July 24, 2017

A moment of gratitude and a spending check

Counting our blessings and taking the long view Maybe this would be more seasonally appropriate for Thanksgiving but it’s true now, and it’s never a bad time to remember the good things.

Driving home from another four hour trip to the home supplies store, that teleprompter style list of all the work still ahead of me started scrolling.

1:56 pm. 

Seamus needed dinner, a walk, his medications.

My work was piled up, the work that I had done little more about than shake a cranky stick at it in stolen minutes between bathroom vanity specs and researching and investigating flooring samples.

My stomach rumbles. Oh yeah. Also that.

Today’s purchases need to be recorded in the now 236 row spreadsheet where every single expenditure, delivery, pick-up, and delay was logged.

Drawing a deep breath to dispel the almost inevitable surge of rage-impatience, I let it out, surprised.

Nothing. I felt nothing.

Not an empty nothing but the nothing of calm and peace.

That was as weird as a new sore tooth – or the absence of pain. That’s when it dawned on me. I wasn’t irritated or grumpy or angry at the loss of half a day and interruption to my beloved routine. I was grateful.

I am grateful that all my hard choices and sacrifices to prove myself in a traditional work place up to now meant that I could have my days interrupted like this, that my career wouldn’t suffer from a temporary dislocation in my work routine. That my reputation was solid enough and my work relationships were strong enough up and down the hierarchy that if an email wasn’t answered in four minutes, no one was going to micromanage me over it.

That freedom was paid for in hard coin. Years of almost thankless toil in various corporate and non corporate jobs. Years of taking risks, pressing for well deserved promotions, negotiating for raises, knowing that women are punished for asking, then pushing forward to new ventures without being quite sure of the future.

Now? The payoff. I don’t have to apologize or atone for taking the time to make my life work because I’ll still  make sure the work gets done. The striving, even when it wasn’t crystal clear what the striving would be in aid of, was worth it.

It’s imperfect – of course. This isn’t easy, or fun, by any means working on the timeline we have ahead. But it’s considerably easier than if I were still doing shift work, or working for the unreasonable manager who played favorites like Russian roulette, or that manager who thought it was my professional duty to read his mind and be his best friend, confidante, and free babysitter. Until I’ve got Jean Grey’s powers and not Dark Phoenix, that will never be my job! Actually, even with Jean Grey’s powers, I decline that job.

I am grateful.

I’m grateful that I can take care of my family, that I have a family to love and care for. That I can take care of our needs under stressful circumstances. That I can do what I need to do, when I need to do it. That PiC and I are in this together and haven’t killed each other over the neverending details and decisions. That we can and have found ways to afford doing all this work without having to move in and expose our toddler to an unsafe living environment.

That our checks written in the first 3 weeks after closing have all been safely cashed without even a little bouncing: $45,000.

!!!

Labor and materials are $$$$$.

Our contractor wisely reassured me that my spending projections were correct – it will look something like an inverted pyramid. The worst of the scope creep and the labor costs are going to be in the early phases of the work. That’s when you discover terrible things lurking in your walls and foundation and roof. Once you pass the midway point, the weekly costs become less and less, until you’re just paying minimal costs at the very end to finish up.

He was also wise enough to tell me not to expect the site to look anything like a house until after the fifth or sixth week of work. At week 2.5 I felt some flutterings of we paid that much for this shell of a house?!

This too, shall pass. 

:: How do you keep yourself grounded during times of stress? Does it help to remind yourself of the long term things you can be grateful for? 

 

July 17, 2017

On the home(buying) front: rolling up our sleeves

Rolling up our sleeves, rehabbing an old, neglected house We’re officially the mostly apprehensive owners of a new-to-us home.

Without even taking a breath to let that sink in, we don’t have time!, we’re nose-deep in demolition and renovation work. Our final walkthrough revealed even more work that needs doing, if you can even believe that there’s yet more to do, and it’s been nothing but stress.

My credit card is melting from all the swiping, American Express’s emails about Large Purchases are tinged with a sense of alarm, and let me tell you, Mint.com is JUDGY. Yes, I know our household spending is above average!

The contractors are hard at work tearing out walls, digging out dry rot and black mold, and filtering the air with air scrubbers until it’s habitable.

Our job is collecting all the materials that we need ready for installation once the demolition dust settles. We’ve bought: kitchen appliances, kitchen cabinetry, bath tubs, plumbing fixtures, lighting – soooo much lighting, doors throughout the house, and vinyl windows. We still have to buy kitchen countertops, bath cabinetry, flooring, paints, more lighting there is no end to the lighting purchasing this will be the most well lit home in the universe, tiling, closet doors, and about 23 million other bits and bobs and joes and marks and michaels.

Everyone who isn’t paying the bills says “oh it’s great, you can get the home you wanted, just the way you wanted it!”

I think “When will this horror show be over???”

The money is flowing out so fast, even though I have the ready cash to pay the credit card bill, it’s like watching a tornado slowly rip apart my home. It’s fascinating, and terrifying, and impossible to look away. We came within $900 of my generous credit limit which has never happened before.

Our styles are clashing

For me, and partly for PiC, the worst part of the process (even worse than the spending so you know it’s bad): having to research every single thing we’re going to buy – did you know that there were so many toilets you can buy? Did you know that toilets have lids that opened automatically? Did you know how creepy it was to walk down an aisle of toilets and have them all open their lidded maws as you pass through?

And LIGHTING. Holy mackeral, lighting. PiC spent one Sunday looking at 1000 chandeliers and lamps. That’s not hyperbole. Literally, 1000 lighting options. And that’s only one of 17 research sessions.

The sheer volume is one problem. Our approaches are another.

I research a thing, find out the quality parameters, and armed with a fair amount of information, choose the three I like best and ask PiC to pick his favorite.

PiC researches a thing, researches its history, the history of its history, the entire range of possibilities that exist, he researches down to a molecular level and then presents me with a dozen choices. His way drives me crazy. My way drives him crazy.

Shockingly, we have managed to negotiate our differences with only one tiff so far.

I don’t want him to feel rushed and like he’s compromising on pieces that we both have to live with – I would hear the grumbling for the rest of our natural lives. I also don’t want to feel inundated with information, bombarded in fact, and short circuit every time someone asks me a question because it’s one question too many – some unlucky soul would eventually lose a limb, or a face to my severely compromised temper.

Solution! He is now the man in charge of all the initial research, I only have to give occasional input to steer his selections and then we finalize our choices together. I am the woman in charge of all the money: paying the bills, approving budget for each item, finding discounts and promo codes, tracking all receipts, returns, exchanges, deliveries, and arm-twisting when something goes awry.

On that note… savings!

Or at least savings on spending we had to do – not to be confused with money that we keep safe in the savings account, there to stay, grow, and flourish.

We have ordered a handful of our materials from Build.com and Houzz.com. I was skeptical at first but a friend confirmed that he’d ordered furnishings from Houzz and while it was imperfect, their customer service was good, so I was willing to give them a shot.

How I saved at Build.com: At the time of this writing, you can get 2% off at ebates or 3% cashback at MrRebates. Check both to choose the higher rebate, of course.  That was stacked with a summer sale coupon code, and I asked their chat associate to give me the 5% discount from signing up for the email list which never arrived. They did me one better, assigning a discount that was equivalent to another 7% off the total.

The key here is to create your account and fill up your cart first, stay signed into your account, then hit up the sales associate. If they dig up a good discount for you, ask them to send you the link to the saved cart with the discount instead of letting them complete the order. Close the tab with your own cart, load the link and make sure it’s showing the right items and discount. Close that link, and then go to ebates/MrRebates to reopen Build.com. You should then be able to load the cart from the newly reopened Build.com to show both the discount and proceed with your purchase.

Reminder: Gratitude

Even while the money flows out like heart’s blood, here’s perspective for you: We could be in Make Smarter Decision’s boat – budgeted but without anyone to hire! We have acquaintances who have been paying double mortgages for months and still don’t have a good contractor on board. We know people who chose to manage the whole project themselves and hire the subcontractors themselves, they’re all in a world of hurt. Demand is so high that it’s not uncommon for subcontractors to walk off a job for a better paying one without a word, and they just don’t care!

Yes, we are paying big bucks for this work to be done, but at least it’s getting done. Those folks carrying double expenses have spent nearly half our budget on just owning two properties and that’s before a lick of work has been done.

:: Have you had good or bad experiences with contractors? Are you into Do-It-Yourself for home repairs and renovations? Would you splurge on the best fixtures and appliances and doo-dads if you were outfitting your forever home?

 

July 3, 2017

Spending regrets and happies

Shopping, man alive I hate shopping.

We’ve been doing a lot of it for the new place but it simply isn’t growing on me. Obviously it’s still a necessity, even if my budget and energy reserves prefer MacGyvering a way out of the need to buy, but every so often, I reconsider whether we’ve been making good choices. Going through our belongings to winnow them down reignites that feeling that the less (trivial) stuff we have, the better, though we don’t have as many regrets as I thought we might.

I’m glad we didn’t buy ….

  • Custom blackout curtains for JuggerBaby’s room: $300. We bought cheap paper accordion blackout shades to see if it would help zir sleep better for about $10. They’re inconvenient, being cheap paper with absolutely no frills whatsoever, but they’ve done the job and we won’t have to regret leaving them behind.
  • A bigger car. None of the garages that we’re seeing in our region are big enough to handle both of our current cars without a squeeze, much less a massive SUV.
  • An address stamp and embosser. The stationery lover in me desperately wanted one of each – so pretty – but the commitment phobe in me kept saying don’t do it. Turns out the commitment phobe was right.
  • Custom designed checks. When my first 50 checks ran out, there was a $5-20 upgrade available for some awfully cute checks. But I’ve learned my lesson. In 2002, I paid $12.95 for 1200 adorable baby animals checks and by 2012 I still hadn’t used them all. It broke my heart to shred them when I closed that checking account. Because once in a while I’m achingly softhearted.

I’m annoyed that we bought ….

  • All hair accessories that aren’t the standard clip-free hair tie, or tiny claw clips. I can use absolutely nothing else successfully but yet I still wasted money on a really nice and soft Blom headband that I never use, these nice black thin headbands to hold back hair that don’t fit my tiny head, and these cool spin pin things that would have held up masses of beautiful hair if I were Jean of Extra Petite, but I’m really not.If you noticed a pattern here, it’s that I foolishly fall into the pit of thinking that my hair and I are meant to coexist peacefully. We’re not and it’s well past time I learned that.
  • A dozen undercabinet replacement light bulbs. Now that we’re moving, we have no use for this particular type since we’re designing our lighting to be as energy efficient as possible. I suppose we’ll leave them as a little gift for the incoming buyers if they pay top dollar.

I’m glad that we bought …

  • My new cell phone. I’ve been able to download some money-making apps (Achievemint and Poshmark), take a ton of great pictures and video of my family, work while on the road.
  • Two tank tops from Target. They cost a grand total of $12 but they fit just perfectly and look great. They won’t last forever so it’s sad that they immediately went out of stock.
  • This simply perfect, though slightly pricey, Barefoot Dreams cardigan. I used a gift card to reduce the sting. It was my plane sweater for our most recent big trip, and it was perfect! It was warm and cozy, but not too heavy, snuggly enough to wrap around myself and JuggerBaby who allowed it, and it has pockets which is a lifesaver as for a mom with only two hands. After our trip, it was exactly right for wrapping up when I was down with the flu, or when the weather turned unexpectedly chilly. This probably doesn’t seem like much but I don’t have any clothing that’s both ultra comfortable and suitable to be worn out doors in the presence of other people.
  • Our recliner before JuggerBaby was born. It was expensive, and new, but it was the only way we managed to get zir to sleep some nights as an infant. It’s now a cuddle spot when we have visiting infants, and when JuggerBaby needs a comforting rocking.
  • Comic-Con badges for this year. It’s a combined family visit and cherished tradition.

I’m still on the fence about whether I’m happy about buying a new home – it’s the source of quite a lot of stress right now!

There’s a theme here, of course there is. I tend to appreciate very utilitarian things over time, and fail to appreciate things that are mostly for form, and less about function. Here’s a conundrum: my need to have a stockpile of supplies that we’ll use versus my need to have less stuff and not waste money on stuff we don’t end up using.

:: What are some of the best things you’ve ever bought? Worst?

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.

But. 

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?

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