Our normal spending includes the living expenses for two households, these updates ignore those ordinary expenses.
I stopped tracking our expenses to the penny five years ago because it was too time-consuming. That was fine for a couple years but I’ve observed increases in our spending in the last three years, mainly unusual expenses, that need to be budgeted for. For a fresh start this year, I’ve created a new spreadsheet where we list the bills we paid with an average spending amount listed in the budgeting column. Specific types of spending (food, gas, groceries, utilities, insurance, etc) are paid by credit card, so those will be mildly opaque but we seem to do better when we aim at reducing aggregate amounts rather than “$100 per month on drinks”. Not that we spend that on drinks.
We became hyperaware of our spending this month as we faced our unexpected housing challenge. We’re mentally spending $1M – $1.2M on a new place to live. YIKES. Nothing’s set in stone yet, we haven’t even found a suitable candidate on which make an offer so it’s early days yet, but mentally it sure feels like we’ve spent massively.
I had WOOT CANAW!
Do you count your spending when you’ve committed to it, or when you actually pay for it? I had a surprise root canal and two fillings this month which would have cost $1600, but for insurance. We’re waiting for insurance to pay their bit first before I pay the remaining balance, estimated at $350. Mentally, that money is also already spent, but they think it’ll be 6 weeks before I have to actually pay it. Then, it goes on the credit card to earn rewards which also takes advantage of the float, so I’m guessing it’ll be March before that money goes out of our account.
Property taxes: $3000. The second half of our taxes is due three months after the first. I’ll never understand why our county bills this way but it’s a bit annoying. Going into 2017, instead of stressing over cash flowing it, I’ll be transferring a tenth of the expected taxes due to a savings account per month to be held in advance of the tax payment. This makes more sense when anticipating an expensive year.
Saving and investing
We max out a 401(k) and IRA every year and save 20% of cash of our net salaries.
New CDs to ring in the new year I picked up two 5-year Ally CDs at 1.73% interest using our emergency fund on the 1st. I didn’t have any immediate need for that cash so it should work harder to earn money while it’s waiting around. Well, I didn’t, at the time.
We’ve had some cash sitting in the Tradeking account for a while. Nothing caught my fancy, and the dividends were also making a small heap in the cash held column. Since there’s no point in trying to predict what the market will do and when, I picked up a couple more sets of dividend stocks at prices I was willing to pay and called it a day. This has been a surprisingly effective technique over the years.
It’s hard to pick just one, but I’m just happy that I get to start somewhere, even if our own money’s quite tight. Unfortunately there was a hiccup with the January cards so you’ll just have to check back in at February’s update to see where my first donation went!
Net worth: increased 1% from the beginning of the year.
I wipe the slate clean each year but that wouldn’t be very helpful with the charts, would it? I’ll keep it a rolling 12-month chart.
This update is a bit weird, though. PiC and I decided to remove an asset from the net worth tracking list because it’s an odd account that may not stay with us and so I’d rather not count it while I’m tracking our money. This creates a dip, but that’s fine, I’d rather know what assets we can truly include.
On purging clutter from our home: We donated two huge boxes of good clothes that we can’t use any longer, passed along three piles of hand me down clothing, and cleaned zir closet (which has become our catch all closet and I hate that) so that at least one door can be opened and shut safely. Three more bags of clothes sit on the closet floor that are being posted for sale, and if those don’t go, they’ll be donated too. I can see floor! And carpet! And walk into the closet! It’s a miracle!
Also I went through my desk drawers to clear out unnecessary paperwork, and organize our tax filing paperwork that goes back to Tax Year 2010. I double checked the IRS to confirm I could purge Tax Years 2010, 2011, and 2012. Since 2013 was filed in 2014, so that can be shredded this April.
Keep records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later, if you file a claim for credit or refund after you file your return. Keep records for 7 years if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction.
(Of course, this always happens to me – as soon as I shred paperwork that I haven’t needed in years, I think of some reason I needed it. *tsk*)
Rehash: I spent a bit of time fixing things that should have been completed last month.
My application to fund our trust with our Ally accounts was returned because they wanted more postage.
3 holiday cards were returned because the recipients moved a week (or, uh, a year and I forgot) before I sent them. And I sent them early December, too! Curses, I hate being thwarted.
Damn those germs! It was hubris, I don’t mind telling you. I thought I’d make it through this month without getting sick and I let down my guard. One too many drooly kisses from JuggerBaby infected me and it was back to the Robitussin for me. Sadface. The good thing about being able to avoid the office most of the time is not infecting my coworkers, and it’s easy to be a germy mess without worrying about how it looks. Who wants to worry about looking professional when you might have coughed out a lung??
Last year’s stash of fancy tissues with lotion (rapidly running out!) has been sparing my nose admirably but not this time! Pro-tip: after each bout with a tissue, a smear of Vaseline rehydrated my nose so it’s not a gross peeling mess when I have to show up in the office.
:: How was your January? Are you getting ready for tax season – 2016? How are you dodging germs this cold and flu season?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MONEY – Save 30% of our income, PLUS max out PiC’s 401(k), my IRA, an IRA for him, and
MONEY – Organize our retirement funding for tax and income efficiency.
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.
MONEY – Decide if we’re going to hoard more cash (investing it) or pay down more mortgage, then do it.
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.
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.
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*
Our normal spending includes the living expenses for two households so this update ignores those ordinary living expenses.
Charitable giving: We don’t do as well in this area as I’d like, and the way I know this is that I end up making monetary donations at the beginning and at the end of the year. What this tells you is that it isn’t yet a regular part of our budget – or that I have trouble committing the funds throughout the year regularly. One reason for that is uncertainty. When unexpected expenses creep in, I need to know that we have enough cushion in the cashflow to bear it, and this hasn’t been the case this year. The other reason is that I do give regularly to individuals. When dear friends suffer loss, when dear friends hit a rough patch. While causes are important to me, the people I love are that little bit more important to me, and I have to take care of my chosen family before I can lend a hand to others outside that circle. This is an extension of my policy of taking care of my biological family – they’re not a burden on the state and taxing those meager resources.
I have to decide if I am ok with giving twice a year and making that our plan so that we have the flexibility to continue sending care packages as needed or if we should change to monthly contributions even if they’re still small.
Personal spending: PiC and I spent $800 on clothing in December. Most of it will be returned. Of the 4 pairs of pants for me, I’ll keep one pair ($70). It’s quite hard to meet my exacting specifications, one of which is that these pants will last at least 7 years. The pants these are replacing are worn all the way through, cost $15 and only lasted 4 years. Of the 13 pairs of pants bought for JuggerBaby to get zir through an awkward growth spurt, we kept 2 pairs ($12). We were able to raid the yard sale pile a little while after that, but we couldn’t go 2 weeks without pants in the winter. Both my Target shirts for layering were perfect ($12 for both) so they’re staying with me. That totals $94, or around $100 after tax, and is more than we normally spend on clothing, but we also rarely buy clothes and everything will last. We’re also very lucky that we have good access to used clothing for JuggerBaby.
Saving and investing
We max out a 401(k) and IRA each year and save 20% of our net salaries.
An IRA for all, or a ROTH? One thing that I’ve well overdue to take care of: an IRA for PiC. He always maxes his 401(k) but we need to be maximizing our investing dollars. Whether that takes the form of a backdoor IRA or not, we should be putting more dollars into an IRA for him too. This action will partially be a concrete action to combat that feeling of strong pessimism and worry about our future.
Our net worth: increased 1% from last month, and 34% from January.
I’m holding on to cash that I was going to move into investments for a few reasons: uncertainty with the government situation, prices in the market are too high to buy, my next focus is now on a second rental property.
On holidays: I didn’t get to enjoy the holiday period as much as I would have liked because I had to work the whole time, but we finally scheduled a week of visiting that was much less stressful than previous years. Part of the success was not overcommitting. We broke up the visits by location and group instead of trying to fit multiple visits in a day and we had to give up seeing several friends, but it was necessary to maintain our sanity.
On horrible neighbors: I am mentally living on Zillow or Trulia now. Still looking for tall walls and a moat. After PiC remarked to the PigeonFeeding DogPoop Neighbor that leaving out dishes of water and cat food attracts vermin as well as stray cats, he showed up on our doorstep twice on New Year’s Eve, the latter time to bang on our door with a cane and leave a threatening note saying that he was going to make sure that “you, your family, and your things will all pay!”
That’s enough. I called the police to file a report. They can’t do anything until he actually harms someone or something, which is Just Great. But they spoke to him, saying that he was to leave us alone, that he wasn’t allowed to leave notes, and that he had no reasonable expectation that people wouldn’t clean up his messes if he persisted in leaving things out on public property, particularly if it was going to attract vermin.
Supposedly he agreed to this but who the heck knows what he’s going to pull next. He is a horrible person. What a way to ring out 2016.
:: How was your December? Are you as grateful as I am that 2016 is over, in the high hopes that 2017 will be less nervewracking and sad? Do you have any concerns for your jobs with the incoming administration?
More than ever, it’s been important to do what we can to remember the bright spots in life. Even while I’ve immersed myself in what we can do to make the world a better place, I’ve kept on with paying attention to life and participating in it.
What I read
Jaran, by Kate Elliott. A generous gift from a good friend, I’d been hankering after a new world in a book and I got just what I was hoping for from Jaran.
The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds, Selina Siak Chin Yoke. This was a surprise and a pleasant one at that. Maybe it’s the geographical proximity that I responded to but there were so many parallels between my family and that of the protagonist’s that it felt like reading the biography of grandma’s second cousin. And it was oh so well written, too, blending languages like the flavors of blended cuisines. Oh and life with the changing of the times, losing grip on old traditional cultures with the British influence increasingly encroaching. That too could have been grandma’s dictation as she bid goodbye to her children going abroad for a better life.
Fate of Perfection, K.F. Breene. This was the December free Kindle book for Amazon Prime members. This seemed like it could be interesting but the writing felt stilted and awkward. I wanted to like it but I’m spoiled by excellent writers, who probably also have excellent editors who know how to bring the best out of their raw material, so this was an uncomfortable read. There was exactly one good pair of lines that hit the right note and tickled up a smile in the entire book. Just one pair. And that was my only reaction. Much of the time was filled with painfully overwrought emotions or action. Bored, I was mentally asking, “where’s the baby??” and “when’s the last time you fed her or changed her?” instead of being enthralled by the plot. Clumsy is the word I’m looking for. It’s how I feel my writing is on days when the words just won’t flow. They clunk around, they do the job of conveying what I’m thinking, but there’s no pleasure in reading the result.
What I watched
It’s been a very Netflix kind of quarter.
The Crown. I wonder how much of this show was fabricated whole cloth. My nose used to be buried in English history, during the Tudor period, mostly, but I don’t know anything about the current monarchy. If you have any interest in the English monarchy, even if it’s mostly just academic, it’s a fun watch.
Zootopia. We’ve let JuggerBaby watch a bit of tv on the weekends sometimes. It’s a little bit of rest for us, one of the few times ze is conscious and sitting still, and also a great way to teach zir not to be addicted to the tube. I’m glad that ze is willing to say All Done when it’s time to stop watching because we don’t allow the tv on during meals. We’ve tried it a time or two and ze ends up with more food in zir ears than usual. Generally we give zir 10-15 minute sessions so we can catch our breath but when I’m in terrible pain or fatigue, we’ve gone as long as 25-30 minutes. Ze actually voluntarily picks a book at the tail end and asks to read instead at that point.
The Land Before Time: The Land of the Brave. This was pure nostalgia for me. I was looking for the original but Netflix only had this one. Unfortunately JuggerBaby was not a fan of dinosaurs on the screen – they should only be in books or small plastic figures I suppose. It also earwormed me with the song “Hot and stinky” so double awesome.
Jessica Jones. I didn’t remember very much of the Alias series but this was very well done. It was hard seeing My Doctor as the villain but he pulled it off.
Luke Cage. This show was spun off Jessica Jones, rather naturally given the relationship between the characters, and had a wholly different feel.
Where I went
FinCon! That was it. We had a great deal of travel earlier this year and it was time for me to be home and rest for a good long while.
What I made or did
It feels like I didn’t do anything this quarter aside from work, dodge germs, and plan for the holidays. A lot of planning goes into minimizing the madness that surrounds our visiting of relatives. It’s still a madhouse, but at least it’s a short period of the year.
What I learned
Believe it or not, I learned basic electrical wiring: how to safely cut, strip, and reattach wiring, and what exciting things happen when you touch a live current with metal. The dogs didn’t quite poo themselves when said exciting things happen. Thankfully no one was hurt, it just made us all jump.
:: What did you enjoy reading or watching this quarter? Did you go anywhere exciting or is that on the agenda for the next quarter?
Our incomes which I am exceedingly grateful for remain the same. This is good from a stability standpoint. There have been too many nights lying awake after working a 100 hour week for the overtime and wondering how long it was before I fell apart completely and could I get us to a safe place before then? So I’m grateful for what we have.
I’m also aware that the clock could run out on my particular job, whether it be my patience or my professional stagnation, so there is some internal buttkicking going on in trying to nail down the important things I need to address when crafting my next step.
We received an unusual gift in the form of money quite unexpectedly. I must have experienced some kind of spiritual growth (or maybe I’m just a bit numb to Big Things this month) because I didn’t react quite badly to it. The biggest reason is likely that there were no discernible strings attached. Generally there are always some kinds of strings or obligations attached to those sorts of gifts so I find that whole idea abhorrent but in this case the gift was more about the giver than the recipients so I found a way to be not adamantly against accepting it. Sometimes I can’t shake the thought that it’s not my money, since I’m so accustomed to having earned every penny I hold. Not sure if that’ll ever pass.
A question and Swagbucks: I asked last month but no one commented whether the Swagbucks posts bothered them so I’m guessing that it was ok? (I use Swagbucks. Here’s a handy tutorial if you’d like to join and earn.) This month’s Swagbucks earnings were good. I made enough to cash out for $100 Paypal dollars just in time to help a friend in dire need of assistance.
Our normal spending includes the living expenses for two households so this update ignores those ordinary living expenses.
Groceries and eating out: I spent $250 hosting friends earlier this month, feeding 18 people rather well, then 4 people for about a week thereafter. Friends also pitched in for drinks, alcohol and non-alcohol, and desserts which would probably have added another $150 to the bill. This was a grand plan months in the planning and it went off without a hitch. Pretty awesome.
Then there was another $100 on groceries the weekend before Thanksgiving. One of my favorite people came to spend a week with us and so we laid on more supplies than usual for the week, and we also ate out a few more times especially to treat her to delicious local foods. We discovered an amazing brunch spot that serves fantastic beignets (4 for $15 after tax and tip because I feel awkward not tipping for take out) and a perfect sandwich shop around the corner that borders on too generous with the pate which I didn’t think was possible and priced like back home in 1997 (4 for $16).
I might normally feel quite guilty over the indulgences but not when it involves feeding a favorite person. That brings me joy. And also great food. It took 8 days to run out of all the good food. Glory and bliss!
Christmas preparation: I splurged on a tree this year (on sale at Target, with cash back, paid using a gift card). It’s JuggerBaby’s first tree and I hope it survives zir early years of sowing destruction. We run very light on decorations, we have two strings of lights, because we have so little storage so it’ll be a minimalist tree. I’m a bit excited about this, especially the part where we put a few gifts under there and hope JuggerBaby leaves them alone. We all know Seamus is too good a dog to bother them.
Saving and investing
We max out a 401(k) and IRA every year and save another 20% of cash of our net salaries.
Discovery! I had 2500 Citi Thank You points to redeem and nothing good to redeem it for. Normally I redeem for gift cards to stores we frequent but that list gets shorter every year. We pretty much shop for food and a handful of gifts, but the redeem for cash option is terrible, at 2 points per dollar. But I poked around some more and found that I can get them to cut a check toward the mortgage. Sure it’s a drop in the bucket but whatever, $25 toward principal is way more useful to me than maybe $20 worth of cash should I get a gift card and turn around to sell it. Much less effort, too! The catches are: they will cut a check addressed to the lender, mail it to you, then you have to mail it out, so it’ll cost a stamp. Good enough for me!
I’m always on the lookout for ways to increase our savings and investing. I had intended to pick up some i-bonds this month but I hate hate hate using the Treasury Direct site and didn’t bake in enough time to log in, much less actually buy the bonds. I’ll have to tackle that in December or January, perhaps.
Our net worth: increased 3.9% from last month, and 33% from January.
After a few down months, our total holdings have perked up a little. I’m holding on to cash a bit more than I had intended earlier this year, but will likely move a bunch of it into less liquid investments once I have a moment to set up the account.
On Stress: This was a tough month for me personally. My work hours have been barely tolerable. I was logging 15 hour work days and the work is still piled up ceiling high. Metaphorically speaking. Combine that with the current political climate and actual Nazis getting airtime to spew hatefulness like “are Jews people” and I find myself wound extra-tight. I’ve been wrapped in Thermacare and Salonpas patches to force my muscles to relax.
On food: I pulled off a glorious victory this month. I ambushed PiC with the perfect day. It’s a good thing he takes some direction well or he would have ruined everything but since his instructions were fun and a nice break from his usual duties, I was confident he’d follow through. Plus after 8 months of planning, does anyone for a minute doubt that if he tried to back out I would have hogtied him and delivered him to his friends? You betcha I would have.
But it didn’t come to that.
So he had a great morning with his buddies, then came home to a luncheon feast and cake and more friends. It was a ton of work and, thanks to some fantastic friends helping out, worked beautifully. I’ll be smug for at least another month over how well it went off.
On weird neighbors: One embittered, bizarre neighbor wasn’t enough, we acquired another strange set recently. They are oh-so-unfortunately much closer to us, they can easily see our front door, and their lack of boundaries has led to a lot of quick entrances and exits so as not to be caught on the sidewalk with them.
When we met, they seemed so nice! Just a young couple starting a new chapter of their lives here. We were friendly to them, that was our first mistake. Usually it takes me a year to do more than a nod and a hello. Four years to organically develop a chatty relationship that’s not awkward if they’re our kind of people. And by our kind, I mean: respects boundaries!
When we first met, they claimed to love both dogs and children but every other time Seamus and I rounded the corner on a dash home and came face to face with them the Wife, who made it such a point to pet him when meeting him and expressing her love of all dogs, would jump back with alarm and dismay. What kind of dog lover ARE you?? Then the Husband would repeatedly catch us outside at the end of a weekday and, without asking us if it was ok, invite JuggerBaby inside. People, this is a toddler with no self determination. Ze goes into no one’s home without us. Leaving aside the assumption you seem like you’re trying to abduct my child, has it never occurred to you that it’s 6 pm on a work night and we’re just getting home? Every single time we have to remind them that Ze needs dinner NOW and isn’t a young adult who can stop to play for an hour.
The nights when Ze is having a meltdown, not often, thankfully, they’d open their door and watch. CAN WE HELP YOU?
The last straw was when they had family visiting. They’d told their parents about “the adorable neighbor kid”. When they heard us coming home from work, they all came out to say hello and AGAIN invite zir to come play. Again, what makes them think this is appropriate to just ask a sub-2-year-old to come play? That wasn’t enough forced socializing, the parents heard us leaving for work the next morning and ran out in their pajamas, calling out to JuggerBaby to come over while we were herding zir to the car. Who does that?? What possesses four grown adults to have zero presence of mind to think that maybe you shouldn’t call a stranger’s child over to you when they are clearly going somewhere?? Anyway, in a very short space of time, it’s become clear there are more neighbors to avoid now.
After every encounter, I go hop onto Zillow or Trulia, looking for a new home. Preferably with tall walls and a moat.
:: How was your November money? Do you have more good or weird neighbor stories? Are you uncomfortable receiving monetary gifts?