The $217.27 Bedroom Makeover

Moving to a new home can be tough on kids. We took mine from the only home they ever remembered and asked them to move 900 miles South, to a 1000-square-foot smaller house with a very small backyard. It was hard for them to see the immediate benefits of that decision (benefits like a close pool, relatives right down the road, and no snow in the winter). All they saw was an unfamiliar new space that felt different and didn’t feel like it belonged to them.

The $217.27 Bedroom Makeover www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

So to convince them to move, we used the oldest parenting trick in the book. We bribed them. While you’re may tsk  at the idea of bribing your kid, let me expound for a minute on the benefits of bribery: 1. It works. 2. It gives kids something to look forward to. 3. It gives them some sense of negotiating power when, in all actuality, they have little to none. Feeling like you have control in an uncontrollable situation makes you feel a little better about things.

For Little ThreeYear, we told him we’d finally get a dog. We realized that with our fenced-in back yard and both of us working from home, a dog would be a much more feasible addition to the family than it had in the past.

Lucy the dog www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Meet Lucy the dog.

We told Junior ThreeYear that we’d decorate his new room however he wanted.

He wanted to paint it black.

I worked my creative wiles and convinced him that black accents would look much better than a completely black room. We looked at the myriad options online and found a couple of pictures that he liked as inspiration.

On the night before we moved into our new house, when we were doing the final walk-through, we discovered, under a rug and desk that the previous owner had left, a giant hole in the carpet. A tense negotiation commenced between our real estate agent and hers. Finally, she could no longer deny that she’d been trying to hide a huge hole in the carpet and agreed to pay to have it replaced. Continue reading “The $217.27 Bedroom Makeover”

Budgeting a Month Ahead

I know there are many people who don’t budget, but for me, it’s been a lifesaver. I am a natural spender, not a saver, so putting artificial boundaries around my money is important. Over the years, I’ve trained myself not to touch some of it, to keep it off limits, and giving myself artificial boundaries around eating out and entertainment has helped us spend less over time.

Budgeting a Month Ahead www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

One thing I’ve never been able to do (and I say “I” because Mr. ThreeYear has pretty bad money anxiety and doesn’t look at the budget) is get a month ahead in our budgeting.

We’ve been budgeting for ten years this month, and it’s the first month I’ve gotten a month ahead in the budget. Previously, I’d budget one paycheck at a time, so I wouldn’t fully find my budget categories at the beginning of the month (I have a habit of throwing any extra money we get into investment accounts). It worked, but I was never budgeting all at once. With budgeting one month ahead, you use this month’s income to fund next month. So you need to have a full month’s income saved, in addition to what you need to pay your bills for the current month.

Part of the reason I never got one month ahead was that I didn’t see the benefit. As long as our budget was working, why fix it? Sure, it was a little awkward to fund our essential expenses and then later fund our nonessential expenses (using our 50/50 budget) but it had worked for years, and we always had investing, saving, or debt payoff goals that seemed more important than getting a month ahead with our budget. Continue reading “Budgeting a Month Ahead”

Investing through the Next Decade

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure for more information. Thanks for supporting the blog! 

Vanguard recently published a forecast with projections for returns for domestic and international stocks and bonds over the next decade.

Investing through the Next Decade www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

“The chances of a recession by the end of 2020 are mounting. And the prospects for the American stock market in the next decade have worsened appreciably,” writes Jeff Sommer in the New York Times. That’s a fun paragraph to read.

Vanguard would never make predictions about actual returns, but suggests it’s highly likely the US will have a recession by the end of the decade.

More interestingly, in my opinion, are the projections for securities.

Vanguard projects that US (domestic) stocks will return 3.9 percent annualized over the next ten years.  Continue reading “Investing through the Next Decade”

Is All Our Goal Setting Messing with Our Happiness?

I live in a land of achievers. Our nation of immigrants has come scratching and clawing their way to a better life, risking everything to work hard so the next generation has more.

Is All Our Goal Setting Messing with Our Happiness? www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Or at least that’s the narrative. I grew up hearing stories of my immigrant great-grandfather, a Russian Jew who entered Ellis Island alone at nine years old to escape the Czar’s army. He somehow managed to survive living in NYC’s garment district and selling newspapers, relying at least once on the kindness of a stranger’s $5 tip to live through the winter. As a young man, he moved to South Carolina, married a Gentile, had four kids, the youngest of whom was my paternal grandfather, and opened a successful clothing store. Like many second generation Jewish children, my grandfather, and in turn, my father, became a doctor.

I grew up in a Type A, achievement-oriented house. I was never overtly taught to set goals. It’s just embedded in both my DNA and my conditioning.

In this blog, I regularly share both my process for setting goals and my progress, updating you on how I’m doing with these arbitrary measures I’ve set for gauging my life’s work.  There are plenty of times in life where I haven’t set goals, namely when I was living in Chile as a 20-something and right after I had kids, when the biggest goal I could muster was to survive the day. Even then, I started working with a MLM company shortly after and set goals out the wazoo.

The times when I didn’t have goals feel, in hindsight, like wandering, anchorless times. At the end of my stay in Chile, I became incredibly disillusioned because I was so ready to move back to the US and get on with life.  Never mind that I was busy living it in Santiago.

While goal-setting has helped me put some parameters around a mind that’s particularly good at planning for the future (which is what Martin Seligman says distinguishes is from other primates), has it increased my happiness, as I like to think, or has it promulgated a restlessness, a longing for more, that has undercut my ability to appreciate the here-and-now?

When school starts in two weeks, my boys will go back to school and I’ll be officially not working (because playing cruise director with two kids and a puppy is decidedly NOT not working).

And I’ll be left with time to fill. My first inclination will be to put some parameters around this time, to give myself some goals so that I don’t waste even a half hour of my time.  But is that wise? Continue reading “Is All Our Goal Setting Messing with Our Happiness?”

A Year of Good Food: Shop at Aldi

Time for the seventh installment of our family’s grocery challenge for the year, which I’m calling “A Year of Good Food.” (Spoiler: this is the first month we failed).

A Year of Good Food: Shop at Aldi www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

At the beginning of July, we moved from New Hampshire to North Carolina. We sold a house there and bought a house here, but along the way, we lived in hotels and stayed with my sister for about a week, then filled up a new fridge and pantry, then fed all four of us breakfast, lunch, and dinner all month. We blew an exorbitant sum of money on everything in July, including food.

The Back Story (Skip This if You’ve Already Read it Six Times)

This year, our family is challenging ourselves to spend less on food so we can save and travel more. Last year, I adopted one habit a month that would translate into better money moves for our family. You can read all about our A Year of Good Habits here.

That experiment worked so well that we tried a new one this year. In 2018, we are challenging ourselves to do better at our food spending. Last year our family spent over $12,000 in groceries, or $966 per month.

This year, our goal is to spend 20% less on groceries. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s almost $200 per month in food savings. The extra $200 per month is going into a travel savings fund, so we can see the results of our hard work in spending less on food.

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.

Each month, we’re trying out a new way to save money at the grocery store. Last month, we focused on staying in budget while moving houses. We kept our expectations low–I knew I wouldn’t be able to consistently meal plan or regularly grocery shop, so the idea was to do as well as we could despite the chaos.

July

Ok, I’m going to get real with you this morning. This privileged WASPy white woman who currently doesn’t work (much) and who really only has to make sure that she keeps her two kids alive and make them clean the bathrooms for her has another first world problem. We got a puppy. And I have to watch it all the time. Because of course it lives inside and has the Prince(ss) of Bel Air life right now, complete with training treats and grooming gloves. She gets up at 5am which is normally my prime writing time, so this post may or may not make sense, because I have to check to make sure she’s not tee-teeing under the bed every 2 minutes.

labradoodle puppy www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Lucy, our new dog

We did not get the puppy in July, though, so I digress something mighty. Lack of sleep will do that to you.

We spent the majority of the month unpacking boxes and getting acclimated to our new house. Mr. ThreeYear started working from home, which is both weird and wonderful, as he’s… home all the time! He eats every meal at home, so during July, all four of us ate every meal at home, except for the week we spent at the beach, when we ate every meal at the beach.

moving boxes www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
It took awhile to unpack all these.

I didn’t even notice we were going over budget, probably because I was busy spending money in every other budgeting category. We were also getting used to the heat, and drinking beverages like crazy. We have a Soda Stream and love it, but the $2.50/12 pack of seltzers kept ending up in our cart.

I also think that mental fatigue played a part. We had been “on” for our move since about March, getting the house ready, selling it, packing up our stuff, buying a house in NC, and once we moved and got a reasonable amount of boxes unpack, we could finally relax and rest. Moving in was about ten times as hard as I predicted and expected, and I’m glad that pretty much on the other side now.

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Shop at Aldi”

Your Three Year Experiment: Scott and Caroline

Hi there! As promised last week, today I have a brand new series for you, featuring people who are sharing their three year experiments, that is, their plans, goals, and dreams for the next three years. 

Your Three Year Experiment: Scott and Caroline www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Today I’m thrilled to introduce Scott and Caroline, who share their early retirement strategies at Costaricafire. In this interview, you’ll learn:

  • how they created a real estate portfolio to help them retire
  • the three income streams they’ll use to fund retirement
  • the first thing they’ll do when they’re fully location independent

If you’d like to be featured in the series, send me a note! My contact info is on the Start Here page.

Hello! Tell us about yourselves.

We are Scott and Caroline, 40-something parents of two daughters from New York City. Caroline has been operating her own Career Coaching business for over 10 years after a career in finance, consulting and recruiting, and Scott has recently stepped away from a 23-year IT career to focus on our real estate investments and IT consulting.

Scott and Caroline in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, one of the towns they plan to live in during retirement.

What’s your background? Early years, education, married, kids, jobs?

Continue reading “Your Three Year Experiment: Scott and Caroline”

The Age of Anomaly: Interview with Andrei of One Minute Economics

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure for more information. Thanks for supporting the blog! 

Today I have something a little different for you—an interview with economist Andrei Polgar of One Minute Economics. He’s just published a book called The Age of Anomaly.

Interview with Andrei of One Minute Economics

He sent me a copy of the book to preview and I agreed to interview him for two reasons: 1. I was very impressed with the economic history contained in his book and 2. I think we don’t do enough preparation in the financial world for the Black Swan events that will inevitably come and can wreak havoc with our financial plans.

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog any length of time, you know I’m very even-keeled, and not prone to hysterics or emotional claims. But I’ve experienced enough in my life to be aware that things can happen out of left field that you’d never expect. My husband grew up in a dictatorship in Chile. Ordinary Chileans had no idea their land would be privatized and then General Agosto Pinochet would take over the country in a US-backed coup in 1973. My friend is Syrian-American. She could never have guessed that her entire family would flee her home country because of the bloody Civil War there.

Yes, I am American, and so I have that annoying American sensibility that nothing bad will ever happen to our country. And while we may never deal with civil war or dictatorship in our lifetimes, we may deal with brutal recessions or other unexpected economic events that can knock us off our financial footing. And so, this interview. I hope you enjoy, and take advantage: this week only Andrei’s book is $.99.

Hi Andrei! Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

I grew up in Eastern Europe, and currently live in Romania, in the second largest city there.

Economist Andrei Polgar www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Even as a child I had these dreams of lemonade stands, things I saw in US movies and cartoons. I tend to like economics, being an entrepreneur, anything that has to do with financial stuff. I’ve always been pretty good with anything money-related. Continue reading “The Age of Anomaly: Interview with Andrei of One Minute Economics”

How Our New Home is an Investment in Our Health

Last month, we moved from our home in New Hampshire, where we’d lived for six years (and a total of eight in the town), to Davidson, North Carolina.

How Our New Home is an Investment in Our Health www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Despite massive spending last month to get settled (thank you fifteen year mortgage for mountains of equity to help get through that), I expect our new home will be a financial boon. We’re closer to family, so we’ll spend less on travel to see them. We’ll be able to spend more on travel to places we’ve been itching to go as a family (Hawaii, Ireland, Australia) and we’ll have the time to do it. We took out another fifteen year mortgage with a low interest rate, which we plan to pay off early. It’s our only debt.

While I’m not working as an ESL Teacher next year, so we won’t have my income to save and invest, I expect to spend this year figuring out ways to lower our expenses–through an energy audit, shopping at Aldi, and new cell phone plans.

We’re definitely temporarily spending more with our move, as last month’s spending shows. But ultimately, through gas savings, food savings, property tax savings, and do-it-yourself savings (yard and house cleaning), I expect to see our overall spending decline and our overall savings increase in 2019 (because we’ve got a net worth goal to reach!).

Let me be clear: we didn’t move for financial reasons. We moved because it’s been our dream to achieve location independence, and be able to travel at will and be closer to our families. But we chose a smaller house, in a travel hub, where we can also continue to save and invest for our retirement and education goals.  Continue reading “How Our New Home is an Investment in Our Health”

July Net Worth Update

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure for more information. Thanks for supporting the blog! 

I am happy. I know I’m in the honeymoon phase of our move, but I am so glad to live in North Carolina. We see my sister, brother-in-law, and niece, maybe three times a week. We spent the entire weekend with them last weekend. I know we’ll start school and get into routines and not see them as often, but my niece now thinks that when she comes to my house, she is supposed to eat marshmallows and watch Captain Underpants on my bed with her cousin.

July Net Worth Update www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

We drive through the streets of our little town and I just smile, because it’s so cute. And we picked it! We didn’t get carried by the circumstances of life to a place. We picked the place we wanted to be and moved there. It’s an incredibly freeing feeling. I am also really enjoying Mr. ThreeYear working from home. Yes, he starts early and works hard, but we get to see him more, because he finishes earlier (no commute!), eats lunch with us everyday, and pops out for coffee breaks. He’s there when service people come by the house, which is reassuring.

Financially, I am not happy, because moving has cost an arm and a leg, and we’ve spent another arm and a leg doing repairs on our new house. Carpet cleaning, painting, air conditioning repair, stocking the fridge, paying neighborhood dues, etc.

I’m trying to keep in mind that this month’s spending has been an anomaly, and because we’re not moving again for a very long time, we will not incur these expenses again for a very long time. Despite all the spending, we managed to increase our net worth. Let’s take a look.

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Since we’ve achieved the latter goal, we’ll be primarily focused on the former in each of these reports going forward. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending. Last year, we increased our net worth by 32% over the year before. This year, we’re trying to increase it by more than 65% from where we started in December 2016. Given our move and the market, I’m not sure it’s doable. But we’re going to try. Continue reading “July Net Worth Update”

Finding Your Personal Savings Superpower

If you (like me) have trouble saving, may I recommend a psychological trick that may help you save a little more? Sometimes, when you feel like you spend more than the people around you, it can get discouraging, and you can start thinking self-defeating thoughts. While some people are incredible at saving in all areas of their lives, I’ve noticed that many people have gotten really good at saving in one particular area. They’ve found their personal savings superpower.

Finding Your Personal Savings Superpower  www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

For Mr. Tako, it’s eating out. While his family are super low spenders in general (especially taking out their mortgage and day care expenses), they just. don’t. eat. out. Ever.

They’ve saved hundreds of dollars per month and thousands of dollars per year, compounded over time because they’ve mastered the art of eating in (and I do mean “mastered.” Check out this post and this post on the delicious food Mr. Tako prepares at home).

Liz and Nate at Frugalwoods have arguably mastered everything, but they love seltzer, so they’ve optimized the price they pay for making bubbly water. They’ve figured out the hacks and tricks to pay as little as possible for their favorite beverage.

Now, eating all your meals in or making your own seltzer may sound awesome to you, or something out of the third level of hell. But, picking your one spending habit to improve does more than just save you money in this area. It actually psychologically sets you up for more success.

If you can identify one area that you’d like to master, spending-wise, then you can become the savings expert there. Maybe it’s keeping your gas costs low even though you drive a lot. You might keep your grocery spending at $300 or less for three people (like Lily!). It could be your entertainment budget. Continue reading “Finding Your Personal Savings Superpower”