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Figuring out the job in 2016

February 2, 2016

It is probably not a coincidence that I often find myself in similar situations at work: what exactly is my role, who is my boss, what am I doing, what are my priorities?  I’ve found myself here again!

I have several “bosses”, or maybe I have no boss, and maybe that is just how I like it.  I have an official manager who I see when I run into him in the hallway, stop by his office, or have some manager-y type need.  We don’t really work together, we could go months without talking, but I like him a lot.

1. In the chaos of my recent project, I was absorbed onto the team of someone who runs his own independent team.  I’m signed up to help him, but roles & responsibilities aren’t clear yet.  I’m not totally sold on being part of his team – it was just something that happened in the chaos, and I agreed at that time that I would try it out.  Between holidays and other scheduling issues on both sides, we haven’t really figured out our operating rhythm.

2. In the meantime, I signed myself up to help a remote team on a different piece of the same project. This move was essentially against the advice of everyone I asked (except one guy who is relentlessly optimistic, cheerful, and generous).  Yet, I really like the work and really like the people.  The guy who I’m reporting to is only a couple years older than me, and I like the way he works and the way he manages.  I just couldn’t help myself from getting involved!  The whole “not my monkeys” thought didn’t seem to sink in.  Mostly due to geography, I don’t know how it will work out in long run –  we are trying it right now.

3. Last month, a new opportunity popped up, and I said I was interested.  It’s about a 2 year project, the role is a good fit for me, the team seems fun, and who doesn’t need another challenge?   I’ll know in ~2 weeks if we’ll move forward, and my fingers are crossed!  I chatted with the boss for this role, and she is awesome. Like, I’m actually kind of in awe!

My main concern is whether I’m over-committing myself.  In the long run, maybe the answer is yes.  In that case, I have to figure out how to phase out the work for the remote team or keep things scaled back with the new boss.  In the short term, I’m juggling all the things, and it is fine.

A huge benefit is that my workplace’s culture is in sync with this way of operating.  Generally, each person is left to manage their own time and their own career, with some support from a manager, and more support from their own internal network.  This can be good or bad, depending on personality.  For me, it is great – basically an INTJ paradise.

I expect that by the end of 2016, my job will be a little more clear, but I’m happy with the direction and possibilities.

Typical US Maternity Leave

January 29, 2016

If I were to become pregnant, I can use short term disability (SDI) with a 7 day waiting period.  Before being eligible for my claim, I have to exhaust my entire sick leave bank OR 20 days of it, whichever is comes first.  The disability period is generally 8 weeks.

The most likely situation is that I will have (approximately) 20 days of sick leave banked, which is 4 weeks.   After 4 weeks of waiting, I’ll get 70% of my pay for the next 4 weeks.  Then, all benefits stop and I’m on my own.  I’ll return to work with no sick leave in the bank.

That is less than $10k in benefits.  I’m currently paying $1,500/year for the supplemental disability (70% of my salary instead of 55%).  Now that I’m approaching a 20-day sick bank, that is probably not worth doing anymore.  Although it would apply to other short term disabilities, pregnancy is the most likely reason I’d be using this program.

Despite living in California, I’m not eligible for California’s Paid Family Leave.  If I was, I think this would allow me to use both SDI and have an additional 6 weeks at 55% pay.  I’m not sure of that though, and it doesn’t matter.

Some employers/states don’t even offer short term disability, so I guess this is a small benefit.  My job is protected for 12 weeks per federal law.

That’s it.  I can use vacation/sick leave for 4 weeks, get 4 weeks at 55%-70% pay, then have 4 weeks unpaid.  It is likely I can negotiate more unpaid leave as needed, and possibly a reduced schedule (and pay) after that if I want.  But legally and by company policy, those things are up to me to negotiate with my bosses.

Many people already are aware of how nonexistent parental leave is in the US, but many aren’t.  I do think this will change some day, but no time soon.

(No, I’m not pregnant or trying, but I am researching.)

2015 Highlights

January 28, 2016

 

I made limited progress on my goals after this post, except T did paint the bathroom after that post.

2015 Financial Highlights

  • Our net worth increased by $91k, with most of that being in retirement savings. Our cash buffers that I don’t count in my net worth are also a lot healthier, and we are a due a huge tax refund (>$20k) this year, so… this is just what my accounting system says.  Our actual gains were ~$120k, the difference will show up in 2016 net worth increases.  This is much lower than the $139k it increased in 2014, but nothing to sneeze at.
  • Our total spending was about $105k, compared to $94k in 2014.  Details were shared this year.
  • Our total food spending averaged about $850 a month, compared to a shocking $1000/month in 2014.
  • My estimate of our 2015 tax bill (federal + state, excluding property taxes) is about $39k compared to an astounding $74k in 2014. We had some one-time income in 2014, and only had a few months of deductible home expenses.

Non-financial things of note:

  • My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through treatment.  She’s still recovering, but is cancer free now.  She did awesome and was a trooper.
  • I started new jobs that is a much better fit than my 2014 job.  Things didn’t go as planned, but it is still an amazing job for me.
  • We got a puppy!   He is very sweet and finally calming down (uh, sorta).  He was a lot of work for the first 6 months, but also has brought a lot of laughs and joy.
  • We did minimal traveling together, partly due to said dog: A January visit home for me, a run-cation to Portland for me, a week at a lake with my family in August for me, 1 short backpacking trip for us all, a couple of road trips to LA, a couple to Tahoe, and the holidays at home.  I went to Dubai for work and T went to Hong Kong for his work (and a few other domestic work trips for us).  Flights home (5 RT flights to the midwest) were paid on miles.  Related news:  We are ALL OUT of miles!
  • My running was pretty much crap, but I did a half marathon and one trail race.
  • I read very few books (13).  My favorites were The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), The Soul of a New Machine (Tracy Kidder).  The former is a good book for any engineer to read, despite being written in the early 80s.
  • My husband was amazing, as always.  He was super supportive every step of the way.

A lot of 2015 was spent agonizing about shenanigans at work.  It was a dynamic year, to say the least.  On that same front, I’m still mapping out what 2016 will look like, but I have a lot of good options.  I’m saying yes to a lot of things, and have to be careful to draw lines. I hope I’m doing it well.  I hope I am protecting myself.  A successful career could be determined by what one says yes to and what one says no to.  I err on the side of saying yes to opportunities.  It has served me well so far, but at some point, I’ll have to switch gears.  On the positive side, almost everyone I worked with in the past year had good feedback and kept offering me other opportunities to work more with them.

Outside of work, a lot of 2015 was spent training up a puppy into a dog.  He is still in training – his greetings (of humans and dogs) are overly enthusiastic, he only walks at a heel when there are no distractions, he still pulls on his leash more than he should – but he’s a good dog.

That was 2015.  It wasn’t the best year, but it was a good year.  I hope 2016 will be even better!

Mortgage Pre-payment

January 28, 2016

Much delayed, I’m now sending a chunk of our 2015 cash savings to the mortgage prepayment.

My original goal/plan was $25k in 2015.  I got cold feet when my job started getting crazy.  Right now, I’m “only” sending $8,000, because that is an amount we can send without thinking about it.  That is an amount we’re comfortable parting with, without thinking about it in any more detail.  Once I do some scrutiny of our reserves and finish our taxes, I have little doubt we’ll be able to meet that $25k goal.  But I’m impatient, and don’t want to wait for more analysis to take action.  Most importantly, I need to walk T through our accounts status, and he needs to agree that we can part with another $17k of cash.

According to some calculator on the internet, this prepayment will save us about $10k in interest and shorten the mortgage by about 5 months.  Yay!  If we follow up with $13k in a couple of months, we’ll shorten it by another 10 months and about $17k in interest savings.  We can also reap the benefits earlier if we want and improve our cashflow – our loan can be re-amortized for free once per a year.

Odds are that mortgage prepayment is not mathematically the most optimal thing to do with our money, but it buys down the risks of living in a high cost area.

2015 Spending Summary, Minimum Spend to be comfortable, Costs of Owning

January 25, 2016

2015 Spending

I feel a bit uncomfortable sharing this, even though I’ve done it every year since 2006.  I’m going to continue to share anyway.  If nothing else, it gets my “crying” post off the top of the blog!

My usual disclaimers about my tracking system being very imperfect apply.  Some months, I’m very good about categorizing my data and putting my Amazon (or other vague purchases) to the right categories.  Sometimes I go 3-4 months without doing any clean-up, and do a best-effort scrub.

Transportation: $1,600.  Fuel and auto expenses.
Internet, Phone, Netflix: $1,800
Clothing/Shoes: $700
Other Shopping/Spending: $5,500.  This catch-all category includes about $2,000 in “Home” purchases, which includes furniture/decor related stuff.  The biggest purchase there was blinds for about $700 and fencing for about $200.  There is $1200 in “other”, which is mostly cash withdrawals that could have been spent anywhere.  We bought a monitor for our home office, and I replaced my smart phone.
Groceries: $6,000. 
Restaurants: $4,200.  This is quite high.  We had two dinners that were approximately $200 (we treated our parents to a really nice place), but it is mostly a series of dinners out.
Wine: $1,200.  We have quit our wine clubs due to being overly stocked on nice wines and wanting to trim the budget.  This will be less next year, but not zero.
Gifts: $1,600.  A category often underreported since I don’t always remember to tag these.
Insurance: $4,800.  Car, Home, Umbrella, and Earthquake.  Almost half of this is earthquake insurance, which we routinely question.
Personal Care: $300.  Haircuts and some face products.
Pets/Pet Care: $8,600.  The purchase price was $1,800.  There were a lot of vet bills in the first year (including 1 ER visit and 1 minor surgery).  We paid for a lot of socialization classes and training.  I’m interested to see what the 2016 cost is, and will be horrified if it remains this crazy high.
Travel: $1,200. This is extremely low for us, largely to balance the dog bill.  We made several small road trips, but were able to use miles for flights for Christmas, a summer trip back home for me, and a last minute flight for T’s grandma’s funeral.  The spending is from a few hotels, camping fees, BART, and road trips.
Student Loan: $2,700. My minimum payment is half this, but I can’t stand the idea of stretching it out for eternity (despite the low rate)
Home Maintenance: $11,700.  This is pretty much just the drainage work we had done last February.  We are SO GLAD we did this since it has been raining non-stop this winter.
Utilities: $2,000
Mortgage/Property Tax/HOA fees: $51,000.  

Minimum Spending to be Comfortable in a High Cost Area

Grumpy Rumblings questioned if I knew what minimum expenditure amount it would take to feel comfortable here.  I think this provides a enough information to estimate.  Roughly speaking, we need ~$84k after taxes/savings to be “comfortable” – less comfortable than we currently are, but still comfortable.

I explain my assumptions, but I don’t necessarily justify them.  It is clearly a rough estimate.

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.41.16 PM

Costs of Owning vs Renting in a high cost area

Being committed to staying in the area, we chose between two somewhat undesirable options: stay in the skyrocketing rental market indefinitely, or move into the also skyrocketing home market.   The rent vs. buy calculation I did at the time of purchase showed that we break even after ~7 years (then come out ahead) – but there are so many assumptions that I don’t put a lot of weight on that.

While owning our home is much more expensive in the table above, the tax implications make a difference.  Generally, we did not have a reason to itemize taxes before we had a mortgage interest deduction.  The ability to itemize allows our state taxes to be deducted as well as interest and a portion of the property tax.  The overall savings (vs. not itemizing) is on the order of $12k this year.  We buy down the risk of an expensive home by pre-paying the mortgage, but it still feels like a risk compared to living in a low cost area.

Crying at work: how bad is it?

December 10, 2015

I assume any person would choose to never cry at work, and to never see someone cry.  That seems obvious.  But how to prevent it, what to do if it happens, and how bad is it?

I was in a rather extreme work situation last month, at least extreme for the relatively calm career I’m in.  I’d flown to another city (for < 24 hrs) for a meeting I was absolutely dreading.  Events that are too boring to detail led to me being in tears, in front of people.  Obviously, it was not ideal and I was mortified.  Although the situation was terrible and I was right to be upset, I definitely didn’t intend to display this.  I’ve kept my composure (at least in public) during a multiple rounds of screwed up crap leading up to this, but I was pushed over the edge by the events of that day.

I googled “crying at work” to try to figure out what the internet had to say (because of course).  I was shocked at the number of people (in comments on blog posts) who suggested they thought people cried to be manipulative. Seriously?  People do this?  I was crying out of a sense of frustration and powerlessness, and would have done anything to prevent it.  I was also intrigued by people who suggested that criers should “practice reacting unemotionally.”  How exactly does one do that?     I get upset because I care.  I want to care, but I really prefer not to show it.  This is not a rhetorical question – if you have learned how to practice hiding your emotions, I want to know how.  Believe me, I tried very very hard to distract myself and think of other things, but it didn’t work.

The most practical things I read were to avoid triggers, to physically take a step back, and to squeeze the webbing between your thumb and your forefinger. Of course therapy (or a new job!) is appropriate if it is a recurring issue.

Regarding avoiding triggers: In this case, I should have declined the meeting under the terms I was given, and planned a different sort of meeting that was more sensible or sought out more information before showing up. I knew I was on edge, and there was a high probability it would turn out poorly. I’ve been raked over the coals by this over the past few months, and I’d had ENOUGH. I went into the meeting in that state – that is on me.  They put me in a really awkward situation – but I let them.

I do need to keep my stress level under control.  I have a variety of ideas of how to implement some changes there.  Now that my side project is over, it has already started to wind down to my “normal” levels.  I can work from here.

As far as “damage control” (recommended by some), I couldn’t figure out much to do except move forward. I took a couple of days of avoiding triggering people/situations to get some mental distance, but we eventually charted out a path forward. There is still some relationship repair going on, but it is more related to the overall situation rather than the incident of me crying.  The best way to recover is to bounce back to normal.  That’s as much as I can figure, at least, and things seem to have gone back to normal.

Readers, do you have practical tips to avoid showing emotion in a stressful situation?  Do you have any thoughts about tears at work?  Have you had them or witnessed them?

(Grumpy Rumblings also asked their readers this question on my behalf.)

Affording paradise

November 29, 2015

Of course we can afford paradise.  Here we are, affording it! Look!

But in the worst-worst case scenarios, I’m sure we can’t.

Committing to being able to afford to live here is a constant risk.

We put more chips on the table than I would have wished to when we bought a house, although it was a calculated decision.  Staying in the rental market long term wasn’t a great option either.  When choosing between the two, we decided to go for it.  In the short term, it is looking to be a brilliant decision, but I’m not one to look only at the short term.

Can we afford it, permanently, on a single salary?  Maybe.  We’d have to cut back retirement, and I’d hope we’re talking about T’s salary (including summer funding) rather than mine – even though mine isn’t far behind.  I feel like we could get by on one for quite some time (and certainly w/unemployment benefits), but I’m not sure we could adequately afford retirement if it were a permanent situation.  I’m even less sure that would be true if we had children in the picture.  (Note the “I feel” phrasing rather than the “I calculated” phrasing!)

But how likely is this worst case?  Intermittent job loss happens, long term unemployment happens, but permanent unemployment years before we are ready? Unlikely.  A more realistic undesirable scenario would result in a terrible commute for me.  Which would be terrible, indeed – but not impossible.  Not unlivable.

My midwestern frugal sensibilities wish for a situation where almost EVERYTHING could go wrong, yet we’d still be OK.  I worry a little, but it doesn’t keep me up at night.  In fact, my husband just commented this morning on how freaking lucky we are, how unfair that is, and how “easy” it is to save “lots” when you aren’t a graduate student.  Unfair, indeed.

Our house isn’t large by any means, but we have enough bedrooms for 0-3 kids (if we made same sex kids share – which even T’s family did in the midwest for his unlucky sisters).  Our “yard” is not great, but living in california makes it easier to tolerate a small yard.  We have parks very close by – both the trees & trails version and the swings set and slides version.  Right now, we are both within 2 miles of our jobs, which is basically a fantasy situation.  I really could ask for a better life.

We put our bet on making this work.  If we lose, I we mostly likely don’t lose big.  We just lose this thing that we’ve put together.  Then we try again with some new parameters.  Maybe we lose this slice of paradise, but we’ve already left one version of paradise and found ourselves in another.

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