Conversation with my 10-year old self

asian

not me

Bob Aamodt from Knox Capital came to speak at a Finance and Accounting luncheon at my work today. His talk was on getting your financial house in order, a subject that usually morphs me into full-on nerd. I’ve always been a goal oriented person. There were milestones that I always thought I would cross.

I was feeling reflective on the train ride home about where I’m at in my financial life and, as per usual these days, feeling anxious over my future finances. Suddenly it occurred to me if I was speaking to my elementary school self, what would I say and how would that differ from what she would see?

When I thought about my 30s, I thought I would be the boss. I thought I would have most things figured out. I thought I would have a wonderful, chaotic, full life where I balanced home and work with confidence.

On paper, most of my aspirations came true. I bought a house before I turned 30. I married a lovely man who is my partner always. We are slowly growing our family. I feel that I am good at my job. I have people that look to me for their assignments at work. I am not rich, but financially, I am not struggling.

My life has wonderful, chaotic full moments. The stark difference is that the confidence is not how I imagined. The ease. The control. Often times I wonder how everything is going to come together. Often times I despair that it won’t.

I wonder if I was speaking with my 50-year old self, would the conversation have the same cadence? Would I still be that lady that doubts herself? Would I still wonder how things will work out? I suppose that’s what’s so nice about dreaming your future self. You hope that it will.

Foodie

ChickenPotPie_6

I am notoriously bad at staving off the temptation for eating out, but the husband and I went through an entire credit card cycle with less than $15 in dining out charges. $10 of those dollars weren’t even mine! Shocker. Although I can’t say this will become the average for months to come, it’s encouraging to see the conscious spending paying off.

It’s helped that we’re adding new recipes to our arsenal. The husband is a wonderful cook, but I need no-hassle-tasty recipes to keep interested. Trolling Joy the Baker has helped. Cup of Jo, too. Also, A Cozy Kitchen (pic above).

This article was especially interesting: The Tyranny of the Chicken Finger. The husband always calls me out on refusing to eat something I’ve never eaten before.

Frugal Blog Burnout

After binge reading my go to personal finance (pf) sites, I generally feel a sense of reinvigoration to make course corrections, big or small, in my financial decisions. At the very least, I live vicariously through internet pf comrades that will soon or have already reached financial independence in their 30s and 40s.

These past few days have been different though. I’ve felt a worrying sense of ennui. I don’t want to retire to the woods. In fact, most outdoor activities lie somewhere at the bottom of my list of things to do for fun. Allergies to most trees, grass, pollen, dander and mosquitoes will do that. I don’t own a bike and haven’t ridden one since an unfortunate tumble in the fifth grade left me with a chin full of stitches and scratched up knees and hands.

Aside from the errant ksl purchase (my car, computer, and an old couch), I’ve never bought anything second hand. I am not an engineer nor a manager, mid level or otherwise. Neither is the husband. Our combined income is modest compared to the pf folks I’ve been reading. I once tried to ask for a raise and got so nervous I sabotaged myself and only received pitying looks from my supervisor.

The husband and I don’t own any rental properties nor do we feel inclined to do so in the future. We have never maxed out our 401ks. We break most of the things we try to fix ourselves. We are picky eaters and I can’t stand the taste of rolled oats. I don’t want to eat rice and beans for lunch every day. I like eating meat. I like eating out. I like consuming entertainment. I enjoy the occasional vacation to places far outside my zip code.

I like my new house and the pretty things in it. I would like to put more pretty things into it. I went this morning to a yoga studio of which I’ve maintained an almost 8 year patronage. I also got my eyebrows threaded and I buy fancy shampoo.

This listing feels incomplete but long enough. Confessing even a fraction of my excuses/complaints makes me feel a little better though. As I look through all of this whining, I am struck with one clear thought. I have a good life. I could keep at this pace, with these habits and be fine. The husband and I save around 40% of our net income. We have no revolving debt besides our mortgage. We both have secure jobs with adequate benefits and cheap commutes.

What I need to do to shake out of this funk is stop reading what everyone else is doing, and find what’s going to work for me. What do I want?

  • I want to be able to raise a family without being paralyzed with worry over money or spending too much of it.
  • I want to have more mindfulness in the activities I pursue and the decisions I make.
  • I want a financial safety net to help me be brave and overcome my more practical/realist/boring sensibilities.

I’m still working on it.

Mustache Monday: Grocery Bill Comps on a Diet

Mr. Money Mustache has a lot of opinions about cutting down grocery bills. My own opinion is that if I had the resources, I would hire out my culinary thinking to professionals. While the husband and I have talked about growing a garden in our small outdoor space, the cooling weather has put a temporary kibosh on that idea.

The most recent US average of monthly Food Plans for a family of 2, ages 19-50 ranges from $390 (thrifty) to $774.30 (liberal). A quick Mint check of our grocery bills in 2014 shows our average monthly groceries to be $300.

The husband was concerned that our 3 Day Facelift Diet would show a big jump in grocery expenses so I thought I would do a run down of our expenses for that time.

Breakfasts: Trader Joe’s – steel cut oatmeal $3.29, bananas (7 @ $0.19 = $1.33), organic cage free eggs $3.29, frozen berries $2.99, pineapple $1.79, honey greek yogurt $4.99; Target – grapes $4.53, spinach $2.98; Whole Foods Larabar (4 for $5.00), Smith’s kale $3.99, cheddar cheese $1.79, flax seeds $2.69, heirloom tomatoes $3.49

Total Breakfasts: $42.15

Lunches: Smith’s cucumbers $1.78, Trader Joe’s almonds $5.99, lunch at Nauvoo Cafe $8.62, other ingredients already included in Breakfast breakout

Total Lunches: $16.39

Dinners: Trader Joe’s – quinoa $5.99, balsamic vinegar $3.99; Smith’s – extra virgin olive oil $6.99, frozen veggies $1.19; Costco wild Alaskan sockeye salmon $36.99

Total Dinners: $55.15

Snacks/Treats: Trader Joe’s – pistachios $7.49, pumpkin seeds (for husband) $6.99; other ingredients already mentioned

Total Snacks: $14.48

Grand Total: $128.17

As a caveat, we did not consume all of these groceries in three days. In fact, most of these groceries will last us through the rest of this week especially the snacks. The biggest expense was definitely the salmon. We were able to eat it all in three days. Given the price tag and the quantity, I’d like to be able to find other ways to get our fish consumption. We’d still be under the moderate cost plan according to the USDA weekly totals, but I want to keep our grocery bill to our usual average of $75/week. Must find the balance!

 

Mustache Monday: Lifestyle Inflation

From as far back as I can remember till I was about 21 years old, I couldn’t wait to be a grown up. I imagined all of the adventures I would have and the accomplishments I would gain. I wanted to be a captain of industry. I wanted to travel the world and speak 6 languages. I wanted a lovely home and a lovelier family.

When I reached my early twenties, I did not want to be a grownup at all. I wanted to relax. I wanted to attend every worthwhile concert, watch every great movie, and just hang out with my friends.

The husband and I have worked hard to balance the dreams and the fun with our long term goals. Putting money into savings and accelerating our mortgage does not mean we deprive ourselves of treats or comforts.

I recently read an article MSN Money called Doing Well at $125K but still losing sleep about money. This article and its variations are a recycled topic. I like to call them “The dwindling middle class” articles.

These articles are always pretty tough for me to swallow. When the husband and I were looking at our mountain of debt, the last thing I wanted would have been strangers scolding me for my choices. The big thing that I would say goes back to perception or what I think of as lifestyle inflation.

Is the “beautiful home in Plano” worth it if you’re paying $440/month in utilities, a $2700 mortgage, $700/month in whatever “other home costs” means and still you have a commute where you spend $140/month in gas and tolls?

Also, the article does not break down the $3000/month credit card debt or $700/month student loans (beyond stating they paid down a $100K balance to $21K).

Who’s to say the expenses won’t increase, when the one spouse starts earning an income? I’ve heard so many talk about how much money is spent when kids come into the picture, and I’m sure that’s true to some degree. What makes me suspicious is that these same people are writing these articles, making just getting by seem so bleak and miserable.

I guess what I want to say is that I’m not afraid of the future.

Mustache Monday: Time Value of Money

Like I mentioned last week, the husband and I accumulated debt when we were first married and it took almost three years to completely pay it off. Once that was finished, we were left with the not-terrible-but-still-challenging task of deciding what to do with the money we had previously been shoveling towards debt.

This was when Mr Money Mustache really helped. See, paying debt turned into a kind of game. Little by little, we could see all the credit card balances and loan balances shrink and the feeling excited my little nerd heart. Less excitement came from watching my savings account gain an abysmal <1% interest. What I needed was a why. Why did the idea of no debt leave with me with such a freeing feeling? Why couldn’t I capture that through saving?

Around this time, the idea of FU money started circulating online. I realized walking away, or at least the freedom to walk away from a career or vocation was just the attraction I needed to keep from reverting back to our spendy ways. MMM brought the philosophy and energy that I needed to hear.

We started saving towards a down payment on a house. Once we submitted our first mortgage payment, we made sure we had 20% down. Now we’re in a kind of long range forecast. This is the point in the finance articles and blog posts where it gets a little vague. Everyone has different versions of their own personal FU scenario.

If our calculations are aligned with MMM, it should take the husband and I 15 years to become financial independent. We’re hoping to do it in 10 with the house paid off in 6. We’re making every effort to keep our expenses steady each year and not increase with our incomes. We don’t monitor our expenses as meticulously as in the pants-on-fire days of debt, but we make sure our spending categories on Mint and Personal Capital keep to the average.

Since I feel so “in it”, it can be difficult to see the horizon. To remember the why. But so many times I look around at my life and feel this surge of contentment. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but I can be happy right now.

Mustache Monday: A History

My commuting college student life was a carefree time of making almost no money, but not spending much either. This quickly changed as years of inattention found my post college self with consumer debt for the first time and loans. I also married a lovely boy with not-so-lovely debt of his own.

Luckily, this was around the time I found JD Roth’s Get Rich Slowly and MSN Money’s Liz Weston (and a Frugal Babe honorable mention). With their advice and some spartan living, the husband and I paid off 3 car loans, 2 student loans, 2 credit cards, a consolidation loan, and a store card over the span of 2 1/2 years.

The past 3 1/2 years have seen our focus change from debt clearing to saving and investing. This also coincided with the emergence of Mr. Money Mustache. He was not the first to introduce the idea of early retirement or, if that term is too unpalatable, financial independence. But his earnest/brazen approach to personal finance was refreshing. He challenges the idea of why we should save by poking holes at the how.

If Mr. Money Mustache took a peek at our finances, we’d probably get an earful and a righteous punch in the face (especially since neither of us owns a bike!), but we generally try to keep his precepts in mind. We sold one of our two cars as our daily commute reduced drastically when we moved into our new home. Both of us are walking distance to public transit and the husband is able to walk to work. With no consumer or revolving debt (besides the mortgage), most of our savings goes into a Vanguard stock index fund (VTSAX), employer 401k’s or accelerated mortgage payments with some cash reserves in a dedicated online savings account.

My hope is financial independence in 10 years. Circumstances are bound to change in that time, I know, but I hope for the better.