Does Where You Live Affect How Much You Save?

Bankrate recently reported that Americans are saving less, despite low unemployment and rising wages. And it turns out that some regions of the country are not as good at saving. On Wednesday, I wrote about the best places to live in the US. But could where you live impact your ability to reach FI, even subtly? Does where you live really impact how much you can save?

How Much Do You Really Need?

We’re talking about emergency savings. The article makes the oft-repeated claim that you should have six months’ savings in an emergency fund. First of all, let’s think about that claim: who makes it, and who stands to profit from it? Keeping a lot of money tied up in a checking or savings account helps banks because they then have more money to lend out (they must have 10% of the money they lend on hand). But do you really need six months of savings? Continue reading “Does Where You Live Affect How Much You Save?”

Do You Live in One of the Best Areas in the US?

Where do you live? Is it on purpose or by chance? Since we’re moving in a few more days, I thought I’d take a look at some of the best places to live in the US (sorry international readers!).

US News and World Reports tallied major metropolitan areas in the US to come up with this list. They used a strong job market, cost of living, quality of life, desirability (whether you want to live there), and migration to rank the cities.

Here are the top ten: Continue reading “Do You Live in One of the Best Areas in the US?”

To Sell or Not to Sell?

Our family has been planning to become location independent and move for a while, now. Our dream is to double our net worth by the time I’m 40, and find jobs that will allow us to travel more, split our time between two continents, or live in a foreign country for a few years. Because… we only have one life, right? And the kids will be little for like ten more seconds and then they’ll be grown… but making the decision to sell our house? It’s not easy.

To Sell or Not to Sell?

One of the reasons we travel so much is to remind ourselves that there is another way to live than the way we currently do. We are a family of habit, and it’s easy to become so immersed in the routine of our daily lives that we never question our decisions or habits.

But one question that Mr. ThreeYear and I have had nagging at the back of our minds for a while now is… should we sell our house and find a smaller place to rent?As I wrote about in The Best Way to Avoid Lifestyle Creep, keeping your housing costs low is key to financial independence. And we’ve had the unsettling suspicion that our house is a little too big for us for awhile.

After we got back from Chile last week, that suspicion was confirmed. We spent most of our time in Santiago staying in a less-than-600-square-foot (52 sq. meter) apartment. It was small, and with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, was extremely space efficient. Yes, it was a little tight sometimes, and cooking was a bit difficult. But there were definite benefits, as well. One benefit was the shared space. We were able to go downstairs and use the common areas for the Junior ThreeYears to ride their scooter, or swim in the pool. There were tons of other kids playing, too, and while there wasn’t a lot of interaction, because of the language barrier, that would definitely change if the kids had spoken the same language.

We made living in a tiny space work for us while we were in Chile.

While we were in the apartment itself, we didn’t get in each other’s way, surprisingly. The boys each had their own bedrooms, and they’d take their few toys we had packed and go play or read in their rooms. We did homework each morning on the small round breakfast table, then would move the school books to another part of the apartment when it was time for lunch. I even lost Junior ThreeYear in that tiny space at one point! (He was on the balcony, reading, and I didn’t see him because of the curtains).

The thing that was so nice about the small space was that we were together, we were cozy, and we were able to enjoy each other’s presence. Our current house is so big that we can’t see or hear each other when we’re in our rooms, and it can feel lonely. Most of our time is spent in the common area, our dining and living rooms, which are basically one big space (and are larger than the entire apartment in Chile, by the way).

Little ThreeYear has grabbed my hand at several points since we’ve been back and asked me to come with him to some remote part of the house, “because I’m scared to go to the basement alone, Mama.” Our basement, by the way, is not a dark, bare-boned forgotten space in the bottom of the house. It is finished, carpeted, and filled with Little ThreeYear’s toys, as well as a comfy couch and chairs. But after all that togetherness in Chile, Little ThreeYear feels lonely in the vast swath of basement without another person.
Our basement at home is bigger than the entire apartment in Chile.

But does it make sense to sell our beautiful home, which we bought in a short sale at a very good price, with its spacious backyard, forest hiding-spots, and ample space for visitors, to move to a condo with no garage (a huge negative during New Hampshire winters), much less space, and community fees? Continue reading “To Sell or Not to Sell?”

The Best Way to Avoid Lifestyle Creep

Recently, I was listening to an interview by The Mad Fientist of financial planner Michael Kitces, who is the person responsible for a lot of the research done on the 4% withdrawal rule. Kitces has worked with many clients working towards financial independence and/or early retirement.

The Best Way to Avoid Lifestyle

At the end of the interview, the Mad Fientist asked him for one piece of advice for speeding up one’s journey to FI, and Kitces replied, “avoid lifestyle creep.”

Lifestyle creep, or lifestyle inflation, is the tendency we have to inflate our standard of living as our incomes increase. When we first graduate college and get a “real job,” we’re content to live in an apartment with a roommate, use Goodwill furniture, and drive a beater car. But as we bring in more money, we tend to upgrade our houses, furniture, and cars, and once we trade up for a nicer model, it’s really difficult to downgrade again.  Continue reading “The Best Way to Avoid Lifestyle Creep”

Putting On a New Roof

Experts say to set aside about 1% of the purchase price of your home each year on maintenance costs. This year, we set aside a lot more than that.

About a year and a half ago, we noticed that our shingles were curling. Every so often, we’d look at our patio and see bits of asphalt from the shingles littering the concrete. We did some research, and found out that our house had been roofed with a type of shingle that was failing across New England. Many homes in our small town had been shingled with this particular company’s shingle, which, unfortunately, were not holding up in New England’s severe winter weather.

Putting On a New

No problem, we thought. Shingles have 15-year warranties, so we’ll just look into that. Well. Turns out, our shingles did have a warranty, but like many things in life, there were caveats. The warranty was pro-rated, meaning that if the shingles failed in Year One, they would be completely covered. But if they failed in Year Thirteen, as was the case now, they would only give us a portion of the money we were owed.

  • There was currently a class-action suit in place against the shingle company, so the chance of us receiving any money was slim to none.
  • The warranty was transferrable in the event the house was sold, but it had to be done within one year of the house sale. We received no information or paperwork to this effect when we bought the house, so we had no idea this was the rule (and we didn’t know to ask! Lesson learned!).

We were paying for a new roof out-of-pocket. 

We spent the school year saving up, and had $7000 by the end of the year. We didn’t think it would be quite enough, but hoped it would be close.

In May, we began getting quotes from roofers in Staten Island, NY. The first quote we got was from a contact we had through our church, Nate. After visiting our house and measuring our roof, Nate sent us an estimate that included:

  • The removal and disposal of old shingles and roofing
  • Installing an ice and water shield (this is necessary in New England roofs because of the freeze/thaw factor during the winter. Icicles form on the edge of the roof and you don’t want that water to get into the wood in your roofing and leak) plus a roofing underlayment above the shield
  • Installing metal in all valleys
  • Installing architectural shingles
    The total was $14,000. 

This was a lot more money than we had expected to pay! We were pretty disappointed. We had liked Nate and hoped to work with him. But he was charging a fortune!

Next, we reached out to about five other roofers. Three we found online. I called each online company and of the three, two only installed standing seam (metal) roofs and one was booked until 2018 – I had to visit to understand how the marketing strategy works so good here.
The lifter set up to reroof our house.

After that, we reached out to our contacts. Mr. ThreeYear had a colleague at work who had used a local roofer for her roof, Jim. We got his phone number and I called him. I think I left about five messages, and he kept calling me back and couldn’t reach me, either. Finally, we connected, and he made a plan to come out and see the roof “next week.” He told me he would call me.

Meanwhile, we found a third roofer, Jeff, through a friend who made an appointment to come and measure the roof at 10am on a Saturday morning.

Both roofers missed their appointments. Boy was I annoyed at this point. We couldn’t even find roofers to estimate a job for us!

A detail of our badly failing shingles on the back of the house.

It turns out that there is a shortage of roofers here in New England. For whatever reason, there’s a dearth of young men (and women) who are willing to work fifteen-to-eighteen hour days for a few weeks in the summers and fall installing roofs. Hey, I don’t blame them. But because there is such a shortage of qualified roofers, they make a ton of money doing it! It’s an excellent job for a young person with no college experience, or even for someone who’s working their way through college. Well, if you need good roofing services from Roof top services of Central Florida, Inc., is the right choice!

Back to the story. Finally, I got in touch with both Jim and Jeff, and we rescheduled our times for them to estimate. I never actually saw Jim. He told me that he had come by the house during the school day when I was at work the following week. After another week of me bugging him for the estimate, we got estimate #2. His estimate included:

  • Removal and disposal of existing shingles
  • Lift rental
  • Removal of siding for new flashing/reattach siding
  • Replacement of ice &water shield
  • Installation of new architect shingles, color black

The total? $22,500!

At this point, I was so annoyed, I started calling everyone I could think of and asking them if these prices sounded ridiculous. Where I’m from, in the Southeastern US, new roofs cost more like $8000-$10,000. So we were having major sticker shock!

Roofing the
Replacing the front shingles

I texted a friend of mine, who is also from the South. She flips houses in a neighboring town, so I figured she’d have a handle on roofing costs. She did. “For your house, I’d say you should expect to pay between $12,000 and $18,000 for a new roof” she told me. Because of the higher cost of labor, shorter installation time because of our long winters, the extra ice and water shields needed, and the lack of competition in a small town, roofs were way more expensive to install in Northern New England. Along with getting a new roof I also bought blinds online to help make the house look a little newer. She also told me the second estimate was bogus. “That guy’s smoking crack,” she said, never one to mince words.

Roofer #3, Jeff, was scheduled to come over that weekend. He was very nice, and apologized for missing the previous appointment. “I never do that,” he explained. “My dad was hospitalized and honestly, everything left my head when I drove down to go be with him.” He came and looked at the roof and spent some time talking to us about the warranty of a roof. He told us it that the shingles he used came with a 30-year warranty that could be transferred to the next owner. He sent us an estimate about a week later. His estimate included:

    • Strip and dispose of existing roofing on all current shingle areas
    • Install Ice and Water Shield to all eaves (6 feet–this was 3 feet higher than other estimates) and valleys (9 feet)
    • Install synthetic roofing underlayment to remainder of roof
    • Install new white aluminum drip edge to all eaves and rakes
  • Install new shingles to all currently shingled areas
  • Complete cleanup and disposal of all debris

The total for his job was $14,900. 

I liked Jeff and thought his estimate was good, but in the end, we decided to go with Nate. His estimate was the cheapest and we had a glowing recommendation from a church member (and we knew his future in-laws). Plus, he could get started on the replacement sooner than Jeff could.

After talking with my friend, I knew Nate’s estimate was in the ballpark, so we told him we were contracting with him. 

He requested fifty percent payment up front (which were similar to Jeff’s terms) so we sent him a check for $7000! That was not a fun check to write.

He sent an email about a week later, letting me know he received the check and that he would be delayed, due to rain, on starting our house until the week of July 10th. Mr. ThreeYear would just be getting back from the beach then, and could work from home and oversee the process, so we agreed that Monday, July 10th would be the start date. The kids and I would still be in South Carolina, so we would miss all the fun.

On Sunday, July 9th, Nate and his crew brought over the lift and the staging, and got it set up all around the house.

Newly shingled
A newly shingled-overhang by the garage.

The next day, Mr. ThreeYear called and told me the guys had shown up at 6:30am. There were two of them that day. The ended up working all day, with very few breaks, until 8:30 at night!

They told Mr. ThreeYear that since they had such a limited window of time to get work done in the summer, they had to work like crazy to take advantage of the good weather.

The next day, another roofer joined them, and all three men worked the next couple of days to finish the roof. Mr. Three Year sent me pictures of their progress. He worked from home all week, listening to the banging and hammering. I’m so glad I wasn’t there and he was to oversee everything!

Back of the
The back of the house, newly shingled.

He even had to deal with an anonymous neighbor of ours, who called the police TWICE! Apparently, she complained that our roofers had left nails in the road. This was patently untrue–Mr. ThreeYear said they were careful, and he even checked the road–there was nothing. We do have several temperamental neighbors, so I’m not surprised! Mr. ThreeYear calmly talked to the policeman who came out. He even dealt with the fact that the man thought he was a roofer and not the homeowner! Hispanic men deal with a lot of prejudices, let me just say. Luckily Mr. ThreeYear just laughed it off.

Finally, on Thursday, the roofers finished. We asked them to also power wash the house, so they did. They had a really hard time getting off years of grime from the vinyl siding, but Mr. ThreeYear bought Magic Erasers for them, and that worked. They even removed two defunct satellite dishes from the roof that we no longer used.

Satellites in my
The roofers removed our defunct satellite dishes while reroofing the house.

When we saw the “After” pictures that Mr. ThreeYear sent, we were amazed! The house looked brand new! We wrote Nate a second check for a little more than $7000 (because of the power wash) from our savings account.

The finished
The finished product–Mr. ThreeYear even trimmed the shrubs in front.

This year, our home maintenance costs were a lot more than 1%, including what we calculated to install windows on the EZ Window Solutions website. But I’m very glad to have a new roof and a clean house. I’m also glad I was out of state during the project.  And we’re more knowledgeable about the process than before. Next time we’ll use the services of Flat Roofing Toronto. When we sell our house in a couple of years, I hope the new roof will be a draw (Check out for more information).

How about you? Have you had any major home improvement projects lately? 

How to Create Beautiful, Frugal Flower Gardens

Do you love to garden? Is Spring your favorite time of year, when the flowers start blooming and there’s color bursting out of every bed?

I absolutely love to create flower gardens. I also know I could spend a small fortune buying plants and shrubs to create the perfect landscape around our house.

Since our family is on a three year journey to double our net worth and become location independent, it’s not a priority to spend a lot of money on landscaping when we’ll be selling our home soon. But I love to constantly improve our gardens and so, have learned to save lots of money but still create beautiful flower beds.

Continue reading “How to Create Beautiful, Frugal Flower Gardens”

DIY Mayhem in May

This month, the shower arm in our bathroom has broken, it has taken four different light fixture tries to replace the kitchen light above the sink, and our kitchen faucet has sprung a major leak. Not only we’re getting tips for scheduling a roofing maintenance check, but also quotes from roofers in the area to replace our roof. Because there’s a dearth of roofers in the area and the cost of labor and materials is so high, our best quote is $14,000. Yes, that is correct. The cost of a used car. One year of private school education. More than a years’ worth of groceries.

On May 14th, Mother’s Day, it snowed. It rained for fourteen days straight before that. Last week, we got two medical bills for a total of $2,000. We’ve been negotiating a new diagnosis with doctors and the school for our youngest child.

We’ve also had some awesome things happen this month. Mr. ThreeYear became an American citizen on Friday and my dad came up for a surprise visit. After the rain and snow, we got a week full of 80 degree weather and the flowers are blooming. Everything is green and alive. The school year is winding down–as of Wednesday, we’ll have just four more weeks.

We are officially a better nation now that Mr. ThreeYear’s a citizen!

We’re healthy, have a stable and happy home life, reliable jobs, and money in the bank to cover our expenses. In the grand scheme of things, the problems that have besieged us this month are minor annoyances. Continue reading “DIY Mayhem in May”

Updating Our Pendant Lights

Hi! If you’re new here, I’m Laurie and my family and I are on a three-year journey to location independence by doubling our net worth so we can move abroad.

During our three year experiment, one of our goals is to get our house ready for sale. To that end, we asked a realtor to visit last month and give her opinion of what needs to be done to make the house ready. It turns out, a lot. But the good news is, we have time to tackle all of these projects slowly, so we’ll be able to do a lot of the work ourselves.

Mr. ThreeYear and I are not DIYers. And we’re not especially detail-oriented. But we are committed to amplifying our skill set and learning in order to get the house ready. Continue reading “Updating Our Pendant Lights”

Closet-to-Bathroom Conversion

Part of our family’s plan for becoming location independent in the next three years is to sell our house and convert the equity into equities (excuse my bad finance joke there). We bought a short sale in 2012 and have lived in the house for five years. By the time we’re ready to move, we will have lived here for seven and a half years. Which is exactly half the length of our 15-year mortgage. (If only that meant half of the house would be paid off…. But I digress…).

Since we were fortunate enough to buy an undervalued property, we’re hoping to sell the house for quite a bit more than we paid for it, but to do so will mean some strategic investments. When we moved in, for example, there were no appliances in the house. The previous owners, hoping to get as much equity out of the house as they could before they left, even took a downstairs stove (critical for heating the house), so we had to replace that.

One of the biggest investments we’ve made is adding a downstairs guest bathroom to the house. When we moved in, there was only one bathroom on the first floor—the master. If you’ve seen our Semi-Minimalist home pictures, you’ll see that while our bathroom is a spa-like oasis (not my decision, but a very nice feature), our guests felt a little bit uncomfortable using our bathroom when they came for dinner. And we had to make sure our bathroom was always guest-ready before they came. That could be a big hassle.

Continue reading “Closet-to-Bathroom Conversion”

Semi-Minimalist Home

love minimalism. I discovered Becoming Minimalist and The Minimalists about three years ago. I started my minimalist journey with Courtney Carver, of Project 333, and used thirty-three items of clothes per quarter, for about a year. At the same time, I started cleaning out our house, getting rid of things we no longer needed.

During one January break, when we were snowed in, I tackled about twenty boxes of books that had been stored in various basements since my college days. I curated my collection, keeping maybe thirty tomes, and giving the rest to charity. I read Marie Kondo last year, and Konmaried the rest of my house.

While The Minimalists recommend a more radical approach of boxing up everything you own, and then only pulling out the things you need as you need them, my own more measured approach worked better for me and our family.

I think it would have been very hard for my boys to suddenly have nothing in their rooms and have to go dig out the toys they wanted. This way, I’ve slowly boxed up things they don’t play with anymore, and I store those in a big Tupperware bin in our storage closet. If the boys don’t ask for any of the toys inside for six months (and they rarely do), then I donate them to charity.

Continue reading “Semi-Minimalist Home”