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Bathroom Remodel (almost) complete!

February 19, 2018

This post walks through our bathroom remodel in detail, but skip to the bottom if you just want the before, after, and budget!

We decided to remodel our small bathroom.  We suspected possible water damage when we moved in (adjacent closet was always musty), but continued using the shower until we discovered a small water leak.  In the process of repairing the leak, it became clear that there was significant water damage from failed waterproofing over the life of the ~60+ year old shower.  We took this as a sign it was time to update.

Below is the staged photo of the bathroom from the realtor. The medicine cabinet, sink, window, and shower are from the 1950s.  The previous owners made cosmetic updates, covering up the original flooring and painting the formerly green walls white.  The tile border on the right of the photo is the entrance to the stall shower, which you can’t see behind the door.  (A green shower is not a selling point, so not pictured in photos!) It was a small but cute little bathroom!

IMG_1270 copy

… but with water-damaged framing in the shower, behind the green tile.  SAD!



I didn’t get many demolition pictures, but that was a ton of work and we hauled out bucket after bucket of mortar-backed tile and damaged drywall.  As part of the demolition, we uncovered the awesomely horrible original floors – puke green with flecks and a black border. We did some research and determined it was very unlikely the original flooring contained asbestos, but we still treated it carefully.  Do your research if you are messing around in a bathroom with old flooring – especially vinyl floor tiles.  We pulled this up to find the subfloor in good shape.


Once all of the demolition was complete, including very carefully removing the old rotted studs, T completed the framing repairs and built the appropriate blocking for the shower.


Then, we hired a plumbers to install our fixtures.  Both of our showers had quite old plumbing, and if you flushed a toilet (or used the sink or ran the dishwasher) the water would get scalding hot.  This is now fixed, at least for one shower!  With that complete, T hung the plywood to provide a stiff material for the build of the shower, and framed the shower niche that I insisted we have.




At that point, the professional took over.  I had no idea how showers were built until we decided to re-build ours.  It started with a pre-sloped concrete subpan, which was topped with a waterproof membrane (filled with water for an overnight waterproofing test).  Then, Grade B paper (tar paper) and lath is installed to serve as backing to the mortar bed.


Next, the mortar goes on the walls, followed by tiles, then grout, then sealing.



After – The finished bathroom and shower!



This wasn’t a budget remodel, except in the fact that we took on as much of the DIY as we were comfortable with.  To demonstrate this, I’ve included our costs next to the detailed quote one of the contractors gave us.  To make it a little easier to read, I greyed out everything that we spent $0 and lumped all of our materials and supplies into a single line.  We of course did all of the work, it just didn’t make sense to try to break it out.


Note that this includes $2,400 that we haven’t spent yet.

Materials, supplies and tools included a bunch of stuff, some of which will be used beyond this project.  (This list is largely organized by trip to hardware store….) Contractors bags, plastic sheeting , etc. $20, chisel, more buckets $20, Sawzall  $151.63, Ladder $184.23, Circular Saw $148.30, another chisel, shims $30, lumber for framing repairs and plywood $94.70, drywall, joint compound and more wood $130 even more wood, screws, primer $104.62.

Fixture choicesGraff Terra Full Pressure Balancing System With Handshower , Duravit 2336630000 sink, Robern R3 16×26 medicine cabinet, Toto Aquia II toilet, George Kovacs Tube LED light fixture.  T wants to build the vanity, inspired by KERF designs, but this hasn’t started yet.

Before & After Again





January Wrap-up

February 5, 2018

Net Worth / Money:  

Our net worth is up another 3.4%, mostly in the retirement savings category.  I just updated this over the weekend, so it includes some of the recent flutters in the overheated stock market, but we’ll see what comes next. I’m front-loading my 401k (see discussion about work below), so 2018 mortgage prepayments will wait for our tax refund, for improved cash flow later in the year, and/or for more job security. Our retirement account balance surpassed our mortgage balance some time last year.  It’s not really a milestone that means anything, but it makes me happy.


Groceries were high, partly due to a Costco restock trip and partly due to my focus on trying to stock healthy food and snacks. We’ve started a new ritual of going to the fish market on Saturdays to buy fresh fish for dinner, generally running just under $20 for the fish itself, and we get 4 portions out of it.  It’s super yummy, but more expensive than our typical meals.  I’ve also insisted T take care of himself and eat lunch EVERY DAY, and he has heeded my advice. This is good, but we’ve seen an uptick in the “work lunch” category.  This is OK for now.  I eat lunch at home 99% of the time.

I also booked our property taxes this month (actually paid last month), paid our car insurance, and we had another $500 in various hardware store purchases.  Lots of spending this month!

Charity:  I’m including this section only to keep myself accountable and to normalize the fact of giving.  I’m not bragging that I donate, because we donate far less than we should, given all of our blessings, and  I’m working on it.  I didn’t choose a charity or political giving opportunity this month, so I rolled my budget over into next month.  I did get a much-belated birthday gift from my sister, who took me up one of the charities I put on my Amazon wish list instead of a gift for me.  Yay!

2017 Taxes:  My estimates for federal taxes were super close, but I screwed up my CA tax estimate.  Our refund is still large, but not NUTSO large, which is just fine.  We’ll be filing in a few days – there was some form related to the backdoor Roth that TurboTax said the IRS didn’t have ready for us yet.

House: The bathroom remodel is basically done, but I haven’t updated the page or converted to a post.  We have a shower curtain / tension rod for now, but will be getting the glass shower door as soon as we get back on the ball and contact some places for quotes.  I’ll update this month.

The patio still needs plenty of clean-up work, but I finally got the last of the gravel pile hauled back. We are done laying the flagstone back down. It has progressed far enough that it doesn’t stress me out any more. T has various ideas of how he wants to develop it from here.

Our bedroom still has some minor construction since the drywall was damaged during the bathroom remodel.  We may end up repainting the whole room.  It makes sense to do it now since we have to paint at least one wall – but it sounds kind of overwhelming.  I’m easily overwhelmed.


There is a terrifying cliff of new projects after this August. My main project is somewhat separate from the cliff, but I can tell I’m less valuable to that project than I was in earlier phases. I’m still enjoying my current work and trying my best to add value, but I worry.

Sometimes I’m able to put this out of my mind and trust that it will be OK.  Other days, I’m a ball of anxiety. Our lifestyle very much benefits from us both working so close to home, and it would be a sacrifice for us both if I change jobs.  It isn’t out of the question – just highly highly undesirable.  I have a few actions/moves, but not many, and they are mostly just networking type things rather than things that actually are going to make a difference in the overall picture.  There is also one long shot project I’m waiting to hear back on, but there is maybe a 1 in 10 chance it will materialize. We weren’t selected for the long shot project I was waiting on, so any small hope there has vanished.

From a finance perspective, we could live without my income, and my paranoia has resulted in us having a big cash buffer. Yet, the financial progress we’ve enjoyed the past few years would be slowed until my income was restored.  At our current rate, we could be FI within ~5 years (? <— not a detailed estimate), but that slows significantly without my salary.  So, that’s my career stuff.

T will be submitting his tenure packet this summer/fall, and we should have a good indication (departmental recommendation) within a year from now.  He won a grant that was somewhat important for him to win (although not necessary, it will help a lot), and things look generally promising.  But who knows? We hope he’ll get tenure and we intend to continue making our lives here. Yet I can also see some appeal of taking our lives in an entirely new direction if he doesn’t. Cash out of the high cost area and…. what?  We don’t really have a plan B, but there are options out there, and if the time comes, we’ll chase them.


I had a terrible poison oak outbreak at the end of the month, and I just need to note it here and whine.  I’m on the mend, but needed a short course of oral steroids along with some potent steroid cream. Also, I was on work travel when it first started, so that was super fun.  Nothing else super notable happened in January.  Life is quiet and good and 2018 is off to a pretty good start.

2018 Goals and Plans

January 11, 2018

I’ve settled on my 2018 goals and plans, although you will notice a lack of specificity in many cases.  I have an approach, but we have the freedom to adapt as needed.


  • Retirement: Take advantage of  all pretax retirement space.  Fund two backdoor Roth IRAs for another $11k.  (This means we have to finish T’s tIRA transfer into his work 403b, although his tIRA has only $1.5k.)
  • Prepay the mortgage with any excess funds after retirement savings.  Estimate of about $15-$20k, excluding any funds allocate from our tax refund.
  • Evaluate life insurance needs.
  • Optimize investments to ensure we are in low fee funds and have appropriate asset allocation for our age.
  • Consider optimizing cash, which is held in a “high interest” savings account.  Part of me feels we “should” invest some amount of this, but there are a few near-term potential needs. I just can’t stomach reducing this generous cushion right now.  However, we could consider moving to Ally CDs or those gov’t bonds (I bonds??) that you buy from Treasury Direct.  I’m not a rate chaser generally, but am willing to make moves as needed.

Personal, Health, Career and Home

  • Develop a yoga practice.  We got a new free TV last month, and moved the old one (temporarily?) to the guest room.  So, I set up my yoga mat and now have my own yoga room! I also will do some studio yoga, but I know I’m unlikely to go frequently – I hate driving 15 minutes to do a workout and studio yoga is expensive.  I want to wait out the January crowds, but I’ll see what I can find for an occasional studio.
  • Have patience as we attempt to grow our family.  I haven’t decided how much I will share here as it happens, and it could take quite a while.  I have no reason to suspect issues, yet it is something I’m really anxious about.  It is scary to have so little control over the process! I have no idea how this one will work (ideas?), but I will make it a goal to TRY.  When I get worried, I look at our cash stash and know that we can use it to attempt medical intervention if needed.
  • Keep pushing in my career.  This is super vague, but there are some unknowns in my career  this year.  There are also some very exciting things coming up!  So, I just have to keep pushing and try to roll with the unpredictable parts.  Most of all, I need to keep focused and not let the unknown pieces worry me too much.
  • Continue home projects, but don’t go overboard.  We still need a glass shower door in the bathroom.  We still aren’t 100% done with the patio project, although we are very very close.  Exterior painting and moderate landscaping is on the agenda this year, but I’d like to keep all of this within the $9k budget allocation I set out.  We can do this all if we DIY it all, but I’m not sure if we really want to DIY the painting.
  • Read 24 books.  This is just a reminder to keep up habits that make me happy.

2017 Financial Review

January 8, 2018

My nominal 2017 savings goals were listed here, and we mostly followed them.  I think we deviated from them by not increasing cash as much as I indicated, but I’m comfortable with our current cash position.

Here were our 2017 money accomplishments:

  • In various retirement accounts, we saved 32% of our after tax income (though some retirement savings is pretax).
  • We sent in $32k of mortgage prepayments and recast to a lower monthly payment.  We should be able to continue some prepayments in 2018.  This has freed up >$300/mo in cash flow.
  • We paid off  the last of my low-interest student loans.  Woo!  Earnest has been ticking up the rate slowly anyway, so I’m glad to knock these out.  This also frees up cash flow.  The minimum payment was <$100/mo, but I’d been regularly paying about $200/mo.
  • Reduced spending in some key categories, although we overall did spend more than in 2016 due largely to home projects and student loan payoff.


Compared to ~$95k in 2016, we spent about $106k in 2017.  This includes about $16k on major house projects (bathroom) and another $6k in finishing paying off student loans.  Fixed housing costs (mortgage, taxes, insurance) come out to about $53K in this high cost area.  (The property taxes we pre-paid are being “booked” in 2018 for simplicity.)

I don’t think I’m going to breakdown my spending like I did last year, unless there is a specific request from a commenter to do so.  Next year, I project a bit less than $90k in spending, which includes a home project budget of about $9k.

Overall Net Worth:  

Our net worth is up a staggering 33% this year. Still, I’m keeping a bear market in the back of my mind and not getting to attached to the short term numbers that I see.

We moved from ~41% to ~52% FI excluding the mortgage, and are about 30% done with paying off the mortgage.  Our FI number is fuzzy (and optimistic) since we are far enough away that I don’t have estimates for things like health insurance or tax planning.  We also don’t really intend to RE, so health insurance should continue to come through jobs.  Using an optimistic number is more motivating for me, and we aren’t making any decisions based on it, so it doesn’t matter what we use.

We are in the mortgage payoff club – it is just too much of an expense for me to be comfortable with.  I’m not sure it will continue to be a priority long term, but I have a goal to pay more in principal than interest every year.  We’ve hit that out of the park in the first few years, and should be able to maintain that from here on out without much for prepayments (even considering the recast).

What next?

The number one financial priority for 2018 is to fill up all pre-tax retirement savings space and also fill up two backdoor Roth IRAs.  I’m having a hard time holding onto a strategy beyond that – I keep wavering.  We’ll do some amount of mortgage prepayments. Our cash position is pretty high, and I don’t think I’ll increase it without a good reason to.  There is a minimal chance that we’d pursue the mega backdoor Roth, but I’m more likely to favor mortgage prepayment.

As far as spending goes, we should spend a bit less on house projects this year, but most other categories don’t need cuts.  I hope to see pet spending drop a bit. We plan to quit our wine club after the January shipment (~$40/mo).  It is really handy if we entertain, but we aren’t keeping up and can always buy what we need.  Groceries and restaurants will be monitored but aren’t targeted for cuts. Buying whatever I want at the grocery store is my ultimate luxury.

More details on 2018 goals to come!

The FIRE community doesn’t feel like my community

December 29, 2017

I started out firmly in the “personal finance blog” space, but found myself reading some FIRE blogs over the past few years.  This is mostly because they tend to cover topics that are useful for people with high savings rates and higher incomes, but I also enjoy the non-comformist perspectives on life.  There are a handful of FIRE-focused blogs I really love, but the community turns me off at times.   Part of this is because I lurked around on reddit (a disproportionately young, male, tech-bro crowd), but I see it other places.  I’m paraphrasing, but here are some things in the community that I’ve read recently:

  • “I just read the news stories about the Paradise Papers! Is there some way I can move my money off-shore and benefit from this concept?”  WHAT?  No.  That isn’t what you were supposed to get out of the news stories!
  • “I don’t donate to charity because I pay $X in taxes each year, which essentially is charities of the governments choice! That is sufficient, and who trusts charities to do any good anyway?”
  • “We make $300k and we are middle class.  Weeeelll, upper middle class, then! I pay a high marginal tax rate compared to everyone else, which is unfair and my taxes should be lower. We are just like the struggling middle class. If you think taxes should be higher, you should donate to charity or send more money to the IRS yourself.  Systemic change is not needed.”
  • “Divorce is really expensive and could hurt FIRE, so I don’t plan to get married.  We can just be in a relationship without entangling financially – what is the point of marriage? Too risky to my assets. Maybe I would consider marriage if I had a prenup that promised no alimony under any circumstance.  Not even just temporarily. It wouldn’t matter if she has sacrificed income/career growth to focus on raising children.  Also, dating/women are expensive!”
  • “I made good choices, and that is the main reason I’m able to retire early…. Oh, and also, I made a bunch of money in bitcoin. And got a tech degree, but I worked really hard for it.”
  • “I’m a college junior planning for FIRE, I expect to make $X when I graduate and retire by [date at least 15 years in the future].  Any advice?”  I can’t fathom pursing FIRE before you’ve even worked a job at all.  People skip from “personal finance basics” straight to FIRE. It is great to know about FIRE early, but… I don’t know.

So, this does not feel like the community for me.

The above is part of the “noise” and there are plenty of high quality FIRE bloggers out there.  Still, these attitudes are prevalent and a real turn-off.  I also rarely relate to the “personal story” of most FIRE bloggers.  I manage to learn about most of what I need to know about money from blogs that are mostly “personal finance”, heavy on the personal and sometimes with a side of FIRE.  (Exceptions: I read Our Next Life and Planting Our Pennies and really enjoy both, although PoP isn’t really completely FIRE focused.)

I also read almost exclusively blogs authored by women, although I visit a wide variety of blogs to answer specific questions or research topics. Male-authored blogs seem to be written from more of an authoritative/explain-y way and are less relatable for me.  (Exceptions: Budgets Are Sexy is the most super-relateable blog ever.  In early days, Get Rich Slowly felt relatable and was the first blog I read.  Even ERE was written in a way that felt relatable to me, which is weird because I would never do most of the extreme things Jacob did.)

I admire FIRE bloggers, and the community seems to have a lot of enthusiasm.  Yet, something about the ideas just don’t click with me.  I don’t think it would have been productive for me to start, at age 22, plotting a retirement date 15-20 years into the future.  I’m absolutely a planner, but I do best with goals on a  1-3 year scale and then more of a rough vision for what I want long term.  I don’t have the patience to come up with a 10 year plan that has so many assumptions that it will constantly be evolving.  At graduation, I never could have imagined the life we have now.  It wouldn’t have mattered what kind of long-term finance goals I set out, because I always just saved as much as I could – enough that it hurt in the early days.  Saving as much as you can is a great plan, and gives you the most options. You don’t actually need too many details about where you’ll be in 10 years as long as you already believe in the value of saving a lot.

All that said, I do expect I’ll retire before the standard retirement age of mid-to-late 60s.    If T gets tenure and continues to enjoy his job, he may be one of those really old profs that never retire.  Or maybe not.  I don’t have an age in mind for myself.  I really like many aspects of my job, and could imagine sticking with it and loving it when times are good.  When we have slumps (like we have now), I’ll have the freedom not to worry much about it and wait it out for good times to return.  Any major changes to what I am doing are far enough off or dependent on other major changes, so it it isn’t productive for me to spend too much time thinking about it now, other than exploring interests and ideas.

What about you?  Are you interested in FIRE?  What do you like and dislike about your blog community?

End of Year Money Moves

December 20, 2017

Here is a nice write-up of the (piece of garbage) tax bill, compete with a chart that shows how the AMT works.  We’re no longer anywhere near AMT territory, but I think it is a useful and understandable graphic and I’m happy to see it.

It isn’t going to as bad as we thought, but it is a tax increase in 2018, and a bigger tax increase as time goes on.  Did you know that compromise of $10k SALT/Prop Tax deduction is set to $10k forever, not indexed to inflation?  And it is 10k per a single OR per a couple, meaning another marriage penalty?  The changes that they are making that end up increasing my taxes are somewhat things I agree with, but the bill is still garbage because of all of the benefits to the very wealthy.

Here are the last minute money moves I’m making this year, most of which will reduce our 2017 taxes.

Extra retirement savings:  I rolled my old rollover IRA into my workplace 401k, which is with Fidelity.  This also consolidates most of my investments at Fidelity.  I then contributed $5.5k to a traditional IRA, and later converted it to a Roth IRA.  T’s paperwork to do something similar had a minor error and I didn’t want to risk not completing the process before year end, so we’ll take care of his early next year.  I also diverted some extra pre-tax money into work accounts, although this move was initiated a few months ago.

Charitable donations:  We need to donate some physical items this year and get receipts… I think this helps with the AMT issue slightly, but really not all that much.  This is mostly low value stuff we’ll send to Good Will, but we have a perfectly functional sink and toilet that ReStore may want.  We’ll also offer them some furniture items.  It isn’t critical to get this done before end of year, but it would be better.  I’ll also probably make my January cash charity contribution in December.  Deductions are still a bit more valuable this year due to the marginal rate changes.

Prepay remainder of property taxes due in the spring:  We will owe a small AMT if we do this (<$200), but the amount we’ll save is much much more   Doing this shouldn’t have any effect on next years taxes, because we should still hit $10k in state + remaining property taxes.  We’ll still itemize next year due to our mortgage interest being more than $14k.

Some things to consider for next year:

  • Optimize investment options in workplace plans.  Things aren’t terrible now – mostly lowish fee target date funds. That said, there is a path to slightly lower fees, but I just haven’t invested the brainpower into getting there.  My philosophy is that it is most important to contribute a lot and get things mostly right than to get fees optimized, but obviously it is best to do both.
  • File taxes quickly to beat out any fraudsters who have our information thanks to Equifax.  Attempt to set up IRS account to monitor until my tax docs come in (link).
  • Increase pre-tax regiment savings and decide on overall 2018 financial plan. After the threat of the 403b+457b option going away, I felt dumb for leaving any pre-tax space on the table in past years.  I had my reasons (big mortgage, not really needing to save more for the >65 years). I’ve mitigated those reasons – mortgage is OK and we have ways of getting money out sooner if we need to.  Until something changes (we need the cash flow), we won’t leave any pre-tax space on the table.  We’ll take the tax break today since the future is unknowable.  And less $$ for Trump.
  • I want to increase cash savings a little, and still do some mortgage prepayments.  That’s the lowest priority, but I want to do what we can then recast to lower our fixed expenses.
  • Consider optimizing cash for better interest rate.

Privilege, Inequality, Charity, Activism – How Do We Save Our Country?

December 6, 2017

Last winter was rough.  In November, Trump won the general election, in December the electoral college confirmed this, and in January he was sworn in. This winter, the GOP passes a tax bill that contributes to the wealth concentration and purports trickle down economics as the solution. Simultaneously, they work to eliminate the Net Neutrality protections, without even pretending it is for the benefit of the average American.  It isn’t quite the blow that the election of Trump was, but it has my worry ramping up.  What is happening to our country?

I’ve been thinking/reading/listening a lot about wealth inequality, privilege, “middle class”-ness, and what it all means. It is possibly ridiculous, but this is the first year that I’m can recognize to myself and the world “we are not middle class”.  I can provide mitigating arguments (But, high cost area! My house is small, I promise! We are frugal (except where we aren’t). So many taxes! My life is soooo middle-class-normal!).  I can quite easily provide a story to explain why we should count as middle class – but it is not reality.  It just isn’t.  We aren’t the “super rich”, rejoicing about the Donor Relief Act that looks like it will pass, and we are absolutely not beyond worrying about financial security in the long run.  But we aren’t struggling (for now) and we aren’t middle class. It isn’t that I think we shouldn’t have a life where we can feel financially secure. Rather, I wish most Americans had this privilege. I think that is possible with the right policies.  We can at least set that as a common goal and move in that direction, as a country.

So far in this post, I’ve established two things: 1) The country is doing things that do not align with my values and 2) We have more money than we need or deserve (and “deserving” or hard work is beside the point).  We are privileged. What does this mean?

It means I’m paying more attention to giving as a start. Charity is mentioned often in personal finance blogs, but the amounts are usually not. I assume the lack of transparency is to avoid bragging or to avoid judgement, or both. I’ll admit flat-out, we have not donated much to charity in the past.  I doubt we donated more than $250 in any previous year.  We weren’t brought up in families that gave to charity and we do not feel wealthy (despite the evidence), so it wasn’t something we did. In 2017, largely as a response to the Trump election, we committed to donating more.  It is not much, all things considered.  In order to contribute to transparency, I’ll share that my target 2017 charity budget is $1,200 and we will hit it. This is not remotely worthy of bragging, and arguably worthy of judgement considering our spending, not to mention our income.  Still, I think people should talk more about this in the PF space, and consider sharing rough amounts or percentages – particularly if you give a lot! Hearing other bloggers talk about it helps to normalize it – it did for me.   As someone who watches spending closely, even this very modest amount was not easy to wrap my mind around. Still, seeing where charity falls in relation to other spending categories, it is a step in the right direction.

Still, any amount of giving that is possible for us feels wildly insufficient. It feels like a teaspoon of water thrown onto the fire.  How do we make meaningful change?  How do you boil the ocean?  Giving away everything except basic necessities is one response, but still is just maybe a cup of water on a fire.  Spoiler alert –  I’m not going to this extreme. We want to start a family, and we will selfishly work to hold onto our security.

Activism is another answer. It feels so ineffective. It feels like we are talking to ourselves.  It feels like no one is listening and nothing is happening.  My Congress-people are good and doing what I want them to do, but they aren’t able to make big wins (and often not even small wins). For example, what specifically has the Occupy movement accomplished?  What has any movement in recent years accomplished?  How do we accomplish things?!?!  Do we just have to keep trying, wait for the elections, vote and get out the vote? We’re stuck with limiting the damage, which is important – but frustrating.

Do we give up and move to some more reasonable country?  (Then wait and hope late stage capitalism won’t eat up that country too?)  And, something of a side note, how do people reconcile the concept of Financial Independence with all of this?