A Year of Good Food: Use Cash

We are already entering the third month of the year! Crazy stuff! That means it’s time for another update in A Year of Good Food.

A Year of Good Food: Use Cash--www.thethreeyearxperiment.com

This year, our family is challenging ourselves to spend less on food, so we can reach our goal of location independence by the end of 2019. Last year, I challenged myself to adopt one habit a month that would translate into better money moves for our family. You can read all about what I called A Year of Good Habits here.

This year, we are challenging ourselves to do better at our food spending. Our family spent an average of $966 US per month on groceries in 2017 for our family of four. That’s almost $12,000 in just groceries last year.

For 2018, we’ve adopted the modest goal of shaving 20% off that number, each and every month. That means we would spend no more than $772 in groceries in any month of the year.

The extra $200 per month is going into a travel savings fund, so we can see and benefit from our reduced spending in the food budget.

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.

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Use Cash”

How to Help Your Economy

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that household debt, including mortgages, car loans, and credit card debt, has risen all over the world. Shockingly, Switzerland leads the pack, with household debt at 127.5% of Gross Domestic Product (that means, for every $100,000 of GDP a household produces, they hold $127,500 in debt!).

How to Help Your Economy--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

The average citizen in Switzerland, which has traditionally been an extremely wealthy country, has substantial assets underpinning this debt, or at least four times more assets than the average American.

Even so, Switzerland, as well as nine other economies including Canada, Finland, and Australia, have debt levels that are high and rising quickly, at a pace that mirrors that of the US right before the housing bubble.  Continue reading “How to Help Your Economy”

The Financial Domino Effect

Have you ever made a change in your life–maybe a huge one, like getting out of debt, or maybe a small one, like deciding not to buy takeout coffee–that in turn, caused benefits that you never imagined?

The Financial Domino Effect--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Maybe getting out of debt made you realize that your house was too big, so you decided to move into something smaller. Maybe not buying takeout coffee helped you realize you could save in other small areas, and after a few months, you ended up with enough to go on a trip to Florida.

This is the financial domino effect, and it happened to me.

Like a chain of dominoes, where one tile makes the whole line fall down, one seemingly small change in your life creates scenarios that make it more likely you’ll create other small changes.

via GIPHY

One action that is, on the surface, completely unrelated to another action, causes the start of a wave of behaviors that can ultimately change your financial life. Continue reading “The Financial Domino Effect”

5 Proven Hacks to Overcome Anxiety

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.

5 Proven Hacks to Overcome Anxiety--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

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 little-to-no 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.

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.

Running trail---www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
If you can get out in nature and run, or take a walk, chances are the crazy calming effects of nature will soon take hold.

Continue reading “5 Proven Hacks to Overcome Anxiety”

A Year of Good Habits: End of Year Reflections

Happy New Year! As this post is being published, it is now 2018. I hope you’re having a great year so far!

Just under a year ago, I started writing this blog in earnest. I published a few posts in the fall of 2016, but had done absolutely nothing to promote them. In January of 2017, though, I started commenting under others’ posts and listing my website. Mrs. Frugalwoods, who lives close to me, graciously met with me, and she filled me with inspiration and practical ideas, as she is wont to do. I went home from that meeting with a lot of ideas percolating, one of which was to start blogging about the habits that could help me in achieving our family’s goal of doubling our net worth and becoming location independent in three years, which I dubbed “A Year of Good Habits.”

A Year of Good Habits End of Year Reflections: www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

The idea came in part from Charless Duhigg’s infinitely practical book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessDuhigg is great at telling stories, and one of the stories he told really stuck with me: there was a young woman named Lisa who was overweight and a smoker. She was in debt and had never held a job for longer than a year. Her husband had just announced he was going to divorce her, so she took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Cairo, because she hadn’t yet maxed out her credit cards and had always wanted to see Egypt. One morning on her trip, after feeling helpless about the life she faced back home, she got in a cab and rode by the Pyramids. She decided, as she saw The Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, that the only way to change her life was to set a goal to work toward. So she decided to come back to Egypt in a year and trek the desert.

In order to do that, she knew she would have to quit smoking. So she went back to the US, gave up cigarettes, and started jogging. Replacing that one bad habit with a good one led to a series of new habits that changed how she ate, slept, exercised, worked, and organized her day. She eventually started running half marathons, then marathons, then went back to school to get her masters, bought a house, and got engaged. Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: End of Year Reflections”

Notes from Chile: Entertainment and Food

Hello readers! The ThreeYears are currently in Santiago, Chile, for Christmas and New Year’s. It’s summer here, so the weather is hot. Our family of four has been busy visiting family, traveling to the driest desert in the world, and generally enjoying ourselves.

Notes from Chile Entertainment and Food---www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Santiago is a city of about 6 million people, roughly one third of the total population of the country, located in the very center of the long and narrow string bean that is Chile. It’s nestled in a valley between several mountain ranges–the Andes to the east (mountains known as the Precordillera–not quite as tall as the Cordillera of the Andes a few kilometers away) and the Chilean Coastal Range to the west. More mountains, a small range called the Cordón de Chacabuco, which is part of the Andes, are to the north, and to the south, there’s the Angustura de Paine, another thin mountain range that extends toward the coast. So there are giant mountains everywhere you turn. It’s one of the reason people hypothesize that Chileans are want to end so many words in “ito,” the Spanish ending that makes things little, because when you’re constantly staring at giant mountains everywhere you go, you feel smaller.

Santiago is organized into neighborhoods, or comunas. There are 37 official comunas in the city, and some (the best neighborhoods) extend into the foothills of the mountains that surround the city. Those neighborhoods can get to around 1,000 meters in elevation.

Santiago has a thriving economy that leads Latin America–its economy is the second most competitive in the region. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Santiago the second best city in which to live in Latin America, after Buenos Aires.

For this reason, immigrants have flocked to the country in the last two years. Continue reading “Notes from Chile: Entertainment and Food”

How to Set Great Goals for 2018

One thing is clear to me as we ride out the end of 2017: if you set great goals for 2018, it will make a huge difference in what you’re able to accomplish next year. The world we live in today is practically designed to distract us from keeping our eyes on our most important goals and work (for example, as I’m typing this, I’m trying to ignore the loud cartoon my kids are watching across the room). So focus is key. And great goals help you keep your focus, all year long.

How to Set Great Goals for 2018--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

But how do you figure out the best goals to set for the upcoming year? Maybe you have fifteen burning desires that you’d love to achieve, but you don’t know how to prioritize them. Or maybe life is motoring along just fine, and you know you’d probably like to improve something, but you’re not sure what.

I found myself asking those exact same questions several years ago, and here’s what I’ve figured out really works when it’s time to goal set for the upcoming year.

  1. Get crystal clear on your values

It’s hard to prioritize your goals if you haven’t defined your values. What are your values, though? Values are what you judge to be the most important things in your life–the things that deep down, you care about the most. Given that definition, it seems like it would be easy to figure out your values. But it’s not always.

Sometimes, you want to value something that you actually don’t care about that much. For example, when I was in my 20s, I lived in Santiago, and Mr. ThreeYear and I were figuring out where we should go next. I was offered the opportunity to become part of an MBA program where I’d complete half in Chile and half at a great school in Texas. But I declined, ostensibly because I wanted to get into a top-10 MBA school, like Wharton. In the end, though, we moved back to the US and I didn’t go to an MBA school at all. To the shock of almost everyone in my family, I became a stay-at-home mom for seven-and-a-half years. It turns out that what I thought were my values–getting an MBA and climbing the corporate ladder–weren’t really my values at all. I really valued family, which was the real reason I didn’t stay in Chile to start an MBA, because I missed my family back in the US and wanted to go home. And I really valued motherhood, and making sure my children had a secure start in life.

One of the best ways I’ve found to figure out your real values is the “What do I want?” exercise. It’s fairly simple. You take out a sheet of paper, and at the top, write, “What do I want?” Now, all you do is list the things you want. They can be as small and insignificant, or as large and pie-in-the-sky as you want. Anything that comes to mind goes on the list.

When you start this exercise, your first few wants will probably be fairly trivial and perhaps materialistic. Continue reading “How to Set Great Goals for 2018”

A Year of Good Habits: Laugh

After getting up today, for the second day in a row, at 5am (okay, it was 5:09; I pushed the Snooze button once), I’m reminded of why habits are so important in my life. When life gets busy, I can fall back on my habits to help me cope. And life has gotten really busy. We are racing toward the finish line with our to-do list to get ready for our trip to Chile. It feels like every second of my day is booked with something to do.

A Year of Good Habits: Laugh--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

So getting up at 5am, which I’ve been moderately successful at over the last month, has given me time and space that is unscheduled. I can write, think, make goals for next year, and all that nerdy financial stuff my family rolls their eyes at.

It’s amazing that this is the last month of my A Year of Good Habits year-long experiment within our larger three-year experiment. Focusing on a different habit each month has brought me awareness of how important these rituals are to my short- and long-term happiness. I’ve undertaken eleven habits so far, some for the whole year and some for just a time, but they have all helped me realize how my life has improved by changing my behavior.

I’ve also undertaken a few habits I haven’t written about in my Year of Good Habits, for one reason or another, mainly because I thought they wouldn’t apply to a wider population of readers. I stopped drinking alcohol at the end of June and started intermittent fasting at the beginning of August. I had been having some health problems, and changing what (and how much) I eat and drink has radically changed my health for the better–plus I’ve lost fourteen pounds! The health problems, including my stomach and lower back pain, have virtually disappeared. I’ll write about both topics in future posts, because they’ve contributed to our Three Year Experiment in major ways.

December’s Habit

Inspired by Amy at Life Zimplified, I’m going to make it a habit to Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: Laugh”

November Net Worth Update

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending (gulp!). This year has been a year of fixing our house (the roof) and paying off debt, plus saving as much as possible. As of October, we were roughly 24% of the way to doubling our net worth. 

At the ThreeYear house, we’re in the midst of colder temperatures (it’s currently 21 F/-6 C). Our Christmas decorations are up and we’re enjoying the few weeks of winter until we pack up and head to South America for a few weeks, where we’ll enjoy delicious summer weather.

November Net Worth Update--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

It’s hard to believe that the end of the first year of our experiment is coming to a close. It’s been amazing to document this journey on the blog.

November was a month of higher expenses. We had my family in town, so we did some home improvement projects related to that. And we stocked up on food. My mom very generously donated money to our food costs, which I put into our savings account. Yay for extra savings! We started buying Christmas gifts for our family in Chile. We had a second month of high medical bills. For next year, we’ve switched our insurance from the high deductible to the higher cost, everything-is-covered policy. 2017’s experiment with the high deductible healthcare didn’t work for our family. Between physical therapy, psychologist visits, braces, and managing our sons’ ADHD, we pay a lot in medical costs. It would have been cheaper to pay the higher bi-weekly premiums and have less to pay out-of-pocket. Mr. ThreeYear will also rest easier knowing that whatever medical issues life throws at us, they’ll pretty much be covered by our healthcare plan. When he developed tennis elbow and decided not to pursue any more physical therapy because of the cost, it was a pretty frustrating situation for him to be in.

Thanksgiving turkey--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our Thanksgiving turkey. My sister and I made a low-key, low fuss meal, and her turkey turned out beee-uu-ti-ful and delicious.

We know that December will also be a very high spending month, because of our Chile trip. We’ll also pay the remainder of our church tithe (which doesn’t show up in our monthly spending report, because we want to keep our giving on the downlow). We’ll pay off the Prius and the apartment in Chile, pay a little extra on our mortgage, and pay our house taxes.

We’re grateful that we only have one more month of monthly payments for our apartment in Chile and our Prius!!

Continue reading “November Net Worth Update”

October Net Worth Update

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending (gulp!). This year, we’ve got some major goals, including paying off our outstanding debt (car and apartment in Chile), replacing our roof, AND saving around $70,000. As of September, we were roughly 22% of the way to doubling our net worth.

October is gone! Stick season is here! Run for the hills! Oh wait, I live in the hills…

October Net Worth--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Soon, snow will be blanketing the ground. But for another month and a half, we’ll get to enjoy colder temperatures, overcast skies, and the bare brown silhouettes of hardwoods. Daylight Savings Time has come and gone and we wake up and come home to darkness. Luckily, the dark cocoon only lasts until December 21st. It also ushers in true colder temperatures and gets us ready for the coming winter.

What’s up with the ThreeYears? We’re looking forward to a few long weekends this month (Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving) and the arrival of the entire extended family clan (my side) at Thanksgiving. The junior ThreeYears are enjoying school (for the most part) and I’m continuing to work a lot, as is Mr. ThreeYear. Luckily, we both have jobs that allow for work/life balance, so we’re home early every evening (I’m home at 3:30pm each day). We both remind ourselves often how grateful we are for the privilege of time.

Two weekends ago, I went on another weekend trip (that’s a record because I hardly ever travel alone) to Rhode Island to run a half marathon. I’d never been to Rhode Island and it blew my expectations out of the water (coastal state, water–get it?). I stayed with a friend at her parents’ house, and they not only housed us, but took us out to an absolutely delicious lunch at their local yacht club (locals join only in the winter when they drop the prices) and fed us home-cooked meals the rest of the time. I was floored by both their generosity and how beautiful their home town was.

Rhode Island coast--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Rhode Island’s coastline was rugged and rocky. It is a beautiful state!

Our spending in October was relatively low, despite some medical bills. We find that when we’re well ensconced in the school year/work routine, our spending goes down. October’s been a relatively low-spend month for the three years I’ve kept detailed records.

We’re rounding the corner on the end of the year, and thanks to the continued rise of our investments, it looks like we could be above 30% for the end of the year. Anything could happen in the last two months of the year, but for now, it looks like the markets continue to help us inch toward our goal.

Continue reading “October Net Worth Update”