Denali Northern Expenditure

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Q1 2020 Plan Update: COVID edition

The world is weird now, right? All of a sudden it’s the middle of May but March was like ten years long. Let me first say that we’re incredibly lucky at this time in so many ways and we know that everyone is struggling, so please understand that what you’re feeling right now is okay to feel. If you need help, reach out for help. Mr. T and I both still have jobs. His is more secure than mine, but mine has turned into full-time COVID-19 research, so I will probably keep it for the near future anyway. We’re also trying to balance working on the new house, moving over there before our renters move into our condo on June 1, school schedules for our 3 kids, etc etc. It’s a lot.

March 2020

March was a strange month. We started the month in California for Spring Break. We went to Legoland and Universal Studios and everything seemed fairly normal. We then went to LA one day in the pouring down rain and got stuck in horrible traffic on the way back and during the HOURS we were stuck in the rain on the freeway in a standstill, the world changed. As we listened to the radio on the way home, Disneyland closed, sports were canceled, everything started happening at once. We had 3 days until we were supposed to return to Alaska. We got news the kids wouldn’t be going back to school upon return as school had been canceled. Quarantines hadn’t been initiated for all state returnees yet, but the trip home was scary and I kept worrying the 6-year old would cough or something and we’d get kicked off the plane. We made it home without incident and self-isolated for 2 weeks (and then much much longer because we’re still basically in isolation). Mr. T started working from home, my job got really intense with COVID-related stuff, and we started a big family calendar full of work meetings and school Zoom meetings so none of us would get in each other’s way.

The Money Stuff

It feels weird that I’m still talking about this stuff with all that’s going on. And the market not reflecting the real crisis of so many losing work is frustrating. It seems such an example to me of how this is impacting lower-income families so much more. It’s unfair and devastating.

At the end of March, we had scored ourselves a brand new mortgage so we found ourselves with a new mortgage balance of $336,000, but at 3% interest on a 15-year mortgage, we’re not planning to pay it off faster than 10 years (and I am trying to pledge to put no significant amount towards principal unless we’ve maxed out all the retirement things possible for that year). Our investments were at $276,600. Boy we went backwards didn’t we?

So we returned from an expensive vacation into a worldwide pandemic with a brand new mortgage. Of course I freaked out a little! I ran so many numbers and now have a WORST CASE SCENARIO PLAN. Right now, we have renters under contract for a year starting June 1. Because the condo is paid off, that money can pay half the mortgage of the new house. If Mr. T and I lose our jobs in the next year, we’ll live off of the cash we’ve been hoarding to build the addition we had planned to add onto the house next summer (and obviously forgo said addition). After the year is up on the condo renters, if they choose to move, we can sell that and live off that money for a bit. I digress…

Right now, we’re doing well. We both still have jobs. Our online sales are down 90%, so our side income is unremarkable (and may continue for some time since people aren’t feeling very confident shopping for stuff they don’t need right now). But, it feels better to know that even if we both lose our jobs, we’ll be okay.

The House

We spend March and April doing so much work on the house late at night, on weekend, etc. We removed the popcorn ceilings, patched the drywall, textured, and painted. We had the carpet replaced (we hired that one out). We installed hardwood flooring in the living room so the whole main floor has hardwood. We sanded down the existing hardwood and then stained and finished the whole thing so they matched. We drywalled a storage area into a little playroom for the kids. We exposed a structural beam that was hidden under drywall and finished it. We’ve painted. We’ve patched. The most frustrating part of all of it is that we have all been on top of each other during this whole thing when we have another big house just down the road that we could be using but still needed so much work. Now the main stuff is done and we can finally move in starting this week! Remember how I said we enjoyed house projects? No one warned me about popcorn ceilings. Do. Not. Like. And I’m glad we’re done with some big projects, because it’s been pretty exhausting.

2020 Goals

With Mr. T and I both working, I had said that my goal was to max out all the retirement accounts for the first time ever. It seems weird making financial goals right now, but since that was the goal I made in January, we’ll go with it and give ourselves grace if we don’t succeed (like basically every year. ha ha). I’m channeling the person on Amazon that bought one of my 2020 planners this week. (Like, you’re actually doing PLANNING for 2020?! Who IS this person!?) Here goes:

  • Max Out My 401k ($2,880/$19,500) – Fun fact: I found out THIS WEEK that the maximum was $19,500 for 2020 and not $19,000 like last year. I’m totally nailing this PF blogger thing. Seriously. I’m the greatest. Also fun fact: my company uses percentage of pay instead of actual dollar amounts, so I’m gonna have to play with that to get close.
  • Max Out Mr. T’s 401k ($5,100/$19,500) – Another fun fact: Mr. T’s work uses an arbitrary slider for contributions. So, he can contribute something $784 or $832, but no number in between… so, we’ll have to play with that to get close this year as well.
  • Max Out my Roth IRA for 2019 ($0/$6000) – with the extended July 15th deadline for this, we’ll maybe be able to do it!
  • Max Out Mr. T’s Roth IRA for 2019 ($0/$6000)
  • Max Out my Roth IRA for 2020 ($0/$6000)
  • Max Out Mr. T’s Roth IRA for 2020 ($0/$6000)
  • Figure out and Contribute to a SEP-IRA – Because our online sales for December were over $10k that month (then crashed pretty shortly thereafter), but we get paid in January on that money, our 2020 sales money is already over $10k. I need to figure out what “max out” means for how much we end up making in 2020 and do that.

Take Care of Yourselves

As I said at the beginning, this is a weird time for everyone and we’re all realizing stuff about ourselves that we didn’t know and we’re all feeling all the things. Please take care of yourselves. Check in with friends. This thing isn’t over yet and it could get worse before it gets better, so everything is up in the air for 2020. I’ll still do quarterly updates (though maybe continue the trend of being 6-weeks late on them) just to keep up momentum, but they seem silly since so much is uncertain. Hang in there, friends. I send you a virtual, social-distanced hug.

Q4 2019 Plan Update

About a year ago, I had a dream that I had to write a post on this blog that said: “This blog was about our journey to early retirement. Unfortunately, I have to shut the blog down because I became a successful stand-up comedian and Netflix has given us a large advance for my comedy specials that we’ve reached our goals.” Unfortunately (for both Netflix and myself), that dream didn’t come true. However, our situation is changing dramatically, and thus, so is our journey.

When we first started our journey, I was a stay-at-home mom working less than ten hours a week. We were entrepreneurial wannabes but had no actual success. We made significantly less than $100k combined. This was an interesting place to be in and ultimately, why we started the blog. I read about a lot of people waiting to have kids until they were early retired or being able to retire early when the kids were still young. We already had two kids when we discovered the FIRE movement so too late on that front. AND, there was no way we would be able to retire anytime soon with our numbers. I chose to stay home with the kids to frontload my time with them. We knew the financial risks of doing so and ultimately, I still decided that’s what I wanted. We wanted that voice in the community, too.

Our original goal was $500k by 2022 because it seemed impossible. Everytime I would try to calculate real numbers, they wouldn’t work. I still argue that early in the journey, the numbers don’t matter. Do what you can and pick-ax up that financial cliff. Every step forward matters.

Why We Got Lucky

Having a stay-at-home parent stunts a career projection. We knew that. However, I lucked out having a part-time job I could work hourly around my schedule for the past nine years. This fall, Lui started school and my full-time momming years were at an end. I expressed interest in going full time and (after three months of absolute drama with the HR department), I’m happy to report they gave me an offer. AND it was higher than what Mr. T was currently making. (When I asked him if his masculinity was questioned as apparently happens when the wife makes more than 40% of the household income, his answer was: “More money for the household? Isn’t that a good thing? Also, I have no idea how much I make…”. Ironically, he got a promotion the next week which put his salary back over mine. The Patriarchy!!!) Anyway, this is not the norm for most stay-at-home-parents. So I am incredibly lucky. Now we haven’t gotten any of our new paychecks, so we don’t know exactly how much we’re dealing with here, but combined, we’re now around the $150k range pre-tax (and pre-benefits) with our two salaries combined.

This, I realize, makes us and our journey no longer relateable to many of you. This is often a point of contention in the Personal Finance community. When people focus on increasing income, their stories change and they are no longer relateable to so many. I, however, have been assured that until we reach $198k, we’re on the border. 😉

The Side Hustle

The reason we have the opportunity to get into that unrelateable category is because our entrepreneurial efforts have actually started paying off. I gave an update in Q3 on those efforts and am happy to report that this month, we surpassed $10k in sales in one month! This is HUGE for us (since our previous record was $3200 in October 2017 and we haven’t been able to get close to $3k again since then). The full-time designer we had left this month so we’ll have less outgoing money and we’ve pivoted the business toward things Mr. T and I enjoy doing ourselves. We’re working on building these things up in 2020 and we’re excited about the potential.

The Numbers:

Full disclosure: I stopped using Personal Capital (affiliate link) because they stopped working for Mr. T’s retirement funds. But I really did enjoy them before they stopped working entirely for me. (Also feel free to read my more in-depth review of Personal Capital.)

Mortgage is still at $ZERO! Again, we’re cash hoarding for a potential home purchase this year. Again, only if the market drops a bit and we find a house we like.

As of this random Monday in December (ha ha, can’t be bothered to wait until New Year’s to update the numbers) our investments and savings are at $324,000. The bonkers double digit markets have been good to us.

2019 Financial Goals (REWORKED):

  • Max Out My 2018 Roth IRA ($5,500/$5,500) – Thanks to the totaling of the car, WE DID IT!
  • Max Out My 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Still cash hoarding. We’ll see come the end of March if we want to do it this year.
  • Max Out Mr.T’s 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Ditto here.
  • Replenish Emergency Fund ($1,200/$1,200) – Because our emergency fund is in a Capital360 account so we can use it for free ATMs while traveling (but the account only earns 1%), we lowered our emergency account goal from $5000 to $1200. Then we changed this goal:
  • Extra Investments ($22,700/$45,000) – We still have a couple paychecks coming at the end of this month, so we’ll end the year with just under $25k here and another $7k in our business account (we don’t get paid for December’s sales until February). Not bad. Not great considering our goals, but not bad.

In 2019, we really focused on increasing income. We spent a lot of money a long the way and didn’t really keep track well (we trusted ourselves on autopilot). In 2020, now that we’ve set up some pretty good incomes, we’re going to focus on saving more of that money and grow our businesses. We’re also building a new plan that we’ll let you in on the details of in early 2020.

Meanwhile, as always, we’re grateful to have you along for the ride. And to celebrate the holidays, we’ll remind you that Mr. T and I put together a few holiday classics (the song-owners added the ads, not us, FYI):

Happy Holidays! Love, the Banks Family

Dipnetting 2019: I got a Triple!

Dipnetting 2019: I got a Triple!

Didn’t really bury the lede with that one did I? Whoops! Oh well. In mid-July, we dipnetted, as we do annually, for a new freezer load of sockeye salmon. We told the kids we would stay two nights unless we caught everything the first night. We set up camp just in time for a twenty minute torrential downpour and then had lovely weather the rest of the time. We played. We sat. We watched. We ate.

Around 6:30pm Mr. T and I finally hit the water. We fished for almost 4 hours (remember it stays light most the night this time of year) and caught 29 salmon! My last pass I got a triple (which means 3 fish in the net at the same time!). It was thrilling! That was when Mr. T said we should probably be done (it gets so addicting, we really try to be reasonable about when to quit when the fishing is so good!). Later that night, a lady passed me on the beach and said: “Triple girl!” and winked at me. Totally made my year.

So, long story short, we had to go home the next day and not stay two nights. The kids were fine with it when we promised them they could watch movies while we processed the fish and then we would all go swimming at the YMCA.

The numbers this year have been really high and they actually opened it up to all-night fishing the last week of July (usually you’re not allowed to fish between 11pm and 6am). I was so tempted to go back down just to do it, but decided against it. Because sometimes I’m reasonable. 😉

We ended with a total of 29 sockeye salmon! (though our household limit is 65, we never need that much!) That equals 80.6 lbs of fillets!

Biggest fillet this year: 31 oz (a pretty small year)

Dipnetting Costs

Because you know I like to calculate all of our costs, here is everything we spent for this year’s dipnetting trip:

  • $45 – The cost of camping on the beach and dropping off our stuff an picking it all back up the next day.
  • $35 – Gas for the car for the roundtrip – it’s about a three hour drive from our house.
  • $3.49 – Ice to keep the fish cool.
  • $21.90 – The annual Blizzards at DQ for all five of us post-dipnetting on the way home (Mr. T and I split a large to cut costs, but 3 smalls for the kids is still spendy!).
  • $19.65 – Replacement pole clips – Mr. T lost quite a few of the connectors to his poles last year. So, he had to get some new hardware to connect the lengths of pole to his net.
  • $58 – Fishing licenses for Mr. T and I.
  • $8 – A new tire tube for Mr. T’s bike. We bring an old bike so we can pay the drop-off fee and then park offsite to save $25.
  • $21.99 – Giant tarp to cover our tent because we’ve discovered it leaks pretty badly in the rain. Bonus: it keeps it much darker in there (again, light all night makes camping in Alaska tricky).

Total Costs: $213.03 – Usually we pay a significant amount for professional smoking. The place where we usually take it went out of business, so our friend said he would smoke them this year for us. Saves us money this year. Yay. We’ll see what we decide to do next year.

Total Cost Per Pound: $2.64/lb 

Thanks to not paying for smoking of the fish or freezer bags (we had enough left over), it was our cheapest per pound year ever! Check out Dipnetting 2015Dipnetting 2016Dipnetting 2017, and Dipnetting 2018 to compare. If you end up with some salmon, be sure to check out Mr. T’s perfect salmon recipe!

Q3 2019 Plan Update: Where’d Maggie Go? Edition

Hello friends! It’s me, Maggie! Remember me?! Well, here’s where I tell you ALL about how 2019 is going and what is happening around here. In short: I’ve been spending money like crazy and hustling hard to make up for it. 😉

Summer Update:

We spent a lovely summer being crazy travelers as per usual. We went dipnetting (post coming tomorrow because we’re either feast or famine around here!), took several Alaska ferries including one down the Aleutian Chain, and went to Oregon and Washington to be with family. Mr. T and I finished off the summer with an expensive weekend in San Francisco with just the two of us (and seeing Hamilton!). We also got to meet up with Revanche, who is one of my favorite humans.

I started the year with big savings goal (after paying off the mortgage), but then bought a whole bunch of tickets to all the ferries! I do not regret my decision. One of the ferries we rode has been dry-docked thanks to budget cuts and several other routes have been reduced dramatically with no guarantee they will remain at all in the future.

One of the great things about paying attention to money is the ability to SAY YES to opportunities. We really enjoyed the freedom we had to do that with the cash flow we’ve enjoyed since paying off the house.

Life Update:

At the end of August, Lui went to kindergarten and I retired from being a full-time stay-at-home Mom! (Until the summer I suppose…) This kicked off a big transition for me. I started working 32-hour weeks at my job and am trying to negotiate a full-time offer (sounds like it might be in the works! – I’ll do a post with a bit more info if and when that goes through). I also hired my designer full-time (at less than $450/month) to help grow my e-commerce business. She hated her job, asked to go full time, and I was able to say yes because at this point, we’re just risking profits (not loss). She helped me make a hilarious cat coloring book (affiliate link). So, between getting the kids off to school, throwing myself into my real job and trying to build up my e-commerce business, I’ve been busy, but I’m really enjoying all the things that are happening.

E-Commerce update:

Since you asked (or wanted to), we’ve done pretty well so far this year. In June, we made $999.55 in sales (before expenses, but those are under $500/month with my designer) and that was the only month this year we’ve fallen below $1000 in sales (and missed it by less than a dollar!). January and March had sales right around $2000. With the heavy shopping months coming up November-December, we’ve been working all extra hours we’ve got to get as much up as possible. We’re working on a new line of coloring books I’m pretty excited about that are pixel art color by number books. We got our first one up this month: Pixel Museum World Famous Art (also an affiliate link).

Alaska Update:

We’ve moved almost entirely into cash hoarding at this point because we would like to have $80-100k saved for a possible down payment on a house ASAP. We do love our house and we’ll keep it and try to rent it out (which is why we need a new down payment), but things might get really cheap here soon. The economy in Alaska isn’t doing well thanks to state budget cuts and BP announcing it is leaving the state. We are a one-industry state, so BP leaving will make a BIG impact. Employees will find out their fates in December and there will be a mass exodus from the state. There are already an influx of houses on the market, but prices are remaining pretty steady. We will only buy a house if prices drop dramatically and we find a house we actually like (most houses up here make no sense at all). But we’re in a hurry to save the cash to be prepared!

The Numbers:

Full disclosure: I stopped using Personal Capital (affiliate link) because they stopped working for Mr. T’s retirement funds. But I really did enjoy them before they stopped working entirely for me. (Also feel free to read my more in-depth review of Personal Capital.) Also, once I checked this month to update the numbers, I went into each account separately and discovered it hadn’t updated MY Roth IRA for like six months. So we’re richer than I thought! Win! (also maybe another reason why you shouldn’t use Personal Capital…)

Mortgage is still at $ZERO!

As of October 1, we had $275,400 in investments. Not bad. (With such up and down in the market, a quarterly update on this number rather than a monthly update is probably a good idea.)

2019 Financial Goals (REWORKED):

  • Max Out My 2018 Roth IRA ($5,500/$5,500) – Thanks to the totaling of the car, WE DID IT!
  • Max Out My 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Not yet.
  • Max Out Mr.T’s 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Not yet.
  • Replenish Emergency Fund ($1,200/$1,200) – Because our emergency fund is in a Capitol360 account so we can use it for free ATMs while traveling (but the account only earns 1%), we lowered our emergency account goal from $5000 to $1200. Then we changed this goal:
  • Extra Investments ($12,700/$45,000) – Thanks to the PFD, we were able to get over 25% of this knocked out this quarter. Unless we have some $10k sales months in November-December, we probably won’t get close to this, but I’m thinking I can at least get up to $25k. We’ll see.

So that’s where we’re at. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Dipnetting update and fingers crossed for a full-time job update soon! Thanks for sticking it out with us in our crazy journey! We’re grateful for all of you.

June 2019 Plan Update

It’s officially still July, so I’m still winning on this whole blogging thing, right?! Right. That’s what I thought. June was a fantastic month filled with more ferries! We flew to Juneau and took a ferry to Haines, saw the oldest lighthouse in Alaska, saw some more whales and otters and sea lions, took a ferry to another little island village and enjoyed slow, village life for a few days (we even attended a graduation party of some random stranger – the town is THAT small). Then we flew down to see family in Oregon and Washington. Summer is for travel. And we’ve been doing plenty of it.

The Numbers:

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

Mortgage is still at $ZERO!

Okay, so with all the travel, etc. I actually forgot to check my investments at the end of June! By the time I got around to checking, it was July 12th and we had $267,000. Not bad. I really, really like forgetting about money, living my life, traveling, and still see this go up! It’s my favorite.

2019 Financial Goals (REWORKED):

  • Max Out My 2018 Roth IRA ($5,500/$5,500) – Thanks to the totaling of the car, WE DID IT!
  • Max Out My 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Not yet.
  • Max Out Mr.T’s 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Not yet.
  • Replenish Emergency Fund ($1,200/$1,200) – Because our emergency fund is in a Capitol360 account so we can use it for free ATMs while traveling (but the account only earns 1%), we lowered our emergency account goal from $5000 to $1200. Then we changed this goal:
  • Extra Investments ($300/$45,000) – Nothing new here. Barring any $20k sales months toward the end of the year (not looking likely at all), we’re not going to even get close. Oh well. This is why we make goals, right? Or should we be sticking to “the unaimed arrow never misses” mentality? 😉

Notable Expenses This Month: The Story Our Money Tells:

These are expenses that tell an interesting story. A peek into our lives through our pocketbook (prepare to be judg-y this month!):

  • $55.39– Our annual Trader Joe’s imports.
  • $102 – Alaskan Christmas presents for all the nieces and nephews purchased in Juneau.
  • $10 – The Haines Hammer museum. I’ve never seen so many hammers in my entire life!
  • $20 – The Sheldon Museum in Haines. Cute little museum and very well done.
  • $43.50– Breakfast aboard the LeConte Alaska ferry. Impressive food.
  • $89.10 – Wheat and oats for oatmeal and grinding our whole wheat flour.
  • $10 – Day pass to hike around Mendenhall Glacier area before the glacier totally melts. (Watch the crazy time-lapse of it melting.)

Financial Phrases:

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

  • “All I need is a million dollars to retire. Only $990,000 to go!”
  • “They didn’t care whether we succeeded or failed. It was a franchise model so they made money whether or not we did.”
  • “I tried to go to school, but then decided: ‘I’m already doing what I want to be doing!'” – the guy running the Hammer Museum in Haines.

May 2019 Plan Update

May was absolutely lovely. School got out and we took a week-long ferry down the Aleutian islands. (A whole post about that by request later this month.)

The Numbers:

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

Mortgage is still at $ZERO!

Investments have dropped slightly to $255,000 – but staying above a quarter of a million dollars, so overall still pleased. Still really haven’t saved much this month. We’ll have to really work hard to hit most of our goals this year!

2019 Financial Goals (REWORKED):

  • Max Out My 2018 Roth IRA ($5,500/$5,500) – Thanks to the totaling of the car, WE DID IT!
  • Max Out My 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Not yet.
  • Max Out Mr.T’s 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Not yet.
  • Replenish Emergency Fund ($1,200/$1,200) – Because our emergency fund is in a Capitol360 account so we can use it for free ATMs while traveling (but the account only earns 1%), we lowered our emergency account goal from $5000 to $1200. Then we changed this goal:
  • Extra Investments ($300/$45,000) – Nothing new this month because we had to come up with the $2,500 to max out my 2018 Roth IRA. But we’ll catch up. $45k by the end of the year still seems like a big stretch. But you know, aim for the moon and you’ll fall among the stars or whatever. 

Notable Expenses This Month: The Story Our Money Tells:

These are expenses that tell an interesting story. A peek into our lives through our pocketbook (prepare to be judg-y this month!):

  • $451.44 – Hotel in Dutch Harbor/Unalaska for 2 nights.
  • $422.44 – Hotel in Kodiak for 2 nights.
  • $23 – Museum of the Aleutians – a tiny little museum in Dutch Harbor.
  • $92 – Train tickets for the 5 of us between Seattle and Portland for our upcoming trip. It’s a lovely ride if you’re trying to get between those two cities – much more pleasant than I-5.
  • $47+$55 – Two meals aboard the ferry restaurant. It’s only open for an hour per meal and you can’t tip the staff because they’re all public servants.
  • $27 – 1/2 pound of king crab in Dutch Harbor (where we saw some of the Deadliest Catch boats in the harbor) so everyone could try some (basically two bites each).
  • $20 – Kodiak museum tickets – housed in the oldest Russian-built structure in the United States – an old store during the Russian settlement days that also survived the 1964 tsunami following the great earthquake.

Financial Phrases:

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

  • “Working on this ferry is my second retirement.”
  • “I came up with a genius idea that is going to get me to retirement. Someone pursued a patent for it nearly a decade ago but abandoned it.”
  • My 60-year-old Neighbor: “Your new copy of Work Optional [(affiliate link)] just came. I’m going to keep the one you gave me. And I’m getting one for each of my kids. They’re at the perfect age to read this. I’ve kind of missed the boat on most of it.”

March 2019 Plan Update

This month has been one of the warmest in the history of Alaska. We’re already starting to get buds on the trees and nearly all of the snow is completely gone. Luckily our community doesn’t depend on permafrost as much as many others… so we’ve been enjoying more afternoons outside!

From a financial perspective, March was another crazy month of spending (remember how I said I’d calm down from spending? I will. I will. I promise). But the crazy story goes: my husband’s car got totaled by an uninsured motorist. It would cost $2k to fix, the insurance deemed that totaled… which apparently means they give you more money…? So, they gave us $5,100 to keep the car, we took it to a different place to get it fixed, which charged $1500, we had to pick up a “reconstructed vehicle” title at the DMV, and just like that, we’re $3,600 richer! (Spoiler: $3k went into my Roth IRA for 2018 and Mr. T bought a nice telephoto lens with the rest. We’re a wild bunch!)

We haven’t entirely finished spending on travel for the year yet – a few loose ends for all of our trips need to be tied up, but after that, we’ll be good! In fact, in April, I’m going to get the kids involved in budgeting. We’re going to put a very simple budget up on the fridge and have them help us track everything we spend. My oldest heard the plan and whined: “But I already did that at school once!” I laughed in her face and told her money is kind of an every day kind of thing, not really a one-time school project. We’ll see how it goes.

The Numbers:

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

Mortgage is still at $ZERO! However, having a zero mortgage (and the mishap of the almost-totaled car), we’ve completely changed our financial plans. Our family really has outgrown this house. We can stick it out for a few more years, but with Penny solidly in her tweens, sharing a tiny room has led to much angst. And with bigger kids, clothes and such get bigger. Also, the biggest problem: no place to hang with friends. The bedroom basically fits the bunkbeds and that’s it and the only communal room is our small living room, so we’re literally always going to be in the same room if friends come over. Also, our car has made it through much. It’s a 2005 and though we’re glad it made it through this accident, we can’t be guaranteed it will last forever. We need to be prepared to replace it. And so, with those decisions ahead of us, we’re now entering a cash-hoarding stage!

Investments have moved to $242,870. Again, cash hoarding now. But I’ll be adding our cash hoard to this stash as well. So “Investments” will basically mean all savings in all varieties. I’d love to hit $300k by the end of the year, markets willing.

2019 Financial Goals (REWORKED):

  • Max Out My 2018 Roth IRA ($3,000/$5,500) – Thanks to the totaling of the car, I’ve added $3k for 2018! I’m determined to get the other $2.5k in there in the next two weeks, so stay tuned!
  • Max Out My 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Not yet.
  • Max Out Mr.T’s 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Not yet.
  • Replenish Emergency Fund ($1,200/$1,200) – Because our emergency fund is in a Capitol360 account so we can use it for free ATMs while traveling (but the account only earns 1%), we lowered our emergency account goal from $5000 to $1200. Then we changed this goal:
  • Extra Investments ($300/$45,000) – Financial plans should by dynamic to meet your individual needs. Recap: Right now we feel like we should be cash hoarding. I’m pretty sure we will want a bigger home in a few years (the main thing we’re missing is a place the kids can hang with their friends as teenagers. We have one small living room and the girls share the bedroom). We want to be prepared with a large down payment in 2-3 years so we can either rent out this house (in case we want to return to the small house when the kids are gone) or apply the full sale amount of this house to the next house to get us mortgage-free again faster. Plus possible new car if ours dies. So, we’re no longer maxing out Mr. T’s 401k (don’t worry, he’s still contributing and getting matches). I will also be contributing enough to get the match in my 401k (which starts in April!), but nothing more. Instead, we will be saving money in a high-interest Ally savings account. We will be monitoring our income closely so that we don’t get killed on taxes with these adjustments. We’re using Ed’s super useful “free money” post to make sure we don’t go above the 12% tax bracket.
  • NOTE: $45k feels like a bonkers amount for us. It’s a stretch goal. It includes the state government deciding to stop capping the PFD and it includes our t-shirt business continuing to bring in money each month. But also, knowing that we spent $26,000 on our mortgage in 2018 (after factoring in still paying for taxes and insurance) that we won’t have to spend this year makes this seems a lot more doable (even after spending 3+ months spending like crazy people!).

Notable Expenses This Month: The Story Our Money Tells:

These are expenses that tell an interesting story. A peek into our lives through our pocketbook (prepare to be judg-y this month!):

  • $1500 – The whole car being totaled debacle.
  • $668 – Ferry tickets to get us from Haines back to Juneau on our second Alaska ferry trip this summer. (All the ferries!)
  • $897 – One-year YMCA membership. We’ve been talking about joining for awhile, but actually did it right before spring break so we could swim every day. We nearly did! Since then we’ve all been going as a family at least twice a week to different classes and we’re big fans.
  • $740 – Mr. T’s telephoto lens. (I’ll mention that he purchased the lens because it went on sale from it’s usual $1000 price tag. Our camera broke, so the replacement camera has yet to be purchased… expect to see that in April.)
  • $248.62 – With Payless Shoesource going out of business, we may have gone a little nuts. But, we don’t have tons of low price shoe options up here for the kids, so everyone is now set for all seasons for at least the next year or so.
  • $391.23 – While we were at it, we figured we should buy everyone’s school clothes for next year and all the summer clothes as well. So, now everyone should be set on everything! (Remember how I said we’re just in crazy buying mode? I wasn’t lying.)
  • $59 – Date night to an improv show and some dinner.

Financial Phrases:

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

  • “I don’t know what a SEP-IRA is. I’m not good with computers and tech stuff.”
  • “We thought we were pretty good with money but when we started tracking it, we realized we were not. We had no idea where our money was going.”
  • “We have more work than we know what to do with right now after the earthquake.”

February 2019 Plan Update

In February the light starts to return and by the end of February it’s finally light when I take the kids to school and when they return. We also celebrate two birthdays in February so it’s all chocolate and cake (even though we only sort of celebrate Valentine’s Day). It’s a good month. Though with last month’s mortgage pay-off, we may have gone a bit hog-wild and has a pretty spendy month. We’ll level out again, I promise. But for now… on to the deets.

The Numbers:

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

Our mortgage is now at $ZERO! So far I’m keeping this in the monthly update because I’m so not over it. Still super thrilling. Read the story of our mortgage pay-off here. If you remember that I’ve been overpaying property taxes by nearly $900/year the update is that I can’t get any of that money back. Alas. I still have NO MORTGAGE. If I hadn’t paid it off early, I’m not sure when or if I would have noticed I was overpaying. So… #winning ?

Investments have moved to $234,209. Now that I’m actually starting to pay attention to this number, I’m actually starting to get a bit nervous that 75% of economists predict a recession by 2021.

2019 Financial Goals:

  • Max Out My 2018 Roth IRA (0/$5,500) – I may have given up dreams of this goal when I bought tickets on the ferry to the end of the world. But it was a decision I made consciously. There is still a possibility I can put some money in here before April 15, but we’ll see.
  • Max Out My 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Not yet.
  • Max Out Mr.T’s 2019 Roth IRA (0/$6,000) – Not yet.
  • Replenish Emergency Fund ($800/$5,000) – The only goal I made any headway on.
  • Extra Investments ($0/$10,000) – I haven’t figured out what this will look like yet (ie: brokerage, self-employment account etc.) because our income sources and amounts will impact that, but the goal is to invest another $10k.

Notable Expenses This Month: The Story Our Money Tells:

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

  • $6 – Sound transit tickets from Seatac airport to downtown Seattle to see Dear Evan Hansen with a friend of mine for her 40th birthday. I paid for the hotel and plane with points. We split food but I bought discounted gift cards last month for a few places, so for February, this trip cost me $6.
  • $41 – Tickets to see Lego Movie 2: The Second Part for the president’s holiday.
  • $320 – Our cable cutting technique requires a computer hooked up to the TV. Ours just died after 9 years, so I bought a slim tower on clearance at Office Depot.
  • $75 – Ice skate sharpening punch card (so we can keep enjoying family skate nights at the school, etc.)
  • $1794 – Tickets for our family to take the “ferry to the end of the world” which is a ferry that goes all the day down the Aleutian chain to Dutch Harbor. With the current proposed state budget, ferries would shut down by October. I’m sure something will change to keep running some ferries, but this route has been on the chopping block for YEARS since it loses millions of dollars each year. Read about this reporter’s journey in 2015. I know I would regret not taking this if it gets cut and I had the chance so I jumped on reservations when they announced the ferries were no longer taking reservations past September until the budget gets finalized.

Financial Phrases:

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

  • “We were kicked out of a restaurant once in rural Alaska because we were camping. It was in the middle of nowhere but it was the kind of place they flew people in to go to.”
  • “Our whole tax refund was taken out from under us because I messed up our 2016 taxes.”
  • “We never use checks. We are a cash only family.”

The Mortgage is DEAD!

8 days ago we paid off the mortgage. The moment itself was completely anticlimactic. I had anticipated paying it off Friday afternoon after receiving my paycheck and when I had my family around me. I would get off the phone, pop the Martinelli’s and we’d party. Instead, on Thursday, I called the bank to verify the amount due, noticed I had enough in my Escrow account to cover the last of the mortgage, and asked about it. He said: “Oh yeah. We can use that. Do you want me take care of that right now?” And just like that, the mortgage was paid off. And I was alone in the house on the Thursday. I message Mr. T at work. I called my sister. I called my parents. And my family popped the Martinelli’s while I was at a meeting that night. Yawn.

As soon as he “took care of it” and paid my mortgage, the banker, in the very same breath, offered me a home equity loan. I’ve never flipped anyone off in my entire life. But at that moment, that felt like the very best reaction. Because I was on the phone, I did not actually flip him off. I politely declined like a good citizen, but it really ruined the moment.

I’ve had all the feels in the past week. I had to figure out how to move my taxes and insurance into my name. In the process, I discovered that for the past ten years, we haven’t had the residential exemption applied to our property tax bill which means we’ve been overpaying our property taxes by a third for 9 years! ANGER. I think I solved that for 2019 anyway. Hilariously, I’m so happy that the house is totally paid off that I can’t even be that mad about this. I’m trying. But the house is MINE. We are DEBT FREE!

It has felt so. dang. good. Also, I’m totally counting that we paid it off in December 2018 because I didn’t actually pay a dime toward it this month. WINNING! In the past 8 days, I have had so much fun figuring out where to send all of our money. An advance copy of Tanja’s new book, Work Optional, came this week as well (perfect timing). I’m still neck deep in new spreadsheets, calculations, and possibilities. It. is. glorious.

Does is Make Sense to Pay off the Mortgage Early?

There are fairly sound economic arguments that say no. However, I work in behavioral economics which takes into account that people are irrational beings. We aren’t good with following strict economic principles because FEELS. Ultimately, the answer of whether or not to pay it off early is entirely based on your own emotions. If your mortgage doesn’t bother you at all and you’ve locked in a good interest rate, don’t even worry about.

Here are the 3 things that have changed the most for me with the mortgage payoff:

  1. My Savings: It’s been 8 whole days and already my savings rate is up (I immediately changed my 401k contributions to 50% of my pay). I learned a couple of years ago that I am a terrible financial multi-tasker. If I wanted to accomplish more than the average, I had to go all in. So I decided to kill the mortgage. Now that we’ve done that, it’s time to go all in on savings!
  2. My Peace of Mind: At least a couple times every single day since paying off the mortgage, I take a deep breath and think: it’s mine. No more payments to any bank. My money is MINE.
  3. My Risk Tolerance: With that peace of mind comes possibilities. As I mentioned in my 2018 recap post, I hired a couple of designers last year. When one of them offered to design for me nearly full time for $200/month, I immediately jumped on it. If I still had a mortgage to pay off, I’m not sure I would have risked it. Who knows if we’re able to turn that $200/month into way more profit, but if it doesn’t work out, a whole year of hiring her was the equivalent risk of less than one mortgage payment! In those terms, it was totally worth the risk! Especially since growing our business is something we’re actively trying to do in 2019.

What Happens Now?

Full disclaimer: we may have another mortgage sometime in the future. This house is fabulous and we absolutely love it, but it really isn’t conducive to teenagers. There’s no place for teens to hang out without us more than 5 feet away. And even if we’re there, we can only fit like 2 other teens comfortably. Our housing future is entirely uncertain. It could go either way: stay here forever or buy a different house (I vacillate daily).

What we do know: we are going to enjoy no mortgage payments for awhile and take advantage of that time to increase our savings significantly. I don’t regret paying it off early at all. It still feels so good!

Merch Challenge Q4 FINAL Update

As a reminder, we’re trying to pay off our mortgage and take our family on a 27-day Europe trip with just t-shirt sales in what we call the Great Banks Merch Challenge.

This update is the 2018 Q4 FINAL update:

The FINAL Merch Challenge Numbers

Final Trip Costs: Reminder that this was a 4-week, 27-night trip through NYC (2 nights), England and Wales (16 nights), Norway (5 nights) and Iceland (4 nights) for 5 humans! It was absolutely spectacular and the best use of money ever.

For a complete break-down of each of these categories, check out our Merch Challenge Q2 Update.

  • Flights: $2,035.48
  • Lodging: $2,859.50 
  • Transportation: $1,712.29
  • Stuff: $1,487.17 (The Gear + Souvenirs)
  • Experiences: $1,468.95
  • Food: $849.47

TOTAL SPENT: $10,412.86

Verdict: DONE! Paid for with our first 8 months of t-shirt sales. How amazing is that?!

Mortgage Costs: 

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

  • $2,100 (November)
  • $1,700 (December)
  • $1,500 (January)
  • $0 (February)
  • $100 (March)
  • $0 (April)
  • $0 (May)
  • $0 (June)
  • $0 (July) – Man, the trip really stunted our mortgage payments! No regrets, but we better hit it hard in the fall!
  • $900 (August)
  • $400 (September)
  • $0 (October – we actually put $8000 extra toward it, but that was PFD money, so we’re not counting it as part of the challenge)
  • $1600 (November)
  • $2400 (December)

TOTAL EXTRA PUT TOWARD MORTGAGE: $10,700

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

  • June: $7.07
  • July: $218.24
  • August: $810.78
  • September: $1,065.67
  • October: $3,352.58
  • November: $1,837.50
  • December: $2,627.96
  • January: $1,076.85
  • February: $695.83
  • March: $783.40
  • April: $852.67
  • May: $854.17
  • June: $474.21
  • July: $531.01
  • August: $440.94
  • September: $512.85
  • October: $1,575.31
  • November: $1,499.42
  • December: $1,945.40
  • TOTAL: $21,161.86

minus our trip costs of $10,412.86: $10,749

then we subtract our extra mortgage payments of $10,700 to get our

Merch Challenge Total: $49

Verdict: WE DID IT!!!!

We haven’t entirely paid off our mortgage yet, but in the next two weeks, with our regular mortgage payment, the mortgage will be gone. Can you believe that we managed to make all the remaining mortgage payments with JUST t-shirt sales?! AND take a month-long trip through Europe?! Squeaking by with $49 extra dollars!!!! My mind is BLOWN. It will definitely take me a long time to internalize all this! When I started this challenge I thought there was no possible way it could happen, but it would be fun to track anyway! AND LOOK AT AS BEING AMAZING!!!! I’m so excited to see what’s possible in 2019 with a paid off mortgage and the possibility of growing our side business and saving the money! Thanks for being along for the ride!

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