Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Frugality: How I stay ballin'

In light of my recent employment, I've been thinking about it a lot lately. At the highest point of my career, I had a salary of $36,000 - $53,000, depending on the JPY - USD exchange rate. This was the most money I've ever made by far.  Unfortunately, I only took advantage of the higher-end of that exchange for a few months in 2013 before the USD started getting stronger, shrinking my fund transfer amounts to 60% their value. Despite the fluctuations, in 2 years of saving half my salary, I paid off all credit card debt and invested about $30,000 into the US stock market via Vanguard.com. In 3 years, that $30k became $40k because the stock market is awesome. Because I live cheaply, I could essentially take 3-4 years off, if I really wanted. All these details are here because I know a decent amount of you have resources like this to save aggressively and get similar results. So, take this less as bragging and more as encouragement that you can do your own finance-fu too.

My middle-class salary days are over, though, folks. For the last 2 years, I've been working customer service work, making $12 per hour, mostly full-time. My New Years post shows that in 2016, I made $17k and socked away 17% of it, or $3000. I have since hit lean times and have had to start drawing on my savings. I still keep all of my frugality about me, and it's really important with little-to-no income.

Here are my conditions: I live by myself in an apartment 15 miles outside of Seattle, had no car for most of the last 2 years, and have a very small social life with partners and friends who pay their own way. I still give gifts, tip and go to birthday parties, I just don't have the latest phone, car or clothes. This lifestyle may not be for everyone, but here are some habits that will fit anyone.

Then it ejects a puck if you got pressing skills.
1) I almost never buy coffee to go. $2 here, $3 there for just the basic stuff might be fine for some of you, especially if you make more than minimum wage. 3 times a day, I use an Aeropress to produce some of the best coffee I've ever had. I personally use LaVazza, an Italian import that comes in a handful of flavors. The best coffee I ever had was in Italy, so why not keep it going? Also, here in Washington, LaVazza goes on sale for $6-8 every other week, plus Amazon sells bricks for the cheapest I've seen. Probably works out to 25 cents a cup, a lot less than the hot brew that comes out of those awesome vacuum thermoses. So that's $22.50 per month for something I can't live without, that also tastes amazing. Not going to cafes certainly miss out on a lot, though. No cute girls; no standing in line, listening to the comforting sounds of the machine (one of my biggest losses); and if the cup isn't satisfactory, it's your fault and there's no free replacement.

I just can't make that...
2) I try not to order food that I can make a satisfying version of. Satisfying, not better. I am not a steak person mostly because paying a week's worth of groceries for one main ingredient and several others pushes me away. Obviously, the chef's expertise, restaurant atmosphere, and freedom to enjoy such a high class meal makes the difference and is worth it for most other people on planet earth. Other forbidden foods: I try not to eat at restaurants with cuisine of countries I've been to. This is a weird one. I generally try not to eat at Italian restaurants because I've had it in Italy (and good stuff in New York) and I feel like having regular access to really good Italian food will diminish my desire to want to visit Italy again. Plus, I really enjoy the pasta I make, even if it's nowhere near authentic. There are purists who don't like cultural cuisine because it's not authentic, and that fact alone keeps them from ignoring the good food in front of them. I never eat Japanese food because I go there so often, I'd just rather save up a couple restaurant trips (it's so @#$#^ expensive) and buy a ticket to Home 2. I'm sure it tastes great, but each bite would make me want to go back that much less. However, I totally suck at making pizza. Even then, I doubt I could make a decent pizza for less than the cost of the $8 carryout that 3 local pizza chains offer. Once again, these aren't the most social of choices, but that's why you invite some friends over and enjoy it all together!

Side note: I try and make traveling sound trivial so it doesn't get written off as too expensive. I've visited 8 countries because I was either working there or stayed with a friend and cut major expenses like food and accommodations. Use any connections you have!

3) As mentioned previously, I get carryout rather than delivery most of the time. Even after a tip, I still save $4 delivery charge and $2-8 tax, depending on the size of the order. I'm out in the burbs, though, so hangouts are rarely more than 10 minutes from a pizza place.

cheap sirloin attack! 
4) Buy reasonably large. Since meat's sold by weight, buying more at once isn't necessary, unless it's a short-lasting sale. In that case, do what I did in the pictures and freeze!

5) I am on top of my subscriptions. I know which months my cable, Playstation and Amazon subscriptions renew. Every once in a while, I canceled Netflix for a few months after I've seen everything I'm interested in. My yearlong $50 internet (50Mbps) promotion was about to expire, so I called Comcast. 4 minutes later, I was rolled into the next year's $60 for faster internet (100Mbps) for the year, rather than the regular-priced $80. I know the customer service there is supposed to be Hell, but I had the best phone call that particular day. Sony raised the annual fee (which pays for online play and a dozen free games per year) by $10. I agree the service is worth every penny, but I still know that September is my month to browse CDKeys.com and find that membership for $48. For those of you that have a subscription of a service you know you love, never ever pay month to month. This might be obvious, but I know someone who pays $8 per month for his gaming service because he doesn't notice the little fee monthly. He's paying $96 per year for the same service! It withers my shriveled, tormented soul every month.

6) Host get-togethers before your friends with money suggest going out. I can hear your eyes rolling. The tactful way to do this is the day or morning before Friday night when your buddies are wondering what's going down that night. That way, you offer the cheapest but most intimate default, and only the most passionate will argue their way out of it. My friends are definitely on to me when my apartment is the second or third suggestion, but making fun of dumb movies and consuming adult beverages is a cheap way to chill.

These suggestions are how I navigate minimum wage and keep afloat. I'll have more tips on how I stay ballin' in the future, stay tuned!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Springtime Gamin II

The last few weeks were a jumble of awesome stuff. Guardians of the Galaxy 2, a funk club night with my friends on a birthday, and that same friend graduating from law school.  Congratulations, Chad!

However, given that I now work part time from home, there has been a lot of time to work that controller.

Overwatch has taken about half my gaming time...it's fun again. I'm finally being rewarded for hard work, as teammates are grouping up more, and I've switched to mainly playing support. I still have the arrogant complaint that whether it's Zarya or Zenyatta, I pretty often get gold medals for damage and eliminations. Why is this a complaint? This means DPS aren't doing their jobs, and I hate that this is normal. I'm not particularly great at taking out the enemy team, that means the other members must really be bad! Support should be medaling for healing and defensive assists, while your DPS is picking off the weak and racking up kills. I am stuck in a rank with a few good players, but most of them still will selfishly disregard good team composition and forming up to try the same inefficient lone wolf tactics over and over. This is why I'm trapped in gold and can't get out. Either way, it's still quite a miracle that the Overwatch community is still pumping a year after release; that's unheard-of for consoles! Congratulations, Blizzard!

Teleported here via that intense frog statue. Yep.
My last rental was quite a pleasant surprise; Earthlock plays and looks like JRPG. Bright, colorful graphics, turns, number damage, powered abilities after taking/doing enough damage, and a great soundtrack (link). The difference with Earthlock is that the developers are Norwegian, so there are some welcome differences. JRPGs usually miss the mark for relationship tropes, humor, and villains. Usually, there is unspoken or awkward love between two characters who never confront it, the humor is either about how a man likes women or a woman likes men, and the villains are usually the only Japanese characters who laugh. As much as I love certain parts of Japanese culture, I am so rarely blown away by the writing that goes into Japanese games and characters.

Might have to zoom in for this...
I love the way the robot talks in this game. 
This is of course where Earthlock stands out. There is no love interest whatsoever. No wasted scenes with awkward gasps and downcast eyes. Next, the game itself is light-hearted, but there aren't many jokes. This is shown through on-point localization and characters with a more colorful vocabulary than what's usually used in JRPGs. Finally, the villain is just a bad guy. I didn't notice anything particularly clever about the writing, but the story wasn't especially convoluted and easy to keep track of due to a short, 15-hour playthrough. That doesn't sound short, but the last RPG I played had a 110 hour save file.

You want it fast, strong, magical, or buff?
I wholeheartedly suggest this game to those of you who want the JRPG experience with a slight twist. It's got beautiful art, an amazing soundtrack, swappable party members and a custom level-up system. However, the plot is simple, there's minimal grinding, no random encounters, and a well-done soundtrack all along the way.

Because it's an arcade game...
I also tackled some PS3 arcade games: Marvel Super Heroes and Pacman Championship DX. Gotta keep the 2-games-out, 1-game-in factory working!
Spidey's victory quote cuts deep.
A burn that brings its own questions about the person who said it.
Pac-man on crack, man!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Springtime Gamin'

There's a cafe in Hell, too.
Odin Sphere turned out to be a mildly entertaining game. It's a beat-em-up game with some very rudimentary leveling. The twist is that the experience is gained only minimally by fighting, and the rest by eating at restaurants and cooking.

A friend of mine had told me that Japanese people will almost never claim to have a religion or be religious, yet their cultural attitudes toward food is pretty religious. While America is probably dead last in terms of rich countries' quality of food, Japan is the only country I've traveled to where local food is more expensive than imported food. At the start of the meal, you say a phrase about beginning to eat. Also, it's considered good manners to eat all the grains of rice in your bowl, and if you've ever seen a Japanese lunchbox, you'll know that it's always worth having multiple tastes in a meal, no matter how small. So many of their tv shows have a food segment, and Japanese dishes always strive to have lots of colors. I mention all this because The Japanese respect for food shows up in games, whether it's food to restore HP or some usually-stupid fishing mini-game.

Dad's an asshole in this game, too!
But back to Odin Sphere: it was 5 5-hour campaigns that center around a few events from your characters' different perspectives, but the plot is so littered with predictable tropes that I skipped more than half of the cutscenes. Nevertheless, it was fun to mash buttons and see how many levels I could gain off a good eating sesh.

Next up is Murdered: Soul Suspect. This detective game is more of an interactive story that is very well-told. Great voice acting, slick graphics, and one of my favorite game features: the collectibles unlock content. The extra stories are only a few minutes long, but pretty awesome.

This mode sucks!
Side note, I wanna jaw about the newest Call of Duty. Mop up on Aisle 7, there's been a spill of haterade. Boo on going to World War 2. I said before that Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was really awesome. I think it's silly that no one played the game because they were sick of the franchise, and then turn around and applaud the series switching back to WW2-era combat. Full disclosure: I am super biased against WW1 and 2 titles because the genre is saturated, I usually can't tell who's who (green vs gray), and the weapons all look and feel the same. CoD should have stayed in the future. It was more like Titanfall than Halo and the next Battlefield could have been that era, following up to 2016's title. The only real way to save the situation for me is if Battlefield's next game was futuristic. Like the franchises trying to one-up each other. Anyhow, that's not going to happen, and I'll probably end up playing it, and hoping to high hell that there is no zombies mode.

Anyhow, last update is that one of the titles on my 2017 Gaming Goals is on sale! I just bought I Am Setsuna for 40% off! I'll get around to it before the summer.

At work and in your personal life, how many accounts do you have that require a login?

Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wast...