Muddling Through

I have not had many days, since the quarantine started, that I’ve gotten in the bed and felt a warm since of accomplishment melt over me for a productive day.

We’ve managed to do quite a lot each day: Mr. ThreeYear and I work our full-time jobs. I homeschool Little ThreeYear (Junior ThreeYear is self-sufficient at schoolwork for the most part). I feed the family three meals per day. We clean up and put away the dishes (this part feels like it takes hours of our day, every day). We tidy the house. We exercise many of those days. We buy groceries.

Still, the house is never really clean. It’s always fairly straightened for the most part with one or two really messy spots. Laundry is in some state of neglect, constantly.

I do my job each day, but I’m not following my curriculum very well. I can’t. I’m trying to get 17 eighth graders to keep their videos on and answer my questions en espaƱol on our Google Meet Up. They have tuned out after fifteen minutes. I can see it in their faces (the seventh and sixth graders are much more into Spanish these days. The seniors–let’s not even go there).

We haven’t managed to spend very much less than normal, mainly because we have been buying new furniture for our house, since we’ve been in it for eight weeks and realized that we need some new pieces. I have gotten us a full month ahead in our budget, which is sweet, but it’s been a slow, long haul to try and build up our sinking funds to the level needed. I still feel like I’m constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul, like we can never save as much as I’d like us to.

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The Circular Economy

A few days ago, Mr. ThreeYear and I were walking out of the grocery store with our masks on, avoiding other shoppers who were walking in, and I was struck: “This is so weird. I cannot believe the world changed this much in just a couple of weeks.”

Life itself is constantly giving us reminders that our earth is ever-changing, ever-evolving. We are reminded of that by the rise and fall of the sun each day, by the changing seasons. By children who grow so quickly that pants you bought them in October no longer fit them in February.

Yet I, at least, find myself trying to keep things the same.

Most of the quarantine has been an exercise in the small ways I try to exercise control over an uncontrollable situation. I’ve set up a schedule for the family, made sure everyone has tasks and jobs, made sure we all have a space to work in and stay in that space. Of course, my life now is one giant interruption, with Little ThreeYear popping his head in my “office” (the guest room) every three minutes when he has a question about school.

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Make It Do

Earlier this school year, my cell phone was stolen.

I’ve never really been sure what happened, and the police have never figured it out, but here’s what I do know.

When I left my garage for school, I had my cell phone in the car with me. Sometime between the time I arrived at school and 10:30, when I realized I didn’t have my phone, my phone was stolen. We (meaning the police, the school administration, and I) believe I left my car unlocked and someone came into the parking lot and stole my phone. I looked up the phone on Find My Phone when I got home that night, and it took a joy ride down to the airport before going dark, forever.

Obviously, I was bummed. Not only did I lose my Iphone 7, which I’d bought the previous summer, and all the pictures in it, but I also had to get a new phone. I did not want to spend another $350 (which is what I’d spent to get the refurbished Iphone 7).

But I needed a phone. Even during my experimentation with Digital Minimalism, it was obvious that I needed a phone.

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How We Got A Month Ahead in Our Budget… Again

In July of 2018, just after my family moved to North Carolina, we finally made it a priority to get a month ahead in our budget.

We took money we saved from not having a mortgage payment on the first month we bought our new house, together with some savings, and used that to create a bare-bones budget for the month of August. We lived on that money during the month of August and saved Mr. ThreeYear’s two paychecks to use for the next month, September.

We’ve kept this system up ever since, so that the money we budget is the money we earned from the previous month.

This has been a phenomenal system for a couple of reasons. One, we have a cushion in our bank account so we never have to worry about the timing of our credit card payment or other bills being taken out. Two, we know exactly how much we have to spend each month, before the month starts, so there’s no guessing with budgeting.

So why am I saying that we got a month ahead in our budgeting again?

I started a full time job last August, and began to get two paychecks per month. I am currently maxing out my 403b, and I’m a teacher, so to say that the paychecks aren’t huge would be an understatement. Still, they’re nice additions to our bottom line.

When I started to get regular paychecks, I decided not to add them to our budget, because I wanted to save them, or spend them on non-budget stuff.

Did I think that by not budgeting the money in our traditional money things we would somehow be more efficient or productive with the money? Apparently I did.

The months passed, and those paychecks got eaten up in some way or another, very rarely being spent on purpose like I had envisioned.

When we refinanced our mortgage to a 10-year, and our monthly payment went up by $450 per month, I realized that something needed to change.

I needed to add my paychecks to our budget, because we needed them to pay the bills. As much as I didn’t want that to be true, it was. We were going over budget every single month and if we wanted to make headway on savings goals, we were going to have to have a clear-eyed vision of exactly where our money was going.

At the same time, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t very good at budgeting.

Guys, I have been budgeting since 2008. That’s twelve years. That’s a long time to be bad at something.

But you know that saying, if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting?

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Musings on Covid-19

Oh, good. My site’s still here. As I logged on, I wondered for a second, since it’s been so long since I posted.

My family spent last week at the beach for Spring Break. I realize how incredibly fortunate we are to have that house to visit, to have a different view for a couple of days, and to be able to visit the beach. Still, we had planned to be in Spain, and I had a few moments of mourning that trip.

Your feelings are your feelings, as selfish or ungrateful as they feel, no? I read an article (I’ve read many over the past several weeks) explaining the unsettledness we feel as grief. Grief for a future that seemed more certain, grief for what we’d planned and didn’t come to pass.

Many years ago I read an explanation of Black Swans as events that would change the course of history but that come out of left field, completely changing the course of history in ways that are inherently unpredictable because of their randomness.

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How Humility About Personal Finance Can Be a Really Good Thing

I have been known to be a bit, shall we say, know-it-all about several topics. One of those is personal finance. I thought, once I got my debt paid off and was saving up a large chunk of our family’s income each month, that I knew all there was to know about this particular topic.

Of course, that’s an exaggeration. But, I am very quick to offer advice in this particular area, without necessarily being willing to listen sympathetically.

Sometimes, not having all the answers or feeling unsure about a certain area of personal finance, however, is important.

If you know you have all the answers, or that your way is the right way, how can you properly evaluate other ideas, or have an open mind to listen to new possibilities?

That’s where humility comes in, and humility often comes through failing at something.

So, if we have succeeded with money for a while, relatively speaking, how do we get money humility?

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Debit Cards for Kids

I’ve written a lot about how we teach our kids about money and tackle allowance in the ThreeYear household, but I have a confession to make: I’m really terrible at remembering to get cash from the bank to give my kids.

Isn’t that always the way? If there’s a tiny kink in your process, such as your bank being too far away to go get cash, then it can throw the whole process awry.

For the record, our allowance plan is supposed to look something like this:

  • Kids do weekly chores and help around the house.
  • Kids are given $6 each in cash.
  • Kids save $2, set aside $2 for Giving, and have $2 to spend.
  • Kids save up for toys they want, learning valuable money lessons like patience and perseverance in the process.

In reality, it goes something like this:

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Should We Get a 10 Year Mortgage?

Mortgage rates are lower than ever, and when I recently saw that 10- and 15-year mortgages have hit 3% rates, I was intrigued.

Long-term readers of the blog know that we have (and love!) our 15-year mortgage, because it’s allowed us to pay off our house faster and build up more equity than a 30-year mortgage.

I’m also completely aware that those who have a 30-year mortgage tout the benefits of those, including the ability to essentially maintain a super-low interest rate while investing their money in higher-return vehicles like the stock market.

Mr. ThreeYear (especially) and I (less so) tend to be of the more conservative variety, preferring the feeling of having no debt to the feeling of optimizing our investments. One option isn’t better or worse than the other, just different.

When I mentioned to Mr. ThreeYear that we could consider refinancing to a 10-year mortgage at a lower rate, at a monthly payment that we could afford, he was very excited.

So we began to investigate the option of refinancing to a 10-year rate.

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Why We’re Eating More Vegetables in 2020

As I mentioned in my last post, this year I’m not setting goals like I have in the past. One of the reasons for this is because I’ve achieved a lot of my short-term and mid-term goals, especially the big ones (become location independent, fully fund our 401ks, get a job, get a dog).

This year, I’m more focused on tweaking the little, day-in and day-out habits that ultimately make life better or worse.

One of those habits that I’m tracking is how many vegetarian meals I eat per day.

Why am I tracking vegetarian meals? I’ve been an avid meat consumer since birth, and I’ve never, absolutely ever, been tempted to become a vegetarian or go vegan.

However, I’ve realized for some time that eating less meat is good for the planet, and recently, I read the book Blue Zones Kitchen, which convinced me that eating more veggies is good for my body, too.

I’ve talked about the book before. It’s a cookbook written by Dan Buettner, the National Geographic researcher who coined the term “blue zones,” areas of the planet where the local populations live, on average, ten years longer than the people around them. No one knows exactly why that is–it could be close knit relationships, their propensity to move more throughout the day, diet, or a combination of many things (which is probably the case).

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December Net Worth Update

Guess what?

Like all good things, the three year experiment has come to an end.

Don’t panic: The Three Year Experiment hasn’t come to an end, though my posts are certainly less frequent than they have been!

But, the three year experiment, whereby my family worked towards location and financial independence within three years, has come to an end.

Technically, I suppose it should have ended in July, on my 40th birthday, but the blog only really got started in January of 2017, so I gave us until December, 2019, to reach our goal.

Did we do it? Are we location independent?

Well, now that I have a location-dependent job, I suppose we’re not, although we don’t need the job, so I could hypothetically quit any time. Mr. ThreeYear is a remote worker, so we could move, at least within the US. We’ll also likely spend some time this summer outside of the US, with him working remotely. So, I will say that, YES, we are location independent, and more importantly, we have engineered our lives to be more reflective of our values and desires.

  1. We live closer to both sides of our family.
  2. We can travel more, in the summers especially.

Are we financially independent?

Technically our goal was to double our net worth by the end of 2019. Spoiler alert: we didn’t make it.

We DID, however, get 82% of the way there, even with our move. Next year, we should finally double our 2016 net worth, so even though it took us 4 years, I’m pretty stoked (according to my projections, it should take about 5 more for us to double it again).

I thought that we would have spent a gazillion dollars this year, but it turns out, our spending was lower than last year’s, even with an obscene amount of spending for home upgrades. We’ve been so content with our new digs that we haven’t felt the need to take as many vacations, so lower spending in that category probably offset some of the spending in the Home Improvement category.

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