3 Specific Steps You Can Take Right Now to Improve Your Life

Happy Monday! A new week for me feels like a fresh start, especially after two unexpected hurricane days for the boys that decimated my productivity at the end of last week.

to Improve Your Life www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

After (another) four-day weekend courtesy of Hurricane Michael (which brought a lot more rain and wind-related damage than its cousin Florence, with only a modicum of hype), this new week filled with five beautiful days of school for my kids feels like a gift.

Speaking of gifts, I’ve been relishing some quick wins lately. There are pockets of my house that are still, shall we say, disastrous, even four months into our move, and the small things I’ve been able to do to stay sane have been lifelines.

The Closet of Horrors www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
The closet of horrors, aka the guest room closet.

So, in the spirit of small wins, here are three things you can do right now to feel more in control, focused, and orderly, today.  Continue reading “3 Specific Steps You Can Take Right Now to Improve Your Life”

Your Three Year Experiment: Claudia from Two Cup House

Hi there! It’s Wednesday and time for another installment of Your Three Year Experiment, featuring people who are sharing their own three year experiments–their plans, goals, and dreams for the next three years. 

Your Three Year Experiment: Claudia from Two Cup House www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Today’s post is from Claudia from Two Cup House. Claudia is a personal finance blogger, SEO consultant, and trainer who moved into a tiny house with her husband Garrett in order to get closer to financial independence. 

Claudia and her husband paid off six figures in debt in just a few years by downsizing to a tiny house and starting their own business. Now, they’re pursuing FI, but not RE (that’s financial independence, but not retiring early). Read on to find out:

  • how they were able to pay off $200,000 in a short time
  • how they’ll balance building their business with travel
  • the one place in their budget they’re not frugal

If you’d like to be featured in the series, send me a note! My contact info is on the Start Here page.

What’s your background? Early years, education, married, kids, jobs?

We grew up in different parts of Pennsylvania and have spent most of our lives here.  Unsurprisingly, we’re Penn State grads.

My husband, Garrett, and I live in a 500 sq ft house in Lancaster County, PA.  We don’t have kids (and don’t plan to have kids).

Today, we’re self-employed.  We run our own marketing consulting and training business.  

Two Cup House at the beach www.thethreeeyearexperiment.com
Claudia and Garrett at the beach, enjoying the fruits of being location independent.

 

Continue reading “Your Three Year Experiment: Claudia from Two Cup House”

The Power of Waiting

There are few things in life I hate as much as waiting. I remember my grandmother reciting the lines to one of her favorite poems when I was little, as I jumped from one foot to the other, hurrying her along in my mind.

The Power of Waiting www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

“If a string is in a knot,
Patience will untie it.
Patience can do many things—
Did you ever try it?

If it was sold at any shop
I should like to buy it.
But you and I must find our own—
No other can supply it.”

My grandmother is a fairly patient woman. More importantly, she understands the power of patience. She is one half of the frugal dynamo comprising my maternal grandparents.

Leon

A little background, if you will. My mom’s parents were born at the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s and were Depression Babies. My grandfather Leon, especially, grew up in the middle of the tobacco fields and sharecroppers of central North Carolina. When he was a little boy, about Little ThreeYear’s age, his dad left, leaving my grandmother alone with two small children. My grandfather had to work in those same sharecropping fields, picking cotton and beans to make money so his mama and sister could eat. They’d trap rabbits for the occasional meat to add to their meals. They were so poor that food was a constant concern. Continue reading “The Power of Waiting”

The Art of Frugal Entertaining

One of the components of well-being, based on research by Martin Seligman and many others, is meaningful relationships. In a study done in the 1960s on the residents of the small community of Roseto, Pennsylvania, and reported on by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, researchers found that all of the residents in the community, who had immigrated from Roseto, Italy, had low incidences of heart disease and other illnesses and enjoyed long lives, despite the fact that they ate poorly, exercised little, and smoked heavily.

The Art of Frugal Entertaining www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Researchers were intrigued and spent several years figuring out the key to the unusual longevity and health the Roseto community enjoyed. Finally, it was determined that the key to the community’s good health was the tight-knit community, the feeling that there was always someone to whom residents could turn if they had a problem. Families and extended families were large and well-connected, and there was a deep sense of community in the town.

We are social creatures. Many of the things we do are for social reasons, whether or not we realize it. I am convinced that the terrible swath of gun violence in the US has come from increasing levels of isolation and loneliness in our society.

One of the reasons our family moved to North Carolina was to live closer to extended family and to cultivate a community of friends and neighbors with whom we had close relationships.

In order to cultivate those relationships, we’ve had to work at starting and nurturing those friendships.

Mr. ThreeYear and I picked the neighborhood we did precisely because it was bike able, kid-friendly, and “warm.” It’s lived up to our expectations. Just last week, Little ThreeYear was invited to ride his bike in the cup-de-sac with some classmates. Mr. ThreeYear and I have met all of our neighbors, and have started several friendships with neighbors with similar interests.

Despite our efforts, families with kids are busy with work, after-school activities, homework, and sports on the weekend. So finding time to hang out with our newfound friends will require some concerted effort on our parts.  Continue reading “The Art of Frugal Entertaining”

Is Focus is More Important than Intelligence?

Hi guys! We’re waiting for heavy rains and possible power outages with Hurricane Florence. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this post I wrote last year. Every word is as true (or truer!) today and I definitely need these reminders again, so I’m republishing. Have a good (and safe!) weekend!

I recently stumbled across this quote in an old journal, “Focus is more important than intelligence.” Is focus more important than intelligence? I certainly believe so, and I think the more I live and navigate smart phones and the beginning of the internet revolution, the more I realize that focus is essential to having a good life and making progress towards your goals. I’m sure I wrote it down because it resonated with me, and I felt it in my bones to be true. Also, focus is a struggle, each and every day, for me. I have two jobs, a husband who travels, kids to take to activities and appointments and help with homework, a Masters course, lesson plans, and this blog. It’s a lot of code switching.

Is Focus More Important Than Intelligence?

Why is focus so necessary nowadays and what can we do to get more?

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, argues that focus is intelligence. He states that “focus is the new I.Q. in the knowledge economy, and that individuals who cultivate their ability to concentrate without distraction will thrive,” in his bio. His theory is that workers who will be most sought after in our new economy will be those who can quickly master hard things and those who produce at an elite level. Both of these qualities require focus, he argues.

Newport is an author and professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, and he’s fairly young, young enough to have had social media around in college. But he’s always been very careful where he puts his attention, shunning social media from the start.

“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction,” he says. For Newport, standing in line at a supermarket is a chance to practice letting our minds wander, rather than checking our social media accounts. The more we wean ourselves from technology and constant distraction, he argues, the better we’ll eventually get at working at a deeper level. Like anything, he argues, it takes practice, and in today’s highly distractible world, it is not a common commodity to have.

No More Social Media?

If you don’t wean yourself from a dependence on your smart phone, or something else that distracts you constantly, then you won’t be able to perform at such elite levels of focus. But how? Continue reading “Is Focus is More Important than Intelligence?”

A Year of Good Food: Whole30

We are well into September as I type this post. We’ve just left the Charleston, SC, area, ahead of the mandatory evacuations for Hurricane Florence. We’re watching carefully to see what the impact will be for the Charlotte area, where we live.

A Year of Good Food: Whole30 www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

I definitely feel a bit like we’ve jumped straight from the frying pan into the fire, having left tough winter weather in New Hampshire for hurricane season in the Southeast. I’ve weathered the fringes of hurricanes several times but it’s been awhile so I’ll report back from the other side next week.

Let’s see how we did with our grocery buying experiment last month. But first…

The Reason for This Experiment

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, I focused on buying the vast majority of our food from Aldi. Results: solid.

August

After we went over budget in July, I was determined to stay in budget for August. The only challenge I had was at the end of the month when I started Whole30, and had to stock up on some pricey condiments (okay, chose to stock up). But we still staying in budget!

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Whole30”

The Financial Benefits of Going Slower

This weekend we’re at the beach for three days for my cousin’s wedding (taking the boys out of school for the first time as we practice our ability to be location independent–just for a day!).

The Financial Benefits of Going Slower

It’s amazing how nice it is to leave routine and embrace the ability to go hang out at the ocean for awhile. Lucy the Puppy is in heaven. We run her around on the leash-free part of the beach in the morning, and she sleeps for most of the afternoon. And the sun and sand has been good for all of us, giving us some time to unplug from our new school routines and enjoy nature.

This weekend has also given me a chance to reflect on how going slower  impacts our financial lives.

I raced through the first part of my life at break-neck speed, as if to cram everything possible into my day so I couldn’t possibly miss anything. I sucked hard from the orange of life and had the juice running down my chin to prove it.

As the years have passed and I have become an older human being, I’ve slowed down. I don’t, frankly, have as much energy. No one is more shocked and dismayed by this than I, because who knew that stuff ran out? But the truth is, slowing down is inevitable, and because I have more limited energy, I want to spend that energy on the things that matter, not the things that don’t.

Since we’ve moved to North Carolina, I’ve been making a concerted effort to do less:

  • less work
  • less activities for the kids
  • less “to-do” lists

The more I read about crafting the simple life, the more I realize that it requires marginchunks of time that are deliberately left unscheduled to make room for the sweet stuff of life. This slower pace really does make everyone in my family feel better. Continue reading “The Financial Benefits of Going Slower”

A Year of Good Food: Shop at Aldi

Time for the seventh installment of our family’s grocery challenge for the year, which I’m calling “A Year of Good Food.” (Spoiler: this is the first month we failed).

A Year of Good Food: Shop at Aldi www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

At the beginning of July, we moved from New Hampshire to North Carolina. We sold a house there and bought a house here, but along the way, we lived in hotels and stayed with my sister for about a week, then filled up a new fridge and pantry, then fed all four of us breakfast, lunch, and dinner all month. We blew an exorbitant sum of money on everything in July, including food.

The Back Story (Skip This if You’ve Already Read it Six Times)

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.

July

Ok, I’m going to get real with you this morning. This privileged WASPy white woman who currently doesn’t work (much) and who really only has to make sure that she keeps her two kids alive and make them clean the bathrooms for her has another first world problem. We got a puppy. And I have to watch it all the time. Because of course it lives inside and has the Prince(ss) of Bel Air life right now, complete with training treats and grooming gloves. She gets up at 5am which is normally my prime writing time, so this post may or may not make sense, because I have to check to make sure she’s not tee-teeing under the bed every 2 minutes.

labradoodle puppy www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Lucy, our new dog

We did not get the puppy in July, though, so I digress something mighty. Lack of sleep will do that to you.

We spent the majority of the month unpacking boxes and getting acclimated to our new house. Mr. ThreeYear started working from home, which is both weird and wonderful, as he’s… home all the time! He eats every meal at home, so during July, all four of us ate every meal at home, except for the week we spent at the beach, when we ate every meal at the beach.

moving boxes www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
It took awhile to unpack all these.

I didn’t even notice we were going over budget, probably because I was busy spending money in every other budgeting category. We were also getting used to the heat, and drinking beverages like crazy. We have a Soda Stream and love it, but the $2.50/12 pack of seltzers kept ending up in our cart.

I also think that mental fatigue played a part. We had been “on” for our move since about March, getting the house ready, selling it, packing up our stuff, buying a house in NC, and once we moved and got a reasonable amount of boxes unpack, we could finally relax and rest. Moving in was about ten times as hard as I predicted and expected, and I’m glad that pretty much on the other side now.

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Shop at Aldi”

How Our New Home is an Investment in Our Health

Last month, we moved from our home in New Hampshire, where we’d lived for six years (and a total of eight in the town), to Davidson, North Carolina.

How Our New Home is an Investment in Our Health www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Despite massive spending last month to get settled (thank you fifteen year mortgage for mountains of equity to help get through that), I expect our new home will be a financial boon. We’re closer to family, so we’ll spend less on travel to see them. We’ll be able to spend more on travel to places we’ve been itching to go as a family (Hawaii, Ireland, Australia) and we’ll have the time to do it. We took out another fifteen year mortgage with a low interest rate, which we plan to pay off early. It’s our only debt.

While I’m not working as an ESL Teacher next year, so we won’t have my income to save and invest, I expect to spend this year figuring out ways to lower our expenses–through an energy audit, shopping at Aldi, and new cell phone plans.

We’re definitely temporarily spending more with our move, as last month’s spending shows. But ultimately, through gas savings, food savings, property tax savings, and do-it-yourself savings (yard and house cleaning), I expect to see our overall spending decline and our overall savings increase in 2019 (because we’ve got a net worth goal to reach!).

Let me be clear: we didn’t move for financial reasons. We moved because it’s been our dream to achieve location independence, and be able to travel at will and be closer to our families. But we chose a smaller house, in a travel hub, where we can also continue to save and invest for our retirement and education goals.  Continue reading “How Our New Home is an Investment in Our Health”

July Net Worth Update

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I am happy. I know I’m in the honeymoon phase of our move, but I am so glad to live in North Carolina. We see my sister, brother-in-law, and niece, maybe three times a week. We spent the entire weekend with them last weekend. I know we’ll start school and get into routines and not see them as often, but my niece now thinks that when she comes to my house, she is supposed to eat marshmallows and watch Captain Underpants on my bed with her cousin.

July Net Worth Update www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

We drive through the streets of our little town and I just smile, because it’s so cute. And we picked it! We didn’t get carried by the circumstances of life to a place. We picked the place we wanted to be and moved there. It’s an incredibly freeing feeling. I am also really enjoying Mr. ThreeYear working from home. Yes, he starts early and works hard, but we get to see him more, because he finishes earlier (no commute!), eats lunch with us everyday, and pops out for coffee breaks. He’s there when service people come by the house, which is reassuring.

Financially, I am not happy, because moving has cost an arm and a leg, and we’ve spent another arm and a leg doing repairs on our new house. Carpet cleaning, painting, air conditioning repair, stocking the fridge, paying neighborhood dues, etc.

I’m trying to keep in mind that this month’s spending has been an anomaly, and because we’re not moving again for a very long time, we will not incur these expenses again for a very long time. Despite all the spending, we managed to increase our net worth. Let’s take a look.

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 our move and the market, I’m not sure it’s doable. But we’re going to try. Continue reading “July Net Worth Update”