefer Vanguard over others is that Vanguard has the lowest fees. These matter in the long run! And they have a vastly different model where once you invest in a fund, you become a shareholder of Vanguard vs a customer at Fidelity. Shareholder, not customer. Because all their funds are Vanguard index funds. That simply means you make money when they do. And hey isn’t a win-win the best win of all?

Also, Say NO to Pyramid Schemes (and weird Multi-level Marketing ones) Period. There’s no such thing as getting rich quickly. Pyramid schemes are often vague in how you earn, with weird non-quality products and services, encourage you to spend money on products, books, seminars and other BS, encourage you to prey on the people in your life, and serve to enrich the others who are in more knee-deep than you are (i.e. Calling yourself an entrepreneur when you’re only serving the ones at the top, and getting them rich). Why would you strive to prey on your friends, family and community anyway?

I would say that if your gut is telling you that something to too good to be true, trust your gut. There’s far too many people who flash around bills on their Instagram/FB who are actually truthful and enjoy what they do.

Do Stuff

Traveling hundreds of miles away doesn’t make an adventure. Doing something does. As I mentioned, where you live is someone else’s vacation destination – do something even  if it’s local. I’ve learned that throughout this year when I visit San Francisco and make day trips out of it on weekends. I’ve spent some time biking through the Golden Gate Bridge, hiking alongside Land’s End, getting fresh crabs from Half Moon Bay and visiting museums!

Jennifer Ngan Photography

Hiking alongside beaches in San Francisco.

Biking to see different parts of the city. Jennifer Ngan Photography

Live Beneath Your Means

This was a lesson taught to me at a young age. My immigrant parents instilled that knowledge to my brother and I to always be conscious of what we spend. Living beneath your means does not mean you must live uncomfortably or restrictively – it just means you should be able to distinguish between a “want” and a “need”. For me this means knowing your fixed expenses every month, and being realistic about it. An exercise could include coming up with a spreadsheet to track your monthly expenditures to monthly income post taxes, and evaluating your passive expenses such as dining out, traveling etc. I try to book trips or buy things when it’s on sale, I get cash back and it’s worthwhile for me to experience. For me, I always make sure I can save at least 30% of my monthly income less fixed expenses to be in the safe zone. To be honest, I don’t really monitor my spendage too strictly because I am very mindful of where it goes and I trust myself that it will go toward something meaningful.

If I succeeded that, I celebrate with ice cream.

 It’s the little things 🙂