The Great Banks Merch Challenge January Update

The Great Banks Merch Challenge January Update

As a reminder, we’re attempting to pay for our 27-day Europe trip and all the extra payments toward our mortgage until it is gone with nothing but selling shirts on Merch by Amazon.

First off, this trip is not cheap. We’re not trying to do it all that cheaply. We’re taking our kids to some of the most expensive countries (we’ll reserve our next international trip for Cambodia!). But we also really wanted to stretch ourselves this year with our t-shirt sales, so we decided to add in our mortgage to really make things interesting. Also remember that most t-shirt sales come in October-December, so it’s going to look pretty bad here at the beginning of the year as we keep spending, but don’t make as much. But hopefully, by December, everything will come together in magical ways and we’ll pay for our whole trip plus our mortgage with just t-shirt sales! Wish us luck!

I’ll be providing quarterly updates. This one is 2017 Q4 update:

The Current Merch Challenge Numbers

Current Trip Costs:

  • Flights: $2,035.48 – This amount includes :
    • Flight from Anchorage to NYC for a day before flying to England (we used Alaska miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from NYC to London (we used AA miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from England to Norway (paid Cash, SAS airlines – $355.63 for all 5 tickets)
    • Flight from Norway to Iceland (free layover for 4 days) to Alaska (paid cash – $2,123.85 for all 5 tickets)
    • – $500 – from our sign-up bonus on the Barclay Arrival+ card. Yay for a $500 discount!
  • Lodging: $2,518.53 – All AirBNB so far (all but 6 nights have been booked!) – this amount includes:
    • 3 nights in London, England – $677.01
    • 1 night just outside Reykjavik, Iceland – $250.49
    • 3 nights on the Golden Circle in Iceland – $681.03
    • $1000 worth of discounted AirBNB gift cards we’ve used to purchase lodging in England and Norway – $910
  • Transportation: $658.97 – (we’ve reserved our rental car for Iceland, but won’t pay for that until the trip):
    • Norway Car Rental: $294.26
    • UK Car Rental: $364.71
  • Other Stuff: $971.42 – All of the other experiences, tickets, and stuff we’ve purchased for the trip:
    • Passport fees for the 3 kids – $315
    • Travelable booster seats for all 3 kids (to be legal in Europe) – $103.97
    • Travel Backpacks for the girls (Lui will use his small school backpack) – $204.30
    • Tickets to see Matilda the musical in London – $348.15


Mortgage Costs: 

For Merch to cover the rest of our mortgage, we’re including any payments we make above our minimum monthly payments. So, these costs are the extra payments we made starting with the November mortgage payment:

  • $2,100 (November)
  • $1,700 (December)


Current Merch Earnings (earnings are 2 months behind as that’s when we get and report the money):

  • June: $7.07
  • July: $218.24
  • August: $810.78
  • September: $1,065.67
  • October: $3,352.58
  • November: $1837.50
  • TOTAL: $7,291.84

minus our total mortgage payments and total trip costs of $9,984.40

Merch Challenge Totals: -$2,692.56

December 2017 Plan Update (and 2018 Financial Goals!)

December 2017 Plan Update (and 2018 Financial Goals!)

Ah… December. I do love the holidays with the kids home and Mr. T having so many days home as well. December was glorious. We really could have used more snow, but we did at least get a few good days of hoar frost where all of Anchorage was magical and white.

The Numbers:

Want to know how easy it is for us to write these every month? I literally just log into my Personal Capital and revel in all the numbers being in one place. Do you like checking numbers? Do you like graphics? Do you like playing with calculators like retirement calculators and how much your fees are costing you? Then, you should obviously use my affiliate link to Sign up here to help yours truly speed toward financial independence! (Also feel free to read my more in-depth review of Personal Capital.)

Our mortgage is now at $29,990. LET THE DANCE PARTY COMMENCE! (I’m serious. Pop on some music and just start dancing. We all need this.) I’m seriously thrilled we did this. Sure, it was the only financial goal we actually achieved this year, but it was a big one. And I’m really proud of our progress.

Investments are now at $189,565. What a fabulous year. Thank you markets for making us look great this year!

For our savings percentage, we track the percentage of our pre-tax (or gross) income and the extra payments put toward the mortgage are included in the amount saved. Savings percentage for December – 50%. Nice! It really helps that we include extra payments towards our mortgage in this number. 🙂 Two months in a row hitting 50% savings rate. (I also can’t wait until our mortgage is dead so that 50% really means JUST money into savings!)

2017 Financial Goal Update:

Disclaimer: Other than the earnings and the mortgage, the rest of these are out the window. I’ve told you that I’m terrible at financial multi-tasking. Let’s get rid of that mortgage and then I’ll be able to move forward on the other savings!

  • Earn $25,000 – ($28,154/$25,000) –  Totally beat the goal (thanks to our new shirt-selling lifestyle).
  • Mortgage Balance below $30,000 – ($29,990 – WE DID IT!!!!!)
  • Max out Mr. T’s 401k – Done!
  • Put $5500 into My Roth IRA – $0 progress so far.
  • $2500 in other investments – $0 progress so far.
  • $200,000 Investment Balance by the end of the year – Had we hit any of our other investment goals, we might have actually hit this one, but it still makes me pretty happy that we’re less than $11,000 away from $200,000!

Notable Expenses This Month: The Story Our Money Tells:

These are expenses that tell an interesting story. A peek into our lives through our pocketbook:

  • $100 – Babysitting for 2 date nights. – One involved going to a Christmas party and then other was us seeing a play and then the new Star Wars because the play was short and sad, so we raced over to Star Wars right after it.
  • $22.50 – Tickets to Star Wars
  • $70 – We went ice skating as a family the Saturday before Christmas and brought some friends along. The ice skating outside was free, but we all went out for a yummy lunch afterwards, which cost $70 for our family. The kids got to sit at their own table and were having the time of their lives.
  • $49.99 – The heel of my 13-year-old black boots snapped off this month, so I bought some fancy new riding boots after Christmas. It was completely painless. I looked online for literally 5 minutes, told Mr. T I wanted to try that pair. He walked over to the store at lunch from his office, brought them home, and they fit fabulously. I didn’t have to shop. It was perfect.
  • $78 – Mailing Christmas packages (mainly to my parents in England).
  • $42.34 – Fabric to donate to the youth at Church that are making blankets for hospitals. And some thread so we can keep sewing our kits for Days for Girls. 
  • $39.99 – Used Ice Skates + Sharpening for Florin. Living in Alaska, we make sure our kids always have ice skates that fit them so we can head out whenever we want!

Financial Phrases:

These are things said by actual people that were either talking to me or near me enough that I could hear them:

  • “I believe in Dave Ramsey like I believe in the life of a prophet. I have no doubt that if I followed his advice, I’d be rolling it. I’m just not at that level.”
  • “When my kids would compare notes after Christmas with a friend of mine, I’d always tell her: ‘Could you just calm down Christmas at your house? Geeze!'”
  • “Close to paying off your mortgage?! We just refinanced into a new 30-year!”

Introducing: 2018 Financial Goals:

I should have learned from myself a year ago. I literally said this when I introduced 2017’s financial goals:

As I’ve thought about how to direct our money in 2017, I’ve gotten so overwhelmed. I’m really horrible at multitasking when it comes to goals. I want to just get rid of my mortgage so that I can direct all money toward investments.

Well, this year, I’ve learned my lesson. I’m keeping things simple:

  • KILL THE MORTGAGE – This is my top priority since I know I’m a terrible multi-tasker when it comes to goals. Once the mortgage is gone, it will be really easy for me to redirect that money toward other goals. Focusing on one at a time is the way to go. Also, we hope to make our regular payments as usual and pay the extra payments entirely with the Merch Challenge along with our next goal:
  • 27-Day Europe Trip – I’ll give a full update on the Great Merch Challenge quarterly, but monthly you can track the numbers here with me giving a simple: Earned: $X, Spent: $X with “earned” meaning the money we’ve made from selling shirts on Amazon and “spent” meaning all of the costs for the trip as well as any extra payments toward our mortgage.
  • Max out Mr. T’s 401k – This is set up already and if nothing changes, he should automatically max it out this year for the first time! Yay for automatic payments! (Though there’s some question as to what happens if there’s a month where 3 payments go through and a month where only 1 payment goes through in December/January – then we either don’t max out or contribute too much! Anyone know how to deal with that?)
  • Stretch Goal: Put $5500 into My Roth IRA – I am content with the financial progress we’re making, so if this doesn’t happen as it didn’t this year, I’m at peace. However, if we nail everything early this year and have some extra funds, this is where they will go first.
  • Market-Based Goal: $250,000 in investments by the end of 2018 –Again, we don’t “work towards” these goals at all because they are entirely market-based, but it’s always fun to throw out a number and see how close we get. And if we could end 2018 with a quarter million, I would be THRILLED. From $250,000, it’s totally possible to hit $1,000,000 in just 6 years! That would put us at millionaires at the end of 2024 – just 2 years past our original goal of $500,000 by 2022! (markets sometimes have their own ideas, however.)
Baby It's Cold Outside: Don't Have to Be Old to Retire

Baby It’s Cold Outside: Don’t Have to Be Old to Retire

Here’s our annual holiday hit and follow-up to last year’s song. This year’s is to the tune of Baby It’s Cold Outside, but our version is called: “Don’t Have to Be Old to Retire.” Mr. T wrote the words and they are a very exaggerated version of our usual conversations around the Banks house (he’s the spender). I will reiterate VERY EXAGGERATED. But he wrote it and he’s singing this year, so everyone is very excited! Enjoy!

Happy Holidays friends! We’ll see you in 2018!

Love, the Banks

Would You Postpone Christmas?

Would You Postpone Christmas?

An old friend of mine recently shared her Christmas tradition with her husband. They postpone Christmas!

Focusing on the Holiday by Postponing Christmas

My friend said that each year, she and her husband set a budget based on their income, goals, and financial goal status for that year. Then, they do no shopping at all until December 26!

They actually spend all of November and December enjoying the holidays. They avoid the stores. They ignore the ads. They don’t buy anything.

Then, on December 26, they each head out to the after Christmas sales and buy presents sticking strictly to budget. They wrap and open presents on December 27 in their own delayed Christmas event.

Postponing Christmas as a Game

She and her husband have been married nearly ten years now and they said it has turned into quite a game for them. They see how much they can stretch that budget after the holidays to make the other person feel special, but they only have one day in which to do it! The rest of us spend the entire year trying to do the same!

The two main downsides from my perspective:

  1. Having to navigate the stores on Boxing Day – I avoid the stores all of the holidays. As much as possible, I get my Christmas shopping done by Halloween! Jumping straight into shopping on the day after Christmas isn’t much better than during the holiday rush!
  2. Kids – My kids wouldn’t go for this! How would Santa explain his delay?

Would you be willing to postpone Christmas? Do you think it would save you money?

2017 Year in Review (including some things I haven't told you)

2017 Year in Review (including some things I haven’t told you)

2017 has been a weird one for me. And as my friends, I thought you might enjoy a recap of why. Here’s our 2017 Year in Review:

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Why We're On the Slow Route to Early Retirement

Why We’re On the Slow Route to Early Retirement

Our family is on the slow route to early retirement. Our story will never be shared on big news outlets because it just isn’t that interesting: “Couple saved money for 15 years to retire in their late 40s!” – 12 years? late 40s? But this is a conscience choice for us.

Why we’re heading to early retirement

The “Why” is always the most important question about a journey to early retirement. In our case, it’s not because we hate our lives now. It’s because we would rather take money out of the equation. Mr. T doesn’t love his job, but he also doesn’t hate it. He’s not the one stuck at work with tight deadlines, no sleep, panic attacks googling: “How do I retire early?”

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November 2017 Plan Update

November 2017 Plan Update

November came and went in a flash. It included a stressful week at the office (which included the hotel giving Kate @ Goodnight Debt and I chlorine burns). It also included a weekend with my sister (post-stress workweek) that included binge-watching and many delicious desserts. At the home front, we’re in the thick of sledding and ice skating season. Mr. T has successfully shaped our driveway snowpile into a sledding track as usual and we’re all enjoying ourselves. Christmas decorations are up and we’re enjoying our holidays so far with food, warm drinks, and cozy blankets. My favorite way!

The Numbers:

Want to know how easy it is for us to write these every month? I literally just log into my Personal Capital and revel in all the numbers being in one place. Do you like checking numbers? Do you like graphics? Do you like playing with calculators like retirement calculators and how much your fees are costing you? Then, you should obviously use my affiliate link to Sign up here to help yours truly speed toward financial independence! (Also feel free to read my more in-depth review of Personal Capital.)

Read More

How We Manage the Kid Stuff

How We Manage the Kid Stuff

I’ve already explained why our kids have stuff. Part of the responsibility of having stuff is learning how to manage it. We involve our kids heavily in how we manage the kid stuff.

Be Real With Your Kids

When I was little, the Gunny Sack used to eat our toys if we didn’t put them away. It was literally a pillowcase with a face drawn on it. I think this worked for my sister, but my mom reports that I would just assess whether or not the toys were worth keeping and mostly decide it was easier to let the Gunny Sack take them for awhile. We moved houses when I was 7 and in the move, I found the Gunny Sack in a box. I stole him and stuck him in my closet and was pretty sure I had beat the system!

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Why My Kids Have Stuff

Why My Kids Have Stuff

I know that I’m bucking the minimalism parenting trend, but I want to explain to you why my kids have stuff and the rules we have to manage it.

Props for Imaginary play

When I was in college, I was adamantly opposed to licensed toys. I thought they were a waste of money and an excellent marketing ploy for parents. Then Penny discovered the world of Elmo. When she was 1, we bought her a stuffed Elmo for Christmas (I’m a sellout, I know). What I discovered, however, is that Elmo was part of Penny’s imagination. Elmo’s world was something she was familiar with and Elmo was a character she knew. Now that she had a stuffed Elmo, she could personify him and pretend he was part of her life. As a parent, it was fun to watch her imagination grow as she took an existing character (Elmo) and experimented with what he would do in different situations.

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Our Focus on Gratitude

Our Focus on Gratitude

2017 has been a crazy ride for us, but we know we have so much to be grateful for! Today’s post is a reflection of our focus on gratitude.

What Northern Expenditure has done for us:

Sure, we don’t make money off this blog (I think we managed to break even this year!), but this blog has been amazing in so many ways. As we reflect on the things we’re grateful for, we obviously start with family, friends, better health, our home, our jobs, and the opportunities we have. Focusing specifically on this blog, we’re grateful for:

You – our readers

I know, I know. I’ll try not to get too sappy, but I LOVE it when you comment or send me an email about your own journey. It makes it all worth it.

This blogging community

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started the blog, but I certainly didn’t expect making so many good friends I would fly across the country just to hang out with them for a week in Texas (for FinCon). There’s also a handful of my closest blogger friends that have been so awesome. How sad I would be to miss out on those friendships if I hadn’t decided to jump in!

Strange opportunities

Through this blog, I have had the opportunity to dabble in SEO work, freelance writing, freelance research, and without the blog, I would not have found out about Merch by Amazon.

As we gather with our local friends tomorrow to eat turkey and Mr. T’s pies, know that I am thankful for this little corner of the internet that we have created and your part in that.

Happy Thanksgiving (US) friends – (international friends: please eat pie to celebrate anyway. There’s no bad day for pie.)

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