Denali Northern Expenditure

Q4 2022 Plan Update

I’m only 6 weeks late, so it totally still counts, plus we were out of the country for the holidays, so I actually have a reasonable excuse. We took a 3.5-week trip to New Zealand and Australia over the holidays and it was glorious. I will write a separate post with a break-down of the costs for that trip (with pictures), but this post is our life update as of the end of 2022. So here it goes:

Addition update: Our walk-in closet is now fully installed, so I’ve moved all my clothes into it. Since we’re not quite done with the bedroom, it now just means I have to walk across the house to get my clothes each morning, but no big deal because I love my closet so much. The bedroom now has flooring and a birch plywood ceiling. We’re working on window casings and trim now. We will finish up the bedroom before starting on the bathroom, so fingers crossed we’ll get there before the end of Q1. TBD. We’re also done with most of our most expensive parts of the addition, so it’s nice to put those big costs behind us in 2022.

Work update: Isn’t work always a ride? Well, everything was restructured AGAIN while I was out of town and I was moved to a new team. I’m still in the limbo between teams finishing some things up and starting new things, but I think the new team will be a better fit for my skillset and interests, so I’m actually hopeful (and so glad I didn’t even have to apply for a new job to get to a better place!). Fingers crossed I’m right.

The Numbers

These numbers are actually from January 11 (when we got back into the country) because it turns out, when you don’t have access to your phone number, it’s really hard to check bank accounts with 2-factor authentication. Our mortgage was at $268,700 on a 15-year mortgage at 2.125% (which was the main topic of conversation among our New Zealand cousins at Christmas dinner since most countries only lock interest rates for 3-5 years, so they were all very jealous). With our savings at Ally Bank up to 3.4%, I’m not tempted to pay this down early, currently.

Our investments ended the year at $684,000 (though, again, this was January 11). Maybe we’ll pass the $744,000 we ended 2021 with again this year? Literally no one knows.

The Year of Yes

2022 was the Year of Yes, and wow was that expensive, but we had a fabulous time. Here are the things we said “Yes” to:

  • A week in NYC and 5 Broadway shows 
  • A week in the Florida keys followed by a week in DisneyWorld with my whole family
  • Solar Panels
  • A pizza oven
  • The continued addition project
  • Season tickets for the touring Broadway shows visiting Anchorage in 2023/2024
  • Australia/New Zealand – this included tours of the glowworm caves, a day out on the Great Barrier Reef, a flightseeing trip over Milford Sound and the Fjordlands, and obviously a visit to Hobbiton.
  • Tickets to Mexico for Spring Break 2023

Even with all of that, we still managed to max out both of our Roth IRAs and 401ks and put a few thousand in our SEP-IRA. Bonkers, right? High incomes, man. Still the ultimate life hack.

2023 Plans and Goals

2023 will be my year of “balance” after my year of saying yes to all the things. I was so excited to not make any large purchases or have any large costs, but then my oldest daughter got scheduled for braces next month, so that will be $8k. Oh well.

We have two goals for 2023:

  • Finish a draft of my novel – I decided to write a romantic comedy novel to see if I could. I chose Romcom because it’s formulaic, but challenging to make it interesting while still fitting a formula. I’m also writing it in first person present tense, which has also been a fun writing exercise. The novel can be terrible and I can choose to do nothing with it, but I want to finish it.
  • Finish the addition – This means building an entire bathroom and shower, finishing the trim in the bedroom, and rebuilding the deck.

We’ll likely try to max out all the things again, but I’m flexible on that, so I’ll keep you posted.

I hope things are looking up for you in 2023.

Q3 2022 Plan Update

It’s fully fall and our six-pack of skeletons from Home Depot are dressed in costume as trick-or-treaters on our front lawn (yes, this purchase will continue to make me happy every single year. Tempted by that 12-foot skeleton…). They can all be seen here, in their debut last year:

We’ve also had our first snow, so I did what any reasonable human does and went to the library to check out ten Rom Coms and I’m plowing through reading them in my cozy new wearable sleeping bag (hygge, right?!).

Addition update: The drywall is DONE and painted! Now we’re working on fun stuff like our birch plywood ceiling in the bedroom and starting the flooring. The contractor still hasn’t finished up his outside portion, but the longer it takes him, the longer it is until I owe him a final check, so c’est la vie. He’ll get around to it eventually, I’m sure. AND he let us borrow all of his fancy drywall tools, so we’re not too upset with him. Maybe we’ll be moved in to the new bedroom by the next plan update, but I’m guessing probably not because we’ve got quite a few upcoming trips.

Work update: It’s been a RIDE since last quarter. We were told in July that our team was going to be let go. Then the entire company literally changed from being a research company to a tech company, but we weren’t let go. So, the COVID research stopped, as did most other research, and our team became technical writers…? It’s not a place I thought I would land, being in research and all, but here we are. I applied for a few jobs that I got excited about, but didn’t get, so I’m still rolling with the current company for the time being (until it becomes unbearable or I find something better, I suppose). Though reading all the Rom Coms has me wishing we can just jump to the early retirement part where Mr. T and I write books together (it’s def on the list of things we want to do and Rom Coms have been floated. Though Mr. T wants to specify that ours would NOT fit the standard mold). Since we haven’t been let go, my boss has indicated I may be up for a promotion in the near future… which is, by all accounts, totally crazy and may not end up happening since my boss was also allegedly going to be let go just a few months ago, so… I can’t count on anything. But I do think the whole thing is definitely adding fodder to my future novels… workplace Rom Coms called “Endless Redundancy”? or “Under Threat of Discharge”?… uh, yikes. Nevermind. Forget I said anything. Better keep workshopping. Or working.

Also, I started Adderall for my recent ADHD diagnosis this summer and it has been life-changing. I can accomplish SO MUCH in so little time. Of course, now there’s a major shortage on Adderall, so I’m rationing through some of my PTO this month. So that’s fun.

The Numbers:

The numbers don’t matter right now because we all know they’re bad, but I still love tracking them, so this continues. Our mortgage is down to $271,500 and I think I’ve finally gotten over the desire to put any extra toward this because this month, our savings rate at Ally Bank just jumped to 2.25% which is MORE than our mortgage interest rate of 2.125%! So I’m keeping the mortgage for the full 15-year mortgage length (just 14 years left!).

At the end of September, our investments had fallen to $605,000, which is down 20% since December, but remarkably higher than our last update, so not all bad. Probably because we managed to max out our Roth IRAs with this year’s $3,284 PFD, but while we thought the market was bad, we put in 12k on a Tuesday and by Friday, it had all disappeared… just shows you can’t time the market.

We continue with the Year of Yes (minus quitting my job to write Rom Coms, I suppose). We have a trip to the Midwest planned this month to see family and enjoy visiting pumpkin patches (UPDATE: had to cancel last minute because the family we were visiting testing positive for COVID). Then we’re off to Australia and New Zealand over the holidays! I have purchased tickets to Mexico for Spring Break. Last week, when a flight deal popped up, I said to Mr. T: “We’re going to Spain in April, right? Just kidding” to which he responded: “I’m not sure you ARE kidding.” I’ve started to make him nervous with the amount of travel I’m planning, so it might be just the right amount. (Note: I did not buy tickets to Spain, though I was certainly tempted.)

Alaska Sockeye Salmon

Dipnetting 2022: Inflation Hits the Waters!

It’s time for the annual Banks family Alaskan dipnetting update for 2022! If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ve explained the dipnetting process here and even shared our salmon recipe if you want to know how we cook it.

Each year, because I’m me, I calculate how much we pay per pound for our salmon in our big dipnetting adventure. To be clear, we don’t entirely do it because it’s cheap. I LOVE dipnetting. It’s my favorite sport. It’s my favorite holiday. It’s is quintessential Alaskan life. I love it so much. I digress. As a reminder, last year, we caught 33 salmon for a total of 77 pounds of fillet meat which cost us a total of $2.53/lb.

Before I get to the numbers, let me explain how this year was a bit different. Dipnetting each year runs from July 10-31. This year, my daughters had a youth camp July 10-15 they attended 2 hours away. I chaperoned the camp the first night, meaning July 10-12 were off the table. We hate going on weekends because it’s really crowded. And we will be out of town for the last two weeks of July. That basically left us with July 13-15 to go dipnetting. This is pretty early in the season and fish counts are pretty low that early, but it was the only time we could go. We also realized just a few weeks before going that the tides those days were really high, so camping on the beach, while still possible, was dicey at best. So, because this is our Year of Yes, we booked an AirBNB close to the river (so yes, the click-baity title should more accurately have said “lifestyle inflation, not actual inflation, made this year more expensive”… but who would click on that?!). This significantly raised our costs, but from a time perspective, it was fabulous because we processed and vacuum packed our fish at the AirBNB between tides and came home with our fillets ready to go into the freezer! (Processing and packing usually takes another whole day upon return. AND, don’t worry, the AirBNB binder had specific instructions for where to process fish in the yard, so it was totally allowed!)

How Many Fish Did We Catch?

The fish were, indeed, slow, but we managed to come home with 22 sockeye salmon, and the tides let us fish from 9-11 pm which is my FAVORITE time to fish. It’s so peaceful and the sun is setting at 11 and everyone has to stop fishing at 11, so you have people on the shore counting down the minutes yelling: “4 minutes left, get back in there!” So, the second day was very slow. We had caught 3 total fish that day, but it picked up for the last 20 minutes of the night and we caught 6 just between 10:40 and 11 pm. It was so exciting and communal. (Have I mentioned I love dipnetting?)

The girls caught 6 of our 33 last year, so we didn’t have them helping us out this year, and Lui is more interested in digging giant sand holes than in fishing (he’s still too small to hold the net without help), so it was back to just being the two of us fishing. On one tide, I only caught one fish, but it was gigantic (pictured in the header image) and gave us our two biggest fillets of the year (35.3 oz and 35.2 oz)! I was surprised when we weighed them all to see that this year’s salmon fillets totaled 74.5 lbs, just 2.5 lbs less than last year’s 22 fish, so this was a year of pretty big fish!

How Much Did it Cost?

I know, you want me to stop talking about the fishing and get to the NUMBERS! I get it. Here we go:


  • $40 – Fishing licenses for Mr. T and I.
  • $16 – Ice to keep the fish cool after catching.
  • $300 – AirBNB for two nights (camping would have cost us $60, so it was spendier, obviously)
  • $86.65 – Gas for the car. This is significantly more expensive than last year as gas is currently around $5.50/gallon in Kenai and $5/gallon in Anchorage (down from nearly $6 a few weeks ago!)
  • $31.50 – Drop-off and parking fees to dipnet for the two days.
  • $13.50 – Vacuum Bags for the FoodSaver for packaging up the salmon fillets
  • $12.17 – Blizzards at Dairy Queen for Lui, Mr. T, and I on the way home. This is cheaper than last year because we didn’t have the two girls to buy them for as well!

Total Costs: $499.82

Total Cost Per Pound: $6.71

This is our second most expensive year, with making 2020 our most expensive price per pound at $7.15/lb as we bought a smoker that year. But we filled our freezer, had a fabulous time, and came home with totally processed and packed salmon, so was totally worth it this year with so little time between fishing and travels. Have I mentioned I love dipnetting? 😉

Eklutna Lake

Q2 2022 Plan Update

Wait, what happened to Q1? That’s what you’re asking, I know it. Well, I guess life happened. We are in the process of building an addition after all! The good news is, I already mostly achieved my one goal for 2022: solve my migraines! Turns out iron supplements solved it. I now have 1-2 migraines a month and an amazing medication to take when they start that stops the headache. Modern medicine is a miracle.

Also, I’m ignoring the current state of the world in this update. I’m tired.

Addition update: We got our solar panels installed and I will never not geek out about them (okay, maybe in the winter when they don’t actually produce anything, but hopefully we’ll be living on energy credits we generated this summer!). We’re also in the thick of installing drywall, but took a break when the weather got nice to build a paver path and retaining wall along the property line. This was a ton of work and the kids were very helpful. Luckily, we had pulled up all the paver stones that were on the side of the house before building the addition and stacked them in our yard last summer so we reused all of those and saved ourselves at least $1000. The good news is that once the drywall and landscaping is done, the rest of the projects actually seem fun to me because they are weekend projects that have great payoffs (ie: installing flooring, installing closet shelving, bathroom vanity, etc.). So I look forward to all the exciting stuff ahead. And, we’re through all the expensive parts of the addition and almost done paying contractors (15k left!), so we can cash flow the rest of it when we feel like doing the projects. This is very relieving to me as a PF Geek.

Work update: I still have a job, but this month saw another dozen coworkers leave and an emergency meeting from the CEO about how “there is no mass exodus occurring” (which directly followed a 30-minute meeting where four people announced their resignations: something I would definitely define as a “mass exodus”). I’m still on COVID research all the time, so we’ll see how long that lasts, but I’m sticking it out while it does.

The Numbers:

Our mortgage is at $277,000 and at 2.125%, we don’t plan to pay this down early. With the rocky ride of the market as of late, our investments now sit at $593,000. Sad to drop below the 600k line, but we’re not worried (and we totally skipped the 500k bracket on the way up, so it wanted to say hello in our plan update page).

The Year of Yes

Maybe you recall that at the end of last year, I decided not to set financial goals this year and just say yes to all the things I wanted to do. Well, that is going SMASHINGLY. So far, we’ve said yes to:

  • A week in NYC and 5 Broadway shows – We timed it perfectly in February between COVID waves and the kids got to see Wicked, Hamilton, and The Play that Goes Wrong for the first time and all of us got to see Music Man with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster and Come From Away. It was an incredibly redeeming trip after two years of no live theatre and I loved it all. My daughter’s request was that next time we see MORE shows because five wasn’t enough. 😉
  • A week in the Florida keys followed by a week in DisneyWorld with my whole family – Just one week after returning from NYC, we went to Florida and I’m so glad we lucked out on COVID waves for both trips because both trips were crowds! But the kids had a great time in DisneyWorld with their grandparents and cousins and we all enjoyed trying every Key Lime Pie we came across as we worked our way through the Florida keys.
  • Solar Panels – I already talked about these, so I won’t say more here except that I have no regrets.
  • A pizza oven – This was on Mr. T’s “rich list” – a list we made at one point of all the things we would purchase if we were actually rich. It turns out, between the two of us it was basically just a pizza oven, solar panels, and a hot tub, so we plan to complete our rich list by the end of the year! And we’ve all been enjoying some delicious homemade pizza in our new Ooni (affiliate link).
  • The continued addition project
  • Tickets to Australia/New Zealand this Christmas – Okay, I actually used all the points we hoarded during the pandemic to pay for these flights, but am definitely spending money on tours of the glowworm caves, a day out on the Great Barrier Reef, and obviously a visit to Hobbiton.

We haven’t yet contributed to our Roth IRAs or maxed out our 401ks, but I think we will likely end up doing those things, too. Turns out that having two decent incomes is the ultimate life hack.

It’s so true. Our life got so much easier when we both started earning decent incomes. High income is the ultimate life hack. Like, I can just choose to have a “year of yes” and check it all off while the market tanks and inflation goes through the roof….? Unfair, right? It absolutely is.

Capitalism is the Worst

While we’re on the subject of unfair: my daughter just got her first job. She’s minimum wage and loves it, but I’ve been livid about the whole thing. First off, she was hired because they can’t find minimum wage workers that can drive themselves because they can’t afford to work minimum wage! The job is great, it’s great to have her get experience and have fun and get out of the house, but default capitalism is the worst. Her first three hours of work are deducted by the company for her mandatory uniform. I know this is the norm, but it shouldn’t be. If you require it, it should be covered by the company! When I asked her about breaks, telling her about her legal right to a break during her long shifts, she said that no one really does that because there’s not really a place to take a break. I basically lost my mind. I was like: “You say: I’m taking my break now, find a place, and sit down for a half hour.” She doesn’t see the problem in any of this because we drive her to the job, all of her expenses are paid for, and she doesn’t have a problem being on her feet for eight hours (apparently). One day, she worked a three hour shift and her allergies were out of control so her eyes were so red. She needed eye drops to be able to see clearly. I dropped her off at work, picked up eye drops, and brought them back to her at work. I then realized she would earn less than those eye drops cost at that shift and I was livid all over again. In short, my daughter is earning a few bucks that I will then match into her Roth IRA, and she’s also getting an anti-capitalist earful about worker rights. So win, win, right? 😉

Bear Market?

It’s actually killing me that I don’t currently have the cash to throw into the market right now because of the Year of Yes (and the final contractor bill pending). I have no idea what the market will do. I do, however, think the inflation is temporary and a lot of it is caused by companies inflating prices because they can. Yes, I think things are actually inflated because of supply chain problems (still pandemic and war related, primarily), but profits are also up considerably in many sectors. I don’t think inflation will stay high for years, but definitely likely for at least the next year. As for the market, I’m hoping it stays down long enough for us to get to our investments for the year! I have no way of predicting any of that, and I don’t like to time the market, but will Roth IRAs, which we usually fund in lump sums, it’s nice to see the market dip for the occasion.

It’s good to be back around these parts after a 6-month break. I missed you. I’ll share some pics of the inside of the addition as things move along. As for now, it’s just a boring box with some drywall. Stay healthy, friends. And hold on to each other. Be kind. The world is dark enough.

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. 😉

Page 1 of 37

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén