June 19, 2017

What’s the right retirement age for you?

Listening to the West Wing the other day, Toby’s yelling about the need to consider options to save Social Security such as raising the minimum age penetrated my conscious brain. He pointed out that people are living decades longer than they used to, and Social Security was predicated on a life span that was considerably shorter.

As I understand it, you can start claiming benefits at 62 if you’re willing to accept a lower amount but for each year you wait until age 70, the amount increases 8%.

The archived Social Security site says:

If we look at life expectancy statistics from the 1930s we might come to the conclusion that the Social Security program was designed in such a way that people would work for many years paying in taxes, but would not live long enough to collect benefits. Life expectancy at birth in 1930 was indeed only 58 for men and 62 for women, and the retirement age was 65. But life expectancy at birth in the early decades of the 20th century was low due mainly to high infant mortality, and someone who died as a child would never have worked and paid into Social Security. A more appropriate measure is probably life expectancy after attainment of adulthood.

It goes on to point out that if we look at the life expectancy after reaching adulthood, then we are indeed living a few more years than we used to.

Obviously, we have many awesome FIRE bloggers who would dispute this retirement age as the appropriate one but they’re (we?) an unusual segment of the population right now.

In my family, we either live well into late 80s and 90s, or we die before 60. If you make it to 60, there’s a solid chance that you have another 20 or 30 years ahead.

Whether they’re good years depends on whether they worked physically demanding manual labor jobs (high likelihood), how good their basic health was, whether they had access to appropriate health care if it was needed. Last and maybe the most important: did they save enough to last them during their later years?

I’d say the latter is a complicated question because, until now, retirement plans in our family have been “move in with the kids and be their childcare in exchange for full support.”

There have been some exceptions.

My amazing grandmother worked her own farm well into her 80s. She had enough saved to last her until her death and still leave a healthy inheritance. One aunt did the usual childcare thing but then moved out when the grandkids were too much of a pain – that’s pretty much unheard of.

PiC and I are the first couple in my family that I know of to actively plan to not follow the usual game plan of have kids, work all our adult years, missing their childhoods, and then depend on them for support while raising their kids. That model simply doesn’t work when there isn’t a cohesive community all around you doing the same which equips them to provide support as needed. We’re hundreds of miles from our dearest friends and relatives, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

JuggerBaby may be an only. We may want to grow the family more. We may try to foster and adopt if my health allows. There are so many possibilities and it hardly seems possible to plan for them all, but it must be possible.

We have been saving for retirement for years, I started when I was 21. I don’t have a FIRE date in mind but once the dust settles, I’ll decide what it is and our salaries together will work on reaching it.

I’d love to set it at age 40 but that’s just a pie in the sky number right now. We have to let the dust settle with the house, the renovations, the mortgage, and all that jazz before I dive headfirst into another massive plan.

:: When you plan to retire? Do you have grand plans for that time of your life or is that still hazy?


June 12, 2017

I tried to do it ALL: here’s what happened 

Enduring a year of epic financial storms
On the one hand, I am Superwoman.

I handle my full time job like the pro that I am. My family is fed, hygienic, healthy, and mostly happy – though Seamus would submit to you that my refusal to share carnitas tacos is inhumane and unacceptable. My hobby (writing here) is still fun after nearly 11 years. My friends are wonderful people and I gladly support them through health, home, and career crises on a sometimes daily basis. Without a doubt, I’ve knocked the money thing out of the park on a regular basis – I save expansively, spend moderately, invest bravely, and generate odds and ends income creatively.

I remain Seamus’s most dedicated groomer and vet tech, I tend to his medications, food, and all nursing care so that he’s had the best six months of allergy-related symptoms of his life.

On a good day, one would assume I had it all together in a neat little package with a bow on top. When things are normal, it’s true – my default mode is set to awesome with a few dashes of slobby.

I had to check three times yesterday if my pants were on and buttoned before I left the house. After the backwards pajamas the night before, that shouldn’t have been such a close call. I’ve gone five days in a row without brushing or combing my hair – the blessings of short hair! If there wasn’t a mirror in the hallway, those three times I remembered to brush this mop would have been exactly zero. This isn’t really new territory for me – after a few years of working mostly remotely, I’ve reached an unprecedented level of non-concern about my dress because the only thing that matters at work right now is that I am awesome. Which I am.


With the new home in the picture, all the prep work with our (fantastic!!) general contractor has driven me to distraction. Literally.

I’m burning the candle at both ends. I’m doing my usual: daycare dropoff/pickup days, cooking dinner (PiC cooks breakfast and packs lunches, I make dinner), managing our regular money stuff.

Pile on organizing the new mortgage, setting up the new utilities, reviewing and revising our  labor and materials budgeting, contract writing and review, preliminary design, and discovery of more things wrong with the place. We intended to make the kitchen functional and update a bathroom. That leaking tube means we definitely have dry rot in the framing. After several hours of site visits and digging deeper, the remodel has turned into a major gut and rebuild problem. I won’t even get into the thousand moving parts that the GC and I are keeping in motion aside just to get a contract organized, from the almost routine surprise discoveries as we get to explore the space further in limited spurts.

But what else do we have behind Door #3, Vanna? We have summer! Summer, which is the absolute worst for Seamus’s allergies. I’ve changed his medication, his diet, his exercise routine, everything. It’s done wonders. But nothing we’ve come up with has been able to ward off the summer allergy attack – so once a year, for three months, I have to clean, salve and wrap his feet 2-3 times a day to keep the hot spots under control and the skin from tearing.

Y’all. The wall? It’s been hit. My entire being has gone through the wall like the Kool-aid man and fallen over.

I’ve gotten TONS done in a short period. The price was my sanity and health. My body tried to quit!

It’s one thing for me to forget what’s going on with the wardrobe. It’s another thing to pull out of the driveway and take a puzzled Seamus to daycare instead of to the vet. And it’s entirely another when I drive to a nearby shop to pick up a few things, but start walking home because I had forgotten that I’d driven!  That was both funny and, in hindsight, a bit alarming.

My gastrointestinal system went full Dark Side for a week, constant pain and threat of vomiting kept me up nights. Digesting food was no longer a job for THIS body. All major joints were creaking fit to challenge the Tin Man, my fingers were moonlighting for sausage commercials. Taking calls for an hour took all the breath out of me, I had to sit for three hours just to stop breathing shallowly. My ribs hurt when I did that silly breathing thing.

A friend prodded me: time to ask for help (stupid!). Even after more than a decade of being together, I still don’t remember to ask PiC for help! He’s Right There.

I texted him and confessed it was time. He’d been pressing me to do a little less but couldn’t tell what he could take off my plate without getting bitten. He gladly offered up some chores he would take over and I picked a few.

Now the trick is actually letting go of them. One finger at a time!

  • PiC has started makin more design decisions on the house, solo.
  • I’ve negotiated a new lower rate for a year with Comcast. I can worry about finding a better replacement for them next year, not now.
  • We have a $200 credit with Munchery that I’ve hoarded for months. Expensive though they have gotten, it’s time to just use the credit so I’m not cooking 3 times a week. We can get 2 or 3 more deliveries over the next few months so it’s time to strategically deploy that money already spent.

It’s taking a long while to repair the fatigue caused by the many days of unremitting pain but I am already seeing a little bit of improvement, and best of all, I don’t have to avoid food anymore!

We’re keeping our eye on the ball, this is going to get worse before it gets better and we have a lot of work ahead of us still.

Speaking of the work, initial rough quotes for the now MAJOR renovations are right around what I was expecting which is to say: $$GULP. It’s a good thing the past five years have been centered around building  whopping loads of savings held in CDs and some stock options. Ideally the stock options would have been exercised over a year ago but having failed to be psychic, we’re going to have to take the short term capital gains hit to access that cash. Drat that lack of a third eye!

:: What are your favorite ways to reduce stress when work or home issues blow up?

May 30, 2017

On the home(buying) front: the commitment and numbers

Househunt2017: Under contract! We’re under contract!

We submitted what felt like our millionth (it wasn’t) offer. As usual, once that was in, I filed away all our emails on that address and moved on with life: checking any new MLS listings, checking our financials, taking the kids for a walk.

At 2 pm the next day, our realtor called. Our offer was accepted with no more than a minor change to the closing date! Holy crap.

I explored my feelings like I was checking for a hole in a tooth – is that regret? Panic? Buyer’s remorse? A little of everything? It’s still a bit unclear but it’s not excitement that’s for darn sure. That has a place later in the timeline when we actually get to move in but that’s months away. Many months. And many dollars.

We debated the new date – a change from Wednesday to Friday. Our agent doesn’t like closing on a Friday but it was also only a two day difference which would make a rent back a total pain in the pertuckus. I prefer fewer complications in an already thoroughly complex transaction, please. We agreed, and braced ourselves for the appraisal.

We’d taken the chance with the appraisal – we’d chosen not to take the contingency. No offers with any contingencies had even been considered even when our offer price was competitive. On this one, we accepted that if the property assessed at a lower value than our offer, we’d be both highly annoyed and have to pony up the extra cash because our lender would only cover 20% of the appraised value.

I did the calculations to confirm that we could bear that extra cost if we had to. It’s a good thing we did, too, because it did appraise lower than the sale price. Curses. It wasn’t by a heartbreaking amount, we had discussed the possibility and accepted it, and we had budgeted for it, but it still bothers me to think about it. You know what bothers me most? Having to input a lower value on the appraisal line than the total paid value when I adjust our monthly numbers! Nerd.

It’s not the house of our dreams

That doesn’t matter because that house doesn’t exist for anything less than $3M! Which means it might as well not exist at all. We have champagne tastes, sometimes.

We live in humdrum reality! What we get is a major fixer-upper that we can (hahaha …. have to) renovate to suit our needs, of modest size, in a quiet neighborhood. It’s near conveniences like groceries and banks, it’s a single story, with a smallish backyard where I can do some gardening and Seamus can do some serious sunbathing.

It also comes with fungal infestations, termites, appliances that haven’t worked since 1976, windows that haven’t opened since the Reagan administration, and bathtubs that have been leaking since Timberlake was a Mouseketeer. That’s just what we can see on visual inspection. I can’t wait to see what happens when we rip up carpets designed expressly for the psychedelic age.

What I’m getting at is that what we saved upfront on loan costs, we’re spending on repairs and then some. At least we’ll be living with things that we picked, but I could have lived with a strangers’ bad taste for a while to save money, y’know?

I’m already slowly losing my mind

Aside from the money part ….

Supplying 16 more rounds of paperwork to the lender, seriously, didn’t we already go through this at the beginning? Why are we going through all of the statements again?
Getting recommendations, vetting vendors, scheduling walk-throughs with the general contractor, with the architect, with the inspector, with the other contractor, taking time away from work but still getting all my work done on time.
Updating the Spreadsheet to End All Spreadsheets with our projected income, expenses, down payment, closing costs, estimated labor & materials costs;
Mapping out all expenditures against the calendar to see when we’ll run out of money, and set the upper limit for our remodeling budget!

PiC knows I want nothing to do with picking colors for tiles or handles for cabinets. I don’t care about appliance finishes so long as they work well, quietly, and don’t create extra work for me. He cares so he’s on that mission, as well as making all the phone calls because I hate talking to people during my workday.

I head up all the financials ferreting out every possible saving and promotion I can find for things we already have to do. There’s a new checking account bonus at Chase that we’ll snag, plus they’re running a promotion for $595 cash back if you set up automatic mortgage payments with them. I’ll have to keep the account open for 6 months, which is fine and worth the nearly $800 we’ll reap for going out of our way with a new account for half a year.

We discuss our decisions and process together, but mostly leave the other to their set of jobs. It’s a good sign that our partnership hasn’t frayed under the strain of another full time job demanding our attentions while still trying to do full justice to our day jobs and parenting.


I keep getting distracted! I’m supposed to be answering emails from the lender, and leaving our money the hell alone until we close.

Our dividends portfolio needs beefing up so I hop into researching the stocks that I wanted. It doesn’t help that TradeKing has become part of Ally. Every time I go to stare obsessively at our savings, I stare at our portfolio. But no: none of that cash can buy stocks, it’s already earmarked for renovations.

Then that reminds me I researched a new real estate investment: Fundrise. This was a really interesting prospect and we should put … oh. STOP, I can’t invest in an eREIT right now, renovations!

I need to book cheap travel for important family and friend life events for the year so obviously that means I should maximize the travel booking rewards by grabbing a new credit card for … oh. No, I can’t open a new credit card right now, we haven’t closed yet.

It’s not that I don’t have plenty to do, it’s that having the clock ticking down til escrow makes me feel like I’m in limbo and I hate limbo. I need to be doing things.

Except right now, doing money things is exactly what I can’t do because it’ll disturb the Escrow Equilibrium. I hate  being told I can’t do whatever I want with my money.


45 days until I can Gollum all over our money again. FINE.

What I am allowed to do is earn money and watch over our budget really carefully. We’re making decisions on what renovations to hire out ($$$) and what we can DIY (not that much for health and sanity reasons).

We’ll need every extra penny in case renovations go long, go over budget, or we need to carry our current mortgage a little longer than projected. PiC has had a nice streak of cash earning from his Craigslist sales, and I keep tucking every little (and big) bit away. Reimbursements from the FSA account, sales, blog income, it’s all being stashed.

That’s plenty to do along with keeping the day job ticking along.

:: How do you occupy yourself when you’re not allowed to mess with your money?

Disease Called Debt

May 24, 2017

Chase is throwing money at us

and I’m more than happy to accept. I’m rubbing my hands in at least a little bit of glee.

After interviewing a few lenders, I’d chosen to go with Chase’s mortgage lending because we were in touch with a very hands-on and responsive banker. I had dreaded the process, of course, and of course it was three metric tons of paperwork, but this was by far the best lender I’ve ever worked with. Not intended to be an advertisement, by the way, I was just pleasantly surprised.

Armed with my PF money hunting spear, I hunted for all the promotions I could find once we were reasonably settled on a mortgage, and lo, Chase Bank has been willing to provide! I have turned up some riches!

It’s not more than a drop in the bucket compared to what we’ll be paying but this isn’t chump change.

With a $25 deposit, I opened a Premier Plus checking account and then PiC opened both Total Checking and Savings accounts. We’ll keep all three accounts open for six months, then take home $650 in bonuses! But I didn’t stop there, oh no. Then I’ll set up the automated payments for another $595 which makes a grand total of $1245.

All the fun details are below if you want to join in some of the money-grubbin’ fun. 😉

I’ll keep looking for more money to shore up our accounts before the hemorrhage begins!

These bonuses will be taxable, so I’ll set aside a portion of it just like I do with any other freelance income. I should note that I don’t LOVE Chase as a bank so I’ll be closing these accounts after 6 months and going back to my old stand-by bank. This is just enough money in bonuses to be worth taking the time.

The promotions

Chase Premier Plus $300 Bonus

  • Open a new Chase Premier Plus Checking.
  • Deposit $25 or more at account opening.
  • Set direct deposit to your Premier Plus Checking within 60 days of account opening.
  • Chase will deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days.

Fine Print

  • Keep your account open for 6 months, or they’ll take back the bonus!
  • The $25 Monthly Service Fee is waived when you keep an average beginning day balance of $15,000 or more in any combination of this account and linked qualifying Chase checking, savings and other balances.

Chase Total Checking $200 bonus and Chase Savings $150 bonus

  • Open a new Chase Total Checking Account
  • Deposit $25 or more at account opening.
  • Set direct deposit to your Total Checking within 60 days of account opening.
  • Chase will deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days.
  • Open a new Chase Total Savings Account
  • Deposit $10,000 or more in new money within 10 business days, and maintain a $10,000 balance for 90 days

Fine Print

  • Keep your account open for 6 months, or they’ll take back the bonus!
  • The Checking $25 Monthly Service Fee is waived when you do at least one of the following each statement period: Option #1: Have monthly direct deposits totaling $500 or more made to this account; OR, Option #2: Keep a minimum daily balance of $1,500 or more in your checking account; OR, Option #3: Keep an average beginning day balance of $5,000 or more in any combination of this account and linked qualifying Chase checking, savings and other balances. Otherwise a $12 Monthly Service Fee will apply.
  • Chase Savings has no Monthly Service Fee when you do at least one of the following each statement period: Option #1: Keep a minimum daily balance of $300 or more in your savings account; OR, Option #2: Have at least one repeating automatic transfer of $25 or more from your Chase personal checking account (available only through Chase OnlineSM Banking); OR, Option #3: Have a linked Chase Premier Plus CheckingSM, Chase Premier Platinum CheckingSM, or Chase Private Client CheckingSM account. Otherwise a $5 Monthly Service Fee will apply. A $5 Savings Withdrawal Limit Fee will apply for each withdrawal or transfer out of this account over six per monthly statement period.

Chase mortgage $595 bonus

  • Have an existing or open a new Chase personal checking account
  • Enroll in Chase’s automatic mortgage payment service. The mortgage payment will be automatically deducted from the Chase personal checking account. Payments must go directly from a Chase personal checking account to the Chase mortgage and not be managed by third parties
  • Enroll the new mortgage in paperless statements. All promotion requirements must be met within 60 days of closing.

Fine Print

  • Customers get $595 cash back after closing a purchase mortgage with Chase.
  • This offer is only available for new, residential first mortgage purchase loans submitted directly to Chase.
  • Customers must enroll in the $595 Cash Back promotion online within 60 days of closing with the E-coupon code provided in the Welcome brochure.
  • Applications received after March 26, 2017 are eligible for the $595 Cash Back promotion.
  • Property address must be included with the application.

Chase mortgage + Chase Sapphire Reserve cardmembers!

Thanks for the reminder, Mrs. BITA!

This one is on hold for us because our mortgage application was started before the promotion was live, but our banker opened an investigation to see if they could still give us the 100,000 points. We should find out this week. Cross your fingers!

:: Have you found any worthwhile promotions lately? 

May 22, 2017

Life talk: Always see Option C

At work and at home, I’ve been working a method of getting a desirable outcome. I present JB with choices, any of which that I would be ok with, which gives zir some options but not unlimited choices.

This works perfectly for organizing work group events when everyone has an opinion – I narrow down 50 choices to my top 3 that are the best cost, easy to work with, and catered to the most diverse tastes. Any of the 3 would be fine and the group gets to weigh in on the selection in a sensible manner. Win win!

Ten years of wins. Naturally, when I try it on my child, the results … well. You’ll see.

In practice…

Me: you may hold the leash in the middle, or you may hold my hand.
JB: *thinks for a long minute* Up, please.

Me: Do you want oranges or pears?
JB:  Stah-berries plz!

PiC: You can either walk with me or you can hold mama’s hand.
JB: Hold Gigi (Seamus) hand!

It turns out that JuggerBaby is the absolute champ at refusing to be limited, or manipulated, in zir choices.

The wonderful thing about teaching a sometimes-savage small child to be a civilized human being is what we learn in return.

You don’t have to take one of the two obvious options. Think about what you really want.

It’s fine if you want one of the options on offer but many of us don’t realize there’s more than what you can see.

I definitely didn’t want to be a stay at home mom if we had kids. I also didn’t love the idea of being a working mom the way my mom had been: doing everything for everyone except myself, plus working 15 hour days. It took such a toll on her, and I wanted my parents to be in my life more than I wanted anything they could buy me.

For years, I knew the happy medium had to be out there, though I didn’t know what it looked like. I assumed that I would be the working mom and PiC would be the stay at home dad. He was willing to entertain the notion, but we stayed in CA, and even moved to the most expensive possible region so going down to one income while I was still supporting my own family wasn’t possible.

Based entirely on faith, I kept working at having more than two options, trying to foster the right circumstances for C to come along when I needed it.

As it happens, it did!

I earned enough seniority, autonomy, and respect to get some serious flexibility. That’s what the gold ring was: flexibility to make the right decisions for our family based on what we need, and not just what the boss demands.

Our option C kept changing, and that was good

My work situation is flexible enough that I don’t have to go to the office five days a week and spend 13 hours a day there like I used to. I can preserve that commuting energy for taking care of my family, taking time out for myself to write here, or check on friends and make sure that life doesn’t just pass us by. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for the choices it gave us:

We had JuggerBaby and the nanny search failed miserably, so I transitioned into a working from home mom for a year.

Then we had childcare but we still juggled a combination schedule because we wanted to save money.

Saving that money meant that we could more comfortably afford full time childcare when that time came. Full time childcare in these here parts is heartbreakingly expensive if you can’t find a spot in one of the cheaper in-home situations, and assuming they’re good.

Thank goodness that even though I had no idea what going off the usual path would look like, I prepared for the possibility and stayed open to it.

:: Do you take the road less traveled in your life? What choices did you make that were out of the norm? What traditional choices work best for you? 


This website and its content are copyright of A Gai Shan Life  | © A Gai Shan Life 2017. All rights reserved.

Site design by 801red