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Links and Random Tidbits

January 22, 2023

Someone linked to this piece that explains how since the beginning of the internet, companies and platforms just want us to Stop Talking To Each Other and Start Buying Things. Also, is it just me or is Google getting less useful/good lately? A quick Google says other people have complained, but there is a theory that actually the internet itself is just worse. But just as AOL was nearly equivalent to “the internet” back in the 90s, Google is pretty close to being “the internet” for many Americans. If Google can’t separate the nonsense parts of the internet from the good content, what good is it? (Answer: It is good for advertisers, its true customers.)

Also, this Ezra Klein podcast on ChatGPT was great, pointing out the huge gap that exits right now with ChatGPT. He also noted and also that there are these circles of fake websites that only exit to sell advertisements (around 25:00 or look for Mayim Bailik or click farms in the transcript). Which is a thing that I’d noticed, but not really understood. Hence, Google (and my access to the internet) is getting worse. They want us to use algorithms and let them tell us what to read. What was wrong with RSS readers and blog rolls and weekly PF link roundups (what were those called? Parties?) and webrings that depended directly on communities to refer each other around?

Revanche shared her frustration of traveling with kids. We took our 4-year old on three airplane trips in 2022, and she is now a pretty champion traveler as long as we bring activities and the iPad. Except, she won’t walk any distance. She always asks to be carried (unless we find a moving sidewalk or escalator). I don’t want to bring a stroller at this age. After carrying her around San Francisco one day, and another day carrying her through airports, I bought a ($$$) preschool sized kid carrier, and it is a pretty good solution for us. She loves being in it, I like it better than a stroller or having her flail around in a piggyback ride. She is small enough that it should last as long as we’re strong enough to carry her.

We’re woking on some logistics for sabbatical, and I’m putting together a rough budget. There are a lot of unknowns, with the first being if I’ll be able to work at my job at all from abroad, and if not, if I can do it by setting myself up as a consultant. I have an old colleague who is moving to Norway (permanently) and trying to figure a similar thing out, so I should catch up with him on how that is going. Still, one perk of living in one of the more expensive places in the US is that even a pretty expensive place abroad is not shockingly expensive. When looking at housing options, T reminded me of our decision to rent our place in Santa Monica over a decade ago. The apartment was a bit over the budget we had set, but it was in the best location, and he ultimately convinced me it was worth it. I still consider it one of the best decisions we ever made together – it was the most amazing place I’ve lived, and it was perfect for that moment in our lives. We’re taking a similar approach, prioritizing location and experience, especially as it is a relatively short period of our life.

Fleishman is in Trouble is one of the few novels I’ve read in the last few years (my ability to read books went away in pregnancy and I’m fighting to get it back). Thus, I was obligated to watch the Hulu series, but mostly suffered through the first 6 episodes before the plot shift I was looking for materialized. Still, I really just don’t buy this NYT opinion piece (includes spoilers) lamenting the struggles of strivers who have $1M in net worth but still feel they are scraping by. I acknowledge have careers that are not much about “keeping up appearances”, but still. The NYT article linked to this substack post the further dove into the “plight” of the middle & upper middle class who just can’t break through to be truly rich because they don’t take the risk to start a business). This mentality just puzzles me. We are in (or close to) that supposed “no man’s land” where we will never be billionaires, but… I never set out with that as the goal. The goal was financial security, then financial independence, which is already a privilege.

That is all I have for today!

Salary and Self-Advocacy

January 17, 2023

I mentioned last spring/summer that I got a promotion and great raise. I was happy about it, but simultaneous frustrated at the length of the process. The entire reason I needed a large raise and to be promoted two levels was because I’d fallen so far beyond peers with similar responsibility. The inequity was finally put on a path to resolution in December 2021, and I started receiving the raise summer 2022 (and it was retroactive to December). At the time, I left out the detail that there was still some bureaucratic processes that had to be complete to finalize the promotion, but since I was being paid at the new salary, I simply wasn’t concerned.

This month, I was informed of yet another delay in the bureaucratic process, and also a delay in receiving some of my pay. While I have full confidence the situation will be “made right” on the pay side, it is not about money. This continued delay made me angry all over again. The anger is about having been at this job for 8 years with great reviews & increasing responsibility – and still officially on paper not having a single promotion. It is about the whole timeline of the process, and the reasons for why it went the way it did. It is about the extensive lip-service paid to equity – but the bureaucracy preventing our he equity committee to… correct inequities. Each decision along the way seemed mostly reasonable at the time, but they culminated in significant lost earnings. My managers were both doing the right things (and even more so in the past year), but there were failures in the process along the way. I took maternity leave at a bad time. Our project was low on projects at a bad time. COVID happened at a bad time. Things fell through the cracks. The whole process made me feel undervalued and frustrated and angry every time I thought about it, so I mostly tried not to think about it.

But when I found out there was yet another delay from the bureaucracy, I completely lost it. I wrote a scathing, hard-to-follow email laying out the excessive timelines and my frustration. I asked T to read it, and he said it didn’t make a lot of sense. I argued with him to say that it did… then waited a few days to calm down., rewrote it, and made it much better. He read it again and made some final edits for me to make it even better. Satisfied, I scheduled it to send at the beginning of the next work day. I didn’t have a goal in mind. Partly, I wanted to give my manager “ammunition” to take up the chain. But mostly, I wanted to tell someone what happened over the past 8 years, from my point of view.

We had already planned to chat the next day – but she responded very quickly to give some details on what was next, and to say, “I know. I agree the process has failed you and I’m truly sorry. We can talk more.” With that email, I felt an overwhelming emotional release. All of the anger and frustration I’d been holding lifted, and I started crying as I felt a physical release of tensions that had been simmering for the last 4+ years. I hadn’t realized how much it had been affecting me, mostly because I avoided thinking about it all together. It is not quite resolved yet, but I still feel a million times better than I did before.

I’d like to close this post with the typical rah-rah advice that people (especially women!) should always advocate for themselves for raises and promotions. But I don’t think that is a fair assessment of why this happened. I did advocate for myself along the way. I was not aggressive – but also I was not passive. The recent pushback because my manager is promoting two levels. After writing out the timeline out, but is clear that my then-manager and I should have pursued the first promotion before I went on maternity leave. The timing was right, I was ready. We talked about it. He suggested we wait until I returned – then it never happened. That was the clear place I missed advocating. I could have said “no, let’s do it now”. (But so could have he.) My daughter is 4 years old. I should have received that promotion 4 years ago. If I had, we wouldn’t be asking to promote me two levels. When I returned after maternity leave and adjusting to parenthood, I lacked confidence to advocate aggressively. When our department was running low on projects/funding, I lacked confidence to advocate aggressively. When COVID turned the world upside down and I was drowning with childcare interruptions and general stress, I lacked confidence to advocate at all. At those moments, it was completely reasonable for me to question if it was the right moment to push. (Not to mention that generally, women are perceived differently than men when advocating for themselves…)

So instead of a reminder to self-advocate, I’ll close this by saying that sometimes processes fail, even when you do advocate for yourself. If you have a manager ready to fight for you, it may eventually get resolved in the end. My manager has been fighting this for over a year, and has pursued improvements to the process so that those behind me won’t struggle in the same way. Thank you to all of the managers who go to bat for their people. And remember that in addition to making things right with salary, sometimes all a person really needs is to be heard, to have their experience acknowledged, and an apology for the situation.

(That last sentence reminds me very much of all of the toddler parenting advice out there…)

PS – I’m trying to write a bit more in 2023, but it may be less directly personal finance related.

Year in Review 2022

January 15, 2023

I have a half-finished post wrapping up November and December, but have dropped those in favor of wrapping up all of 2022 instead.

Money

Our net worth is of course down with the markets, but less than I expected on a year-to-year basis.

Our savings rate is 49% including mortgage principal and about 43% exluding it. Our spending was very high for a lot of reasons (windows mainly), but 2022 is our last year of full time childcare year round (!!!!!). Despite not yet getting the final bill or getting them installed, I’m “billing” the windows to 2022 to avoid having costs split over 2 years, and we planned the cost for 2022.

I leaned into the megabackdoor Roth IRA this year, forgoing some tax-advantaged 403b space. Backdoor Roth IRAs are a crazy tax loop hole for the wealthy that should be closed, but in the meantime, I’m using mine.

For 2023, I’m not quite sure what our strategy will be. I’m thinking we will forgo most/all 403b tax advantaged space in favor of building up cash & megabackdoor Roth IRA. The cash is because of some unknowns (sabbatical + recession?), but I have a hard time seeing the advantage of having cash over building Roth IRAs, where contributions can be withdrawn at any time if needed.

Spending

Some of my favorite purchase of the year were our patio table/umbrella, a new wool blanket, and the SodaStream. T also got some new yard tools, which also enabled us to get a mini-power supply inverter set up that we can use for camping or power outages.

We spent more on food and continue to use grocery delivery regularly – the time saved is enormous. Still, overall grocery/food spending was slightly lower compared to 2021. I’m not quite sure why – maybe less prepared food / food services compared to the deep pandemic days. We spent more on travel this year (hard to go down from the small 2021 spend), and more on electronics to replace both of our phones. But, the biggest spending hit was home maintenance. Childcare was slightly down, since we were paying toddler prices for part of 2021, and we pay just a touch more in our monthly mortgage compared to childcare.

House

We ordered new windows ~6 or 7 months ago, and they should be here very soon!

We also did a bunch of smaller upkeep and cleaning. T did a good clean out of the garage. I’ve been focusing on decluttering, primarily giving away baby clothes and such the I had saved in case we wanted a second kid. We bought and put up outdoor Christmas lights for the first year. T kept up his progress on making over our yard (mostly maintenance this year), and we got a few indoor cactuses and succulents. T is awesome at repairing any little things as they came up, like patching the decking material and filling in a crack in the driveway, and closely monitoring our ability to handle the winter rainstorms.

After living here 9 years, painting is the last big-ticket item on our house list, aside from more optional upgrades like a bathroom update or adding solar. Over the years, we’ve done ductwork/furnace replacement, a major drainage updates in the yard (french drain), bathroom/tile update due to leak/dry rot, new roof, and windows (any day now!).

Work

Our project had a lot of bumps in 2022, so many large bumps… Still, we are making progress, and we have a better design in the end (I guess). Our major partner is a bit frustrating to work with. I’m trying to figure out where to push them, where to leave them be. I’m also trying to minimize complaints that don’t have an action someone can take tied with them. (But sometimes they are so unbelievably frustrating that I have to vent!)

I’ve taken on more responsibility and got a promotion/raise to reflect that and to bring my salary more in line with others, which was fantastic. There is still ongoing paperwork related to finalizing this – maybe more on that in a different post.

I worked on a proposal late in the year that would be super exciting to execute on if we win it (typical win rate is only like 10%). I’m also serving in a mentor role on a smaller project that I don’t have time for more involvement on. All in all, I’m really happy with my job.

COVID-19 (and other health)

In early 2022, as the Omicron wave swept through the nation, I accepted that we are likely to get COVID at some point. We gradually altered our risk profile from extremely conservative to merely cautious. We did not get COVID yet. We avoid large crowds and mask in public places, but we also take accept some risks. I mask at airports, grocery stores etc., but I don’t generally mask socially (unless someone prefers it). I accept some indoor social invitations, and turn others down. I skipped the pre-Christmas work holiday party because it wasn’t worth catching anything (cold, flu, RSV, COVID) right before we had important holiday travel planned.

All in all, we were relatively healthy this year. We had a few colds and LO was out sick quite a bit in the fall, but somehow we didn’t get any of the December illnesses that seemed to plague all families with kids. We stayed healthy through the holiday travels. My mental health was terrible early 2022, but I tried therapy and medications, and am in an OK place right now.

I’m sort of trying to get back into running again, but it is hard to make it a normal part of the routine. I have been cooking a lot lately, and I love when I’m able to make time for cooking to be enjoyable rather than just one more chore.

Travel

We had so much fun this year! Most of our trips were camping trips. We camped on 6 different occasions for 13 nights, plus stayed in my parents RV a few more times when they were in the area. My favorite campground was probably in Salt Point State Park on the northern coast, but very much enjoyed them all, for different reasons.

Aside from all the camping, we had a lot of other trips. We traveled to Michigan/Chicago in the summer for over a week, Denver in the fall for a long weekend, and North Dakota for a week around Christmas. We went to Tahoe on 3 separate occasions (I’m now obsessed with the idea of owning a small A-frame cabin there), and spent one night in SF doing Chrsitmasy city stuff. Compared to 2020 (no travel!) and 2021 (no plane travel), it was a huge increase.

October Wrap Up

November 16, 2022

October was a good month for birthdays (every member of our household had one!), but a bad month for colds – LO was out sick from school quite a bit, which seems to be a common theme from parents this year.

Money & Net worth

With savings and market performance, our net worth is recovering a bit.

Spending was not low. I got myself a new iPhone, which is great because the battery lasts forever (I love battery life in new electronics!) and the camera is better. T got himself some fancy yard tool for his birthday.

Work

I was super engaged as we prepared for and executed our major design review late this month. Everyone’s hard work paid off, and the review went well. Whew. I’m still feeling really excited about work generally. We are enter a more “defined” and high-pressure stage of the project, and thrive more in that type of environment. It is also a phase of projects I have less experience in, so I’m really really excited to work through this. Also, scared and a bit unsure of my role – but I know in the end it will really round out my career growth.

Two of my colleagues keep calling me by the name of the other young mid-career woman on the leadership team. Our names are a bit similar – think Bella and Brielle – but our roles are completely different. I have unique experience related to their area of expertise specifically relevant to this project, albeit more limited than their broad experience. This has been driving me crazy, because they should be using me as a resource. Instead they are calling me the wrong name and (seem to be) undervaluing my experience. I’ve started inserting myself where needed, and I’m optimistic the working relationship will develop.

Layoffs are hitting some of the tech sector, but my specific job is closely tied to very specific and long duration projects. Those do dry up at times, but the cycle is not always exactly in sync with the broader job market. We are hiring in a lot of roles, and I wonder if we’ll finally be able to snap up some talented people. There are things that could happen, but overall I don’t think issues are likely, and if they are, we can live on either income indefinitely.

Family & Life

LO is so amazing. Really fun and funny, and such a good kid. She’s thriving in preschool this year, which is a huge relief. T is also great, although we’ve both been slightly on the overwhelmed side lately, we’re hanging in there. We are mostly laying low until holiday travel for Christmas.

Sabbatical?

October 23, 2022

I’ve been casually mentioning a sabbatical here for a while – but mostly not thinking of it in more than a daydreaming sort of way. It was only when Revanche asked how long it is for (and in a post on her blog mentioned her 2023 spreadsheet was ready to go!) that I suddenly started to realize that there are a ton of logistics to sort out, and I’ve given it very little thought. It is something far off, and not yet “real”.

The plan we’ve been discussing is a full academic year starting next fall, bleeding into the summers a bit where it makes sense. The initial plan was to go to location #1 (abroad) for the fall, and location #2 (TBD) for the spring. Location #1 is somewhere we’d love to visit long term. The idea was that maybe location #2 would be somewhere we’d move to if we ever decide to leave the US. (Location #1 is not ideal for long term.) After taking an initial look at logistics, we decided we should stick with location #1 for the year, and just do trips from there. Change is disruptive, and we’d probably enjoy it more if we didn’t land in Location #1 and have to start planning our next move.

With that set, I realized I had no idea how living abroad for ~9 months works for taxes and visas. A little research tells me that for T, it would essentially be considered an extended business trip. The more sticky part is whether I can continue at my job legally, if they’d have me. It seems possible, but it would be more difficult to sort out, and not a sure bet. Most likely, I’d want to scale to part-time temporally – the difference in hours alone would make it tricky to work a full time job. Plus, I want time to experience the adventure! In theory, my main project has hiatus that somewhat overlaps with our plans, so I’m a bit optimistic. So, I still have a lot of questions on taxes and visas, but I think I have a broad-strokes idea of what we are getting into. Tips welcome, though T will surely talk to his community who likely knows more about this.

We would almost surely rent out our home – the opportunity costs of leaving it vacant is quite high. We think we need to consult both a tax professional and an attorney familiar with local rental laws. (California has quite strict tenants rights, we need to be 100% sure we won’t run into issues upon return.) Then somehow figure out tenants. Then store at least some of our stuff.

Somehow we have to figure out school and housing in a foreign country. LO will be less than mandatory school age (I think even kindergarten is technically optional in CA, but she’d be in TK/pre-K if we are local). In terms of California, we shouldn’t have to do anything except be sure to get her enrolled the next year. We could be eligible for public school in location #1, but 100% in a foreign language. A private bilingual option is marginally cheaper than preschool/daycare here. A full up international school is probably more, but we likely wouldn’t consider that for a 4-5 year old. In any case, it seems solvable.

Budgeting is also a big question mark. T has been has not taken a sabbatical, and is eligible for 100% of his 9-month salary, and summer salary if he is doing research in the summer. My income is in some question, so I’d probably make a starter budget without it. I plan to increase our cash buffers for unknown unknowns, and we surely will want a bigger travel budget.

Finally, maybe I need to block out some time to at least start learning a new language? To be honest, languages have never been my forte, perhaps due to my fear of failing. But, this would be a real opportunity.

I tried to google for tips. I mostly found posts about how some profs are taking local sabbaticals due to challenges of uprooting families, or posts about coordinating dual academic sabbaticals, or posts helpfully suggesting you have a “flexible partner” to do an academic sabbatical. Or posts about people who took “family sabbaticals” where both parents lived off savings / digital nomad work for a bit, while traveling with kids. Interesting, but not really the same. I image each situation is mostly unique – sometimes straightforward, sometimes complicated. We’ve mutually agreed that we will do this, and are taking it on faith that my career will be OK in the end, that the risk is worth the experience.

So, that is what we know so far. There is a lot of work ahead to figure everything out. I am confident it will all work out, but some of it is going to be a headache. I often like to take care of organizing and logistics and planning, but T is really quite good at it too, and much better than I am at ensuring all the important details are correct. Together, we can make it happen.

September Wrap-up

October 12, 2022

Money & Net worth

I finally got caught up on my 2022 tracking! OUCH on the net worth, we are back to about June 2021 net worth despite dumping lots of money into savings all year long.

There is not much notable in the spending side, although it will be our highest yearly spend due to the windows, assuming we get them installed in December as planned. In other spending news, I’m planning to replace my iPhone SE with a new iPhone, probably the 14. I want the upgraded camera (T’s is noticeably better), my battery life is not great, and I cracked the back screen awhile back (although my case makes that mostly a non issue). The 13 mini is appealing because I like the form factor of my SE (it is truly a one hand phone!), but I’m going to try the standard.

I also checked our tax planning for 2022 to make sure we were withholding enough, and we are a bit short, so I fixed that. Our mortgage interest has dropped enough that we don’t itemize on our federal return (unless the SALT cap is ever increased). Also, the $600 above-the-line charitable deductions from the CARES act no longer applies, so I really need to play some games with donor advised funds in order to get the most value out of charitable donations.

COVID-19

We got our new boosters! I’m trying not to let myself get too anxious about swirling news of new variants. We are moving forward in a lot of ways, but retaining masks in public indoor spaces.  Dreading the winter wave, but maybe it will be better than I’m expecting.

Work

We’ve made a lot of progress as we head full steam ahead to a major design milestone review this month. I don’t think we’re going to get cancelled, at least not until next February, but probably not at all. I also signed on to help on a proposal this fall, which I’m expecting will be great. I’ve mostly offloaded a side project that needed way more attention than I could possibly give it, but I’m trying to support the new project manager so he can be successful (its his first PM role). I’m mostly enjoy it.

We’re still talking about sabbatical for T next year. As usual, the closer the sabbatical gets, the more I want to push it to some date in the future, so it won’t impact my career. That is literally why we haven’t done it in the 8 or 9 years he’s been a professor. But, we are pretty much not able to push it out if we want to do it before LO starts Kindergarten. So, we are jointly accepting the risk that it may impact my career, and I’ll do as much as I can to limit that impact, and then take the leap. I actually think the timing could work out pretty well. I’m going to try to see if I can do some work remotely for most of the time we are gone, although there are surely some logistical things if I want to work from another country. Also, the policy is that I have to fly back to support any key activities, I have to do it on my own dime. Reasonable policy – but tricky. Anyway, for now I’m keeping my head down and focusing more on the near term, and will start to broach the subject at work in about 6 months. There are some options to work through (me and LO could stay behind for a short bit, we could do a domestic or even local sabbatical for T). Anyway, it has made me hesitate even wanting to set up my 2023 spreadsheet, because there are some unknowns after the first 6 months of the year.

Family & Life

So good right now. I’ve been feeling quite a bit better mentally recently. I can’t tell if it is from the positive upswing in work, the therapy (probably not that – I’m trying to do it through insurance and it has been… not great), or other things – but I feel a lot better than I did earlier this year.

We saw my parents in Colorado for a long weekend, which was wonderful. LO is doing great and really happy with this years preschool class. No complaints. We also have a lot fewer weekend events planned in the next few months (compared to our busy summer), which is exactly what I need right now.

Summer Wrap-up

September 13, 2022

I haven’t posted all summer. I’m not quite calling it quits on blogging, but… It is hard to make the time. Some of the lack of posting was due to positive reasons – the summer was pretty busy with camping trips and even an actual trip with an airplane and lake cabin and hotel and such. Work has been interesting (because our project is having problems), but busy and challenging (because our project is having problems). Also, I was hanging by a thread in the mental health department, making it hard to do much beyond my basic responsibilities. There isn’t a particular reason – basically just pandemic induced depression/anxiety hanging around for a long time, ebbing and flowing. I’m taking a few steps to address it, and am optimistic things are moving in the right direction, finally. But it ebbs and flows.

Money & Net worth

Again, I have not been tracking spending in detail, mostly due to lack of time, but also due to lack of need and interest. There have been a few big things, though!

On the extremely positive side, income is UP! Everyone got across-the-board raises of 4% to 5%, which takes some of the sting out of the inflation. On top of that, my promotion (two levels) finally went through, with retroactive pay back to the beginning of the year, over 15%. This is a huge relief. I’m so grateful my manager and leadership was able to make that happen. It was a gut punch when I realized how far I’d fallen behind, and the fact that it is remedied resolves so much unproductive angst.

On the negative side, net worth is down with the markets, just like most others.

Spending is more of a question mark. Some big expenses: we put a deposit down for new windows, we bought a patio umbrella and table, and upgraded our vacuum cleaner to a fancy german canister version. We’ve also spent a bit more than anticipated on various travel expenses, completed and upcoming.

COVID-19

As far as we know, we’ve remained COVID-free so far. LO is now fully vaccinated! We are getting our new boosters soon! Cases remain steadily high. We take many precautions, but also take many more risks than previously. We have both taken work trips by plane, and also traveled to see family by plane (masked). We often mask indoors, but have made exceptions for social reasons. It may seem inconsistent, but I’m not willing to get COVID from the store or from the airport, and I’m happy to dine outdoors only. Yet, I am willing to accept some risk it to be able to be unmasked in other situations.

LO had a COVID exposure in her class (first one since January), but she didn’t get COVID, and the class remained open for childcare with some rapid testing as a precaution. She has caught several colds, but we have not had a positive test.

Work

Work has been busy and interesting and frustrating and overwhelming. Our major partner has had a lot of challenges, and they have many frustrating traits. I’ve lost trust to take some of what our main point-of-contact says at face value, and that alone is infuriating. In mid-summer it was tough maintain a solid momentum with frequent sick kid incidents (which sometimes take us down too), on top of trying to cram in a bunch of vacations, and coworkers all doing the same. Every time LO stays home sick, I get behind, then try to catch up – but I think things are coming together. At least the things that are in my control.

As far as things not in my control – there is some small possibility my main project could get canceled, though we are trying everything we can to avoid that. We rely a lot on our major partner to deliver their part, and they may have overpromised. I’m not overly worried about this yet. For one, I think we will pull through. If we don’t, there are other projects I could likely jump over to. If there’s not, then I still think I’ll be fine overall.

Family & Life

Summer was filled with lots of busy weekend for camping trips and some other vacations. It was a very cool summer and I swear I wore a sweater more often than not. We are getting our warm (and sometimes even stifling hot) fall now, in the typical Bay Area weather pattern.

LO is doing great in her new preschool class this fall. She has the same teachers and many of the same friends, which made for a very easy “transition”. The oldest kids in her previous class also have moved on to Kindergarten, so she is with a group that is a better age mix compared to her (there were kids a whole year older than her in her class previously). I am happy about that, since she seems more confident.

I guess that is all I’ll write for now – going to post this before another several months go by! Sometimes the longer it has been, the less I have to say…

March and April Wrap Up

May 5, 2022

Money & Net worth

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

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

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

COVID-19

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

Work

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

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

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

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

Family & Life

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

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

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

All in all, life is OK.

February Wrap up

March 20, 2022

Money & Net worth

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

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

COVID-19

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

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

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

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

Work

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

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

Family

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

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

January Wrap-up

February 10, 2022

Money & Net worth

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

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

COVID-19

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

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

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

Work

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

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

Family

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

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

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