An American Millennial

Where are you and where are you going?
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Viktor K
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Re: An American Millennial

Post by Viktor K » Mon Feb 06, 2017 11:34 pm

Just wanted to say a quick but sincere thanks for the support guys (and possibly gals). Really says a lot about the community here and makes me feel really grateful about starting this journal.

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Viktor K
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Re: An American Millennial

Post by Viktor K » Fri Mar 31, 2017 4:59 am

Stahlmann wrote:
Sun Feb 05, 2017 6:05 am
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
Could also be more yellow, depending on which fence you look at. My ERE-progress is still highly preferable to those that aren't on the path.
Scott 2 wrote:
Sun Feb 05, 2017 9:06 am
Yep, it's not even close to fair. The system is broken.

I can tell you, my greatest improvement in quality of life came with 1-2 years of living expenses saved. That's it. Enough that I didn't owe anyone anything, and I had the freedom to tell any employer to piss off if I wanted.
I can feel this. Even now feels better than July. A lot of that cash is about to go away due to a move to China.
Jason wrote:
Sun Feb 05, 2017 11:34 am
What ERE and MMM teach you is that you should worry about yourself, so don't waste your time about others. They are not thinking about you.

I'm not a move to another country type of guy. Also, I have too much money and too many vices at this point so I'll end up dead within the first week.

Now I understand you are in Vegas where from watching The Big Short, strippers were buying houses with their lap dance money, but this was my thought on you.

You are motivated, young, healthy, frugal and not an idiot. You also seem to be nice and fair person. What you seem to lack is job opportunity which is common. IMHO - You seem to fit the profile of a house guy i.e. a guy who builds his wealth through rental income.

Maybe focus on that goal, when you despair or doubt.

Regret can become consuming. Also, you will regret all this time you are currently wasting on regret when you look back upon this time in your life.
A lot of good points here Jason. Right now the capital isn't what I would consider "there" for acquiring rentals, but the GF and I have talked about it post-return to USA. Amen to regrets though. It is better to live in the present, though it is a rule I sometimes break.
trailblazer wrote:
Sun Feb 05, 2017 11:47 am
I graduated with a degree in history and worked in a grocery store all through college, so I can relate to your dilemma.

I'm approaching my late 30's, and ERE is finally in sight, but only after many years of additional education and student loan debt, and slogging away in the corporate world. More than once I've been envious of the 21 year old right out of college who did everything just right, usually through the guidance of parents. One guy I work with is 28 and well past 100K, with tons of momentum for future earning and opportunities.

As others have noted, you are very under employed. Frugal living isn't your issue . . . buy the alcohol.

Just from skimming your journal, you have communication/writing skills (don't underestimate how key that is) plus analytic and cross-cultural ability. Plus you are an ENTJ! You will add value to an employer.

I think you should experiment with some sort of corporate job, even if it's an entry level assistant type job. Your skills will quickly be put to use. You might need to relocate, and it will be a slog even in the best of settings. But consider putting yourself into that environment and see what happens.

Also I'm intrigued by your comment about "living like a king" in China. Would be great to have more detail on what that might look like as some of us might want to copy.
Nice to hear from a fellow former grocery store employee. If this expatriate life doesn't go well, I may just commit to that 9-5 corporate climb. For me, it is definitely my plan B. My first corporate job was one of the least fulfilling times in my life. I just felt so much obsession with profit sourced push to perform that I could not reconcile with my just need groceries, a roof and companionship lifestyle that I was left drained and listless, from when I got to work until I went to bed. I quit that job the morning before I was likely to be fired for attendance issues.
jacob wrote:
Sun Feb 05, 2017 12:09 pm
Viktor K wrote:With my degree, ERE even in 6 years seems unattainable, even while I still maintain ridiculous levels of personal spending. Does Jacob even spend this little?
Well, yes, I do! If I eyeball your graphs currently, you spend about $750/month. I spend less than $500/month. I've been in that range for many (15+) years ($5-7k/year) in various situations (single, married) (room, apartment, house, RV) (dog, fish, none of the above) in various countries (Denmark, Switzerland, US). It's all possible.

When I was in grad school (Age 24-28), I made about $25000/year, like you. I had just about 4 different recurring expenses. I spent <$50/year on everything else.
  • Rent at 355CHF (about $275) for an 8x18ft room (thereabouts) sharing kitchen and facilities with 18 other students ten minutes away from the university.
  • Health insurance (about $90)
  • Food (about $120) which was very simple. (And people still tease me about that one.) (If this looks high, it's because food in Switzerland is $$$$)
  • Train tickets to see GF (about $60/month on average) [that was my single discretionary expense]
Currency conversion by memory. Might be off by 10%, but you get the range ...

That's it. When I bought clothes, it was thrift stores. No TV. No phone. Books from library. And so on. Those were the early years. Those weren't easy years either, but after 4 years, I had almost $100k. In the beginning, due to the lack of frugal skills, the lack of assets, and the lack of systems-thinking, the most effective thing is simply to do without. This is much harder if you've been used to spending more and have to cut back than if you never had any money-sucking habits in the first place. In my case, I lived at this level even when I was an undergrad, so my main challenge was to simply direct money I had previously wasted on electronics towards savings.---That was tough [not doing] in the beginning, but I got over it experiencing exactly the same journey as the people who do those "buy nothing year" books. However, at that point I didn't have and never had any car, bus ticket (when I could just walk or bike), alcohol, pet, restaurant, etc. habits. What you never had, you never miss.

I've maintained the same spending level subsequently but I've become a lot better at getting mileage out of my spending by using more systems-theory (web of goals) and learning various ways to "get something from nothing". Now we have car, alcohol (DIY), pet, and the skill to cook "better"(*) than restaurants at home.

(*) Exactly to personal taste.

It's obviously much easier for anyone making $75k/year to live on $25k/year than it is for someone making $24k to live on $8k ... but I became FI on what I think qualifies as hard-mode. It doesn't feel hard at all today but that's because of all the skills and experience I've built up over the past 15 years. One thing that did make it easier was that I had a single source of income (however, I worked many more hours) and I didn't have any debt, so I didn't start behind the starting-line so to speak. My first job out of grad school at age 28 paid $40k/year.
My reference to you was more a hyperbole than a real slight to what you've accomplished of course. I respect and admire what you've accomplished. How many would be posting here, achieving what they are without your trailblazing. I do think time and energy play a factor into one's "level" of ERE. Once ERE'd, it can be easier to ERE better. More time for hobby income makes more hobby income makes more time for more hobby income. I should be sub $500/month come mid-April and onward - then there's the challenge of raising income, but I've some ideas now that I didn't have in February.
George the original one wrote:
Sun Feb 05, 2017 2:21 pm
Honestly, you can make more money than you currently do without bothering with more education. Sales is the obvious career, but you could also work on an oil rig. Do a little research and get out there!
The mind has been ticking, as it does, but a good recommendation. I have some ideas coming up, if/when they fail, more will come. One can be frustrated of course. I agree to no more education, though. If I return to academia, it will be for pleasure, not for financial/professional advancement. I've tried sales before. I bombed. A passionate Viktor K comes off as bossy and holier-than-though unfortunately. Maybe with practice...but I'm going to try other things first.
Fish wrote:
Mon Feb 06, 2017 2:48 am
Maybe semi-retirement would be a meaningful intermediate goal on your way to conventional FIRE? Though your NW is negative, your expenses are low and you have several proven streams of income. Speaking as a golden-handcuffed specialist whose choices are 40 hours or zero, I envy the flexibility and variety you have wrt work. You don't have any problems with appreciating this aspect of your lifestyle, but if you must trade this freedom and tie yourself down to a career, make sure you're getting something really good in exchange.

While income is still your biggest area for improvement, housing is another area with high return on effort. I'd recommend looking into housesitting (@Did, @theanimal) or being a live-in property manager (@Ego). You don't have anything holding you down, so go wherever the heart desires. With housing and utilities taken care of, your main expenses would be food and the minimum payment on your student loans. Your fixed costs should be covered by ~10 hours/week of work. Scale your income up/down depending on how much free time you desire. Work a little extra whenever you want something that's not in the baseline plan, like plane tickets, etc. I might be missing something but you may be closer to an ERE lifestyle than you think.

I don't mean to advocate financial recklessness. It would still be prudent to set aside some savings as an emergency fund. Accumulate the work credits needed to qualify for SS. Have some sort of backup plan in case of serious illness or disability. See: viewtopic.php?p=120055#p120055 What I meant is that in a flow sense, you don't really need to work a lot since your needs are low. Take advantage of this when figuring out a lifestyle that works for you. But due to the negative NW, you are vulnerable and that needs to be accounted for in the plan.
First, a good read, and something I've thought about and know intrinsically from the financial adviser gig (post-grad failed sales career). Many of the pitfalls/archetypes expressed in that post can apply to me, at least to some extent. But that can be a good thing - my archetypes are many, alluding to potential adequate level of strategy diversification. One good thing - teaching I've found, with smaller class sizes and permanent positions, is highly rewarding. Moreso than coaching. If work credits are necessary, this is an obvious route for me. It does come with a cost consistent with many brick-and-mortar positions: stuck. Stuck in a city, stuck in one apartment, stuck Monday to Friday... Online teaching is of course more flexible, but less fulfilling and thus less attractive. I'm one who quickly falls apart when unfulfilled, and I find fulfillment elusive at best.

The points in your first and second paragraphs however have either been buzzing around in my subconscious since the first time I read your post pre-2 month hiatus, have developed naturally in my own mind, or likely a combination of these both. Right now I'm unemployed. It's nice, easy, and not really a threat to my financial security. The student loans are my biggest weakness - I've got the emergency fund, and the student loans, due to repayment plans, are, while unsightly, significantly risk-free. I risk more financial security due to my loans if I'm earning >$90,000/year than I do being unemployed. This is quite convenient, although I may still look to pay them off quickly, at least for "ease" of mind (less to look at, not really causing mental anguish/conflict, but moreso diverting brain power from an already easily diverted mind). The meager savings I've squirreled the last year or so is already paying off, making a Chinese relocation financially manageable. The last time I went to China, it was only affordable to do so by taking on credit card debt.

Of course, languishing so long in this transient lifestyle is, sure, enviable, but also risks progress. Bringing it back to the post you linked - each of those archetypes focuses on and works towards some goal. Changing constantly can make attaining any archetype's goal, how ever fallible, unattainable. Thus the great success that permanent teaching positions have been for me. Teaching is a position which I can easily get into a rut with. Not a crummy, muddy rut that is slippery and hard to free oneself from, but a nice, comfortable rut, that is easy to leave oneself stuck in. I was offered a permanent position this year, which I fulfilled my contract on, but turned down the renewal for this next term. My other teaching company also petitioned me to accept a permanent position, but I declined as well. It isn't that I'm being hypocritical here, saying these permanent gigs are good for me and then turning them down, but rather I enjoy the permanent teaching gigs but not the lifestyle/culture/environment I am doing them in. I miss China, the GF misses China, and, financially, permanent teaching gigs are far more lucrative there than here. Foot-dragging and bureaucratic hurdles (my teaching experience vs. teacher experience required by grants/funding) also contributed to seeking and deciding on a Chinese contract, since the option of staying in the US with a permanent teaching position was not actually an option when I committed to going to China. But I wouldn't change my mind now and thankfully it is easier to quit 1 substitute gig and 1 permanent gig than it would have been to break not one but two classrooms full of foreign friends' appreciative and tender hearts.

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Viktor K
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Re: An American Millennial

Post by Viktor K » Fri Mar 31, 2017 6:08 am


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Viktor K
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Re: An American Millennial

Post by Viktor K » Wed May 17, 2017 9:48 pm

Entry 12, May 18, 2017: I'm in China

So we're about 3 weeks into our China move. Net worth/assets took a huge hit to get here, but we're committed and happy to be here.

Life is so slow and easy here. And there's this energy when you get off the plane that you just don't feel in the US.

This is our second time in China. The first time we were in a tiny cheap city with nothing to do, earning 9500 RMB + housing and only working 16 hours/week, living on campus.

It was such an easy life. We had 3 months off/year for summer and winter vacations, which were half-pay, but full housing allowance. Good time for travel and relaxation.

We won't be able to replicate that here until August since we came in the middle of the semester. Thus we're at a private training center. These for-profit English mills work for some, but not our favorite.

But it pays more and is temporary. And our company (we work through a staffer which the training center hired to bring teachers - training center pays them, they pay us after taking their cut (their cut being for making us legal, the importance of which varies depending on who you ask)) has agreed to move us from the training center to a more conveniently located and less intensive public school come August. We should start interviewing end of June early July when the school list comes out.

Lets look at financials:


Hell, that's ugly. Will it be properly amortized? Hard to say at this time. Tracking spending will require more work here, since nothing is through my old bank and their convenient spending reports. Mostly spending cash. There's also this super convenient app where you pay through your phone. But neither of these are trackable outside of a classic checkbook style tracking system.

Here's the rough. For reference, $1 USD = 6.9 RMB right now, but exchange rate and fees skews this to closer to $1 USD = 7.1-7.5 RMB.

breakfast - 3-6 RMB
lunch - 10-15 RMB
dinner - 10-15 RMB
snacks: 5-10 RMB
light beer - 3-6 RMB/600 mL
daily average - 34 RMB * 30 days = 1245 RMB/month

Travel (currently high because apartment to training center is not ideal distance, but will improve August)
metro to work: 8 RMB/round trip (5/week)
Metro for leisure: 8 RMB/round trip (3/week)
monthly average: 64 RMB/week * 4.5 week/mo = 288 RMB/month

2 bedroom apartment outside city center: 4264 RMB/month, split 2 ways = 2132 RMB/month
Utilities estimate: 200 RMB/month
Drinking water: 40 RMB/month

permanent life insurance: $57 USD/month = 394 RMB/month
taxes estimate: 800 RMB/month
social insurance (employee cost) estimate: 150/month

Total spending: 5249 RMB/month

Income: 13,000 RMB salary + 3,000 RMB housing (tax free) = 16,000 RMB/month

Potential savings: 10,751 RMB/month or 67%

Come August, our income will go down because public schools pay less. However, with the added free-time and not working during peak-private tutoring hours, there's opportunity to earn more doing private tutoring, foreigner gigs (already made a quick 1000 RMB recording English audio for a test, took 3 hours)

Travel and discretionary expenses remain to be accounted for.

Summary: Not bad. Does it make it worth leaving the US? I had an interesting thought. I worked 40 hours/week in the US. At a public school in China, I will work 15 maximum. That means it will take nearly 3 years of working here before I've worked more hours that a US 9-5'er works in 1 year. And that's if you exclude the 3 months/year I get off. I like to think that at the very least China will reduce the number of "work-years" it takes to ERE. Then factor in all the intrinsic value living here brings that I can't quantify and I'm happy with the move. But damn... that net worth graph!

Things that we paid for coming here: flight tickets, pet flight tickets, embassy fees, document authentication fees, period of unemployment (no income), hotel, taxi from airport, security deposit on new apartment and first month's rent, food, travel, furniture and all the crap you never have to factor into your ERE journal when you start one since you bought it all years ago, pet paperwork and vet fees, and a couple nice dinners and gifts for family, and a full month student loan payment since I forgot to update my income in time. First paycheck should come June 10-15. We landed April 23nd.

Student Loans ($0/mo): -50300

Permanent LI: 1200
USD: 2000
401k: 1700
RMB: 4800 (~$695)

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Viktor K
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Re: An American Millennial

Post by Viktor K » Fri May 19, 2017 7:27 am

I have 3 short-term goals right now, which I'm working on each one first before moving on to the next:

1. Work out - aiming for full body routine, 3/week. There's a gym on our apartment complex's first floor. We are 2 for 2 so far on working out as scheduled.

2. Cook meals - hoping to cook a majority of our meals. This one is mostly complicated because of the schedule. We would rather cook at night, eat leftovers for lunch. But we work at nights. So we'll have to adjust.

3. Study Chinese - there are a couple options for this, and it could be one, all, or a combination. First I want to get a small book and right down the new words I learn or old words I remember each day. The Chinese, the pinyin, and the translation. Second, the girlfriend is signing up for an online Chinese course that builds towards passing the fluency test. If it looks good, I'll sign up. Costs something like $40-60/month and is go at your own pace. Third, hiring a private tutor. They usually have minimum classes/week requirements which makes them more expensive. The only one I know now is 150-200RMB/1.5 hours, twice per week minimum, for 1350 RMB - 1800 RMB, which is pretty substantial. Fourth, free tutoring each Monday provided by the company, but does require traveling about 40 minutes and only works for now because we have Mondays off.

I also may end up buying a small book to keep track of my spending in June. I don't know if anyone does this already but if you do I would love to hear how feasible it really is.

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Viktor K
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Re: An American Millennial

Post by Viktor K » Fri May 19, 2017 7:29 am

Here is what I have as far as my budget estimate for June, excluding discretionary and savings:

Monthly Spending: ¥4,284.06
Total Money In ¥16,000.00
What's Left ¥11,715.94
Daily Average ¥125.52

Discretionary ¥423.00
Alcohol ¥135.00
Metro ¥288.00
Shopping ¥0.00
Travel ¥0.00

Living ¥3,467.06
Bills/Utilities ¥200.00
Groceries ¥0.00
Phone ¥50.00
Rent ¥2,132.00
Restaurants ¥1,110.00
Social insurance ¥186.06
Water ¥40.00

Financial ¥394.00
Permanent life insurance ¥394.00
Savings ¥0.00
Taxes ¥1,048.00

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Re: An American Millennial

Post by oldbeyond » Fri May 19, 2017 2:46 pm

I think a class, or at least a complete textbook is a necessary foundation if you're starting out learning chinese. A few tips:

* A flashcard app with SRS( to learn words/characters/phrases for the long term - Pleco, Anki or Skritter are popular, all have apps for your smartphone
* Podcasts - there are a lot them, ChinesePod, Popup Chinese, Slow Chinese. Great for getting some variety in the material and getting comfortable with different voices
* A tutor is a great idea. If there's a teaching college in your location, you can probably get a teaching major to help you out for less than that, even for free if they want to improve their oral english
* - great resource, great community.
* once you know some basic phrases, push yourself to use them. A mangled sentence and you'll be lauded as a linguistic genius, trust me :)

The extremely cheap food on the street/in restaurants turned me off cooking, but if you get the urge for western food it might be worth it. Or if you miss the joy of cooking(today I would). Or if you want to avoid consuming 500 kcal in cooking oil with each meal, I guess.

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Re: An American Millennial

Post by Scott 2 » Fri May 19, 2017 4:32 pm

Happy to see you were able to make the move work. Even without cooking, your savings rate is great.

What makes the permanent life insurance worth it for you? It's unusual to see someone so young with a policy like that.

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Viktor K
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Re: An American Millennial

Post by Viktor K » Fri May 19, 2017 9:51 pm

@oldbeyond Some good tips. Thanks for the resources. I feel like I'm on the cusp of really starting to grasp the language at a rapid pace. I have a Bachelor's in Chinese, but have only been in China 6 months of my 3 years out of college. My base is there - my vocabulary is shrunken. It isn't a terrible position to be in for learning the language. I have a good grasp on the grammar, sentence structure, pronunciation - I just find myself using a lot "this" and "that" instead of the actual noun/verb/adjective that I need. And you're right about the street food, and have also basically summarized why I do want to cook some of my meals. Also, the cost of food near my workplace is high, so it would be nice to have healthy leftovers as an alternative.

@Scott 2 The permanent life insurance has reached the point in the policy where it is just about paying for itself. In another year or two, the cash value increases will higher than the monthly premiums. And, since the premiums don't increase with age, and stop @65, it is an easy, automatic way to save. The death benefit is small and nice to have. In case something happens, my final expenses will be covered.

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Re: An American Millennial

Post by Viktor K » Tue May 23, 2017 4:02 am

I've started using a flashcard app. The current deck I'm working on is for HSK 1. HSK is the proficiency test for Chinese in China used by universities and sometimes employers as a requirement for admission/employment. It goes from HSK 1 - HSK 6.

The flashcards seem to be pretty useful for now, as I recognize all the words after I flip them, but my vocabulary has degraded so significantly that I'm missing easy things like "week" and "morning". This also tells me that I'm not ready to advance to the HSK 2 deck until I can consistently get all the words right at this level. It also helps build up my vocabulary.

I'm not sure what sort of frequency I should commit to with these flashcards. Is an hour/day enough? The flashcard system is a "smart program" where if you get a card right and mark it as easy, it comes up less often, while the ones you mark as Fail come up more frequently.

I looked at a recommended online program and determined it isn't for me.

The girlfriend and I are working out 3/week, full-body each day, which means were in the gym 5-8 hours/week. We're consistently sore, and pretty happy with the exercise so far. It is so easy to roll downstairs and workout that I see little chance that we struggle to continue this program. And the weights downstairs are heavy enough for us, although I am already lifting the heaviest weights for things like squats and dumbbell chest press.

Public school
We are in a bit of a limbo right now, not sure if we should stay with our current employer or switch to another. Nearly all the public schools in this city look to the Education Bureau to fill their foreign teacher posts. The Bureau then lets foreign teacher companies bid for the posts, and whoever wins the bidding gets a limited time contract to exclusively staff the posts. It is a pretty bureaucratic system (I censor myself), but is due to public schools/training centers/etc. not having the resources or know-how to legally employ foreigners. Thus, big companies like ours who do have the resource then bid on the contracts, and use their know-how and teacher pool to staff the schools. The schools pay them for this service, which leads to teachers receiving a lower salary for the benefit of working legally.

Our company lost their bidding last semester, and so their foreign teachers then had to transfer their work documents, visa registrations, and residence permits to the company who won, while still technically being employed by our company. We came in outside the hiring season so our company didn't have public schools in the city center (because they lost the bidding), we didn't want to work outside the city center (talking 1-2 hour commute to meet with friends and downtown, personal preference), and thus we wound up at the training center.

The other company offers less money per contract for public schools in the city center, which they have exclusivity for the next year. We have already interviewed with them, but signing a new contract with them could potentially lead to some conflicts, worst case scenario being an inability to transfer our visa in time which would then mean we would have to go all the way back to the States to start the visa process anew (several thousand dollars and 1-2 months of waiting).

Our company, however, claims that they can still staff us in the public schools, because they are cooperating with the other company through the fall semester. Thus, we would be treated the same as their current teachers who had to do a mini-transition this Spring (when our company lost their bid). The problem is, TIC (this is China), and it is impossible to tell whether our company is simply flat out lying to us, trying to save face, or is being perfectly honest. Fortunately, the other company has more or less confirmed this in one of our interviews, although they still try to encourage us to jump ship.

Thus, the girlfriend and I are, at this time, waiting until June when the "school list" apparently comes out from the education bureau and we can (hopefully) interview with a public school in the city center, while still staying under our company.

Personal life
Aside from working out, we went out with the other foreign teachers from our training center. We went to a rooftop bar on the beach, and paid 148.5 RMB each for an all you can eat, all you can drink buffet with a live DJ. It was pretty fun, we got needlessly intoxicated, but managed to enjoy ourselves and catch a taxi home before devolving into... well, I won't type out the details. One or two nights like this a month should fit in the budget easily enough, but I would have been just as happy cracking open some Tsing Tao's (3 RMB/700mL) and gnawing on some street food (3-10 RMB/meat kabob) for a more affordable night. I haven't found any of my friends willing to do this, but, to be honest, I haven't really pushed for it.

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