Monday, April 2, 2018

changes

Lots of stuff happening this past month! We always like to browse around realty sites and gaze at spots just for fun. We also like to chat about wanting to a small apartment condo to cut down on housing costs and maintenance headaches. Suddenly a fully renovated little condo at just the size we need, in an area we've always liked, on the ground floor (which we also need for the kitties to get outdoors) popped up with a very nice price and a very comfortable condo fee.

So we reached out to our realtor and decided to go for it. Rolling over the equity from selling our current place should work out nicely for cutting our housing costs down to very sensible levels.

Still getting through the process of selling the old place and buying the new one which is no small amount of stress and hassle (and I hope to never go through it again). But changes I'm excited about are finally in the works after many years of pining about the current setup.

Additionally I'm transitioning to a new job that promises to be far more tolerable than what I've been doing for the past year - with a nice raise to boot...

Not only that, but after fits and spurts of DH dropping classes and putting off finishing any level of degrees he tried switching his major yet again, this time to general studies and poof - his associates appeared based on credits already achieved.

At the risk of sounding superstitious, I like to attribute all this good luck to the aggressive clutter clearing we started this year. (Although we will still have a ways to go before the new place does not feel stuffed.)

Friday, March 2, 2018

minimalist dreaming

In February DH and I took things a bit further, adding a bit of minimalism into the mix.

After kicking off this year's frugality reboot, suddenly we were hit with decluttering fever and have been on a mission over the past few weeks to get real with ourselves about all the stuff remaining in our storage spaces.

And so a steady flow of stuff has gone out the door - giant bloated garbage bags for charity pickups, all sorts of odds and ends sold or Freecycled (culminating with with a trip at the end of the month to the nearest Goodwill donation center in a car stuffed full of pricier things we got tired of trying to resell and no longer wanted to keep - including my old wedding dress). All of our storage spaces from the bedroom and coat closets to the toy storage benches to the space under the stairs in the basement and even the junk drawers have become very pleasantly sparse looking, and DH and I have both found it faster and easier to choose work outfits in the morning.

One of the first and most helpful benefits of this intense bout of clutter clearing that we've noticed is that there's been an even sharper drop in the desire to buy new things - desires we'd long struggled with, for months or even years - and the enhanced ability to resist impulses.

Another interesting side effect was everyone's sudden disinterest in watching TV - including kiddo. After the big Goodwill drop off just a few days ago, we picked kiddo up from school and she suddenly declared she was tired of watching TV and didn't feel like doing it tonight.

We were in shock, even more so when she continued to declare the same the next two nights in a row. We've also had a new goal of keeping the tablet games to a new minimum (even though they're slightly less passive than television watching), and she's had an occasional itch to play those when boredom starts to bubble up. But that's when Daddy jumps up to initiate some other activity or suggest a trip somewhere like the library. (All this has compounded to result in an unprecedented number of kids library books around the house. A photograph of her room at the moment thus would not make one think "minimalist" but at least unlike most stuff it was acquired at no extra cost beyond my taxes and with the temporary ownership in mind.)

So for us at least minimalism has served to compliment very well our pursuit of spending less in general, and has helped us to feel that four years after getting bit by the early retirement bug we can finally shift into second gear toward our frugal living and early retirement goals. This likely still sounds like beginner stuff to some of the frugal pros out there, but at least we've also kicked into higher gear the desire to declutter our minds with a nice long unhook from passive entertainment consumption, which feels extra awesome.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

reboot

When New Year's rolled around, DH and I woke up to the fact that we had let ourselves slide back into mindless consumption mode quite far last year, and realized that we needed to give our frugal quest a bit of a reboot.

So we indulged in some resolution-making for the new year, starting with some specifics targeting our spending weaknesses. For example we both swore off any new clothes or shoes this year, having collected quite a few nice new pieces over the past couple of years. DH had to swear off his habit of digging around the internet for hot deals on nice toys and buying them. We piled up so many in our home storage spaces that we ended up showering kiddo with far more gifts than was good for her throughout December, many of which were characters and things that had already stopped trending weeks or months earlier. When we finally stopped ourselves from handing any more to her, we still had several leftover to save as gifts for other kids' birthday parties. (This resulted in a bit of detox phase for her in January.)

We both swore off any further alcohol purchases until at least mid-year, having both amassed a collection of bottles representing far more than we would realistically consume in that amount of time.

I swore off any book purchases, both for me and for kiddo, since we already visit the library frequently.

Additionally, I've imposed some strict social media rules on myself after repeatedly kicking myself several times for wasting far too much time getting sucked into feeds and emotional about comment threads.

So far it's yielding some nice results in terms of mindset, for all three of us. After a full month, I've felt a precipitous drop in my desire to either shop online (or in physical stores) or waste time on Facebook and Twitter. I've been avoiding televised news more too (again). Kiddo has also passed through the detox phase of asking if there's yet another surprise present for her on random nights of the week.

Desires for other expensive things have dropped sharply. Even experiences. When faced with the decision of what to do on a possible weekday off, a month ago DH and I wanted to go check out a fancy wine bar in the city. Now we just want to indulge in some Korean takeout and relax at home.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

investments

A few years ago I first discovered the concepts of aggressive saving, frugality, and early retirement. Since then I've read about many different investment approaches on some of the different early retirement blogs.

They seem to vary widely. Some push doing all your own research and sticking money into big economy-anchoring companies with solid histories of growth, value, and dividends. Others are proponents of seemingly endless angles of diversification, to include minerals and precious metals. When we first started exploring the world of investing a few years ago, DH and I started testing the waters with things like mutual funds, index funds, ETFs, C/Ds, even peer-to-peer lending and REITs.

I've learned that many of my rookie choices weren't well thought out. So, once or twice a year I get the motivation to cut losses and clear out some of the more obvious drags on my portfolio. Over the years I've slowly but surely baby-stepped toward elegant and productive simplicity with my investments.

It took a few years of experimenting and reading and re-reading those early retirement blogs for me to finally reach the point of opening a Vanguard account. Now I feel silly for procrastinating on it so long. One thing I've learned about myself and about life in general is that simpler usually works out better. I'm now a fan of sticking almost entirely to mass indexing as it has a winning track record and it fits perfectly with my lazy ethos as I have little patience for deep in-the-weeds research on endless individual companies and mixed fund choices. (Although I will occasionally throw a small amount at an individual company on a whim based on the news and a skim of their stock profile... over the years I've slowly gotten better at intuiting individual stock picks 😊)

While I still have some holdings in things a REIT, an ETF, and stocks of a few individual companies, my current weekly auto-transfers now go only to my Vanguard account, straight into just two funds: VTSAX and VBIAX.

I just love the minimalism of it. No clutter, no fuss, reliable growth.

Friday, November 3, 2017

reminscing and daydreaming

One day at work I was suddenly in the mood to listen to my old time and all time favorite rock band, Led Zeppelin.

When at my desk at work I use my headphones (set over just one ear to maintain some situational awareness in the office), and like any other day I usually search for things I want to listen to on YouTube, where I'm able to find just about any song I have an itch to listen to. I hadn't listened to Zep in a quite some time and so naturally it generate some pleasant nostalgia.

Images of my teenhood experience from the reaches of my memory flashed by. My friends and I driving around northern Virginia all summer in my trusty cherry red Honda Civic. Endless cups of cheap coffee at the landmark vintage diner in the neighborhood where we probably spent more money on the juke box than anything offered on the menu. The antique apartment buildings in downtown Richmond, Virginia where my sister, myself, and my cousin all spent time living while attending art school. Group camping along the Rappahanock River. Partying like hippies in my cousins' backyard.

Then somehow my thoughts manage to turn to those of purchasing and consuming. I started to daydream about the future and being early retired, lounging and decompressing around my early retirement home, waxing nostalgic to those classic rock songs as they 'should' be listened to - from original (or original-style-print) vinyl records on a solid quality sound system. Thoughts of the fancypants turntable seen in the show Suits popped into my head, along the original-style vinyl pressings of Zeppelin albums (among other classics) manufactured in Germany that you can currently buy at Barnes and Noble.

But, then I remembered that those ideas go against what it takes to achieve early retirement. All of that would entail purchasing things I don't really need or even want. Then I pulled myself back to earth and gave myself a mental slap in the face, remembering that I am not one of those discerning music afficionados adept at detecting the differences between CDs and vinyl (and these days I just stick to playing songs streaming through the internet). Buying a fancypants turntable system and building a space-consuming collection of vinyl records would be a lousy use of money for someone like me.

It all still falls under the category of collecting a pile of things I don't need for any reason, really. And in striving for a more frugal mentality, I've learned that one thing I no longer desire in life is to pile up collections of things I don't need.


Monday, October 16, 2017

education

Questioning the conventional wisdom of a 4-year degree seems to be gaining momentum as a recent trend. Or that could just be my perception due to reading early retirement blogs a lot.

I've personally always questioned the necessity of bachelor's degree as fast as possible for everything and everyone. I dared to suggest to my parents at least either taking a break from school or starting out part-time at community college. But that didn't sound impressive enough for my mother and I shipped off to the best state university that would accept me. I wasn't happy there, and after one year I transferred to a less bragworthy school, picked the even less bragworthy major in fine arts, after which I ended up in the unglamorous field of office admin. My parents could've saved themselves a small fortune if they'd agreed to either of my suggestions.

My father did suggest the military or ROTC, but at the time I was a childish starry-eyed daydreaming hippie and quite averse to either of those ideas until later in life.

When it comes to the 'necessity' of going straight to the most prestigious college that will accept you and achieving a four-year degree in doesn't-matter-what ASAP, I have a few anecdotal stories that I just love and plan to tell my kiddo when the time comes for her to start worrying about her independence and livelihood...

A cousin of mine took her sweet time after high school (as I had wanted to do), starting out part-time at the community college, which gave her a little more time to enjoy teenhood and grow up a bit. She later got her head in the game and graduated from a nearby state university with honors (without having ever taken the SATs).

A friend of mine from high school was a very bright student - always acing a full load of AP classes and achieved very high scores on the SATs. He graduated from one of the most prestigious private colleges in the state. However, in hindsight he wishes he'd done his first two years at community college instead, to save himself and his parents a large pile of money.

A friend of DH's was also a good student in high school, but precociously decided to skip the fuss and high-priced-debt-baggage of college, opting instead for a 2-year vocational certificate to become a medical technician. She now earns 50k a year in rural Indiana managing breathing machines (partly from taking a job in a neighboring high-crime area where they offered twice the pay of other local hospitals).

Another guy I grew up with also had the clarity to know college wasn't the best direction for him. He started mowing lawns after high school and is now the owner a multi-million-dollar landscaping company.

Then there's my story - I did eventually join the military when I was still a failure-to-launcher at 25 and realized I had to force myself out of the nest. It was there that I got the skills training and experience to end up with the high paying career I have now. The same line of work as DH who has yet to finish his Associates degree. While the Bachelors listed on my resume helped me snag a higher starting salary than he did, he now makes more than I do (due to a bit of company-jumping over the years). This underscores the lesson that while a degree (at least in our field) is a nice thing to have, it clearly wasn't necessary with specialized occupational training and job experience (via the military, in our case).

And that's my personal anecdotal evidence that an expensive college degree isn't the end-all-be-all for success in this country. I do think an Associate's degree or similar 1-2 year career studies certificate is a good goal after high school, but anything beyond that should be a highly personalized decision and not one driven by peer pressure and societal expectations.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

going down to one car

In the military, especially when stationed in any area sprawling out over wide rolling hillscape, and given the bustling nature of work in tactical units, it's almost inevitable that just about every service member will need his or her own car. So being in different units with different offices, DH and I got used to each keeping of us keeping our own car.

But you need not have been a service member assigned to a sprawling middle America duty station to fall into having this "need". In any metropolitan sprawl you'll come across countless households who rely on one or more cars per adult in the household (and sometimes one or more cars per person including the babies!), without giving it much thought.

Sometimes their established lifestyles make it necessary; each have to commute in opposite directions, or shifting jobs or companies every 3-5 years for some reason or other. But many keep up this avenue for needless spending simply due to convention and social norms.

But in my quest to become more frugal I've read a lot about reducing the number of cars you own or going carless altogether. This suggestion is among many that encourage readers to consider deviating from the norm with the goal of improved financial health (such as a small condo close to work instead of a McMansion out across 30 miles of rolling suburban sprawl, or maximizing your retirement allotment over maximizing other avenues of lifestyle inflation).

Both of our cars were having recurring and expensive issues, so after a few years of carpooling together to the same building, we finally decided to try going down to one car.

So I sold my car and DH traded his in for a slightly bigger automatic sedan for the family. It's been about a year-and-a-half now and things have been working out quite well! There have been maybe a few occasions you could count on one hand for which we needed extra transportation such as a special appointment far away - DH once used a rental car for the day, and then started using Uber. That car rental was over a hundred dollars, but still a small fraction of the combined annual maintenance, insurance, taxes, and gas of keeping the second car. So even with those occasional expenses for transportation, the edge still goes to keeping one car instead of two.

Which ultimately leads to automatic extra savings in bank, and slightly bigger steps toward financial independence.