Denali Northern Expenditure

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We Bought a House! (And a New Plan)

Just call me Maggie Jones. Get it? Because I’m keeping up with the Joneses? We had warned you that we might buy a house and we did. Surprise! Truth be told, we had outgrown our 1200 square foot condo. We had gotten very good at inventing storage solutions and getting rid of tons of stuff, but Florin sleeps in a very Harry Potter-like nook under Penny’s loft bed and Penny is entering her teenage years and there’s no place to hang out with teenage friends except in her tiny shared room or in our only shared living space (and Mr. T and I really didn’t want to spend the kids’ teenage years hanging out in our bedroom to give the teenagers “space” or hanging out with a bunch of teenagers all the time). Luckily, Mr. T and I have the exact same taste, so when a house came on the market that we loved, we bought it.

Considering the Family

While MY ideal future may involve gallivanting around the world with our children for years at a time, I am alone in this. My family also loves traveling, but my children have expressed the desire to lead “normal” adolescent lives during the school year. They are, however, amenible to traveling during school breaks and potentially taking longer 1-2 month trips during summertimes (like we did two years ago to Europe). They also expressed wanting a stable place to have friends come hang out.

Mr. T wants to feel more “settled” before we pull the trigger on moving to self-employment and has always wanted a home where the grandkids could come visit (and if we’re maxed out in our condo with the five of us, there would be NO comfortable space if we added spouses and children to that mix in the future).

Mr. T and I also really enjoy home projects. We refinished literally every surface in our current condo and because it’s a condo, there’s no capability for exterior additions. The home we bought is in pretty good shape, but we have an addition planned and several other projects that excite us! And with a big yard, we have limitless potential (want to get into gardening? We can do that! Need to build a shop out back to run our future million-dollar business? We can do that too!).

NOT Reasons We Bought a House:

  • As an investment: This choice was based entirely on the conversations we had about how we wanted our lives to look both now and in the future. It was not a financial choice. The numbers, obviously, would be in favor of staying in our paid-off condo forever.
  • Because of Pressures: Our rule has always been we would only buy a house if we were financially ready to do so and if we found one that we both liked better than our current condo (which we LOVE). We did not plan to buy a house solely for the sake of more room. There have always been plenty of houses bigger available but we always hated all of them. We also in no way did this to meet anyone else’s expectations (and I still find myself offended when we explain we bought a house and the reaction is: “I was wondering when you’d move past that condo”).
  • Because it’s cheaper than renting: Honestly, I don’t care at all about this argument. I know that’s a selling point for many people–not having to do repairs, etc–but that’s part of the fun of it for us. We love home improvement projects and we love making it our own.

Introducing: The NEW Plan

With my recent switch to full-time and our recent home purchase, we can finally recalculate again. Living in the condo has been a very much “will they won’t they” story the past five years for us where we just didn’t know if we’d be comfortable staying here forever. Now that we have a house we never intend to leave, we can add it to the calculations and more concretely visualize what we want that future to look like. So, here’s the rough plan:

  • 2020 – Finish up some work on the new place before moving in and then slow-move in. The benefit of having a paid-off house is that we can live here as long as we want while we do some of the things we want to do at the new place. Then we can take our sweet time going through all the stuff and moving over. We plan to wood plank some ceilings, install some hard-wood flooring, and replace the carpet before moving over. Also, hopefully, by the end of this year, we will have a renter in the condo.
  • 2021 – Build the planned addition on the house: a master suite on the main (so that even when we’re old and can’t do stairs, we can live here. We’re planning WAY ahead). The main reason we’re doing this is so that no one will have to share a room. And we can still have a “party room” for teenagers with an eventual ping pong table. Big dreams, amiright?
  • 2022 – Hit our original goal of $500k in investments. Can’t give the goal up now!
  • 2025 – This is the last year Penny will be in high school. Summer of 2025 will be her summer to direct our travels. She can choose any place in the world (within reason) and we’ll take a big trip based on where she wants to go. The goals by summer of 2025 would be to:
    • hit coast FI with our 401ks so that those will cover us until the end of time from age 60 until death.
    • have a business that is covering at least 50% of our annual living expenses
    • have enough money in non-retirement accounts to cover our other expenses from 2025-2043 when Mr. T turns 60.

A transition in 2025 to self-employment with a large safety net seems like a very exciting move for all of us! One of the big WHAT IFs is healthcare. We have great insurance right now through Mr. T’s work and the single Obamacare plan in Alaska is real spendy. I’m hoping the US figures that crap out by 2025. Good grief!

So that’s it, folks! BIG CHANGES around here and we’re excited about ALL OF THEM! It’s going to be an expensive couple of years, but since we just about doubled our income recently, we’ll all still be able to save more. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted along the way. As always, thanks for being along for the ride.

2018: Year in Review

January:

  • I am put in charge of the welfare program for our church congregation. This mainly means I help people with their finances and help get food to those that need it.
  • All the kids start swimming twice a week.
  • My company is acquired by a BIG company.
  • Amazon significantly cuts royalties for shirt sales.

February-March:

  • More swimming. Lui decides he forgets everything and can no longer even do a back float. We quit swimming at the end of March.
  • I try to figure out how to balance church stuff and working for this giant company. In these months, it meant working a lot more than usual.

April:

  • I am hired as an hourly employee instead of a contractor.
  • We try to catch up on loading shirts that “fell off” Amazon before our big trip. (If they don’t sell in 90 days, Amazon deletes them. Luckily, in June, they extended this to 180 days.) We don’t make any new designs.

May-June:

  • We get those kids through those last few weeks of school.
  • We go on a 28-day amazing vacation through the UK, Norway, and Iceland without family and think how great it would be to be able to do that every single year.
  • I get bronchitis on the flight home and spend two weeks in bed.

July:

August:

  • My sister and her family come to visit from Texas. We see tons of whales, hike a glacier, camp in a cabin, and have a great time.
  • Amazon opens UK and Germany shirt markets. We decide to try to actually sell shirts again. (Up to this point we’ve mostly been putting old designs back up and that’s about it.)
  • Kids start school (Lui preschool).

September:

  • I hire two graphic designers on a per-design basis to help with new shirt designs. It’s scary and way out of my comfort zone. Before finding two that work great, I have to tell someone it’s not going to work. Even scarier.
  • I attend a t-shirt selling conference in Seattle with a whole bunch of people that sell tens of thousands of shirts a year.

October:

  • The PFD helps us cut our mortgage in half.
  • We take an epic road trip as a family from Yellowstone to Minneapolis seeing many National parks.
  • I spend a few days at the new office of Big Company.
  • We hit shirts hard. Sales start coming for Q4.

November:

  • We keep designing, loading, and editing designs from our designers onto t-shirt.
  • I start experimenting with publishing books on Amazon.
  • I’m now friends with the people with the top selling shirts on Amazon for Thanksgiving.
  • I learn to only compete against myself because my journey is very different than theirs (and I ignored the side hustle for most of the year).
  • Sales keep coming, but with the royalty cut in January, income is lower than last year.
  • EARTHQUAKE

December:

  • With the earthquake and the holidays, most of our December is spent cleaning up and settling down.
  • We make our last extra mortgage payment on the house (paid it off yesterday!).
  • We gather data from our shirt sales and make plans for an epic 2020 (with 2019 as a building year).
  • I hire one of my designers to start full-time in February. Another scary move. It’s accidental, but her monthly fee seemed too good to not try.

2019 is set up to be an interesting year. No mortgage (more on that later). A full time designer. Balancing church and work and side hustle. It’s a good year to build. No massive trips planned (though I’m sure we’ll travel). In September, I’ll have all my kids in school full time. Seems like a year to take risks and see what’s possible. I’m excited!

Maggie's a Working Woman

Maggie’s a Working Woman

Another reason things have been more silent here on Northern Expenditure is that I’ve thrown myself into my job more than I had been. I am a researcher in the field of behavioral economics and work between 10-20 hours/week. Here’s a bit of a work history for you:

2010: I was hired by my company as a contracted researcher. I started right off working 10-20 hours a week and have done that ever since. When they hired me, they knew I would be working from home on my own hours as a stay at home mom.

Mid-2016: The company which had less than 30 employees now had over 200 in 3 offices. Restructuring began in earnest in an attempt to add a hierarchy where there previously had not been.

January 2017: I tried to quit. Restructuring meant that people had spent the past 6 months trying to figure out where they fit in the hierarchy in relation to me. They mostly determined I was under them, so they started acting differently (not positively). HR was also under new pressures and managed to forget to pay me 3 pay periods in a row. My boss told me to hang on.

January/Febuary 2017: My boss (I think literally) walked around the office yelling at everyone. My missed paychecks were overnighted to me, I received apologies from people who had been jerks, I got a new title that put me fairly high up on the meaningless org chart (no raise or change in responsibilities), I started getting invited to the important meetings (this is both a pro and a con), and I finally got back to doing what I loved to do—the research!

November 2017: I ended up in one of those “important meetings” with the 8 people who run the company and me. At the end of the meeting, each of those people was told to hire someone to help them write 40-page papers directing the investments of the company. “Until you are able to hire someone, Maggie is here to help you.” Uh, excuse me?! What was that?! – I spent the rest of the week hiding in a cubicle hoping no one would remember I worked there.

December 2017: I was taken away from working directly for my boss and put under a different manager to manage me working for all of those 8 people. I helped on several projects for several different people. A paycheck is wrong.

January 2018: Our company was bought out by a large company. Now all the restructuring makes sense. Everything was preparing for a buyout. The new hires start to come on board. I’m reassigned back to just my boss (phew!). My 1099 was off by $3000.

February/March 2018: The first draft of my boss’s giant paper was due at the end of the month. Now we’re getting it polished plus getting a presentation ready on a totally different topic for a meeting with the Big Company CEO in April (luckily I was not invited to that meeting). 2 more paychecks are missed. I finally get a call from the new manager and ask if I’ve been having problems with HR (ha! Have I!) and would I want to be hired as a part time employee? This will hopefully solve several issues:

  • no more self employment tax! Hooray! (I’ll still have to pay it on our online shirt sales, but no more on my roughly $20k research income!)
  • employees can have direct deposit and are more “in the system” with less chance of user error on the paychecks.
  • I have been onboarded to the small company as an official employee before all of us are merged over to Big Company in the next couple of months. This is a relief as I was concerned Big Company would notice the “random contractor in Alaska” (ie: Me) and cut me off. Less chance now that I’m official!

The past two years have been a whirlwind with my employment. As part of an effort to follow the money, I have been trying to be more involved at work this past 6 months. When things got *too* involved, I was good about standing up for doing what I wanted to do and not working more than I feel comfortable doing (Lui is only in preschool). So far, it has all shaken out nicely. We’ll see what the next year brings with the official transition over to Big Company, but right now I’m back in the sweet spot of doing what I enjoy doing (with my awesome boss) and when I want to do it (instead of when they want me to do it). If too much of that changes, I have no qualms walking away. I’m all about following the money, but only until that ruins the things I love about our current life. I’m only following the enjoyable money. 🙂

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

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

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

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Why I'm a Stay-at-Home Mom (and the financial implications)

Why I’m a Stay-at-Home Mom (and the financial implications)

One of the things that makes our journey to early retirement unique is that I’m a stay at home mom. Though I do have some income (I’ll get to that), I am not a major financial contributer to this journey. Yet I’m the one that manages all the finances and makes all the plans for Mr. T to retire early. Here’s a bit more of the story behind that.

How I chose to be a Stay-at-Home mom

Penny, our oldest, was born while I was in graduate school. Because of the timing, I had the opportunity to decide what I wanted to do before ever starting a corporate life. Because Mr. T and I were both in school, we balanced parenting duties equally and made sure our class schedules worked around each other so we could pass off the stroller on campus between our respective classes. After Mr. T graduated, we moved to the Northwest so he could find a job and I could finish my masters thesis. We didn’t count on our long stint with unemployment at the same time. I graduated just before Penny was 18 months old and the next month, Mr. T got a job in Alaska.

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Why I Don't Shop For Clothes (But am Trying!)

Why I Don’t Shop For Clothes (But am Trying!)

I hate shopping. Especially for clothes. Part of me wishes I was that person that could walk into a store and want ALL THE THINGS! Before moving to Alaska, thrift stores were my jam. Everything I owned was from a thrift store. It was my style, it was cheap, and if it got destroyed, I wasn’t that worried about it. Also, I could walk into the thrift store and look at my size on the rack. When the rack ended, I was done.

Now that I live in Alaska (where the thrift stores are both expensive and terrible), I’ve been forced into buying clothes from stores like regular people. It’s awful.

Clothes are Expensive!

I hear the argument that you should just buy really well made clothes and they’ll last forever. It’s a sane argument. But what if you have 3 crazy kids, you spend most of your year walking through snow, your shirts always manage to get holes in the front, and you are incapable of eating chocolate without having pieces melt into your shirt?* Well, then your argument is crazy. Then I put on said shirt and feel like I can’t live my life. I can’t accidentally rub up against my car (with its inch-thick dirt in the winter and spring). I can’t touch my children. I can’t go outside.

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A 2017 Earth Day Checkup

A 2017 Earth Day Checkup

Earth Day was this weekend. To celebrate, Florin’s school passed out garbage bags to kick off next week’s city-wide clean up (my favorite time of year… all the trash that was hiding in all that snow gets picked up!). Each year, I perform a personal Earth Day Checkup. We could all be doing better protecting the environment, but every year, I like to celebrate the things I am doing, note my own improvements, and come up with something I can improve upon.

Earth Day Checkup: The Good

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We're early retirement frauds

Retiring Early? We’re Early Retirement Frauds

While we were off traveling, our dear friends over at Our Next Life issued a challenge. You see, the early retirement community is full of “Commandments” (as Our Next Life so hilariously outlined in their original post). This challenge called for a celebration of differences. A manifesto of what we’re doing differently. After I read it, I was immediately THRILLED about the opportunity to come clean. You see, Northern Expenditure is a fraud. I’m not sure why anyone reads us at all. We’re on the path to early retirement, but we’re doing everything wrong differently.

Why We’re Early Retirement Frauds:

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Northern Expenditure Turns 1

Northern Expenditure Turns 1!

The first year of any life simultaneously speeds by and seems like forever. When I think back on where we were a year ago, it seems so distant. But every week on the blog has been such a joy, it’s gone by in a flash.

This blog was born out of a malaise with the norm. Ironically, though our situation hasn’t changed much, the blog has helped us find more joy in the current situation. Why? Because we’re doing something about it while also realizing even more that living in the present is important.

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How Much Do Your Neighbors Matter?

We live on a cul-de-sac with a shared picnic/BBQ area. In the summertime, my kids are constantly riding bikes and playing in the cul-de-sac. There are currently no other kids, but we know most of our neighbors and they are great about letting the kids play. (One neighbor even bought them tiny rakes because she thought they’d like them. They do!) Our neighbors have been awesome. One helped with our windows, two of them insulated their attics the same day we did so we could all help each other out, and we used the tools of one of our neighbors to do all the window and door trim work. Two of our neighbors came over for Christmas Eve two years ago. We really like the dynamic of our cul-de-sac. We often end up having communal dinners in the picnic area during the summer and stay up late chatting with the neighbors when the sun is out until midnight.

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