Our Secret Weapon Towards Financial Independence

This post is as true today as it was when I first published it two years ago. And it was a great reminder to me that going back to the basics can help you, no matter how far along you are in your financial journey. Our “secret weapon” is something we need to continually practice in our over-the-top excessive neighborhood because we have so very much. Hope this post helps you as much as it helped me this morning!

On our journey to financial independence, most of us know by now that we need to spend less than we earn and invest the difference. There is no magic formula for building wealth, other than focus, restraint, and patience.

Or is there?

It’s been said that personal finance is 90% behavioral. For our family, that was definitely true. We understood the how of personal finance pretty quickly, and in fact, the more we simplified, the better results we had. Pay off debt, max out retirement accounts, invest in low-fee index funds. The why of personal finance was much more difficult. It’s been much harder to curb our desire to spend in the here and now for such a distant goal. Continue reading “Our Secret Weapon Towards Financial Independence”

Our Switch to an HSA: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Last October, I was excited to learn that Mr. ThreeYear’s employer was offering, for the first time ever, a high deductible health care plan, coupled with a Health Savings Account (HSA).

In the past, we’d only had the option of a Flexible Savings Account (FSA). Flexible Savings Accounts offer some tax advantages, such as allowing you to deduct up to $2700 of your paycheck, tax free, to use with qualified medical expenses. But you only have one calendar year to use the funds or you lose them. $500 of the funds carry over to the next calendar year, which you have to use by March 31st.

With an HSA, however, you can deduct up to $7000 of your paycheck, tax-free, and there’s no deadline for using the funds. You can invest the money in your HSA, and take it with you if you leave your employer. Your money will grow, tax free, for as long as it’s kept in your account, and you can access the money whenever you like to pay for qualified medical expenses. If you haven’t read the MadFientist’s excellent primer on HSAs, you should. It’s one of the reasons I was so excited to get an HSA option this year.

Last Year

Last year, we opted for the company’s normal health care insurance option. Each paycheck, $280.99 was taken out of Mr. ThreeYear’s paycheck for his cost of the health insurance, and $57.75 was taken out of each paycheck to fund the FSA.

When we went to the doctor, we paid a normal copay of $20-$40 and medications cost us $10 each.

Continue reading “Our Switch to an HSA: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

Your Three Year Experiment: Jennifer & Lewis

Happy Wednesday, readers! So glad to be back with another installment of the “Your Three Year Experiment” series, where we feature stories of people pursuing their unique dreams and goals over the next few years.

Today I’m delighted to introduce Jennifer, a new reader whose story is very similar to my own, except she’s a lot younger, doesn’t have kids, and has way more energy than I do, based on this interview! 🙂

You’re going to love her story! In it, you’ll learn:

  • the daily habit Jennifer and Lewis, her boyfriend, use to stay on track with their goals
  • their multi-national geoarbitrage plan
  • why paying attention to your tax rate is so important

Take it away, Jennifer!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi! My name is Jennifer and my boyfriend’s name is Lewis. We are in our mid-30’s and live in Cincinnati, OH. We’ve followed very different paths up to this point in our lives but one thing we have in common is our dissatisfaction with following the standard societal norms and the idea of working for the next 30-40 years. We have decided to chart our own path that is a unique mix of a “fully-funded lifestyle change” and eventual financial independence, with a big dash of geoarbitrage mixed in!

Our plan is to spend the next 3 years in Cincinnati saving up/investing as much money as possible so that we can then move abroad for the following decade or so. We would both continue working on-and-off in some capacity- I plan to apply for teaching positions in international universities, while Lewis completes his degree online and then launches his own translation company. Our goal is to move every 2-3 years. So far we are planning: Bogotá (Colombia), then somewhere in the Middle East (likely Dubai or Abu Dhabi) [Laurie’s note: then definitely check out my friend Andrew’s story], then either Paris or Granada (Spain) for Lewis to do his masters. From there, who knows?!?

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

I’ve spent most of my life living in Cincinnati minus a few years in Dallas. I grew up in a solidly middle-class family and was the first to attend/graduate college. My parents have always tried to instill the standard American ‘dream’ in me of getting a good job, staying there forever, and living my whole life here in Cincinnati. Sorry to disappoint them, but I’ve never fit into that mold!

Even my career path has been interesting in that I keep jumping back and forth between two fields. I went to a top design school for architecture/interior design but quickly realized that I didn’t enjoy working in the field, so I took extra classes each quarter (the maximum the university allowed!) in order to get a minor in Spanish. Good thing too, because I graduated in 2009 and couldn’t even find a design firm to VOLUNTEER at!

Continue reading “Your Three Year Experiment: Jennifer & Lewis”


I’ve been thinking about enough lately. In this country, enough has become a concept that’s almost unpatriotic. Saying you have enough implies you’re satisfied. It implies you’re not endlessly striving for more, better, faster, perfection.

I’ve spent the last week on Spring Break. I meant to blog, had packed the laptop, but left it at home. Rather than type into my phone I said, “it’s time for a break” and let myself have a vacation for a week.

Taking a week off of anything, even a hobby, is something it’s becoming harder and harder for us to do. Mr. ThreeYear took a week off of work for the first time in a long time, but still checked in to his email daily. “We’re expected to,” he explained.

Enough has been allusive this year, a year of transition for my family. The house needs so much, I’m not working, we have a new dog, we live in a new town. Mr. ThreeYear endlessly searches for just one more device (used, on FB Marketplace) that will make the house a home. I’ve been searching for the perfect curtains, bedspreads, toilet seats, patio furniture.

And yet, we live in a place where the excess bothers me, daily. I drive along perfectly manicured streets, watch as landscape crews dig up large, beautiful cherry blossom trees in the median and replant smaller, beautiful cherry blossom trees. I see people replace perfect, new late-model SUVs with perfect-er, newer late model SUVs. Our across-the-street neighbors now have more cars in their driveway than they do people in their home.

Continue reading “Enough”

The Six Streams of Income We’ll Rely on in Early Retirement

Now that our family has moved to North Carolina, our next big financial goal, ten years’ hence, is retirement. We’ve decided to wait until Little ThreeYear graduates before we retire (although we could always change our minds).  Since we’ll be retiring somewhat early, before the “official” age of 65, we’ll need to structure our retirement so that we have access to different pools of money, or streams of income, to tap into.

Though Mr. ThreeYear and I primarily invest in index funds (we have a “slow and simple-don’t get greedy” philosophy), we currently plan to have several streams of income available to us when we retire. Some will be passive, and others active. While this wasn’t necessarily a conscious plan on our part, life has worked out this way and we’ll take these streams of income we’ve developed along the way. Continue reading “The Six Streams of Income We’ll Rely on in Early Retirement”

How Many of the Six Factors of Wealth Do You Have?

Did you know there are six factors, or personality traits, that will make you more likely to build and retain wealth over time? Don’t worry; if you weren’t born with them, you can develop them.

Sarah Stanley Fallaw, daughter of Thomas Stanley, and whom I’ve written about here, has continued her father’s work of surveying millionaires in the book The Next Millionaire Next Door. The idea is to locate individuals or families who have assets of $1 million or above, and survey them about their habits, expenses, and values.

The results of the surveys she and her father have undertaken have led Fallaw to conclude that there are six key factors to assist millionaires in wealth building. Here they are, copied from Business Insider:

  • Frugality, or a commitment to saving, spending less, and sticking to a budget
  • Confidence in financial management, investing, and household leadership
  • Responsibility, which involves accepting your role in financial outcomes and believing that luck plays little role
  • Planning, or setting goals for your financial future
  • Focus on seeing tasks through to their completion without being distracted
  • Social indifference, or not succumbing to social pressure to buy the latest thing

Let’s break these factors down a little more to understand what it takes to build wealth.

Continue reading “How Many of the Six Factors of Wealth Do You Have?”

Finally, A Plan to Save for Your Kids’ College. But Is It a Good One?

One of the bedrocks of savings, if you have kids, is that pesky college tuition that looms large over the entire breadth of their first eighteen years.

It’s hard to get a handle on how much, exactly, you need to save, since college tuition costs seem to rise like Zimbabwe currency back in 2008.

When I went to college, my first year cost an exorbitant $19,000. I could only attend because I received a 75% academic scholarship (yep that was a humble brag thrown in there). That was in 1997. That same college now costs $46,012 just over twenty years later.

When the sixth graders at my former school did a class project detailing the costs of college, I was floored. $67,000 a year for Duke? $35,000 for State U in Timbuktu?

Needless to say, I have not been feeling super great about the amount we’re saving for the boys’ college, especially since I’ve been hearing from a lot of people how hard it is to get into UNC Chapel Hill, which is currently my choice for my kids, as it’s the cheapest state school in the entire US of A, at $24,266 for tuition and room and board for in-state students.

But how much should we be saving? Won’t they, too, get scholarships for some of the cost? (Jury’s still out on that one). We’ve been aiming to save a certain amount each month in their college funds and each year in our taxable accounts, but our move definitely disrupted that a bit.

Continue reading “Finally, A Plan to Save for Your Kids’ College. But Is It a Good One?”

March Net Worth Update

As we enter the fourth month of the year here in North Carolina, I’ve been thinking about the differences between our old Spring in New Hampshire and the Spring we’re experiencing now.

While it did snow yesterday (very strange for North Carolina in April), in general we’ve enjoyed warmer temperatures and sunshine. New Hampshire still has snow on the ground, so the flowers and Spring weather are a welcome change.

Spring has always been my favorite time of year here, and this year is no different. The new blooms and warmth make me smile. And things are in full bloom right now. Our cherry trees have exploded in tiny white blossoms that look like snow as they fall off the trees. We’re sneezing like crazy with all the pollen in the air, and everywhere you turn, creeping phlox, tulips, daffodils, and other early Spring emergents are bursting out of the ground in an explosion of color.

Our Progress

March was a pretty boring month, net worth wise. Nothing much changed and we saved a normal amount towards retirement, our HSA, home equity, and the like. Our total net worth increased just over 1%.

Continue reading “March Net Worth Update”

A Year of Good Money: A Digital Fast

What does a digital fast have to do with getting better at money? I think it might be quite a lot, actually.

This year, my family is focusing on making better spending decisions. To that end, we’re (I’m) engaging in twelve eleven (I forgot in March) money experiments designed to help us reexamine our spending patterns and hopefully, get better at them. I’m calling this A Year of Good Money.

In February, I took on a no-spending challenge, my Frugal February challenge, and we spent less than we had in a year. The crazy part was, I was the only one in my family engaged in the challenge. I set rules for myself, which were that I would spend nothing outside of groceries, gas, and bills, but I wouldn’t involve my family members in the challenge, since Mr. ThreeYear was traveling a lot and I didn’t want to make things harder on him, and I didn’t want to stop the boys from their activities.

I think the experiment showed me how programmed I am to spend money. Sadly, in March, I went back to my old ways, and spent more than ever, as some commenters predicted. To be completely effective, it’s clear that I’ll need to engage in a no-spend period that’s longer than a month, because I did delay spending for a month, rather than stop spending in a certain category at all. Here are all of my thoughts on what I learned during the month.

Continue reading “A Year of Good Money: A Digital Fast”