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2016 Financial Savings Priorities Wrap-up

November 29, 2016

I didn’t set explicit goals for the year, but I ranked my financial priorities.  Now that most of the money is in for the year, I can say how I did on them.

Financial Priorities

  1.  Retirement savings:  At minimum, each max out a 401k/403b at $18k  We’ve talked about whether this is enough, because I’m used to saving >20-25% of our income in retirement accounts. Yet, we both have pension accounts building (and pulled from our salaries to do so). Our retirement is on a fine trajectory.
    Result:  Done!  not much to say here.
  2. Set aside 6 months  worth of my take-home pay in baby fund (assuming SDI)
    Result:  Done!  The changed the SDI (short term disability) benefit this year, and I think it is worse now.  I really really hate how this benefit is structured, because it seems to be set up to explicitly minimize any benefit for the most common use of it (maternity) while still charging for it.  I’m so annoyed with the lack of good parental leave options in this country.  We can afford to take care of ourselves, so we will – but it isn’t ideal.  And what about those that can’t?
  3. 25k mortgage prepayment (on top of the 25k that was hanging out in cash earned last year).  I’d like this to be our baseline goal every year, with the option to skip it if we have a bad financial year.
    Result:  Done!  Yay!  
  4. More retirement savings
    Result:  We didn’t do this.  I set aside even more cash instead to build up our buffer in the face of uncertainty, and this is probably the right thing to do.  

My list for 2017 will look similar, although I think I’ll increase our baseline cash reserve fund and bump up retirement for T.  It is mighty tempting to throw all excess dollars at the mortgage, but that really isn’t the most sensible thing to do.  Sticking to $25k/year (until another priority comes along) is a good balance, lets me feel like I’m doing something “big enough” to not try to constantly one-up myself.

2016 Major spending planned:

  • Vacation to Europe this summer: We went to Portugal and Barcelona, and it was really cheap for a Europe trip due to miles/points.  Yay!
  • Dining room table: We are still in limbo here.  We did buy 8 chairs, but have yet to find the table.
  • Patio furniture:  Bought it late in the season, and happy with it.
  • Earthquake retrofitting:  This was underbudget due to tax rebates and such.

The two big things (vacation and retrofitting) were way under budget, which was nice.  I don’t think we spent a lot on any other single thing, but did an average amount of purchasing in regular areas (food, home, etc.).  I haven’t checked up on our goal to keep all spending under $100k in months, so I should also tackle that this month as well and do some sort of overall wrap up.  It is kind of daunting to think about since I’m so far behind.

November Gloom

November 19, 2016

It hasn’t felt appropriate to post a normal monthly wrap-up, or any other posts I have in draft.  I assume you all have better places to go for links, and if not,  you can try here or here for links.

Like many, I was devastated on election day. I woke up excited, thinking “This is finally it!  A highly qualified woman will hold the nation’s top office for the first time.”  The night ended in tears.  I went to bed hoping that all the news outlets were wrong, that I’d wake up in a different world.  I woke up, and cried again.  This was not supposed to happen.  “But… we’re always so lucky” T said, implying that things were supposed to go our way.  Our luck does not extend to global-scale politics.

I had a day or two of devastation, a day or two of “well, let’s at least see what the transition looks like, maybe it won’t be so bad.” Now I’m very worried and wondering… what can I do?  How can I make it be known that THIS IS NOT OK WITH ME, but in a way that does something more?  Trump can have a chance if he does reasonable things, but so far he has not provided any evidence that he will do reasonable things. He has picked unacceptable people for important government roles and has not addressed the huge conflict of interests between his business and his presidency.  How is this real life???   This can not become the new normal.

The other day I woke up with the thought – what we would do with our dog if we had to flee the country?  We can’t flee with a pet, but we can’t abandon him. We’re not target groups at this point, but we could certainly be classified as liberal elites in ivory towers.  We don’t have anywhere in particular to flee to anyway.  I really HOPE I’m just being dramatic here, but I am not 100% convinced.

Financially, I haven’t made any big changes. To preserve cash, I’m halting mortgage prepayments.  We hit our 2016 mortgage prepayment goal already anyway – I was just tempted to send a little bit more. We’re delaying taking action on the Volkswagen diesel buyback lawsuit (because we expect to potentially spend slightly more than the buyback on a replacement) – but we probably wouldn’t be doing that until January anyway. Cash seems like a good idea.  Both my job and T’s job are tied to government funding of research, albeit in very different ways to very different already small pools.  Neither would appear to be in immediate jeopardy, but who knows where Trump’s priorities lie?

I’m listening to liberal leaders and liberal friends whom I respect, and I’m prepared to take action. This isn’t acceptable.  I believe that there are enough of us out there to stop the doomsday scenarios playing out in my mind – but only if we all are committed and don’t allow ourselves to accept it.

Blue Apron Review – Personal Finance Perspective

October 17, 2016

This post is unsponsored.  There have  been a ton of posts in the blog world about Blue Apron, but I don’t think it is a coincidence that they haven’t bothered with a sponsored campaign in the personal finance blogger world.  We are not their target audience.

Despite not being in their target audience in the blog world, I’m in their target demo in the real world. I tried Blue Apron for two weeks.  The first week was with a hefty discount that anyone can get, the second week was partly because I didn’t cancel soon enough and partly so T would have some good food while I was out of town.  I was traveling for part of the second week, so I tried five out of the six meals.

Things that I really loved:

No meal planning!  I generally enjoy meal planning, but my stress had reached a peak and I just wasn’t able to do it.

New recipes I really liked: I liked all of the five meals that I tried, and really liked several.  Some I will make again, others I would make again but they had some unusual ingredients that I’m unlikely to buy.  I don’t cook a lot of meat and fish at home, and when I do, its the same few dishes/cuts.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever cooked salmon or roasted pork. This is mostly because when I’m looking for new recipes, I don’t think that I’d like a salmon dish or a pork dish as much as some other dish that I’m more comfortable with.  Blue Apron helped me branch into a few new areas.  I also really liked some of the different flavor profiles.  I’m a huge fan of trying new dishes, and Blue Apron made it super easy.

They also give you the recipes when you skip a week.

I like cooking and eating home cooked food:  If you don’t really care for cooking, this option doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Yes, just get your takeout.  For me, this setup is much more appealing than it would be to spend the exact same amount of money on takeout.

Less grocery shopping: It only covered us for 3 nights, which doesn’t eliminate the need to go to the store.  Still, it allowed me to plan something very simple for a few nights, and have something yummy the other nights. Since we’ve been doing such a poor job of meal planning lately, we’ve sometimes ended up at the store more than once a week.  This is a problem that I know how to solve, I just hadn’t had time/energy to solve it.  Blue Apron was nice in this pinch.  The second week, I came home from traveling late Thursday, and we still had 2 meals left for Friday and Saturday.  It was such a relief to not have to worry about shopping until I’d had time to decompress, yet we still got a good home cooked meal.

Things that I didn’t like:

Price is high:  This is the big deal breaker.  Without a discount, the pricing is about $10 per a plate.  That is a lot for home cooked food!  I did find the portion sizes a little bigger than what I’d serve myself (one dinner actually was designed for 3 portions), but still.    It is just not reasonable for anyone who has frugal values.

That said, it isn’t completely insane.  Some people say they could just get takeout for this price. For us, getting takeout actually takes more time than cooking, unless we pay a premium for Seamless/delivery.  Where I live, I can’t get cooked food for two delivered to our door for $20, and it is at least a 45 minute errand to pick it up (and still a bit over $20).  I can’t remember the last time we went out to eat at a proper restaurant for <$20. We don’t really do much “fast food”, and even Chipotle is closer to $20 than to $10.  Restaurants are really expensive here, even more than they were in LA/Santa Monica.

No leftovers:  With the exception noted above, I found it annoying to do all of the cooking work and not have leftovers for the next night or for lunches.

Unfriendly packaging:  Their website does tell you how to recycle everything, but there is a lot of packaging.

Quality Control: The first week was perfect, but the second week was missing an ingredient (!) and had one of the wrong recipe cards sent.  The recipes are available online, and we just made the recipe without the missing carrot – but we’re paying a price for the convenience, which makes this completely unacceptable.  We’ll be contacting them with a complaint, and I’ll report back on what they say.   I haven’t seen anyone else complain about mistakes, so maybe we just had bad luck.

Bottom line:

The price is just too high for me.  Honestly, I liked it so much that I might add it in occasionally (once per a month or less) to change things up, despite the cost. The next month is slated to be busy at work.  If  weekly menu sounds really appealing, I’ll probably do it.  I’ll likely eventually cancel all together, because this just isn’t a good financial deal.  I can see why people love it, but I can’t imagine doing this on a regular basis as a primary source of our food.  The only possible way it will save you money is if you are already eating lots of dinners out at places that are >$10 per a serving.  And if you are doing that, you are probably not that concerned about cutting your food budget.

 

Do they pay you enough to live there?

October 15, 2016

sf

I was traveling for work last week, and someone from another (not crazy cheap, but cheaper than here!) area asked me this week if my job paid me enough to live where I live.  I was caught off guard, but answered glibly about higher paying jobs if I commuted longer, and how it was expensive, but we do OK.

The real answer is simply yes, but we could certainly be even more comfortable somewhere else.  Nationally, and locally (Bay Area) we are in the top ~5% of household incomes in the US.  That last 5% has a huge ramp up in income, but if we can’t afford to live here, who can?  If we dropped to one salary, we’d still be in the top 25% or so. To be clear, the person asking the question likely makes a similar salary as I do, although I don’t know his family situation. (He’s more senior, but the area is cheaper.)

We make choices that save us money and fit our lifestyle.  We are a one car family since we both work close to home.  We would love a housekeeper and gardener, but we just do it ourselves (and accept that it is not done as well as a pro).  We didn’t spend a lot of time and money “decorating” our new house – we had furniture, most of it worked.  We still travel and take vacations, but I use points as much as possible. I honestly get as much pleasure out of a week hiking in the California mountains. We delay having kids. This isn’t totally a financial choice, but it plays into my overall concern about it.

And it isn’t like we are just scraping by.  We are saving money for retirement, we’re pre-paying our mortgage in large chunks, we don’t have a tight budget and basically buy the things we want and need without too much thought.

I’m simply not one to whine about how I make $$$ and can’t afford to live in this exceptionally expensive place.  Could we have a better life somewhere cheaper?  Probably, yes.  Our salaries may fall, but not proportional to housing costs.  Life could be a little easier elsewhere, but we live here.  I love California, I love the Bay Area, I love our small (compared to Midwestern standards) house, I love our neighborhood, and we both love our jobs.  It might not be isn’t the most financially optimal place to live, but it is home.

*Disclaimer: We don’t live in SF proper, despite the photo choice.  Income inequality and housing are huge issues in the area, and this post does not claim that they aren’t – just that we personally can make it. You shouldn’t have to be in the top 5-15% to do so.

Money Lately

September 22, 2016

 

money

Money:

  • I downloaded our spending log, which I hadn’t analyzed since about April.  Things seem on track for my annual goal to spend under $100k.
  • Traveling a fair amount for work is good for the budget, although not sure if it is worth it.
  • Biggest purchase of late: Bose QuietComfort headphones.  I tried them earlier this week on a flight, T will try them next week, and we’ll decide if they are worth it. I’ve been flying a lot this year, and it is nice to cut out a bit of the noise.
  • We got our rebate for the earthquake retrofitting project.  Our total out-of-pocket cost for us was less than $600, which was amazing.  T is congratulating himself for procrastinating on this for an extra year year, as that saved us an extra $3000 due to an extra rebate.
  • We need to do some transfers and make our final mortgage pre-payments for the year.
  • My 401k is maxed out!

Work:

I need to learn to keep my mouth shut. “I could help!” was something I really didn’t need to say, unprompted when I was really just trying to get someone else to do their work, which mine depends on.  Now I have to deliver on that offer, in addition to my other stuff.

I’m feeling pulled in a lot of directions and a little unfocused and frazzled/overwhelmed.  But – I’m certainly not bored!  I’m really happy with almost everything on my plate, but I just have to figure out how to get it all done.

It’s proposal writing season. I’m hesitant to get too involved in them. They are a lot of work and mostly nights & weekends “on your own time.”  Yet they are really pretty fun, and they are also necessary. They’re also the best way to get involved in new projects. I’m helping in a small way with one that already has most of the legwork done, and revamping the one we did last year. This one isn’t completely on my own time (yay!), which helps a little.

In the next few months, I need to talk to my lead on my primary project (mostly based in Colorado) about how it is going and what our plans are in the long run. The work is super great, but the travel is a bit grating.  It is hard to be part of the team, yet separate. I want it both ways, as usual.  I want the role as long as I need it, but I want an exit strategy if something more fitting to my life comes.  It’s an odd conversation to have, especially given that we work for different places and any mutual loyalty is based only on a working relationship.  I’m targeting November to discuss, although there isn’t a rush.  I could just wait until something actually does come along – but I want to be honest about my intentions.

Life:

We are surviving doggy adolescence! We did a fun class last month where he learned to hunt for the scent of birch. We might do a Rally Obedience class next month (basically walking at a heel around cones).  These classes serve mostly to keep us on top of working with him, and they are super affordable through the humane society (approximately $80 – $100 for 6 classes).

I got to see my family in the Midwest again!  It is always so much fun, especially hanging out with my niece and nephew.  My parents are both in need of surgeries in the next year, but my fingers are crossed my mom can delay hers a bit longer.  It would be her 3rd surgery in 3  years (fixing heart defect that wasn’t discovered until a few years ago, then a lumpectomy for breast cancer, now potential back surgery stemming from a career that includes lifting).

Birthdays are coming up.  We should plan a weekend getaway!  I’m thinking driving north with the dog and staying near the coast for a couple nights.

We are still thinking about having kids “soon”.  We haven’t really moved from that position or made progress.  I’m still a bit scared of the prospect, but I also know that I want to try, and I know that means it is best to start soon.

Home ownership, 2 years in

August 16, 2016

pexels-photo-106399.jpeg

In the two years we’ve been in our house, here are the projects and repairs that we’ve done:

  • New furnace and vents (and removed asbestos).  This was something like $10k, and we did it upon moving in.
  • Installed fans in bathrooms (DIY, a couple hundred dollars)
  • Redid drainage to eliminate moisture in crawl space during rainy season.  The crawl space is unused, just a concern about mold.  This was something like $10k for a french drain, which we anticipated when moved in.
  • Added gutters to the deck, patched up some other gutters. This was about $500.
  • Repaired a few leaks on the roof.  This was DYI, about $100 for materials.  (We got quotes for fixing it on the order of $700, but the things they said they would do were kind of basic.)
  • Put UV film on most of the windows, $220.
  • Got our first round of blinds for the bedrooms, the only ones that really needed blinds for privacy reasons, $700.
  • Put up gates on the back patio in preparation for the pup.  About $300 in supplies, DIY.
  • Earthquake retrofitting.  Finally done!  Final out-of-pocket cost will be <$1000.
  • We’re in the middle of regrading our patio since it floods in the winter. I assume the previous owners installed it themselves, and they didn’t put in proper drainage (see a theme here?).  We’re digging it out, then will put in the appropriate drain materials, then relay the flagstone.  So far we’ve only bought buckets (yep, I’m hauling the dirt by the bucket), but the final cost is TBD.  We’ll have to pay for gravel, lumber, etc.

We didn’t fully furnish everything and we already had a lot of stuff, but we did get a quite a few things:

  • Chair and side table, $2k.  Expensive because it is a modern designer, not outrageous because it was used.
  • Sleeper sofa from Craigslist for spare room ($500)
  • Big table to use in the office as a desk and an office chair, from university surplus store ($100)
  • Several rugs for the hardwood floors (~$400 for two 5×8 rugs and 1 used 8×10)
  • Patio furniture (yay!) ($1500)
  • 8 new dinning room chairs (used)… but no table to go with them yet! $800
  • New lighting fixtures for the dining room, $340.  No more crazy swirl track lights that I hated!
  • Bar stools, $60 for two.  Eventually I’d like to get some nicer ones, but these are working fine.
  • We’ve also slowly been replacing our recessed lighting with LED bulbs.

This list covers most of the major projects identified when we moved in, as well as the most critical furniture needs.  Some things that are still on my wishlist are:

  • New dining table (likely used) that seats more than 4 people and isn’t a high top
  • Blinds on a few more windows
  • More/better rugs.  The one in our living room is pretty blah, but it serves a purpose and it is big.  We could use a hallway runner and a rug in the spare room.
  • Entryway project.  It is usable right now, but it is ugly and haphazard.  Like, I have 3M sticky hooks instead of proper hooks and we’re using an old end table as an entryway console.
  • Shading for the deck to go along with the recent patio furniture.  We might just get an umbrella, but I’m also looking at sail shades.  We’ll probably wait until next summer to make this happen.

Updates and Links

August 1, 2016

Money Updates:

Our net worth is up 3% for the month, 27% for the year.  I look forward to the days when a 27% yearly increase would be unrealistic due to having such a high net worth.

My 401k is maxed for the year.  I generally dollar cost average this, but I finished up early this year (no particular reason).  The remaining summer money plan is to set aside property taxes for December and April, then send off a big mortgage prepayment chunk.   I’m hoping to get to $25k this year, and it is looking good. The other plan is to possibly buy patio furniture at the end of the season (now).

I bought a new iPhone after mine died completely while on vacation through no fault of my own (crashed, couldn’t be restored). I was a bit annoyed by the crash, but also feel relieved that we can buy our way out of the problem.  I also was happy to discover Apple has an iPhone SE, which is basically upgraded tech without the latest body/styling at a price point much lower than the latest-and-greatest.  Not everyone wants to pay to be on the cutting edge.

We are owed a lot in reimbursements for work expenses right now.   I’m owed about $2k for 2 different trips, and T is owed something like $4k for a computer and a work trip.  Work aside, we have an additional $4k due to us for tax benefits of the earthquake retrofitting work we had done last month.  That could take another 2 months to process.

We are still talking about what we’ll do for cars once Volkswagen finalizes details, but it appears we’ll have about $20k to put towards a vehicle.  We have a long list of possibilities, but I honestly loved my VW Golf Diesel hatchback.  I so wish it wasn’t all a scam.

Work Updates:

Things are still going well, and I’m mostly happy.

I’m traveling about 25% of the time, which is a comfortable amount of work travel for me.   I enjoy the places I go, but I miss my husband, my dog and my home life when I’m away.  They miss me too.  T does dog duty when I’m gone, but hasn’t had to hire the dog walker at all this summer.

There are occasional people and politics with the team in Colorado that irritate me, but my lead is super great. If I can keep my focus on what he thinks, I stay mostly happy.  I trust that he has my back and will deflect politics, so I can refrain from getting too emotionally engaged with petty issues. He’s definitely got my respect, and we work well together. If I was working for anyone else there, I would have quit the project and found something else to do long ago.

My secondary role on the project is less interesting , and I worry that means I’ve not been doing a good job at it. A conversation with the lead for that project is in order to make sure we are on the same page.  If I’m not adding enough value to his team, I don’t want to be in the way. I’m worried that I either need to make more time for it (hard to do), or at least manage expectations.

My other project has been slightly back-burnered  (in my mind) due to funding delays, but it is finally ramping up… and it is super exciting!  I think I’m going to the East Coast for this next month, which is my least favorite region – but I might try to explore it just a little bit while I’m there.  We’ll see.

I had my performance review, which was silly, but went well.  Maybe I’ll write more on it later, and explain why it is silly.

A Few Links:

What Hillary meant to say. “This definitely isn’t sexism. Sexism would be if we just went up to women and said ‘You can’t do that because you’re a woman.’ We know not to do that any more. It’s gauche. But that doesn’t mean there’s not ALWAYS SOMETHING SLIGHTLY THE MATTER with the way women do things.”
“I never had a dream. A dream is just a distraction for your mind, when your mind could be pondering common-sense solutions to problems. I had a goal.”

Terrance Tao on Trump (a few months old).

How Trump uses your brain against you.

A thoughtful article about the individual focus on healthy living/self-care in a word with so many problems. “The harder, duller work of self-care is about the everyday, impossible effort of getting up and getting through your life in a world that would prefer you cowed and compliant. A world whose abusive logic wants you to see no structural problems, but only problems with yourself, or with those more marginalized and vulnerable than you are. Real love, the kind that soothes and lasts, is not a feeling, but a verb, an action. It’s about what you do for another person over the course of days and weeks and years, the work put in to care and cathexis. That’s the kind of love we’re terribly bad at giving ourselves, especially on the left. […] Caring for oneself and one’s friends in a world of prejudice is not an optional part of the struggle—in many ways, it is the struggle.”