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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!

Where to save the “extra” money?

April 20, 2021

In looking at our projected spending, income, and savings for the year, there was a sum that is not yet allocated to a goal. It is on the order of $15k.  I presumed we’d save it, but didn’t yet have an immediate place to save it. There are a few options here.

  • a) Accumulate cash? Comforting and the default option if I do nothing else – but not really necessary.
  • b) Follow my savings priorities and go for megabackdoor Roth.  Yes, probably, just have to get over the hump of figuring this out. In fact, we already had prioritized this over the pre-tax 403b, but I hadn’t actually implemented it.
  • c) Fund a 529?  Limited benefit to this over the above option, but it really does feel good to do it.
  • d) Accelerate the last few remaining big house projects, which include windows and a fresh coat of paint.

My vote was for option b, T’s vote was for option d.  Then Sarah posted this food for thought about Roth versus traditional, and option e was added to this list:

  • e) Change some of our already planned pre-tax savings to Roth, and pay the additional taxes.  Additional taxes on $19,500 are about $6,500 (Federal 24% + state 9.3%).  

This also brought up the issue that we need somewhat significant Roth contributions in order to pull off my idea for college savings. We’ve always somewhat assumed we’d ramp up college savings when full time daycare years were over, and also, that we probably could cash flow much of college (because it is cheaper than daycare!) if we don’t retire early…  so this isn’t a huge issue. Still, starting earlier is always better, and cash flowing college is not compatible with keeping early retirement as a viable option.

My immediate reaction to option e at $19,500 and 6,500 was “yuck!’. Our decision making is somewhat limited by having no real plan for what we are trying to accomplish.  What are we going to do with our life, in terms of retirement? Again, we have options and ideas, but no plan.

1) Move to a low cost area and retire early, traditional FIRE.  We have no serious plan to do this, but like to think it is an option. If this was our true plan, then dumping everything pre-tax is the right option… But we still need to have funding for the first 5 years.  We have money 457bs that we could access, but would pay normal income taxes on. We have a small amount of Roth contributions – maybe one year’s worth of expenses.  

2) Save until we can RE here  Retiring early here is possible, but will take a significant amount of additional time since it takes a relatively large budget for things like property taxes. A high yearly budget makes some of the “typical” fire strategies for tax advantages work differently. I have not sorted out exactly how, but I’m positive we’ll pay WAY more taxes than the “no taxes!” strategies some can pull off.

3) We both work until normal-ish retirement age.  It is reasonably likely that one or both of us will work until a normal retirement age. We like our jobs and they are rewarding, and earning income makes living in this area easy.  I don’t usually have a huge desire to RE, but I want that option to be there. And we could easily change our mind. In this case, the tables tip towards spending on things now, particularly things that we will enjoy, and trying to improve life that way.  (Will we really get much enjoyment out of new windows, though?)  This also raises the issue of Required Minimum Distributions if we keep on saving.  I always assumed that if I was old and complaining about having to pay too much in taxes, then it basically meant things have worked out for us, and it is fine. That is kind of an unsophisticated point of view, I guess, but it is easy to make this a future-me problem.

4) One of us has a career that ceases to “work” in the next 10 years and decides to RE.  My job is the less stable of the two, but who really knows?  If just one of us works in the future, we could potentially save post-tax money at a slightly lower income.  Probably not significantly less – we are talking 22% bracket instead of 24% bracket. This is really not a big thing, except that our savings power would drop significantly and we’d be less likely to end up with huge excess sums in retirement.

5)  We pull up roots and abandon this country for a life elsewhere. I don’t really want or expect to do this – but it could be preferable to staying at some point.  The main thing in this scenario is that I would regret investing in our home.  These aren’t superficial improvements, but it is really hard to think they’d have a significant impact on home sale price.

After writing all of that out, it seems obvious that funding more post-tax money should take priority over some of the pre-tax savings, even if we do choose to do windows this year too. Most of these paths lead to this answer. It will give us more tax flexibility, at minimum.

This is not the answer that I want to come to, though it is not a surprise.  I had somewhat assumed we could ramp up the after-tax portion of our savings when daycare expenses dropped off. I vaguely thought we could use a 72(t) to take care of any oversaving in the pretax accounts, if needed.  Maybe that is still a fine plan, but more tax diversification seems very desirable. I have not really considered tax impacts of RMDs in any detail.  I’m going to think about it a bit longer, but really, I already made this decision in 2018 and just have not yet pulled the trigger.

Savings Priorities (from 2018 and still today):

  1. Mandatory pensions savings (pre-tax) that we can’t opt out of
  2. 457b pre-tax retirement savings. I still find the 457b to be a very compelling option.
  3. $12k/year in college savings via backdoor Roth.
  4. Mega backdoor Roth IRA up to some TBD amount, then 403b/401k up to some other TBD amount.  This is where we balance tax savings now with accessibility of principal and tax savings later. Filling in the TBDs is key, but paying taxes in this administration is less painful than paying them in the previous administration.
  5. Taxable investment or mortgage prepayment

Taxes Filed

April 12, 2021

It is time for my yearly rant against the tax software industry!

I just paid TurboTax $110 to file my taxes ($60 federal, $50 state). I know that I don’t have to do that. I know there are cheaper (and free) options. I know that even if I wanted to do TurboTax, there are better deals to be had. I probably should have sought those deals out, but I went into it thinking I was going to use TurboTax for the first pass, then file for free on my own like last year. Last year, I ultimately filed directly with the free fillable forms via the IRA. It wasn’t terrible. This year, once I had everything in TurboTax, and I just wanted to be done with it. I gave them my money. Aside from the fact that the industry is a scam and actively lobbies to keep taxes complicated, there were two major annoyances this year.

Annoying thing #1: They suggest me providing my tax documents by having them log into my financial institutions and fetching them for me. Why would I want to do this? If I’m going to enter my password information somewhere, I may as well just download the forms myself. It just seems unnecessary to have another company in the password loop. Via a smallish box in the bottom of the screen, they did allow me to upload a PDF instead. They also auto-ingested the information from the PDF, which is more convenient than manually typing it… so that somewhat redeemed them.

Annoying thing #2: I refinanced my mortgage in 2020, then it was sold almost immediately after I refinanced. I received three documents from 3 different lenders telling me how much interest I paid to each. TurboTax asked me a series of questions about this. This was slightly annoying in the first place. I know what the 1040 form looks like for this, and it just needs a single number! Quit asking me questions! TurboTax wanted to make sure I was not deducting more interest than I was supposed to, due to the TCJA updates. My mortgage is less than the cap, and we’d be grandfathered in anyway. I did not take a cash-out refinance. It is all deductible. The series of questions TurboTax asked somehow led them to incorrectly computed a partial mortgage interest deductions, and thus conclude I should take the standard deduction. I figured out a workaround, but it was significantly more effort to get to the right info into the 1040 than it would have been if I filled it out by hand. This is apparently a known bug that existed last year and was not fixed. What if I had trusted TurboTax, and didn’t already have my own excel calculation of my taxes that made this error obvious? It could have cost me a lot of money!

Last year, the straw that broke the camels back last year was the need for us to fill out Schedule C to account for some money T received to be on an interview panel. We ultimately owed an additional $13 dollars in taxes for this, but TurboTax wanted to charge us another ~$50 to upgrade to a version capable of filing that form. Um, no! We didn’t have that issue this year.

Anyway, it is done. We will receive a modest refund (about $2k), which is about where I like to be.

March Wrap-up

April 9, 2021

Money & Net Worth & Spending

We continue to save each month. I’m front loading retirement this year again, because I am. I have no particular reason to think I won’t have a job for the full year, and lots of reasons to expect I will, but it is still just nice to have that taken care of.

I finally set up my yearly projected spending. It went down due to the mortgage refinance. I’m pretty OK with letting that ride indefinitely, given the < 3% fixed rates. Childcare is also going down just a bit (on a monthly basis) due to LO getting older and officially in a preschool classroom. It is still a lot. Related, we increased our Dependent Care FSA deductions from $5,000 to $10,500, which should take a bite out of taxes for 2021. With these reduced costs, we should have extra funds to deploy to our savings priorities. A 529 or a megabackdoor Roth is next on the list. The 529 is easy. A megabackdoor Roth requires some research and effort, but is the more optimal choice. I need to detail out my yearly projected savings more carefully before deciding.

I finally tallied up our spending for the quarter, and it is basically as expected. Very high in food, but I’ve lost motivation to try to reduce that for now. A little high in other areas that will be easier to watch.

I decided to put in a new “target annual income” amount to calculate our percentage progress to FIRE in my spreadsheet. Something somewhat realistic, but still a total guess. So, i’m moving the goal posts, significantly. Since we aren’t planning on taking any actual action on the information any time soon, it seems appropriate.

COVID

We were fortunate to have received our first doses of the vaccine, and will be fully vaccinated by the end of the month! We went (separately) to one of the FEMA mass vaccination sites, and everything was really smooth. It was a little emotional, but it was such a sense relief. Also, case rates have plummeted locally, which makes me less anxious about childcare. LO’s teachers are vaccinated, and a lot of the other parents are getting vaccinated. I feel very grateful we made it through the past many months of childcare without a serious COVID scare at her daycare.

Despite this awesome news, not a lot has changed for us yet. The big thing is that my (vaccinated) parents are going to come and see us! The CDC is still giving some conflicting guidance about travel – vaccinated people can travel w/out quarantine but non-essential travel is still not recommended. But, we have weighed the risks and I have not seen any family in over a year, and have not seen my mom in nearly a year and a half. So, unless infection rates do something unexpected, we are going to have them visit and stay with us.

Activism

I feel like I have so little to give in this area right now. But, I also know that communities that have to deal with racism and discrimination don’t get to take a break when they don’t feel like dealing with racism. I have my financial donations still going, which is something.

Work

I’m suddenly feeling very burned out with respect to work. The adrenaline of last month’s major work accomplishment wore off, and the realization that I hadn’t really unplugged from work for more than a day or two (including weekends) since who-knows-when sunk in. We haven’t taken a true vacation at all since summer 2017. The only mini-vacations we had since were pre-pandemic visits to family for Christmas 2019 and a long weekend for my sisters wedding about 2 years ago.

I keep trying to book individual days off as vacation days, even if I’m just going to stay home. I did not do this earlier in the pandemic, because it felt like a “waste” of a day off. Still, I usually end up getting sucked into an “important” work meeting. Meetings are never REALLY that important, but they have become the main way to receive back-and-forth information about what is going on with the project. It always feels like missing a meeting is just missing too much key info, and you may never get looped into something if you weren’t in the meeting where it came up. This is a sign of sub-par project organization/communication in a totally virtual world, which I think we all (including management) recognize and are striving to fix. It is also just a bit of work FOMO on my part. Anyway, I end up prioritizing meetings over work blocks to get stuff done. A lot of my job is communication, coordination, and meetings – but there also are parts of it that require focus and time to complete.

My current method of working is by my design, or rather, by the individual choices I make each day, without a clear system or design in my mind. It is an inefficient way to avoid burnout, and also not the most efficient way to accomplish work. I’m going to try to change the parts I can change. I can set better boundaries when I do take days off. I can put work blocks on my calendar. I can’t really fix the broken meeting culture on my own, and I don’t even know what to suggest to improve it.

My role on my main project will shift at the end of May, and I can cut out a ton of meetings. Literally 8+ hours of meetings will vanish, mostly permanently. (No wonder I can’t get things done at a reasonable pace!) I can and do multi task during many of the meetings. I filed out a workplace survey on Zoom fatigue last week, and it was only then that I realized that I multitask during meeting because “I have to in order to get my work done”, which was one of the multiple choice options.

Family & Life

Things are good here, at least as good as they can be when I’m burnt out from work and still grappling with the pandemic. LO can now sing her ABCs. She has been doing so many fun activities in daycare. We are procrastinating on potty training, but it is probably about time.

February Wrap-Up

March 15, 2021

Money & Net Worth

Nothing exciting to report here, as usual. No news is generally good news.

I am realizing that it is March 15th and I’ve yet to make any moves on tax preparation. I’m 70% determined to not pay TurboTax (or similar), assuming I can find several hours to work through this again. I have a reasonable spreadsheet based estimate of taxes, and expect a modest refund.

I did just hear that there were some changes in the latest stimulus that will give us a little boost. We don’t qualify for the stimulus or expanded child tax credits, but the limit for the Dependent Care FSA were expanded to $10,500 (from $5,000). There were also increases to the Dependent Care Tax Credit, causing me to redo my calculations to ensure the FSA was still the best strategy for us. It is, but the math may have changed significantly for those with AGI under $150k so.

Spending

I’ve yet to tabulate any 2021 spending data, but may try to get that in place for March. I’m interested, but just haven’t had the down time to do it.

COVID

I’m writing this mid-March, almost a year to the date when the Bay Area shut down for the first time. Case rates continue to drop locally, although the more contagious variant is purportedly on the rise under the data. 

We kept LO home from daycare on a Monday due to some very mild congestion appearing on a Sunday. We took her for a COVID test Monday morning, and received results back by 9 am Tuesday. She was completely better, so she was able to return to daycare that day with a negative COVID test and doctor’s note in hand. The sick protocols for daycare pretty strict. I’m generally thankful for that, especially when COVID tests can be returned within a day. The last time we kept her home it took 4 days for the results to come back. T and I both later caught whatever LO had, but worse. This was the first real cold in our family since the pandemic started!

More and more people are getting vaccinated. Both of my parents have had two shots now. My younger sister was eligible based on the “additional risk factor” category. Lots of coworkers have received shots. It is great to see the big FEMA sites vaccinating thousands each day. Hooray for the scientists who developed this vaccine so quickly, and for the government for working to increase vaccination rates. The distribution has been very imperfect and inequitable, but it is still a massive undertaking and progress is being made.

It is unclear how much longer before LO could be vaccinated. I’m hopeful that community spread rate will remain low and get even lower, making this much less of an issue. We’ll continue to watch CDC guidance as we make decisions, and do our best to keep her safe.

Work

February was one of the most exciting and rewarding months of work in my entire career. When I quit my business consulting job in 2014, it was with the ultimate goal of achieving exactly what we achieved this past month. My part in this program did not turn out at all as I had expected. I wanted to quit a few separate times, for good reasons. But, I’m so glad I stuck with it. The fact that it worked out so well, really that it worked out at all, is because of my lead on the project. Well, also because of ME of course. There are a lot of great people I’ve worked with, but we worked very well together, and he was willing to let me do cool stuff while staying in California and being an outsider.

I have a couple more months of seeing this through, before a nice hand-off to other team members. I’m really ready for it, despite how much I like the project and the people. It has been an amazing experience.

My other projects have been mostly sitting on the back burner, but are ready to ramp up as soon as I am ready to support that. I’m trying to take on more there, without setting myself up for failure due to getting overwhelmed. I’m hearing of more and more people at my work getting vaccinated, and I’m hopeful that people will begin returning to a slightly more normal work environment several months from now. We’ll see, though.

Family & Life

LO is almost 2.5! Naps at home are no longer happening, but daycare still achieves them. We had a month or two of nice and easy bed time routines, but now are back to some rough bedtimes. We are begrudgingly thinking about potty training. The potty has been introduced, she’s used it few times, but we have not really pushed it yet. LO’s vocabulary is exploding and it is fun to hear all of the things she says.

With my parents being vaccinated, and the expectation that we’ll both be vaccinated relatively soon, we’ve started talking about them visiting us. I’m really excited about this. I haven’t seen anyone in my family in over a year and have not seen my mom in nearly 1.5 years. We’ve drastically increased the frequency of our FaceTime conversations, but this is the longest I’ve gone without seeing family in my life. I’ve usually seen my parents them 2-3 time each year, even after moving to California, and everyone else 1-2 times a year.