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Taxes and Puppies

April 25, 2015

Taxes:

This NYT Marriage Bonus/Penalty article that you probably already saw has some great interactive infographics (although I’d like to see the “income split in reality” in another view, as all the little circles don’t culminate in a big picture in my mind).  T and I make a fairly even split of income, and we most likely always will.  Once we have kids, that means we’ll be paying fairly significant marriage penalties (compared to being unmarried).

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We usually use software to do our taxes, but we also calculate them separately by spreadsheet.  This means I have a good understanding of how it is broken down for us, how much we saved by owning our home, why we were hit with the AMT last year, and why it did not make sense to prepay spring property taxes in order to reduce my tax bill last year (answer:  AMT).   I don’t know why there isn’t a widely available and straightforward excel calculator for taxes.  I find the step-by-step nature of TurboTax to be frustrating and slow.

However, I still don’t understand the nuances of whether we could file separately to avoid the penalty, especially since we don’t qualify for a ROTH or any other special deductions anyway. But how would we split the mortgage interest deduction?  How would it work if we had a child?  Why is this so confusing?  Since CA is community property, will that hurt or help our case?

I was appalled to learn that TurboTax’s recommended way to determine if you should file separately or married was to complete the return both ways using THREE DIFFERENT LOGINS.  (The downloaded SW has a slightly better method.)  I assumed they would recommend for us based on the information we give.  The information is certainly all there!  For this year, it is too late anyway, but I’ll do a deeper investigation next year.  (You can file an amended return to change from married filing separate to married filing jointly, but not the other way.)

Puppy:

We are working hard to train him into a well socialized, good mannered dog… but he is still learning the rules and his place in our pack.  (Yes, I’m now a crazy dog person who now refers to my husband, my dog, and myself as a pack.)  He’s enrolled in puppy socialization classes, we’re taking him to every puppy-safe place we can come up with, and we’re getting him used to the rules of the home.  He’s got primary two modes: fast or asleep!  We are working on implementing a 3rd mode, which is calm and relaxed (but awake).

Also, he is RIDICULOUSLY CUTE and growing enthusiastically from small peanut puppy to mini-dog… eventually to dog!

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Puppy Monitoring Tools:

We’ve been using two apps for puppy monitoring when we aren’t there:  Manything and Presence.  They are both free, they both work with an ipad/iphones combination, and they are both good.  The key is that you need a tablet/phone to spare to act as the camera (web interface only supported for viewing).  If you have an iPad or old phone, this is a free solution.  (Android also supported, I think.)

Manything is superior in that it records the sessions by default, so you can see the history of how the last hour went with a little bar graph of motion & sound.  I like to see a nice flat line indicating puppy was sound asleep!  The UI is also a little cleaner and prettier.

The advantage of Presence is the ability to communicate back to the viewer, sort of like a FaceTime call, except I can control the communication, so the puppy doesn’t have to answer the call.  (He’s good, but not that good!)  You can easily set up “rules” such that you get alerts when the iPad is unplugged or if motion is detected or if you want the app to shut off when you arrive home.  The UI could use some work, but we recently switched to this app, and we’ll be sticking with it.

DropCam might be the best solution, but they are $200 (OUCH!).  Plus a yearly fee of $100+.  Seriously????  I could possibly (probably not) stomach the camera price (as an engineer, I am opposed to this, because the technology is NOT that expensive/revolutionary).  But the ongoing cost just doesn’t seem acceptable, given the free alternatives.

Did I miss any great monitoring apps?  Given there is likely a huge market for baby monitors, I was surprised that my two best options were more in the “home monitoring” market.  Maybe the baby ones just weren’t free :)

Although, there is something to be said for being better of NOT knowing when puppy is whining (also free!).

You paid how much for that dog?

March 27, 2015

I’ll admit it – I had no idea what it meant to own a dog. I vaguely assumed we’d rescue a dog when/if  ever got one.  I also thought a medium sized dog would be best.  And that was all of the thought I put into owning a dog.  I might have even judged on my blog my friend for getting a $1600 bernese mountain dog.

Then we actually decided to get a dog. We put a lot more thought into it. We decided not to rescue.  I’m happy to share why if you are curious, but it is great that people’s first instinct these days is to adopt a rescue.  Everyone should consider a rescue.  We did consider it, but chose not to go that route right now. (If you end up considering a puppy from a breeder, please do LOTS of research and find out how you can ensure you are not supporting puppy mills or irresponsible breeding.) Dogs are one of the few things that it is unadvisable to buy over the internet these days. We had a hard time  getting started on find the reputable breeders, and even ended up going to a dog show to meet some in person.  (We are not dog show people.)

Anyway, here are the “start up” costs of our soon-to-be latest family member:

  • $1,800 the puppy itself.  Yep, for reals.  It is possible to get this breed for less (as low as $1000 in the midwest, + flight to get them to us), including from reputable breeders (maybe?), but not locally.   By “locally” I mean in the state of California.  We wanted to meet our breeder in person, so far away wasn’t a good option. I can’t even explain why I think it is OK for the puppy itself to cost that much.  It is absurd, right?  I will say that we talked to several breeders, and our breeder is the most fantastic of them all.
  • $300 for puppy kindergarten classes. Our breeder requires this for 6 weeks, we’re doing ~10 weeks.  They are 1 hr/week.
  • $250+ for puppy supplies: crate, toys, dog dish, nail trimmer, etc.
  • $? – initial vet visit / shots.

So, that’s a ton of money, and I almost didn’t post this, because… Well, I think it is obvious why one might hesitate!  But this is going to be a big part of our finances this year, and it deserves to be discussed in the open. The dog is “saving” us money, because we’re forgoing some intended travel this year. We thought about it, and I really wanted a dog more than I wanted to visit Hong Kong in June (as a tag a long to a work trip T has). I spent 6 months in Hong Kong in college, so this wasn’t a decision I made lightly. (That is probably a different post – my travel priorities have shifted pretty majorly in the last couple of years.) Our new puppy comes home next month, and I hope it will bring us years of food bills, vet bills, and joy.

I love my new job

March 26, 2015

I love my new job.

I’m still adjusting, which comes with bouts of imposter syndrome, uncertainty, anxiety…  all totally normal things that are unpleasant, but not unexpected nor unbearable.  I still have a lot to learn, but not only do I think I can learn whatever I need to, no one else seems to doubt it either.  It is so refreshing to be assumed to be competent, rather than… well, I don’t know exactly what my last day-to-day manager assumed.  That is something I had taken for granted at previous jobs. It was extremely frustrating  and demoralizing to realize that someone you are working closely with doesn’t believe in you.

I want to learn from my experience in my 2014 consulting gig, but I also just want to leave it the heck behind me and not look back.

I never expected to be a person who hated their job.  It felt like a personal failure to be so unhappy with what I was spending my days doing.   I’m a positive person. I’m determined.  Most of all, I have been successful in the past in maneuvering myself into favorable positions.  Periods of frustration are part of any job, but I have always been able to get from a point of frustration into a situation where things worked.   Last year, I was in a situation that was making me miserable, and I couldn’t figure out how to get out of it without quitting my job or waiting it out.

In my new job, and everything feels right so far. The work is mostly interesting and varied. The people are great.  The culture is very positive, and I feel like I fit into it better.  I have the most beautiful walk to work, and I just feel so incredibly lucky.

I used to feel that way ALL OF THE TIME when we lived in our little beach apartment in southern California.  I’m so glad I’m starting to find that feeling here too.

Do men buy cleaning supplies?

March 18, 2015

My husband’s sister invited me to a Norwex virtual “launch party” on Facebook.

In general, I’m not a fan of friends selling to me through multi-level marketing companies. I am not an obsessive cleaner (in the “no bed making” club!).  But I give family a special pass, and probably would have considered buying a thing or two, a one-time show of support.  They probably work well, even though they are also probably overpriced.

But then…I realized my husband hadn’t been invited to his sister’s group.  I looked at the list of “members” of the party, and there were 78 women on the list.  There were 0 men.

It isn’t just that she knows that while T cleans, I’m more likely to choose cleanings supplies.  She literally doesn’t know a single man that would be interested in a cleaning product, but she knows 78 women who might.

I’m sorry, but this is not acceptable to me.

She’s smart, ambitious, and has a good career.  So, it she isn’t embarrassed to sell cleaning products to her 78 closest women friends and zero men?  Maybe not.  I would guess she does the vast majority of cleaning and child care in her home.

She lives far enough away that it really isn’t worth saying anything about.

But I just hate that this is not abnormal behavior.  I hate that even in a (relatively?) progressive marriage, I truly am faaaar more likely to be purchasing cleaning supplies.  I hate that someone has a favorite window cleaning tool that enables her to  cleaning the outside of windows without the help of her tall husband.  (I’ve lived here 6 months and I have cleaned the outside of our windows zero times, and the insides only a handful.)

Mostly, I hate that maybe most men really don’t buy cleaning supplies.

2015 Investment Action Plan

March 16, 2015

PF blogger confession:  For the past 2 years or so, I’ve not spend any time on my investment portfolio.

I’ve been doing the basics, which I think is the most important:  saving as much as possible in an automatically rebalancing asset allocation / target date funds.

So, now is the time to revisit this and optimize.  Here’s my plan.

  1. Find out what our current investments actually look like.
  2. Re-evaluate our ideal asset allocation.
  3. Move out of target date funds and create our own where it makes sense.
  4. Move my old 401k.  It looks like the best option is to put this in my new 401k since the investment options are good.  Investment options are being changed to eliminate some extremely low expense ratio funds (.02 – .07).  My best option will be target date funds with .15% expense ratios.   This is enough to push me to rollover to vanguard instead.

Step 2 is the hardest, but I’m not going to overthink it.  Based on a brief bogleheads review, a 70/30 stock bond split, and following vanguards 4 fund allocations, I’m targeting something like this:

  • Total U.S. stock market index fund – 49%
  • Total international stock index fund – 28%
  • Total U.S. bond index fund – 21%
  • Total international bond index fund – 9%

If anyone smart has any reason I need to keep digging and researching to find a better allocation, I’m open to suggestions.

The largest portion of our money is in my LA employer’s 401k.  This has been auto-rebalancing on an asset allocation that I set a while ago, and all funds have low fees.  I was getting charged $6/year to keep it there in 2014, but now it looks like that fee went away.  I don’t see a reason to roll this over, so I adjusted the rebalance allocation to include more bonds to reflect a less risky portfolio going forward.

My most recent employer’s 401k has one year’s worth of contributions, all in a target date fund with a relatively high expense ratio (.7%).  The fund options weren’t very compelling, so I was stuck with that while I was employed.  Now I need to move it into a roll-over IRA.   This is also less intimidating than moving my other 401k.   This one is a relatively small percentage of my portfolio.  Once the rollover is complete, I’ll rebalance my rollover IRA to try to hit my final allocation target.

2015 money tracking

March 13, 2015

I created a really pretty spreadsheet to start out 2015.  I attempted to address some deficiencies previous versions had… but I’m already frustrated by it.  I really don’t want to spend a ton of time on this, but I’m not getting in information I want.

Here are the questions I want to be able to answer at a glance:

  • How much will we take home this year (net)?
  • How much are we spending?  What big expenses remain?  What categories are trending over budget, and why?
  • How much are we going to save for retirement, towards mortgage pre-payment, or in cash (for mid-term spending)?
  • Are our tax withholdings approximately correct to net us a small refund?
  • What is our net worth?
  • Are there any major investment / strategic changes we need to make? [I know the answer is yes for this one.]
  • How have these answers changed since the last time I looked?  Are we still on track?

I was trying to do a zero based budget and track each dollar coming in.  That is too rigid if I also want to use a slush funds to smooth out cash flow.  For example, I want to ignore the fact that I spent about $4k on reimbursable work travel.  I want to ignore the fact that we paid for a big house project in February even though we didn’t allocate income towards it until later in the year.  I want to ignore this stuff in the big picture, while understanding that it is happening.  Our cash flow is actually net negative thus far – but this is OK.

I’m really jealous of the PoP’s monthly income statements and balance sheets.  This would be my ideal, but I’m not quite jealous enough to do them myself.  The problem is, I’m not really a details person.  They bore me to death.  Quarterly reports might be something I could and should handle.

There is a lot of value in summarizing the information for myself, and I’d like something T can digest.  Since he doesn’t often look at the whole picture, he has a constant low-level anxiety that we are about to go broke.  It would be funny if it weren’t also mildly stressful for both parties.

February Updates

February 13, 2015

It’s been nearly a month since I last wrote!  Here is what’s up.

We’ll get a net tax refund this year.  I’ve really struggle to estimate our tax bill this year (apparently).  I assumed T’s paycheck would be posted in 2014, but later realized it would be the first few days of January.   I only considered the fact that we wouldn’t get the 401k contribution, but forgot that we also wouldn’t have the associated income.  At any rate, we have most of our infos in Turbotax, so I’m pretty sure this time.  I think.  That frees up the $3k I had set aside to pay our taxes, as well as whatever refund we get.  We’ll owe to California (as always) and we’ll have a federal refund that will cover it.

We’re getting a puppy!  I had some buffer in our budget, and we decided now is the time to add a new family member.  This likely will impact our vacation plans.  I knew I was serious about a puppy when I realized I was willing to delay/forgo an intended vacation in order to accommodate a puppy into our life.  :)

(It is coming from a very reputable breeder, and no, I’m not accepting opinions on why we should rescue.   We are absolutely NOT supporting a puppy mill or a breeder whose puppies end up in rescue.)

Drainage work is supposedly starting next week, but the date isn’t confirmed yet.  It is the most recent project in our series of home maintenance projects that the average person would never see (furnace, bathroom fans, and now drainage).  Can’t wait to do the roof in a few years!  (<— sarcasm)

We’ve made no other real progress on the house.  We haven’t been home many weekends so far, but I’m hoping to get some minor things (hedges, picture hanging) done this weekend.  We still haven’t even got a desk.

New job is great!  I mean, I’m still new and figuring out the work.  But I like the people a lot, the project will be interesting, the commute is amazing, the hours are reasonable, and I really have no complaints.  And…. Dubai next week – woo hoo!

Two links:

Reasons you were not promoted totally not related to gender.  Related:  I was asked last week if this was “my first big job”.  I tried really hard not to roll my eyes.  At least I wasn’t mistaken for an intern or student.  Gah.

You must watch this.  Apparently there is some back story about the dancer being a rebel that is also perhaps interesting, but I only cared about watching the dancing.

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