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Money Lately

September 22, 2016




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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Home ownership, 2 years in

August 16, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

Updates and Links

August 1, 2016

Money Updates:

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

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

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

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

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

Work Updates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Links:

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

Terrance Tao on Trump (a few months old).

How Trump uses your brain against you.

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

Vacation Costs: Barcelona, Lisbon + others

July 29, 2016

I use the term “free” loosely, as obviously points have monetary value.  These are our the costs for the trip.  We visited Barcelona for several days, as that is where T’s meeting was held.  T had been to Barcelona and wanted to go elsewhere for vacation, and we settled on Portugal.  We traveled to Lisbon by plane (used miles – my original plan of using an overnight train tickets got quite expensive by the time we were ready to book), then stayed there mostly.  We did a day trip to Sintra, and spent one night in Cascais, and one night in Porto.

All and all, it was a lovely trip and I’m glad we went!

Cost breakdown:

  • Flights:  Free (work trip for T, miles for me)
  • Airport transit:  ~$100. We didn’t travel together for all legs, so I had to pay to get to/from the airport.
  • Rail tickets:  $122 for 2 high speed train tickets round trip from Lisbon to Porto
  • Hotels:
    • Free for first several nights (coinciding with T’s work trip)
    • Free with SPG points for 4 nights total
    • Paid for 1 night at $101
    • Paid for 1 night at $46, cost reduced by a voucher (earned primarily through work travel)
  •  Entrance fees to sights paid by credit card (mostly the Sagrada Familia, one other): $82
  • Cash spent on food/wine, port to take home, entrance fees to castles and such, metro rides, taxis, etc.:  $1283  Of this, ~$300 was T’s expenses during work days and are reimbursable.
  • Dog sitting for 11 nights: $495 –  yup, $45/night!  He’s a handful, so we are picky about who we can leave him with.  So far, we’ve only left him with people have (or have had) high energy dogs and know how to manage an adolescent male puppy.

It was a bit more expensive than anticipated, but very reasonable for the duration.  I was hoping the food costs would be slightly lower and was continually surprised by the cost to visit various sights – but we also didn’t try super hard to be frugal in these areas.

There is at least these small rewards from work travel.  Not only do I get the miles I earn from flying, I also book everything on my personal card and get reimbursed.  This gets me even more miles/points, depending on the card I use.  We’re also allowed to use and other discount sites to book, which earns us free credits over the course of the year (one free night per 10 stays).



Settlements, cars, house projects

June 29, 2016

Amazon & Ticketmaster Settlements: The initial happiness of finding out I had some Ticketmaster vouchers was quickly squashed when I realized that they are only “potentially eligible” for free tickets.  I’m pretty sure I won’t use them.  The Amazon settlement was a little better for me, in that I’ll actually be able to use my $17.  But don’t expect any future settlements from anyone  – binding arbitration is the name of the game these days.

VW Settlement: Speaking of settlements, remember how we bought a brand new car in 2011?  We were super excited about the clean diesel technology, the great fuel economy, and the overall savings in fuel costs… And the hatchback!  It could fit so much stuff – we transported a lot of things that you’d never expect to be able to fit into a car.  I will never own a car with a trunk again!   I was pretty thrilled with our choice.

Except… it was all based on lying and cheating, and we’ve actually been driving a polluting car!  They finally sorted out the settlement, and T calculated they’ll do a buy-back/settlement, and we’ll get ~$20k and be carless.  Our A/C has been mostly busted for some time now, but we’ve been avoiding fixing it ($$) until we knew if we were keeping the car.  Due to the A/C issue (and a dent that I don’t want to talk about), we’ll likely go with the buy-back option. We haven’t decided if we’ll go with something new or used this time.

Car wish list:  I want a wagon or hatchback (maaaaybe a subcompact-crossover) a with respectable fuel economy, preferably with higher clearance.  It would ideally fits the dog crate without folding down the seats (our current setup requires folding down 2 of the 3 seats in the back).  Or we could get a crate/setup more custom designed to fit into cars nicely.  The desire for high clearance is to make some of the dirt roads we like to drive on to go backpacking passable  – but we did actually rent an SUV for our last trip, and could continue to do that as needed.  One thing we noted was that while the SUV we rented (Jeep Grand Cherokee) had some extra width to it, it actually didn’t seem to fit much more stuff than our Golf.

House Project:  Through the CA Earthquake Brace and Bolt program, combined with a county tax rebate associated with our house purchase, we’re getting ~$7k of earthquake retrofitting work done for a cost-to-us of about $1k.   It mostly consists of adding shear panels to the cripple walls.   Hooray for tax subsidized home maintenance projects!

June Updates

June 21, 2016

I had most of this drafted a while ago, then… Orlando happened… and I couldn’t figure out what to say.  This latest tragedy hit me harder than previous ones (HOW ARE THERE SO MANY?!), but in the end, I have nothing to add to the conversation that hasn’t been said better by someone else. I don’t have anything eloquent to say, but I’m just sad on so many levels.


Money Bullets:

  • Net worth was up 2% as of the beginning of June – slowly climbing!
  • I have chunk of money ($5-$10k) set aside for mortgage prepayment.  I don’t think there is a reason to delay sending it, but I haven’t sent it yet.
  • We hired a dog trainer for some one-on-one work on a few skills (mostly recall).  We paid for 5 lessons up front, and completed the first two. We have a smart dog who is generally compliant – but he’s still a adolescent and willing to ignore our commands if it means he can play with fun dogs instead of walking nicely with us.
  • On top of that, we signed up for a class through the local humane society. This was to practice with him in in a high distraction controlled environment, and because it is a good value.  I think we’ll do Canine Good Citizen later this year if it works with our schedule.
  • We bought 8 used dining room chairs on Craigslist for >$100/chair, but still don’t have a new dining room table to go with them.  T is in charge of this search.
  • My cash buffer accounts are lower than usual, which is not unexpected.  Travel reimbursements will help out with this.

Work is mostly good.

I had an international trip last month.  My role is such that the trip wasn’t very stressful for me, other than the physical inconveniences of a long flight. I had a chance to connect with a few colleagues that I don’t regularly spend time with, mostly in social situations, which was nice.

The main drawback of my job right now is that a fair percentage of my work is either alone or requires me to travel.  The “alone” work is great for a days at a time – but gets a bit boring if it stretches out too long. The regular travel is to a quite lovely place – but I do really like being home with my husband and my dog.  I mitigate it the best I can, and it is working. In fact, they asked me if I had plans through 2019 or so. Um… not yet?  Geography aside, it is a great job.

I’m a bit worried that I’m taking too much on – so I just need to stay cognizant of what is on my plate, be sure that I know what I’m saying yes to, and keep my priorities in order.

Other life stuff is good too!

My in-laws visited for a week in May, and it was great to see them.  We had lots of extra people (5 adults+2 kids) in our not-huge house, but it was not a problem at all. (Yes, I invited them to stay, and it was mostly our idea!)

I  don’t have any plans to go back to visit my family this summer, but am trying to come up with a long weekend late summer or fall.  Everyone is doing well, though my mom might need surgery for the third year in a row (all separate medical incidents).

I’m planning a trip to Portugal this summer.  T’s flight was covered by business travel, and mine was paid for with points. I also finally figured out how to use my Starwood Points to cover hotels – so the costs will be mostly for copious amounts of food and adventuring.  Yay!  We’re focusing on Lisbon, Sintra, and Evora – although it is still possible to change things up if anyone chimes in with an amazing recommendation.  I did want to visit Porto, but thought it would be better to not spend all my time in big cities (we’re flying out of Lisbon).  I just don’t think there is time to do much.

We spent last weekend camping in a fire lookout tower near Mt. Shasta.  I highly recommend this, although you have to book months in advance to get a weekend slot.  Dog friendly!



That’s all for today – just wanted to get this posted before June was over!

Links and such

May 2, 2016

When I’m anxious about something, I tend to pay more attention to our finances – especially when the thing I’m really anxious about has nothing to do with money. I had some self-induced work related anxiety this week, and to heck if I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about personal finances! Anyway, here are some links from around web.

A beautiful post about bread.

Obama, out.

Many  middle class families can’t absorb a $400 emergency.  “Many middle-class wage earners are victims of the economy, and, perhaps, of that great, glowing, irresistible American promise that has been drummed into our heads since birth: Just work hard and you can have it all.”  While the author acknowledges his own financial illiteracy and poor choices, he points out that many others make similar poor choices, and it is very easy to do so.  What struck me was his comment that he “assumed [he] would always overcome any adversity, should it arrive”.  I, like many other pf bloggers, like to prepare for the worst.  When I get worried, I often have to tell myself that I probably can overcome adversity if I’m well-prepared, because I’ve done it before.

I recently watched The Big Short, and subsequently read a lot about the movie and the financial crisis, leading to this article about a programmer who went to jail for stealing code. While not a programmer, I related to his frustration that the jury could easily be manipulated since they don’t have the training to understand why he might have taken certain steps.  I very much related to his interest in the technology over the business problems, and admired his complete acceptance of his fate.

After refinancing my student loan with Earnest, I did some researching about SoFi in general. Some of the mortgage products they offer include 10% down (no PMI), various ARM options, and interest only mortgages.  This all sounds a little scary to me. Their target market is “High Earners, Not Rich Yet” (HENRY).  Other lenders are in this game as well.  I can’t find any useful information about what kind of rates they are offering (compared to normal banks) on their site, but I’m curious. I’m a little concerned about what happens when the tech boom weakens. How does their business model hold up?

I was skimming GRS in a moment of nostalgia/boredom, and came across a generally poorly written article that included this: “PayScale found that, even after adjusting for factors like experience, education and training, responsibilities, and company size, women on average earn 2.7 percent less than men. One reason is that the study found women are 2 percent less likely than men to ask for a raise.”  That 2.7% seems way lower than any numbers I’ve seen. I went to the source article (which I had to google for since it wasn’t linked in the GRS post), and this was a PayScale analysis done on salary profiles in their system with “proprietary algorithms” to analyze.  OK. Other googling came up with about 5-8% when you “control” for the same work. Freakonimcs had a great podcast on this, discussing that the lower pay tends to be correlated with “temporal flexibility”, which tends to fall on mothers.

An already popular post on how to avoid striving to meeting feminine expectations and to be a bit more selfish at work was a good read. I appreciated the comment where Grumpy Rumblings suggests reading “What Works for Women at Work”.  I skimmed the available pages on Google, and plan to buy it and read it.