Denali Northern Expenditure

Q4 2021 Plan Update

Well, we wrapped up 2021. Woof. The kids are now all fully vaccinated with the oldest getting a booster this week. That is a big thing we’re grateful for. We’re also grateful Omicron was not quite here yet during the holidays, so we got to have our two usual families over for Christmas dinner and it felt somewhat normal. Omicron is def here now, so we’re back to hunkering down as much as possible and wearing our N95s everywhere (if you haven’t found a good, comfortable one yet, I recommend this one. I love it. Not even an affiliate link, just want you to have a good mask!).

My migraines ramped up to being 2-3 days a week, which is awful, so 2022’s main goal is to just get rid of migraines.

Other things that have gotten me through:

  • Online Board Games with lots of amazing PF bloggers. A new way to learn new games and get a dopamine hit when it’s my turn!
  • Weekly Goodwill trips: seriously love this new thing I do. I’m definitely not a minimalist. I have found so much great stuff including lots of the Christmas presents we gave. My daughter even found me an amazing Where’s Waldo shirt she gave me for Christmas. Good times had by all. I have considered just turning this blog into: things I find at Goodwill, but will save you all. But I will share the dollhouse I got for $3.50 and turned into a haunted house for Halloween:

We’re still up to our necks in house projects with the addition (we’re starting the wiring this week) and Mr. T building us some new chairs (aren’t they incredible?!):

Another picture, just in case you didn’t get a good look at the one at the top!

The Numbers:

Well, our investments are now at $744,600, which is INSANE. That’s over $300k from where we were a year ago. INSANE. A reminder that when we sold our condo last year, we brought out current mortgage under $300k and then refinanced at the end of 2021 into a 2.125% 15-year mortgage, so we’re trying not to pay that off early. Right now the mortgage is at $285,300.

As for 2021 spending (I didn’t keep track in 2020 with the world exploding right after we bought a new house), we spent a whopping $265,000 but that includes more than half of the addition and the extra mortgage payments to bring the current mortgage under $300k. In fact, when I take out all housing costs (mortgage, extra payments to mortgage), home updates (all the addition plus the furniture builds), and taxes, we only spent $46,500. We’re front-loading a lot of home costs (instead of buying a house with the right amount of bedrooms, we decided to buy one we liked and add a bedroom and cashflow that cost). But this also means I have NO IDEA how much “normal” spend is for us anymore. And likely won’t until at least 2023 (still much spending for the addition).

2021 Goals

We made these goals before we knew we were selling the condo. That certainly helped fund most of what we have listed here. But the addition is still the big unknown. We’ll hold off on making any new goals or doing anything big with money until that is paid for.

  • Have the Addition Exterior Finished – So we have a roof and it’s all framed… so kind of a win?! The windows and garage doors have been paid for, but thanks to supply chain problems, the windows aren’t expected until February and the garage doors should be arriving in May…
  • Max Out My 401k ($19,500/$19,500) – Done. My plan doesn’t let me go over, which is super nice, so I have it set up to max out on my last paycheck.
  • Max Out Mr. T’s 401k ($19,384/$19,500) – So close. Mr. T’s retirement has had a slider that only allows him to contribute in certain increments (ie: $798 or $819, but nothing in the middle). The GREAT news is that they have added a little box to the slider for 2022 that let’s you ENTER an amount!!! So we should be able to max him out in 2022!
  • Max Out my Roth IRA for 2021 ($6000/$6000) – Done. Probably the earliest I’ve ever done so!
  • Max Out Mr. T’s Roth IRA for 2021 ($6000/$6000) – Done. Seriously nailing these goals (thanks to the unexpected condo sale!)
  • Max out a SEP-IRA – This will happen at tax time when our accountant tells us what we can contribute. But will hopefully happen then.

2022 is shaping up to be much less specific in goals.

I assumed I would get a lot of pushback on that idea, but all the comments were overwhelmingly supportive. Basically, 2022 is going to be me saying yes to all the things that feel comfortable and exciting and if I have to slow down my 401k contributions for that, I feel great about it. The first thing I’m saying “yes” to in the New Year is solar. Because for our addition, we have some serious electrical needs (service upgrade, panel upgrade, and sub-panel install). Mr. T is doing the main wiring, but doesn’t feel comfortable doing those thing. BUT, if we do them all with the solar stuff, we can deduct 26% of the costs with our solar. And if we’re going to do solar at all, we should do it soon to start the ROI clock. So I think that’s going to happen. I’m just really into spending money right now it seems. 😉

We also have to figure out the plan in the next few years because if we plan to pull the plug on working in May of 2025, we need to focus more on the brokerage account (which currently only has $60k in it). So maybe we’ll start those discussions in 2022 when we stop spending so much on this addition!

I hope you all have a lovely 2022 – well, as lovely as possible with Omicron raging and under 5s not able to get vaccinated…

Q3 2021 Plan Update

This has been an eventful quarter. We went on our first trip since the beginning of the pandemic. We traveled to see our parents in the Pacific Northwest before school started. It was lovely to see them and siblings and cousins, but by the time we went, Delta was starting to take over and things were not very relaxing and traveling was stressful. So, when we returned home, it was time to send the unvaccinated kids back to school and scream into the void. We’ve so far only had one known exposure at school and no one has managed to get it yet (knock on wood) despite cases in Anchorage being astronomical and hospitals being on rationed care. I hate this. Can it please be over yet?!

Alaska is now the worst place in the world for per capita COVID cases for the entire pandemic! I’m sick of all this winning!

Work continues to lay people off at least monthly and everything is still so up in the air. I’m still on COVID research full time, but luckily that isn’t as time consuming as it was in 2020. I accidentally started freelance editing on the side because it’s enjoyable and not COVID related. (Turns out my standards for work are pretty low right now. Not about COVID? I’m in!)

I’m trying to handle the general pandemic stress by reading more. I recently read:

  • The Five Years Before You Retire (affiliate link). The book is about traditional retirement, but is a great resource for navigating that transition.
  • Working Twice as Hard (affiliate link) is written primarily for Black entrepreneurs, but I recommend it to white people too as it is helpful to be aware of racism in the workplace, help call out microaggressions, and be sure you’re not leaning too heavily on your Black colleagues to do your anti-racism work for you.
  • Laziness Does Not Exist (affiliate link) is revolutionary in that it’s thesis makes it really easy to call out unfairness. We’ve used “Laziness” to actually mean people who are disadvantaged in some way and are actually working way harder than the rest of us (ie: homeless, depressed, poor, etc.). It talks about how our culture has made us all so afraid that deep down we’re lazy, so we stop listening to our bodies and push through. I’ve been trying to slow down, nap when I feel tired, and really listen to my body. We’ve all been through a lot of stress and trauma this year and this book was a helpful excuse to give myself grace to rest.
  • Die With Zero (affiliate link). My main thoughts on this book were about how you can insure against money fears (and when an annuity makes sense). But this book also justified my desire to spend a bunch of money when this pandemic ends. I’ve got ten years with kids at home and I’ve got a lot to pack in! (Only 5 years left with Penny!)

I’m not sure what I’ll pick up next!

In other exciting news, the work on the home addition has begun. We have a foundation now! It’s been touch and go because there’s a contractor shortage (everyone wants to work on their houses after being stuck in them for so long). We’re still hoping they can finish the exterior so we can get roofing and gutters done before snow sticks around, but we really have no idea at this point.

The Numbers

This is the last quarter we’ll be paying such a high (3%) interest rate on our mortgage. I realize that sentence is crazy, but we were able to lock in a 2.125% and the bank paid us $500 toward property taxes to do it (this was in part because we bought the house so recently, they didn’t require an appraisal). The world is upside down right now. We just closed on it last week. I’m thinking with a sub-$300k mortgage at 2.125% for fifteen years, I may actually be able to have the self-restraint to not pay it off early. TBD, but if I can’t do it under those conditions, we know I’m not capable. The mortgage is currently at $288,000. With the fifteen year clock starting over and the lower interest rate, our monthly payment is also going down nearly $400! In the usual vibe of “my life is wonderful but it sucks right now for so many people,” my broker was talking about how the people who lost jobs in the pandemic, etc don’t have access to these low rates because they don’t have the income to qualify for a refinance, so they’re stuck with high interest rates on mortgages they can no longer afford because the bank says they can’t afford lower payments. Make it make sense.

Seeing our investments double in a year is also a bonkers situation. It feels unsustainable. I literally have no idea what happens next. But the pandemic has taught me that nothing can be predicted, so we just live our lives and do the best we can. With that being said, despite the market dips of September, our investments are now at $659,000.

2021 Goals

We made these goals before we knew we were selling the condo. That certainly helped fund most of what we have listed here. But the addition is still the big unknown. We’ll hold off on making any new goals or doing anything big with money until that is paid for.

  • Have the Addition Exterior Finished – So far, we have a foundation, which is good progress. Fingers crossed the framing happens this month. I’m hoping to report this is finished by the end of the year and Mr. T and I can start our work on the interior (we plan to do most of that ourselves).
  • Max Out My 401k ($15,138/$19,500) – My plan doesn’t let me go over, which is super nice, so I have it set up to max out on my last paycheck.
  • Max Out Mr. T’s 401k ($14,300/$19,500) – Mr. T’s retirement contribution “slider” may be the death of me. I can slide it to “$732,” “$798” or “$819″ per paycheck, but not $750.” We were under by $600 in 2020 because of the dumb slider. I’m hoping to get closer to maxing out this year, but I’m doubting we’ll actually be able to get the exact $19,500. My company doesn’t let you overcontribute, but I’m not sure about Mr. T’s. I’m afraid to try.
  • Max Out my Roth IRA for 2021 ($6000/$6000) – Done. Probably the earliest I’ve ever done so!
  • Max Out Mr. T’s Roth IRA for 2021 ($6000/$6000) – Done. Seriously nailing these goals (thanks to the unexpected condo sale!)
  • Max out a SEP-IRA – My current plan is to save all our self-employment income in our business account without using any of it. This will mean we can max out our SEP-IRA and then put the other funds into the new brokerage account, but we’ll wait until the addition is done… we may need to use the funds we get from our t-shirts/coloring books business for the addition.

I’m watching Pfizer closely hoping we get an approved vaccine for the kiddos by the end of the month and spending some of my free time researching Japanese toilets for my master bathroom. I would not have predicted I would be doing either of these things in Fall of 2021, but life is crazy sometimes. As we enter the holiday season, I hope you have time to slow down, rest, recover, and safely spend time with loved ones.

How to Insure Against Your Money Fears (And When an Annuity Makes Sense)

I just finished reading Die With Zero (affiliate link). The basic premise is that your money is worth more at different stages of your life (ie: when you’re younger you can do more things, so you shouldn’t wait until you’re old and retired to enjoy your money). The book is a good balance to all the “do nothing but work until you can retire early” literature available, but the most interesting idea to me was the fact that you can insure against all of your money fears.

People often save WAY too much money because they fear leaving their kids in the lurch, ending up in a retirement home, or outliving their money. Insurance can help you overcome these fears.

When You Need Life Insurance

Life insurance is a way to make sure your kids will be okay financially when you die. Term life insurance is the way to go because it’s cheaper and you likely don’t need life insurance for your entire life. I firmly believe everyone should have life insurance if you have young kids. Life insurance would allow your family the financial options of being able to pay for the funeral and end of life expenses, but also be able to take the time they need to adjust to just one parent. Even stay-at-home parents need life insurance. They are covering the bulk of the childcare and housework and those things are NOT free. Also, again, the loss of a parent/spouse would be a serious adjustment. Money can help the other spouse take a break from work to figure things out.

At the end of a 20 or 30 year life insurance term, you likely won’t need life insurance any longer. If your children are adults and you have enough savings to be able to continue to help them with college (if you’re still doing so) AND live your current life AND pay funeral expenses, you’re successfully self insured and no longer need life insurance. Indeed, your savings will no longer need to cover two of you (as one of you will no longer be around).

Long-Term Care Insurance

Long-term care insurance is complicated and expensive, but if your biggest fear is not being able to afford expensive long-term care toward the end of your life, you can help relieve that fear through insurance. Nursing homes can cost upwards of $100,000/year, so it’s a legitimate concern. However, in the worst case scenario, you run out of money, they don’t kick you to the curb. If your assets have been depleted, Medicaid kicks in.

I don’t think long-term care insurance is a good fit for everyone, but I do think it’s a great idea if your biggest concern is long-term care.

When an Annuity Makes Sense

An annuity is an insurance plan against outliving your money. This was maybe the most interesting idea Die With Zero introduced. Annuities are terrible investments and only exist because people think they will live longer than they actually do, so the annuity makes money because they don’t pay out as long as you think they will.

HOWEVER, if your biggest fear is outliving your money, an annuity is a great idea. Guaranteed income forever to help you overcome that fear!

Do I think everyone should go out and get annuities? Nope. They’re still terrible investments, but prior to this book, I didn’t see a reason anyone should get one.

Money is Emotional

Anything that pretends we can all make totally rational money decisions based entirely on math is crazy. We’re emotional. We have histories with money that color our decisions. We have actual fears about money that lead us to make other decisions. Using insurance products to help people have less fear is actually a great idea. If you won’t be comfortable knowing you may not be able to pay for long-term care or will never feel like you have “enough” because your biggest fear is outliving your money, there are ways to help you overcome those fears!

Spend More Money Now

I think Die with Zero is actually a great book to read in the middle of a pandemic, because if you’re anything like me, you feel like after the past year and a half of being stuck a home, you’re a bit concerned about how much you’re going to “let loose” financially when it’s safe to go and do things again. I’ve already prepped Mr. T that if cheap tickets to somewhere I want to go pop up, I’m not going to be as rational as I once was about my decisions and will probably be purchasing said tickets (work and school can work around TRAVEL for a change!). This book will make you pat yourself on the back and say: I’m in my golden years when I can go and do and have the health to do so, so it’s time to be SPENDYPANTS. (Also, this is your warning that if you’re following for frugality tips or semi-minimalism, that Maggie is no longer with us. The current Maggie goes to Goodwill weekly and plans to go hog wild the next few years financially. It’s gonna be a wild ride.)

Dipnetting 2021

Each year, we go dipnetting as a family. In a matter of 24-48 hours, we catch enough salmon to last us all year. I’ve explained the dipnetting process here and even shared our salmon recipe if you want to know how we cook it weekly.

Florin and Penny were solid contributors. There are two ways to dipnet: Stand with your net in the water and wait for a fish to jump in, or add more poles to make it longer and walk as the tide goes out. The walking way catches more fish, but it also takes more mass and strength as the pole is longer and you have to put it in the water, walk with it, and then pull it out and carry it to do it again. This was the first year Penny was big enough to do it. She caught one and promptly quit, but at least she learned how to do it. Florin loves dipnetting while standing. She caught 5 of our 33 this year.

How did we do? The salmon counts were really low so there was hardly anyone on the beach (compared to the THOUSANDS which come when the salmon is running), which was lovely. But despite the low numbers, the fishing was pretty average. It wasn’t too terrible and it wasn’t fabulous either.  Total count: 33 salmon. – This equals 77 lbs of fillet meat (over 88 lbs if you count the salmon bellies that we’ve already smoked!). The fish were also pretty small this year, just like last year. Our smallest fillet: 11 oz. Biggest fillet: 29 oz (42 oz is our record). Our average fillet was 19.3 oz.


Every year I calculate all the expenses associated with dipnetting to see just how good of a deal we’re getting on our salmon.


  • $40 – Fishing licenses for Mr. T and I.
  • $21.59 – Ice to keep the fish cool after catching.
  • $50 – New netting for Mr. T’s dipnet – his had lots of holes that we’ve had to patch over the years.
  • $28.08 – Gas for the car
  • $60 – The cost to camp on the beach two nights and drop our stuff off.
  • $22.75 – Blizzards at Dairy Queen for the whole family on the way home.
  • $FREE – New waders for Mr. T (I won a $500 Amazon gift card from Ally Bank earlier this year and used that to cover the waders)

Total Costs: $222.42

Total Cost Per Pound: $2.89

This exactly matches our lowest price per pound (in 2016).

We also got our smoker with last year’s haul (making 2020 our most expensive price per pound) and have been practicing all year. We smoke some pretty good meat! When you include the salmon bellies we have already smoked and put in the freezer from this year, it brings our price per pound down to $2.53! For reference, 2015 was $3.93 per pound, 2017 was $3.84 per pound, 2018 was $4.79 per pound, and 2019 was $2.64.

Another solid year of fishing a full freezer to show for it!

Q2 2021 Plan Update

This was an eventful quarter. It kicked off with tapping our birch trees and making birch syrup. Then, we dealt with the last month of remote school for the kiddos followed by a visit from my parents and then Mr. T’s parents (after not seeing either for over a year and neither had seen our new house). We went on a glacier cruise. Here’s proof we saw a glacier calving (followed by a collective reaction from the whole boat and Florin yelling: “Yes! That was AWESOME!” a few times.):

Then we sold our condo to our renters and submitted our plans to the city for our home addition. I also chaperoned our oldest (who was fully vaccinated!) at a church camp adventure with 20 teenage girls that involved rafting, hiking, camping, etc. And then had eight coworkers come to visit. After a year of only being social with our one pod family, this quarter was both thrilling and totally exhausting.

Work is still tenuous, to put it mildly:

Since then, several others were let go and I’m now on my fourth manager in a year. I really don’t know what happens from here, but things aren’t terrible yet, so I’m holding out until they are (or until I get let go as well).

I also got my official ADHD diagnosis yesterday. I feel like I should throw a party or set up a gift registry or something. Momentous I guess.

Selling the Condo

It turns out that buying a house in February of 2020, renting it for a year, and then selling it to the renters was one of the smartest, luckiest financial decisions we’ve made. Zillow says our house has appreciated nearly 75k since purchasing a year ago, we sold the condo for top dollar, and we didn’t have to deal with listing it, etc. It was fabulous.

So what did we do with the money?

  • $25k went to a mortgage recast – We chose a recast because it will lower our required monthly payment when we quit our jobs. For now, we’ll still pay the current amount and likely recast again before quitting if we don’t pay it off so we have maximum monthly payment flexibility. This recast brought our balance down to $289,000 (below 300k!) and got rid of our $27/month PMI.
  • $6k went to maxing out my Roth IRA for 2021 (yay for knocking out two goals!)
  • $65k went to a joint brokerage account – maybe we’re behind on this whole FIRE thing, but we finally managed to open a brokerage account and put 65k in.
  • The rest is being set aside for our home addition. When the addition is done, we’ll assess what, if any, money is left over and figure out how to distribute it.

The market appears to still be on a tear. Wild, right? Between the market’s wild climbs and the condo selling, our investments are looking pretty darn good! We’re currently sitting at $639,000 in investments. Again: WILD, RIGHT?! We jumped over $100k in a quarter and skipped right over the $500ks in our blog quarterly investment tracking! And, as mentioned previously, our mortgage is now down to $289,000.

2021 Goals

We made these goals before we knew we were selling the condo. That certainly helped fund most of what we have listed here. But the addition is still the big unknown. We’ll hold off on making any new goals or doing anything big with money until that is paid for. Lumber fluctuations make it really hard to pin down a price for what we need done.

  • Have the Addition Exterior Finished – We are planning to do all the interior work ourselves (except MAYBE drywall. TBD). But we need to have the addition “dry in” by winter. We have a contractor lined up pending plan approval by the city. If that takes too long, we’ll have to wait until next summer. But we’d really like to have the exterior done this year so we can spend the winter working on the interior.
  • Max Out My 401k ($10,077/$19,500) – I doubled my contributions this quarter and am on track for maxing out. But still have to make sure it doesn’t happen too early or I’ll miss out on my employer matching.
  • Max Out Mr. T’s 401k ($9,576/$19,500) – Mr. T’s retirement contribution “slider” may be the death of me. I can slide it to “$732,” “$798” or “$819″ per paycheck, but not $750.” We were under by $600 in 2020 because of the dumb slider. I’m hoping to get closer to maxing out this year, but I’m doubting we’ll actually be able to get the exact $19,500. My company doesn’t let you overcontribute, but I’m not sure about Mr. T’s. I’m afraid to try.
  • Max Out my Roth IRA for 2021 ($6000/$6000) – Done. Probably the earliest I’ve ever done so!
  • Max Out Mr. T’s Roth IRA for 2021 ($6000/$6000) – Done. Seriously nailing these goals (thanks to the unexpected condo sale!)
  • Max out a SEP-IRA – My current plan is to save all our self-employment income in our business account without using any of it. This will mean we can max out our SEP-IRA and then put the other funds into the new brokerage account, but we’ll wait until the addition is done… we may need to use the funds we get from our t-shirts/coloring books business for the addition.

That’s a wrap from me for the quarter. We have loads of summer plans ahead of us and a (fingers crossed) fairly normal fall with kids back in school. Watching the Delta variant closely and hoping Pfizer is on time with their September approval for 5-11-year-olds with vaccinations! I hope you all have a lovely summer moving at the pace you want to as we figure out what the new normal is.

Tapped birch trees

How to Tap Birch Trees and Make Birch Syrup

This year, we decided to embark on a new adventure learning to tap birch trees and make birch syrup. The new house came with a small birch forest and we were all home all the time so we decided to add a new element to our “urban homesteading”: Birch Syrup.

Now, before you start this process, let me start with two disclaimers:

DISCLAIMER #1: You should not do this for the cost savings. Making birch syrup is not at all cost-effective. You can buy 8 oz. of birch syrup from the professionals for $29. Because birch syrup has a 100:1 ratio (meaning it takes 100 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup – compared to maple which has a 40:1 ratio), it takes a lot more work.

DISCLAIMER #2: Birch syrup, if boiled, tastes bitter and molasses-y. This can still be used as a delicious glaze on things, but is not pancake syrup. If someone says they hate birch syrup, they likely haven’t tried it cooked correctly. Because birch sap consists of a different kind of sugar than maple, you can’t just boil it. In fact, if the sap goes above 180, it will burn. This means you can’t actually boil it at all.

The combination of the 100:1 ratio and the fact it can’t actually be boiled means you really can’t make a good birch syrup without a reverse osmosis system. This allows you to pull out around half of the water from the sap without heat at all. We DIY’d our reverse osmosis system using the instructions provided by Souly Rested (if anyone deserves the Amazon affiliate commission for providing useful content, it is them with this post).

How to Tap Your Birch Trees

Being new to this, I attended webinars on the topic and read every available resource on the internet. Ultimately, what you need to know was written up by the professionals in their article: Tapping a Birch Tree. Be sure to check if your birch trees are at least 25″ in circumference. Smaller than that can hurt the tree. If you’re doing it as a family like we did, I recommend the Molly of Denali episode called: Sap Season. Molly of Denali is a FABULOUS cartoon all about life in Alaska and they do a great job explaining how to do it.

When to Tap Your Birch Trees

This was the hardest part. We wanted to start right away! And I checked every single day and saw people reporting that sap was flowing in Fairbanks and the Mat-su Valley and our trees were dry! We even saw someone on the other side of Anchorage getting sap three full days before we did! But, based on my research and our experience this year, we learned it’s best to set up 2 test taps in different locations in your yard when things are getting close. How do you know they’re getting close? Well, I’ve heard many things: after you’ve seen 4 mosquitoes, when the base of the trees are out of the snow; but mainly, it ends up being after about 3 nights above freezing and 3 days above 50 degrees F. All of our trees starting flowing at the exact same time. So, our two test taps started dripping within an hour of one another. It was a notably late year according to the experts; the sap started flowing April 23. Next year we’ll set the test taps and stop freaking out so much.

How to Process the Birch Sap

Birch sap can go bad quickly, so it has to be collected daily and stored somewhere cool (we buried our collection barrel in a mountain of snow before the snow melted and we collected all the sap in the barrel each morning). If you’re doing more than 15-20 trees, you’ll also likely have to start processing the sap each day so you can keep up.

Our process was:

  • Collect all sap in the barrel each morning
  • Run the reverse osmosis system – the pure water output would be piped to buckets, the sap runoff would be sent back into the barrel so it could run continually until we turned it off. Generally, we would keep it running until we’d pulled out about half the water (ie: the water in the buckets equaled about what was left in the barrel).
  • Pour the remaining sap from the barrel into our steam table pan on the camping stove
  • Heat the sap until about 160 degrees F (we had a meat thermometer probe attached to the side of the pan)
  • Turn on the bubbler at 160 – This was something we hadn’t initially planned on, but it turns out, it takes FOREVER for the water to evaporate out of the sap without boiling it. So Mr. T built a bubbler contraption out of CPVC pipe with holes drilled in the bottom attached to an air mattress pump we got at Target. This blew bubbles into the sap to simulate boiling at a low temperature and helped the water evaporate WAY faster.
  • Bubble the sap around 170 until the liquid level is 1-2 inches deep (too low for the bubbler to help). Don’t let it go above 180! (We set an alarm on our thermometer so we could run out and turn the heat down before that happened.)
  • At this point, if we had the previous day’s sap we had completed to this point in the fridge, we would combine the two and then let it bubble again until it was 1-2″ deep.
  • Use the refractometer to check brix levels. Birch syrup is done at 67 Brix (same as Maple). It took several combined days to get up to 40+ and then we had to complete it to 67 in a turkey roasting pan on the stove (again, don’t let it get above 180 degrees!).
  • Strain through coffee filters (it will take several filters as the sediment that’s created when heating the sap will clog it quickly) while it’s hot and put immediately into jars and seal.

Other Birch Syrup Info

  • Birch syrup is very distinct. It tastes nothing like maple and is kind of hard to describe. It’s sweet and woodsy.
  • Early run birch syrup is lighter in both color and flavor than late-run birch syrup. The sap starts to yellow as the sap flows, resulting in the change in color.
  • Taps should be pulled out when the sap turns cloudy (usually when the buds burst into leaves on the tree).
  • Holes should be left unplugged and if you tap the same tree the next year, it should be at least 6″ away from this year’s hole.

How Much Does Birch Syrup Cost?

  • Components for the Reverse Osmosis system: $388.47
  • 30 Taps: $70.51
  • Sap Buckets & Food Grade Garbage Can to use as Collection Barrel:$207.10
  • Tubing and clamps: $54.06
  • CPVC pipe for bubbler: $14.70
  • Blower for bubbler: $12.19
  • Steam Table Pan for cooking into syrup: $30.76
  • Adorable 8oz syrup bottles: $28.99
  • 2 Propane Tanks: Free – A friend had a few extras and gave them to us
  • Propane: $52.70
  • Coleman Camping Stove: Free – I got a bonus at work in the form of a Cabela’s gift card that just covered the camping stove.
  • Refractometer: $23.99

TOTAL COST: $883.47

After about 17 days and nearly 200 gallons of sap, we ended up with 2 gallons of syrup. So…

TOTAL COST PER GALLON: $441.74 – remember how I said you should just buy it from the professionals?! Well it actually turns out that if you’re buying it for $30/8 oz from them, it would cost you $480 (lucky for you, they also sell it in 32 oz jugs for just $105).

Hopefully next year, we can bring the cost down significantly since much of the cost this year was one-time purchases. Overall, we really loved the process. It was fun to do each day as a family, and it comes at the perfect time (the 2 weeks before the trees get leaves, so we’re all antsy for spring and needing something to do until it comes!). Also, we’ve got the neighbors on board and we may be doing a street-wide birch tapping blitz next year! I’ll let you know how it goes. 😉

1500 Days Until We Quit

The pandemic has me calculating all of our numbers on the daily, which made me realize, today is 1500 days from our target quit date of May 20, 2025! Why is this significant? Well, I’m sure you’ve heard of Mr. 1500 days. He and his wife set out to amass $1 million (+their remaining mortgage amount) in 1500 days. When they began in January of 2013, they had $586,000 and were contributing $2000/month toward investments. So… did they make it? YES! On April 19, 2016, they hit their goal (just 1204 days into their journey!). They now have a net worth over $3.6 million and are doing exactly what they want to be doing.

That means WE CAN DO IT TOO!

The New Plan

So our goal is the same as the 1500s. In 1500 days, we hope to have $1 million invested + at least 1 year cash + either a paid off mortgage or enough in a brokerage to pay off the mortgage. (If we pay nothing extra on our mortgage, we’ll need $235,000 to pay off the balance in May 2025.) We currently have $500k invested (THANK YOU CRAZY MARKETS!), which is less than the 1500s started with, but even if we just max out our two 401ks, we’re contributing $3,250 monthly, so we should be able to catch up.

Now, we’re more conservative in our estimates. I don’t trust the market to return 10% and I don’t think we could live off of $1 Million forever. However, that was never our goal. We want to be entrepreneurs for awhile without having to depend on the money forever. We are already CoastFI at 65 which means our $500,000 will take care of us forever after we’re 65 if we don’t touch it until then. This new goal will take us to Flamingo FI, which is another made-up goalpost, but I like it’s simplicity. Flamingo FI means you can count on your money doubling every 10 years counting on a 7.2% return and the rule of 72. So, with $1 million invested, in 10 years, that would be $2 million if we don’t touch it for 10 years and then we could withdraw between $60-80,000 forever (counting on a 3-4% withdraw rate).

With enough money to cover the mortgage and a 1 year emergency fund, we would just need to make enough for living expenses for a decade before being able to tap the investments. This sounds like a good balance between an exciting entrepreneurial challenge and a big enough safety net in case we either hate it or are terrible at it.

Why May 20, 2025?

The goal has always been to be available full time the summer before Penny is a senior in high school. We want her to be entirely in charge of the summer itinerary that year to maximize our time with her before she’s potentially getting college prepped the next year. She will get to choose where we travel and what we do that entire summer. May 20 is an arbitrary date that felt like a nice round number and is likely a few days before school will get out for the kids. 😉

Because the goal is not to never work or earn money again, I reserve the right to quit earlier if we hit our numbers earlier! This is, after all, about pursuing the things we want to do, so if that opportunity happens earlier, we’ll take it! (I mean, if we keep earning $20k/week with these crazy market increases, we’ll get there in no time!)

What’s the Entrepreneur Plan?

Mr. T and I have been dabbling for a few years with online side hustles we really enjoy. We currently sell t-shirts and coloring books on Amazon (affiliate link). With the pandemic, we’ve had almost zero time to work on any of those things, but have still managed to earn about $500/month as totally passive income. So, we’re not worried we’ll earn ZERO money when we quit our jobs.

We also have a HUGE LIST of things we want to create. We have so many stories we want to write together–likely YA fantasy. We’ve been piecing the worlds together in conversation over the past few years and are very excited to be able to go full time trying to map out and write the stories.

We also want to build an Etsy shop the kids can run to earn money in high school (and build up their Roth IRAs early). TBD what that looks like, but it’s on the list.

The list also includes an Alaska travel game we created a decade ago and a whole bunch of other things we’d like to see become realities. For us, most of this stuff isn’t about money. It’s about seeing these things in our brains become realities. But I’m also sure we can figure out something that will earn us money along the way. After all, we spent a year playing the Unemployment Game and won!

What are the Blog Plans?

We’ll keep documenting our journey along the way as we always have. Quarterly still feels like the right amount. I want to use real numbers because real numbers were what helped me know it was possible. But monthly seems braggy (and I can’t commit to more than quarterly right now!) Hopefully as we emerge from this pandemic (and I’m no longer working so much on COVID research and have a little more mental capacity), I’ll start posting more.

I have lots of things I have to work through as we get prepared for this big leap that I hope to talk through here including:

  • Pay off the house vs. Have the amount in a brokerage account (and how this decision impacts taxes and ACA subsidies)
  • Planning for healthcare
  • Helping the kids with college – how much and in what form (we don’t have 529s for any of the kids)
  • Eventual withdraw plans / Roth conversions, etc.
  • Donor advised fund?

And don’t worry! I’ll definitely keep you posted on the Birch tapping experiment and update the annual dipnetting numbers. I’m hoping to get back to a more consistent schedule by the end of 2021, but who knows what the world will look like then. No guarantees.

Q1 2021 Plan Update

Well, 2021 is starting to look hopeful. I’ve got both my shots (as of Monday) and Mr. T is getting dose #2 today! (We’re lucky to live in AK which has been open for vaccines for all 16+ for awhile now.) I’m still full time COVID-19 researcher and recently discovered I have ADHD.

So, I found myself a neuro-therapist that specializes in ADHD and started therapy this week! I look forward to learning some new tools to help get me out of this pandemic in a healthy way. Right now I’m burned out, exhausted, and sick of feeling gas-lighted (gaslit?) as people try to school me in all things COVID (this is LITERALLY MY JOB). Also with 5 people in this house for a full year, I need some executive functioning tools to not feel overstimulated and tired all the time. The good news is the kids have less than 2 months left of the school year! We’ve almost survived!

The other thing happening is birch tapping season starts in the next couple of weeks (weather dependent)! We’ve built a reverse osmosis system to help cut down on fuel to make the syrup (because it takes 100 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup). We’re tapping 35 trees and with all the kids home all day every day, we’re all pretty excited to have a big family project to do together. And it will be a great big science experiment since this is all new territory for us. (Don’t worry, I will actually do a blog about the experience. Shocking, I know.)

The Money Stuff

It turns out, even after daily running the numbers, and the insane market, we still can’t retire yet. DANGIT. But can we just talk about how this market is INSANE? It’s UNREAL.

Still have a giant new (as of March) mortgage. It’s down to $318,000. At 3% for 15 years, my goal is to not pay it down early, but save enough money to cover it before early retirement (an account just for paying down the mortgage each month). But we’ll see if I last FOURTEEN MORE YEARS before paying it off.

And where has that bonkers market gotten us? Our investments are currently at $494,000 (SO CLOSE to half a million dollars!) making us officially CoastFI. That means if we don’t touch any of our investments until we are 65, we’re all set for traditional retirement. To calculate this number, you can use the Fioneers’ CoastFI formula (their website also has a calculator you can download for free if you don’t want to calculate it):

Coast FI # = FI # / (1+Expected Growth Rate)^# of years until retirement

We assumed a 5% growth rate and an annual spend of around $60-70,000 ($70,000 if we want to use a 4% withdrawal rate and around $61,000 for a 3.5% withdrawal rate). 27 years until Mr. T is 65 (I’m slightly younger, so I went with his). And BAM. There we are. CoastFI. Now we just have to figure out the next 27 years!

2021 Goals

We bought a house last year, as I mentioned, with the plan to build an addition. Mr. T and I are currently sleeping in the basement and plan to build a master suite off the main part of the house (we purchased the house with this addition in mind. We couldn’t find a house we liked that also had enough rooms for us). So, that’s our big elaborate project this year. Other than that, the goal is to max out all the things. 2020 was our first year of doing so (yay two full time incomes!!).

  • Have the Addition Exterior Finished – We are planning to do all the interior work ourselves (except MAYBE drywall. TBD). But we need to have the addition “dry in” by winter. Contractors are busy and we’re unsure if we’ll be able to get the help we need to get it done, but this is the big spendy goal this year.
  • Max Out My 401k ($2,661/$19,500) – I better raise my contributions!
  • Max Out Mr. T’s 401k ($4,788/$19,500) – Mr. T’s retirement contribution “slider” may be the death of me. I can slide it to “$732,” “$798” or “$819″ per paycheck, but not $750.” We were under by $600 in 2020 because of the dumb slider. I’m hoping to get closer to maxing out this year, but I’m doubting we’ll actually be able to get the exact $19,500.
  • Max Out my Roth IRA for 2021 ($6000/$6000) – Done. Probably the earliest I’ve ever done so!
  • Max Out Mr. T’s Roth IRA for 2021 ($0/$6000) – Not yet.
  • Max out a SEP-IRA – We maxed out for 2020 just this week and obviously we won’t be able to officially max out on this year until tax time next year, but I’d like to have enough set aside to be able to just max it out with taxes next year.

I hope you are all well. Take care of yourself. Be kind to one another. The world is dark enough.

Q4 2020 Plan Update

It is truly hard to believe that 2020 is finally coming to an end. This has been a year and a decade at the same time. I want to say that this year has been traumatic. Even if you never got COVID-19 and didn’t lose employment, you have experienced trauma. Just remember that it’s okay to not feel totally okay right now. You are not alone. It’s okay to not have a plan right now. It’s okay if you feel like you’re just treading water. Do what you need to do to get through this. Remember 2021 won’t get better right away. Prepare yourself for that.

I’ve seen so much hustle talk from wealthy people and it’s exhausting. It’s truly okay if you emerge from this pandemic with nothing to show for it but yourself and your family. Just get through it, friends. I’ve shared how I plan to approach New Year’s resolutions this year. I suggest you do something equally guilt-free.

It’s also okay to not see all the “bright spots” people keep saying about 2020. It’s hard to identify the positives when you’re in the middle of the trauma. One positive I would say is that 2020 made my migraines so bad I sought treatment and it turns out there are some miracle drugs on the market that can stop a migraine in 30 minutes. SCIENCE IS MAGIC.

I also wanted something to look forward to during this dark winter before vaccines come available, so I am diving all in to the two-week birch tapping season at the end of March. Birch syrup is a northern novelty. Because of the type of sugar that birch sap has, if you boil it down like maple sap to make syrup, it ends up with sort of a molasses-y taste (which still makes for yummy baking on carrots, salmon, or mixed with honey), but don’t you worry. I’m building (with much help from Mr. T) a reverse osmosis system to help cut out some of the bitterness. This is a big foray into my suburban semi-homesteading lifestyle I hope to ease into as we leave traditional employment. Don’t worry. I’ll definitely blog all about it.

The Money Stuff

I will say what I’ve said all year: This still feels like the least important conversation ever, at best, and unfair bragging at worst, but I committed to being transparent and that will continue. The most helpful thing to me on my journey was people sharing actual numbers. I hope ours can prove useful to someone else.

Still have a giant new (as of March) mortgage. It’s down to $322,000. At 3% for 15 years, my goal is to not pay it down early, but save enough money to cover it before early retirement (an account just for paying down the mortgage each month). I also have to constantly remind myself that a lower interest rate (2.5%), would save us less than 20k BEFORE closing costs, so I need to just settle down and live with my pretty incredible 3% mortgage. (Though, if it drops to 2%, all bets are off!)

The market remaining high still remains one of the greatest mysteries of 2020. And it all feels like fake money at this point. But at this rate, we’ll hit our goals in 2021 and sail off into the sunset (just kidding). Our investments currently sit at: $444000. Bonkers, amiright? That’s a $73,000 increase over last quarter. That’s a salary! I’m sure this will continue to blow my mind as investments get higher, but in 2020, this seems particularly bonkers.

After last quarter’s work drama of the boss getting let go and getting a new supervisor, this quarter, I got ping ponged around the office. I still do the COVID thing but no one can quite decide who I should report to. This drama is sure to continue through the first quarter of next year when they think they’ve finally decided which team I should land on. This is the first year I’ve really been exposed to the giant corporation nonsense I’ve heard so much about. Like, can everyone just leave me alone to do the work we all agreed has been valuable? Instead I’m constantly stuck writing my strengths and weaknesses, goals for a week, a month, a quarter, a year, etc etc.

2020 has verified to me that a) Mr. T and I will not get bored not having regular employment and b) corporate life is not my natural habitat. I’ve been living vicariously through Purple’s early retirement the past few months (I mean, she even took a sleeper train car!).

2020 Goals

Here’s the final break-down. We did pretty darn good considering all the chaos that is 2020 (including purchasing a new house without selling the old one!).

  • Max Out My 401k ($19,500/$19,500) – DONE! I found out that my company doesn’t let you contribute too much, so my last paycheck just maxed out and then gave me the rest back!
  • Max Out Mr. T’s 401k ($18,900/$19,500) – Mr. T’s retirement contribution “slider” may be the death of me. This was as close as we could get because we can slide the slider to “$798” or “$819” – random, arbitrary numbers. I kept messing with it all year to try to get as close as we could… but I was still $600 off. Hopefully I can get this closer to the max next year.
  • Max Out my Roth IRA for 2019 ($6000/$6000) – Done (thanks to the extended July 15 deadline).
  • Max Out Mr. T’s Roth IRA for 2019 ($6000/$6000) – Done. Same.
  • Max Out my Roth IRA for 2020 ($0/$6000). Done.
  • Max Out Mr. T’s Roth IRA for 2020 ($0/$6000) Done.
  • Figure out and Contribute to a SEP-IRA –Done. Because we had a really good Q4 sales season in 2019 that paid out in Q1 2020, our self employment income was quite high this year (though Q4 2020 saw less than half as many sales, understandably). I just opened a SEP-IRA this week and contributed $2k. I’ll wait until my accountant tells me the final number needed to max out the employer part of this (since I already maxed my personal Roth IRA) and then contribute that amount.

I hope you are all well. Take care of yourself. Be kind to one another. The world is dark enough.

How To Set New Year’s Resolutions during Hard Times

So 2020 was something, wasn’t it? Now, I’m usually all for starting over and setting goals and resolutions at the start of the year, but I feel like 2021 New Year’s Resolutions need to look totally different than previous years and I think this is true for any really hard season in your life. Over the past several weeks, I’ve thought of several ways to approach goals during Hard Times and I think I’ve settled on what I think it should look life for me. Everyone is different, so don’t assume this is how you should be doing it. (If you need to just treat the New Year like any other day and keep on surviving, by all means, DO THAT.)

If you can adapt any of the following to yourself this New Year’s resolution season, go for it:


In “normal” times, this looks like reflecting on what you did well this year and what you would like to improve upon. But in the middle of Hard Times, this turns into self-shaming and that’s not going to get anyone anywhere. So, here’s how I plan to approach “end of year reflections” this year: Stream of consciousness write your thoughts and feelings of 2020. Seriously. Just write everything. Does that mean you just write down a bunch of angry words? Do it. But this moment is historic (in 2020, this is true both globally and in your own life, but tough times are personal historic moments). Document it. Add details that you’ve found notable this year. Here are just a few of mine:

  • We moved this year and the elderly new neighbors came over and tried to shake my hand at the front door and I had to decline but still try to seem friendly and happy to be in the neighborhood. It was a weird, notable moment for me.
  • The absolute horror I feel when I find someone wondering the grocery store completely maskless. It’s a cross between indecent exposure and fearing for my life.
  • One of my big regrets of 2020 was not watching Tiger King. Not that I feel like I’m missing out on the actual show, but at the beginning of all this, it was the first way the US came together in a collective experience binging that crazy show. And I was too busy with work because I’d just been thrown in the deep end of being the office COVID research expert. I feel like I missed out on a notable, collective experience in this lonely year.

What is this supposed to accomplish? Well, catharsis if nothing else. It’s not ever and we’re still in Hard Times. But reflecting helped me work through some emotions about this year and also find some humor in the insanity that is this Hard Time.

Set Just ONE Goal: Feel Better next year at this time.

See? That wasn’t so bad. I even set your goal for you. And it breaks all the goal setting rules. Other than being timely (one year), it is not specific or measurable. But it’s the only goal you need this year. I promise. Let me explain.

During Hard Times, all the fringe stuff falls away and you’re just surviving. It’s super easy to be like: I have eaten terribly this year, I’ve hardly exercised. My meditation time is down to zero. I haven’t hustled. etc etc etc. DON’T DO THAT. You’re in the middle of Hard Times. It’s okay to not be improving in all areas of your life. And you’re probably feeling yucky about lots of things. Pick just the yuckiest and set a simple goal to feel better about it next year than you do now.

This could mean many things. Maybe in order to feel better about that thing, you need to process it or approach it differently in order to feel better about it. Maybe you need to take some sort of action. Do that.

Example: My sedentary 2020 lifestyle has led to hip pain (yes, I’m a 35-year-old really old lady). My entire goal is to have my hip feel better at the end of next year. That will involve me moving it sometimes.

No Guilt Allowed

The goal is to mainly empower you to do SOMETHING helpful to yourself during Hard Times. It is NOT to give you something else to feel guilty about. What if all through January, I exercise the same amount I did 2020 and my hip still hurts? I can get up and move that hip once and feel great about doing that one thing. Was my goal exercise X amount each week? Nope. Was my goal to have zero hip pain at the end of the year? Also nope. It was just to FEEL BETTER. That’s it. I can’t have guilt about that at all because a) it’s not the end of the year yet and b) these are Hard Times and I’m just going to try to feel better.

Now, Happy New Year’s friends. May 2021 be way less terrible than 2020. And may we all feel better next year than we do this year in some way.

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