Financial Hot Buttons

The other day, Mr. ThreeYear and I were driving the boys to meet my sister and her family at our local bowling alley. It was during the hurricane rains, and we were trying to get everyone out of the house for a bit. Junior ThreeYear innocently mentioned that he was hungry, and Mr. ThreeYear said, “Don’t worry; they have snacks there.” I quickly replied, “I packed snacks for us to eat” and told Mr. ThreeYear, “I’ve budgeted $50 for this outing. I don’t want to go over.” (Bowling at this alley costs like $35 without a coupon and then there were the arcade games!).

Financial Hot Buttons www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Mr. ThreeYear got very angry and told me that if he wanted to buy snacks at the bowling alley, he would. That I couldn’t nit-pick small purchases like that, and I needed to stop talking about how much we were spending immediately.

Uh-oh. I had inadvertently pushed one of Mr. ThreeYear’s financial hot buttons.

What are hot buttons? Well, seems to me that hot buttons are anything that you say or do that causes someone else to immediately get red hot angry. A hot button reaction is usually not commensurate in strength with the statement or action that precedes it. In other words, someone can say or do something relatively benign, but because those things cause emotional triggers, you’re going to have a big reaction.

We all have hot button issues, and we all respond to them in different ways.

First, Mr. ThreeYear’s hot button.

When he was growing up, Mr. ThreeYear’s family was very poor. He grew up in Pinochet-era Chile, when there was a dictator and curfews each night. The economy was stable but not booming. Chile was solidly in the category of third world countries.

His dad had a job at a bank and then left to work with a colleague. That didn’t pan out, and he had no job, so he opened a small convenience store at the front of their house. My mother-in-law worked as a teacher at the time, but they didn’t have enough money to adequately fund even the basic necessities, like a higher-than-normal electric bill. My mother-in-law washed her dishes in cold water out of necessity, because washing in hot water cost too much. Continue reading “Financial Hot Buttons”

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”

On the Other Side of a Goal

Just after July 10, 2016 (i.e. my 37-th birthday), Mr. ThreeYear and I set a goal. Well, I set a goal and he went along with another crazy-will-this-actually-work idea of mine. A goal to double our net worth and become location independent in three years.

On the Other Side of a Goal www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

The seed was planted that summer, in a graduate class I was taking, when my professor mentioned an option for ESL teachers with Masters degrees to teach overseas as part of a program with the State Department.

It was planted fifteen years earlier, when I’d met a flight attendant in my ESL training program in Quebec who divided her time between Ecuador and Montreal.

It was planted three years before that, when I’d met a guy in college who grew up the first half of his life in South America and the second in Asia.

The seed was planted when I read about Tsh Oxenreider, founder of the Art of Simple website, who traveled around the world with her family and chronicled their journey in her book.

It was planted when I started to meet more and more people who worked from home, or worked remotely. Continue reading “On the Other Side of a Goal”

August Net Worth Update

Happy Labor Day! In the US, this is the day that normally signals the true end of summer. School started for our family last week, and my parents are here celebrating the long weekend.

August Net Worth Update www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

The month of August has been awesome. Weather-wise, it’s the worst month of the year in North Carolina, but I keep telling myself that if I can run in this heat and humidity, I’m set because it’ll just get cooler from here on out. We’ve enjoyed the pool, had Junior ThreeYear go to his first-ever overnight camp in New Hampshire, had two sets of visitors (our friends from NH who now live in TX and my parents), and started school. Mr. ThreeYear and I have been walking the boys to the bus stop each morning, along with Lucy, and it’s been so fun to make friends with our neighbors and see our kids off to school each day.

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 “August Net Worth Update”

Where the Heck Did Our Leisure Time Go?

One of the benefits that appealed most to me as our family started on our journey to financial and location independence was the idea of leisure time, of having time to rest, enjoy our friends, see new things, and linger over meals.

Where the Heck Did Our Leisure Time Go?

Life is so hectic. It’s “go, go, go” all the time in our society. It’s “what’s your side hustle?” “What day of the week is your child free from activities?” (if there is one).

One of the appeals of technology several decades ago was the idea that it would free us up to have more leisure time. To sit and linger over a meal with family. To plan coffee dates with friends. To sit in a park as a family and do nothing and feel no guilt about that. John Maynard Keynes, an economist writing in the 1930s, imagined a future where the work week would last fifteen hours, and our biggest problem would be what to do with all our free time. I’ll give you a second for a chuckle.

Now, Americans have less leisure time than ever. In an article from 2016, The Atlantic notes that “elite men in the U.S. are the world’s chief workaholics.” The upper class in this country stays at the office longer, takes less vacation, and just works more than the middle and lower class.

But why?  Continue reading “Where the Heck Did Our Leisure Time Go?”

7 Things I Learned This Summer

This week is back-to-school week for the boys. Last year on back-to-school day, I wrote about the ten things I learned last summer. I reread it recently, to remember the important lessons I learned last summer. In honor of that post, and as a memorial for myself for next summer, here are some of the things I learned this summer.

7 Things I Learned This Summer

1. Moving is hard.

I had forgotten, or perhaps blocked, how hard it is to move houses. For several months I could barely keep a thought in my head. I ran around from place to place, trying to get everything done in order to move. Then, when our furniture and boxes arrived here, unpacking was the pits. Chaos reigned supreme for weeks. Apparently, a lack of order in your home causes spikes in the stress hormone cortisol for women (not men, for some reason). Let me assure you that is true with me. And pro tip, don’t take an eight-week intensive online master’s class in the same two months you’re moving. Bad idea.

2. It is possible to change your life.

There was a small part of me who thought that we would never be able to make our dreams of location independence come true. I know, I know, we’re not traveling around the world. We moved to one spot. But we moved to the spot we picked, close to the people we love, and we are now both work from home, which is a sugar-sweet set up that Mr. ThreeYear and I are loving. We looked into the future, which is inherently unpredictable, and did everything we could to change our setups, and it worked.

3. The best things in life are (still) family.

When I think that I live so close to my family I get a thrill of joy that shoots up and down my body. I still can’t believe it’s true. Can’t believe my boys will grow up right down the road from their cousins, just a few hours from their grandparents, just a few hours from a huge extended family. Continue reading “7 Things I Learned This Summer”

We Got a 15-Year Mortgage. Here’s Why You Should, Too.

I am a big fan of fifteen-year mortgages. When we bought our first property in Chile, we actually took out a fifteen-year mortgage, and then paid it off a year-and-a-half early last December. But for some reason (money), we did not take out a fifteen-year mortgage with our first house in Atlanta. We did the slick 5% down, 30-year on that house, and lost our shirts with that deal when it was time to sell (well, technically, just our down payment, 4 years’ equity, and $20,000).

We Got a 15-Year Mortgage. Here's Why You Should, Too. www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Why is a fifteen-year mortgage so great? We can argue all day about paying down debt versus investing (which I’ve done here) and the math behind it. But the truth is, a fifteen-year mortgage only increases your monthly mortgage payment by a little bit and helps you build up equity so much faster than a thirty-year mortgage. Yes, you can take out a thirty-year mortgage and pay it off early. But the beauty of a fifteen-year mortgage is that in fifteen years, it’s paid off, guaranteed. My girl Chief Mom Officer wrote a great post about the same topic with her actual mortgage numbers that I encourage you to read.  Continue reading “We Got a 15-Year Mortgage. Here’s Why You Should, Too.”