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May Update

June 8, 2021

I’m going to skip my normal monthly update format. There isn’t a lot to say about money. I haven’t analyzed our spending data in a few months. Our net worth basically did whatever the market did. My current thinking about money is something along the lines of “we (probably) don’t really want to try to FIRE soon, so should we be spending in some areas now to improve our lives?” mixed in with a bit of “the world/political situation is scary and we should keep options open” mixed in with “I probably should reflect more deeply on purpose and FIRE, because I’m also not interested in wealth accumulation for its own sake.”

Late COVID Life

(I’m hoping this is “late COVID”. It is certainly not post-COVID, and it won’t be globally for some time. But it is certainly a new era of COVID, compared to the pre-vaccine world.)

My vaccinated parents came and visited. It was SO NICE to see them, and LO had a blast playing with them. We rented a house up the coast for a few days to break up the visit. (Seven nights is simply too long for houseguests in our small home – even if they are parents.) We spent a few days around town and around the house, then drove about 2.5 hours to our rental. Unfortunately, my mom had a medical emergency the next morning, and spent 2 nights in the hospital. Also, the nearest hospital was a 2 hour drive, so she ended up going by helicopter. We think things are mostly fine, but she has some follow up now that she is home. It was something of freak event, maybe. They are looking into it to see if there is an underlying cause. After she was discharged, my parents were able to delay their flight home by 2 days so she could recover a bit before flying out. I was really grateful, because it would have been terrible to have her check out of the hospital then have to rush home the very next day. There was no charge for this delay, but my dad ended up driving to the airport to talk to Delta customer service because he couldn’t get through on the phone, even after waiting hours. (Apparently this is a thing that has been going on for months.)

Next, we are getting a visit from T’s mom later this month! These family visits mark a huge shift in pandemic life for us. We are still opting not to fly until LO can be vaccinate, and avoiding indoor activities we might otherwise be doing. I might be willing to bend on some indoor stuff if case rates are low and/or if the vaccination timeline was expected to be longer than it appears (this fall). Risks of COVID for kids LO’s age are tiny. I am not frightened by a potential for long term risks to her health. Now that the adults in our home are vaccinated, and that nearly everyone who is at risk in the community can get a vaccine, I’m a lot less concerned about my family spreading COVID to the more vulnerable.

But, there are a small number of at-risk people who cannot get vaccines or do not respond to them, and there is a number of people who refuse and are slowing our path to herd immunity…. And it is not that much longer! (I hope.) So, we’ll continue to take precautions and delay some activities.

Return to the office?

A small number of people have been needing to work hands-on throughout the pandemic, and have been going into the office for some time. Some other number of us have been working in phases of projects that don’t require it. I think I was last in my office about a year ago when I grabbed my monitor from my desk.

This summer, we all have the option to return. To be on site right now, people are required to either be vaccinated or participate in weekly surveillance testing. I’m tentatively planning on going in person a few times a week in the summer, then regularly in the fall. My employer is offering a fair amount of WFH flexibility, so I’m interested to see how that shakes out more broadly. I’m not particularly interested, due to my small commute and decent work space, but I can also see some benefits. It will be strange to have us all getting ready and out the door at the same time again. I can’t even remember what that was like.

We’re gearing up for yet another major review, and I’m optimistic and excited and nervous and overwhelmed. By August, I should have a pretty clear picture of what work will be like in the immediate future.

Family & Life

LO’s language is exploding from phrases into longer sentences, thoughts, and stories. It’s very fun to see. She is also testing boundaries and asserting her individuality, which can be a struggle – but it is good to see.

She climbs inside the fabric hamper (which she has deemed her “nest”) and pretends to read the tag by running her finger along the words. “It says… we can do it!” I’m glad the uplifting messages are sinking in!

Me: “Do you want to check on those succulents we planted?”
LO: “HELLO PLANTS! How are you doing?!? Are you OK out here!??”

We are still working with reduced childcare hours (< 7 with drop off and pick up). It is mostly fine – especially now that T is not lecturing for the summer and I’m mostly off my meeting-heavy project. It is nice to have the extra time together. Still, I was relieved that daycare came out with a plan to expand first to 8 hours late summer, then to the normal 9.5 hours this fall, actually covering a normal full time work day. That should help a lot in the long run. LO is switching to a preschool classroom in the fall. She’s on the cusp for being old enough, so I wasn’t sure if they’d place her there or in another “older toddler” room. It will be interesting to see how she does being one of the younger kids. The teachers probably will cope with her growing out of naps better in the preschool classroom. I think she will do fine…. and it also saves us >$300/month compared to toddler pricing, so I can’t complain about that! It will be a (much) larger class than she has now (just 5 other kids). At the start of the year I expect the kids won’t be able to be vaccinated, but I’m pretty optimistic that case rates will stay low locally, and a vaccination will be available to her soon.

April Wrap Up

May 4, 2021

How did it get to be the end of April already??

Money & Net Worth & Spending

We filed our taxes and received our federal refund. There was a brief moment of worry when we noted a letter from the compliance division of the tax board, but it turns out it was just for some extra identify verification checking. We should get that refund soon.

I pulled the trigger on the megabackdoor Roth, with a tentative goal to do about $10k this year. Maybe more if we don’t do some home stuff that we are considering. It was dead simple, so now I feel a little silly for waiting so long to figure out how to do this.

We also made some “big” purchases: a new gas grill and a guitar. We have long had an outdoor charcoal grill, but I don’t think we used it at all last year. With wildfire concerns, it really is rarely useable in the summer, especially on the very hot day when we want to use it. The guitar was something T has been wanting for a long time, and though LO would enjoy, so he decided to pull the trigger. (I suggested finding a used one, but ultimately just deferred to his judgement on this.)

COVID

I had a few days where I was imagining a post-COVID life, but… I looked around again. Even in this very privileged country, things are not smooth sailing in so much of the country. The anti-vaxers are everywhere, spreading false information, preventing herd immunity. Is it really true that 50% of republicans do not want the vaccination??? This is such a toxic political situation. We have been manipulated by tech algorithms, shady politicians, foreign interests, and our own former president. It is so disturbing. Beyond that, India is in total crisis. South America is in trouble. The rich countries can’t just move on from COVID (even if we could convince our own population to do so!), we have to go together, as a species.

On the bright side, both adults in the home are now fully vaccinated, and my parents are visiting! Hooray!

Activism

It feels so difficult to impact change meaningfully. It is incredibly frustrating to see how far there is to go. One thing I can do is financially support those who are effective at activism, so I’m doing that. There has to be more.

I heard a few people talk about people taking bystander intervention training, but right now I’m not really in public at all, and I pretty much never am in situations where I expect to be a bystander to harassment… but maybe that is still something worth doing. How have you been supporting BIPOC communities lately? One year ago, it felt like we were on the precipice of something big. Conversations have shifted a bit. And (with video evidence and a long line of police testifying against him) a police officer was actually convicted of murder. It is just not enough.

Work

It is going fine. Nothing exciting to report. My level of burnout is going down, but productivity is not as high as it needs to be. Part of that is still trying to do a full work week with reduced daycare hours, and I’m not sure what our long term game plan is for that. I do think there will be increases in productivity as soon as I drop my meeting heavy project, and also just with taking a real and full vacation. And probably with getting back to work.

There talk about “most people” going back in person mid-summer, at least some of the time. I think that will be a good thing. Vaccination compliance is very high, and it is likely to be mandatory at some point. I’m not a big fan of working fully from home long term. My commute is very short, my work environment is nice and quiet, so there aren’t a lot of downsides to going into the office, once COVID concerns are mitigated.

Family & Life

I had an endoscopy this month for some swallowing concerns. It has been literally going on for years, but seems to be progressively worse, especially this year. After choking on an ill-advised cold medicine gel cap for 10+ minutes, I decided to get it checked out. I completely underestimated recovery, expecting to be back at work later that day. The sedation did a number on me, and I had pretty extreme throat pain for the first 24 hours, then a liquid diet for a few days. Anyway, it doesn’t seem to be anything too serious.There is more follow up planned before I will know if any treatment (surgical) is needed, or if it is just something that I can leave alone indefinitely.

We are still thinking about a year long sabbatical starting in Fall 2022, and I am already getting cold feet. It is potentially a huge sacrifice for me in my career, and I’m just scared about that. But, it is an opportunity for me (and our whole family) in non-career ways. I guess we can see how the next 6 months play out before getting too worried about it.

LO is amazing and adorable, as usual. We’ve been having bedtime struggles again, but nothing unsurmountable, and she still sleeps all night – so that is enough for me!

Where to save the “extra” money?

April 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Savings Priorities (from 2018 and still today):

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

Taxes Filed

April 12, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

March Wrap-up

April 9, 2021

Money & Net Worth & Spending

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

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

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

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

COVID

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

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

Activism

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

Work

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

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

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

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

Family & Life

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

February Wrap-Up

March 15, 2021

Money & Net Worth

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

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

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

Spending

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

COVID

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

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

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

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

Work

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

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

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

Family & Life

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

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

January Wrap-up

February 8, 2021

Money & Net Worth

Our net worth up with the market. I did not invest gamble in GameStop or anything exciting. Oh! Here is something a bit exciting. We’ve achieved “FI without home” status. This means that if we sold our home and used the equity to buy something outright somewhere cheaper, we could claim financial independence. In other words, if we removed the mortgage (and childcare) from our budget (but left property taxes, etc.), we have enough to cover a 4% SWR. I have LOTS of caveats about my use of flat out unrealistic assumptions, so this is just a made up milestone not reflective of reality. But it is something.

Food & Cooking & Spending

I’ve mentioned much every month that our food spending increased since last year, in large part due to switching to grocery delivery (mostly via Whole Foods, sometimes Good Eggs and Costco, no longer via instacart). This month, we did 2-3 weeks of “meal delivery box” from a local business that did food on the side pre-pandemic, but has pivoted into prepared delivery as a major source of income through the pandemic. After trying it out in December, I was sold. For $130/week, we get enough food to fill up most (not all) of the dinners, without cooking. It is hard to precisely quantify how much food it is. It isn’t organized into meals, but it seems to last us about 5-6 days, with some supplemented sides/salads. It is reasonably healthy, they have vegan/veg options, a variety of cuisines, and it takes all of the decision making and cooking off my plate. I’m pretty convinced that cooking as a service is going to surge in the next decade. This type of service has always been around, but was previously entirely unaffordable. It still isn’t cheap, but it is at a price I’m willing to pay, for now.

In comparison to our other most common takeout options, it is a little cheaper. We can get about 2 days worth of Thai food for $65 from our favorite Thai place, but it is a very specific delicious) cuisine. Pizza from our favorite place is around $35 for 4 meals, but really heavy to do regularly. Plus, those aren’t delivered – we pick up.

We’re going to continue this service heavily throughout the remainder of the pandemic, I think.

COVID

T resumed lecturing (remotely), and we had to bite the bullet and sent LO back to daycare mid-month. We couldn’t make our jobs work without child care. We still think daycare is our preferred option for her (versus nanny). Also, she has given up naps at home, further making work impossible. Cases dropped the week we sent her back, and continue to drop. They still are not low, but they are just this week have fallen below my “panic!” threshold.

I started getting weekly surveillance testing offered through my work. I’m glad testing availability has improved so much that this is possible. I’ve read that asymptomatic surveillance testing is a bit controversial, and that even though false positives are rare, it is more likely than not that an asymptomatic positive test is false. So, my plan is to not panic if I get a positive test, but take precautions. Then retest, ASAP.

Vaccination roll out is painfully slow. We don’t expect to be eligible anytime soon, but hope that LO’s teachers will be offered a vaccination very soon, and hope that they want it. I was initially very optimistic about the vaccine news. The slow speed and the variant news is tempering that, but overall, I’m still amazed we have vaccines already. My mom has received her two shots, though! Hooray nurses! My grandpa (over 85) is getting his second next week. Same for T’s grandma.

Work

January was a mixed bag. The first half of the month was working with a toddler underfoot (T admittedly took on more of this). My phase of the project wrapped up without much trouble (no more train wrecks). I actually took a vacation day late in the month (while LO was at daycare!) and just chilled about the house.

A big milestone for my main project will happen in February, then I’m back in a leadership role for a few months before fully handing off my responsibilities to other capable team members. It has been a privilege that the company I am working with has given me such a visible and important role on the project, despite me being external and an “outsider”. I know it wouldn’t have happened without my lead/manager advocating for me over the years, and I’m grateful. It’s been super long and interesting road. I’ll be both sad and happy to complete my role on the project.

There is plenty of work at my actual workplace, so I’m not too worried about what comes next. I have a role lined up (taking on more for my second project), but there is a lot of other places where my skills could be used.

Family & Life

We’ve started talking about a (still far off, post-COVID) sabbatical for T. Previously, I’ve dismissed the idea as too detrimental/risky for my career, and T has also been content to push it off. With the culmination of my project, combined with time to have built a reputation at my job, combined with our increasingly secure financial position…. I’m willing to take the risk. Or, I will be willing very soon. It is also a mini-pathfinder to expat life, if the political situation continues to deteriorate. I don’t actually want to leave this area/country without planning to return, but in the end, I’m going to make the decision that is best for LO and best for us.

LO continues to be adorable. We’re struggling with bedtimes (what is new), but delighting in the continued improvement in language and pretend play.

When asked if she wanted to watch the Super Bowl, she ran to the table . “Yes! Bowl of soup!!!” (She loves the hot and sour soup that I’ve made a few times.) My interest the Super Bowl was only slightly higher than hers. 🙂

2020 Financial Summary

January 3, 2021

Overall Net Worth

The market was up, so our net worth is also up – overall about a 20% increase for 2020. About 40% percent of the increase was from direct savings, and the other 60% was market growth. It always feels like the market is really propelling us forward (and it is!), but there is still a significant chunk of the growth happening due to our earnings and savings.

Our asset allocation changed a little bit throughout the year.

CategoryStartPre-refiPost-refiEnd
Cash7%8%4%4%
Investments67%68%70%71%
Home equity26%24%27%26%
2020 SP Asset Allocation

I’m glad we reduced our cash balance significantly, but not quite as glad that we put it into real estate – even though that helped us get a lower rate and lower payment. My goal is to have less than 20% of our net worth tied up in home equity. We’ll get there. I’m done with mortgage prepayments for some time, maybe forever. Our mortgage is now less than childcare (which isn’t saying a lot since childcare is $$$$), and the extra money is better invested.

Savings / debt repayment

We maxed out all tax advantaged retirement spaces, which includes two 403bs, two 457bs, two Roth IRAs, and some other (small) misc. non-voluntary savings through work. We also put a hefty sum from cash savings into our mortgage balance to qualify for a lower refinance rate (rates have since dropped even more!). We saved a little bit in a 529 for LO. This was mostly just gifts from relatives (total < $500), but I threw some money into it whenever the market was having a terrible day, or whenever life felt terrible. Our strategy for college savings is not primarily 529-focused. I hope to get to a mega-backdoor Roth IRA in the next couple of years for tax diversification and college savings. Maybe 2022? We heavily prioritize anything that gives us a tax break today over a tax break tomorrow, and we just haven’t had enough income for the mega-backdoor yet.

Spending

For spending, we “saved” on childcare for the 3-ish months daycare was closed, and also moved from infant care to toddler care. All in all, our childcare costs were $7k less in 2020 compared to 2019. We expect them to increase again in 2021, since we are voluntarily keeping LO home for now. I don’t expect the state will force our childcare to close again, and we have to pay unless they are closed, or we decide to withdraw.

Mortgage spending was down about $2.5k due to our refinance, but home maintenance spending was WAY up with a new roof. Despite saving in the childcare category and reducing our mortgage payment, our total spending was the highest ever due to the new roof.

Our grocery spending also went way up, increasing by ~$50/week. Most of this is pandemic related, but part of it is that LO now eats real food instead of breastmilk and small portions. For example, I rarely would buy berries for myself, but she has them all the time. On the pandemic side, ordering groceries online costs more, plus every order has an extra tip. I also count food boxes under grocery, and we’ve done some of those. They are pretty pricey for what you get. I can no longer shop in person at Costco in person (I used to get frozen chicken and other meat then). Finally, price just is not on the top of my list of concerns when meal planning (easy/quick, healthy, and tasty are the priorities).

Our pet spending was down because we had to rehome our dog early in the pandemic. I can’t go into details, but it was truly the only thing that we could do in the circumstances. It heart wrenching (and really still is), and one of the worst things we’ve gone through in our lives.

Donations were up! It still is a very small percentage of our take-home pay, but I’m glad that they are a regular and increasing part of our budget. This year they were mostly targeted on BLM / NAACP, combined with food security related donations. There are a lot of causes out there, but these feel the most pressing.

Everything else was pretty similar, or within $1000. Gas spending went down by half, but isn’t a large amount even in normal years.

Looking ahead

If the market stays flat, we would reach the “FI excluding home” number I set a few years ago by the end of 2021. This means that if we took our home equity and used it to buy a house outright in a lower cost area, and spent the yearly budget I set with a 4% withdrawal, we could retire. There are assumptions that imply it is an overly conservative number (ignoring social security and a tiny pension), and others that imply it is an overly risky number (health care, at market peak). I’m not planning on taking action on this milestone, so I haven’t calculated it any more detail. Also, our plan is not really to move to a lower cost area, and we probably should fund college for our LO. So, we are not really very close to FI, at least not for the lifestyle we have now and likely want to maintain. I estimate we have about another 5 years or so before we reach that, or less if the market performs well.

November and December Wrap-up

December 31, 2020

I started this entry a long time ago, but didn’t get time to finish until just now. I hope all are doing well, staying healthy, and had the best holidays you could. Happy New Years Eve!

Election week Recap:

(Doesn’t this already feel like so long ago?) On election night, I watched the NYT needles to get an idea of whether a president-elect would be identified that night. It quickly became clear we wouldn’t know right away. I followed the checked the FiveThirtyEight live blog, and they seemed convinced Biden had a shot a Georgia and Pennsylvania – but the early numbers made that hard for my brain to accept. I went to bed uncertain, but with hope. On Wednesday and Thursday, I didn’t get a lot done, aside from refreshing the NYTs vote counts and attempting my own spreadsheet models to see how likely it was Biden could pull ahead. The memes were so good! An overwhelming sense of relief washed over me on Friday when it became apparent that Biden would win, and would win by enough to make Trump’s coup attempts and legal shenanigans very difficult. The intensity of the relief was surprising. Our country has been so many problems remaining, and my faith in American democracy has been permanently shaken. Still, the relief of stopping the free fall to hell (as AOC put it) was very real.

Holiday Recap:

We celebrate the secular version of Christmas, centered around family and gift giving. We stayed home and saw no one. There really was no other choice for us aside from flying, which is not going to happen. I really miss seeing family, but it was also nice not to travel. LO got a lot of presents, mostly from other people. My mom always goes overboard on gifts, but she also is very willing to accept input on what we want/need. I think getting gifts at a smaller scale would be fine, but it makes her happy and I’m not going to fight that battle.

I got a few things I needed, and some things we wanted. I got a gift card to pick myself out some new clothes. It is an exercise in optimism after 9 months of mostly wearing casual lounge clothes and hardly leaving the house. I haven’t been very interested in clothes or my appearance since LO was born, honestly, but I suddenly have an urge to look just a little put together on occasion.

COVID-19 worries:

The spike across the country in November was frustrating and scary. Many of my extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins) were infected in their hot spot Midwest state, but most recovered major immediate complications. The last of my (deceased) grandma’s 15 siblings passed away of COVID after catching it in her assisted living community. My MIL and FIL were infected, and recovered I watched local cases climb with nervousness, and wondering how much longer before we’ll have to stop using childcare.

The December came, and the wave started here. We stopped sending LO to childcare as of 12/4, starting the already planned holiday break early. About 1.5 weeks later, one of her teachers tested positive for COVID and exposed the class, so the classroom closed down a few days early anyway. We didn’t get any further details on the case. I don’t know when we’ll be ready to send her back, but we opted not to cancel our contract. I think she’ll be back by February.

On a brighter note, here are some new, more happy, COVID statistics to track: Over 2 million American’s vaccinated. My mom got her first shot this week, hooray!

Money and Net Worth and Spending:

This is back to feeling super unimportant. I guess things are going well. It is really unfair how having money invested means that you can just get more and more money, without really doing anything. The more you have the easier it is to grow it.

Spending has been normal, I guess. I spent extra on Christmas presents, but everything else was normal. Food spending continues to be a bit higher, but travel and other fun spending is basically at zero. Donations continue monthly, and I topped off the year with another donation to the local food back, and one to the local dog breed rescue.

Work:

Work has been relatively good. There were no big train wrecks, and the one big blip that we had was due to randomness that couldn’t have been prevented. It was busy during non-holiday weeks, but we were able to get ahead on some things, keep the pace manageable over the holidays. The hiccup that we had was relatively easy to recover from (if still ill-timed for other reasons), which was a blessing. I’m about 2 weeks from shifting (temporarily) to more of a backseat role for a month. I’ll still be pushing forward work to get ready for the next phase I’m leading, but maybe there will be fewer meetings?

I’ve cut my time waaay down on my second project. My portion of that work is largely in a holding pattern. The project made a major decision to change one of our key partners, and I’m now feeling optimistic we’ll come out successful this summer (when I’m able to ramp back up). It will be an exciting project if we can pull it off. My boss/mentor is still leading things for now. I fully trust her to set up the project well, and that I’ll be able to shine in the role when I’m ready.

Since we’ve been keeping LO home, my productivity has suffered quite a bit, and I’m trying to just accept that as OK instead of holding myself to the usual standards. There is only so much I can do, and I am optimistic my reputation will not be overly tarnished, given everything. I’m prioritizing my family over my job, while still maintaining standards high enough to avoid letting my colleagues down.

Food:

We’ve still relied on Whole Foods delivery, an occasional Amazon Fresh for things Whole Foods doesn’t carry. I mix in some Good Eggs meal kits now and then. They are good and I feel good about the company, but they are expensive. I found a local place that is doing sets of pre-cooked takeout-style meals delivered, enough food for lunch/dinner for about 4 days for $130. They were not excellent, but they were good. Most of all, it was very very easy. I will probably do that again next month. It costs about 2-4 times what a takeout order might cost us (generally we get 2 each out of a takeout order). But quite a bit more food, and we don’t have to pickup. When we’re out childcare and trying to survive, I welcome shortcuts. On that note, I’ve been buying bagged salad kits to help us eat more veg/salad. They are a terrible value, but they are something we reliably eat and can whip up in a second.

Some of the easy and/or delicious things I’ve cooked for the first time lately: Chicken Shawarma, gnocchi, hot and sour soup, and this curry. I put a “healthy instant pot” cookbook on my wishlist because I’ve been pretty impressed with the ease and quality of instant pot meals.

Family:

LO has been amazing. Her vocabulary and language skills are developing rapidly, and it is so fun to hear what is going on inside of that little head. It is also adorable to hear her mimic every phrase we say. Two year olds get a bad reputation, but so far, this is a really fun age. There are tantrums, for sure, but we’ve been able to handle them calmly. She does miss going to school (daycare), seeing her teachers and classmates, and all the fun stuff they do there… but she’s doing OK with us too!

Cute toddler things:

  • One day we had tacos for dinner and asked her two brush all of the tacos out. Now when brushing, she says she’s getting the tacos out, and will sometimes exclaim “peeking tacos!” to indicate she’s getting a taco that is hiding out. It is very cute.
  • “Fish” was one of her early words, and she would mispronounce it so badly that it sounded like “rawrsh”. To encourage her to say it correctly, we’d say “Fff, fff, fff, fish!” Now she seems to think that fishes say “fff fff fff”. Cat says “meow, fish say fff, fff, fff
  • Wee had Chinese food one night and let her have a fortune cook. She opened the cookie then exclaimed “peekaboo paper!”
  • When she doesn’t want just to change her diaper, she claimed she is still “working on it!”
  • She gave her rocking horse a face mask
  • She started letting us know that she enjoys things by saying “having fun!” “Having play dough fun!” “Having tunnel fun!”

We have been struggling with naps a bit, and she’s been sometimes waking up with nightmares and needing to be settled. We’ve let her miss her nap a few times, but it generally has a bad result, especially multiple days in a row. So, we’ve started to try to enforce it more, to the extent we can.

Anyway, that’s all i have for now. Happy new year, readers!

September and October Wrap Up

November 1, 2020

Net Worth and Money News

We are settled into our refinance with our new lower payment. Immediately after closing, our refinance company sold the mortgage to the bank we already bank at, which is very convenient.

Our net worth is down with the stock market, setting us about 3 months back in time.

We’re still fully employed, but my raise was cancelled this year (has been about 4-5% most years) and I haven’t been able to push for a promotion that is roughly due. It is on my managers radar, but… I don’t know. It doesn’t seem that important right now, even though this stuff adds up over time.

COVID-19

Like so many others, I have coronavirus fatigue. I’m so so tired of this. Just like the rest of the world.

I’m grateful that I have childcare that feels mostly safe, and that local new case counts are on the low side right now (~5/100k daily new cases)… but trending back up a bit. Childcare makes my life possible, and didn’t force me into a position of needing to decide if I should quit or scale back my job in order to survive.

I’m pretty devastated at the thought of not seeing my family in person again for quite a while. It has been about a year since my mom has seen LO (and me) in person. We FaceTime frequently, but it just isn’t the same. I think I’m going to put the kibosh on their idea of driving out here for the holidays, because I don’t think it is worth the effort or the risk. If things haven’t changed by spring, we will figure out a way to make something happen. Their idea is to quarantine for a modest amount of time (days), get tested, then drive out stopping in motels. They are generally cautious, but my mom works as a nurse and cannot stay home for 14 days. I don’t think my mom could mentally handle the idea of getting on a plane, even if we could find evidence of it being lower risk. I don’t know if it is or not. They are in a major hotspot right now, and I don’t know how much that will change by December, given the lack of local restrictions and a strong “COVID is a hoax” culture. I just found out several of my relatives in the hotspot have tested positive (including my cousin’s pregnant wife), although no one is seriously ill at the moment. My cousin that runs a daycare may be exposed, but is not getting tested because she can’t afford to shut down. 😦 I’m also hearing stories of teachers testing positive and being at school again a week later.

It feels like the whole country has given up. I know this isn’t completely true, but it also isn’t false. Even if we have relatively conservative policies statewide and locally, what happens in the rest of the country and world affects us all.

I’m nervous that case numbers will grow too high and we’ll have to pull LO from daycare, which will be a disaster. We’ll probably have to keep paying for it too, unless the state/county mandates closure. If that happens, maybe I would take actual leave rather than trying to do everything again. It would be tough to step back from my roles, though. ::::sigh:::

Spending

Nothing to report here. I haven’t caught up on tracking, nor have any exciting large purchases to report.

Food spending continues to be high. I’ve stopped using InstaCart, mostly because the prices seemed very inflated and the pricing is not transparent. Also, there were some mistakes. I’m mostly using Whole Foods delivery, Costco delivery (2 day shipping, not fresh stuff), occasionally Amazon Fresh for things Whole Foods doesn’t carry, and Good Eggs. Good Eggs is a bit pricey, but they have meal kits that are fast/easy/healthy and they seem like an ethical company. (Blue Apron meals had more steps even if they weren’t hard.) I mostly use them when I’m too overwhelmed to meal plan, but am trying to get away from it..

House Projects

I think we are are on a break from these after the roof…

Activism

Aside from my monthly donations, I’m failing to make serious progress here, at least in terms of racial justice.

Like many, I was devastated by RBG’s death, and the new supreme court judge appointment. I’m just burnt out.

Work

My long term project had a bit of a train wreck recently, caused by a sequence of human errors and also issues with the hardware that we ar uncovering as we try to use more functionality. Our process checkpoints failed, including places where I feel like I could have caught something. (It turns out the train wreck was basically not preventable, but I could have mitigated one error.) It’s been rough, but it is maybe getting back on track now. It’s going to be a bit of a scramble through early January, then I’ll get to take a deep breath. I hope.

My newer project is also not going well, and it might end up fizzling next summer. I hope not, but it is a real possibility. I’m only working on this at about 10%, mostly because I’m too busy with the above. I also am trying to get up to speed on an even newer project that has a better prognosis (but is scheduled to go through next September if all goes well).

Family

LO is wonderful. Exploding with words and phrases and full of joy. She surprises us daily with new words.

“Whole moon!” she exclaimed on Halloween, marveling at the bright moon.

“Next song!” she calls out during my singing to her in the car, just like I say to Spotify playing on Google home. Ok, then!

She is getting more opinionated, and able to express her demands. “Different! Different!” if she wants a new shirt or book or whatever. “Two! Two!” she cries out during FaceTime with my parents, asking for them to both get into the frame.

T and I are doing OK. My parents are OK and trying to stay safe in the hotspot. My siblings are doing OK.

I’m just hoping this election brings something to be optimistic about…