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Archive for June, 2014

LBYM = Nothing to show

June 29th, 2014 at 11:50 am

Yes living below your means often means you have nothing material to show for it. Often times it means passing on a fancy car, cool vacation, eating out, fancy groceries, branded clothes, or even furniture. It is hard and in some ways I think it gets harder as you get older.

When I was in my 20s with DH none of our friends had money or things. They weren't buying houses, they weren't driving luxury cars yet, they were getting of school, getting careers started, paying back loans, etc. Most people were young and broke and starting out. But then the 30s/40s hit and people began starting families and making a real salary instead of entry level earnings.

I recently turned 35 and started blogging again and began reading posts about getting out of debt and turning over a new leaf and LBYM. There are many posts about the monotony and struggle of savings.

I'm about to admit it's HARD. Right now and probably for the past 4 years we've been on cruise control. We've been cruising along saving at the same rate and pace actually putting more aside in our taxable savings, but accruing some debt (car loans I want gone this year). But this year a couple of things happened. I realized that we are potentially early retirees or financially independent couple. But at the same time I realized we also haven't upsized our lifestyle at all in a LONG time.

We bought our townhouse with plans for having kids and we had them. We have the same furniture pretty much we bought in our 1 bd condo, $100 dinner table, $20 coffee table, $50 desk from IKEA, $40 dressers from IKEA. We haven't bought any really adult furniture, except our foam mattress from costco 5 years ago. We did upgrade our cars to 4 family sedans instead of compact cars we had, but base model and used for the other. So in little ways our life has improved but nothing noticeably drastic.

So I'm going to buck the "mustachian" trend and ADMIT that I do find it hard. I find it hard to stay the course and LBYM. I find it hard to not compare and wonder what it would be like to buy a couch that cost 4 figures or a dinner table that seats more than 4 people. Or lusting after a mininvan but hesitating because even used it's a lot.

So no it doesn't get easier after getting out of debt. According to Mr Money Mustache saving 15% of your income only gets you to retirement in 43 years, saving 50% = 17 years. I can agree because I recently calculated our savings rate at around 50% of "net" = 17 years and that's about dead on for when I project we'll hit "Financial Independence" at age 45, perhaps sooner.

It's hard to save monthly without seeing any returns. To look online at other people's posted budgets even and realize that people "take home" more than we do but also feel like they have nothing to show for it. I feel like we live a very frugal middle class lifestyle because our money is siphoned away into savings before I even see it. Yet I also know mentally truly "middle" class aren't able to save anything.

So no it doesn't get easier. To quote Dave Ramsey "you should be debt free in 7 years is Bull SHIT!" Saving 15% puts you on the path to retire in 40 years. You still have other expenses to save for. You are living like no one else because you are living with a safety net. But to be truly financially free takes a lot more time and sacrifice.

What keeps me moving forward even when it sucks? That I'd rather be where I am today in less debt than I was yesterday. Everyday and choice moves me closer to the goal and though it feels like I'm treading water, I'm still ahead than digging myself into more debt.

So have a little faith fellow LBYM. It's not easy and we often lack material goods or experiences. But would you rather be here or where you were 3 months ago?

cars - my nemesis

June 27th, 2014 at 10:06 am

Ugh cars. Yet another car accident with my DH. Again it wasn't his fault but this is getting annoying and tiring. I should probably at this rate be getting car rental protection on our car insurance. I've never done it since we have 2 cars, but he was hit again while parked. Took our DK1 to swim lessons came out and the entire back passenger side was scraped up.

So it's a hit on our car insurance but it's not a moving violation. It'll cost us $500 deductible but it won't affect our rates hopefully.

This is his second accident in 2 months. Last month he was reversed into while waiting for a parking spot. I can't stand this. If it matters this is the third of the year and it's only 6 months in! The horror!

I just keep telling myself it's just a car and everyone's fine. But I'm always the one getting the insurance done, getting the car fixed, following up with everyone, etc. It's just always more work on my plate hence the stress. Maybe we'll get ride of the car one day.

money saving tip #5

June 26th, 2014 at 01:49 pm

Over the weekend I went through hell trying to find a deal to rent a mininvan. On Tuesday we went on a overnight with my in-laws who are visiting to a resort area. Got a great deal on a midweek, just before season hotel. The small problem was that we either had to drive two cars or rent a minivan large enough to hold 6.

Well the best prices I found were $91/day through normal rentals both hotwire or carrentals.com. I did see zipcar for $88/day but turned into $98/day including taxes and gas a day. I shuddered at the prices. But then I decided to google car rentals from car companies and up popped toyota, ford, and lincoln mercury.

I called around Monday and was told I could do it since it was mid week for $65/day = $70/day including taxes. Score. Mind you this was farther out and in the city it was $95/day. But still for $140 for 2 days I feel we got a steal. Car dealerships never come up on searches by the way.

So did I save money? Probably broke even. We spent $65 for the minivan so $50 savings on gas. We paid for parking at the beaches $15 x 2 = $30 (only 1 car versus 2), parking $10 in lots = $90 at least not quite $140, but we did save on wear and tear on two cars so we probably broke even.

Even so next time if I can't score lower than rental companies I'll be sure to check car dealerships. And the bigger savings, not buying a minivan just for the times we need to seat 6. Of course a third kid would push us over the edge.

posting pictures trial run

June 23rd, 2014 at 06:19 pm

So I am getting the hang of this blog site, while debating going back to my own. I still own my domain and it's up for renewal. I'll work on it next week.

Yeah this is all homemade and this is why eating out is great but so is eating at home.

Stir fried sticky rice

wrapped sticky rice

Romaine with feta, bell peppers, pecans, cranberries, strawberries, and greek dressing.

Rice, fish, bok choy - what my kids eat

I freeze the wrapped sticky rice for DH's lunches and I froze some of the stir fried rice as well.

Next up wasabi mayo salmon, japanese sushi rice, and perhaps an indian curry dish. We'll see about next week.

Health Insurance Follow up

June 23rd, 2014 at 10:27 am

So Nika got me curious and I am trying to figure out our savings rate and time to FI. According to our w2 DH's employer pays $20,348.82 last year for our medical premiums We paid $2526 or 11% of the premiums. I had no idea our benefits were so expensive.

Some food photos. I need to get better at this.

Ribs and Strawberries we picked.

Angel food cake with our picked strawberries

Romaine with feta, strawberries, pecans, bell peppers, and greek dressing.

Secrets are killing me

June 21st, 2014 at 07:12 pm

I can't tell our friends in real life because it's too painful to hard we are struggling with trying to relocate and fail. It makes me feel ridiculous because they think I'm talking about a dream that will never happen. And even more stupid when my DH's been on interviews about 1x/year and nothings come of it. I think my friends think moving is a pipe dream for us. Something we talk about but never actually do.

So as you know we are doing it in 24 months. In June 2016 we are moving no matter what. But right now we are still looking at jobs. My DH had a phone interview 2x in the past week and a coffee interview this sunday. One position with a university and the other with a company. Neither are exactly what he wants. Academia has its own issues including pay and tenure or lack there of. Industry well the position pays extremely well more than double what he makes now but is a lot of traveling.

But like I said that's putting cart before horse. Get offer then see what our options are. See if they would even in person interview and make an actual offer. But it's hard not to dream or desire to move.

For me I'm also not telling friends I'm looking into doing something different for work. I'm sure I'll get a lot of "you should just go back to what you did" and keep it simple. But I don't want to. So I'm going to look further into being an enrolled agent.

Dinner was yummy. Fresh strawberries we picked today @ $3.50/lb. Fun time with kiddos. Smoked pork ribs with romaine salad with feta, croutons, strawberries, pecans, and corn. Also made angel food cake to go with strawberries.

Wants and Needs

June 20th, 2014 at 06:34 pm

So I want a new vacuum cleaner. I do not need one, but my standup vacuum cleaner is 12 years old and probably should be replaced because it smells when it vacuums. I have a Eureka Boss Smart Vac. However I don't use it as much as my lightweight 9 year old dirt devil corded handheld. It's basically a dustbuster with a handle. I bought it in 2005 on a black friday doorbuster from walmart for $8. It's semi broken with the suction piece unable to stay in unless it's being used. However it's still usable, hence why I use it.

Anyway I probably sweep or vacuum everyday 2-3x/day. There is so much dirt/sand in the winter from the dog, and sand/dust from the kids in the summer I can't stand it. I obsess about it and can feel it even in the winter through socks.

So last black friday I told my DH I wanted a light handheld. He said sure go get what you want, but I couldn't bring myself to spend $200-300 on a dyson. But yesterday after dinner at a friend's house I used her Dyson DC59 animal which is $399 on Amazon. I would love that but it's just too much for me to spend. I looked and the lower/older model is $219 reconditioned factory or $259 new.

I am definitely lusting after this vacuum cleaner. The problem is how to afford it? What can I sacrifice or how can I make extra money? Now it'd be easy to use the focus group money I'll be making shortly, $100 on Monday and $125 next month. But I think that's too easy. Maybe I should have a goal that if I can sell stuff on craigslist or a consignment store, I can buy the new vacuum. That would be a lesson in getting rid of stuff to get something new as well as delayed gratification.

How do you deal with wants versus needs?

money saving tip #4

June 19th, 2014 at 04:05 am

Drive car until wheels fall off. But sell if it doesn't fit your needs, not wants, NEEDS!

Strangely enough my mom and MIL have both driven cars for about 20 years. My mom is still driving her 96 Toyota Avalon with about 90k miles. And my MIL last car was a 86 Diesel Jetta she sold in 2006 with 200km because she has trouble seeing and she rarely drives period.

As it is in 2012 I got rid of my 1st car a 98 Corolla bought in 99. I felt pain in my heart as I let of the old me. The college me. The young, fun, cute, and carefree me. I drive a 2010 subaru outback for my two kids. Not having a car payment did a huge boost to our budgets. My DH and I both hadn't had car payments since 2003 until 2010.

DH got the Outback in 2010 when his 2000 Ford Focus basically burst into flames. Yeah that American car experience was not a good one. And with one kid I drove my corolla until we had our 2nd kiddo.

Then my DH wanted a bigger, safer car. I would have preferred him driving my corolla but he wanted something bigger. So we compromised and bought a used 2006 hyundai sonata with low mileage. It had side airbags, latch, and abs. I mean it did hurt my frugal heart but alas marriage is about compromise.

Now we have two car payments due to be paid off 8/2015. $385 and $200 a month. Ugh. And we spent $10k and $20k on our cars. I can guess how much monthly people are paying driving around in $50k+ cars. It truly is a money pit.

But if everything goes to plan...In another year or two we'll buy a minivan and replace the Sonata without a car payment. We started setting aside the $400/month to replace/repair our cars ever 6 years. And the subaru will be inherited by our kid when she turns 16.

I have to say I'm still torn about used versus new. Our used car has been decent but in the 2 years needed calipers done along with brakes and rotors. I don't know if its because it's a hyundai versus a toyota/subaru so the reliability is the issue, instead of it being used.

But the minivan? We'll see where we are financially. I'd like to pay off the cars this summer but we'll see.


June 18th, 2014 at 09:22 am

Guess I'll start tracking some extra cash I seem to make doing focus groups. I am curious what I made this year. I just usually use the prepaid visa cards to pay for cable or cell phone bills online and not hassle with it. Otherwise it's on auto-pay. And I don't count rewards I only cash them in once a year.

Survey Money
6/23 $100 - 30 minutes
6/11 $150 - 120 minutes
5/1 $225 - 90 minutes
3/18 $150 - 60 minutes
3/13 $85 - 45 minutes
2/28 $175 - 60 minutes
1/27 $125 - 45 minutes

Total = $1010

It's a great hourly rate. Too bad it's so infrequent that it's just an occasional side hustle.

Was graduate school worth it?

June 16th, 2014 at 05:58 am

So I left STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) when I had my kids. At least the academic side. I'm not sure I want to go back to what I did for a private company. Both my perspective has changed and what I did is changing.

Science phds in many fields often take years (I can attest). Overall it's a cushy job and one that is often easy to fall into the trap.

You get paid $33k/year. Yes that's it. When my DH started in 2000 it was $18k/year. I started in 2003 at $22k/year. So it's gone up but it's not exactly a living wage. However you get student health insurance, aren't required to pay tuition, and while you work long hours there is a lot of job flexibility. Realize I also lived in very HCOLA and went to top institutions. According to the NIH, the average graduate student stipend is $22k. So people living elsewhere pay less. Also being in STEM means a stipend, those in liberal arts and humanities well they go into debt.

But in my experience after you finish your long slog you go into post-doctoral training. The NIH again says the starting salary is $42k. When I stopped in 2010 where I was it was $35k. Now how do you suppose they get around paying less? Well the post-doctoral funding is not through the NIH but other funding entities and thus professors are able to pay less than the NIH recommended going rate. But $42k? And it goes up to $55k after 7 years. You are probably thinking not bad. Not way. Truth is most post-docs don't get that sort of raises after 7 years. And while they are covered by medical insurance, they often lack access to a 401k. That means they aren't saving for retirement.

So you are 30 when you finish your phd, start a post-doc and if you are lucky done in another 7 years and 37 with no retirement or any savings unless you were super frugal. Which many are. But you are still far behind your peers who was working since 22 and saving. My DH and I were super frugal savers and bought a condo as I mentioned during graduate school. But we were the outliers I believe and not the norm.

So what happens after post-doc? In theory you get a position as a professor somewhere. But nowadays it doesn't happen. Why? Well NIH and other entities are cutting funding. Getting a position is easier now than getting a grant. But getting a position is next to impossible. The joke is someone needs to die for a position to open, which in many cases is true. Because schools have to budget not just money but space for a new professor.

Do I know people who are still post-docs? Sadly yes MANY. Many have been "post-docs" on 7+ years. They work full time, very hard, very long hours and make honestly very little.

I have a mom friend whose career track was similar to mine. She does her post-doc with two kids and I ask her if it's worth it. She has been a post-doc since 2007. She said she hopes so one day. She still dreams of a position. It doesn't matter that she pays to work (daycare costs more than she makes). I can see the financial part of the equation being negligent long term, daycare is a short term expense. What I don't get when do you give up the dream? When do you accept that you won't get a professorship position you desire? 10 years? When you hit 50? I also know 50 year old post-docs who have been there for 15 years and call it their "career" to work for someone else but still dream.

I don't know what the answer is. DH's best friend is another STEM post-doc since 2007. He is at a crossroads. Does he give up? Or does he keep trying? He really is in turmoil because at 37 he's recently married (cheap wedding post), hoping to start a family, wants to buy a house and car, and is finally getting serious about saving for retirement. But what if a job pops up and they have to move? What if he doesn't get a position? When should he give up? He talks about it with us, since we're all in the same field. My DH said give up now. Me? I'm not so sure.

Personally I left the post-doc on the table for myself. Never did one and probably never will. I don't want to work and pay someone else to watch my kids when they are small. And if I wanted to go back, I still wouldn't do one because I don't want to work the long hours anymore. Even without kids I think I would have done something else because even before I finished I knew I personally didn't have what it took to be a professor. I wasn't successful enough (ie published enough). And going to do a post-doc isn't going to change that.

So I'm taking my time now to look at other options. Was it a mistake? Yes, but the mistake I made was way back in undergraduate not considering then what I wanted to do long term. Graduate school wasn't the mistake.

What would I have done? Probably become an actuary or accountant. And now? I am looking into becoming an enrolled agent or accountant/bookkeeper. This way I can work but not full time and enjoy number crunching.

Did you go into what you majored in college? Do you like it? Was it what you expected?

the rising cost of health care

June 14th, 2014 at 01:30 pm

Do you know how much your health insurance premiums have risen over the years? I was just looking at old pay stubs and I can't believe how much they have gone up. As a couple from 2005-2010 we had seen some large increase 25% in 1 year. I am floored. Because the overall dollar amount isn't large I haven't paid as much attention as I should have. But looking now I'm in shock.

As a couple
2005 $46 per pay period (26)= $1196
2006 $46 = $1196
2007 $32 = $832, they switched providers
2008 $40 = $1040, 25% increase
2009 $42 = $1096 , 5% increase

However in 2010 we had our first child and moved to the family plan in medical health insurance.

2010 $46 Couple (moved to family) $82 = $2132, 9% increase as a couple, so I assume 9% family.
2011 $84 = $2184, 2.5% increase
2012 $96 = $2496, 14.2% increase
2013 $101 = $2626, 5.2% increase
2014 $119 = $3094, 17.8% increase

Wow we've seen some serious increases. Apparently the insurance company raises it one year A LOT and then not by much the next year. In the grand scheme of things $3100 in premiums for our family is not a lot. But we still have to pay $20/visit copays. When everything is said and done we spend around $5k with premium and copays.

Is it worth it? Yes because employer sponsored programs are much better than what you can buy as an individual. But still when I see a 17.8% increase I cringe knowing that our 3% merit raise is really not going as far.

I went online to shop for a family of four with $2k individual/$4k family deductibles; Maximum annual OOP $6350 individual/$12,700 family, with $50 co-pay after deductible is $596.71/month! Ouch. Okay so I guess we'd better keep working or at least wait and see how health insurance works out. I mean we could easily have a higher deductible but it doesn't appear to be an option where we live.

Mr Money Mustache pays for a family of 3 $240/month HDHP. BUT where he lives is substantially cheaper. It really does vary because in the comment section of his post many commentors are unable to get their premiums for individual policies that low. So YMMV in buying your own. I can't believe that ours would be nearly 2x what his is monthly.

Our dental costs $20.90 a pay period = $543.4/year. The question is would it be cheaper for us to self insure? Not really with cleanings for a family of 4 (well 3) 2x a year at $100-150/pop we are looking at a minimum of $600 OOP at a minimum. And this year like last I still am having an implant crown put on. Which by the way the insurance company doesn't want to pay to put on! Arrgh.

Our vision is $6.54 a pay period = $170/year which used to be easily reached with me getting contacts every year (got a year for free with insurance). But I'm not sure now it's still worth it with a check up being $49 elsewhere. But for $170 maybe it's worth the peace of mind.

I am still just floored at how fast health insurance appears to be going up. Way above raises and cost of living inflation. And it's still a lot cheaper than buying our own.

Good and Bad

June 12th, 2014 at 09:15 pm

Well my day yesterday started off eventfully. My younger kiddo rolled off the bed and cut her face. She needed stitches. She's fine thankfully but boy it was a lot of blood and screaming. This is my accident prone kid. Oh well.

So my issue? The american health care system. We called the pediatrician and went in at 830 to see the nurse practitioner. She says you need stitches go to the ER. I ask why not do it in the office? Or do you refer out to a different dr. Nope the ER. So we go to the ER for sutures. SERIOUSLY? She said the dr don't have the right equipment and don't do it enough to be comfortable doing sutures. Okay then. We go there at 8:45.

I thought I keep reading about all these people who use the ER as care facilities driving up the cost of healthcare. I am now one of these people and I WENT to my supposed "gate keeper" pediatrician and got sent to the ER! Okay how can they say the prices of health insurance is out of control because people don't use primary care dr when the primary care dr don't know what else to do? Besides the fact I was annoyed I could have gone straight to the ER, but I "thought" I was doing the right thing.

And besides the fact that we were there waiting for sutures and didn't leave the ER until 2 pm! 5 hours! really? It wasn't busy we were like the only people in there but we had to wait for staff to come on? The inefficiency left me incensed. But my kiddo is fine and I am not sure if I should have taken her to a plastic surgeon or surgeon office where it could have been done in the office and faster. Arrgh.

On a positive note I made $150 on a focus group about taxes. Granted my money went straight to our ER copay. And I didn't learn anything. If anything I learned that people really don't save money.

There was a real guy standing up in front of the class showing us his financials. Here they are married with 1 child.

Income $112k
Paid Federal Taxes $10,700
SS $6900
Medicare $1624
State $4750
401k $4480 (4%)
Health Insurance Premium $6k (HDHP)
HSA $2k
Mortgage/Property Taxes $16k

Federal Taxes owed - $7700, refund $3k

Not a big deal, but seriously this guy is living on $6200/month and he can't save more? I don't think he was saving for a Roth IRA. I sat there wondering why wouldn't the guy be saving more? Isn't he worried? Where is the rest of his $4400/month going to after he pays his mortgage?

It's easier to trim a dollar in the budget than to try and save more. But it was very eye opening about how people are trying to save for retirement in this country.

Are kids expensive?

June 10th, 2014 at 07:16 pm

Yes. They certainly aren't cheap. Whether you work or stay at home there is a lot of lost opportunity cost in having children. Staying at home you've lost those years of income. Working? Well daycare might cost more than you make (yes I have friends working to keep skills up, not because they make more than daycare).

But otherwise? Yes. You are on a family medical plan instead of perhaps two individual plans covered by your employer. There are A LOT more dr visits because kids catch everything and parents catch everything from their kids. Kids are gross and disgusting.

Let's not forget college.

Can kids be done on the cheap? Sure, they can be relatively inexpensive. I breastfeed and used cloth diapers sometimes. Those are savings when they are babies.

But overall you are feeding, clothing, and needing more space as a family. Yes kids can share a room, but if you didn't have kids, would you even have a two bedroom place? I mean that most seriously since DH and I lived happily in 1 bd/studios with less than 500 sq ft and our dog.

I mean without kids we could live super small and super cheap. But kids do increase your cost of living. Without kids we would probably not live outside the city so we'd need 1 less car or no car. We could bike but with kids it's hard to bike to the grocery store or any errands, especially when they are young and always with you. We'd live in a tiny apartment. We would buy less food. And honestly we'd probably be able to retire by 40!

So people who talk about kids don't cost much have got to be kidding. Kids are substantially more than just diapers, formula, college, food, clothes. There are so many sneaky costs. Do I believe it costs $250k? Probably, I mean just rent alone where we are it's probably doubled from moving up apartment size. And yes I know people raise kids on very little money. But if you asked those same people how much kids costs? It's still probably the same proportion of their income as those who make 2x as much.

But the kids are worth it every penny, too bad they don't cost pennies.

food pictures work in progress...

June 10th, 2014 at 07:11 pm

I gotta get better at this food photo thing. I'm so jealous of Nika food photos (they are amazing). I only do it with a phone and I'm a terrible photographer to boot.

But anyway this weekend it was smoked pork ribs and quinoa with corn and broccoli.

I'm also making homemade marinara sauce and baked ziti. I'll see if I can take a better photo.

Seriously I know I can take better photos of food.

Different Choices

June 9th, 2014 at 06:56 am

My neighbors both work and have 1 child, 3 months older than my 4 year old. They play great together and she's a lovely girl. I enjoy watching her and she's a truly great kid. My neighbors are nice people. They both have MBAs and are a couple of years older than my DH and I. We live connected by a wall and my 4 year went to school and once said "the little girl living behind the wall, I play with her all the time," to the teachers. When I explained we all had a good laugh.

So you can imagine this family probably makes double what my DH makes. At least that's what my DH and I believe. So $400k/year? Probably but at the minimum $300k.

So what happened is I volunteered to keep their daughter 2 full days next week while they work because they don't have childcare. Their private montessori school is out and they can't find a camp to send her to. The other three days they are going to use backup care agency and have a nanny they don't know come to their house. I feel terrible whenever I see that happen because I know the nanny just sits there with their daughter in the house. And she's pretty bored. So yes I always offer during school vacations or days off to take their kiddo with mine. I've been doing this for years. I can't do everyday of the week because of other obligations but I do try my best.

The same problem will occur at the end of the summer when the week before school they were "waitlisted" for the camp they are in the rest of the summer because they didn't register early enough. They registered in January. I'm not sure I'm ready to take her on 5 full days, so I suggested half day camp for the week with my older kiddo and I'll keep her the rest of the day. I have to find a camp I can afford however.

Right now I've signed my kid up for one camp @ $90/week for half days, and I feel super guilty spending that much. I know they could take vacation but they are taking 2 weeks in July when their parents come to visit and have used another week during spring break and more during Christmas. So they do take vacation to care for their daughter, but this is a lot.

But what stunned me? The price of her camp. Okay her montessori school is ridiculous enough at $35k/year. But the camp? Well try $1200/week. Yes a week! Seriously what they are shelling out in camp is about what my family lives on with our extremely expensive mortgage a month!

To be fair they make double what we make. But even doubling our spending to $10k/month when half of it goes to camp? They shop entirely at whole foods and probably never price compare. I know they dress themselves and their daughter in great name brands and they get boxes daily delivered from online shopping. They never shop in real stores. So even while I assume they are saving a lot, they also spend a lot. Their monthly overhead has got to be high.

But on this forum we always talk about spending and money. So I discussed with my DH if I went back to work and we had all this extra disposable income. Every penny would be disposable obviously since we can survive on his now minus childcare. Yes I may pay right now for childcare but that is a transient expense. So would our lifestyle change? I would hope not.

But the real question is would I be able to spend that freely if I made that much? If we were making $30k/month gross and were saving $5k, taxes $10k, and had $15k to spend would I? I think I would be saving every extra penny and would shorten our time toward financial independence.

I realized no I wouldn't. I can honestly say I can see the exhaustion on my neighbors faces. I can see how they can barely play with their daughter. Their actual comment "we are trying to cut back her tv watching." They never go out on the weekends except to eat. They'll send her to the playground with us but they don't join us. The fact that they are struggling to be able to cover watching her because they are already using all their vacation days. Every day they are on the hamster wheel. So perhaps my DH and I are giving up FI and early retirement, but we're also enjoying our life now. We'll get there eventually but it'll be slower.

What would happen if they were on 1 income? Or two part-time incomes? Right now they give their daughter the best of everything. She'll probably go to college of her choice paid, paid wedding, house DP, etc.

I wonder if perhaps it's the catch-22 of the "upper middle class" dual income lifestyle? The people making enough that they feel they should afford everything but can't. And somehow manage to spend an enormous amount on just "bare bones budget" because their choices force them into needing so much money? The cars, the big mortgage, the private schools, etc?

Recently I've definitely made peace with our lifestyle. In the sense before I wondered if I wasn't "achieving" enough. I am not contributing to society by working. I am not using my degree. I am not producing as a fully functioning adult "should" be. I feel inadequate compared to the many high power dual income couples I meet and know. Where I chat with the nannies rather than moms since I know them better.

But this year I've made peace with it. I've made peace with my decision to stay at home. That I do not need to work to validate myself. That even if I chose to work, money doesn't rule my life. So whatever I chose to do I know our lifestyle will be okay. If my DH loses a job we are not going to crash and burn and never retire.

Rather we could possibly "retire" now. Now I feel secure that I do not need $3M at a minimum to retire. I think $1.5M is adequate if not less. And I don't feel pressured that we have to work until retirement or else we'd be shunned for being lazy.

Money can bring great happiness. But rather being content with what you have is more important.

So I look across the wall and realize that if I went back to work we could be my neighbors. It's possible we'd be financially independent in 2 years. We could possibly save $200k/year or more. But it's also possibly we'd up our consumption just because we'd have to. We'd need more convenience because we have less time. I hope they enjoy their daughter as much as I do. I will say I do have envy sometimes at the thought they could be FI today possibly (not sure about their finances, I think they have a lot in the bank because they make a lot) while we still need to work another 5-10 years to get to where they are.

Have you ever contemplated your money or your life? Did you make a choice to scale back or retire early? Or take a different job or move to slow down? Why?

Money Saving Tip #3

June 6th, 2014 at 06:23 am

I use credit cards a lot, for everything. I don't do anything like chase rewards but I do try to maximize the rewards I can gain through the cards I have. I've contemplated getting an airlines rewards card or chasing bonuses, but right now it's difficult to find the time to pay bills or keep on top of our spending with two small kids. Plus I know we're moving so rather than opening cards I'm keeping our credit scores high since each inquiry is a hit.

Last year in 2013 we earned $954 in rewards and trading some in to discover closer to $1000 in credit card cash rewards. We spent approximately $25k on the credit cards giving me a return rate of 4%. Plus another $108 Costco rewards. That's extremely high. It'll be higher this year.

Because of my high return rate I've definitely maximized our spending over using a mileage credit card. Why? Most times it's only worth using miles on an airlines ticket if you can get 2 cents/mile. Why? Because miles aren't that valuable. Meaning a ticket costing 25k miles, costing less than $500, most rabid mile collector (go to flyertalk to learn) say it's not worth it.

Personally I always try to maximize our mileage as well typically getting close to 3-4 cents/mile. My most recent trip to Hawaii I spent 17.5k miles on a one way ticket costing $800 = 4.5 cent/mile. Like I said maximize miles. People use miles when they don't want to pay, but true mileage collectors (and I'm best friends with one) helps me calculate the true cost of using the miles.

But back to credit card rewards. How did we get so much? Well we only use 4 cards discover it with it's 5% rotating categories and 1% back on everything else. I use this for most things since I can redeem it for gift cards that are also discounted for further rewards! Like a $45 for $50 Panera gift card or $45 for $50 starbucks (hello teacher gifts). I also ALWAYS use shopdiscover, because it gives 10% back right now on groupon and living social. It also gives great rebates on other sites too for extra savings and you can still use coupon codes on other sites.

We have a Citibank Simplicity cash rewards. Probably never heard of it. We got it 10 years ago and it gives us 5% back on gas, 5% pharmacy stores like cvs/walgreens, and 1% back on everything else. I use this for gas and most everywhere I can't use my discover since it's a mastercard.

Finally my DH and I each have a Costco Amex. We love costco and my rebate check since we have an executive membership for $110 was $108. We are getting close to getting over that hump. We get 3% dining out, 2% travel, great for international travel since it covers the exchange fee, and 1% everything else.

So that's it in CC. I should consider maximizing our CC rewards, but right now I think we're doing relatively well. Except for people who open cards for rewards I don't know that many people get a better value using their CC.

I have considered switching to a mileage or hotel (starwood) CC. My biggest issue is that I would never spend more than $100 on a hotel room between priceline and deals, so it's hard to get a card and use it on a room that cost $300. But perhaps if people sell me on it.

Do you have a favorite card? What's your redemption rate? Do you get great rewards.

I will end with if you overspend on CC or can't pay in full don't use them.

Third kid followup and married to a mustachian

June 5th, 2014 at 01:28 pm

Decided to summarize answers. I want a third kid now because I worry about getting older, birth defects, the usual nine yards. My DH is worried not about the short term finances and of course the normal long term financial hit college, weddings, cars, anything and everything.

So why am I short changing them as they get older? It's starting over, and our lifestyle has to go back to baby lifestyle versus older kids you can go biking, hiking, kayaking, camping, traveling, etc with. I admit we've just about hit the sweet spot with both kids and adding a third now would rock boat, but we're in the rhythm of babyhood. What if we wait and we don't want to go back? What if we wait and can't go back? What if we wait and realize that our life feels complete in 2 years that it doesn't feel now? I don't know.

But truthfully what really worries my DH? Finances in the mid-term. Short term we'd be fine, i'm home we make more than enough to survive and honestly if we didn't save as much he can chill. He is a little stressed out because he feels we don't save enough, but that's a completely different argument. Long term he is worried we won't make enough to afford college, weddings, retirement, etc for 3 kids versus 2. I think it'll work out.

But the mid term? This is the real kicker. In 6/2016 we agreed we are making a huge change in our life. We are selling our house that winter and leaving where we live. We are moving to the west coast without jobs if need be. We are going to live off of our savings, which will not be enough to retire. We will not have health insurance. We will have to buy some. We will not have unemployment or anything coming in. Our net worth will be dropping because we are going to be going NEGATIVE. We will only have outgo, no income.

Now things between now and 6/2016 can change. DH or I could get a job. He could get laid off and we get severance and unemployment. But we cannot predict those things.

So DH reason for not having a kid now is he doesn't want to add a mouth to feed, diaper, insure when we have no income in 2 years. If we were staying put we'd be discussing when to have another kid. If we had a job opportunity and were moving with guaranteed income, we'd talk more about our 3rd. But right now he said he feels as though we need to make sure we can provide for the 2 we have before we add a third. Having a third would also mean less time at night for job searching as he'd have to take on more of the childcare after we have 3rd.

My DH also said he still doesn't see himself retiring but he wants to be secure in the knowledge that if he were unemployed that it wouldn't matter. That we could live "retire" and not worry. Hence why he thinks we should be saving more and spending less. The fast we get to the point where we have enough to live, then the faster he'll feel secure.

Finally about cost of living and our jobs. I think BOS-NYC-DC, LA/SD/OC, SF and Honolulu are HCOLA in the US. These places taxes are high, condos start at $400k for a 1 bd, homes more in the range of $750k+ for small crappy homes. Then there is a second tier of costs like Seattle, Portland, Philly, Denver, NJ, Chicago, CT/VT/NH/RI, VA/MD, rest of CA. These places are cheaper I think condos start at $250k, homes $400k, and taxes are still higher than normal. But the homes are nicer even at the higher end the higher end of the HCOLA. Overall the cost of living I'd say is 20%-30% lower cost of living according to calculators and just looking at real estate in general. But ideally I think we should look at moving to Seattle or Portland.

That being said we're not quite able to buy a home cash. We're getting close but not quite. And even with a paid for home, my DH is hesitant because he thinks we are going to take a severe paycut. I don't believe the paycut is as severe as he thinks. He also believes it'll be very, very difficult to land a job. I'm sure it won't be easy but I don't know the job markets of those areas.

Perhaps I'm wrong and he's right but he feels that most people in business make $50k. With an MBA $80k, where we live. He thinks if we move he'll be lucky to land a job making $75k. I showed him the numbers according to what we pay now we're going from paying $45k in taxes federal and state, to if we make $100k or less nothing in federal taxes with 2 kids. So off the top assuming we make half of what we make now half of the difference goes away to taxes. Yes we save the other half but still.

Making less = need to save less. But he's still worried we should be saving the same proportion. His argument that our house because living in a HCOLA we'd buy a $1M home versus $500k if it goes up 10% you make more on the more expensive house. True, but you have to struggle making payments! And often in HCOLA people are paying 30-50% of their net on housing.

I find it interesting that my DH was always mustachian before it became a word. Apparently though he never intends on retiring he always planned and hoped to be financially independent before it was popular. Me? I had no idea we even had a chance. But perhaps this move will derail us. I don't know.

But until then we'll keep chatting about jobs, third kid, etc.

Should we have a 3rd kid?

June 4th, 2014 at 07:59 am

I want a third kid, my DH is not sure. He isn't sure we can afford it financially. He isn't sure we have the time or energy to support a third child. He isn't sure about our family dynamic. I'll admit I always planned to get pregnant this summer and have a third kid in 2015, I turned 35 recently.

But we're planning on moving and giving up our income in 2016. So my DH is worried about another mouth to feed and no income. I don't believe we'll be without an income, nor do we need much income to live I believe. But my DH is hesitant to add another child. He's worried that having another kid now will delay his job search. That he won't have the time to do it. caring for 2 kids and adding a third. He's probably not wrong.

But I am struggling with not having a third period. No we haven't done anything permanent. We agreed to the snip after we're done but that's not even been brought up. Nor have we gotten rid of any baby gear or clothes. If anything we've both been saving and storing clothes, shoes, gear. We both had assumed we'd have a third. But now what?

Do I just put aside all my baby things? Realize that the sacrifice of moving will be the third child? Will I regret it? Can I still do it in another 3 years when my kids might be 5 and 7? I'll be 38 at that time. Could I get pregnant at that age easily? Am I missing my window? Will I regret the sacrifice?

I mean we did have a heartfelt talk the other night and the truth hurts to write that my DH said if we weren't going to move we'd be talking of having kiddo number 3. I am just struggling right now with this decision.

I wonder if I shouldn't have had my kids earlier? That is probably my one regret.

Making bad financial decisions

June 4th, 2014 at 07:25 am

I have a friend in a very difficult situation. She and her husband are going to divorce eventually. They have three kids and I can't say I blame her. Long term cheating is the reason (4 years), but she's trying to get her life in order to leave.

I suggested that she really organize herself and finances before saying she wants a divorce. But it's hard obviously she's a stay at home mom, and she needs to get her license reinstated to work. She used to be a mental health counselor. I think she's a good person but seriously she's terrible with finances and I don't know if she can ever get herself righted.

She spends money like it's water. She only shops at whole foods and throws away food left and right. She said yesterday "I need to stop buying precut fruits and make an effort to cook dinner." I suggested buying frozen dinners and start from there to get into the habit of cooking, then learn after getting used to cooking.

But the real trouble? Both she and her husband make a ton of bad financial decisions and have no idea how much money they make or have.

Bad decisions
1. Bought a new to her Mercedes Diesel SUV 7 seater. Got a loan because she said they needed credit.
2. Spends on a credit card and just makes payments to have room to spend more.
3. Doesn't file taxes so her husbands paychecks are garnished by IRS for no payment.

Because she wants to leave I suggested to her that perhaps she start by collecting all paperwork to figure out how much money they make. And to file taxes. I even offered to help. I told her go around her house and collect any remotely financial paperwork.

But then she does things like get plastic surgery, go on week long yoga retreats to Belize; while saying she can't afford preschool for her kids. That paying $5k/year, what I pay for mine is too much. I couldn't help myself but I said one week in Belize cost more than $5k. She said it did. So right there was preschool tuition.

I don't know if she'll be able to get her act together. I don't know how to advise her to get on a budget or even to know what they make. Her husband gives her a cash allowance. She asks him for money when she needs it. Sometimes it's there and sometimes it's not.

She really has no idea about her financial house. I'm not even sure where she should start. Her husband works construction half the year. Then has his own business as a mechanic and plows snow in the winter. He has a shop but she has no idea how much he makes.

If she wants to leave him she needs to get her finances in order. But it will be a long process. I hope she can get herself pulled together.

Tips or ideas for someone really bad with money? I do worry about her and really have suggested that I help her with mint or just sorting paperwork. But the truth is that she says she'll get to gathering paperwork but never does.

financial freedom some thoughts

June 3rd, 2014 at 05:55 am

My DH and I have been discussing the cost of living situation. He just refuses to believe that if we make less and move to a lower cost of living things will work out.

He wants to maintain our current standard of living. He isn't worried so much about what we spend, we don't have a high burn rate for our income. But rather our savings rate, he's uncomfortable with the idea of us saving less. He knows mentally that you make less = save less. You have less income you need to replace, but the idea of going backwards and saving less per year makes him uncomfortable.

His statement to me was interesting, since I'm the one who has gotten more into early retirement. He said never considered us retiring early but the more he thinks about it, the more he wants us to be independent on jobs. He really doesn't want to retire and a lot of self worth is tied to working and what he does. But he doesn't want to be dependent on a job where a job loss will leave us floundering. He's reflected a lot lately and he wants us to be flexible financially always. That we are able to weather storms.

But how do we get there? He said how can I predict we'll have enough? How can we guarantee that our estimates of an annual budget are accurate? How do we know that unexpected expenses won't crop up after we "retire"?

I can't guarantee any of that. I don't know that we won't get sick or need medical care to the tune of thousands of dollars. But I also don't know that we couldn't die young before we get to retire.

And truthfully we aren't saving enough for college and we're both aware of it. But at the same time right now college is taking a backseat to everything because we are so unsure about the future.

I'll write my thoughts on college. For now I'm going to a splash park and enjoying the summer with my kiddos!

my love hate relationship with craigslist

June 2nd, 2014 at 06:06 am

So where I live Craigslist can be a hit or a miss. Sometimes you can find a great deal, and other times you are wondering what are people smoking in asking so much for USED crap.

This weekend I bought a tagalong bike trailer for $40. It the cheapest I found but when we looked at it, it was a 2008 model and heavy. But we did it to determine that my 4 year old was terrified of riding like that. Well good thing we didn't spend money on a new one. A new tagalong can be had for $96 on Amazon, and I still don't feel I got a great deal buying used honestly.

So I resold it that evening for $40 and considered myself lucky to get rid of it. And not have to try to storage it. We're pretty big bikers and used to bike all the time before kids. We have a trailer but with two kids it's tight.

So a friend suggested trying out her Weehoo. This thing prices out at $379 new on amazon. I looked at craigslist and found only 1 for sale in my area. I was annoyed because they were asking $300! No way, I wanted to pay that. Hello! Also the ad said "price firm". But I'm going to trial out my friends and if she likes it I'll try to find it used for $200 or I'll buy it new for $320 from REI with 20% off coupon.

I guess I like craigslist when I get a "deal" for used. But where I live I feel like people aren't aware that used items should be sold at a discount. Many people ask for new or almost new prices you can buy from places like "amazon, allbeebaby, etc".

But at the same time good deals can occasionally be had by people who are looking to dump stuff (myself included).

Do you like craigslist where you live? I hope my kiddo likes the weehoo and I can land one for $200.