Paying Too Much? How to Unstick Your Money Habits

Earlier this year, my family switched to an HSA Health Insurance plan. Unfortunately, I found out after we switched that we’d no longer pay a low $10 or $20 copay for our prescription meds. Instead, we paid upwards of $100 for each of my two boys’ ADHD meds each month.

We suffered through these costs for a few months until one evening, Mr. ThreeYear saw an advertisement for the GoodRX app on TV. “You should look into it,” he prodded me, for maybe the tenth time. “Okay, fine, I’ll download it, but it’s not going to save us anything,” I said. I was convinced that there was no way there could be much of a price differential between our meds, because I’d looked online at our health insurance’s price comparer, and thought I’d found the cheapest pharmacy.

Well, it turns out that I was in for a delightful surprise. In a strange twist of fate that has only happened a couple of times in our marriage (ha), Mr. ThreeYear was right and I was wrong.

I downloaded GoodRx and found out that the local Publix Pharmacy carried our meds for less than HALF the cost. Instead of Little ThreeYear’s meds costing over $150, they now cost $58. I was floored! How could they be so much cheaper? I had our prescriptions transferred and went to the pharmacy, and not only were the medicines cheaper, the service was much better and the pharmacy techs were more knowledgable.

A few weeks later, when we needed antibiotics for strep throat, all four of our prescriptions were $0 at Publix! (That $0 is to be read as “no additional cost” since my father, who abhors the term “free,” occasionally reads this blog).

If Mr. ThreeYear hadn’t pressed me to look into the cheaper option, I would have kept paying more and going to a worse pharmacy, probably for years.

When we got Lucy the dog, I began calling around to find out vet prices. All of the vets I called cost about the same, and charged around $400-$600 to spay young puppies. I dutifully took Lucy to her first check up at the vet, and paid $150 or so. Then, a friend came into town and I mentioned the high cost of a spay to her, and she recommended looking for a Humane Society close by where she thought they’d offer services for cheaper.

Continue reading “Paying Too Much? How to Unstick Your Money Habits”

Effort, Achievement, and FI

This article, written over a year ago now, is timely. I’ve been looking for jobs for next year. Looking for jobs isn’t fun. It’s an exercise in humility, effort, and rejection required to be undertaken daily. One of the reasons I blog is to remind myself of lessons I’ve learned that I can easily forget as time goes on. I wish that I could learn a lesson once and internalize it forever. Alas, these life lessons are to be learned over and over again. 


As educators, wrote an article I recently read, we must teach our students the relationship between effort and achievement. That is to say, there is a direct correlation between the effort we expend on a particular endeavor and the likelihood that we’ll have success in said endeavor.

Effort, Achievement, and FI--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

This may sound like a basic concept, but, like so many basic concepts, once you take a minute to unpack it, it has profound implications.

The more effort I put into something, the more likely I am to have good results. 

Many times, I water that advice down in my head. I pretend there’s not a direct correlation between my level of effort and my achievements: “I’ll just run three times this week instead of four. I’ll skip the mid-range run.” Every time I skip a mid-range 6-mile run, my longer 10-12 mile run is super painful and I’m slower. Over an entire training period, that means I’ll run (even) slower on race day.

“I’m tired, so I’ll wake up at 6am instead of 5am. I can still write a blog post.” That’s when I publish 2 posts per week, not three. Over time, I notice my page views slipping and readership going down.

“I’ll just wing it in class, instead of preparing a lesson plan for the week. I can prep before class each day.” My classes are not as good, I’m scrambling for activities to fill the time, and over time, my students don’t make as much progress learning English.

The truth is, consistent, daily effort pays off. It pays off in life, and it pays off (literally) when you’re working towards financial independence.

Making More Money

In the past two and a half years, I have expended a great deal of effort towards my new career–ESOL Teacher. When I started teaching in September of 2015, I knew very little about teaching English. I worked very hard to network with other teachers, observe their lessons, ask questions, and take copious notes. I started a Master’s Degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and many nights and weekends were spent reading, on our online classroom, or in class, an hour and a half away. Continue reading “Effort, Achievement, and FI”

5 Proven Hacks to Combat Anxiety

This is the time of year when anxiety tends to dip down in our house, because it’s the end of the school year, summer’s approaching, and everything’s a bit more relaxed. That’s the best time, in my opinion, to brush up on some strategies for managing anxiety. When my family’s anxiety is well-managed, everything else, including money management, work, and school, is so much easier.

There’s nothing worse than that creeping dread–anxiety–that steals in and leeches all the joy and excitement from life. Mr. ThreeYear suffers from anxiety, and so do several more of my family members, including both my sons. So we have lots of practice in how to overcome anxiety.

Anxiety is genetic, and I’ve learned that the anxiety gene is powerful. It got passed down to both of my kids, even though I have relatively little anxiety myself. But once you’re aware of it, it becomes very clear who in your family suffers from it. It took me awhile to figure out why Mr. ThreeYear was always so wigged out when we took the boys for a walk around the block. “Careful!” he would yell to the boys as a car rolled by at 15 mph 500 yards from us. “They’re on the side of the road and we’re surrounding them,” I would say. “Even if that car managed to light on fire and fly through the air past us, it would still miss the kids.” Somehow those types of comments didn’t help. And my own feelings about taking a walk soon changed–it was no longer fun, it was torture.

One of the best articles I’ve ever read on how to overcome anxiety (or just live with it) is written by Scott Stossel in The Atlantic. It’s a long read, but is an excellent primer on what it feels like to live with debilitating anxiety. I have used this mega guide of his and adapted some of the methods or ticks to my family with varying success. Over the years, we’ve experimented with lots of different ways to overcome the anxiety and overarching fear, the low-level worry that eats away at your ability to focus and find joy in any activity. Some worked and some didn’t. Here  are our five proven hacks to combat anxiety in our family. They’re tried. They’re true. They work.

Exercise

Without a doubt, exercising is the number one way to overcome or at least ease anxiety. We have seen it over and over again at our house. Unfortunately, according to the American Psychological Association, psychologists have been slow to study the mental health benefits of exercise. There are scant studies showing the effects of regular exercise on anxiety disorders or OCD. However, one study done by Princeton University and reported by the New York Times sheds light on how our body adapts to stress, after long-term training, by creating new neurons that produce GABA, a neurotransmitter which inhibits brain activity. The study found that the active mice felt just as much anxiety initially as non-running mice, when exposed to stress, but were soon calmed by their new neurons, designed to quiet the brain. It turns out that when we’re able to turn down our monkey brains, we can turn down our screaming anxiety, too, creating a calmer, less tense mental space for ourselves.

But how in the world to get to the gym when your anxiety is sky high? It’s the last thing you want to do.

Continue reading “5 Proven Hacks to Combat Anxiety”

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”

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?”

How to Run Your Own Race

“Stay in your own lane.” I repeat this quote to myself often these days, as a reminder to keep my proverbial head down and focus on my own life, rather than rubbernecking somebody else’s. While a lot has changed in the two years since I first published this post, the veracity of living your own life remains the same. 

“To be beautiful means to be yourself.” 

― Thich Nhat Hanh

About three years ago, I was talking to a friend about training for a half marathon. “I would really love to finally run a sub-two (13.1 miles in under 2 hours),” I told him, “like [our other running friends.] But I’m just so slow!” “You have to run your own race,” he told me.

Those words have stuck with me, probably because I struggle mightily with comparisons. I know, intellectually, that comparing yourself to others is the root of poor self-esteem. We all start at different places in life, and that if we compare one part of our life with someone else’s, we should compare every part of our life.
I know this. And yet… Continue reading “How to Run Your Own Race”

Want to Get Better at Remembering Lists? Here’s a Simple Hack

Have you ever had trouble remembering a list of three or four things you needed to get at the store, or do at home?

The older I get, the worse my memory seems to get. I was having a really hard time keeping a short list of things in my head, until I remembered an old mnemonic device my dad taught me.

Years ago, my dad read a book about improving your memory. It may have been The Memory Book: The Classic Guide to Improving Your Memory at Work,  at School, and at Play. In it were several tricks of the trade this memory expert used to recall a list of up to ten items. But there was one mnemonic that stuck with Dad enough that he continues to use to this day.

He’s used it for years to remember short lists, and it’s always been vaguely annoying to me, because it’s so weird. But it works. Probably because it’s weird.

Continue reading “Want to Get Better at Remembering Lists? Here’s a Simple Hack”

The Consumption Diet

This season of my life, that is, the last six months, has brought a mountain of consumption. It started when our family moved from New Hampshire to North Carolina. We began spending gobs of money to move our belongings and settle into our home (just look at this spending report if you don’t believe me). 

How many posts, articles, and book chapters do you consume each day? Here's my plan to take a break from an endless stream of words. @lauriethreeyear #consumptiondiet #consumeless #producemore #socialmediabreak

We bought a new dog and subsequently bought the related accoutrement: water bowls, food, shots, kennel visits, Kong toys, cages,  leashes, chew sticks, and rawhide bones, amongst other necessary pet purchases. 

We bought a trip to Disney and had a fabulous time, but in addition to the many dollars we spent, we stuffed our faces with food and drink for a week.

Since we’ve begun to work at home, Mr. ThreeYear and I have increased our food consumption. We have the weight gain to show for it.

It’s Not *That* Type of Consumption

There’s a different type of consumption going on, as well. I have been mindlessly consuming every printed piece of garbage I can pour into my brain. Romance novels (a particular vice) and crime thrillers–I average about one trashy book every two days (I read fast). Instagram feeds. Twitter. Facebook, which I occasionally stalk. Personal finance posts. My phone is in hand for multiple hours a day, according to my tracker (I read on it through the Kindle app, too). 

I’ve taken steps to slow the trickle of information flooding into my brain, but at this juncture, I’m gorging on information like I’m gorging on Christmas cookies.

Continue reading “The Consumption Diet”

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.

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”

Is Focus 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.

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 More Important than Intelligence?”