Curbside Composting: Guest Post on Tread Lightly, Retire Early

I don’t talk a lot about environmental matters on this blog, but getting better with money has definitely made me think more about making waste, and my family’s impact on the earth over the years.

Angela from Tread Lightly, Retire Early offered to share our story about bringing curbside compost to our town in New Hampshire and I thought other people would want to hear how we got it set up.

Curbside compost is a service that picks up your leftover food scraps and composts them for you in an industrial facility, then brings compost back to you. It was great for my family because we could compost all of our food scraps, even meat, without worrying about bears, or composting during the winter.

Angela’s blog focuses on ways you can lessen your impact on the planet and create financial independence. Check out her personal finance roundups on Wednesdays and her Frugal Five features on Fridays, in addition to posts about the intersection of the environment and finances.

Continue reading “Curbside Composting: Guest Post on Tread Lightly, Retire Early”

Are You the 1%?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the dumb luck of being born in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It reminded me of this post, which is one of my favorites. Every once in a while, I find it really helpful to go drone-like and fly up above my privileged circumstances to reflect on how fortunate I and my family really are. Videos like the one below help me to take a few minutes to put things in perspective. 

Last night, my son asked me to replay a video I’d shown him last year.  It’s called If the World Were 100 People. Maybe you’ve seen it. One of my professors in my Master’s course introduced me to the video last Spring.

If you’ve got two and a half minutes, it’s a great watch.

The company that developed the video, GOOD Magazine, used research from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook to give us an idea of what our world would look like if its almost 7.5 billion inhabitants were reduced to a mere 100 people. 100 is a number we can wrap our brains around fairly easily. We all know 100 people. We’re probably friends with 100 people. Continue reading “Are You the 1%?”

How We Stacked Financial Wins to Grow Our Net Worth

Ten years ago, in 2009, we had just started getting paying off our $38,000 in debt and had very little savings to speak of. We had a 30-year home mortgage on our house in Atlanta, and because we’d only put 5% down and the market tanked so bad, we had negative equity in it.

I thought we’d never get our debt paid off, but we finally did, in December of 2009. For awhile, we were only focused on building up an emergency fund, and didn’t think about our net worth at all.

But once we found the FIRE community and began to learn more about personal finance, we wanted to grow our net worth and become financially free.

Here’s what we did to stack our financial wins and grow our net worth to the level it is now.

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February Net Worth Update

Happy March! We’re (slowly) entering my favorite time of year in the South, Spring. As we drove home yesterday, I noticed that there were tons of blooms on trees and our street (shown in the picture) is blooming.

We’re still getting lots of rain, but there are many sunny days interspersed with the drizzle, at least enough to keep me hopeful that better weather is on the way!

Our Progress

Like many others in the personal finance community, we enjoyed a net worth gain this month. We’re now firmly in the 50%+ camp, meaning that since we started this experiment, we’ve increased our net worth by over 50%. Only 50% more to go this year! I joke, because that’s a lot of net worth to add in a year at our net worth level. Nevertheless, we will keep saving and investing to see how much we can save up in 2019.

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What I Learned from No-Spend February

February is a depressing month. It seems to be that way every year for me. It’s the middle of winter. Even though we now live in North Carolina, and we no longer have a snow-covered backyard, the days are gray and largely rain-filled. Though some shoot push up through pinestraw-filled beds, Spring feels far away.

Our daily routine, which I have a hard time with on good days, feels unbearably heavy. (And as I write these lines I roll my eyes at myself, because, geesh, my life is so so good in the giant cosmical scheme of things. But feelings! They’re there for the feeling, right?).

On top of that, I added a No-Spend Challenge. Here were the rules of the challenge:

The Rules

  1. It started February 4th, because the weekend previous my parents visited and we did a lot of spending to celebrate family birthdays.
  2. It was for me only. Mr. ThreeYear traveled a ton this month and didn’t need or want to participate in the challenge. Same with the little guys.
  3. I spent on: groceries, gas, mortgage, bills.
  4. I did NOT spend money on: eating out, clothes, haircuts, home maintenance, entertainment, or pet treats for Lucy.
  5. Exceptions: I made an exception for a dinner we had planned with our neighbors, but we ended up pushing the dinner to March, so it didn’t apply.
I've never successfully completed a No Spend Month, until now. Here's what I learned from my No Spend February challenge. #nospendfebruary #nospendmonth #nospend #frugalfebruary #nobuymonth #debtfree #financialindependence
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How We Grew Our Emergency Fund

When our family started to get out of debt, we followed Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps. Step 1 was to put aside $1000, as quickly as possible, for any big bills that might come your way.

Because Mr. ThreeYear had recently been laid off, and had received a three-month severance, we still had a little extra money in our bank account for just this purpose.

However, after we paid off our $38,000 of consumer debt, our next step was saving a larger emergency fund, one that could cover 3-6 months of our basic expenses were either of us unable to work.

Unfortunately, saving a larger emergency fund wasn’t nearly as easy as saving that first $1000.

It took us awhile (years, I’m afraid to say), and our methods were a bit unorthodox, but in the end, we had saved enough to pay our basic expenses for four months (we decided we needed an emergency fund that was on the smaller side, since Mr. ThreeYear works in a company with a no-layoff policy and the rest of our financial situation is quite stable).

Here’s how we did it.

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What Will Tank Your Frugality, Fast

Earlier in the school year, Little ThreeYear was really struggling. He has some learning issues, and moving to a new school almost put his brain on overload. The problem was, he couldn’t focus on anything, so he focused on absolutely nothing, and refused to do his work.

During those difficult few weeks, I wrote these words.

You want to do anything you can, anything, to lesson their struggles. Even though I know that some struggles are good for a child, I’ve watched my son’s square peg be wedged into school’s round hole for ages now, and it hurts. It hurts to watch him cry out, “I hate school! I hate everything about it!” It hurts to know that he’s just not happy and will never be happy being forced to sit and do endless math problems in order to prepare himself for state mandated testing.

Another part of me knows that there are things in this world that you just have to suck it up and do, and school is one of them. Yes, it’s hard and purposefully dull and boring, to prepare you for employment. I hated parts of school even though I was an excellent student, Mr. ThreeYear hated school (and wasn’t an excellent student). We both made it out okay.

But on the other hand, a small voice inside me keeps asking, “but wouldn’t he thrive in an alternative environment, like a Montessori school?” Junior ThreeYear is a maker. He builds and plans buildings, Lego sets, paper dolls, forts, comic book series. He can focus for hours on a project involving any of those things. But he completely tunes out his teacher and stares off into space during math, to the point where he struggles to complete a few problems. It drives his teachers crazy. I understand; I’m a teacher. I also know he’s not doing it on purpose. He just isn’t interested and can’t make his mind focus. 

He has counseling, he has meds, he has OT tools. None of it is working.

So now what? What do we do now? Private school is not in our FI plan. It’s expensive. Can we afford it? Yes. Should we afford it? That’s the nail-biting question. I don’t know. We go back and forth, “this would be an amazing experience.” “What if he doesn’t do well here either? What a waste of money.” “You and I sucked it up and got through it.” “Will he be prepared for high school?” “Will we be able to save enough for college?” “I’ll have to go back to work earlier than I wanted.”

Shortly after I wrote this panic-stricken missive, I sat down with his teacher, the vice-principal, and a wonderful counselor who’s been at the school for 30 years. The counselor introduced a small little “tweak” in Little ThreeYear’s day that has produced a dramatic turnaround in his productivity.

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A Year of Good Money: No Spend February

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

Last month, we launched the year off with the “Stop Eating Out” experiment. We pledged to not eat out at all for one month. We’ve always spent several hundred dollars per month on restaurant eating, and that has vaguely bothered me for a while, because I don’t feel like we’re getting as much value from eating out as we’re spending.

In the past five years, our eating out has averaged a whopping $258.40 per month. If that money were going to one amazing meal that we enjoyed with friends, or something of that nature, it would be one thing. But most times, it’s a couple of visits to the Mexican restaurant, a night of take-out, or other underwhelming food choices that we don’t even enjoy that much.

January’s Experiment

So how did we do last month with the experiment? Honestly, incredible! We spent $0 in our Eating Out category. We had one exception when Mr. ThreeYear insisted we go out for sushi, paid for my his birthday money, so we did. I didn’t count it because it was his birthday, and his birthday money.

Other than that, we enjoyed an eating-out-free January, and the best part was, aside from the sushi excursion, no one seemed to miss it.

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January Net Worth Update

Ahh, January. What can I say about my least favorite month? You’re cold. You’re long. You’re at the beginning of the year and don’t really contain any fun breaks or holidays (not forgetting about you, MLK Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day, but you’re not quite as fun as say, Spring Break).

We have made it through our first January in North Carolina, and I have to say, although we didn’t suffer through -14F temps like we did last year in New Hampshire, it was still pretty darn cold most days.

I struggled to keep up with Lucy the dog’s massive energy, and tried to walk her each and every day, even as my fingers and nose protested bitterly in the wet and chilly 20F temps of the early morning.

Our Progress

We eeked out another small gain with our net worth this month. We’ve definitely seen a difference in our net worth growth with me not working (it’s been slower!).

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The i401K: Your Best Friend as An Independent Contractor

The i401k (also known as the Individual 401K, one participant 401k, or Solo 401K) is the 401K plan for Independent Contractors or sole proprietors. Just as a traditional 401K offers myriad benefits for employees like tax deferred retirement savings and the benefit of lowering your tax bill, the i401K plan was set up to offer the same benefits for independent contractors and individual business owners. The IRS defines it here

Tax Savings for Independent Contractors

Since I’ve worked as an independent contractor for several years, the i401K allows me to contribute in two ways:

  • as an employee, making salary-deferred contributions of up to $19,000 in 2019
  • as an employer (because I own a sole proprietorship), making profit-sharing contributions of up to $56,000 (including the $19,000 salary deferral) a year, tax free, for retirement. There are a couple of caveats to this, so read on for more details! Continue reading “The i401K: Your Best Friend as An Independent Contractor”