There Is No Free Lunch

I recently started doing one of the most basic things anyone can do to cut expenses: bringing my lunch to the office. It seems really simple, but for some reason I resisted this for a long time before finally realizing the impact that eating out every day was having on my financial health.

My first “real” job was as an engineering intern. Most of the engineers in the office would go out every day for lunch as a way to escape the office, and I started developing this sentiment about lunch as well. Most of us didn’t become engineers so we could sit in cubicles all day, so when 11:30 rolled around, it was time to hit the road and unwind a little. And spend money on food. It wasn’t exactly “the dream” but it was at least a little escape.

I didn’t think much of the money issue at the time, either. It was nice to be able to afford food that wasn’t in a can, as I was getting paid pretty well (for a college student). And I didn’t like being in the office any more than any of the other engineers so I didn’t have a second thought about it.

My first job out of college was in the middle of nowhere, and I brought my lunch to the office because there was literally nowhere else to eat. The nearest restaurant was a Taco Bell 20 minutes away, and my lunch was only 30 minutes long so this wasn’t exactly feasible from a math perspective. Unfortunately, I didn’t put together how much money I was saving by bringing my lunch to work every day.

Fast forward to now: I work in a more developed area, and it’s possible for me to eat out for lunch every day. And for a few years, I did. Let’s crunch some numbers:

$10/day for four years adds up to around $8,000. I’ve been spending about $8/week in lunch since I decided to bring it in to the office instead, which should save me around $7,000 over the same time frame.

I think another reason it’s so tempting to spend money every day on lunch is that it’s not a lot of money all at once. If it were, I would have thought twice about my habit a little earlier. Luckily I’m still in my 20s, with some time left to make up for past mistakes.

Even so, I still treat lunch as a “sacred” time where work doesn’t get done (or even get talked about, for the most part). But I realize now that I don’t have to spend money in order to take a break from the hustle and bustle of office life.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

The Other OTHER Use For a Bedroom

I live in a two-bedroom house. This is pretty much the smallest house that’s readily available, but I always considered the second bedroom a kind of burden to a single (as in number) person. I only NEED one bedroom, because I only need one bed. Why the extra room? What is one person supposed to do with it? And, is it really as big of a deal as I am making it out to be?

The pragmatic reason here is that most people who buy homes have or are planning to have a family, or at the very least would like to have an office or guest room. I don’t have (or plan to have) children, and the minimalist in me would be happy with a couch that doubles as a hide-a-bed to use when guests come over. I don’t entertain that often, and when I do it usually involves friends from college who would be happy sleeping on a couch anyway.

Single-bedroom houses don’t seem to be very common in the US (if anywhere). I guess the solution most people come up with is to buy a condo, but that’s out-of-the-question for me because I’m not living somewhere where I’m beholden to an HOA. Been there, done that. I also like having a garage for my projects, and, from my time living in a high-rise, I don’t like taking an elevator anytime I want to go outside.

All of that aside, though, I tend to regard the bedroom as a colossal waste in ANY modern living space. For a room that is only used for sleeping (well, maybe not JUST for sleeping), having an entire room devoted to something that you do in about 60 cubic feet of space seems needless. This is compounded by the fact that the master bedroom in a typical house is often one of the largest rooms there is. I’m not sure how this practice came about or why we continue to devote so much space to literally nothing.

But I’m always on the lookout for a solution to problems (largely imagined, I suppose), and since I don’t currently have the means of building a half-bedroom one-bathroom house, I think I stumbled upon a way to use my house that gets me the maximum amount of use out of the space.

First of all, my bedroom is in the smaller room. Like I said before, it’s crazy that the bedroom is expected to be the largest room in the house while getting (possibly) the least amount of use ( again, I’m considering sleeping ONLY…).

This works out in my house particularly well because the room in which my bed resides is in the back corner of the house, away from the road noise (and, to some extent, the noise from the international airport that’s just to the south of me).

Secondly, I keep nothing in this room besides the furniture. This includes clothes! That way, if anyone in the bed wakes up and wants to get dressed, use a computer, start soldering some wires, turn the lights on, get a towel to take a shower, etc, they can do so without waking any other sleeping person(s) in the bed with undue noise, light, or solder fumes.

Everything that would be in a bedroom closet is in the closet in the other “bedroom”. I’ve outfitted this room with a desk and futon (so it could potentially double as a true “spare” bedroom if needed; I’m not a savage or anything). This way it’s possible for me to work in the extra room while guests sleep comfortably in the actual bedroom.

As a bonus, the desk is situatied in front of the window so anyone sitting down to, say, write this blog post, has a beautiful view of the beautiful Florida cityscape in which I live.

So, if you too struggle with waking up your significant other, or your guests, or just want a good way to utelize that second bedroom, maybe consider something along these lines. I don’t know if you’ll realize the same results that I have, but it might be worth a shot!

Photo: My actual bedroom. Does it look like it belongs in Florida? 

So, A Lot Has Happened Recently

Yep. I know it’s cliché for a blogger to say “sorry for not posting so much!” but really… it’s been hectic lately. Let’s run down the list!

First, I got a new job. Same company but a different location, new boss, mo’ money, etc. It’s much more interesting than what I was previously doing, and it came with some other perks as well. I’ve been spending a lot of time transitioning to my new office and my new role. I also work longer hours but it’s offset with “flex time” so I’m pretty happy there too.

The only downside is that since the new job is in the city, I wasn’t too comfortable riding my motorcycle to work every day. When I commuted 50 miles a day into desolate, swampy south-central Florida it wasn’t a big deal because there wasn’t ever any traffic and about 95% of the drive was on divided highways. The new job is a much shorter commute but it’s stop-and-go traffic through some congested roads. That’s not good for motorcycle safety. So I bought a car.

And, since I’ve mentioned it before, I didn’t get a new car. Although I did think about it! I was in the Honda dealership about to buy a Fit when a particular manufacturing detail caught my eye and caused me to abandon my pursuits. Let’s just say that I’m worried that Honda is going to have the same problems that Volkswagen has in North America, but that’s a topic for another post. Hint: it has nothing to do with diesel.

So I bought a Mercedes. And not just any Mercedes: A 31-year-old turbo diesel. I picked it up for about what my down payment would have been on the Honda, but it did take me about three weeks’ worth of work to get it running again. It had been sitting unloved for about four years, so almost every day when I came home from work I’d open the hood and twist bolts until the sun set. I’ll be writing a little bit more about this soon, since I’m a big proponent of buying antique cars as a way to save money.

And yes, I do have my Volkswagen still, but it seems to have decided that now would be a really good time to blow out its rear main seal. I’ll have to drop the engine to fix that but sometimes old cars take some coaxing to get back on the road. I’m not particularly upset about it because I know it comes with the territory of owning an older car. Plus, I don’t consider the Beetle reliable transportation; it’s a fun project that keeps my engineering brain sharp that I could sell at any time for essentially the amount of money I have in it. It’s win-win for me!

Oh, and I did sell my Yamaha motorcycle, so that went to offset the cost of the Mercedes a little bit. I got it essentially for free when I bought my house, so I’m chalking that up as a win too.

Speaking of the house, though, I started doing some repairs to my detached garage… which quickly turned in to more work than I was expecting. So that’s been going on too.

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This was what was holding up my roof. Sort of. You come across things like this when your house was built in the 40s and you live in a really wet area with lots of termites.

Let’s sum up. New job, still writing for a few blogs on the side, mowing a few lawns in the neighborhood on the other side, new old car that needed fixing to I could get to work without fearing for my life, old old car needing major repairs, garage in shambles. Oh yeah: my first priority regardless of all of my projects is generally to get to the beach and surf if the waves are up. And the past three weeks we got epic surf from Hurricane Joaquin. And I do not use the word epic lightly.

It was like this for three weeks. That’s unheard of for South Florida, especially since we’re still in the rainy season. And my bike got stolen too. Aww! So there’s been a lot on my plate, but I’m back now!

Photo: Not your grandmother’s car, but close. 

Hurricane Erika – Update

After maybe briefly making hurricane status (and causing a lot of panic in Florida) Hurricane Erika disappeared after tracking a little too far west and hitting mountains in Hispaniola and Cuba. We did get a bunch of rain and wind (and I got to surf on my new Meyerhoffer board!) but luckily I didn’t have to test out my new storm shutters on my old house.

I did get a chance to participate in the hurricane panic, though. I went to the grocery store to get 10 gallon jugs of water about six days before the projected landfall. (Recommendations say each person needs about 1-2 gallons of water a day. Don’t forget you have to flush the toilet too!) The grocery store was cleaned out, as everyone stocked up on bread and milk. It reminded me a little bit of growing up in the Carolinas when a snow storm was forecasted. We’d maybe get an inch of snow and everyone would panic and storm the grocery store (pun intended). The hurricane threat in Florida is a little more real than the snow threat in the Carolinas, though.

I also went to Home Depot to help a friend of mine buy plywood about four days before the projected landfall. He’s been renovating a house from scratch, and getting hurricane shutters (justifiably) wasn’t on the top of his to-do list until recently. I think we bought 22 sheets of plywood, but we had to wait in line to get them.

Probably the worst thing that happened to me this weekend was sitting on the side of the road for 45 minutes because my surfing friend locked his key in the car after we got out of the ocean. Oh well! At least we only live a mile or so from the beach. No harm done!

Hurricane season isn’t quite over yet, thought, so we’re not quite out of the woods for the year. Due to the El Nino we’re having, however, we’re not forecast to get very many storms this year. Good for my house, bad for my surfing! But each time we get a scare, it’s a good reminder that we could lose anything at any time. Even if we’re not in Florida during hurricane season.

Photo: Tropical Storm Erika’s actual track, showing a path over some substantial mountains, then turning into a tropical depression, then a tropical wave, then a brief rainstorm. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hurricane Erika

Earlier today, Hurricane Erika (now downgraded to a tropical storm) was forecast to make landfall within about 40 miles of where I live. Since my house is about a mile from the coastline, any hurricane approaching Florida’s Atlantic coast is generally a concern for me. (Although some that make landfall on the Gulf coast can impact the entire peninsula quite substantially.) My house was built in 1949 and doesn’t quite comply with the latest wind loading portions of the building codes, so things could get dicey.

Anyway, Erika is now supposed to head north of me (hopefully driving a little surf my way) but this could easily change. It also drives home a point-of-view I’ve had about living minimally, possibly a view I wouldn’t have without living in a place like South Florida: It’s a lot easier to pack up and get out-of-town if you don’t have much to take with you.

This particular storm is probably only going to make landfall as a category 1 storm, which means evacuation won’t be necessary. But we could easily have a more severe storm later in the season that would require evacuation. I can easily say I don’t have much I’d take with me. Probably this laptop, a few books to read, maybe I could take a surfboard with me. I’d also grab my safe which just has a copy of my mortgage and a hard drive with backups of all of my files. (It’s only safe from fire and water, and only for maybe an hour.) But that’s about it. Minimalism has allowed me to live a life without a huge amount of valuables, which is a very convenient way to live in a disaster-prone area like Florida. I won’t be worried about all of my “stuff” while I’m heading out of harm’s way, and I have insurance on the house so I don’t really need to worry about that either.

I haven’t been through a hurricane before, since I’ve only lived here on the coast for about four years. It’s been a pretty mild few years as far as hurricanes go, too. My first summer we had two misses that just dumped a ton of rain here: Hurricane Isaac and Hurricane Sandy. Despite doing considerable damage up north, Sandy didn’t do much here besides cause epic surf. I also lived through Tropical Storm Barry when I was living in Charleston, which as far as I know only overturned a john boat in the harbor. Hopefully Erika won’t do much more than give me a small taste of what a real hurricane is like, and a new appreciation of my lifestyle. And maybe toss up some waves, too!

I’ll keep everyone updated if I can; if there’s damage anywhere in Florida my day job requires me to go out and fix it. I could be gone for a while depending on the situation, but if the predictions come true the damage probably won’t be very severe.

Photo: Current track of Erika, forecast to make landfall pretty close to where I live. “05L 2015 5day” by National Hurricane Center – http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/refresh/graphics_at5+shtml/024057.shtml?5day#contents. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:05L_2015_5day.gif#/media/File:05L_2015_5day.gif

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