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January links and snippets

January 29, 2020

Links:

A reminder to myself to to keep investing in long bull markets – they can last a really long time!  Anyone who pulled out of the market after the big dip in December 2018 missed out on big gains in 2019.

The existential dread of Mini Brands.   You can buy (tiny) branded plastic junk, wrapped in more plastic. Have we reached peak consumerism? This concept makes me feel a little sick.  I have heard that when you have kids, plastic junk just starts flowing into your life, and it is really hard to stop it. 

I had missed this post from October on GRS, where Jacob Fiske Lund of Early Retirement Extreme gave an update on the past years of his life.  I used to comment on his blog (and vice versa, at least before he became popular).  Despite generally not wanting to make the same choices as he did (RV life, etc.), I very much admired his logical and determined approach, in addition to the way his mind worked and his writing style. It was a pleasure to read this update!  I also read the comments, and thought this response from Jacob was also true:  “The sudden popularity of the FIRE-movement has resulted in […] people jumping into w/o thinking about why they’re doing it; basically treating FIRE as a product they can consume to become happy.”

For parents of babies: Complaint to HR

Snippets: (A snippet is a thought that I might have expanded on and turned into a blog post, had I wanted to spend more time blogging.)

I performed a few unnecessarily financial calculations.

1) Having a second child would delay our FI (w/house but not health care) by 9-12 months. This number is (lots!) smaller than I expected, but (as usual) it is a simplified calculation.

2) Our house in a high cost area delays FI by at least 5 years.  This wouldn’t be solved by renting, it is driven simply by our desire to live in a high cost area. Yikes.  A lot of this is driven by the maintenance budget I hold, which is perhaps more generous than it needs to be.

3) My estimated social security earning will increase by about $1.2k/year for each year worked in the next 5 years, then about $800/year for 5 years, then $600/year for 10 years.. then even less than that. This assumes the current rules apply and I begin withdrawals at full retirement age.

4) The cost of me being a stay at home parent would be approximately $75k+/year, calculated as Gross Income – Childcare – Taxes Saved (estimated). Our taxes saved aren’t as dramatic as some families since I shelter a large fraction of my income already.  This is just the in-the-moment costs, not the salary growth, not the retirement growth, and not the benefits.  (We mostly use T’s benefits anyway.)

I calculated this after reading a post where a SAHP came up with a significantly lower estimated cost for his/her family.  It obviously depends heavily on the earning potential. Also, the assumptions on how much a SAHP can save the family, outside of childcare, seemed inconsistent with my experience, as a working parent who doesn’t hire things out. Would I really have more free time to optimize spending/finances/household if I was a SAHP? Parenting a young child is pretty consuming.

So… this is a cost I’m unwilling to take on until we are significantly closer to financial independence. The cost of reduced hours/reduced salary is something I’d consider, but it isn’t compatible with my job & child care options right now

Parenthood: One year and beyond!

January 19, 2020

Here are some updates about life with LO these last several months.

Personality / Milestones

On her first birthday, LO took her first wobbly step.  From there, she quickly gained skills as a walker / runner, and is always on the go.  She is still her usual zany and sweet self.

At 15 months, her vocabulary is limited, although she has a wide range of babbles and words are emerging. Her first word was probably Dada, but it is unclear at what point she was using in context, rather than babbling.  She also has been saying “this?” and “that!” for a long time, and also “dog”.  She babbles mamamama, but doesn’t use it to refer to me.  She now says “cheese” and a similarly sounding “shoes” and “trees” and “teeth” in context.  Also, “moo” for cows and “sssss” for snakes.  She’s working on identifying body parts and can point to many (foot, nose, eyes, ears, etc.).

Some mini tantrums have started, especially when we remove items from her possession, or other random toddler reasons.

She is really into peek-a-boo, getting pushed around on her little car (or pulled on a blanket or in a box or whatever – just zooming around), and climbing into boxes and other containers. She got a lacing toy for Christmas and is pretty obsessed with it.

This will sound a little silly for such a young kid, but we started a tumbling/gymnastics “class” with her.  It is very cute, and it was honestly more so we could have a parent/kid activity to do together since most of that stuff is during the work day.

Childcare

Daycare is still amazing and great.  The ratio is low, the teachers are experienced and caring, and I have basically no complaints about it. LO gets so much out of it, and has so much fun.

When they sent out pricing updates for next year, they benchmarked themselves against some other local centers, and I was shocked to learn that you could indeed spend EVEN MORE (20%+ more!) than we are spending for full time infant care. The only other centers I had looked into were slightly less expensive than ours, but I guess there are some very fancy options!

Eating

She’s almost entirely self-feeding, and eating a lot of what we eat.  We help out with utensil use.  She’s a picky eater sometimes, other times she’s not.   We just keep feeding her things in hopes she’ll eat them.  We also rely on daycare to feed her a variety of foods, and fall back to some “toddler food” staples at home. I had an idea that our toddler would eat what we eat at a young age, but reality is a little different.  We try.

Routines & Sleep

Just after 11 months, she started routinely sleeping through the night (ceased waking around 4-5 am to nurse).  Hooray!  After her first birthday, we dropped down to two bottles (during the work day) to use up the remaining frozen breast milk, then switched to cows milk in cups.  I quit pumping within a week of her first birthday, and my supply quickly diminished.

After the new year, we moved to a one nap schedule at home and at daycare. She’d started refusing one of her naps each day at home, so the timing was good. It is going pretty well so far, but we’ve had occasional issues with early wake ups.

Co-parenting

With nursing ending, this has felt relatively balanced to me.

T is a morning person and is almost always the one to get her from her crib.  Usually, he hands her off to me after a diaper change, so he can finish/start making coffee. Sometimes, the coffee is done and I help with breakfast or get showering. We kind of wing the morning routine, for better or worse. We trade daycare drop-off and pickup, depending on what makes sense for that day’s obligations. Sometimes T is able to work from home for half of the day, otherwise I come  back and walk the dog at lunch – just like I used to. Weekends we both spend a lot of time chasing her about and playing with her.  Each day isn’t always equal, but in the long run, we both do a lot of child care and both take care of a lot of other responsibilities.

Do we need life insurance when we are on our way to FI?

January 7, 2020

We each have modest life insurance through our employers.  With T getting tenure, the likelihood of no longer having access to that life insurance is low.  It is a little less sure for me.

If I were to pass away, T would get all of my retirement accounts. Unfortunately, retirement budget really wouldn’t change significantly. We share a home, we share a car.  He’d need less food and such. Assuming I die while employed, he’d get a life insurance payout sufficient to pay off about half the remaining mortgage balance, and about $20k/year until LO turns 18. Regardless of whether I’m employed at my current employer or not, he’d also get about $27k/year in social security survivors benefit until LO graduates high school. Conclusion:  While I’m employed at my current job, I feel comfortable that LO and T would be taken care of.  If I was no longer employed at my job, they’d still be fine, although it would be nice to have given T more of a head start on the mortgage pay down.  He can meet his bills without me (esp. assuming SS survivor benefit to help with childcare costs), but he wouldn’t be able to save aggressively.

If T were to pass away, I would get a life insurance payout that could pay about 60% of the remaining balance on the mortgage, and a similar $20k/year until LO turns 18. His social security earnings history is not as strong as mine (grad school), so I estimate the survivor benefit for LO to be at about $14k/year until she graduates high school  Conclusion:  This is probably fine too, although savings progress would be a bit stalled while LO is not yet in school.  Again, it would be nicer if the mortgage could be vanished.

As our financial position continues to improve, the need for life insurance will continue to decrease. Still, we aren’t quite in a place where I’m comfortable saying we don’t need it.  We are most vulnerable right now, when LO is young and needs full-time and very expensive childcare. It wouldn’t be a financial disaster if one of us passed away, but it would not be ideal. I’m comfortable with relying on job-based life insurance for T, but I worry slightly about doing the same for myself. The ideal situation would be for the survivor to be able to eliminate the mortgage entirely, which basically puts the survivor at FI status (pending market corrections, etc.).

Based on this, I’m going to shop for a 10 year term insurance for both of us, separate from our jobs. A quick estimate shows that I should be able to get $500k of coverage for around$200/year/person, which seems worth it.  We could also consider dropping the supplemental life from our work policies (but probably wouldn’t).  I expect we’ll be legitimately FI within 10 years, and don’t expect we’d need life insurance after that point.  Am I wrong?

Any recommendations on how to evaluate and purchase life insurance?

2019 Highlights, 2020 Priorities

January 4, 2020

2019 Highlights

  • LO grew from ~2 months to 14 months!  She started nanny share, then she started daycare, and is thriving. She rolled, she sat, she started solids, she crawled, she walked, she clapped, she babbled, she talked.
  • We just barely hit a 50% savings rate by my calculation method (which is imperfect, but adequate for the purpose of competing against myself).
  • I lost about a month of income due to part of my maternity leave being unpaid.  The rest was paid with banked vacation and sick leave that I’d hoarded for years.
  • We maxed out our tax deferred space and two Roth IRAs.  Hooray!
  • We opened a 529 for LO to house gifts, and started her off with $1k.  Her cash gift total for 2019 was $200.  I expect similar amounts most years – we don’t have any wealthy family members that would feel a need/desire to contribute a significant amount.
  • We sent $8k to mortgage principal, although we reduced cash position by a similar amount.  (Still a good move, given our cash position.)
  • T achieved tenure!  He also got a raise, though not a huge one, more than usual.  My raise was a modest raise, but I should be ready for a promotion this year.
  • We traveled to the midwest in February before I returned to work to visit my family.
  • My little sister got married and we traveled Las Vegas for the wedding.  It was our first “vacation” with the baby, but it was not very vacation-y.  The wedding was great, though!
  • We traveled to Colorado for a week for work. T played stay-at-hotel-dad while I worked.  ❤
  • I finally got to start a new project at work!  It is based locally with a really good team.  Hooray!
  • We traveled to T’s hometown for the holidays and saw his entire immediate family + their SOs/kids, plus many other relatives.  LO met her cousins and hung in there with the long travel days, weird/new sleeping arrangements, and 3 hour time change.

2020 Financial Priorities

Max out all tax-deferred space. I’ve been vague on this, but here it is.  T and I both have access a 457b and a 403b, which have separate $19.5k limits. T also has tax-deferred pension contributions and some non-voluntary retirement contributions that come out of summer salary (and don’t contribute to the voluntary $19.5k 403b limit). So, we defer a LOT of taxes, and ultimately will shift some from the ~22/24% bracket to a lower bracket (probably). It is amazing, and it is unfair. (That is is one reason I’ve been vague about it – because it is unfair.)  This inflates our savings rate, as our pre-tax dollars are worth less than post-tax dollars in a brokerage account.  We’ll have a higher income tax burden in retirement, but I’m taking the tax break today while the demands on our income are the highest (mortgage, childcare).

Pay for roof (out of sinking fund). I’ll count the roof in our yearly spending and when calculating our savings rate. The point of noting the sinking fund here is that I intend to reduce our cash savings by roughly the amount of a roof. If we cash-flowed the roof, we wouldn’t be able to afford all other savings goals.  I created this sinking fund during the first couple of years after buying our house, because we knew a roof was on the horizon.  With this major looming expense out of the way, I feel comfortable reducing our cash position a bit. If the roof costs less than $20k (I hope it does!) we can also consider some other smaller projects.

Max out our 2020 Roth IRAs for $12k (in lieu of college savings). I really want to put the mortgage above this, but I’ll kick myself later for forgoing tax advantaged space.

Pay $20k extra to the mortgage. This is dependent upon our tax refund being approximately what I’m expecting.  It is dependent on T having full summer salary (which depends on some childcare issues this summer).  It is also dependent on me fixing our tax withholdings, so we don’t overpay throughout the year again.

Spend no more than we did in 2019, excluding the roof. The uncertainty of what a new roof costs was making a savings rate target hard to set. I really want to hit 50% for arbitrary round number reasons.  If the roof is free (haha), we could achieve ~55%+.

Reduce spending on Amazon by 50%.  This won’t actually save us much money, because I’ll buy the items I need elsewhere. Still, I’d prefer to support other companies (Costco, Target) when the price is similar. Plus, Amazon has gotten much less reliable, and I’m unhappy with how they (don’t) deal with the issue of counterfeits and aren’t responsible for their supply chain.  Step one is to figure out what our Amazon total was in 2019.  I’m not sure I want to know…

2020 Other Priorities

I used to make a lot of yearly goals, and I’d usually meet most of them. My ambition seems to have waned, and since having LO, keeping her alive and well while juggling work feels like it is enough. (But I can’t totally blame LO, as this trend started before her.)

Finish estate planning. We fell off the radar at the lawyer and shamefully never finished this. Our plan is to do something simpler than what I was initially planning, and leave everything to T. We agree to leave the complexities of protecting LOs claim on things in the case of survivor remarriage after a death to be dealt with by the survivor with a prenup and/or new will/trust. I trust T to arrange things fairly, if the situation arose, and vice versa. It must be set up such that if the survivors dies after remarriage, the trustee of LOs new trust cannot be the new spouse. (I cannot trust any person who is not LO’s parent to appropriately prioritize LO over themselves.  Money does strange things, even to mostly decent people.)

Improve meal planning and reduce meat consumption. I’ve been working towards better meal planning and mostly succeeding. We used to eat meat-free meals a lot of the time, but when I was nursing and temporarily dairy-free, more meat focused meals came into the rotation in order to satisfy my hunger.  I’d like to move back to less meat, but still filling and healthy. I don’t have a firm goal on this. It is a direction rather than a destination.

Reduce dryer usage and wash more things on cold. This is not a habit, and I really really love the convenience of my dryer….  Still.  We don’t really have a lot of space for luandry, and there are several loads each week I wash on hot for either sanitizing reasons or for allergy reasons.  We likely need to purchase a new clothes drying rack for this to work.

We don’t have any vacation travel planned, but will visit our family and make some work related trips into mini-vacations. (I’m hoarding vacation days again, in case we decide to have another kid and I need to self-fund another maternity leave.)

That’s all I have for now, and I don’t want to artificially add more things, so I will leave it there.

Happy new year!

December Wrap-Up

January 1, 2020

Net Worth and Money News

Our net worth was up about 3.5% this month, and I can hardly comprehend the deltas any more. When I first started tracking my net worth, it could take an entire year to accumulate a ~$20k net worth increase.  Now, we regularly see swings larger than 20k (in either direction) each month. It is just wild.

In yet another flip flop on where to prioritize the mortgage, we sent in $8k to mortgage principal. It’s a spoonful of water in the bucket, but it helps.  If we accumulate enough of these little spoonfuls, a recast would lower our fixed costs. My real dream is to refinance into a 15 year mortgage, but the payments are out of my comfort zone for now (even if my budget shows we could afford it).

Spending Bullets (excluding childcare, mortgage, property taxes and car/home insurance):

  • Monthly spend (excluding some major categories as noted above): $5,681
  • Highest single transaction that hasn’t been featured in a previous month: $1,670 for a new espresso machine. This was 100% T’s choice. It pained me just a little bit to enter it into our expenses.  The way we do joint finances is essentially that we have one pot, and we both are frugal, and we buy what we want/need. (This wouldn’t work if you have a tight budget to meet.)  Significant purchases are always discussed. Still, in the end, we pretty much always come down to the decision residing with the purchaser, entrusting that person to make a good decision. My input was several months of “I don’t think it is necessary / worth it. Can’t you find something at a lower price point?” But, I don’t make the coffee, nor do I really care significantly about the coffee, other than that there IS coffee of some sort. T is very into it, and he makes us each a coffee every morning. If he thinks it is truly worth it, then who am I to tell him it isn’t?  We can afford this.  There is a line, I’m sure, but I guess $1,670 isn’t crossing it?  He’ll sell his old set up for about $250.
  • Most annoying expense: $1,038 for the dentist. T suddenly needed a procedure done. We hit our out of pocket coverage limit, which is pretty low.  Our dental insurance is not super great. We can reimburse from our FSAs, but we generally don’t put a lot of extra money in the use-it-or-lose-it account. I usually ignore things paid from our FSA in my spending logs, so we’ll see what we actually have to cover out of pocket.  We can carry $500/year over in our FSAs, so they weren’t totally empty (as you might expect they would be in December).  Still, we didn’t put a lot in them for next year, so we’ll wipe them out to pay this bill.
  • Expense that brought the most joy or utility:  All of the gifts for others!
  • Donations (for accountability): $150 for the local food bank, $100 for a local dog rescue of our puppies breed. The woman who runs it is awesome. Saving animals is generally low on my charitable giving priorities, but I mix in some local/personal giving with my higher impact giving.

House Projects

I don’t think we had a lot here, between travel and LO being sick.  We decorated for Christmas, then undecorated. We moved the nursery glider into the living room and put the non-kid friendly chair (leather, not cowhide print) in storage for now.  I sold a non-kid friendly side table that I never really loved anyway.  (I did love the idea of it when we bought it.)  I had it listed at $75, but kept getting low ball offers, because people expect to be able to negotiate.  I added “price firm” to the ad, and got more offers – but people wanted to meet me in the city or asked too many questions.  Finally, someone offered to pick it up and pay $75, and it was gone!

Work

Nothing of interest to say here. Work was good, although a little slow with a lot of people in and out for vacations.  I expect the new year to be very busy.

Other life stuff

LO was sick for just before the holiday, with a moderate fever for about 5 days.  Aside from the fever, she was mostly fine and treatable at home with Tylenol.  Luckily, it cleared up just before we had to travel. She was stuck with the lingering runny nose and hacking cough, neither of which you can do a whole lot for, but at least she was feeling less miserable.

We had brought her to the doctor 2 days before she fell ill. She was having some excessive crying at bedtime and was possibly more clumsy/stumbley than usual, so we wanted to get her ears checked.  Her usual pediatrician wasn’t available and the one we saw had us waiting for over an hour for our appointment.  The medical assistant made it obvious that this was a routine, noting she “spends a lot of time with her patients” (at the expense of the schedule). That is not acceptable, especially with a fussy one-year-old in tow. I understand doctors hate being forced into schedules that allocate brief appointments, but for goodness sake, I just wanted someone to look into her ears for a second. Most infuriatingly, the doctor did the physical exam, asked us to meet her in her office down the hall, then went to see another patient for 15+ minutes.  THEN she came back to say “it is probably just teething, try ibuprofen”  Thank heavens for our regular doctor, who rarely makes us wait any more than the usual.

Aside from the sickness, LO is doing great.  Walking everywhere, eating well, a few words, lots of playing, very active, very happy, extremely cute. She’s sometimes fighting naps and sometimes crying before bed. We might be ready for a one nap schedule on non-daycare days.  I don’t know.  She sleeps through the night, which is the #1 gift, but I just can’t crack the code to have her consistently drift happily off to sleep for naps and night.  (And if we try to let her dictate when she sleeps, she just stays awake until she absolutely melts down into a cry fest.)

We spent about 5 days in the midwest visiting family, which was really nice. Traveling on planes with a 14-month-old lap monkey was seriously not fun – but we all survived. This was her 4th roundtrip via plane, but the first where she was fully mobile and the first with connections. Daycare was/is closed for 2 weeks around the holiday, so she’s been home another week after we returned. I only had some of those days off, but T was able to largely cover the days I had to work.

I’ve wrapped up my 2019 spending log and started my 2020 projections/plans. I hope to pull together a separate post about some of this soon. I also want to write a decade in review post.  It’s been quite the decade. Happy new year!  Happy new decade!

 

Plans & costs of home maintenance

December 14, 2019

We are a bit more than 5 years into home ownership.

We both got raises this year.  Mine is more modest than his, but I’m not missing any work for maternity leave next year.  If we keep our normal spending roughly flat, we will have some unallocated money.  Hooray! Of course, I would like to save and invest it or pay down the mortgage, and increase our savings rate…  but it likely we’ll tackle one of our bigger house maintenance projects.

The previous owners did some improvements during their time here (~7 years), but the original owners lived here about 50 years and didn’t do much. We’ve been slowly working through mostly non-urgent updates.  Here is a summary of the projects we’ve completed since moving in, and rough plans for the future years.  I’m trying to limit major projects to every 2nd year, although we’ve only been modestly successful at that. Major projects are in the $15k range, and we tend to still spend a few thousand in “off” years.

2014: Furnace duct work ($13.5kish).  This included asbestos removal.  This potentially could have been delayed, but at the time, we wanted to get it done with.
2015:  Drainage ($12kish).  It rained a ton this year and we got water in the crawlspace.
2016:  Nothing major.  Earthquake retrofitting and gutters, about $2k.  The retrofitting was highly subsidized by a couple city / state programs.
2017: Bathroom Remodel, about $15k.  This became an urgent project when we discovered a leak, then some rot behind the shower.  (We never installed the glass shower door budgeted in that post. My main reason is that I’m not sure I want to keep a glass shower door clean.)
2018:  Landscaping (started in 2018).  I’d estimate about $10k over the last two years, which was for a lot of rocks and mulch and such, some plants, and some design work help from a neighbor, and some labor.  T did a lot of the labor himself. The front of the house now looks pretty nice, and the back is improved but not complete.  Also, new washer/dryer and some minor painting and closet reorganization tasks in prep for LO joining the family.
2019: Continued landscaping (accounted for above).  Added some insulation for about $500.  Nothing major this year, but many landscaping costs did fall into this year.
2020:  It is finally time for the new roof!  With no real knowledge, I’m thinking that will run us at least $20k  We also need to paint the exterior.  T keeps hoping that we’ll have time to DIY that job, but I’m skeptical.
2021:  Minor maintenance tasks (whatever comes up)
2022:  Windows.  Many are original to the home and single pane.  We have a few glass slider doors that could make this expensive.
2023:   Minor maintenance tasks (whatever comes up)
2024:  Consider if we want to redo the second bathroom.  The shower tile is only about 5 feet high with painted drywall above (why??) and the tiled counter was pink, but was been coated with Miracle Method to make it a palatable white. It looks adequate, but the coating is slightly chipped and isn’t a permanent solution

At that point, we will be done with the wish list of major upgrades, at least the ones I know about. T want to do something about our ugly fireplace at some point.  Maybe we’d redo some more of the electrical (?). The driveway need some attention  It hope it will be a long time before we do much with our kitchen but I guess kitchen remodels are a thing that people do.  T is always thinking of other improvements, so I don’t think there is any shortage of ideas.

My rough FIRE budget / single income budget includes $9k/year in home maintenance costs.  Our running average is slightly higher ($9.5k), and could jump based on the price of the roof.  We could space non-urgent projects out a bit further to hit this, but it is something of an arbitrary number. I think we’d be able to hit it in the long run.  Assuming a 4% rule, that is driving an additional $225k in invested assets to reach financial independence, but it is a real part of our spending that won’t go away (even if the mortgage eventually will).

November Wrap-Up

December 5, 2019

Net Worth and Money News

Hooray!  We finally received confirmation from T’s university that his tenure case was approved!  The promotion came with a modest raise retroactive to July, and a slightly better raise retroactive to October.  (I don’t understand these timelines, but whatever.)  The overall raise was bigger than anticipated since we didn’t anticipate much at all. I had not been factoring in the back pay at all.  We haven’t received the retroactive raise, nor have we seen the raise on the latest pay stub, so we will have one final influx of cash this month or next month.

We’ve maxed out our usual retirement accounts, including backdoor Roth IRAs (but not megabackdoor Roth IRAs).  I opened a 529 for LO as a place to house any cash gifts and funded it with $1,000.  Despite a megabackdoor Roth (in service of college savings) being next item on our list of financial priorities, we plan to do a mortgage prepayment instead. The mortgage is a bottomless pit, always hungry for more, and there are reasons to continue to chip away when we can.   Even if I can’t keep up with the $25k/year prepayments we did initially. (Also, it was pretty depressing to compute how many years of $25k/year prepayments we would need in order to be mortgage free.)

Our net worth is up about a half a percent for the month, and we didn’t quite hit a 20% net worth increase for the year (comparing early December last year to early December this year).  Still, we made fantastic progress, mostly thanks to the crazy bull market continuing to do its bull market thing.

Spending Bullets (excluding childcare, mortgage, property taxes and car/home insurance – because I want to):

Monthly spend (excluding some major categories as noted above): $4,364.  This is the highest of the year, due to the combination of house projects, an iPhone replacement, and a car seat purchase.

Highest single transaction that hasn’t been featured in a previous 2019 month:
$492.78 for an iPhone 8 to replace my iPhone SE with a cracked screen.  I will eventually get a $50 gift card due to the Black Friday “sale” at Apple.  This narrowly beat out a few other high ticket items, like insulation from Home Depot, mulch from the landscaping store, and a new convertible car seat for LO.

Smallest single transaction:
$2.29 at the grocery store.  I forgot to buy something and ran back in for it.

Most annoying expense:
 $493.78 for the iPhone, because that is a lot of money.

Expense that brought the most joy or utility:
 A bill for negative $5.62 for utilities, since PG&E gave us a $100 credit to try to appease us for shutting off our power a few times.

Donations (for accountability): $0 this month, but I’ve rolled the funds into December.

House Projects

T put away the patio furniture for the season and did a little more landscaping prep to prepare for the rains.

T also bought about $450 worth of insulation, and installed it under the floors of two bedrooms. We have a crawl space, and the hardwood floors were uninsulated. This has already made a huge difference in the ability of the bedrooms to retain heat overnight, allowing us to keep the thermostat a bit lower.  (Baby can’t use blankets yet, so there is a limit to how cold we can go, based on the warmth of her sleep sack.)  Extending this project to the living area is under consideration, although the walls in the living area are uninsulated, and we have a lot more old windows that lose heat.

We’ve also opened up discussion of all of the projects that we said we’d consider after tenure. Most expensively, we’ll almost surely do the roof in 2020.  Painting the exterior is on the list, as are window replacements.  This all won’t get done in 2020 (we’ll probably wait a few years for the windows), but it will get done.  Less expensively, we could  address our entry way situation with some built in options, and figure out a way to make our back patio (currently flagstone) a more useful outdoor play area for LO.

Work

Oh, I don’t really want to talk about this.  November was not great.  We had a big review that went fine… but I worry the value of it wasn’t as high as it could have been. I don’t feel confident in the work that I produced for it.  This is a terrible feeling! On top of that, I had visitors and took a couple days off this month. Then I was sick, and took a day off and was running at less than 100% for a couple more days.  There were holidays. Overall, it wasn’t great in terms of getting things done.

Other life stuff

My parents visited for a long weekend, which was really great for me and for LO.  My dad is semi-retired from his career as an electrician, which means he is working ~6 months each year.  My mom has two more years before retirement in order to be eligible for federal retiree healthcare at her current rates. She’s supposedly part time, but has been working essentially a full time schedule since she is a nurse and can easily pick up hours.

Thanksgiving was quiet, but nice.  We didn’t cook turkey and we (somewhat reluctantly) turned down invitations in order to have some quiet time as a family after having houseguests shortly before.  Having 4 days off together was perfect.

This is random, but we implemented a new chore protocol where we alternate days of responsibility for cleaning up the kitchen and dishes after dinner. My motivation for requesting this system was that this must be done every day, and cannot be procrastinated without having to wake up to a mess. It’s a small change, but I’m extremely happy with this system.

LO is doing so well.  She is walking all over and is the happiest little toddler.  She had a phase where there was quite a bit of crying (likely teething related), but she’s been super content lately, and is so fun to play with. She’s also starting to play with the dog a little (in a supervised and appropriate manner), which is very cute. The dog is really good with her and rarely knocks her over as he runs by.

 

Questions about plastic and waste

December 4, 2019

If a person wants to regularly drink carbonated water, what is the way to do that that impacts the environment the least?

The options to consider are 1) Soda Stream or similar method of making it yourself. Involves cost of the machine and regular purchase of the refills.  Counter space is another con, but not environment related  2) Aluminum cans  3) Glass bottles 4) Plastic bottles.  All bottles would of course go into recycling.

Can I reduce the amount of micro plastics I consume?  My dad freaked me out by sharing an article that stated we consume about a credit cards worth of plastic every week. This might be an upper estimate, but the fact is, we are consuming a lot of micro plastic, and a lot if it is coming in our water.  (Tea bags can be a huge culprit too!) I haven’t yet determined if any standard water faucet filters reduce this. I briefly considered installing a reverse osmosis filter, but then learned they create 3 gallons of waste water for every gallon of drinking water, and that simply is not acceptable.

Can I reduce the amount of plastic waste we generate from consumables?  A lot of this is toiletries. Should I return to bar soap?  How do we handle shampoo/conditioner?  I’m not really willing to do shampoo bars (tried it), but this brand with eco-friendly packaging I found (and can buy locally) is ~30/bottle, and that seems ridiculous.  Then there are cleaning products.  I switched to boxed dishwasher powder and probably can do the same for laundry soap (is it really better since it is lined with some sort of wax?).  I avoid buying new plastic toys for LO (there are plenty used available if there is something that I want that is plastic, which has a bonus of being easy to sanitize).  Reading zero waste blogs has shown me just how far this could be taken, and it is overwhelming – but taking small steps is important.

What can be done on a more global scale? Some days, I’m just keeping my head above water and I make choices that aren’t environmentally friendly because those choices make my life easier, and any single choice seems small. But it does all add up. What are some ways I can make a bigger impact?

Thoughts on FIRE

November 20, 2019

Financial Independence seems close enough that it feels possible, yet far enough to feel out of reach.

The fact that we still need income in our late 30s shouldn’t be surprising or frustrating. (But it is!) It is a luxury and privilege to even consider being able to thrive without an income. That is a goal most people work their entire lives to achieve.  But, I want it now.

Despite not being a superfan in general, I occasionally navigate to the classic Mr. Money Mustache post The Shockingly Simple Math of Financial Independence and look at this chart.  Somehow, it surprises me on an intuitive level that if you save 50% of your income, you need to work for 17 years to achieve financial independence. It feels like it should be faster, because 50% seems significant, and 17 years seems like a very long time.

Besides the fact the 50% doesn’t get you there as fast as it seems like it should, these timelines are ballpark estimates.  Any savings rates I calculate serve as fine metrics to monitor trends in our income and spending, but it isn’t real math until I sit down and do more careful calculations to properly consider health care, taxes, and many other details I gloss over in the name of simplicity. Then there is the variability of the market and so many other assumptions. We wouldn’t do anything differently based on more detailed calculations, so I don’t bother with it.  (Then again, I also ignore the mortgage principal, so maybe errors cancel out.)  Calculating progress to FI is skewed as well, as we (probably) sit on top of a market peak, with a recession sometime in the future.

It isn’t that I want to quit my job today. There are so many great and cool things about my job. It is more that I depend on my job to enable this really nice life I have, and I don’t like that.  If my job ends, my next step is unclear. (This is also some imposter syndrome, like EVENTUALLY someone will realize I have no idea what I’m doing!) At the most basic level, I would search for similar work within a reasonable commuting distance, and see how that goes. That will probably work out, pending economic conditions, but it can’t be as nice as this job (especially with the commute).  I don’t have a back up plan if I can’t turn up something suitable.  As someone who likes contingencies for contingencies, I’m gunning for FIRE to be my backup plan.  But we aren’t there yet, nor will we be there in the next handful of years. That frustrates me,  even if my frustration is ridiculous. We can swing life on a single income (save childcare), which is huge… but not quite enough.

So, this is just impatience with the middle years slog, and I probably need to shift my attitude back away from this and back towards more near term plans.  More to come on this soon!

Spending: What has changed in 11 years?

November 10, 2019

I stumbled across my 2008 budget and was marveling at how careful I was with my money just after I moved to California.  I was trying to get my 401k savings up, while also saving in my Roth IRA, building and emergency fund, paying down my student loan, and (in the next year) paying for a wedding.

I decided to compare my spending then with our spending today.  I adjusted the 2008 budget to 2019 dollars using this not-super-legit-looking-but close-enough website to compute a 19.25% inflation increase.  Then I took our spending projections for this year and, since my 2008 budget was just me, divided 2019 spending by two.

Ta da!

Screen Shot 2019-11-07 at 11.11.00 AM

Most of the major increases in spending are brand new categories, namely childcare, but also other baby costs and pet and donations.  We spend a lot more on both groceries and restaurants.  On the other hand, I no longer am trying to build up cash or pay down a student loan, so those categories dropped out.  My car expenses appear lower because we still have one car for two people.  I guess I’m ignoring the parking fee paycheck deduction, because I am bad about carefully including paycheck deductions in my budgets.

I was surprised to note that my housing costs aren’t wildly different – the “divide by two” thing is significant.  In 2008 I was living alone.  Once we moved in together, I paid $1,100 in 2019 dollars for my portion of a one bedroom apartment. That may be a more appropriate comparison point.  Still, we now have a house.  That includes modest housing projects that we did this year, but wouldn’t cover a new roof or anything major.

The big thing that has changed between 2008 and now is what happens outside of this budget.  In 2008, that budget was basically it.  I had some fluctuating percentage saved into a 401k (8-15%, always pushing it as high as I could stomach), but I essentially had no cash savings outside of what is listed (E-fund, Roth, car), plus what I could save from my two “extra paychecks” (paid bi-weekly).   In 2019, there is a lot going on after the budget & spending. There is a significant amount of money auto-deposited into various investments before we ever see it. There is more money left over after the spending, which is deployed to more savings, or to large but infrequent expenses like a car or a major home project.

Anyone else want to play this game?  How has your budget/spending changed in the past 10 years? Here is a slightly older post showing how our net worth changed, too!