San Diego: 6 Months On

Well hello, February! Posting sure has slowed down now that we aren’t making big visual changes to the apartment! And by “slowed down”, I being euphemistic about not blogging since New Years. Oops.

Yesterday marked 6 months since our arrival in San Diego. Time sure does fly. It also seems like life has totally transformed in a relatively short space of time. Sometimes when I’m driving around, I think that just a few months ago, I was completely reliant on our GPS. Now, I can run most errands by memory. Our pace of life seems so different compared to life in London, too. We have new routines here, and they seem so natural, it’s hard to remember things any other way.

So. What’s new since the beginning of the year?

– We booked our trip to England! We’ll be back for nearly 2 weeks, encompassing Christmas (which we’ll spend with Mark’s parents) and a friend’s wedding. British Airways is the only airline offering direct flights to London, and we wanted to use our air miles to upgrade our outbound flight, so we booked literally as soon as possible. It paid off. Our travel dates are fixed, so no more agonizing over the best days to travel, and since we’re posh-ing it up in Business Class, our holiday will start well rested and in style. We’ll be returning on cattle class (read: coach), but aren’t so bothered about it, since the end of a holiday is always a little sad anyway. Plus, the return flight is during the day, whereas the outbound flight is overnight (departing at 9pm). Originally, we planned to stay with a family friend in London, but we found an awesome deal on a nice hotel within a mile of our former home. Now we’re not only excited about seeing family & friends, but also about revisiting our old walking routes and favo(u)rite restaurants.

– In other travel news, we spent a wonderful, relaxing weekend in Desert Hot Springs. It’s a very small city (maybe town or even ‘community’ would be more appropriate) just outside of Palm Springs. Because of its less notable location, we got a great deal on a weekend of R&R. I may have actually preferred the small town to its more well known neighbor, because of the restaurants. They were all little hole-in-the-wall places, but they were also incredible. Our ‘most expensive’ meal was under $25 – including tip and a beer – and it was delicious. The local Mexican restaurant was some of the best food I’ve ever had, and probably the best Mexican food I’ve ever had. Seriously. Still on the cards for later this year, but not yet planned: SoCal road trip (exploring LA/Hollywood/Santa Barbara), Chicago + Buffalo (my bestie is getting married in B-lo. Flight routes make Chicago a perfect add on cost- and travel-wise, so we’re now merging those trips rather than doing them separately as originally planned), and Mexico! We had an AMAZING time in Playa Mujeres last year. Mark thought another trip to Mexico would make an awesome 30th birthday celebration for me next year. However, being a July baby, I think Mexico would be uncomfortably hot. Instead, we’re going to head down to Los Cabos (which is just a couple hours south of San Diego) for our anniversary in October. I’m so excited, it’s ridiculous.

– A couple close friends have had terrible starts to the year. One lost her mother to cancer. The other suffered a miscarriage, was laid off the following week, and then lost her husband’s grandfather. 😦 Needless to say, Mr. O and I have been sending all the love and support we can. I can’t even begin to comprehend how difficult life is for either of them right now. It makes my heart sad, and reminds me to be grateful for all the wonderful things in life.

– We put the wheels in motion to buy a house. With 6 months left on our lease, it might sound a little early to some. However, with so many foreclosure and short sale properties on the market, there’s a chance buying our future home may involve lots of negotiating with the bank, which means lots of time and patience. Also, the San Diego property market has gotten pretty tight over the last year. Inventory is low and multiple offers (sometimes well over asking price) are common, so we need to keep an active eye. Initially, we considered renting indefinitely. We were really set on renting when we researched the price of homes in our neighborhood. Ouch. Admittedly, you’re getting more space, but minimum holding costs (taxes, insurance and HOAs) were as much or more than our rent! Thanks to Zillow, we found if we move slightly further afield, property prices are a little more reasonable (though still many multiples of what a friend in upstate New York is looking at for places the same size in her ‘hood!). One neighborhood would be just a 15-20 minute commute (albeit by car) for Mark, has more homes in our price range, and has lots of amenities and walking trails. We’ve started working with a Real Estate agent, who has proposed a couple of other areas, too. We’re patiently reviewing listings and viewing houses. Part of our brains (and stomachs!) want to keep the cost as low as possible though, so we’re not inclined to jump on anything too quickly. Home value affects so many things – property taxes, insurance, closing costs, re-sale costs. Ideally, we’d like to keep the purchase price low enough to buy in all-cash (making our offer stronger than its competitors, reducing our monthly cashflow, and cutting closing costs). However, with a couple of personal loans out right now, that might leave our savings account a little skim (especially factoring in the need to buy a second car). Delaying the purchase a few months will probably see at least one of those loans repaid, possibly giving us our mortgage-free dream again. More likely, we’ll get a small mortgage, keeping a little more cash on hand and enabling us to comfortably make an offer on a house before being paid back.

– Speaking of finances, we did our taxes! This year was a little more complex than most, so I felt particularly accomplished to have them done within the first week of January. Living in England, I still had to file US taxes, because all US citizens are legally required to file irrespective of domicile. Despite being married since 2009, I continued filing as ‘single’, because Mark was a non-US person. Now that he’s a bonafide resident alien, complete with SSN, I’m officially ‘married’ in the eyes of the IRS. It’s like getting married all over again 🙂 Thankfully the specifics of our 2012 taxes don’t ‘penalize’ us for being married (ie we are not in the top 2% of American wage earners!). Living in both countries during the tax year added some extra forms and calculations, but my personal finance and spreadsheet loving heart wasn’t put off. We were so far ahead of the game, in fact, that we haven’t actually been able to file yet. Mark only received his ‘official’ W2 this week, and some of the overseas income forms still aren’t available. At any rate, I’m proud to have done the dirty work early.

– We’ve been hanging out with our “Meetup couple friends”. We attended a couple more Meetup functions – including a pub quiz, which was lots of fun (even if we did lose. badly.), and have continued hanging out with two of the couples outside official “meetups”. It’s fun having other couples to hike with or have over for dinner, drinks and hot-tubbing. Both couples share a lot of our financial goals, which was a bonus. It’s easier being frugal when your friends are living the same way 🙂

– I’ve been trying new recipes left, right, and center. The last week has seen lots of new dishes. I bought buttermilk to make carrot cake (for the first time – from scratch!). The cake was awesome, but only used a fraction of the buttermilk carton. I used the rest to make buttermilk pancakes (delish) and buttermilk biscuits (also delish, and served with Crock-Pot chicken). The slow cooker has been put to use over the last week between the chicken, a new green chili recipe (it was the best recipe I’ve used yet), and pulled pork . It’s safe to say I am absolutely in love with my $15 Crock-Pot Christmas gift, and that having never used buttermilk before, it might become a fixture in our fridge. Organic blueberry punnetts are back at Trader Joe’s (and therefore back on our breakfast table), and I recently found this recipe. If we hadn’t already bought (and eaten) two boxes of Girl Scout cookies AND had that carrot cake last week, this probably would’ve already been baked and eaten. Maybe in a couple weeks.

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