December 11, 2017

2017 Money Move: Maxing out annual contributions

Filling up our savings: IRA and 529The second (missing) IRA

It’s a touch mortifying to admit that until now, I have failed utterly to start contributing to PiC’s IRA – we started to get on that, and …. I dropped the ball. I got distracted!

Plus I let myself get hung up on where his money should go. His work uses Fidelity but I use Vanguard and we all know I’m right! But for some reason, that argument holds no sway with his company. Philistines.

He had a teeny IRA somewhere long ago that we rolled over into a money market account until we had time to make a decision. Er, until I had a time to make a decision. (more…)

December 6, 2017

Holiday gifts in 2017 and wish list

While we stopped buying Christmas presents in our little family, preferring to spend money on stocks to build our Someday Retirement portfolio and enjoying our fake Christmas tree, this year was an exception.

We hit Black Friday sales pretty hard. Online only, but it still counts.

We won’t cover the obligatory family gifts ($250) because they’re obligatory and we shop from wish lists anyway so little thought is required, except for a quick note to say that I’m apparently mellowing on this front. I don’t LIKE it and still think it should be eliminated because we’re also required to spend money on travel every Christmas due to where we live, but my heart is less crabby about it these days.

This must mean that my 2015 wish list has a check mark by Wish #3 – to be a Better Me. There are long held ill feelings that are finally starting to affect me less, and not being grouchy about the Christmas gifting tradition even though I strongly oppose it is a good sign. Oh AND I started liking guacamole! I’m allowed to stay a Californian! I do still want to be doing something more personally meaningful and btw lucrative, but that’s a longer term project. There’s still room for improvement, and that’s ok.

I gave us the (physical) gifts of …

Cast iron! Our last two nonstick fry pans have been A-W-F-U-L and I refused to replace that last one for a few months because dammit, they should last longer than a couple of years! In a nod to Katy at The Non Consumer Advocate who extolled the virtues of cast iron, we located a 12-inch Lodge cast iron pan (with scrub brush and grippy handle thing because we are both idiots who WILL grab hot cast iron with bare hands). This should, once we read up on how to properly take care of it, last us decades!
Total: $30, and we stop ruining the environment with crappy nonstick pans

Power on the go! My 3.5 year old charging pack is on its last legs, barely taking a charge, so loathe though I am to replace it already, replace it we did. I resisted the urge to go for the super-powered 26900 mAh pack at twice the price, and picked up the more economical and compact 10000 mAh pack which is still more than I was getting before.
Total: $26

Data storage! This is where we splurged – I went for the 8 TB drive for long term digital storage. I’ll keep our 120 GB hard drives as backups to the backup for critical information in case this drive ever fails. It would be heartbreaking if we lost all our financial and photographic files.
Total: $164

Nice holiday photo cards. I almost got away with cheap Walgreens photo cards, using a T-Mobile affiliated code for 75% off, but unlike their photo prints, their standard photo card prints are unbelievably bad. I briefly debated taking them because I loved the simple design and $15 for 40 cards was under budget but they looked awful and even I hesitated to send them out. These may be PiC’s passion, I didn’t think I cared about their quality, but $15 on crappy product is a waste of $15. Instead I combined sales and promos at Shutterfly to get nice cards that neither of us will be embarrassed to sign.
Total, $50

and the financial gifts of …

Points! Chase thought they could dangle a 100,000 Ultimate Rewards point promo for closing a mortgage with them, and then fail to credit us? Oh no no no, you do not know who you’re dealing with, foolish bankers.

It took 4 emails, 7 phone calls, 3 inquiries, and 6 months to run them to ground, but those delicious points are in my account for future travel.  We’re going to be traveling with points and miles most for a few years while we recover from the mortgage.

Savings! The very second those points arrived in our account, having been held hostage for an additional two months, I laid out our ten step plan to liberate our cash from Chase. The cash was wired (free courtesy of our temporary status as Chase Private Clients) to our savings account, there to earn 1.25% APY until our next stock purchases are selected.

Investing (but on hold)! The market being what it is, I’m hesitant to commit to any particular stock right now but we’ll pick something in the next several weeks.

More savings (a second recast)! I speculated that our money would be tied up through December or January but the second those UR points landed, an email was launched to Chase to start the next recast approval process. I’m crossing my fingers that it’s approved Very Quickly.

Last, a little wish list

There’s still a handful of things I want but can or must wait for: a working Kindle, a trip to Japan, another trip to Australia, yet another trip to Italy, also to Hawaii and New Zealand… a second dog. Fleece and flannel pajamas (one of each and with pockets, dangit!). But none of these make it onto the Christmas list for this year.

My focus is putting together an office that isn’t a children’s sized maze of boxes and puzzle pieces, so more organizational pieces like shelving and some good baskets or containers are needed. Room enough for an actual library or a piano remains a far fetched desire. 🙂

I’d still love to get Seamus that Costco bear, or something that size. It would blow his mind!

PiC is a simple man. He likes basic clothes like shirts without JB-torn holes in them, and tools I usually find with deals and coupons, so he’s set.

JuggerBaby has so much already, there’s nothing ze needs other than our love and attention. Lots and lots and lots of attention. It almost makes me wish we could have had a second child after zir 2nd birthday to play zir Boon Companion. The age difference would have been perfect, zir favorite cousin is around that age. It’s close enough to adore and engage with and ze adores small children. But now it feels like even if we could manage another pregnancy (physically, or the very real monetary costs for help), the age gap would be too big. Ze wants a companion to actively play with now, not a baby to care for like ze enjoyed earlier. This is all speculation, anyway. Our plates are full right now.

:: Is there anything on your wish list? Did you find or get any spectacular gifts yet?

November 20, 2017

2017 Money Move: Vanguard and cleaning up my holdings

Mimicking my favorite tax blogger Kay Bell’s “Moves to make” posts, I’m making some moves before the end of the year to maximize our tax efficiency, minimize our expenses, and ensure we’re saving / investing as much as we can for retirement.

Step One – examining Vanguard accounts!

My Rollover IRA has held my retirement contributions since 2007, and my personal rate of return over that time has been 10.4%, but the fund selections are really outdated.

Over the past decade, as my contributions grew, I’ve shifted from holding Investor Shares to Admiral Shares which have a much lower expense ratio but that was only true for two of my five funds:

(more…)

July 26, 2017

Reaping Dividends: July 2017 report

Reaping Dividends: July 2017

My brokerage was TradeKing which was acquired by Ally this year. I’ve been very happy with TradeKing’s low fees and service so I’m hoping that Ally does that and better. There’s one thing I already like the look of. For investors with at least a $100,000 daily balance or execute at least 30 trades per quarter, you can be part of Ally Invest SELECT.

The one tiny perk that I care about is lower fees: $3.95 per equity trade and $0.50 per options contract.

Other perks that I don’t personally care about right now:
Priority routing to our Ally Invest reps. No additional cost when you place a phone trade. We’ll waive the first six months’ advisory fees for any new Ally Invest Advisors account you open, including custodial and joint accounts or IRAs. No fees on requests for 1099s, paper statements, or trade confirmations. We’ll refund transfer fees on deposits of $5,000 or more to your Ally Invest Securities account.

I’d trade a few of those benefits for free trades, really.

Observations this quarter 

  • Dividends income this past quarter (April through June): $941.20. If nothing changes, we’ll see about $2600 in dividend income this year.
  • I love COST and Costco loves me! For a second year in a row, they’ve paid out a special dividend at $7 per share. Delicious dividends, that can go on to buy more dividend bearing stocks.
  • For two days, I had a triple dividend from KO but it turns out that was just a dirty trick.
  • I was surprised to realize that I’ve been buying more stocks in the “Cyclical Consumer Goods & Services” sector than anything else. Probably not a good idea to be concentrated in retail if I’m worried about a recession. 

Dividend income update: June 30, 2017

Year to Date Dividends: $1,365.20, Fees: $9.90, Net: $1,355.30

Income Replacement

For perspective, I like to think of the dividends investing project in terms of how much of our income it can replace, or how much of our fixed expenses it can cover.

At a whopping $1355.30, this year’s dividends can pay 39% of one new mortgage payment. Our old mortgage payment would have been paid in full!

Since I started 6 years ago, I’ve made a grand total of $2,810.00.

:: How did your portfolio do this quarter? Would you try to replace income this way, or do you have another preference?

May 1, 2017

Reaping Dividends: April 2017 report

Reaping Dividends: April 2017

My brokerage is TradeKing, I’ve been very happy with their low fees and service. They’re offering a promotion through my referral link right now: New accounts opened with a $500 minimum deposit get $500 in free trade commission and new accounts opened with a $5000 minimum deposit get $1000 in free trade commission.

  • Given my apathy towards the trajectory of my full time job (flattish for now) and the trajectory of my salary (also flattish), I’ve decided to carry on with investing in dividend stocks. It’ll be useful for early income replacement if I were to voluntarily retire, but also in case my health drops precipitously. There’s no guarantee I’ll stay healthy enough to work for as long as I want to work.
  • The $15,000 that I was holding finally went into two more stocks in January – both have already paid out their dividends as well.

Year to Date Dividends: $518.20, Fees: $9.90, Net: $508.20

Income Replacement

For perspective, I like to think of the dividends investing project in terms of how much of our income it can replace, or how much of our fixed expenses it can cover.

At a whopping $508.30, this year’s dividends can pay 50% of one mortgage payment. Over the past 6 years, I’ve made a total of $1,940.80. It’s all been reinvested, I haven’t taken any dividends out of the portfolio and won’t for some years yet.

Income projection. If nothing changes, we’ll see about $1500 in dividend income this year.

:: How did your portfolio do this quarter? Would you try to replace income this way, or do you have another preference?

April 24, 2017

Real Estate Investing: rental increases

Real estate investing: handling rent increases gracefully It’s been a while since my last rental property update!

I’ve identified a new property manager that I will likely change over to later in the year. It will cost me $150 to make the change and transfer, so I decided not to do it until after June for a couple reasons.

First, the pain of working with the current property manager is low right now, so I can afford to leave this alone for a few months while I focus on our more pressing needs. Don’t get me wrong, she’s used up my good will. It just doesn’t make sense to try to do everything at the same time, and do them all badly, because each project needs a minimum amount of care.

Second, my rent to expenses ratio was pretty low. It was time to reassess the rent against market rates, and we found that we were something like 20% below market.

Aside from that long-running HOA violations debacle, though, they’ve been good tenants with two years of consistently paying rent. I have to make sure that my expenses, now and upcoming, are covered but also didn’t want to hit them with a huge increase so we decided to make it a 6% rate increase with an explanation that we are choosing to give them a lower rent than we might because they’ve been good tenants.

Besides, I wasn’t about to repeat the same mistake that Dad’s landlord pulled. Small regular increases over the years are easier to swallow unless you can afford to leave the rent low for years. I can’t, unfortunately, but it’d be nice to be in that position!

:: What’s the biggest increase in housing cost that you’ve experienced? Was it as a renter or an owner? 

Read more of our experience with real estate investing!

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

January 9, 2017

2016: Our year in review

HNY

2016 highlights

EARNING, SPENDING, SAVING

The good

My day job income stayed the same, PiC’s increased a little. My competitive side HATES that mine stayed the same but my realistic side knows that was part of the deal of accepting the job with more risk. With more risk, I should remind myself to be glad the job is still alive and kicking!

We focused on our areas of our side money project which generated the funds to send much needed support to friends who’d hit rough patches: severe illness, loss of loved ones, injuries.

We didn’t splash out on a jumbo loan for a bigger house, nor did we add a second dog to the pack. I wanted to but reined in those currently unsupportable desires. Reminder, I need early retirement more than I need to take on more responsibility and I don’t want the guilt that comes with taking on more dependents than we can truly care for.

1. Debt reduction is saving. We refinanced our mortgage, freeing up our cash flow, halving our interest, and sending more straight to principal. We had the original mortgage for 4 months of the year, and the refinanced mortgage for the remaining 8.

See what a difference the lower interest made:

From January to April, we paid $3,628.05 toward principal and $4,151.61 toward interest. The next 8 months on the same loan would have seen $7,256.10 toward principal and $8,303.22 toward interest for a total of $10,884.15 (P) and $12,454.83 (I), or $23,338.98 spent by year end.

Instead, we paid $6,985.28 (P) plus closing costs, and $3,510.48 (I), totaling $10,613.33 (P) and $7,662.09 (I), for a year end total of $18,275.42.

Savings: $5.063.56. This was one reason we absorbed this year’s financial hits a little more easily than we might have any other year.

2. Automatic savings. We reduced our automatic savings rate to increase our cash-flow once JuggerBaby started going full-time at daycare. Hard to believe we held out for 2/3 of 2016 on a part time schedule but that saved another tidy sum.

We maxed out PiC’s 401(k), my IRA, added $10,000 to JuggerBaby’s 529 plan out of savings, and saved 25% of our income after that.

The bad

We had all manner of unbudgeted expenses this year and had to dig into savings. I HATE touching savings. We absorbed them but this removed $25,000 from our assets. *grouse*

Also, I secretly wanted to bump up our savings rate. Wait, let me rephrase that. I wanted to bump up our savings rate in secret and see if anyone (PiC) noticed a change in our lifestyle. This might be an unethical human case study but c’mon! Never mind, though, that didn’t happen because – see Spending.

1. An unexpected on-paper-only change meant our taxes cost more than $13,000.
2. We had to replace a car earlier than planned which came with a lot of unplanned maintenance: $4,000.
3. PiC has a health thing: $7,000.

BEST OF

  • This was a great travel year: Seattle, Hawaii, SDCC, FinCon! We flew with JuggerBaby and it didn’t kill us.
  • My sewing kit and I bonded this year over torn seams, preloved toddler shirts falling apart, and crafting new pockets for PiC’s pants. I’m 0% crafty so these tiny successes were a big deal for me.
  • I celebrated ten years of blogging and don’t feel like hanging up my keyboard anytime soon.
  • I spent quality time with longtime blog friends, and made new friends, at FinCon. All bonuses in a trip with no clear purpose at the outset.

WORST OF

  • I was sick with one virus or another for ten months of the year. That’s 83% of a full year being sick but not being able to call out sick because you can’t just call out from being mom, wife, or dog-mom. Professionally, I can’t take sick time because I have zero backup. It shouldn’t have been any surprise that I took so long to get better after each infection.
  • We broke the baby. We fixed the baby (yay) after breaking zir (whoops).
  • Coming to terms with Dad.

GETTING THINGS DONE

Plan for 2016

  1. Save 25% of our income. If we stay on track with regular income and barring any catastrophes, we should come within shouting distance of a Major Milestone Net Worth Number in 2016.
    DONE and DONE. We hit our first Major Milestone this year, and saved 30% of our income counting all forms of saving. 
  2. Finish the last steps of our estate planning.
    DONE. Oh my goodness, we FINALLY completed this one. Now we have to finish transferring all our assets to the trust.
  3. Decide on JuggerBaby’s college savings vehicle and set up a savings plan for zir.
    DONE and it was easier than it looked to be, at first.

2016 NUMBERS

  • TOTAL MONEY – Our Net Worth increased by 34%. Exactly half of that was updating our real estate valuations, the other half was saving cash and adding to our investments.
  • DIVIDENDS – Our last dividend payouts for 2016 were later than expected so I didn’t have time to pull together a report before we traveling. I’ll publish our next updates on a April / July / October schedule so I’m not publishing all reports in the first half of January which is BOR-ING. Besides, I shouldn’t have another dividend payment until February so there’s no point in reporting before them. At our last dividend update, we had a grand total of $434.50 in dividend income and I projected a final total of $600. Our final 2016 year end total was: $710.60! Yay, I beat projections!
  • SIDE MONEY – $855 was earned from Swagbucks, Mr. Rebates, and ebates; $2920 was earned from Craigslist sales making a total of $3775 in alternate income.
  • BLOG MONEY – $200 was earned by the blog which goes toward expenses (hosting, FinCon2017, etc). It’s a LONG way from paying me for my time.

Hello 2017!

  1. MONEY – Save 30% of our income, PLUS max out PiC’s 401(k), my IRA, an IRA for him, and
  2. MONEY – Organize our retirement funding for tax and income efficiency.
  3. MONEY – As part of the above, research the backdoor ROTH IRA and decide when would be best for us to do one. I think I’ll need our CPA’s help running some numbers for this.
  4. MONEY – Decide if we’re going to hoard more cash (investing it) or pay down more mortgage, then do it.
  5. LIFE: Mail hand-written letter to one of JuggerBaby’s surrogate grandparents every month. We always send hand-written thank you cards to the loving surrogate aunts and uncles who think of zir or send lovely thoughtful gifts but I’d like to be more proactive in this area, and sharing a bit of life in a more meaningful regular way instead of reacting to their generosity or hoping we can visit.
  6. LIFE: prepare one New Baby Care Package to send to an expectant mother friend per month. The first half of the year is spoken for! This is a hobby though sometimes I think it’d be a fun job.
  7. LIFE: travel will definitely be happening this year, that’s not a question. The open questions are: how much of it can I travel hack and will we enjoy it all? I’ll be setting up a travel calendar to address these questions.

:: What were your bests/worsts of 2016? How’d you do this year with spending and saving your money? Did you remember to make time for life? 

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, and Racing Towards Retirement*

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