We have officially completed the first quarter of the year! We’re calling this year, which is Year One of our family’s plan to reach location independence, the Year of Good Habits. Each month, I focus on improving or developing one new habit. Sometimes the habits are directly related to personal finance and sometimes they’re related to general self-improvement. At the end of each month, I have been continuing the last month’s habit (or trying to) and adding a new habit in. (But, just for totally transparency, I would not recommend starting so many new habits in one year for the average person. This is more an experiment for the blog. In real life, I try to add in one or two new habits a year).
In his book Happier, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar talks about creating rituals. He takes an idea from The Power of Full Engagement and recommends that “instead of focusing on self-discipline as a key to change,” we should instead develop rituals. Developing rituals involves “defining very precise behaviors and performing them at very specific times, motivated by deeply held values.” For example, brushing your teeth is a ritual and doesn’t take any special self-discipline to complete. Hygiene is a deeply held value for many of us, so brushing our teeth is something we do each day. Making an activity part of your daily life and making it value based, rather than discipline based, is an excellent way to create a lifelong habit. Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: Quarter Three Update”
After an unusually warm spell, we’re finally getting the insanely gorgeous leaves New England is known for. As I drive to and from work, I’m privy to the most amazing shows of reds on the trees.
We’re well into the school year. The Junior ThreeYears are adapting to their new classes and homework. I keep adding more students that I need to work with to my schedule, so I’m less and less part-time. I’ve literally used up all my hours in the school day and will now be eating lunch while working with a student. At least I’m paid hourly!
One of the highlights of the month was my first solo girls’ trip in something like ten years. I met my best college friend at my sister’s house in Charlotte and we spent the weekend perusing a local farmers’ market, checking out local dining and brunch options, and catching up. I had such a great time that I vowed to take more of these trips. The best part was, Mr. ThreeYear and the boys had a wonderful time together at home. They went to the movies, went out to lunch at their favorite Mexican restaurant, and had a great time bonding while I was away.
We spent gobs of money in September. Our biggest purchase was our tickets to Chile. Our plan was to buy them with airline miles, but in the end, we decided against that. Mr. ThreeYear wanted to go during Christmas and New Year’s, so it would have taken an insane number of miles for each ticket (something like 120,000 each). We didn’t have enough for four tickets and we thought it made sense to save them. Our second biggest purchase was my master’s course. I have three more to go after this. And I had to pay quarterly taxes as well, although those numbers don’t show up in our spending report. Since I’m working so much this year, I’m setting aside 20% of my paychecks for taxes. I may start setting aside 25%, just to be safe. It’s hard to know exactly what I’ll owe since the amount of money I make varies so much, so it’s better to play it safe.
The stock market is still bullish, and we’ve seen our net worth rise again, despite our massive spend this month. It is nice to be earning a paycheck again, so we can reach our end-of-the-year-goals faster. I’m also so ready to be done paying off our apartment in Chile and our car that I’m wishing December was already here. Wait, didn’t I just write a post about staying in the present?
Goals are great, right? They help us focus, give us purpose, and give us something to work for. But, there can be a dark underbelly of too much goal setting.
When you set a goal in your life, especially a goal for financial independence, it’s easy to let it take over your life. Sometimes, we get so caught up in what’s next that we forget about what’s now. We’re so focused on our future happiness (because why else are we setting the goal, after all?) that we forget about our present happiness. So what’s the magic balance?
I read a book this weekend that brought the idea of getting too caught up in the future into clear focus.
The author, Tal Ben-Shahar, who wrote the book Happier, has come up with a quadrant of four archetypes for how people approach happiness.
Some people enjoy the present, to their future detriment. They live for the moment, indulging in rich food and drink that will later cause weight gain and fatigue. They engage in behaviors that bring them pleasure now, like watching TV, with little regard to future costs, like not having their work done. These people he calls Hedonists.
The second archetype subordinates the present for the future. She goes through life thinking, “I’ll work hard and get good grades now, so I can go to a good college.” Then in college, she does the same thing, in order to get a good job. She secures a job she doesn’t like, just to make a lot of money and buy fancy cars and houses. She subjugates her present happiness, year after year, for some mythical future happiness that never arrives. This type of person he calls a Rat Racer. Continue reading “Goal Setting, Rat Racers, and Happiness: What’s the Magic Balance?”
Hello! Welcome to “Location Independent, International Jobs,” the Wednesday series where I showcase stories from people who have become location independent, work internationally, and/or continuously travel. I’ve interviewed all kinds of people who all have slightly different takes on location independence or living internationally. Recent posts include Joney Talks, Ruby from a Journey We Love, Pete of Do You Even Blog?, and Heather.
Guest posters will be sharing how they became location independent or how they got jobs abroad, but most importantly, they’ll share how their lifestyle has positively or negatively affected their finances and how they got to the life they’re living now.
The reason for this series is to showcase people who have already achieved what the ThreeYear family is working towards: location independence and/or securing international jobs. Today I’d like to introduce Jalpan, a mechanical engineer by day and personal finance/investing blogger by night.
He blogs at Passive Income Engineering. Jalpan’s post tells us how he moved abroad, first for college, then for a one-year international assignment in Houston, Texas.
Let’s here the engineer’s perspective on international jobs! Take it away, Jalpan!
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I was born in India and moved to Jakarta, Indonesia with my parents when I was 6. I later moved to Singapore for college when I turned 17. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. I’m 27 today and am single. I need to step up when it comes to putting myself out there and going on dates.
Currently, I am a mechanical engineer by day and personal finance/investing blogger by night:)
My blog is Passive Income Engineering and its main focus is on building scalable and sustainable streams of income that can run with little or no time on your part. I am an engineer and write with an engineer’s perspective. I want to know how things work and make them work for me. That’s how I came up with the name.
How did you make the decision to move internationally?
My first move from India to Indonesia was entirely due to my parents.
For college, Singapore seemed to be the best option for me since their universities are recognized internationally and place well in international rankings.
I have always been interested in entrepreneurship and when I found out that my university had a work+study program specifically geared towards entrepreneurship, I was dying to go. It involved interning in a tech start-up and taking lessons in entrepreneurship at a partner university in Stockholm, Sweden.
Lastly, my one year in Houston was a training assignment from my current employer. It was crucial to my professional development and since I was single and loved to travel and experience new cultures, it was a total no-brainer for me.
Recently, I was listening to an interview by The Mad Fientist of financial planner Michael Kitces, who is the person responsible for a lot of the research done on the 4% withdrawal rule. Kitces has worked with many clients working towards financial independence and/or early retirement.
At the end of the interview, the Mad Fientist asked him for one piece of advice for speeding up one’s journey to FI, and Kitces replied, “avoid lifestyle creep.”
Lifestyle creep, or lifestyle inflation, is the tendency we have to inflate our standard of living as our incomes increase. When we first graduate college and get a “real job,” we’re content to live in an apartment with a roommate, use Goodwill furniture, and drive a beater car. But as we bring in more money, we tend to upgrade our houses, furniture, and cars, and once we trade up for a nicer model, it’s really difficult to downgrade again. Continue reading “The Best Way to Avoid Lifestyle Creep”
I’ve written about our debt payoff before, but today I typed up all the gory particulars for a guest post on High Five Dad.
High Five Dad is a blogger who shares lots of debt payoff stories from people of all walks of life, to show you how different people achieve a similar goal.
Debt is pernicious, but when I first married Mr. ThreeYear, I thought it was normal. We thought we were on the right financial track because we were saving for retirement and investing, even though we had a $10,000 credit card balance and car loans.
Mr. ThreeYear and I started out our lives together debt free, thanks to our generous parents and our savings skills while we lived in Chile (Mr. ThreeYear even bought his first two cars outright with cash). Unfortunately, once we moved to the spendy, show-offy land of Atlanta, we changed our ways for the worse and racked up a lot of debt.
Find out what made us decide to get rid of our debt for good and how we paid if off in 18 months over at High Five Dad. Thanks so much for including our story, High Five Dad!!
If you can leave a comment here or there, letting us know what you think or how your payoff story compares, I would really appreciate it!
And stay tuned for another regularly-scheduled blog post on Friday!
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.
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.
It’s a busy time in the ThreeYear household. School (which is work, for me) has started. We’re on tight schedules, up early, and racing to get ready for our days in the mornings.
In the afternoons, we have swimming, soccer, and homework. My older son has lots of homework this year and a large part of my afternoons are spent managing that (i.e., making sure he’s actually doing it).
Weekends feel impossibly brief, especially since I’m taking a class on Saturday mornings and am gone from 8am-1pm.
It is a transition time, a time when our lives have changed radically from one season to the next. We have to give ourselves time to figure out these new rhythms in our days. I have to remind myself to prioritize sleep over almost everything (I’m so tired that I’m usually ready for sleep by about 8:30, but then again I do get up at 5am).
So what is a habit that can possibly support me this month? Picking going to bed early wouldn’t be super helpful, because I go to bed as soon as I can every night. Luckily, I’ve already developed the habit of keeping my phone and Ipad in another room, so I’m not tempted to scroll through them right before bed. That’s helped me tremendously, because I’m almost never tempted to stay up late (unless I’m reading a really good library book). Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: Practicing Gratitude”
Sometimes it takes the perspective of time before we’re able to see situations for what they really are.
Recently, I had some insight into my job negotiations last year and I realized why women can have such a hard time negotiating for pay.
Last year, I started a new part-time gig as an ESOL Teacher for a school district in the next town over (an ESOL Teacher is a Teacher for Speakers of Other Languages, also known as an ESL Teacher). I applied for the job because my hours at my first district are quite low, and this district was very close to my house. I suspected the district was fairly desperate for a teacher.
The interview went great, and the superintendent who was interviewing me essentially offered me the job halfway through the interview. Despite this, when it was time to talk dollars, though, I wrestled with myself a bit before telling her my hourly rate.
There were a couple of reasons for this.
One is, I’m new to being paid hourly. As a contractor, my hourly rate is higher than my salaried wage. This is because I’m not fully compensated for all my prep time for my classes. I’m not paid for miles, insurance, retirement, or any other benefits. If a child doesn’t show up for class, I’m not paid. The school district doesn’t have to pay half of my Social Security wages, which is a full 6.2% of my earnings they would pay if I were a W-2 employee. When I started working as an ESOL Teacher, the hourly rate felt high to me and I had no experience in the field, so no one to ask.
But over time, I’ve realized that my hourly rate isn’t as high as I thought. At the end of the year last year (2016), my first full year as a contracted worker, I realized that I made substantially LESS per year than I did as a salaried worker. Part of the reason is because I worked less hours and didn’t work summers, but part of the reason is probably because I’m probably under-compensated for my time. It took me a while to realize this.
Since I’m paid and compensated hourly, it was difficult for me to know exactly how much I’d make as a contractor until the year was up. I often don’t know exactly when I’ll work because of testing, field trips, and holidays. I can estimate, but it’s just that–an estimate.
However, when I was negotiating with this school district, I was still wrestling with the “large amount” of money I made per hour. So when the superintendent looked at me and asked my rate, I had an internal struggle. I don’t know if she could see it on my face. I finally told her my rate, but rounded down to the dollar below.
Something interesting happened after that. She started in on a bit of a verbal tear. “That’s a LOT of money,” she told me. “I don’t know if we can pay you that. I don’t know if my current ESOL Teacher makes that much money. I can’t pay you more than her. I don’t know if we have the budget for that. I just don’t know if that will work.” Continue reading “On Negotiating as a Woman”
We are now in September. School has started, my work has started, and we have weathered the transition pretty well, for being a week and a half in. I’ve focused on making our morning routine for school better, and so far it’s been great. Both our boys have focus medication they take, so I’ve started giving it to them right as they wake up. Then, it has time to kick in and they can actually get their clothes on, come down to eat breakfast, and get their teeth brushed without a zillion reminders, getting distracted with Legos, or staring off into space for half an hour. Better yet, I’m not yelling at them all morning.
That may sound like crazy talk to people who don’t have kids with attention problems, but it’s our reality. I was talking to a teacher this morning, and she (who also has ADHD) said she noticed the kids in her class whose parents yelled in the morning. “Anytime I raise my voice in the slightest,” she said, “they’ll reflectively wince, like they’re hyper-attuned to yelling.” I gulped. I’ve seen my kids do that in the past. Hurts my heart that I was yelling that much. But I’m so grateful that we’ve changed things up, and they’re taking their medicine earlier. They’re able to get dressed, get their breakfast, brush their teeth, and pack their bags, with minimal reminders. And they’re so proud of themselves. With zero yells and lots of “great job this morning!” It feels so awesome. So my fingers are crossed that our mornings keep going so well.
Summer flew by. August was a relaxed month. Each kid had one week of camp, and we spent our days outside, enjoying the summer, inside, putzing around the house, and visiting friends and family. I never wanted the summer to end, but it did, and everyone has reluctantly returned to a steady routine.
Each time summer ends, I’m reminded why location independence is so appealing. While we love routines, and I think we’d enjoy a routine in a new place, having the freedom to explore, visit with family, and plan our days in the moment is a beautiful way to live. Routine weighs us down. Summer lightens us up, gives us travel wings.
Speaking of wings, we booked our flights to Santiago this weekend. So we’re officially booked for South America during Christmas and New Year’s. We’re debating whether to AirBnB our house while we’re gone, as a way to earn some extra spending money for the trip.
August brought us a small up-tick in our net worth. Our Personal Capital Net Worth is actually showing higher than our own Excel spreadsheet, since Zillow has decided to increase the value of our house significantly in the last few weeks. I don’t know if it’s the new roof we put on or an increase in the local market (I suspect it’s the latter) but they’ve upped the Zestimate of our house by about 5%. I’m ignoring it, though, as I only update our house and car estimates at the beginning of each year.