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Designing a Basic Flyer

In my free time, I am the CEO/Grant Writer/Designer for a lovely nonprofit known as Project Books, Inc. It's a 501(c)3 based in Los Angeles that focuses on bringing literacy to underserved populations. I wear a lot of hats, but one of the more fun ones is designer. It can also be the most difficult however.

One of the first things you learn in business class is how essential it is to build your brand. Your brand is who you are, it's how your customers recognize your products, it's what you communicate to your constituents, its multiple layers of subtext that basically advertise who you are, what you represent, and who you serve. If the hat makes the man, then the brand makes the business.

As Project Books is a young nonprofit, at this time we are going through our first proper branding phase. As if that wasn't difficult enough, large portions of our logo, colors, font, etc. were chosen before I came onboard. There was no cohesive vision for our design pieces, for instance, our logo is on the website (but not on business cards, collateral, or social media!), so we're starting from scratch! 

Our first order of business was creating a flyer, so this week I set about creating a very simple half letter sized flyer. We decided on black and white because ink is expensive (tiny nonprofit problems). This project was surprisingly challenging because this flyer had to be ink efficient, be the flagship for our brand, be "fetching", and broadcast our mission to the world.

So how does one go about bringing our scattered and mismatched branding together in a cost effective matter and also make it pleasing to look at?

I started with our website logo, and played around with it in Photoshop for a time. It's a pretty simple logo that was made for us for free (shout out to KHTS!). 
The first thing I did was create a black version. For a time, I tried to find the font that was used but gave up after the tool I was using narrowed it down to 963 matches.  

Luckily that meant all I needed to do was grab almost any san serif and most people won't be able to tell the difference. The next challenge, and the most time consuming was to figure out what the hell this flyer was trying to say. What was the purpose? What should our call to action be?

In the end, I just wrote the whole thing from scratch because the language we were using on our business plan/website/facebook page were all different and I hated all of them. So I took elements from each source and synthesized them together to make a viable message that I feel is both professional and personable. We went through something like 12 iterations before both the CEO and myself were satisfied. 

My next challenge was to figure out how to make this text and image pleasing to the eye. This. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck this.
Since we are still working on cementing the branding, I just did a really simple basic layout. 

This is our first final basic project. While I am not totally satisfied, I am moderately pleased that I managed to get it to something presentable. I took away a lot of lessons from this project, not the least was that getting this to print two to a page was ridiculously complicated for no reason. Who the fuck over at Adobe thought that putting two copies to a page in indesign and then exporting it to a pdf would force it to have drop shadows that I would have to remove IN THE PDF. 
Fire that programmer.

The other thing I took away was that it is insane how different messages can be when they are referring to the same subject matter from the same viewpoint, from the same creators, to deliver the same message. It was actually difficult to combine the messages in a concise and clear format.

Anyway, for your viewing pleasure, here is the finished product. It is copyrighted to us btw. 
P.S. The opening words is set to the tune of I'm Blue by Eiffel65. Shush.

Sometimes Things Don't Pan Out

Stormy weather only makes droughts better, not feelings. In the last few days I feel like my Fiancee have done a complete 180. We have decided to push back our house hunt for at least 10 months. We will continue looking, but only put down offers on a place that is 95% perfect, which means we 95% will not buy a house.

The bay area is ungodly expensive. It truly is. The cheap areas aren't worth living in, and the meh areas are quickly maxing out in price. The nice areas? Hah. If the economy spirals downward again, and it will, this is capitalism we are talking about here, that $600,000 three bedroom/two bath will be worth maybe half that, but you'll still owe all that money.

Instead, we have decided to look at alternative options, like investing and developing skills to start our own firm. We are also looking into alternative real estate options as well, like buying a 1 bedroom, renting it out, and making money that way.

This last week has been a maelstrom of emotions. The problem with housing is that it isn't just a financial decision. If it was, the housing crash of 2009 may possibly have never happened. Okay, that is a bit of a stretch, but in all seriousness, housing is a far more emotional decision than it should be.

The American dream is wrapped up in owning land like a video game with a console. They are useless without the other. If you can't own your own land, you haven't achieved the American Dream. Buying a house is a lifestyle choice. You choose a neighborhood to put down roots, to rear your kids, to say goodbye to your parents. You pick a home to grow old in.

Turning away from that was hard. Really hard, but ultimately for the best. Now I can concentrate on building my wealth empire. One day I will own a nice house in the Bay, but for now,
Bay Area.

Getting Away

A week ago, my Fiancee and I decided that we wanted to spend one day, just one, not thinking or doing anything regarding looking for a house to buy. After a stressful week of open houses and meetings and googling, the day came.

We went out to Uvas Canyon Park. It's hidden away in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a twisting labyrinth of trees and rivers. It was raining, but that is the best time to hike around waterfall loop, a mile stretch of downhill river slope. The sound of the river crashing and echoing off the hillsides, the rain splattering in your eyes. There's nothing quite like it, the way the rain drowns out all other noise, leaving you to your own little isolated pocket of existence.  

It was freeing. Luckily I didn't do one of those awful things where you start crying, but it's raining so nobody can tell. Yeah that's only in like...anime. Anyhow, being physically away from the process actually did help to clear my head, and my Fiancee and I have come to a sort of crossroads. 

We have a pretty sweet deal going on where we are renting, it's a great place in a great area, and we are 10000000% positive that should we move and have to rent again, that we will never find a place this good for the price. That being said, we are still "throwing money down the drain" by renting. Our biggest issue is trying to determine if we should call off the house hunt now and wait till November to start again, when we should have approximately $60k more on a down payment, meaning we wouldn't have to worry about a piggyback loan or mortgage insurance. Or, the second option,  do we plan to continue with where we are, and buy a house before interest rates get higher? There's also the option of just not buying and instead seeing a possible greater return and flexibility with putting our money elsewhere, like mutual funds or bonds, or somewhere else. 

They don't make this shit easy to figure out. 

To Buy or Not to Buy

Houses are expensive. No, scratch that, property is expensive. No wait, living is expensive. Let's be real here, life is expensive, just breathing costs money.

On TV, when people in reality shows (or in sitcoms) buy a house, it's normally a pretty happy affair. It's shiny, bright, and exciting. The scent of possibilities coats your screen. There's the scene of the newly married couple picking out wall colors, the wife smiling angelically at her husband.

Yeah, those rosy scenes lure you in. You can see the kitchen with the island in it, the large living room, the library. Or maybe you're the little cottage type, lost in thoughts of the small space surrounded by trees and a quiet sunny day. Buying a house is the dream, the thing you are meant to shoot for. Having a little plot of land to call your own, a place that is yours, that you can paint whatever way you want, decorate whatever way you want; hell fuck, utterly destroy if you want.

That rosy scene, and the feelings that accompany it, like much of the American Dream, is complete and absolute crap. What they don't tell you is that that happy new couple just took out the largest loan of their all too brief lifespans. The default mortgage timeline is 30 years. Thirty. Years. That's a third of your life time. You can become a parent, bury your parents, and quite possibly become a grand parent in that time. You are paying a literal fuck ton of money for an extremely long portion of your life. I'm not even sure if you can think in terms of 30 years, you'll have wrinkles and graying hair and who can picture that? But then you get one and it becomes the one true constant in your life.

But it's yours right? You spent all that money, you can at least enjoy customizing your house right? Ha. Nope. Nopenopenope. A big ol' nope walked into your dream house, trashed the living room, broke your toilet and left sugar all over the kitchen; ants hastily building their army, prepping for the glorious raid.

So there's this thing called zoning. As a person who majored in city planning, zoning is not new to me. It is a necessary evil, otherwise you end up with really fucked places and situations like people living next to industrial waste. I get it. However, houses are zoned, and to do things to your house, often times you need to apply to your city for a permit. Permits cost money, they aren't cheap, and they take time to go through all the proper channels. To avoid this, a lot of people just go ahead and modify their property without getting the permit. This generally ends in one of three ways:

  • A) You do the modification and if you're lucky, you won't have option B happen which then means you get fined, and you have to apply for the permit anyway, which if not approved, option B occurs anyway.
  • B) The city finds out and you have to tear the renovation down, or keep getting fined until you do, or get the permit. These aren't itty bitty baby fines, no, this is like $500/day (not ubiquitous, check with your city for actual numbers)
  • C) You leave it for the person whom you sell your house to deal with.

As the buyer, let me tell you, those third option people can fuck right the hell off. Fuck you, die in a fire. You see, in order for the buyer to BUY the house, it has to be appraised, and then the city finds out all the weird shit that has been going on in it. Then the BUYER has to deal with all the fines and permits, and the seller gets off scot free.

Yeah. That's a real thing.

On top of all that zoning shit, there's all the maintenance costs, as most places have issues like the roof has problems, the drywall is rotting, the foundation has shifted, etc. It just gets more expensive the older the house is. And well connected neighborhoods in the US have old ass houses.

Finally, there are the closing costs. Closing deserves it's own post. But suffice to say, add another $20k to your house cost.

You know what sucks? I went into this process knowing it would be the triple E (exacting, expensive and exhausting), but a lot of this extra crap came as a slight surprise. You spend so much time meticulously researching laws and permits and fees, that you just feel angry and scared and like you're being swindled at every turn. That's what makes me the most angry, that this period of my life, the act of moving into my first home and building a life there with my fiancee, a time that should be exciting and warm and bright and filled with possibilities is instead coated in long hours of not being able to sleep, kept awake by the thought of all that debt. Instead you're anxious, angry, scared.

But that's the American Dream. A nice thought, but ultimately a nightmare.

Everyday I'm Hustlin'

The house hunt is an all consuming process.

Last November, I successfully completed National Novel Writing Month, which is where you write 50,000 words in the month of November. My novel consumed me. I wrote every day, I brainstormed during work hours and read and reread constantly, revising. My thoughts were in a constant whirl of plot points, character flaws, character designs, world building, dialogue. Some nights I could barely sleep, unable to make my brain go quiet.

The house hunt is more intense than that. I'm a week in, and my life schedule has suddenly started revolving around it. I have to schedule in free time. There's a three day weekend coming up. Instead of going up to Tahoe and having fun in the snow, we are staying home and going to multiple open houses, talking with our lender, checking out neighborhoods, and building our spreadsheet of notes.

What have we learned thus far, after many hours of googling, scheduling appointments, making phone calls, going out and touring? That we have got maybe a 30% chance of getting a house that fits our criteria and doesn't destroy us.

The first thing we learned?
To get our budget in check. Memorize those numbers and stick to them. Save every penny, because buying property isn't cheap. There are permits, foundation problems, sewers to replace, pest inspections, etc. to pay for. Also, taxes. Did I forget to add 300 page disclosure forms?
Yes I did.
300 page disclosure forms.
Budgeting is not as simple as it sounds. the two of us being a data analyst and programmer respectively, we needed to have easy to access data and accurate data, so for months we have been working on a pet programming project, lovingly named Budgetron, to combine our money data, generate charts, and email us when we are close to reaching set thresholds.

It sounds nice right? But budgeting is hard, it's hard t get the data to come out from our banks in an easy format, it is hard to combine it, and it is hard to grasp it. We aren't big spenders, having grown up in a low-income household, I fall victim to the "save it all, hide it in your mattress" mindset, so sticking to our ideal budget isn't super difficult, EXCEPT for the fact that we use mostly card, not cash. That makes it harder to not overspend. I end up agonizing over every decision, like "do I buy this tomato? 12 cents? Jesus fuck no."

So lesson one? Learn how to make your money easy to visualize, and then die the true death.

The Time has Come the Walrus Said to BUY YOUR FIRST HOME

With the New Year comes a new challenge for me. My fiancee and I decided to look into buying a home. This is the American Dream. Own your own house, be your own man. There is something they don't tell you about this whole process.

According to Dante, there are nine circles of Purgatory. My ninth level is house hunting, only barely beating out being stuck in Rush Hour Traffic on a Friday after a big rig caused a 5 car pile up on a bridge.

No one in my immediate family has ever owned property. I have no idea how the process works, so I have been spending every waking hour of my free time frantically googling everything about the process.

So what have I learned? That there is no clear cut place to go for information. There is a big difference between pre-approval and pre-qualification. Every financial institution under the sun wants your money and isn't entirely clear on what options are best or available to you. Thus, you need a mortgage broker? Or a better lender? And you have to do a bunch of pre-approvals all in a two week span or it hurts your credit score?

On top of all this, I live in the Bay Area, and the market here is...well. Google it.

So thus far, we have met with two realtors, and we have a third one tomorrow, we have looked at 8 open houses, we have spoken to three different people at three different financial institutions to get three different quotes, and now we have two mortgage brokers to talk with?