How my Community Keeps me Motivated

Nearly 5 years ago my friends J and L and I started a group called the COA.

What is the COA, you may ask?  Let’s step in the time travel machine and go back to 2013…

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One morning, J was driving to work listening to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  The section in which Rubin discussed her resolution to “ASK FOR HELP” by forming a writers’ strategy group and in which she shared the idea of forming a goals group or a Community of Aspirants mirrored many of the discussions J and her friends had over email and in person.

J and her friends, JP and L had sporadically done “monthly challenges” and often discussed goals and strategies to achieve those goals. Also, they just liked hanging out together and didn’t have enough regular occasion to get together for coffee, brunch, and catching up. As soon as she got to work, J emailed JP and L and they set a coffee date for that Sunday morning.

Over lattes, their Community of Aspirants–COA for short– was born.

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Though L moved several states away last year, the COA is still going strong!  We are now doing our monthly touch base meetings via phone.

Some of the recurring themes of our goals over the years have included fitness/health, career, “adultiness” (this includes things like clearing clutter and being a better person generally) and finances.

I’m excited to announce that J and L have agreed to talk money here on the FIREd up blog!  Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more.  And if you’d like to become a part of the virtual conversation, let me know.  We’d love to have you!

Do you have your own COA?  What community helps keep you on track with your financial (and non-financial) goals?

 

Friday’s Frugal Five

Tread Lightly, Retire Early has been one of my inspirations for doing the Friday Frugal Five.  I’ve been at a bit of a loss for inspiration on what to write about next, so recapping my money wins for the week is a quick way for me to stay engaged with both the blog and my financial accountability.

  1. Mrs. Groovy pointed out in a post this week that she gets excited when the library notifies her that a new book is checked out and waiting for her.  I am the same way!  My library has a great selection of e-books, so I just put a few on hold at a time, then patiently wait until one is available to check out.  Typically a new one will be available by the time I’m done reading my current book.  I finally got a book this week that had been on my holds list for a couple months.
  2. I gave away almost all of my maternity clothes to a friend last year, but I kept one black sweater.  I’m actually wearing it today!  It doesn’t look like a maternity sweater at all, which is why I kept it.  Also, I don’t thrift shop very often, but I did buy a few things that way when I was pregnant.  This sweater was purchased secondhand for $8.
  3. I only went out to lunch one day this week and it was a pre-planned lunch with a work friend I don’t catch up with enough.  The other four days I packed lunch from home.  I had the same meal THREE times – a leftover black bean soup that I made on Sunday.  Luckily it was delicious, and I also mixed it up by bringing a few different snacks/sides to go with the soup.
  4. That black bean soup I just mentioned?  It was made with a $1.29 bag of dry black beans, an onion, and some carrots/celery/spices I already had at home.  Cheap, filling, and nutritious.
  5. The cold snap we had this week made me realize the parts of my wardrobe that are lacking.  A specific example would be my lack of thick, warm socks.  Since I’m doing the Uber Frugal Month Challenge, I did not immediately go buy new socks.  I made do by doubling up on my thin socks.

What financial wins did you have this week, small or large?

Life Lessons from my Toddler’s First Birthday

My baby turned one last week!  I’ve been trying to call her a toddler, because she really isn’t a baby any more, but it’s quite an adjustment.  It is amazing how much a tiny human changes in 12 months.

The ‘Party’

When it came time to think about her first birthday party, I knew I wanted to keep it low-key, especially since it falls so soon after the holidays.  The Frugalwoods party for Babywoods’ first birthday was an inspiration and validated that yes, it really is okay to have a simple celebration for your one-year-old.  For me taking this approach was  mostly about simplifying life and not creating unnecessary stress to put on an event that our child won’t even remember.  (Saving $$ was a bonus!)

Our siblings and my mother-in-law do not live close to us, so the guest list consisted of me, my husband, my daughter, my father-in-law, and my mom.  Unfortunately, my mom was sick, but we finally figured out Skype and she was able to join us virtually!

Our party agenda consisted of lunch, opening presents from Grandpa, and of course eating CAKE!  Because first birthdays are all about the cake smash, right?  I made the cake myself…and it was actually kind of fun.  It turned out like a strawberry shortcake since I put fruit on top and made a whipped cream icing.

Parenting and Relationships

A moment from last weekend really made me reflect on how our relationships with our parents have grown during our child’s first year.

My father-in-law is not a man of many words, but I have loved watching his face light up when he interacts with our daughter.  For her birthday, his gifts consisted of some classic books that belonged to my husband as a child, including Raggedy Ann, Raggedy Andy, and The Little Engine That Could.  The titles also included a book of poems.  He commented that he enjoys poetry and hopes it will be something she enjoys, too.  My heart melted a little when he said that.  Not only were his gifts frugal and useful, but they were incredibly heartfelt.

I already had a good relationship with my mom, but this past year I have valued her even more.  My mom was truly meant to be a grandma.  She is a nurturing, caring person by nature and also by career – she works in public health and deals with kids all the time.  Though my mom does not have the financial means to spoil our daughter the way I’m sure she would like to, there is ZERO need from our perspective for her to do so. The best gift she can provide is her time and attention.  Though she lives 2 1/2 hours away, we have focused on making sure we spend as much time with her as possible so that she can see her granddaughter grow and develop.

Fellow parents – what unexpected lessons did you learn from your child/children’s first year?

Friday’s Frugal Five – New Years Edition

5 ways I’ve worked my frugality muscles this past week:

  1.  We are participating in the Uber Frugal Month Challenge!  I use the term “we” loosely…it’s really me, trying to sprinkle a few ideas over to my husband.  It has been an interesting exercise so far, as he operates a lot differently than I do.  There may be more to say on this later in the month as we see how the challenge plays out.  Stay tuned!
  2. Related to #1, we are focusing on reducing our food spend outside the house this month, so we each have a set budget.  I brought leftovers to work for lunch Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
  3. I work in finance for a publicly traded company.  Once a quarter, when lots of people are super busy doing the accounting close for the quarter, they do a free lunch for the organization.  It’s not great food (our work cafeteria caters it), but it’s not terrible either.  Free food tastes better, right?
  4. Pork shoulder was on sale last weekend at the store so we did a pork shoulder in the slow cooker.  We had it for two different meals already (nachos and pulled pork sandwiches), still have leftovers in the frig, AND I froze some for a future meal.  Winning!
  5. With the cold snap we’ve been experiencing it’s been more noticeable how different the temperature is on different floors of our house.  The upstairs may be toasty, while the downstairs (where the man cave resides) can be a little frigid.  My hubs asked last weekend about buying a space heater.  Guess what?  I already own one, from before we got married!  I dug it out of the garage and he happily started using it.

How have you started off the year?

FIREd up about 2018 Goals

I’m a planner by nature.  I like to set goals.  None of this should be too surprising if you read my last post revealing my Upholder tendency.

Several years ago I read Chris Guillebeau’s fantastic post about his Annual Review process and have been using it as a guideline ever since.  As 2017 wraps up I’m pondering what 2018 has in store.  2018 goals will span several different fronts – creativity/blogging, work, travel, relationships/motherhood, health & fitness, learning, and financial.

Here’s a sneak peek at a few of the big goals:

Financial

  1. Max out 401(k).  I feel like a fraud having a personal finance blog and saying this, BUT…I have never maxed out my 401(k).  I’ve always contributed enough to get my company match, and in most years significantly more than that.  Last year was about working on liquid savings to pay for expenses for the baby on the way and the partially unpaid maternity leave.  It wasn’t until I came back from leave earlier this year and reassessed our financial situation that I realized that this was actually a very realistic goal going forward.  I’ve been doing some catch-up on my 401(k) contributions the last part of this year and will actually have to reduce my % at the start of the year so I don’t max out early and miss any company match.
  2. Make 2017 IRA contribution (amount TBD).  For some reason I thought that you couldn’t contribute to a 401(k) AND make a deductible contribution to an IRA, but this amazing post by Justin at Root of Good corrected that mistaken belief.  As long as you meet Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI – not to be confused with MAGA!) limits, you can contribute to both a 401(k) and traditional IRA.  The amount of the contribution will depend on a few factors, including the amount I’ve contributed to my Roth for 2017 (you can only contribute $5,500 to both – not to EACH), our exact MAGI number, and the amount of our tax refund.
  3. Finalize will.  I posted about this earlier.  We’ve met with our lawyer for the initial consultation.  I’d like to have a final document early in 2018.
  4. Fund 25% of Financial Freedom goal for non-retirement funds.  This will partly be dependent on how the markets do.

Blog

  1. Average one post per week.
  2. Share quarterly updates on progress against the Financial Freedom goal.

I’m really early in this blogging experience, so I’ve left these goals pretty open for now.

STRETCH GOALS

  1. Attend FINCON 2018.  Money nerds unite!  Whether this becomes a realization  will depend on a lot of things including life in general and how much I engage with the personal finance community in 2018.
  2. Get 2nd mortgage balance below $10,000.  Are piggyback mortgages still a thing?  We did an 80-15-5 mortgage back in the pre-2008 housing meltdown days, and they were pretty common then.  The higher rate on the second mortgage outweighed the higher payment with PMI.  The first mortgage has been refinanced and this second mortgage just needs to go away….

One final note

I am great at setting goals but sometimes not so great at letting go of things that no longer add value.  Jillian just wrote a very timely post on her blog about knowing when to quit something that no longer serves you.  Check it out!

Do you set annual goals?  What do you hope to accomplish in 2018?

 

 

 

Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Take the quiz to find out!

I’m currently reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life.  Many of the principles in her book can translate to the world of personal finance.  Today I’m writing specifically about her Four Tendencies framework.

The idea behind this framework (which is also the subject of her latest book) is that we all face two sets of expectations:  outer and inner.  Outer expectations are those placed on us by others, such as family, friends, bosses, and society in general.  An example would be a due date for a big work project.  Inner expectations are those we place on ourselves, such as setting a New Year’s resolution.

How she describes the framework in her own words:

Depending on a person’s response to outer and inner expectations, that person falls into one of four distinct types:

Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations

Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations

Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations

Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

If you want to know your tendency, she has a quick quiz you can take on her site.

I am an Upholder with Questioner tendencies.  If I commit to something, I don’t have problems sticking to it.  Most of the time I’m a rule follower, but sometimes I question external expectations if they don’t make sense.

Some observations on this framework and it’s intersection with personal financial habits:

  • FIRE folks are impressively goal oriented; I would guess that most do not have a hard time meeting inner expectations, or if they do, they have figured this out about themselves and created hacks to make themselves accountable.
  • I envision the most hardy FIRE people – the Mustachians – as Questioners.  They challenge societal expectations.  You don’t have to work until you’re 65 (or even 55!)!  Of course you can save 70% of your income!  (or maybe they are Rebels?)
  • According to Gretchen’s survey results, Obliger is the most frequent tendency.  External accountability helps obligers meet goals.  Just as an obliger might benefit from hiring a personal trainer to form an exercise habit or joining Weight Watchers to lose weight, an obliger seems like a good candidate to work with a financial planner who will help keep him/her accountable to financial goals.  Alternatively, sharing goals publicly (such as on a blog) or with a trusted friend could also serve as a way to provide accountability.  Or perhaps the Frugalwoods Uber Frugal Month Challenge might create the sense of community that would inspire an obliger?

What is your tendency?  How does it impact your financial habits?

Financial Freedom Part 2: The plan (with charts!)

Last week I wrote about my view on financial freedom.  Today I want to write a little bit about our financial freedom goal.  The financial freedom amount is not enough to be financially independent, but it could be thought of as an intermediate goal on the way to FIRE.  It’s the amount that would make me (a somewhat risk-averse person) feel comfortable with a large financial life change.

I’m not one to share actual numbers, so everything will be percentage based.  Here’s where we stand as of today against this goal:

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Actually, making this graph was kinda nice, we are closer to the goal than I realized.  Who-hoo!

This includes all our investable assets (401(k)s, IRAs, taxable, some company stock).  It does not include our daughter’s 529, cash savings, or home equity.

If the markets cooperate and we continue to save at the same clip, I think we’ll hit this goal sometime in 2020:

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Most of our investments are tied up in retirement accounts, so I’d like for 10% of the financial freedom goal to be easily accessible should we need it:

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As you can see there is some work to be done here, though depending on how we choose to crunch the numbers, our emergency fund cash savings could be included in this bucket.

Of course the markets could go sideways in the next few years; who knows what financial crisis lurks in the shadows.  But I’m pretty FIREd up about being this close to goal!

FIREd up about the Flexibility of Financial Freedom

I was comforted to recently read this post on Adventure Rich where Ms. Adventure Rich admits that they don’t have a set FI target date or amount.  I felt some imposter syndrome setting up a FIRE blog when we don’t have an FI date or number, either.

But in reality, this isn’t a blog about me retiring early.  Ideally I am done “working” before 65, but I’m not going to be bowing out of the workforce decades early.  What really interested me in the FIRE community is the Financial Independence facet.  Money = Financial Freedom.  So rather than having a FIRE goal, it is really a Financial Freedom goal, similar to the FFLC (Fully funded lifestyle change) espoused by Slowly Sipping Coffee.

So what does Financial Freedom mean to me?

Career Flexibility

Most days, I actually don’t mind working; I enjoy the mental challenge and the social interaction.  I have worked for my company for a long time and have some great benefits, generous PTO, and a manager that respects me and doesn’t micromanage.

But I also don’t want to be tied to a job because it pays a lot, or have to work on someone else’s schedule for the next 25 years.  Companies get acquired, managers move on, job responsibilities shift, and sometimes great jobs become stifling or downright horrific.  Financial freedom means that either I or my husband can choose to quit a job if one of us lands in a bad work situation; or that we can weather the storm if one of us gets laid off.  Working towards a financial freedom goal also means that we will have the flexibility to shift careers, work part-time, take a sabbatical from paid work, or start a business.

Time

Maggie at Northern Expenditure wrote:

“…it is so unfair that the most important working years coincide with the most important years for our children. Why did parents have to spend so much time trying to build careers at the same time their children were trying to figure out how to walk and talk and learn?”

We had our daughter at the beginning of this year.  I don’t want to sacrifice these early years we have with her just to retire a few years before she leaves the nest. For me, saving and investing means we have the financial flexibility to make lifestyle changes that align with our values – spending time with our daughter.

Overcoming Uncertainty

My dad died unexpectedly at 52.  My mom is a cancer survivor.  I’m 39 now, and even though I work to maintain my health, there are things outside my control that could lead to physical limitations as I age.

On a trip to Italy a few years ago, my friend and I stayed at the property featured in the photo at the top of this post, in one of the towns in the Cinque Terre region.

Our room was at the VERY TOP.  So.many.stairs. There is often a level of physical fitness that is required for the type of travel I enjoy, such as sightseeing or hiking through the wilderness.  If I postpone all this traveling until I retire, my physical body may not be quite as willing to cooperate.

Meaning

Do you find meaning in the work you do every day?  I’ve spent my career in the corporate world.  I care about the overall mission of my company, and believe we are doing good work.  But it’s usually hard to find meaning in the day-to-day of the actual job.   I think quite a lot of people in large organizations feel this way, especially those who are seeking FIRE.  Financial freedom means the option to pursue ‘work’ that provides meaning and fulfillment, rather than just focusing on a paycheck and benefits.

What are your reasons for pursuing Financial Freedom?

Hamilton tickets, and some of the other ways I fail at being frugal

I’m more thrifty than the average Joe and will compare my squeezing-the-last-bit-of-toothpaste-out-of-the-tube skills with anyone out there.  But compared to some of the FIRE bloggers I read, I am a spendthrift!  Just a few examples:

We pay someone to clean our house.  This started when my now-husband moved in with me.  I saw the state of his bachelor apartment (GASP!) and did not want to spend time arguing with my new roomie about standards of cleanliness.  Hiring it out was a easy way to reduce that friction.  Now that a little one has entered into the family dynamic, paying someone to clean frees up precious free time in our evenings and on weekends.  FRUGAL TIP:  We did reduce the frequency of the housecleaning to accommodate the budget post-baby.

Salon styling.  I like to have my hair cut and colored professionally.  FRUGAL TIP:  adopt a low-maintenance hairstyle and coloring strategy to reduce the frequency of visits.  (Related:  anyone have a recommendation for a good product to cover up gray roots?!?)

Fancy daycare.  When asking for recommendations for daycares last year, only once place was consistently mentioned to us.  That is where our daughter goes and we’ve been quite happy.  It’s not cheap, but is any good daycare cheap?  (Unless it’s Grandma.  Grandma daycare can be amazing.  AND cheap.)  I’d rather spend just a little more and not worry about my child’s safety or quality of care.  FRUGAL TIP:  I contribute the annual limit ($5,000) to a dependent care FSA at work to maximize tax savings.

Expensive groceries.  I don’t usually shop at Aldi and Wal-Mart.  I’m certainly not opposed to shopping there, but at this stage of life, convenience sometimes trumps money.  It is a struggle to get to one grocery store per week, much less two or more.  So the streamlined choice is a regional grocery chain that is not the cheapest, but has the full variety of items we buy for our weekly meals.  FRUGAL TIPS:  We buy lots of store-branded groceries (canned goods, frozen veggies, etc.); I plan meals around the store’s weekly ad; and as members of the chain’s shopper program we max out the various coupons that we receive.

Hamilton tickets!  My husband has been obsessed with Hamilton for a couple of years now.  He knows most of the songs by heart.  And he recently bought tickets for the touring show.  They were ridiculously expensive but he is over-the-top excited.  We have months to look forward to it and will always remember it afterwards.  We don’t do these types of experiences very frequently either, so when we do, it feels more special.  FRUGAL TIP:  Is there any way to frugalize this?

How do you spend money like a champ?

Friday’s Odds and Ends: Shopping, Giving, Making a Will

  • I bought zero consumer items on Black Friday.  A handful of things were purchased in store on Monday: some candy for family stocking stuffers, snacks and gift cards for daycare teachers, and a small Crayola gift for my daughter for Christmas.  This was probably 50+% of my holiday shopping – we are keeping it simple this year.  Of course it’s great to save money, but for me it’s also about reducing STRESS.  Figuring out what to buy people, and what they should buy me (and now my child, too!) can be exhausting.
  • Our household contributions to charity have not been impressive this year.  I did, however, participate in #givingTuesday.  A donation was made to the local food bank, an impressively run organization that serves our entire metro area and beyond.  Two sets of infant PJs were also donated to a children’s charity, via their Amazon wish list.  The last time I checked over 2,500 items had been purchased!  Using an Amazon wish list is a pretty brilliant way for charities to receive the exact goods they need, in exactly the right quantities.
  • The hubs and I finally met with a lawyer about making a will.  This is definitely filed under the category of ‘boring adulty stuff,’ but now that we have a child – and  actually have some significant assets as well – it’s important to get it taken care of.  More to come on this topic as we finalize the documents!
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