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Summer Money Update

July 28, 2015

Mortgage pre-payment:  I am having a (likely irrational) moment of job security anxiety, so we are waiting to send in this year’s big chunk of mortgage prepayment in for a few months.  Just because the cost of small delay it is worth humoring my anxiety.

Real Estate:  Judging by the market, I can say buying last year was better than buying this year.  I can’t really say anything beyond that, but I’m glad we have a place to call home for the next many years.  I hope it turns out well financially.  My calculations said it would, but there are assumptions built in.

Retirement:  I finally rolled over my 401k from my last job. I decided to put it into my new retirement plan rather than a rollover IRA, just in case we ever decide to pursue back-door Roth.  (That is unlikely because I already have a rollover IRA from my first job, which I rolled over before I’d heard of a backdoor Roth.  It has something like $20k in it..)  My new retirement plan has OK options in terms of low-cost funds, but my previous employer’s plan had higher costs.

The most significant chunk of my retirement money is still in the 401k account from my LA job.   It is in low cost funds, I don’t see extra fees, and I don’t see a compelling reason to move it.

Vacations/Travel:  It’s July, so it is time to start thinking about options for traveling home for Christmas! I really hate being this far from our families, yet I can’t imagine ever moving back, so here we are.  I have enough miles (CC points + normal miles) to book us both, and I think we’ll use them for holiday travel.

Also booked with miles, I’m going home for a week pretty soon, but T isn’t joining.  Spending a week at home is not something I typically do in the summer.  It is possible this year because we didn’t take any other vacations and my current job has a more human vacation policy (> 3 weeks) than my LA job (which had 2 weeks for the first 5 years, then 2 weeks + 2 days for the next 10 years.  Or something terrible like that.)

My job last year had fairly flexible vacation (it was all about total billable hours in the year), but since I was new I didn’t take advantage of it.  So, we basically went on no vacations last year, aside from some long weekends here and there.  This means I haven’t been on a big international vacation since just as we moved at the end of 2013 – but to be honest, I’m kind of OK with that for now.  I still enjoy travel, but I’m not as obsessed with it as I was when I was younger.

But I might add a side trip onto my fall work trip.  T can’t join, so it is less tempting…

Job:  I really like my job, still.  I was just telling my husband how there is no one at my new job that drives me crazy, and how pleasant that is.  Even more, there are several of the people who are really impressive to me… and I am the first to admit that I’m not easily impressed and have little patience for self-promotion and BS.  On the negative side, the culture is much more laid-back than I’m used to, and roles & responsibilities are quite fluid.  I’m trying to adapt, but it does make me anxious – am I doing everything I need to be doing?  Am I butting in where I don’t need to?  It makes me nervous.

Puppy:  He’s growing up, and finally much easier to handle!  He still needs lots of exercise and attention, but that is as expected.  We no longer have to keep our eyes glued to him 100% of the time to make sure he doesn’t eat/chew things he’s not supposed to and he has started greeting me in bed in the morning without trying to leap up into the covers with me.  His monthly costs have dwindled to food/toys, although we might do another training class this fall now that he is older.

What do you know about your joint finances?

July 15, 2015

Mrs. POP posted a link to a study by fidileity that found that “more than four in 10 (43%) failed to correctly identify how much their partner makes—and of that, 10% got it wrong by $25,000 or more. There were other important disconnects between couples including: 36% of couples disagreed on the amount of the household’s investible assets.  When asked how much they will need to save to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement, nearly half (48%) have “no idea”—and 47% are in disagreement about the amount needed.”

Personally, I’m surprised that so many couples (64%) agreed on the amount of investible assets.  Were they allowed to check their accounts before answering?  I always thought T & I communicate well about money.  However, we are not counting down to retirement, so these numbers aren’t what we communicate about most often.  We could answer how much we are saving this year for retirement/investments, but knowing how much we need to have saved in ~20 years is more nebulous.

For fun, I gave us Fidelity’s survey to see how we would do.

How much will SP make this year (gross)?
T:  $X
S:  $X
Yay!  We both know this because I recently negotiated it, its a round number, and bonuses aren’t part of my compensation anymore (predictable!).

How much will T make this year (gross)?
S:  Y minus $3k?
T:  “I don’t know, $Y?”
Correct answer:  Somewhere around Y is correct, but I can’t tell you without doing more calculations than I feel like doing right now.  We’re within $5k.  He gets these small raises at odd points in the year that I find mysterious, but they are surely predictable.

How much do we have in investible assets?  This should include retirement, investment accounts and cash, but definitely not home equity.
My answer:  About X.
His answer:  About X + $100k
Correct Answer:  About X + $40k.    I was surprised I was off by so much, but I tend to look at net worth rather than investible assets.

How much we will need to save to maintain our current lifestyle in retirement?
My answer:  “This is a dumb question, because there are way too many assumptions that go into this.”
His answer:  “Yeah”
Correct answer:  I’m right that it isn’t a good question when framed so vaguely.  Still,  we get to define our own parameters and assumptions, and we should have a rough answer.  Unfortunately, I don’t.  The calculation I tried in December assumed a few things incorrectly, and I want to live in our home for a year before trying to estimate this.   I know we are saving enough and neither of us has a goal to retire early (at least not extremely early).  I will revisit this calculation at the end of the year based on this year’s spending.

T is also right, because he agreed with me.  :)

What do you estimate your Social Security payout in retirement will be?
My answer:  “Whatever the max payout is at the time, unless they make it need-based, but it is not factored into our retirement plans for now.”
His answer:  “No idea, probably not a lot.”
Correct answer:  I think we are both right.

A few links and thoughts

July 11, 2015

This gif that illustrates housing prices by county shows how property values are concentrated in the USA.  It would be interesting see how this looks if divided by the population density….

I pay my credit cards monthly on payday out of convenience.  I like to get the money out of my account since it is spoken for. I don’t worry about taking advantage of the float.  I don’t reconcile charges monthly, but do eventually look through them and found a double charge from Amazon recently.  This is the first time I’ve ever noted an error!  (I was refunded.)  I used to look at spending monthly, but I haven’t had the interest to look at that level of detail lately.

I posted my own DIY success last week, but I definitely agree that DIY can be overrated. We’ve had a lot of success with small projects, but I have to admit that my husband is a lot more adept than I am (so far?).  We’ve also hired several big projects.  It is possible to do your own drainage work, and probably not even that technically complex – but it is a LOT of labor, especially if you don’t have the right tools.  I mean, step one is to dig a giant ditch.  No thanks.  However, I don’t believe in the “don’t do it unless you know what you’re doing” philosophy, because most of us don’t know how to do much before we take the time to learn.  Research the project, estimate how much cash it will cost you to try it yourself, and make a judgement call on whether you are likely to get the results you want.  You can learn a lot from the internet these days (or from friends/family).

Ask A Manager is always interesting, but I found the comments on this post about who “covers” while someone is on vacation when you don’t have direct reports really interesting.  A lot of people are expected to clear their plate as much as possible, then check in on anything critical themselves.  The norm for my LA job was typically that I would clear my plate, and most things could wait.  My out-of-office would direct people to my manager if they needed immediate help.  (I had some roles where there was no remote access, so this helped.)  It is similar at my job, but I’ve yet to see anyone use out-of-office responses.  The norm is to make sure concerned parties know you’ll be out, and things can generally wait until you are back. People on the project will already know who to ask if they don’t get a quick response, and we don’t generally deal with external people that have urgent needs.

Related bad manager rant:  My last manager went on a 2+ week vacation to Europe and clearly didn’t trust me to handle the things he delegated to me.  He had me set up 2 or 3 times weekly meetings early-morning my time, evenings his time.  Before the first one, I sent a detailed summary of the past few days and we walked through that.  I did the same thing before the second call, but he never showed up. Nor did he cancel.  Nor did I hear from him until he returned!  I totally get checking out while on vacation – but be realistic and don’t make me schedule meetings that you aren’t committed to making.  I kept sending summaries, but by the time he got back they were mostly old news as I had to move forward either way.

Who covers your work when you are out?  What is your favorite bad manager rant?  Do you have any DIY success stories?

DIY Success Story: UV Film on Windows

July 8, 2015

Why we chose it:

We loved the light and open look of the living room with naked windows.  The way the house is set meant we didn’t need window coverings for privacy reasons.  However, we did care about keeping the sun off the wood floors and furniture.. and us, I guess.

We debated what we should do to solve this.  The options for window treatments for the two big slider glass doors on either side of the room were either things I didn’t particularly like and very expensive.  Rugs were a partial solution for the hardest hit areas, but there would still be furniture to worry about.

We decided on UV film to keep the harmful rays off our stuff but maintain the open feel.  Our goal wasn’t so much to keep the place cool in the summers but I did notice this helped a bit.  (So, if you count on sunlight to keep it warm in the winter, not a good option.)  Note that adding window film may violate any warranties for windows, so this isn’t a good option if you are worried about that.  Our windows in this room are old, maybe original to the house, so I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed.  You can also get new windows that already block out some UV rays, but I’m sure they are expensive.

DIY Install:

To be honest, I would have never done this project on my own, even with a similarly competent helper.  I’m not meticulous enough.  I’m not patient enough. But, I’m also kind of cheap, so… I’m glad that my husband is more meticulous and patient than I am.

The first step was to clean the window really well using windex and razor blade scrapers.  Any smudge not cleaned off will be there for the rest of eternity.  Then, we wet the window with baby shampoo / water mixture (with towels on the ground below to catch drips).  Then, very carefully, we unrolled a piece of film from the giant roll.  One set of windows is about 8′ high, so I would stand on a chair with my arms above my head holding the top of the film as we pulled it off the roll.  T sprayed the film with the same solution, front and back, to help keep it from sticking to itself as we worked – it is very clingy film.  He stuck a piece of scotch tape went in each corner to peel back the protective backing and reveal the sticky side of the film.  As the backing was pulled off, he sprayed even more as I whined that my arms might fall off any second now. (Obviously, don’t drop the sheet.)  Finally,  very carefully, we moved the film near the window and touched the center to the window.  The film grabbed the window from the center,  and sort of flowed out to the edge.  Finally, T squeegeed out all the excess water, working from the middle.  If you screw up the squeegee stop, you’ll end up with creases and have to start over (or live with crappy looking film).

The first window pane we did had 2 failures before we had a success.  This made me nervous, because we didn’t have enough excess film for a 33% yield.  Luckily, we had minimal failures after that, and we have plenty of film left over.


We got a 48″ x 100′ roll. since we needed the 48″ dimension for some of the windows and we paid about $220 for more than we could use.  We didn’t want one that filtered out light, but we wanted UV blocking.  We settled on this one by Gila.   There was maybe another $20 or so in squeegees and other supplies – not much additional cost, really.


We completed a large 3-pane floor to ceiling sliding glass door,  and a smaller 2-pane door, as well as two other normal windows.  We might do our bedroom slider later, and just did a kitchen door last weekend.  We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t have the film on hand, but we wanted to reduce the heat hitting our wine fridge.

It looks really good, if I don’t say so myself.  I don’t think it could have looked better professionally installed.  It does distort the view a little bit, and it is definitely a bit reflective at night.  This would bother some people, but it doesn’t bother me.  (The puppy, however, isn’t a big fan of that other dog that shows up but won’t come play.)

First two months with my puppy

May 30, 2015

If you don’t like puppies, I feel sorry for you and you can stop reading here and wait for my next post.  My blog editorial calendar has that scheduled for June 25th (kidding… but not completely).

Puppy ownership can be expensive, or it can be… moderately expensive.  Adopting an older dog would save on vet/vaccination costs, but the bulk of our money has been spent on training, socialization, and basic supplies (crate, toys, etc.).

We’re doing puppy training classes, so mostly DIY  training with advice/guidance from a pro each week. Training has been worthwhile for us, but if one was experienced with dogs and knew several other dogs/puppies for the pup to meet, one could get by without it.

We’ve been using a small and well run doggy day care once a week so he can be around some well mannered adult dogs regularly (and to give us all a little break).  The other days we get by without dog walkers since we are both very close to work with some flexibility in our schedules. I come home for lunch daily, and when he was tiny we alternated coming home often / going in late / working from home to manage.

We’ve taken him to many “puppy socials” for controlled puppy  playtime in a safe (from diseases, compared to a dog park) indoor environment.  He’s a naturally friendly & social puppy, but he is a little over enthusiastic and needs to learn how to adapt his play for smaller or more low-key pups.  It is really fun to watch his antics as he plays with the other pups – he’s hilarious.  Now he is fully vaccinated and can meet up with pups in any public place.

With that out of the way, here are some puppy photos!

Just over 8 weeks old, a little peanut. I used to let him play with my foam roller until he started chewing a lot more.








Playing on our balcony, ears in the air!  I was terrified he’d fall through the cracks and leap off if we didn’t closely supervise!  Now he’s big enough that it would be impossible!


A little older (9 weeks?  10?), hanging out under the chair.  It was a favorite hang out for a while.  Now he still tries to stand under it, but he can’t sit down.



And the most recent shots, last weekend’s camping trip at Lake Tahoe.  He had so much fun!





Taxes and Puppies

April 25, 2015


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).

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 7.26.31 AM

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.)


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!


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.


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