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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The Long Game

I pulled a shirt out of the wash the other day. It was one I’d bought for Junior ThreeYear, many years ago, from our elementary school in New Hampshire. You could have the shirt personalized, so on the back I’d had our last name printed.

Now Little ThreeYear is wearing the shirt, and because I’d put our last name on the back, it doesn’t feel as much like a hand-me-down from his brother.

I realized, while looking at the shirt, that I’ve gotten in the habit of thinking very long term in my life. For example, I put our last name on the back of the shirt because I knew it would be used by both boys. When I buy clothes I think about if they’ll last for both my kids, because I’ve always played the long game with the kids’ clothing.

The long game.

According to my highly-unscientific Google search, the term is British, and comes from whist , a card game popular in the 1800s that, because of its length, was shortened. Therefore, you had the original long game and the shortened, or short game. Americans will claim the term comes from American football and the idea of advancing by throwing the ball down the field.

The term has now changed, of course, to mean a strategy of considering the longer-term consequences of your actions. For example, had I played the short game with the boys’ tee-shirt, it would inevitably be relegated to the back of the drawer since my younger son would not wear a shirt with his brother’s name on the back. His last name is much cooler.

Playing the short game isn’t all bad, of course. Sometimes, we need to make decisions for our short-term health or wealth. There are times when driving through the McDonald’s line stopped a melt-down with my kids. Not thinking about long-term health consequences in that moment, let me tell you. I could argue that Mr. ThreeYear and I made a short-term decision when we bought our house. We needed a place to live and work and didn’t take the time to think through the long-term ramifications of our home purchase.

Still, in our fast-paced world, financial bloggers are known for being long-term thinkers. Especially in our money lives, we plan for years in advance.

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The Real Cost of Hustling

Yesterday I was reading a millionaire interview on ESI, and the author of the interview, who is 35 and has two kids, wrote:

I didn’t start hustling until 2015 when my first child was born. I started driving for Uber after the child went to bed. I saved everything from that to build their 529. I continued until the 2nd came along and did the same but just ran out of energy to continue.

As for work/life balance, he wrote:

It’s ok right now as I don’t mind working until 6 pm. But since children entered the picture it has been difficult to complete the work needed and take care of the kids every night. Honestly I should probably be working on the weekends to keep up with my work.

Couple that comment with the fact that this weekend, Mr. ThreeYear and I watched Playing with FIRE, the documentary about Scott and Taylor Riekens. This couple embraced the FIRE movement and created a documentary about the experience (I got a link from Ally Bank to watch it for free so I was pretty stoked). There were several FIRE adherents featured, and one was a couple of teachers who talked about how much they hustled to earn extra money to retire early. They worked evenings, weekends, and summers–basically anytime they had free time– to supplement their incomes.

I didn’t think about these two comments again until yesterday when I was in my car, going to pick up my older son from school. His bus was late and it was raining, so he contacted me and asked me to please come get him.

For some reason, as I drove to pick him up, I started thinking about these two comments, and I got extraordinarily annoyed by the pervasive idea that hustling is such a great thing.

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Holiday Gift-Giving Guide

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Wow, the holiday season is upon us. Every year, it sneaks up on me, regrettably. I know I need to up my planning game, and maybe start thinking about Christmas gifts earlier than, say, December 1st. This is never more so than this year, since I’ve been working full time and haven’t been planning ahead very well.

If you’re like me and need some last minute Christmas gifts, I thought I’d republish my gift-giving guide from last year. Yes, all the gifts are the same as last year, but they were great options then and they are now! Everything is under $20, to boot! So take a peak, and cross everyone off your list. 🙂

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What I Wish I Knew Then About FIRE: Guest Post on Costa Rica FIRE

Ahh, hindsight. Most always 20/20, it is the perspective gleaned from missteps and mistakes made.

We can’t change the past, no matter how much we’d like to, so our ancient mistakes can only serve as a guide in our present lives.

That’s the idea behind Scott and Caroline’s post. The couple, now empty nesters who I first profiled on the blog here in my Your Three Year Experience series, write about crafting a life you love, living in multiple places, and traveling. They reached out to lots of financial bloggers, me included, with the question, “What do you know now about FIRE that you wished you knew when you started?” In other words, what would you have done differently in your pursuit of financial independence/retiring early?

For our family, where retiring early has never been a primary goal, I had to think about the question under the framework of decisions we made that would have impacted our lives differently.

Certainly moving to New Hampshire in 2010 was a decision that we debated. Just before Mr. ThreeYear accepted the job with his company there, his company in Atlanta offered him a really great deal to stay. If we had stayed in Atlanta, our lives would have looked so different. What choices would we have made? Would we be as financially solid as we are now? Would our health and well-being have suffered as a result of Mr. ThreeYear staying in a stressful work environment?

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Grocery Services: Are They Worth It?

Since I’ve started working full time, I’ve almost exclusively used grocery services to buy my groceries. What are grocery services? There are several types.

Delivery Services

One type is a delivery service. Some companies, such as Instacart and Shipt, are companies that offer delivery from various stores in your area. You pick out your store, then pick out your groceries on an online app or website.

I’ve used Instacart extensively, in conjunction with Aldi. I really like it because it’s convenient and they bring food right to your door. But it’s not cheap.

These delivery companies generally make money in two ways: one, by charging a delivery fee (generally a fixed amount, like $3.99), a service fee (with Instacart, it’s 5% of your order), and a tip (this is also a recommended 5% of your order but it’s not required). On top of all these fees, the company marks up the cost of the food you buy. So if your potato chips normally cost $.89 per bag at Aldi, you’ll pay $.99 through Instacart.

Several times, the buyer has left the receipt in the bag, and I’ve been able to compare what he or she paid at the store with what Instacart charged me. The difference is usually about $25.

$25?! So why would I ever buy groceries from this service? That’s a lot of money!

What I’ve found is that by having a delivery service, I actually end up buying less than I normally do when I go into the grocery store. Because I’m not physically in the store, I’m not tempted to buy more than what’s on my list. Obviously if you’ve got great self-discipline at the store, this is not an issue you face, but for me, it’s helped.

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6 Ways I Trick Myself Into Spending Less

It has been well established on this blog that my family is not particularly frugal. While we have tried hard, we tend to fail at the “a millionaire is made $10 at a time” adage. We spend little bits here and there, which add up to big bits by the end of the month.

But it doesn’t matter. Here’s why.

We’ve already made one-time decisions long ago that have locked us in to spending less, sometimes way less, than we have, and because of that, we are saving and investing at an impressive rate (around 40% of our income, although that will increase this year now that I’m working).

Because I know that I like to spend money, and honestly don’t have a huge amount of self control in that area, I’ve learned that I have to trick myself in order to keep my money away from myself. And the crazy part is, it’s worked!

Here are the six tricks my family uses to spend less:

We Max Out Our 401k

Many years ago, I figured out that the very best way to decrease our taxable income while also investing tax-free was to max out my husband’s 401k. So, I started small (I say I because I am the investor in our family and made these decisions). I began saving 7% of his salary, then increased that amount each year as he got a raise. Because he’s a high salary earner, it only took a few years to max out. I document that entire process here.

When I got my full-time job in August, I debated if I should max out my own 403b (the 401k equivalent at my non-profit private school). After all, my teaching salary is quite low and I wouldn’t have very much left over after I maxed out. However, in the end, I couldn’t turn down the tax benefits or the tax free savings, so I chose to max it out as well. Now, even if we end up spending most of my all of my salary on home improvement projects, I don’t feel too bad since we’re saving $38,000 alone in our retirement accounts.

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October Net Worth Update

We have crept into November, here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Our trees are now handsome shades of red and orange, and while nothing rivals the splendor of a New England Fall, the foliage is looking particularly lovely right now.

And I don’t have to brace for seven months of winter, either.

Life is good.

I thought as much on Sunday when I looked next to me and saw my sister on the pew next to me in church. We’ve started attending the same church on Sundays and it’s just another way I get to see my nieces and my sister and BIL regularly. It’s hard to explain the satisfaction that comes from living close to my family. But it’s a feeling of relief. I’m not living 14 hours away anymore. I don’t have to plot and scheme to figure out how to move closer to them. We’re currently living in the most idyllic of locations, our little town of Davidson. The weather is lovely, most of the time.

This week was Halloween and at my school, we had a Trunk or Treat event for the kids, replete with a Halloween-themed scavenger hunt. My middle schoolers brought flowers for the Ofrenda we created for a beloved teacher who died last year.

My own kids trick-or-treated in our neighborhood, despite steady rain, and came back with an impressive haul.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I get an entire week off. We’ll head to the beach house to soak in some sand, turkey, and family.

Our Progress

We did so well in September with our spending, but October saw us back to our newly-spendy(er) habits.

We’ve been using the part of my salary that’s not designated for my 403b to fix up several things in the house that need fixing. We’ve updated our dishwasher, which was essentially worthless, and just finished getting our cabinets painted. We toyed with the idea of doing it ourselves, but the truth is, we had no idea how, so I’m infinitely glad we left it in the hands of professionals.

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Update

Hello all. It’s now the end of October, and I’ve been teaching for ten weeks.

As with any major change in life, my teaching job has brought a new schedule, and many new habits, both good and bad. I’ve tried to keep in mind that each decision I make around how I spend my (now precious) free time is really a vote for a habit I will ultimately develop.

One of my biggest priorities has been exercise. I convinced my neighbor, who’s a fitness instructor at our gym, to offer classes three times a week in the mornings. So on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Mr. ThreeYear and I dutifully head over to the gym at 6:30 and work out for thirty minutes (yes, I drag him there, too).

This was the earliest time the gym offers, and the latest that would work for my schedule. I get home at 7:00 and have just a sliver of time to get myself and the kids ready for school. Little ThreeYear and I both leave at 7:30. He heads over to our neighbor’s house to walk with them to the bus stop, and I drive to school.

I have not yet settled into a running schedule I’m happy with. I run one long run on Sunday mornings and eke out one more run per week if I’m lucky. I’m still working on a more robust running schedule.

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How to Communicate with Your Kids without Using Cell Phones

Last year was Junior ThreeYear’s first year of middle school. His middle school starts an hour later than Little ThreeYear’s school, so he would head to the bus at 8:40 each morning, then get home at 4:40 in the afternoons.

This system worked beautifully, since the bus stop was just a block from our house, except when the busses were late. Unfortunately, this happened with some frequency. I truly don’t understand why the bus company that the district outsources to can’t get its act together, but I don’t think they pay their drivers enough, so there are often busses that are tardy, bus substitutions, and, during the first week of school, busses that arrive an hour late.

Last year, when Junior ThreeYear was in sixth grade, we did not want to give him a cell phone. Knowing what we know about cell phones, we wanted to protect him as long as possible from the temptation to use a phone during his free time and get on social media. Especially after my experimentation with taking social media off my phone, I wanted to give my son as much social-media free childhood as possible.

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