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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.

snowflaking

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.