Q1 2018 Financial Progress Report

Can you believe March is almost over?! What a crazy ride it has been. With that, time to review where we stand as of end of business today.

Assets & Debt

Liquid assets stand at $624,800.

Our EOY goal is $704,000 ($79,200 to go), though, since we decided to start putting more money towards our mortgage than fully funding post tax accounts, we are not sure we are going to get there, and that is ok.

Our combined 529 balances (not counted above) remain stable, despite the recent drop, at $60,570.

Remaining mortgage plus car debt is $92,600, significantly better already than our EOY goal balance of $101,700, with lots of payments to go! Our mortgage part of that is about $73k, the rest is car, and I estimate our house value is about $290-$310k, leaving about  $200k in equity after fees and all that stuff if we were to sell.


We made a few tweaks to our budget already.  As you may recall, we are trying to cut down from $75k last year to $70k this year.

Originally, we had moved down our travel budget from $12k to $8k and made a few other adjustments to hit this goal, however, we were hit with some significant medical expenses earlier this year – few ER visits (all well now, kid injuries and stuff!) – which has forced us to have to cut further in other categories as well. In addition, we  got some extra few expenses from the car we bought last year, so that is reflected on the car expenses as well, which will have to mean spending less in other areas (restaurants, entertainment, etc).

Finally, I forgot to budget for our tax preparation fees (boo!), which were over $500 bucks and I have put that in the ‘shopping / entertainment’ category (I know they are fun right? urgh. Was too lazy to create new buckets :)), so will have to make up for that elsewhere too.

All in all however we are still generally on track and think we can hit our goals (even if the savings and investments don’t match as we redirect towards paying debt).

Let’s see how we go and if the market cooperates or takes back years of gains.

How about you, how goes it so far?!

 Category Budgeted Q1 Avg Variance
Mortgage $1,400 $1,400 $0
Utilities/cell phone $500 $499 $1
Groceries $500 $538 -$38
Restaurants $200 $126 $74
Personal /entertainment $570 $804 -$234
Gas/Car expenses $750 $695 $55
Medical expenses $480 $680 -$200
Vacation/travel $580 $340 $240
Kids $500 $375 $125
Pet $300 $406 -$106
Replacement fund $50 $3 $52
Total Monthly $5,830 $5,865 -$35

Note To Self: Distract Yourself From Making Dumb Moves In A Bumpy Market!

The Time Has Come

We have a golden opportunity to practice what we have been preaching: “don’t worry about losing thousands of dollars in a second, this is totally normal, markets go up and down (you just don’t remember young one), don’t make stupid moves out of fear, keep your eyes on the long term horizon, this too shall pass, you still have time, this time is no different”, etc. etc…

Rationally, I get it.  Emotionally, a little anxiety started creeping in. Not to worry though as I am determined to not let feelings win this round! Take that heart, said the brain!

Dealing With Sneaky Feelings

I am trying to focus on things I can control and creating positive distractions for myself.  For example, I am still going strong with my two personal challenges of the month: vegetarian diet and no technology Sundays (affectionately dubbed Tech-No Sundays by my sweet son). In addition, I am still enjoying the “no (stuff) purchase challenge” for a year with no issues.

I am feeling pretty good about these challenges, and hope to continue with some of the habits learned so far as they do make a difference (though in full honestly mode, while still limiting meat substantially, I will probably still have the very occasional Chicken Burrito Bowl from my beloved Chipotle upon finishing this challenge…. sigh, I miss you!).

In addition, we are tracking against expenses, despite a few unplanned medical bills (the scariest part of the expense side of the house, if you ask me!). Oh and I am kicking butt at work (according to my very unbiased opinion) – go me!

With that said, on the assets sides things are a little less rosy. For a brief second, we saw our liquid assets hit $650k this month, only to be back down to $620k a few weeks later even after adding a few thousand dollars in contributions during that time. Ouch. I had forgotten what that felt like!

After some reflection, my husband and I agreed that we are comfortable(ish) leaving our already invested money where it is and we will, but not necessarily adding ALL our new money into the market right now. With that, we compromised and will do the following:

We will continue to add pre-tax 401k and HSA funds in the market but use post tax extra funds to up our emergency cash stash (to 3-4 months vs 2) and increase our mortgage payments significantly. As a reminder, we are hoping to add in about $140k per year in new inflows, of which about $80k is post-tax.

Is this the best financial decision? I don’t know, but it does not seem the worse decision either, especially as it brings some peace of mind.  At least we did not decide to go spend it because well, YOLO! (midlife crisis under control folks….for now).

We will revisit as circumstances change of course, but, if this is the path we take the rest of the year, we will likely not meet our EOY asset goals, however, we would crush our debt repayment goal.  We are ok with that. Now, should the market take a steep dive soon,  we will get back in the market full swing and revert to min mortgage payments until we get cold feet again.

Now tell me, how are you coping with this natural but by now not so familiar volatility? Are you ready to stay the course? Let’s do this!



March Double Challenge: Vegetarian For A Month & No Electronics Once A Week

It is almost March, time for another personal challenge, or in this case, two!

As a reminder, I am doing the year-long challenge of not buying anything for myself except for basic hygiene products (much easier now after my go-green for menstruation challenge)!, experiences and food. Even thought it has only been 2 months, I had a big birthday and celebrated 15 years of marriage so if I made it through those, I think I will be ok.

Now, I had scheduled a month of vegetarianism as one of my challenges and thought March would be a great opportunity to do it. This will be a way for me to start getting serious about the food intake aspect of my health – the part I don’t particularly do so well lately.

In addition, I have been feeling a little stressed lately because of work. As in I have started to wake up in the middle of the night stressed. Not good. When I am stressed, I start wasting A LOT of time online and feeling drained.  As such yesterday I randomly declared a no computer and phone day for me (though I did cheat with some TV) and, even with one day, I felt much better. And with that, I have decided to also make March a once a week no technology day – at least no phone and computer.

Let’s do this!

How about you, do you have any fun challenges you are working on you want to share? Have hey made you feel different or change a perspective or lead to permanent habit changes?

Contentment: Celebrating Personal Growth Vs Comparing Self With Others

Perspective…. it’s a funny thing, isn’t it?

Five years ago,  searching for a new job after a 2 year break, this was my thinking:  “If someone would just interview me and give me an opportunity…..I would be so happy with $60k total comp, some 401k match and health benefits. I would not need anything else!”

Well, I nearly cried of happiness when, after many rejections, I was offered $98k plus bonus, over 10% 401k match and ridiculously good benefits, for a job with lots of growth potential. I was so excited, thankful and relieved!

A couple of years and two promotions later, I was making significantly more that I ever expected. I felt engaged and valued. I was learning new things. I felt SO lucky and humbled!  Until….. I learned my total comp was $30-40k less than my peers who got lower review scores and held less responsibilities, had less schooling and experience.

I felt bitter and, as embarrassing as it is to admit, it became a constant thought.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

How was this possible? I was making more money than I ever dreamed of, I loved my job and my peers and yet I felt bitter and unhappy? What happened to my old self, known for her joyfulness?

I had to do something about this. This was absurd and painful.

I was determined to stop defining my worth and happiness from things OUTSIDE of me (how did this happen?). I was to find contentment from within. “The rich man isn’t the one who has the most, but rather the one who needs the least” became my motto.

Taking action

I did two things.

I switched jobs internally and negotiated a nice bump. I felt immediately better having done one of the few things in my control in this situation.

Second, and most importantly,  I made it the top priority to focus on bettering myself from within. Holistically. Purposefully. I made a life plan. Contentment was my new goal.  I began minimizing my possessions and emotional clutter. I got to work. Relentlessly.

Almost a year later, I felt like en entirely new person. The transformation was gradual but evident not just to me but to those around me.

The results

This month, I hit 3 big milestones:

  • Despite a mediocre review, I got an unexpected raise and the largest bonus I have ever received! Total comp is now around $190k plus 401k match and fantastic benefits.
  • This is the first time that 100% of my bonus will go to our ‘buying our freedom’ fund!
  • We crossed $600k in liquid assets (excluding 529s)!

The biggest win

My boss sounded nervous delivering my bonus information, especially after the review (worse I have ever had). He offered that my colleagues were disappointed with their comp, so he was not sure how I was going to react (he is new to this group). I knew some colleagues still make more than me, so…

How did I genuinely feel?

I paused. I took time to let this sink in.  I smiled.

I had made it.

I had once again become that grateful human, experiencing the contentment of not wanting more…..

How about you? What milestones are you celebrating.



Does Your Job Define Who You Are?

Large scale org change… ah how it affords you the opportunity to see people’s true colors! I am always amazed that for so many people, their job and title literally defines who they are. What is happening around their job dictate how they feel about life (talk about giving your power away!). And they are willing to do anything to keep going up, even if by taking other people down. It is all about their ego, not the organizational goals and certainly not about their people.

Now, I have always been a go getter, high achiever, and willing to put the hours and roll up my sleeves to create, as a team, continuous improvement. That is how I derive my satisfaction at work. I still get emotional when I receive feedback from people I managed years ago and tell me no one cared and helped their careers more than me. With that, I have never allowed my job title or salary to dictate my worth or become my identity as a human being.

Increasingly, work feedback and behaviors (hello stealing my ideas with zero credit) from people that are supposed to be on my side has started to kill my spirit. I am treated like a child and told to just do what I am told. I don’t trust anyone. I feel like I went back about 15 years of my professional career, a total waste of my capabilities and skills.

The last drop for me came with the most recent feedback: be more “strategic” and play politics, do not help certain people (from my own team mind you) because that is the only way I was going to get promoted.

Huh. How mediocre and petty of us.

Having already been a very successful career athlete at a young age (among the best in the world as a junior athlete) I can tell you that being the top of any corporate ladder is not something I am searching for.  This is especially true if to do that I have to bring people down instead of try to lift us ALL up.

I am going focus on trying to transform the things in my control and clear the noise of all the backstabbing and non cooperative politics and other nonsense that simply go against who I am. I am better than that.

Lastly, I am adding one thing to my FIRE goal: my personal requirement from when I hand in my resignation is being able to look back and have people know I had THEIR back.

How about you, does your job define you?! How will this affect you when you retire?





When To Cancel Term Life Insurance

I have been thinking about this lately as I recently turned 40,  kids are getting older, assets continue to grow and we are putting a decent dent towards our debt balance.

We each have a 2 year old $1m 20 year term policy,  plus 1x year salary from my employer, an automatic benefit.  I am pretty confident that if we both died today,  our life insurance coverage, $64.5k combined balance in 529s, $615k+ in liquid assets and our home value ($290kish), minus our total debt ($105.5k) would cover our passing, taxes, home, kids, dog and caregiver expenses until they became independent adults.

I love that we sleep well at night with such coverage. That said, at $1,236.6 per year for both of us, these cost a decent chunk of money especially over 20 years!  How long do I need these for?!

I am pretty sure we don’t yet have enough money to go without insurance but, it is a good time to start putting a more robust plan of action to determine when that magic day may be.

Next year, we will begin a yearly assessment to decide if we keep or cut. Here is a list of the guiding  (but open to adaptation as needed) criteria I have compiled so far:

What do we want life insurance for?

  • Cover gap for pre and post retirement expenses for a surviving spouse.
  • Cover gap for loss of income towards our dog (assuming 15 year lifespan) and children’s expenses, before they become independent if one spouse dies.
  • Cover for dog, child expenses, and their caregiver until kids are independent (here we will assume age 26) in the event that we are both gone.

One parent dies scenario

We anticipate both lower expenses and adjusted retirement goals. While there is the money addition from one policy, we also need to consider taxes and the loss of one income over time (or potentially two at least temporarily, depending on the emotional state of the surviving spouse  – even writing this is making me want to cry!).

We would cancel the second insurance if assets could cover in full:

  • Passing costs for surviving spouse (should be low since we want to be put in a recycled bottle that turns into a plant, but I digress… that is an entirely new post…).
  • Dog costs assuming 15 year total lifespan, but not replacement costs.
  • Legal fees for custody or estate transfer for kids and caregiver, should second spouse die.
  • Taxes from inheritance for kids and new care provider.
  • Mortgage balance, property taxes and home insurance until youngest child turns 21 (adjust age as they  grow and we get a better feel for where they are going).
  • Balance for any other outstanding debt.
  • College savings funded to 100% of 4 year public American university (room, books, board, etc) for each child or whatever is left of their college attendance if in progress.
  • Assets to provide for basic living expenses for kids and provider until they each reach age 21, adjusted for inflation.
  • Assets to provide for travel, entertainment and extracurricular activities until each reaches 21, to a similar level that they enjoy today, adjusted for inflation.
  • Fun asset money for kids as a good bye gift when they each turn 16 (enough for a beat up car each with insurance for a few years or something similar of their choosing).
  • Non-employee sponsored health insurance costs for kids through age 26, should that be needed if second spouse dies or is no longer working.
  • Adjusted FIRE goals for surviving spouse (70% of couple FIRE goals).
  • Long term care and health insurance for surviving spouse.

Parents are both alive, but with substantial savings

We will consider cutting our insurance if our assets cover the expenses from above scenario, with the following adjustments:

  • Passing costs for both parents vs one
  • Adjusted figures for two people for taxes on more accounts, FIRE, health and long term care for both spouses.
  • Adjust for age of kids and future needs.

Next steps

This year, we will begin putting actual numbers on the above line items for scenario planning so that starting in 2019 we can figure out how far off we are from ditching our insurance. Should keep me geekily entertained for a while!

I hope that as the very worse case scenario, we have to keep the insurance through the end of the 20 year term (18 to go) vs having to get even more life insurance for longer at a higher cost!

How about you, how do you assess insurance needs and when to quit it?





2018 Challenge #1: No Purchases For A Year!

I really enjoy doing monthly and, in this case, yearly challenges to continuously improve myself. The highlight of my multiple 2018 personal challenges will be:

Challenge #1: No buying clothes or ‘stuff’ for a year for myself except personal hygiene and food items. Experiences and travel are allowed and encouraged. Books can only be library borrowed.

I am not a huge purchaser of clothes and stuff, but I have never done something this radical before.  I am excited to see what happens, particularly I want to understand if the feeling of ‘not being able to’  do something actually makes me want it more OR if it will just feel like I don’t really have need or interest to purchase anything for myself anymore.

I will provide quarterly updates and introduce future challenges along with my other progress reports for 2018 financial, life goals and challenges.  Wish me luck!

How about you. Have you ever done similar challenges? What did you learn?