Skip to content

March and April Wrap Up

May 5, 2022

Money & Net worth

Our net worth is DOWN. T used to be sort of excited about updating his numbers each month, but he has lost enthusiasm this year. I’m not worried about the drop. The gains in the last years have seemed too good to be true, and we have no immediate plans for an early retirement, and we are still in a very secure position. If I was seriously tracking progress towards FI, we’d have a set back from about 66% there to now only about 52% there… and I haven’t even scrubbed the FI budget for inflation impacts! We’ve gone back to summer 2021 net worth levels, despite dumping quite a bit into savings the last year.

We filed taxes and paid our tax bill. I messed up an input on my tax predicting spreadsheet, so we owed about $2k net. Maybe I can get it right this year! I updated the spreadsheet, and it looks like we’ll be taking the standard deduction on the federal side, and itemizing on the state side again this year. I’m still prioritizing a mega backdoor Roth over tax-advantaged space, and paying a higher tax bill in order to do so. That Roth money is going to be really really helpful, so I think it is worth it. Maybe?

I honestly don’t have a clear handle on our spending right now. I’m convinced grocery spending is down now that I’ve mostly resumed cooking most of our meals (we relied heavily on prepared food during COVID spikes). I have some expenses tracked, but I keep falling behind, and not carving out time to close out where we are at. Maybe this month. I’m interested to see if I can detect inflation in our spending.

COVID-19

As far as we know, we’ve remained COVID-free so far. LO has had a series of colds this winter, which prompt a PCR test and a doctors note to get back to school. She’s been in group child-care since July 2020, but had rarely been sick because they have good protocols at daycare and (more so) everyone locally was being very cautious for a long time. As life shifts and people socialize more and mask less (indoor public masking is still pretty common), there are many colds going around, in addition to the COVID. This current wave might get us yet. I’m convinced we avoided Omicron largely due to daycare being closed for holidays, and by not making any travel plans during December/January. We were mostly isolated. Maybe we can make it until LO is vaccinated. I’m so grateful for the vaccines, but I’ve also ceased to see them as “they way out” of this mess, which is what I (many of us!) hoped a year ago. I’m not happy about that, because it seems the answer is that there isn’t a near-term “way out”. I find Bob_Wachter and Katelyn Jetelina to be the most helpful sources of information, with a side of Emily Oster (I understand her limitations and why she is controversial, but I still find it helpful).

Work

Work has been interesting, in good and bad ways. My project is having speed bumps that we are working through. If we don’t figure it out in the next ~2 months, we may be done. Still, I’m optimistic we can get on the right track, and deliver what we said we would. I had two one-day trips to Southern California in February, which is kind of the worst type of business travel (early morning flights, no relaxing night in a hotel, PLUS they won’t cover meals if it is < 24 hours). My focus and motivation has been a bit bumpy, but still overall heading in the right direction.

I’ve been going in to the office more often, although this is mostly just to sit in my office alone. (My commute is so short, so I don’t mind going in, and often do focus better there.)

My manager and I have been talking about a promotion forever (going back to my previous manager). They apparently they submitted it many months ago (without letting me know at the time?), and are trying to move me up 2 levels with a significant raise including a retroactive portion. This is all NOT approved by bureaucracy above us, though, so for all I know, it could be 6 more months. (This is not just my case – these types of things have been moving at a glacial pace, across the board.) So, this is “exciting” on one hand… yet I’m still pretty angry that it took so long, and that no one was able to advocate for me until it became a situation where I needed to be moved up two levels to get on par with peers. It is on me as well, for not pushing it myself – compounded by maternity leave, COVID, and everyone at all levels being completely underwater for two years straight. Still, all of this delay and frustration really takes any joy out of it – especially since it isn’t finalized yet. Maybe the joy will happen when it is real? We have an “equity” committee that is supposed to watch this stuff, but the process is either not working, or just too slow. My opinion is that I was forgotten about because I wasn’t in the “in” group, working on the big projects – and I didn’t otherwise make enough noise. Everyone is doing the best they can – but this situation is really demotivating whenever this pops into my mind.

On the flip side, everything else about my job is really really ideal. I have a lot of autonomy, enough vacation, work-life balance, interesting work, good commute, good colleagues, etc. etc. This is all more important than money – at least up until the point where it is not. And it isn’t even just the money, it is also feeling valued and like I’m doing good things.

Family & Life

LO is doing very well. She’s experimenting with lying/story telling. She’s trying to figure out jokes. She is interested in flowers and plants and especially interested in bugs (ladybugs, rolly pollies, anything). She is really happy in preschool. My parents have been in the area (in an RV, and also at our house sometimes) for several weeks, so she has been having a blast getting spoiled by them every weekend.

LO: “I have a joke! Why did the man run away?”
Me: “why?”
LO: “Because he saw a fish made out of butts!”
Since it was her first attempt at a joke, I told her to go tell her dad, too!
LO: “Daddy! Daddy! I have a joke! Why did the man run away from the fish made out of butts?!?!”
Dad: “Why?”
LO: “…. I don’t know.”

T is finishing up the school year, and looking forward to a summer of research. He didn’t plan any conferences for the summer yet, so it may be a relatively low key summer. One can hope. The visit from my parents is going well. It is nice to see them frequently, but to also not have them underfoot in our house for a long period of time.

All in all, life is OK.

February Wrap up

March 20, 2022

Money & Net worth

Money is not currently very interesting to me. We have not reached FI, but I still feel like we’ve “won” or mastered this area of life, at least to a certain point. The smaller decisions we make each day don’t seem to have much impact on the overall picture. Some of the bigger picture decisions we make do, but I feel like we are making good enough decisions. (Then again, we don’t know what we don’t know…)

We’ve been using Bentocart to supplement meal planning. I find the variety and flavors and value superior to the “prepared food box” we survived on for much of the pandemic, but still not as much variety and value as home cooking. We have full-time childcare and flexible (but busy) jobs, so this is a luxury that we’ll phase out soon here. Still, it really helped when my mental health was struggling during the last surge.

COVID-19

We made it through the big spike of Omicron still without being infected. I am sort of surprised – but we actually were able to mostly isolate during the holidays when it was ramping up the most. Sounds like a second wave might get us yet.

The case numbers are finally below my threshold for not having anxiety (this is ~10 per 100k). Still, we haven’t changed much. I’ve gone into work more, including meetings with ~10+ people (all masked in high quality masks). Now, mask mandates are dropped at work. It is stressful to try to assess changing risk. For me, it is easiest to just keep masking indoors, rather than to do the risk analysis.

I want to avoid (or at least delay as long as possible) becoming infected with COVID. Also, the quarantines and childcare impacts are still significant, even if we are lucky to get minor illnesses without long covid symptoms. I’d really like to be offered the <5 vaccine before we increase our risk levels. Though LO is low risk, knowing that she has the maximum protection would be a big comfort. Admittedly, I’m starting to bend on this point a bit, mentally preparing myself for the possibility that kids vaccines are further away than I’m hoping they are. I’m considering whether we could take her on a flight later this year – but it is really hard to commit. If I knew case levels would be low, I could commit. She is now old enough to wear high quality masks, but still.

I took some time this month to reflect on the past 2 years, spurred by some March 2020 versus March 2022 photos of kids shared. LO was still a baby/toddler with just a few words in March 20202, and now she is a full blown kid. She is the clearest representation of time during the pandemic, when the linearity of time has gotten very confused more generally. As difficult as the decision was at the time, I feel so grateful that LO was able to resume daycare in summer 2020. (This is also easy to say in retrospect, with the knowledge that the choice didn’t lead to COVID infections in our family.) COVID has impacted her life, but not so significantly. She’s had that stability and that social experience. She had both of her parents, and even some visits with family. The fact that she hasn’t been to Target or a grocery store or indoor dining since she was a baby really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Work

We are in a busy season, and I am back to normal levels of productivity and focus and ability. December and January were terrible, and I’m dealing with the aftermath now by trying to play catch up.

The issue of a raise and promotion has been a thorn in my side for about 6 months now (or 2+ years, really). I broached this with my manager last year, and the response was “Yes! In fact we should consider moving you two levels up.” But my management has been stalled by bureaucracy, and it just seems like no headway is being made, despite their efforts. I see it with a few coworkers too, so it isn’t personal – but it is really frustrating. I started browsing other jobs out there to see if it would be worth job shopping over. In the end, probably not. My commute, autonomy, benefits, and (most importantly) how much I enjoy this job, would be extremely hard to give up. No matter the salary differential. On the other hand, I’m going to keep my eyes open here, while also waiting for progress. Getting an outside offer might cut through some bureaucracy, but there is no reason or way to pursue this I’m not willing to take it.

Family

We are hanging in there. LO is doing really well. When she switched classrooms last fall, she went through an adjustment period. She now seems much more confident in herself, unafraid of new situations, and she really likes school. T has been teaching in person again and is doing OK. We have a weekend getaway planned soon. My parents are on their RV trip, and are heading our way in a few weeks. As case rates in Europe ramp up, I’m a bit worried about us spreading COVID to them, but I think we can figure out how to balance risk with benefits.

I’m going to post this now since March is almost over, and this has been in drafts for a couple of weeks. Maybe next month I will have time to do a better wrap up!

January Wrap-up

February 10, 2022

Money & Net worth

Like many who are invested in the market, our net worth took a big hit this month. But, we are only pushed back to about October 2021 net worth, so we didn’t lose all that much progress.

I completed most of my taxes (TurboTax), but I don’t have the forms I need for my megabackdoor Roth IRA yet. (It has no tax impact, but has to be entered.) We owe money this year, which I had predicted. I did NOT predict that we’d pay so “little” in mortgage interest after our refinance that we’d be taking the standard deduction this year. (This could have been predicted – I just missed updating this cell in my spreadsheet.) This means I need to think more about how I’m handling charitable deductions, looking into Donor Advised Funds and “bunching” donations. This is especially true if the CARES act above-the-line $600 is not continued. (My small hope that Congress will look at the SALT deduction remains very small.)

COVID-19

We made it through the rise of the Omicron wave unscathed, aside from a bunch of anxiety. The timing of when it hit was fortunate for our family, as we were on holiday break from daycare while it was ramping up and we did not have holiday travel/gathering plans. It was (and still is, really) high when we daycare returned, but they were more prepared for it and many who were socializing widely had already caught and recovered. Our daycare closed for 3 days early in the month for logistics reasons (new staff testing / booster requirements were poorly communicated to staff over the holiday break), but then made it through the next few weeks without exposures/cases. We had a “potential exposure”, where a staff member who was in the class on a Thursday got a positive surveillance test result from a Saturday test. The exposure window goes back 2 days (from tests for asymptomatic), so it counted. Contact tracing was extremely behind, and they didn’t figure out we were impacted until the next Friday around noon. The kids were sent home with a free rapid test on Friday, and could return Monday. None of the kids were positive. They are now sending home COVID tests every Friday, and requesting kids test on Sunday night or Monday mornings. All in all, we’ve been extremely lucky in having stable child care throughout the pandemic, and limited COVID exposure in general. Can we make it to the <5’s vaccines without being infected? I’m really not sure, but I am feeling a bit more hopeful that we can.

Case numbers are now swiftly dropping here, although they are still high. T is back to teaching in person, though recording lectures in a class where he otherwise might not. I’ve been working from home, mostly because I was convinced I was going to catch COVID from daycare and didn’t want to spread it to work. I’m anxiously waiting to hear what is said about the vaccines for under 5s. Based on the information out there so far, I’m not convinced they will be ready to approve yet. But, I’m glad that they are at least having a public conversation on this, and I am holding out hope that there is something in the data that shows sufficient efficacy (even though we know the immunobridging results for ages 2-4 did not meet the bar).

I’m really frustrated with the politics around covid mitigations right now. There is a pretty clear propaganda effort to use peoples tiredness of COVID to erode political support for democrats as broadly as possible, and that makes me very concerned. The topics of what should be mandated COVID mitigations versus CDC recommendations is a bit more nuanced, and above my pay grade, and I do think reasonable and caring people could disagree. That isn’t what is happening, though…

Work

Not a lot to say here. January was pretty rough, mostly due to mental health pressure from Omicron, but February is off to a good start and it should be an exciting year on my projects. Many people went mostly remote during the Omicron wave again, and in person meetings fell back to virtual. This is turning back around, and meetings are hybrid again (high quality masks are mandated for employees at the moment). There is a “hybrid” meeting tomorrow, and I’m probably going to attend in person, unless things start to look too sketchy (mask non-compliance or eating together inside). By the way, we got these “Owl” teleconference systems at work, and it is a huge improvement to hybrid meetings! If your workplace is looking for something, you should have your IT people look into these!

I’m really thankful for my job and how compassionate they have been during the pandemic. We’re still getting stuff done, but I’ve been able to take (paid) leave when I needed it, and there is a general understanding that we are all doing our best.

Family

LO has been pretty fantastic lately, so much fun. She is also in a pretty sensitive phase, getting upset over some random things, and also getting a bit scared at things that she didn’t mind in the past. Daycare has stopped complaining to me that they can’t get her to nap, but it also does not seem like she is napping at school. She’s always had a really hard time winding down for naps, and we stopped doing them at home ages ago.

  • Watching olympic skating: “I would like to do that! But… I would need daddy’s help doing those,” referring to the jumps and the twirls.
  • Watching ski jumping: “I don’t want to ski… I couldn’t do that.”
  • She demanded something from T, and he requested that she ask nicely. Very sincerely, she responded “Daddy, can you be nice to me please?”
  • On MLK junior: “He had a dream that we’d all be together and have peace.” She also said he had a birthday coming up, asked if we could celebrate it, and seemed to think he might come over to our house for cake if we did.
  • “I want to clean your house for you! I want to take the sandpaper and rub it on the wall!” They did a building unit in preschool, and she was sent home with a small square of sandpaper that she had colored on as some sort of activity. She was not allowed to rub it on the wall, though.

My parents are retired and are taking a big RV trip! Hooray for them! My dad has been semi-retired since COVID hit (due to COVID hitting and literally shutting down the job he was working on). He probably will work a few months at some point this year (electrician). They started somewhere warmer and will eventually come out this way. They deferred in order to let the Omicron wave pass by (since we are continuing to use childcare, grandparents visiting us during a spike wasn’t a great plan).

December Wrap-up (sort of)

January 11, 2022

December was actually mostly great. I’m not going to do do a financial wrap up. We spent a few days in a Tahoe AirBNB so LO could play in the snow and we could enjoy a hot tub. Her (self-reported) favorite part of the trip was the fact that the house had stairs (we live in a one story home). We had a quiet Christmas at home (AGAIN) due to being so far from family and unwilling to fly. LO got slightly sick from a daycare cold, and T also caught it. We didn’t find COVID on a PCR (for LO) or a rapid test (for T). I got a very very mild version of it. I had a couple tests left from Thanksgiving, and was able to get a few more to have on hand going into Omicron. We also spent new years at home, and did a count down to 2022 at 7 pm.

For me, the hardest part of 2021 was that I kept hoping. I kept believing the possibility that normalcy could be around the corner, just a short time away. It never came, though there was that really refreshing period in about June where it was close. Objectively, 2021 was better than 2020 for so many reasons. Vaccines! Better treatments! Better data/knowledge about COVID! I actually saw my parents a few times, and my entire family once! My childcare hours were a better, and we didn’t even have any closures for exposure! Still, it was tough mentally.

I did finish tracking my 2021 spending and wrapped up my 2021 spreadsheet. Maybe I’ll post some sort of summary on that later. If I don’t, I’ll just summarize to say we spent $$$$$ on groceries/food this year. We also spent more than I would have guessed on travel this year. The funds went to rent 3 different AirBNBs, to buy family tent camping gear and reserve a campsite, and I also paid for part of the rental car when my family came to visit. We didn’t have any big house projects, so we “saved” there – but it sure would be nice to have windows.

January looks pretty…. terrifying. But we are already 1/3 of the way through! I’m slowly slowly slowly making peace with the fact that Omicron is almost surely coming for my family. Maybe not in January (but probably in January), but if not then, COVID will come soon. It is probably going to be fine. I don’t think I’ve had the flu before (?), but I’ve had colds, I’ve been sick. It will be terrible, but fine. Probably. Maybe. I’m simply not willing to pull my 3-year-old out of childcare until she can be vaccinated. Aside from taking that extreme step, we’ve reduced our risk to the maximum point we can reduce our risk. I have cold & flu and painkiller meds on hand. I have a small number of rapid antigen tests, and… We are moving forward like this. I’m also bracing myself for a month of highly disruptive childcare, due to exposures, or maybe even staffing issues. Our daycare reopening was delayed a few days for logistical reasons – but she was thrilled to go back and see her friends. The kids all tested (rapid or PCRs) before return, the staff was all boosted and also tested. We’ll see what happens. I don’t have a lot more to say about COVID and Omicron and January, except I’ll see you on the other side (and maybe in the comments on my favorite PF blogs).

October and November Wrap-Up

December 1, 2021

Money

Net Worth: Down a bit with the recent market swings, but all in all, healthy and unbelievable. T just got a raise, and I’m due one very soon (see Work below), so we will be progressing closer and closer to FI in an extremely expensive area. This is fantastic, and really helps keep my anxiety levels down. At least, anxiety about money….

Donations: Still giving to BLM and NAACP LDF monthly. I also donated to A Gai Shan Life’s Lakota giving fundraiser, and direct aid situation, and some local Thanksgiving meal fundraisers. The food bank is high on my list for the upcoming month.

Spending: I bought some new leather ankle boots, jeans, and sweater. Most of it was needed to get my work wardrobe back up to par, and I did not take time for bargain hunting. I also bought some Christmas decorations for outside (wreath, some lighted things) to slowly build up a few holiday decorations. At the same time, I’m trying to spend money where it legitimately improves our quality of life. It is very easy to misfire on this and to overestimate the happiness we will get out of this or that latest new thing. We’ve been considering a cleaning service for ages, but 1) I really just don’t need things THAT clean and find the $ hard to justify 2) the initial set up of it is a barrier to entry, and I worry having cleaners in our home will actually cause more stress. Donations are one place that I do feel improves my life, but mostly in that I feel better about helping others. I see the problems in the world, and know that my money can’t fix them – but I can at least make small differences. Food, and making daily food prep easier, is one place I’m definitely allowing spending on. I do enjoy cooking, but not really every single day.

Money moves: I’m still accelerating the megabackdoor Roth at an unsustainable pace, but will ramp back down if tax law is not changed for 2022. I don’t have access to a Roth 401k/403b, so this is my only chance to get some post-tax money into my retirement accounts. I’m taking it. Everything else is basically on track. I haven’t really heard where things stand with the Build Back Better act in general, but I’m loosely following the key parts that might impact me.

Life

In October, the atmospheric river + bomb cyclone (? are they making this stuff up) came and accelerated the end to fire season. Our home did fine, largely due to the drainage work we did when moved in, as well as over time. Mostly that credit goes to T for all that really nice work! We put on raincoats and pants and took a neighborhood walk during the storm, then settled in for some hot cocoa. We went to a pumpkin patch, and a beach, and a flu shot clinic, a few farmer’s markets, and trick or treating on our own street. So, a lot of outdoor fun, and a bit more venturing into public spaces to do that.

In November, the highlight was seeing my family! My parents, two sisters, BIL, and two niblings (13 and 15) flew in for several days, and we all stayed together at a local-ish AirBNB for Thanksgiving. (My house is too small to host that many people comfortably, and we didn’t want to do hotels.) The house was awesome, had a great outdoor deck, and a hot tub. We did some sightseeing in the city, some redwoods, and the tourists did Alcatraz. Everyone (except my LO) was vaccinated with several of us boosted, we rapid tested on arrival, and we crossed our fingers. No one got sick, although we later learned that Omicron was lurking in the SF bay area already. I’m not particularly worried about Omicron – meaning that there is no action I can take differently, so I’ll wait and see what scientists learn in the coming weeks. This was our first family gathering since pre-COVID, and it was FANTASTIC to have everyone together, even just for a short time. I’m also super grateful they all were willing to fly to me. The last time they all came here was for my wedding over ten years ago, although my parents have been many many times sense.

Kid

She is so amazing! She had a minor cold for a few days, so we did the whole “daycare during a pandemic” protocol: Kept her home, got an insurance-covered rapid PCR (found a place with < 12 hour turnaround!), waited for symptoms to improve, then got a doctors note certifying she did not have COVID and was cleared to return. I find the testing to be great, but not quite sure the value of the doctors note. While she was home sick, T let her watch Frozen, and she’s been obsessed ever since. Disney is powerful stuff! We pivoted to a Frozen-themed short movie, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, which is about 25 minutes and a little less scary for her age. (She wasn’t scared, I just wonder if Frozen is a bit much.) Her favorite character is Kristoff, and she is also now request the Frozen soundtrack frequently. For Halloween, she dressed up as Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street. Just last week she asked us to get her some wings from the store so she could fly.

Work

Work has been good, although I do feel behind all of the time. I’m happy with where my project is, and my role on it.

I’ve been really frustrated about my pay/promotion this year. A tipping point in my frustration was getting an updated list of everyone’s titles and salaries as part of setting up a budget for a new project, and realizing I had fallen behind certain peers. I admit that I had stopped advocating for myself, and no one was pushing on my behalf. Some of this was timing of my maternity leave, followed up by the whirlwind of COVID. Could I really have pushed for a promotion last cycle, immediately after months of closed child care had severely impacted my ability to do my job? Could I have asked for a promotion months after returning from leave? When I was about to go out on leave? The fact that I spent most of the past years working on a project with stakeholders who were mostly external also hurt me quite a bit. I suppose I could have asked at some of those points – but I didn’t. Now that I’m finally trying to remedy it (as of ~April or so), it is going SO SLOWLY. Latest update is that it should be done by the end of the year, but I’m not holding my breath.

I took all of Thanksgiving week off, and it was really nice to unplug. I’m looking for more time off over Christmas, and hope to really unplug for two full weeks. I’ve done so little of that. Prior to having LO, I was saving every day of vacation to use towards maternity leave, and I’ve been working on building it up ever since. COVID made that much easier to do since we did almost no traveling, and I couldn’t keep up at work anyway. But I finally feel free enough to just close the laptop, skip the meetings, and trust that things will be OK.

July & August & September Wrap Up

September 30, 2021

Money

Net Worth: It continues to grow, yet it never reaches any point where we are ready to talk about any serious life changes. Still, we have been so fortunate. I am actively thinking about how to use our money to improve our quality of life today. Some of this might be spending more in targeted areas, but I’m not sure where that makes sense. Saving for early retirement is a nice plan, but we don’t have a passion (or plan) to retire extremely early. For now, I find a career to be a very valuable use of my time. I understand this may not always be the case, but we have enough options/security with our current savings that I’m not in a big hurry. So, yes, we are trying to eek that savings rate just a bit higher, but also trying to spend meaningfully.

Donations: I’ve been giving to BLM and NAACP LDF monthly, then one-off contributions when I can or when I see a need. I donated to two abortion rights groups to help fight the Texas law and help women there (see the comment from “teresa” on this post for donation ideas). I also donated to a coworker’s fundraiser related to a bike ride for a medical condition that affected one of his family members. I think that is it. I’m glad that I set up some auto-contributions that takes some of the mental effort off, but still allowing me to add causes if they come up.

Spending: We bought some stuff for camping, and paid for a couple of camp sites. (We ended up canceling our original campsite due to poor air quality at that location, and rebooked somewhere else.) I have also booked a campsite for next year’s summer vacation, because that is what you have to do for the best campgrounds, especially weekends. I booked a rental for a long weekend spring break, and am on the lookout for something over winter break. We aren’t planning on flying and we don’t ski, so it has been tricky to find something. We did NOT make any progress on new windows. It is probably a good idea to work on this before cooler winter weather sets in, since it will both improve our heating efficiency.

Money moves: I’ve accelerated my new-as-of-this-spring plan to start using the mega-backdoor Roth, after hearing there is a proposal to eliminate all back door Roths starting in 2022. I’m not sure if that will come to fruition, but in either case, having the money in Roth space is an OK situation. I rejiggered my tax withholdings yet again, because my tax estimating spreadsheet had an error. (I fixed my 2020 spreadsheet when I did my 2020 taxes, but didn’t pull the fix into my working 2021 sheet. I also added that $167/mo child tax credit that we’ve been getting direct deposited into the spreadsheet.)

Life

I haven’t posted here in a bit. I missed my monthly post in early August partly because we had LO home for 2 weeks for summer break. But more so, I was feeling defeated. My brief optimism about COVID wore off… and I just couldn’t. It isn’t just COVID, it is the way it has torn the country apart, even more than we already were torn by the previous presidential administration. Of course, none of this is resolved, but I did find some motivation to post a quick update, in any case. Local COVID numbers are back below 10 daily new cases per 100k, which is not exactly comforting…. but 10 is this nice round number, and it is some sort of threshold for me. The number of hospitalized patients is also decreasing. Delta wave #1 is subsiding. We are still certainly in a different (better!) stage of the pandemic than we were a year ago, but I am still having trouble navigating some of it. And I’m not particularly worried about LO getting COVID (or me or T), I still would like to avoid it. I found this article explaining the possible timeline for pediatric vaccinations helpful. There are ways out of this pandemic [in the US] that aren’t dependent on a pediatric vaccine, but a pediatric vaccine seems likely to be the quickest way out. Right? I mean, I don’t know. I have given up on predicting the future of COVID.

Some good things happened! We went camping! We went with some old friends, which was really nice for a variety of reasons. My parents came to visit for a long weekend. We went to the beach.

Fall semester started, and T is teaching in person again – a smallish class (20 – 40?). I’ve started going into my office somewhat regularly. It is really just a minor change of scenery since we are not doing any in person meetings. I like it though, because we only have one home office. If T is working from home, I usually prefer to just go in to work for a better set up, and I still focus better there. Also, we are technically all “back to normal” (with increased remote/hybrid work), and they might consider taking offices away at some point… so part of it is merely staking my claim on my office! I have an incredibly short commute, so there is limited downside.

After relying a lot on “food boxes” from a local business during the pandemic, I’ve been back to cooking and meal planning normally for several months now, and it is going fine. My new “system” is just a google doc with a link to the recipe (or recipe title if it is in a cookbook), so I don’t forget what we have on hand. Once we cook it, i move it down to the list of things to scroll through if I’m looking for ideas. I got a new “healthy instant pot” cook book, which is super helpful on the days we don’t want to use the stove/oven. I also use Budget Bytes a lot, and also random recipes someone posts. I haven’t yet analyzed the impact on grocery costs. We did had one month (July?) where groceries were cheaper, but that was also during the brief period where I was actually going to stores (and not paying for delivery).

We haven’t had TOO many smokey days, super hot days, or “red flag warning” days. We’ve had no “public safety power shut offs.” It is still relatively early in fire season, and we’re in a big drought, so we’ll see what the coming months bring.

Kid

She is growing up so fast! She’s pretty much adjusted to her new daycare/preschool room, and we’ve (finally) made good progress on getting diapers out of our lives. She’s so imaginative and fun, and really just the sweetest. She loves building, tools, the park, her play kitchen, art, and is really into counting things lately.

Work

Work has been good, although I do feel behind all of the time. I’m happy with where my project is, and my role on it. I do need to bug my manager about my promotion timeline. I don’t think there is much more to say here. Oh, I may have my first business trip since February 2020 next month. I think I could opt out if needed, but if cases don’t surge, I’m open to going.

I think that is it for now, and I’m just going to post this before another 3 months past by!

June Wrap Up

July 8, 2021

Money:

I reconciled my spending so far this year, and it is still higher than I want in some areas. Our net worth continues to grow at a clip that really makes no sense, driven by the market. But, people have been afraid the market has been too high for at least 5 years, and bull markets can last a very long time, so I’m sticking with the plan and investing regularly. T’s summer salary should come next month, almost all at once due to his delays at filling out the proper administrative forms on time. This will be another big boost and some influx of cash.

I feel really good about implementing more Roth-type savings this year, and am glad I finally got over that mental block.

On the upcoming spending front, we’re looking at pulling the trigger on new windows this year, if we can refresh some of the quotes we got last year. We have many old single-pane windows, and for insulation and safety reasons, we think it is time to pull the trigger on this. I also want to get a retractable awning to provide better shade in the back patio, but we need to make sure it will work with our windows. I also am strongly considering a window A/C unit this year to get us through the hottest heat waves – but we’ll see.

Life:

I went into my office for a few days to support a big design review. It was nice to see people in person, and even to have a group lunch. I hope to be going in more regularly in July, but it has hard to get back into that routine without a clear driver for it. The design review went really well, and we are likely to get the green light to proceed. We’ll find out for sure in August.

LO is doing great, as usual. So much talking, so much imagination, and so much humor. She’s starting pre-school in August, so we’re enjoying the last few weeks with her current (very small) class and her current (very awesome!) teachers. We had a really nice visit from T’s mom. LO was delighted that she visited, and when we asked LO if she knew where grandma came from (expecting her to answer an airplane), she said “From the phone!” 🙂 So nice that they can stay in touch via FaceTime!

Links:

Our Next Life is one of my favorite FIRE/PF blogs. I read Tanja’s latest post with interest, and agree that the current mainstream version of FIRE is very different than the original. I am a person who wandered into the FIRE after reading about personal finance. I take what I need from it: Values-based spending, how to optimized savings, and how to access money in tax-deferred accounts if I ever need to. I am a big fan of people defining what is “enough” for them, and in taking power for themselves and away from employers. Yet, I self-proclaim to “need” an inordinate amount of money to actually quit my job, without giving up the luxury of our current location home. I also self-proclaim to be ambivalent about leaving my job. I don’t really fit the FIRE community, but I appreciate many of the perspectives.

Related, I took a lunch time hike while I listened to Ezra Klein’s podcast with James Suzman, Why Do We Work So Much. As a society, we have defeated scarcity (if resources were distributed) with technological progress. Some predicted we’d all be working 15 hour work weeks by now. But we aren’t, many are working more than ever. Instead of society enjoying the technological gains, and increasing our leisure time, we’ve instead created a society where scarcity is manufactured. We are convinced to continuing to desire more and more and more. The conversation reminded me of the book I read many years ago, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life (mentioned in this old post). I have never gotten over the thought that people used to covet nail clippers as the latest new gadget, the same way we might covet the latest iPhone today.

The fact that Peter Thiel has a 5 billion dollar Roth IRA makes me sick, even more so that this was a very intentional tax dodge, potentially running afoul of the regulations by using founders’ share to render contribution limits irrelevant. This initial move was followed up by further investments in investment opportunities the average person could not access – all under the umbrella of his Roth. The government will never get a share of the profits earned, and he paid taxes only on an initial $1,700 investment.

Early Retirement Budget Estimate

July 5, 2021

I’ve been playing around with a somewhat realistic budget for early retirement, assuming that we keep the lifestyle we have here, and remain in a high cost of living area.

Housing, $30k: This is after the mortgage is paid off. It includes property taxes, earthquake insurance, house insurance, utilities and maintenance. I lumped this all together to obscure details a bit. There is no getting around the fact that our house is a huge expense, even once it is paid off. This does include earthquake insurance, which is optional, and expensive – most people in California do not carry it. I’m just not comfortable cutting it at this point. It includes a maintenance budget that is generous if you think of standard yearly maintenance, but seems about right when I consider big projects/repairs that are done quite infrequently. It certainly makes renting look a bit more attractive…

Food, $15k: There is a lot of room to economize on this… but we are currently spending something around this on restaurants + groceries. I expect that to go back down as we resume pre-pandemic shopping habits. We’ve used a lot more conveniences this year, including frequent meal delivery service and grocery delivery… I’ll be watching this in the next several months.

Travel, $10k: This is more than we have spent most years, but we have another seat to buy, and presumably wouldn’t be able to just tack trips on to conferences to save money. This isn’t much more than a single “big” vacation and then travel for Christmas.

Health Care, $12k: This is based on ACA plans available in California (premiums are much lower than I would have guessed, even for the higher their plan). It wouldn’t be enough to cover yearly major health events, so is a bit stingy. Probably too stingy, but in the ballpark for the type of calculation I’m doing.

Auto, $5.2k: Fuel, maintenance and insurance for one car, plus a modest allocation each year towards a replacement car.

Other, $11k: This is gifts, internet/phone/subscription, clothes, kid stuff (clothes, toys, diapers), and home stuff.

All of this is roughly $85k of net income to cover our lifestyle as-is, except without daycare or employer provided health insurance. Our commutes are pretty short and we don’t spend much on work lunches or work clothes, so I don’t think I can take credit for money our jobs cost us.

Taxes: A significant majority of our savings is in pre-tax retirement accounts (similar tax treatment as a 401k/IRA). A smaller portion is in Roth-like accounts, and I’m (finally) prioritizing building those up. None of it would be treated as long term capital gains – we don’t have a taxable brokerage. So, I can assume it is all treated as regular income tax (worst-case), and we’d pay approximately $8,150 in federal taxes and $3550 in state taxes (calculator used), requiring $96.5k in gross yearly income to get to our net spending budget.

This is rapidly approaching a need for $2.5M in invested assets (excluding a paid off home!), even for a 4% withdrawal rate. This seems a little crazy. I’m sure I’d be mocked by any serious FIRE person. But living in a high cost of living area without a job to hold you there is certainly mockable, if early retirement is your main goal (which it isn’t for us). There are plenty of places with favorable conditions (political climate, climate) that would be less expensive than here.

The good news is that we aren’t currently in a hurry to quit and early retire, and we are both enjoying our jobs, have short commutes, good work life balance, and good autonomy. We are basically happy to continue as-is, and aren’t feeling pressed or stressed by our lifestyle. It would be nice to literally do whatever we want every single day, but our jobs also add a lot of intellectual value to our lives.

The other good news is that picture gets a lot nicer if just one of us (ahem, me!) retired early, leaving the other to work a bit longer. We could coast to an early-ish retirement, even if we dropped one salary. This isn’t really a serious plan, as I’d prefer to keep working longer to open up more options for both of us, but it is a comforting thing to have on the back burner.

May Update

June 8, 2021

I’m going to skip my normal monthly update format. There isn’t a lot to say about money. I haven’t analyzed our spending data in a few months. Our net worth basically did whatever the market did. My current thinking about money is something along the lines of “we (probably) don’t really want to try to FIRE soon, so should we be spending in some areas now to improve our lives?” mixed in with a bit of “the world/political situation is scary and we should keep options open” mixed in with “I probably should reflect more deeply on purpose and FIRE, because I’m also not interested in wealth accumulation for its own sake.”

Late COVID Life

(I’m hoping this is “late COVID”. It is certainly not post-COVID, and it won’t be globally for some time. But it is certainly a new era of COVID, compared to the pre-vaccine world.)

My vaccinated parents came and visited. It was SO NICE to see them, and LO had a blast playing with them. We rented a house up the coast for a few days to break up the visit. (Seven nights is simply too long for houseguests in our small home – even if they are parents.) We spent a few days around town and around the house, then drove about 2.5 hours to our rental. Unfortunately, my mom had a medical emergency the next morning, and spent 2 nights in the hospital. Also, the nearest hospital was a 2 hour drive, so she ended up going by helicopter. We think things are mostly fine, but she has some follow up now that she is home. It was something of freak event, maybe. They are looking into it to see if there is an underlying cause. After she was discharged, my parents were able to delay their flight home by 2 days so she could recover a bit before flying out. I was really grateful, because it would have been terrible to have her check out of the hospital then have to rush home the very next day. There was no charge for this delay, but my dad ended up driving to the airport to talk to Delta customer service because he couldn’t get through on the phone, even after waiting hours. (Apparently this is a thing that has been going on for months.)

Next, we are getting a visit from T’s mom later this month! These family visits mark a huge shift in pandemic life for us. We are still opting not to fly until LO can be vaccinate, and avoiding indoor activities we might otherwise be doing. I might be willing to bend on some indoor stuff if case rates are low and/or if the vaccination timeline was expected to be longer than it appears (this fall). Risks of COVID for kids LO’s age are tiny. I am not frightened by a potential for long term risks to her health. Now that the adults in our home are vaccinated, and that nearly everyone who is at risk in the community can get a vaccine, I’m a lot less concerned about my family spreading COVID to the more vulnerable.

But, there are a small number of at-risk people who cannot get vaccines or do not respond to them, and there is a number of people who refuse and are slowing our path to herd immunity…. And it is not that much longer! (I hope.) So, we’ll continue to take precautions and delay some activities.

Return to the office?

A small number of people have been needing to work hands-on throughout the pandemic, and have been going into the office for some time. Some other number of us have been working in phases of projects that don’t require it. I think I was last in my office about a year ago when I grabbed my monitor from my desk.

This summer, we all have the option to return. To be on site right now, people are required to either be vaccinated or participate in weekly surveillance testing. I’m tentatively planning on going in person a few times a week in the summer, then regularly in the fall. My employer is offering a fair amount of WFH flexibility, so I’m interested to see how that shakes out more broadly. I’m not particularly interested, due to my small commute and decent work space, but I can also see some benefits. It will be strange to have us all getting ready and out the door at the same time again. I can’t even remember what that was like.

We’re gearing up for yet another major review, and I’m optimistic and excited and nervous and overwhelmed. By August, I should have a pretty clear picture of what work will be like in the immediate future.

Family & Life

LO’s language is exploding from phrases into longer sentences, thoughts, and stories. It’s very fun to see. She is also testing boundaries and asserting her individuality, which can be a struggle – but it is good to see.

She climbs inside the fabric hamper (which she has deemed her “nest”) and pretends to read the tag by running her finger along the words. “It says… we can do it!” I’m glad the uplifting messages are sinking in!

Me: “Do you want to check on those succulents we planted?”
LO: “HELLO PLANTS! How are you doing?!? Are you OK out here!??”

We are still working with reduced childcare hours (< 7 with drop off and pick up). It is mostly fine – especially now that T is not lecturing for the summer and I’m mostly off my meeting-heavy project. It is nice to have the extra time together. Still, I was relieved that daycare came out with a plan to expand first to 8 hours late summer, then to the normal 9.5 hours this fall, actually covering a normal full time work day. That should help a lot in the long run. LO is switching to a preschool classroom in the fall. She’s on the cusp for being old enough, so I wasn’t sure if they’d place her there or in another “older toddler” room. It will be interesting to see how she does being one of the younger kids. The teachers probably will cope with her growing out of naps better in the preschool classroom. I think she will do fine…. and it also saves us >$300/month compared to toddler pricing, so I can’t complain about that! It will be a (much) larger class than she has now (just 5 other kids). At the start of the year I expect the kids won’t be able to be vaccinated, but I’m pretty optimistic that case rates will stay low locally, and a vaccination will be available to her soon.

April Wrap Up

May 4, 2021

How did it get to be the end of April already??

Money & Net Worth & Spending

We filed our taxes and received our federal refund. There was a brief moment of worry when we noted a letter from the compliance division of the tax board, but it turns out it was just for some extra identify verification checking. We should get that refund soon.

I pulled the trigger on the megabackdoor Roth, with a tentative goal to do about $10k this year. Maybe more if we don’t do some home stuff that we are considering. It was dead simple, so now I feel a little silly for waiting so long to figure out how to do this.

We also made some “big” purchases: a new gas grill and a guitar. We have long had an outdoor charcoal grill, but I don’t think we used it at all last year. With wildfire concerns, it really is rarely useable in the summer, especially on the very hot day when we want to use it. The guitar was something T has been wanting for a long time, and though LO would enjoy, so he decided to pull the trigger. (I suggested finding a used one, but ultimately just deferred to his judgement on this.)

COVID

I had a few days where I was imagining a post-COVID life, but… I looked around again. Even in this very privileged country, things are not smooth sailing in so much of the country. The anti-vaxers are everywhere, spreading false information, preventing herd immunity. Is it really true that 50% of republicans do not want the vaccination??? This is such a toxic political situation. We have been manipulated by tech algorithms, shady politicians, foreign interests, and our own former president. It is so disturbing. Beyond that, India is in total crisis. South America is in trouble. The rich countries can’t just move on from COVID (even if we could convince our own population to do so!), we have to go together, as a species.

On the bright side, both adults in the home are now fully vaccinated, and my parents are visiting! Hooray!

Activism

It feels so difficult to impact change meaningfully. It is incredibly frustrating to see how far there is to go. One thing I can do is financially support those who are effective at activism, so I’m doing that. There has to be more.

I heard a few people talk about people taking bystander intervention training, but right now I’m not really in public at all, and I pretty much never am in situations where I expect to be a bystander to harassment… but maybe that is still something worth doing. How have you been supporting BIPOC communities lately? One year ago, it felt like we were on the precipice of something big. Conversations have shifted a bit. And (with video evidence and a long line of police testifying against him) a police officer was actually convicted of murder. It is just not enough.

Work

It is going fine. Nothing exciting to report. My level of burnout is going down, but productivity is not as high as it needs to be. Part of that is still trying to do a full work week with reduced daycare hours, and I’m not sure what our long term game plan is for that. I do think there will be increases in productivity as soon as I drop my meeting heavy project, and also just with taking a real and full vacation. And probably with getting back to work.

There talk about “most people” going back in person mid-summer, at least some of the time. I think that will be a good thing. Vaccination compliance is very high, and it is likely to be mandatory at some point. I’m not a big fan of working fully from home long term. My commute is very short, my work environment is nice and quiet, so there aren’t a lot of downsides to going into the office, once COVID concerns are mitigated.

Family & Life

I had an endoscopy this month for some swallowing concerns. It has been literally going on for years, but seems to be progressively worse, especially this year. After choking on an ill-advised cold medicine gel cap for 10+ minutes, I decided to get it checked out. I completely underestimated recovery, expecting to be back at work later that day. The sedation did a number on me, and I had pretty extreme throat pain for the first 24 hours, then a liquid diet for a few days. Anyway, it doesn’t seem to be anything too serious.There is more follow up planned before I will know if any treatment (surgical) is needed, or if it is just something that I can leave alone indefinitely.

We are still thinking about a year long sabbatical starting in Fall 2022, and I am already getting cold feet. It is potentially a huge sacrifice for me in my career, and I’m just scared about that. But, it is an opportunity for me (and our whole family) in non-career ways. I guess we can see how the next 6 months play out before getting too worried about it.

LO is amazing and adorable, as usual. We’ve been having bedtime struggles again, but nothing unsurmountable, and she still sleeps all night – so that is enough for me!