Tuesday, October 8, 2019

CFA Investment Foundations Program

I recently completed the Investment Foundations Program developed by CFAI. This involved:

  • Completing approximately 1,400 practice questions
  • Passing 100-question exam
Topics covered by the program include:
  • Ethics and Investment Professionalism
  • Regulation
  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Economics of International Trade
  • Financial Statements
  • Quantitative Concepts
  • Debt Securities
  • Equity Securities
  • Derivatives
  • Alternative Investments
  • Structure of Investment Industry
  • Investment Vehicles
  • Functioning of Financial Markets
  • Investors and Their Needs
  • Investment Management
  • Risk Management
  • Performance Evaluation
  • Investment Industry Documentation
The program is free and available on the CFA website and probably takes 40-80 hours to complete depending on the student's prior exposure to the material or lack thereof.

Truth be told, the program is not level appropriate for a 9th year corporate attorney with an MBA, but I completed it in order to cooperate with my employer, who will support my effort to pass the CFA Level I exam next year.

I'm under the impression that this program was created for back office financial services staff, but think it would be equally useful (and I would recommend it) for a law student headed into an investment management or fund formation practice without prior industry experience.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

2019 Reading Challenge Complete!

One of the joys of life after law firm is having enough time to read for pleasure. This year, I planned to read at least twelve non-fiction books (done!) and twelve novels (see below). I've been surprised to learn I'm not as excited about fiction as I once was, but reaching this goal has helped me work on that.

I just finished the last of the twelve novels I set out to read this year. Here's the complete list of novels, in the order in which I read them:
  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. A friend recommended Haruf's Plainsong trilogy, which was available through the public library, but all copies were checked out when I searched for it. I placed a hold and read this while I was waiting. Short and sweet.
  • Milkman by Anna Burns. Don't take this one with you on a vacation. It's exhausting and slow moving although I enjoyed the conclusion. Perhaps this is more of a reflection on my own taste in fiction, as this novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2018.
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf. Read on the recommendation of a friend. This is the first book in a trilogy that follows the place more than the people in it.
  • Eventide by Kent Haruf. This is the second book in the trilogy. More sparse language. More affection for the characters developed in Eventide than those met in Plainsong.
  • Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. The book is better than the movie (isn't that almost always the case?). Enjoyed learning that the author once worked for the CIA and looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy at some point.
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amol Towles. Tedious in parts, to the point that I felt somewhat confused as to why this book is so widely recommended, but then I reached the end of the book, where the pace of the story picks up in order to deliver a happy ending.
  • Benediction by Kent Haruf. This is the third book in the trilogy. More sadness and suffering in this book than the prior two.
  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. My favorite story of the year. Many strong female characters. The story is driven by interesting female characters, but probably a bit too racy in parts for young readers.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Read 12 Novels (Part 2)

One of the joys of life after law firm is having enough time to read for pleasure. This year, I planned to read at least twelve non-fiction books (done!) and twelve novels (in process). I've been surprised to learn I'm not as excited about fiction as I once was, but I'm working on it.

I'm eight novels deep (see the novels 1-4 here):
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf. Read on the recommendation of a friend. This is the first book in a trilogy that follows the place more than the people in it.
  • Eventide by Kent Haruf. This is the second book in the trilogy. More sparse language. More affection for the characters developed in Eventide than those met in Plainsong.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

July 4th Weekend

Thanks to an administrative holiday on Friday, I had four days off work to celebrate July 4th. It was glorious. I powered down my work phone at 6pm on Wednesday and didn't even look at it again until Sunday evening. (I wish that past me--a law firm associate that spent most family-focused holidays in front of a computer editing and exchanging documents with opposing counsel--could have seen this light at the end of the tunnel more clearly because life is good now.)

I spent my weekend reading, tutoring, entertaining, and relaxing at home. On July 4th, we went to Terry Black's BBQ for dinner. We had originally planned to walk over to Zilker Park afterwards, but the restaurant's patio has an excellent view of the Auditorium Shores fireworks so we stuck around. It was simple and easy.

July 4th dinner at Terry Black's BBQ
Since we’re more than half way through the year, I also spent time over the weekend thinking about what I want to accomplish before the year-end holidays. At a minimum, I’ll continue to chip away at the 2019 goals that I set back in January, try to rehabilitate my recent knee injury, book a vacation, update my financial planning, considering how I can grow my tutoring “business,” and earn a certification relevant to my day job.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Finished Reading 12 Non-Fiction Books

One of the joys of life after law firm is having enough time to read for pleasure. This year, I plan to read at least 12 non-fiction books and 12 novels.

I listed six non-fiction books that I finished earlier this year in a prior post. Since that time, I've finished six additional non-fiction books (listed below) and finished my non-fiction reading goal for 2019.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Petsitting a Pomeranian

Cute but cantankerous.

I've started reading Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, by Bill Burnett, which is about getting unstuck and changing your path forward (or at least that's what I think it's about after reading only a few chapters). The earlier chapters talk about prototyping your ideas--trying them out on a small scale with limited commitment before going all in.

Makes sense, right?

If you're an associate in a law firm interested in moving in-house, a secondment with a client prototypes the idea.

If you're contemplating early retirement, an extended staycation prototypes the idea.

Or, in my case, if you're spending a little too much time wistfully perusing #maltipoosofinstagram, a few petsitting gigs prototypes the idea.

I logged on to Rover, created an account, and quickly booked three petsitting gigs: one shih tzu, one pomeranian, and one maltipoo (YES!).

Y'all, this gig is not for the faint of heart.

I found that pet parents leave out the most important details, for example:
  • my dog is on anti-anxiety medications and has severe separation anxiety
  • my dog doesn't respond to his own name, but will come running if you yell "TREATS!!!"
  • my dog will fight you to the death if you try to clean up after him because we regularly allow him to feast on his own poop

The list goes on.

I learned that maltipoos are every bit as precious as I'd hoped, but that it's not the right time for me to add a puppy to the family. I'd known the worry of leaving a dog at home during a thunderstorm, cleaning up accidents, and encountering aggressive dogs while out on a walk with your own tiny dog for nearly two decades earlier in life, but the memories had faded. 

I love dogs, but think I'd like to wait until retirement to bring a puppy home.

Prototyping works.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Read 12 Novels (Part 1)

One of the joys of life after law firm is having enough time to read for pleasure. This year, I plan to read at least 12 non-fiction books and 12 novels. I've made progress and posted the six non-fiction books I've completed so far here.

I'm four novels deep:
  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. A friend recommended Haruf's Plainsong trilogy, which was available through the public library, but currently on hold. I read this while I was waiting. Short and sweet.
  • Milkman by Anna Burns. Don't take this one with you on a vacation. It's exhausting and slow moving although I enjoyed the conclusion. Perhaps this is more of a reflection on my own taste in fiction, as this novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2018.
I thought I would power through another novel this weekend, but no such luck as the pomeranian I'm petsitting has no chill and is on a mission to do all the naughty things.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Stretch Goals


One of my exercise goals for 2019 was to make time to stretch for at least five minutes for fifty days. The hope was that completing this goal would create a daily habit. Mission accomplished!

I'm a bendy person by nature. I plopped down into a full center split as a toddler and never looked back. Sure, I had to work on developing strength to support my flexibility, but flexibility itself was never work to the point that, after I retired from dancing, I didn't continue to make a conscientious effort to stretch.

This changed once I started spinning thanks to a helpful nudge from Peloton in the form of a prompt to begin a five-minute post ride stretch after every ride. I'll probably never be as limber as I once was, but I feel better now that I'm stretching again.

Next, I'll work on incorporating some strength training into my exercise routine.

Sunday, June 2, 2019


This past week, we drove out to the eastern edge of Texas--past at least two Buc-ee's!--to Beaumont to attend my boyfriend's niece's high school graduation. Watching each graduate crossing the stage, with happiness or anxiety or a bit of both written on their face, I wished I could see into their futures. What would become of the valedictorian headed to nursing school or the guy with the flashy red loafers?

The graduate we were celebrating will attend Baylor in the fall. At the family lunch the day after graduation, there was some talk at lunch about SAT scores and admissions essays. I couldn't help but think of the high school seniors I had interviewed on behalf of my own university in years past.

Each interview has been a precious window into what's it's like to be a high school student today, which--it turns out--is not that different than what it was like twenty years ago when I graduated from high school. Sure, the technology tools are different, but the anxieties and aspirations are, at their core, unchanged.

Will college live up to my expectations?
Will I live up to expectations?
What will I become?
Who will I help?
Who will I marry?
Where will we live?
How many children will I have?
Will I matter?

These were the questions I had in mind when I walked across the stage at my own high school graduation. Twenty years later, some remain unanswered, but I have more time and for that I am grateful.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Read 12 Non-Fiction Books (Part I)

One of the joys of life after law firm is having enough time to read for pleasure. This year, I plan to read at least 12 non-fiction books and 12 novels. I've made significant progress.

Here are six non-fiction books that I read during the first half of 2019:
  • The Boys in the Boat. An account of the American rowing team that won gold at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics. While not a central theme of this book, the author spends considerable time discussing the role of flow state in competitive athletics (a concept I wrote about in my undergrad application!).

Sunday, May 19, 2019

LSAT Class

One of my goals for the year was to teach an LSAT prep class. Mission accomplished as of last week!

I taught my first LSAT class back in 2002 (yup, 17 years ago) and "retired" from teaching a few weeks before I took the bar exam in 2010. In the intervening years I worked at law firms and did not have enough control over my schedule to teach, but last year when I went in house I started thinking about teaching again and returned to the classroom to prep students for the November 2018 LSAT and June 2019 LSAT.

Why teach an LSAT class at this point in my career?
  • Ownership. In my full-time role, I have very little ownership over my matters. This bugs me. In the classroom, I have full responsibility for student comprehension and I can measure my effectiveness by tracking student score improvements.
  • Public Speaking. The curriculum I teach currently includes twelve three-hour lectures. No matter what my future holds, it's great to practice communicating clearly, thinking on my feet, and engaging an audience.
  • Connection. In my full-time role, our manager structures our workflow in such a way as to deliberately stymie the development of attorney relationships with client teams. It's isolating. The LSAT classroom gives me an opportunity to work with the same set of students over the course of a few months and watch them progress. It's rewarding.
  • Cash. When I transitioned from a law firm salary to a gov't salary, I created a hyper-aggressive budget so I could maintain the amount I save each month, which required cutting out all the extras. I earn $70/hour teaching LSAT classes. I've used this money to pay for my Peloton, dinners out and "extras" for the house (e.g. shades for the bedroom--finally!).
There's probably only one more LSAT classroom course in my future--the classroom course business has been cannibalized by online course offerings.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Hoarding PTO

My current employer, a government agency, does not offer paid parental leave. So, just in case, I'm hoarding as much PTO as I can to try to minimize the financial impact of any parental leave (should I be lucky enough to find myself in the position to take parental leave). Incredibly frustrating since one of my objectives in leaving the firm was to be in a position to take an annual vacation.

How much PTO do I need to accumulate? The agency allows employees to take up to 12 weeks off for parental leave. That's 480 PTO hours needed to avoid unpaid leave.

How many hours can I accrue in one year assuming I take no PTO?
  • 96 hours of vacation time, accrued at a rate of 8 hours per month
  • 96 hours of sick time, accrued at a rate of 8 hours per month
  • Up to 190 hours of comp time, accrued at a rate of 1 hour per 1 hour of overtime worked
How many hours can be carried over from one year to the next?
  • 180 hours of vacation time can be carried over from one year to the next (vacation in excess of cap not used converts to sick time)
  • No limit on the number of hours of sick time that can be carried over from one year to the next
  • No comp time can be carrier forward from one year to the next
Given these policies, my strategy is to avoid using vacation or sick time, and use comp time only when its expiration is imminent. So far this has worked for me. To date, I have saved the following hours:
  • 88 hours of vacation time
  • 88 hours of sick time
  • 120 hours of comp time
This means that although I haven't hit one full year of service, I've met my goal of banking 240 PTO hours.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Attending a Conference as a Government Employee

One of the professional goals that I set at the beginning of the year was to attend a conference. This sounds simple. Our GC is supportive of conference attendance. There are myriad conferences on offer. Easy peasy. Right?

Wrong. Now that I'm a government employee instead of a law firm associate, there are many rules surrounding travel and the value of complimentary food or entertainment we can receive. I appreciate the need for ethics and compliance rules to make sure all travel arrangements are above board and all agency resources are used appropriately, but the red tape sometimes left me wishing I had never volunteered as tribute... er, volunteered to travel on behalf of the agency.

How was traveling on behalf of the agency different than traveling as a firm associate?

  • Internal approval process resulted in significant delays in booking airfare, resulting in additional expense to the agency.
  • I handled all arrangements, except for the purchase of the flight, because our department does not have a dedicated administrative assistant.
  • There is a relatively low cap on the daily rate on lodging--the best option available to me on this trip was a Best Western.
  • There is also a low enough cap on the meal reimbursements that it was difficult to avoid coming out of pocket at the conference location. 
  • There is no reimbursement for tips (on meals, Ubers, etc.). 
  • I had to decline certain dinner, reception or entertainment invitations due to the value that could be assigned to such events.
  • The conference fee was waived for LPs. (Law firm attendees, on the other hand, paid a conference fee in excess of $1k.)
The conference content was interesting, but I think I learned more from the informal conversations that took place before and after the formal sessions. I left the conference with a better understanding of how business teams (on both the GP and LP side of an investment) approach a deal and how they view the negotiation of legal documents. (There were few attorneys in attendance so folks were speaking... freely.)

Oh and did I mention the beautiful conference setting?

The ritzy location was what was driving the struggle to keep expenses within the agency's various expense caps. I'll take that struggle in exchange for the spring sunshine, this view, and the sheer delight of the conference lunch coinciding with a major butterfly migration.

Coincidentally, a dear childhood friend lives halfway between the conference hotel and the closest airport. I was able to meet her for a quick meal before I caught my flight home. Truly the icing on the cake.

In the future, I'll look for conferences with more technical content located closer to home.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

How Should I Have Spent my Tax Refund?

I filed my tax return at the beginning of February 2018 and received a refund of nearly $10,000.

My 2018 refund was the result, in part, of my transition from the law firm to my current job in the middle of the year. The law firm withheld the maximum amount of certain taxes (e.g., social security tax) from my pay prior to the departure from the firm. However, my new employer did not take my prior employer's withholding into account. This means that too much of my pay was withheld and I had to wait for that pay to come back to me in the form of a tax refund.

In the interim between filing my taxes and receiving my refund, I fantasized about spending the sum on a trip to Europe, a new wardrobe, or updated furniture for the house. (Do not get me started about my family room couch--a now too small white couch that I originally purchased in 16 years ago.)

Instead, when my refund hit my bank account, I used it to make a mortgage principal payment that will save me up to $17,667.51 in interest expenses over the life of the loan and shorten the term of the loan by up to 13 months. Here are some reasons that I wanted to pay down my mortgage:
  1. In the near term, I may recast my mortgage. As nerdwallet explains here, a recast is a reamortization of a mortgage that results in reduced interest expense without lengthening the term of the loan. Why would I do such a thing? I'd consider it if I were to move out of my home and convert it into a rental because the recast would allow me to maximize cash flow from the property by reducing my monthly mortgage payment.* (Currently, my bank does not require a minimum lump sum principal payment to recast or I probably would have invested my refund elsewhere in the interim.)
  2. Regardless of whether I convert my home into a rental, I've decided to pay off my mortgage by a certain age. Especially as an unmarried person, I worry about a future disability that might keep me from working and, by extension, paying my mortgage. Even if such a disability never comes to pass, owning my house outright will give me more flexibility (to work fewer hours or a different, more "fun" job) as I age. When I reach retirement age, I may be very alone in this world with no one to lean on but myself.
  3. I couldn't come up with a better use for my refund that would be accretive to my net worth. I don't have debts other than my mortgage. My emergency fund is fully funded. I have plenty of investments in the market (and continue to be bearish on equities), which are constrained by my employer's compliance policies.
It turns out that my mortgage principal payment may have been a not-so-good idea. About a month after I made my principal payment, Financial Samurai posted this article about why it's a bad idea to pay off a mortgage when the yield curve is inverted. How do you think I should have spent my tax refund?

*You may raise an eyebrow given the historically low interest rates offered by banks over the last several years. While it's important to remember that my mortgage amounts to a "cheap" loan due to a low interest rate, I'm primarily aiming to get the aggregate amount of my mortgage payment, property tax and homeowner's insurance below the prevailing rental rate for homes similar to mine.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Peloton: 150 Rides In

In January, I wrote about completing my first 100 rides or cycling class on the Peloton I purchased in August 2018. Last weekend, I finished my 150th ride. This is a milestone I wanted to reach during Q1 2019. I'm a little behind schedule.

Generally, rides 101-150 were shorter and less intense than the first 100. I've included some data points below:

Rides 1-100
  • Average length: 45 minutes
  • Average output: 332 watts
  • Average distance: 13.15 miles
  • Average calories burned: 426 kcals
Rides 101-150
  • Average length: 38 minutes
  • Average output: 259 watts
  • Average distance: 10.71 miles
  • Average calories burned: 331 kcals

What happened? I felt blue in January and February. It was also the case that at the beginning of the year I finished a "collection" of 45 minutes classes and started two collections of 30 minute classes. This explains the drag on my numbers in part, but I was also bringing less intensity to each ride.

This isn't the end of the world. A workout doesn't need to be perfect to be worth doing. Still, I hope to crank it up over the course over the next 50 rides before I check back in.

The big win here is that I'm still exercising consistently and I've added regular stretching to the routine (more on stretching in a later post). Since my Peloton was delivered in August 2018, I've cycled 1,836 miles over 6,350 minutes.

I'm hoping to complete 350 rides by the end of the year. Onward!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Paying off my Car Loan

Nearly a year and a half ago, I bought a new car. The safety of my previous car, which I'd been driving since 2005, was in question. I had been commuting between Austin and Dallas each week for over a year and my family wouldn't relent--they wanted me to buy a new car. 

I caved.

At the time of the purchase, I felt that a transition from a law firm to in house role wasn't far off. This meant that I was nervous about my future earnings, which is why I ended up taking out a low interest loan to purchase my new car even though I could have paid cash. 

In this instance, my risk aversion proved sound as the following events took place in the six months after I purchased my new car:
It took nearly ten months in my in house role to build confidence and a clear picture of what my earnings and expenses will look like going forward. 

The above is a long way of saying: I paid off my car loan last month and my new title arrived a few weeks later. Paying off this debt was a great feeling, although nothing will trump the excitement of paying off my student loans.

I'm down to just one debt: my mortgage.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Sailing Lesson on Lake Travis

Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I took a sailing lesson on Lake Travis. He knows how to sail and didn't really need a lesson, but it was a great way to get out on the water and introduce me to the basics. It was one of the first sunny days of the year and, because our lesson coincided with a major sporting event, there was hardly anyone on the water. It was bliss.

We enjoyed it. I wish we could do something like this on a regular basis.  If only hobbies like this one weren't so expensive (this is the sort of thing that makes me rue the loss of my big law salary)!

The first year of "life after law firm" has kept on even keel. The big win has been establishing a regular exercise routine, catching up on sleep and generally improving my health. I've also spent time optimizing and automating my finances. I find that I sorely miss the intellectual challenge of law firm work. Case in point: a few weeks ago I found myself contemplating a tax LLM out of boredom. The big disappointment has been that I haven't taken a vacation. Because of the government's unpaid parental leave policy, I'm hoarding PTO, sick leave and comp time.

Still, I'm grateful for the ability to ditch my work email to take a sailing lesson in peace.

Next on our list of outdoorsy to dos: camping.

I'm going to try a regular blogging schedule--posting each Sunday--with the hopes of reconnecting with other bloggers, increasing the time I spend writing on non-legal topics each week, and pushing myself to do more on weekends that take care of chores.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Learning to use Procreate for Digital Illustration

One of my goals for 2019 is to learn how to create digital illustrations. I’m just getting started.

After a friend lent me an iPad and Apple Pencil, I downloaded Procreate (an app available in the App Store), watched a few free tutorials available on YouTube and started with a few simple still life illustrations. Here are some doodles I created during my first few days working with Procreate:

All shiny red objects so far.

I can’t believe that Procreate is a $10 program. It’s intuitive and the potential applications seem limitless. Bonus: I enjoy the absence of the mess I once created when working with traditional pastels and colored pencils. It’s incredible to have an entire studio’s worth of supplies accessible in electronic format.

Looks likely that I’ll keep working at this and purchase an iPad of my own.

If Procreate is your thing and you’ve got some tips for learning how to best use it, I’d love to hear from you.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Health - Incremental Progress

One of the reasons I left law firm life is that I was terrible of taking care of my health while I was working 70-80 hours per week at a firm. So how's it going? My health has improved in measurable ways--just received the results of my bloodwork from my annual physical and was so relieved to see that my numbers have normalized. While this is good news, I view it as having clawed my back to zero. Now it's time to see whether I can do a little better than average.

What is going well right now:

  1. Cardio. I enjoy cardio. Peloton has helped a lot with this (this morning I hopped on the bike for a fun, Diana Ross-themed 30 minute ride).
  2. Sleep. My struggle with sleep started in earnest in law school and amplified as I progressed through my law firm years. Due mainly to my reduced stress level in my new job, I've found that I'm sleeping more, dreaming more, and waking well rested.
What could be better:
  1. Flexibility. From my very first dance class as a toddler, I've been the most flexible person in the room, so this problem is relative to my own abilities. Spending so much time spinning on the Peloton without stretching regularly has tightened up my legs. I'm less flexible today than at any other point in my life.
  2. Strength. I can lift a heavy suitcase overhead, so it's not like this is an emergency, but I'm not currently putting any effort into building strength outside of my cardio routine. This is something that I want to change in order to prepare for optimal quality of life in my later years.
What is going poorly:
  1. Hydration. The core of this problem is my soda habit. A few years ago, I transitioned from regular soda to diet (important change since I drink 2-3 sodas a day). This was a step in the right direction. Today, I find myself cracking open a Coke Zero whenever I feel thirst, which makes it my primary source of hydration. That can't be good. And while I tend to feel like corporate America's marketing machine has seized on the need for proper hydration in order to sell sporty drinks and spendy water bottles, every doctor I've seen in the last couple years has commented that I'm dehydrated. I'm inclined to think this is a real problem.
  2. Nutrition. Let's be real. In my last year at the firm, my workweek dinner was a large Diet Coke and medium fries, procured from the McDonald's across the street from the Best Western where I stayed while in Dallas. Rock bottom. Things are better now, but I'm not thoughtful or intentional when it comes to nutrition.
What I'm going to try in order to improve:
  1. Flexibility. As a first step, at the end of each spin class, I'm going to roll into one of Peloton's on demand five-minute post ride stretches. I started this today and am optimistic it will become a habit in short order. As a more challenging second step, I'm going to try to complete one yoga class a week since this will help with flexibility, balance and strength. I plan to rely on Peloton's on demand yoga classes in order to avoid accumulating too many subscriptions.
  2. Hydration. Changing my habit is going to be difficult since soda is my main vice. I plan to start by pouring myself a glass of ice water each morning. (Embarrassed to say that I've been starting my days with a Coke Zero.) I'm also going to set a couple calendar reminders to prompt me to drink a couple of glasses of water throughout the day.
  3. Nutrition. When I was a junior associate, I bought a Nutrition Plan from Tone It Up. I read through it, but never got started. Since this is a resource I already have on hand and I just received an updated "Love Your Body" eight-week plan, I'm going to use it as a starting point for adjusting my habits. I plan to do more research and make adjustments, hopefully ended up in a better place. 
I could use help with:
  1. Strength. I'm not sure how to incorporate strength training into my daily routines and I'm not sure how to measure progress. Still brainstorming. If you have ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Rolling Over All the 401(k)s

One of the projects that I slated for completion during my first year out of law firm life was to simplify my finances. The first task: rolling over all the 401(k)s. Here is an article from NerdWallet that identifies issues to consider before initiating a rollover and here are some high level notes on my personal experience with the process:

Context. I had worked at three firms and participated in each firm's 401(k) plan. Each 401(k) plan was administered by a different financial services firm (Charles Schwab, Bank of Oklahoma (!?!) and T. Rowe Price). I rolled my 401(k) funds into an IRA  that I had opened years before graduating from law school.

Why? When you leave or lose your job, you can do one of three things with your 401(k) funds: withdraw, rollover or do nothing.
  • Withdrawing pre-tax dollars may result in penalties or taxes. No thanks! Unless faced with an emergency, I would not consider withdrawing 401(k) prior to the age of 59 1/2. 
  • Rolling over funds from a 401(k) into an IRA may allow you to reduce expenses without incurring taxes. Seemed like the obvious choice.
  • Doing nothing--leaving the funds in your former employer's 401(k)--may or may not be an option depending on the terms of your 401(k) plans and may result in fees. For example, my first law firm's 401(k) plan tacked fees on funds of former employees if such employee's balance within the fund fell below a certain amount. Some of my 401(k) funds had languished for years before I got around to rolling them over.
I took taxes, fees and a desire for simplicity into consideration when I decided to rollover my 401(k) funds. Next, I would need to decide where I would deposit my rollover.

Where? I considered rolling my 401(k) funds into my current employer's 401(k) and my IRA, and decided an IRA worked best for me.
  • Current employer's 401(k). While I've read online that this is sometimes the best option if your rollover amount is too small to meet minimum investment requirements elsewhere, this didn't apply to me. I reviewed my new 401(k) plan and quickly realized that rolling into my current employer's 401(k) offered no benefits, and would result in higher fees than any of my prior employer's 401(k) plans and a significant loss of flexibility. (This article from NerdWallet was a helpful starting point for thinking about how to assess my current employer's 401(k) plan.)
  • IRA. This option offered the most flexibility and the lowest fees. It's worth taking some time to make sure you've got the right sort of IRA set up to avoid headaches further down the road. (Vanguard offers a short and sweet explanation here.) I rolled traditional 401(k) funds into a pre-existing, traditional IRA because I wanted to continue deferring taxes on my contributions and gains.
How? This should have been easier than it was. Dear millennial, I warn you that you will likely need to pick up the phone. (Cynically, I think the 401(k) administrator's make this process difficult to try to deter rollovers.)
  1. Convert to cash. If you're particular about the timing of your exit from non-cash positions currently held in your 401(k), you may need some lead time to convert your holdings into cash.
  2. Understand the 401(k) administrator's process. Visit the 401(k) administrator's website to read about the steps they require to initiate a rollover. (The 401(k) administrator is the financial services firm running the 401(k) plan, e.g., Charles Schwab.) Each of the administrators I worked with required a slightly different process pursuant to the 401(k) plan documents. Jot down any questions you may have. Some process steps that surprised me:
    • Each plan issued a paper check instead of transferring funds electronically. How much longer are we going to carry on like this? It's 2019.
    • One of the plans stipulated that the rollover check could be sent only to my home address. This was a concern since the security of my mailbox is in question (I've had three checks stolen from my mailbox in the last year). So I watched for the mailman like a hawk and, upon receipt, forwarded the check to my IRA administrator via carrier pigeon. Joking about the pigeon, but the process sure felt like it took forever.
    • One of the plans levied an unavoidable $25 administrative fee on the rollover. Funny how plan terms reflected each firm's culture.
  3. Understand the IRA administrator's process. Visit the IRA administrator's website to read about the steps required to receive rollover funds. In particular, look for requirements related to how the 401(k) administrator should write the check when transmitting the rollover funds. Some wrinkles in this process:
    • My IRA administrator requires that a rollover check be payable to "[administrator's long firm name] FBO [beneficiary's name]" which in all cases exceeded the character limit in the 401(k) administrator's systems. I placed a call to the IRA administrator to confirm which abbreviations would be acceptable, but I think many administrators include truncated payable to information on their websites. When in doubt, confirm!
    • My IRA administrator required the completion of an online form to alert them as to the incoming rollover. I suppose this is when you'd want to set up your IRA if you didn't have an existing one.
  4. Coordinate with the 401(k) administrator. Call the 401(k) administrator to confirm that your former employer has notified the administrator that you are no longer an active employer, ask the questions accumulated in step 1, and initiate the rollover (in my case, via online form).
  5. Monitor progress and follow up as needed. Once the rollover check was mailed (but not yet deposited), my 401(k) account reflected a zero balance. I kept an eye on my IRA administrator's website to confirm that the rollover check had been processed in the expected amount.
    • One of the plans issued a pro rata interest payment shortly after my rollover, which meant I had to repeat the rollover process to completely close out my balance in that plan. 
  6. Watch for tax forms related to the rollover. Some of the plans sent my 1099-R immediately after the rollover, others waited until the following February.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Spark Joy!

tl;dr: I use a lot of dry shampoo.

In my 20s, I loved to buy makeup and personal care products. I amassed a treasure trove of the stuff, much of which went unused. In my 30s, when I returned to my storage unit in Pasadena after two years in Japan, I was horrified by the excess of it all.

The firm had sent me to Tokyo with just two suitcases. To my complete surprise, this was enough stuff to sustain me for two years. During that time, I had learned to appreciate that less stuff often results in less stress. My affection for minimalism has hung around (recently bolstered by the new Marie Kondo show on Netflix) even as my memories of Tokyo fade into the past.

Towards the end of 2018, I started wondering which personal products I use the most. If I could figure this out, I could stave off the desire to purchase products I don't use, further pare down the stash under my sink, and justify buying nicer versions of those products that I actually use (or, as Kondo-san would say, those products that spark joy). To track this, I created an album in my iPhone and snapped a photo of emptied personal product containers before disposing them.

The results were rather boring, so I've limited this post to photos of 10 products:


  1. I don't go through as much skincare as I'd thought. 
  2. Most of my consumption relates to haircare (chiefly dry shampoo).
  1. My consumption of dry shampoo has decreased since I've left the firm. (Guys, there were so many times I was just too darn exhausted to wash my hair.)
I try to buy a different brand of dry shampoo every time I visit the store, but I still don't have a clear favorite. Which brand do you recommend? Does it spark joy!?!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Bucilla Christmas Stocking (In the Workshop)

One of my goals for 2018 was to complete a Bucilla stocking for my sister in law. The Bucilla kits are part of a family tradition reaching back to my great grandmother's generation. I have a Bucilla stocking that my mom made for me when I was a toddler (can you believe it's held up after all these years?). I've continued the tradition by completing the Airplane Santa stocking kit and matching ornament for a friend (who is a pilot) and the Christmas Drive stocking kit for my nephew. Upon completion of my sister in law's stocking, everyone in the family would have a handmade Bucilla stocking.

In August, I started the In the Workshop stocking kit. I picked this kit for my sister in law because, as a new mom, I know she's working hard behind the scenes to make Christmas magical for her little one (just like Santa!). She won't use this stocking every year--she has a khaki/beige color scheme for her Christmas decorations and this stocking clearly isn't in conformity with that scheme--so it's just for the years that they celebrate Christmas with our side of the family at one of our houses.

Bucilla stockings are made of felt and decorated with embroidered, sequined and beaded appliques. Building up the details that make these stockings so delightful takes time and patience (and a good pair of sharp, detail scissors). I usually work on just one or two pieces per session, which explains why this stocking took five months to complete!

Here's a look at the early stages of the process:

The stocking is comprised of more than a hundred felt appliques,
each of which you must cut out from sheets of colored felt.
Here's a process picture:

And here are some of my favorite details:

I used Fray Check to give the red bows structure.
A wee gingerbread house.

To give the paintbrush in Santa's hand some rigidity, I cut a piece of a straw into a small plastic stick, which was sewn into the handle of the brush. There must be a better approach to this, but a straw was what I had on hand.

Here is a look at the finished stocking:

I'm happy with how this turned out, but wish that Bucilla had used a different color palette for the rocking horse and ball at the toe of the stocking.

If Bucilla stockings are a part of your holiday traditions, but you don't have the time, patience or experience with needlework to make additional stockings for new members of your family, check out Etsy. There are more than a couple Etsy shops offering made-to-order Bucilla stockings (and at a price that's a steal given the time it takes to make one of these stockings).

Friday, January 4, 2019

New Entree Recipes (Part 3)

In December, I finished my 2018 goal to try 12 new entree recipes. (I set this goal because without it the only new recipes I try are desserts!) See Part 1 (new recipes 1-4) here. See Part 2 (new recipes 5-8) here. Recipes 9-12 are as follows:

9. Skillet Pizza

I've tried making pizza from scratch at home countless times, but have always been disappointed by a soggy crust.

America's Test Kitchen came to my rescue with this recipe for Skillet Pizza. The secret is coating your small skillet with two tablespoons of olive oil (before adding the dough) and then heating the skillet on the range before popping it in the oven. While heating on the range, the oil will fry the bottom of the dough, creating a crispy crust. Success!

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

10. Honey Garlic Chicken Thighs

I don't like to fry at home because of the mess it makes, but this recipe for honey garlic chicken thighs was too appetizing to pass up. Better than takeout!

This recipe can be found on Dessert for Two's blog (despite the name, she posts savory recipes).

11. Mushroom-Miso Soup with Shrimp and Udon

This recipe calls for shiitake mushrooms, which HEB doesn't stock, but I was able to track down all of the other ingredients here in Central Texas. The finished product was a huge hit in our household and reminded me of the time I spent living in Tokyo.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

12. Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

This was my first attempt at gumbo and, although this was tasty (even better as leftovers), I did not hit it out of the park. The roux may have been overcooked.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

Looking forward to 2019, I'll continue to try a new recipe at least once a month. The process has pushed me towards previously unexplored corners of my grocery store (i.e., new ingredients) and introduced me to new favorites (e.g., I make make a skillet pizza for Friday dinner at least once a month). I've also been able to pick up some new cooking techniques along the way.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Peloton: 100 Rides In

Back in September, I wrote a disorganized post about working out more regularly post-law firm life. In short, I bought a Peloton that was delivered on August 4th and was riding a wave of beta endorphins of the likes of which I had not experienced in years. I was stoked to be well enough to hop on the Peloton for a 45-minute class, surprised to see improvement from week to week, and grateful for how wonderful it all made me feel on and off the bike.

A few months later, I'm still amped. Just before Christmas, I finished my 100th Peloton cycling class, which amounted to an aggregate 1,314.52 miles cycled over 4,506 minutes since my bike was delivered. This is a triumph considering my 2018 fitness goal was to work out 50 times (and, let's be real, it sure felt like a stretch goal at the time).

My fitness goals for 2019 including finishing my 350th cycling class by the end of the year and adding yoga and strength workouts (which are included in the Peloton subscription). Onward!