5 Frugal Midsummer Activities for the Family

By my count, we have five weeks of summer left (school starts for us the last week of August). For our family, the first two weeks were consumed with moving to a new state. And even though we’ve spent the last two weeks enjoying more traditional summer activities, I know my kids have spent way more time on devices than I’d like.

5 Frugal Midsummer Activities for the Family www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

So I’ve vowed to spend more time finding fun, frugal activities that will make the next five weeks feel more like summer. Here are five ideas you can use to keep your costs down for summer fun over the last half of summer for your family (sniff sniff it’s going too fast). And hey, since there are five ideas, you could try one per week!

Kids Bowl Free

This summer, for the first time ever, local bowling alleys have partnered up to let your kids bowl for free, all summer long. Sign up here for the program.  They also have discounted plans for adults. How it works is you sign your kids up and the program will send you links each week with coupons for two free games of bowling per day.

I took my kids last week and they had a blast. You will have to pay for their bowling shoes, so be prepared that this isn’t a completely free activity. In my local bowling alley, kids’ rentals were roughly $5 each (tax included). But I still feel like $10 is a pretty good value to keep the kids entertained all afternoon.

Bowling fun www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Kids bowl free this summer at hundreds of participating locations.

Summer Programs at the Library

Continue reading “5 Frugal Midsummer Activities for the Family”

Can Optimism and Hope Increase Your Wealth?

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure for more information. Thanks for supporting the blog! 

Is it possible to increase your net worth through optimism and hope? Last week, I was listening to this episode of the Australian All in the Mind podcast featuring American positive psychologist Martin Seligman, speaking on the power of positive psychology and optimism in changing our outcomes.

Can Optimism and Hope Increase Your Wealth? www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

One of the reasons I was drawn to this podcast was because Seligman is an academician. He’s interested in quantifiable research in neuroscience that psychologists can use to improve people’s outcomes, that is, their happiness levels. Seligman is the Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and is widely known as the founder of positive psychology (here’s a TED talk he did from 2004).

In the podcast, Seligman shares how early on in his career, he realized that his colleagues were focused on the alleviation of misery and suffering, but he was interested in how to increase happiness: “I said, look, when you lie in bed at night you are generally not thinking about how to go from -8 to -5, you’re thinking about how to go from +3 to +6 in life. Psychologists have never worked on this, we’ve never worked on happiness, well-being, the stuff that is above zero.”

It became his mission to figure out how to teach optimism. Continue reading “Can Optimism and Hope Increase Your Wealth?”

How to Save Money When You’re Not a Saver

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more info, please read my disclosure at the bottom of this page).

In honor of our recent move, and given the vast amounts of money we’re spending this month on our new house, I’m reposting a treatise on how this spender has managed to trick herself into saving more over the years. Hope you enjoy!

Raise your hand if you’re a saver. You know, you never spend money. You’re biologically opposed to pulling out your wallet. You’ve got thousands squirreled away in a savings account somewhere, and you’ve built it up almost without thinking about it.

How to Save When You're Not a Saver-www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

I bet you grew up in a frugal family, right? Did your mom always pack sandwiches when you went on road trips? Did you rarely, if ever, go out to eat? When you did, the whole family ordered waters and split entrees. Am I close? Did you live in a modest ranch your whole life, wear hand-me-downs, and ride in the same car for a decade (that your parents paid cash for)?

I’m not making fun. No way. I’m actually a little jealous. Here’s why: you had the best possible education growing up. Your frugal family taught you how, almost without thinking about it, to spend less than you earn. You feel trepidation–a healthy fear–towards buying stuff, and you instinctively pause before buying a material item, and think about whether you actually need it or not. Continue reading “How to Save Money When You’re Not a Saver”

Prepping Your House for Sale

Last week, I wrote about how to sell your house in 2 weeks or less. Today, I thought I’d give you a more in-depth post about what you’ll need to do just before you put your house on the market.

Prepping Your House for Sale

As tempting as it is to just throw some pictures on MLS and hope for the best, prepping your home for sale is an integral step to selling it quickly. Do the prep work (or hire people to help you!) and save yourself weeks of uncertainty on the other side.

Analyze

The first thing you’ll need to do is decide what needs to be repaired or changed in order to get your house ready for the market.

Do you need to do any major repairs, like change the roof? Are there any architectural or structural changes you’ll need to make? Is there a wall blocking a beautiful view? Does it make sense to add another half bath?

Major repairs cost money, so you’ll have to figure out if the repairs are worth it (i.e., if they’ll bring you a similar return on the house) and how you’ll pay for them. Continue reading “Prepping Your House for Sale”

Sell Your House in 2 Weeks or Less

In the past eight years, we’ve sold two houses. Both times, we got multiple offers within the first days. Here are my best tips for selling your house in 2 weeks or less.

Sell Your House in 2 Weeks or Less www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Now, it could be a coincidence or good market timing that we sold our houses so quickly. But, we sold our first house in 2010, at the height of the real estate market implosion, and we got multiple offers. Then, we did it again a few months ago when we sold our house in New Hampshire.

When we put both our houses on the market, there was a process we followed to get them ready for sale.

Get Professional Advice

When we decided to sell our New Hampshire house, the first thing we did was reach out to several local realtors. I made sure they knew we were interviewing realtors, and we’d like to schedule a consultation. Each realtor came in, walked the house, and told me what they thought needed to be fixed. One realtor was so specific about everything that needed to be fixed that it almost paralyzed me into inaction. Another realtor told me everything was fine. The best realtor told me the major issues to fix and paint, gave me cost-effective ways to fix issues, and told me what we could skip on the repair list.

Each realtor also provided a market comparison report, and the price they’d recommend listing the home. More on that in a minute.

Fix the Little Things

After we met with three realtors, we had a list of things we needed to get fixed.

  • broken towel rack in master bathroom
  • broken GFI (electrical) switch behind the washing machine
  • broken towel rack in guest bathroom
  • leaking kitchen sink
  • broken front door handle
  • no light in the shower
  • damaged drywall around the master jacuzzi
  • broken tiles in master shower

We had a similar list for our house in Atlanta. We asked around, and found a reasonably-priced and reliable handyman. I asked him to come over and take a look at everything that needed to be fixed and give me a price. I also asked him to buy any parts that I might need to fix these issues. He recommended an electrician friend of his who came over and fixed several of our electrical issues, and ended up being the best electrician I’ve ever worked with. We also called a plumber to fix the kitchen sink.

This stage of the process took about two weeks. It took awhile for all the repair people to come in and get things fixed, but as they were, we were working on the next step.

halway--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

We’d also changed out several dated light fixtures last year. This is pretty easy to do, or pretty easy to get an electrician to do, and can help your house look much more modern. We spent about $200 on the whole project, for the lights. Continue reading “Sell Your House in 2 Weeks or Less”

A Decade of Progress

Yesterday was my birthday. My family and I were sitting around the table, eating takeout subs (which is what I requested), when I asked Mr. ThreeYear what we’d been doing ten years ago. We dialed back the years and realized that was the year of the layoffs, when he’d been working in a job that was not right for him just to pay the bills, battling terrible anxiety and, in hindsight, depression, and I was staying home with our one-year-old.

A Decade of Progress www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

I also realized that it was ten years ago (on July 4th) that I’d found The Total Money Makeover in the bookstore and we’d started our journey to financial independence.

Twenty Nine

I wonder what I was thinking on my birthday ten years ago. I was 29, facing the last year in my twenties, and was going through one of the most difficult periods of my adult life. But I had hope after reading that book. Continue reading “A Decade of Progress”

A Year of Good Food: Easy Meals

Hello from sunny (very, very sunny) North Carolina! Our family has moved and is now living in the charming town of Davidson, North Carolina. We’re enjoying our new air conditioning, as the heat here is intense in July.

A Year of Good Food: Easy Meals www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

This year, our family is challenging ourselves to spend less on food so we can save and travel more. Last year, I adopted one habit a month that would translate into better money moves for our family. You can read all about our A Year of Good Habits here.

That experiment worked so well that we tried a new one this year. In 2018, we are challenging ourselves to do better at our food spending. Last year our family spent over $12,000 in groceries, or $966 per month.

This year, our goal is to spend 20% less on groceries. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s almost $200 per month in food savings. The extra $200 per month is going into a travel savings fund, so we can see the results of our hard work in spending less on food.

We could have adopted a radical goal to keep our spending under $500 or something like that. But we know better. We thought it made much more sense to consistently hit our modest target, month after month, for an entire year, to show ourselves we could do it, than to maybe hit the $500 goal once or twice and then face plant with more $1000+ grocery bills.

And if we consistently hit sub-$772 spending, then perhaps we’ll challenge ourselves next year to shave off more.

Each month, we’re trying out a new way to save money at the grocery store. Last month, we focused on staying in budget while moving houses. We kept our expectations low–I knew I wouldn’t be able to consistently meal plan or regularly grocery shop, so the idea was to do as well as we could despite the chaos.

June

I feel like I’ve been writing the same report for months now, but June felt absolutely crazy-pants chaotic. I had to take it one day at a time. We had the end of school, the boys’ birthdays, the start of a new graduate class for my master’s, good-bye parties, a big work conference Mr. ThreeYear and I both needed to attend the week of the move, plus all the regular packing and moving details involved with a move. We spent $691.78 for the month, well under budget, in nineteen separate trips to the store. We tried to eat up all the food in our fridge this month, but did a lot of eating out as well.

Yard sale-www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our spectacularly unsuccessful yard sale in late June (small towns aren’t great for yard sales, we learned).

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Easy Meals”

Midyear Goals Update 2018

Six glorious months of this year have come and gone, and here we are, halfway through 2018. This year has been an unusual one for the ThreeYears, as it wasn’t too long after I published my 2018 Goals post that we decided to move to North Carolina and began working on how to make location independence happen a year earlier. Honestly, the past few months have been a blur, and I definitely haven’t been regularly checking the goals I set for myself. So, let’s see what I have managed to achieve and set some kind of course for the second half of the year.

Midyear Goals Update 2018 www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

My 2018 Goal Sheet

Let’s take a look at my 2018 Goals Sheet. We’ll go section by section, and see how things are going. I’ll grade myself using my arbitrary grading system of whether I feel like I’m making progress or not.
Continue reading “Midyear Goals Update 2018”

Freedom from Payments

Happy July Fourth to my US readers! The ThreeYears have just settled in to our new house in North Carolina (ok, “settled in” might be a bit of a stretch. We are navigating through a sea of boxes and questioning why moving into a smaller house was a good idea all while not being able to find anything!).

I wrote this post several days ago and thought it was a good read for Independence Day. Because as we all know, financial freedom is an incredible type of freedom.

Freedom from Payments www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Today is Friday. We’re officially 100% debt free, as of 9am this morning.

Until Monday.

We just sold our house in New Hampshire and we can enjoy three days of being completely debt free before we purchase our new house in North Carolina.

Going forward, our mortgage is the only debt we’ll have. And that feels really good.

In 2008, we started our debt free journey. We paid off $38,000 in consumer and car loan debt in 18 months. Then we moved to New Hampshire in 2010, selling our house at a loss. We saved up a 20% down payment for a new house over two years, but when we used every available dollar in savings for that, we went ahead and financed two cars.

Back of the house--www.thethreeyearpexperiment.com
Our house in New Hampshire.

During that whole time, we’d kept paying the mortgage on our apartment in Chile. We bought the apartment back in 2004, with a fifteen year mortgage. A family member currently lives there, and we stay there when we visit.

When we started our three year experiment at the beginning of last year, I realized that if we paid off both cars and the apartment in Chile, we would free up a huge amount of money each month for savings and investing. So, we spent the year channeling extra money to those three accounts, one at a time, in order to pay them off and free ourselves from those three payments.

In January, once we’d paid all three debts off, we began to experience the freedom that not paying car and apartment loans can bring.

We got to keep all that extra money and send it to savings. That felt incredible! We watched our emergency fund grow so quickly. Not owing that money and owning our cars and the apartment outright felt really good.

Even though financing a purchase, like a car, can help you in the beginning, if you don’t have the cash to buy it outright, paying it off early feels so good. Often, while you think about what you can afford, you don’t realize the mental burden that those payments will have on you, month in and month out.

If you’re unhappy in your job, knowing that you have a car payment to make makes it that much harder to leave and find something better, that perhaps pays a little less. It’s one more financial shackle around your ankle that you’re lugging around.

It took us a long time to reach payment freedom, but now that we’re here, we’re not planning to go back. We’ve set aside money to buy a new car outright with cash, should we decide to. We’ve

The Process

Now that we’re on the other side, it’s easy to forget how hard we worked to get here. For several years after we got our cars, we paid our monthly payments and didn’t think about paying extra, mainly because the interest rate was so low. Once we realized how much money we’d free up, we made a plan, but it was slow.

In November of 2016, we made a lump sum payment with Mr. ThreeYear’s end-of-the-year bonus and paid off the balance on the Accord (it was under $4000 at that point). Then, we took the Accord payment and snowballed that into the Prius payment. We added $200 to the total Accord payment per month to speed things up. Even with an extra almost $500 per month going to principal payments, it still took the entirety of 2017 to finish paying off the Prius. Every month, I’d record the new balance in our net worth spreadsheet, watching the principal amount slowly tick downward.

Paid off apartment in Chile www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our apartment in Chile is now paid off.

We’ve been paying our Chile apartment down for thirteen years, so we made a lump sum payment at the end of the year and paid it off as well. That sucker felt incredible.

It’s sometimes hard to prioritize paying down debt, especially mortgage debt, in the face of so many other financial priorities. As Moose and I discussed in our debt matchup on Rockstar Finance, there are a lot of (good) reasons not to pay off debt and invest the money instead. But I’ve never felt as free as I have after getting rid of the burden of these monthly payments. They’re out of my mind. No more mental energy is sucked up thinking about them. Mental bandwidth has been cleared.

No investment has been able to do that for me, so I’m still firmly convinced that paying off your debt is a smart move.

Paying off the House

Now that we’ve experienced freedom from car and investment property payments, we’ve signed away the next fifteen years of our lives for a new house. What the heck?

There are plenty of people, like John from ESI, who pay off their homes early. There are plenty of others, like Liz and Nate from Frugalwoods, who choose to keep the debt.

We took on a shorter mortgage and may decide to make extra payments, much like Penny from She Picks Up Pennies is doing. I’m not sure yet. But I do know that we won’t have a mortgage in our (early-ish) retirement. We may have to hand over electricity and water payments each month, but the debt payments will be gone.

So happy Independence Day to you! How do you feel about freedom from payments? 

June Net Worth Update

Hi! I missed you last week. First, we had a joint work conference for Mr. ThreeYear, then we spent one day loading the moving truck, then one day cleaning the house, two days traveling from New Hampshire to North Carolina, and one day prepping for our close. By the time you’re reading this, we’ll be homeowners once again, this time in North Carolina.

June Net Worth Update www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

I wanted to blog so much but it wasn’t happening.

I’ve never been so tired. Maybe after having the kids. Definitely after having the kids. But man, this is a close second. Moving is hard. Of course, we know it will be amazing once we get moved in and settled down, but for now, not knowing where my pjs are, or Mr. ThreeYear’s iPad, or pretty much anything, is disconcerting. Throw a mandatory joint work conference, an 8-year-old birthday party, and a graduate class with tons of work into the mix, and I was fried.

Charlotte sign www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Seeing that sign after two full days in a car felt very good.

Also, yesterday, my sister thought she’d speed up my transition into North Carolina living, by taking me to a yoga class on someone’s back porch in 88 degree weather. Ten minutes into class, there was a puddle of sweat on my mat. And I think (ok, I know!) I belong in the beginner yoga class. These ladies were popping up into headstands on a dime. It’s a really good thing there’s no picture of that.

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Since we’ve achieved the latter goal, we’ll be primarily focused on the former in each of these reports going forward. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending. Last year, we increased our net worth by 32% over the year before. This year, we’re trying to increase it by more than 65% from where we started in December 2016. Given the wild ride the market’s likely to take us on this year, I’m not sure it’s doable. But we’re going to try.

This month’s net worth report will be a little strange. It will take into account the (massive) loss of equity in our net worth from the move. We paid for realtors’ fees, closing costs, repairs, the move itself, attorneys’ fees, hotel stays, eating out, and the other myriad costs to move. Was it worth it? 100%! We’re living our dream of location independence (very firmly in one location, but hey, that’s what we want). It is a little hard to write down in black and white, though. Continue reading “June Net Worth Update”