Saturday, August 31, 2013


Over beer, chips and guacamole, some coworkers and I were talking about the cost of attending my college reunion.  The cost of admission to reunion events is just short of $400.  That seems like a lot.  Especially to those that followed their passion into low-paying fields.  Even on a big law salary, factoring in airfare, car rental, hotel and other costs, the total spend has me feeling wary.

My coworkers laughed at this.  "It's a drop in the bucket," they said.  Looking at it from a Tokyo associate's point of view, this is particularly true.  In addition to our big law base salary, we receive a $75 per day cost of living adjustment and a free place to live.  It's a generous compensation package and leaves us with enough money to pay down debt, save, and spend somewhat freely.  This is why my coworkers were shaking their heads at me.

Why are our perspectives on money so different?  First, my time on the generous expat compensation package is quickly coming to an end.  Second, I've seen too many other associates spend their money mindlessly and then deeply regret it when they are laid off or move to a much lower paying job to preserve their marriage or their sanity while still burdened with a substantial student loan balance.  I do not want to find myself in those circumstances.

When I started out as an associate, I decided I would try to live on an amount of money that equaled my pre-law school after-tax income and use the difference between my pre- and post-law school after-tax incomes to pay down debt or save.  I have stuck to that plan for almost three years and am just starting to really appreciate the results.

Has it involved a lot of sacrifice?  It hasn't felt like it.  That's not to say that I haven't felt jealous of my brother who makes roughly the same income and has bought a big house, sporty luxury car, spendy engagement ring, European vacation and numerous weekend getaways over the same period of time.  (It's the house and European vacation that I covet!)

Nonetheless, as I'm coming up on my 33rd birthday, I'm tiring of the discipline.  (Here I'd like to acknowledge that a frugal person would have curtailed spending more than I have.)  This is mainly manifesting itself in my apartment search.  It looks like a one-bedroom apartment in a safe location near my office is going to cost me $2,000/month including pet rent and parking.  I am incredibly frustrated by the idea of spending so much to live in 600-700 sq. ft. in a neighborhood I don't love.  As of today, I'm considering a 550 sq. ft. studio for $1,800/month including pet rent and parking to save some money.

I'd really like to buy a place of my own and build some equity, but even after being careful with my money in recent years it still feels like this is out of reach.  First, because most people say you shouldn't buy unless you plan to stay in the same place for at least five years and I hope to get out of LA sooner than that.  This obstacle could be overcome by buying a place that can become a rental when I'm ready to move on.  Second, as Ben harshly pointed out, I "have no job security."  This could be said of many people.  If I could find a small enough place that the mortgage payment equaled monthly apartment rent (and that's a big if in my future neighborhood assuming you want a place in good repair) and stuck to the idea of selecting a place that can become a rental unit, is this point really a deal breaker?

While playing it safe hasn't felt like a bummer before, it does now.  Years ago, when I decided to go to law school, one of the major motivating factors was the idea that it would put home ownership within reach.  (I had recently seen some small Charleston-style townhouses that I adored, but would never be able to buy on my paralegal salary.)  It's a disappointment that I still don't seem to be ready to have my own place.  At least this is something that I can work towards.  With each passing year, home ownership should become more plausible.

What do you think?  Am I being too conservative?  Doing a terrible job of finding a good deal on an apartment?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lame Duck

It's been a super slow month.  I appreciate the chance to catch my breath, but I'm so well rested that it's disconcerting.  Even if things pick up soon, my pending departure to the States will probably keep me from getting staffed on any new projects.

As a result, I've had time to listen to CLEs, read, spend some time in the kitchen, exercise and do a little sight-seeing.  Earlier this week I popped over to Disney Sea for dinner, drinks and a few rides after work.  The weather, which has been wicked 蒸し暑い for most of August, has cooled off so I'm hoping to take some long walks this weekend.  If it weren't for my nightmares about getting laid off, I'd be having a great time!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


These technicolor orchids caught my eye when I was at a grocery store that caters to Westerners. ¥10,000, for those who are wondering, is about $100.  (I didn't buy any flowers, I was there trying (and failing) to find baking soda.)

Monday, August 12, 2013


I've lived in Minato-ku for just over ten months, but even the most mundane day is peppered with adventure.  My favorite thing to do on the weekends is to head off to nowhere in particular on a long, aimless walk.  I try to pick a different area of Tokyo each time that I head out, but you don't have to go far to discover little gems.  This restaurant (at least I'm pretty sure it's a restaurant) is tucked away in my neighborhood.

As much as I miss certain aspects of "home", I can appreciate the allure of the expat life.  There have been more than a few times that I've caught myself thinking about how great it would be if my next transfer was to the Hong Kong, London or Brussels office.  The constant discoveries, the sense of accomplishment that comes from managing even the smallest errand and the smug sense that your differences make you something special or interesting--one could become addicted to it all!  

(Having said that, I understand that there is a difference between hitting your stride at the end of your first year in Tokyo and getting acquainted with certain harsh realities in later years.)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Move Along

There's nothing particularly exciting going on around these parts.  Slow work week, but busy Friday.  Getting called back from (ahhhmazing steak) dinner to the office at about 11pm. You know, the usual.

At the end of July, I followed through on my plan to increase my savings.  Still, I couldn't resist the urge to make an extra payment on my student loans because I had a relatively small payoff amount on one of my loans.  It was a great feeling to cross another loan off my list and contribute a large chunk of change to my savings in the same month.

I've got 10 weeks left here in Tokyo, so I'm trying to keep my eyes wide open and soak it all in.  This will be over in a flash!  I'm also trying to start planning for my return to the States.  So far, this has amounted to searching for apartments online with uninspiring results.  I feel a lot of pressure to get things right with my next move--I want to leave this nomadic chapter of my life for a more settled period, but I am having trouble translating that abstract idea into specific wants or action items.  To help with this, I'm going to take a few minutes to jot down some ideas here.

I want:

  • To stop moving every year.  To do this, I need to find a place in a practice area or office that has enough work to enable me to make the expected billable contributions and learn and grow as an attorney.
  • To give myself permission to establish traditions and celebrate holidays.  For a decade, I haven't bought a Christmas tree, baked Christmas cookies or carved pumpkins because it's seemed wasted on a household of one.  (Frankly, it also sometimes feels silly, as an adult, to want to participate in these kid-centric activities.)  I've been waiting for the day I have my own family to rekindle these traditions.  At this point, the sadness I feel when missing out on holiday traditions outweighs any perceived waste.  (This should probably be expanded to include planning an annual vacation.)
  • To work on/invest in my relationships.  I'm concerned about my relationship with Ben and having a lot of trouble getting him to discuss where things stand.  I'm not sure what the problem is here.  I still want to move back to Austin and live together and he talks like that's true for him too, but his actions aren't consistent with his words.  My relationship with my family is great and I'm so looking forward to my reunion with C & B (my pups), but this goal mainly has to do with working on friendships.  Some of the most valuable experiences I've had in Japan include a re-education in forging friendships and a reminder of how nice it is to have social time on the calendar.
  • To connect with my community.  I think that a feeling of connectedness with people or, more broadly, my community is something that helps me feel happy.  This connectedness--I think--is part of what made college a lot of fun.  It's why I enjoy the Tokyo office, where there is a community of young associates, more than my home office.  Some of this has to do with the previous bullet point (friendships), but I also think it's about feeling like a part of something bigger than yourself.  I would like to volunteer for a literacy program or volunteer as a board member for a non-profit (the latter would be difficult because the firm asks us to refrain from board membership in connection with the firm's risk management policy).  I also think that finding a local yoga studio and favorite park where I could walk the pups would help. 
  • To grow my own vegetables and herbs.  In the immediate future, this will probably materialize in the form of a few potted herbs on a balcony, but, one day, I'd love to have some raised flower beds with veggies too.  It would be a dream come true to have a couple citrus trees!
  • To take better care of my health.  This last year I've been terrible to my body.  I haven't gotten much exercise and have slept on my office floor (or not slept at all).  I've had many days when my only meal was a late-night trip to the 7-11 in the office building (before you get too grossed out, let me assure you that the food quality in Japanese 7-11s is better than what we see in the US).  I am so fortunate to be in good health despite all this.  Moving forward, I want to exercise and eat better.  This isn't so much about looking better, but about feeling better and treating my body with some respect.  Exercise, particularly dance, is fun for me so I'm not anticipating a problem there.  Eating well is more difficult, but I'm hoping to leverage how much I've missed cooking and American groceries to jumpstart some good habits.
  • To cook my own meals and bring lunch to work.  Lately, I've been collecting a bunch of online recipes that I want to try when I get home.  I want to be more deliberate about what I'm eating, doing some menu planning and preparing some staple items on Sundays.  It is difficult to cook for just one person, but I think buying some tupperware and returning to my Cooking for Two recipe books from America's Test Kitchen will help with this.
  • To have all my debt paid off by November 2015.  I am on track to meet this goal and have a detailed Excel workbook that proves it's possible!
That's it for now.  Time to get ready for work.