Denali Northern Expenditure

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Merch Challenge Q3 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.

I’ll be providing quarterly updates. This one is 2018 Q3 update:

The Current 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)

TOTAL EXTRA PUT TOWARD MORTGAGE: $6,700

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
  • TOTAL: $16,141.73

minus our trip costs of $10,412.86: $5,729.73

then we subtract our extra mortgage payments of $6,700 to get our

Merch Challenge Total: -$970.27

Verdict so far: Still possible, but looking unlikely.

I’m thrilled that the entire trip has been covered with just t-shirt sales! How exciting is that?!

Although Q4 will be a bigger hitter with income, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to match last year’s Q4 sales numbers despite having nearly 10x the listings on Amazon that we did last year. There are several reasons for this. Since the beginning of the year, the competition has increased exponentially. The t-shirt selling business isn’t quite the gravy train it once was (though there’s still money to be had). Amazon has also decreased royalty payments per shirt and sellers are now on the hook for returns which get deducted from our totals.

Our mortgage is currently at $9,480, but with regular mortgage payments, we just need $6,300 extra to pay it off by the end of the year. That means, with our current challenge numbers of $-970.20, we need to earn a total of $7,270.27 by the end of the year to complete our challenge.

Again, it’s possible we hit some amazing trend by the end of the year and knock it out of the park, but based on current trends, it isn’t looking likely. BUT, I haven’t given up hope. And I’m already impressed on how much progress we’ve made on this crazy challenge!

Your Thoughts: Do you think we can do it?

September 2018 Plan Update

September 2018 Plan Update

So I’m actually late for a reason this time. You see, I waited until our PFD hit to pay our mortgage for September. We have a ten-day grace period before a late fee hits… just enough time to wait for the PFD and get the sucker down! More on that later.

Life is grand. Instead of attending FinCon this year, I attended a t-shirt sellers conference in Seattle. It was fantastic meeting other sellers and it turns out sales have been pretty flat for everyone this year. That’s good to hear that it isn’t just me. But the question is whether that will bet better or if the days of organic sales are over. 2019 may be brand-building for us. We shall see.

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 $9,480 – This is BONKERS! We’re below 10K – PARTY PARTY PARTY PARTY. So dang exciting! Thanks to our PFD, we were able to get this below 10k.

The PFD is an oil kickback given to all Alaskans. In previous years, it was calculated based on a complicated algorithm of investment returns. In recent years, they’ve capped it. This year should have been nearly $3000 but was capped at $1600 per person. That means our family received $8000.

I may have thrown too much money at the mortgage this month, however, because I almost overdrew the account the next morning. Luckily, my paycheck hit at the exact same time and saved the day! I think finding balance is getting especially hard for me now that this is so close to being DEAD. I’ve turned us into a living paycheck-to-paycheck family. It’s not a great feeling. But look at that mortgage balance! It is relieving to know that this will be gone by the end of July 2019 if we pay not a penny extra. Maybe that means I can chill out about it and give up on the end of 2018 goal? Or maybe I’ll just have to be insane for another three months? Hard to say where I stand right now. 🙂  I did, however, save nearly $30 in overall interest by waiting to pay the September payment after the PFD hit! (spreadsheets to the rescue!).

Investments are now at $228,700. Still ticking up. It’s been especially interesting these past few years of market steam watching our Roth IRAs tick up even without added investments. I’m watching the power of the market! Someday, it will end. I realize. But overall, we trust the market to keep going up long-term and our plan is based entirely on that.

2018 Financial Goals Update:

  • KILL THE MORTGAGE – $9,480! Can you believe we’re under $10k! 4 digits, baby! I’m over the moon about this. I’m still not sure if we can kill it entirely by the end of the year… it’s starting to look less and less likely, but my fingers are still crossed tightly!
  • Merch Challenge Update (paying for our 27-night Europe trip and our extra mortgage payments with t-shirt sales) –  -$1,483.98 – Earned: $15,628.88, Spent: $17,112.86 (with “earned” meaning the money we’ve made from selling shirts on Amazon and “spent” meaning all of the costs for the trip as well as any extra payments toward our mortgage) – August was another below $500 month for shirt sales. This Q4 doesn’t look like it will be anything as great as last year’s even though we have nearly 10x the amount of products listed. A full Q3 update will be coming next week! Buckle up!
  • Max out Mr. T’s 401k – Automatic – however, limits rose to $18,500/year which makes it messy if you get 24 paychecks a year. We’ll probably make a contribution toward the end of the year to top it off.
  • Stretch Goal: Put $5500 into My Roth IRA – Not yet.
  • Market-Based Goal: $250,000 in investments by the end of 2018 – Not yet.

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:

  • $75 – Lui’s preschool.
  • $170 – A month of piano lessons for the girls.
  • $123.25 – Dental visit for girls – sealants are only partially covered by insurance.
  • $46 – School pictures for all 3 kids (we get the smallest possible package to send one to the grandparents).
  • $22.80 – Mr. T and I went to see AntMan for my birthday at the beginning of the month,
  • $36 – then we went out to lunch while the kids were in school.
  • $25 – Donorschoose donation to one of my kids’ classrooms.
  • $4.99 – The button on my jeans snapped as soon as I made it through security in Anchorage to head to my conference. I had to buy a sewing kit for the tiny safety pin to keep my pants up until I got to my hotel in Seattle. Talk about a story the money tells. 🙂

Financial Phrases:

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

  • “This expense might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for them.”
  • “We just bought a root canal for $100 at an auction, so I feel like we’re winning. My husband had to get two in the spring and we’re still paying those off.”
  • “I really don’t want to go back to being house poor.”
August 2018 Plan Update

August 2018 Plan Update

So I’m a few days behind, but I’ve gotten really good at living life these days, which is something I’m proud of. I’m currently balancing my part-time job and building our t-shirt business. Over the next few months, we’ll see how all that plays out. It will be an interesting ride when the buyers start coming!

August was an amazing month in the Banks house. It began with my sister’s family visiting from Texas and we were able to show them Alaska, which is one of my favorite things to do. We did all the usual Alaska things we enjoy: saw humpback whales from a boat, hiked on a glacier, went on a bike ride, and ate lots of yummy food (including several forms of salmon). And the month ended with the kids back in school and all of us figuring out schedules again, which is another form of joy. It’s been a fabulous summer, but it’s also always nice to get back into a routine.

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 $18,400. Not much to add here this month. Just LOVE watching it drop. Can’t wait to celebrate getting it below $10,000!

Investments are now at $224,870. It’s been an amazing market run. It’s actually making me a bit nervous how high things have gotten. But I’m also loving how close we are to a quarter of a million dollars (and halfway to our original goal of $500k by 2022!)

2018 Financial Goals Update:

  • KILL THE MORTGAGE – $18,400! Oh my goodness. So excited about it dropping and dropping! The PFD is coming at the beginning of October, so by November, this should be almost half of what it is now!
  • Merch Challenge Update (paying for our 27-night Europe trip and our extra mortgage payments with t-shirt sales) –  -$1,924.92 – Earned: $15,187.94, Spent: $17,112.86 (with “earned” meaning the money we’ve made from selling shirts on Amazon and “spent” meaning all of the costs for the trip as well as any extra payments toward our mortgage) – Remember how I said June was our most depressing month of sales? Ha! July and August are worse. But, fingers crossed for September to be better. And a Merch Challenge Q3 Update is coming in a month! So get excited for detailed numbers!
  • Max out Mr. T’s 401k – Automatic – however, limits rose to $18,500/year which makes it messy if you get 24 paychecks a year. We’ll probably make a contribution toward the end of the year to top it off.
  • Stretch Goal: Put $5500 into My Roth IRA – Not yet.
  • Market-Based Goal: $250,000 in investments by the end of 2018 – Not yet.

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:

  • $120 – Breakfast for all of 10 of us with my sister’s family here.
  • $70 – The cost to hike the glacier with my family.
  • $10.08 – Frozen Yogurt to celebrate the first day of school.
  • $499 – The ticket for me to go to a t-shirt-selling conference in September! I’m very excited (but sad I’ll be missing FinCon this year).
  • $29.85 – 3 National Park Passports for my kids. Getting ready for the fall road trip!
  • $85 – My family admission to the the wildlife conservation center. We got to see the cute little baby bear climb a tree! (And got to see some idiot try to pet the bear through the fence. This is when I tell my kids: “Adults can be idiots too. Don’t be an idiot.”)

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 of my money from my new job is going toward our mortgage!”
  • “Employees who are just trying to pay their mortgage put their heads down and don’t cause waves.”
July 2018 Plan Update

July 2018 Plan Update

July in Alaska is so wonderful and we enjoyed our time at parks, on bike rides, and going fishing! We’ve been running around like crazy people this whole summer and it doesn’t look like that will end for a few more weeks when school starts again.

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 $19,980. EVERYONE DANCE! WE’RE BELOW $20,000! I threw enough extra toward this to get it below $20,000 and now I’m working like crazy to make up for doing so. 🙂

Investments are now at $217,000. This includes my $385 401k I just got from work. My newly-acquired company is terrible. I hate work so much. It’s so terrible. The company has moved from a small start-up full of entrepreneurs to giant conglomerate big business almost overnight and it’s completely depressing. However, I’m committed to keeping my job until the mortgage is paid off. So, I’ve trained Mr. T, whenever I say: “ugh, I want to quit my job” to respond with: “Just remember your 401k!” – it’s somewhat motivating. Hopefully work will improve but at this rate, I’m not all that hopeful.

2018 Financial Goals Update:

  • KILL THE MORTGAGE – $19,980! I am SO EXCITED we got this below $20,000! This means with $7,000 of our PFD this year and our regular mortgage payments, we only have to find an extra $8500 to kill this thing by the end of the year!
  • Merch Challenge Update (paying for our 27-night Europe trip and our extra mortgage payments with t-shirt sales) –  -$2,055.93 – Earned: $14,656.93, Spent: $16,712.86 (with “earned” meaning the money we’ve made from selling shirts on Amazon and “spent” meaning all of the costs for the trip as well as any extra payments toward our mortgage) – June was our most depressing month of t-shirt sales for a long time. We made less than $500. We haven’t really had time this summer to hit it hard again, but we’re hoping next month we can really get going because we need our sales to dramatically improve!
  • Max out Mr. T’s 401k – Automatic – however, limits rose to $18,500/year which makes it messy if you get 24 paychecks a year. We’ll probably make a contribution toward the end of the year to top it off.
  • Stretch Goal: Put $5500 into My Roth IRA – Not yet.
  • Market-Based Goal: $250,000 in investments by the end of 2018 – Not yet.

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:

  • $44.99 – That heart-shaped Waffle iron I warned you about
  • $439.63 – Dipnetting Costs
  • $33.27 – Batting and backing material for a denim quilt Florin and I have been working on for her.
  • $66.98 – School clothes for the girls.
  • $77.60 – Eye exam for one of the kids.
  • $12.99 – Haircut for Mr.T
  • $30 – My haircut. I didn’t make Mr. T do it this time. He’s grateful.

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 pay some debt off every month. I don’t have enough to pay all of the bills, but I rotate so that no bill goes longer than a few months without being paid.”
  • “I feel like we’ve saved a lot at this point, but while I’m hesitant to start spending it I also don’t want to put fun vacations off til we’re older either. It’s a struggle.”
Dipnetting 2018: A Record-Breaking Catch!

Dipnetting 2018: A Record-Breaking Catch!

If you’ve been around, you already know that Dipnetting is my favorite holiday. It’s so fantastic. And after last year’s rainy year with less fish, it was nice to have a sunny year with lots of fish! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the story of Dipnetting 2018:

All through June, there were dismal salmon counts reported thanks to a “blob” of warm water that stunted spawning off the coast of Alaska a few years ago. There were fears there would be no fish to catch! We had planned to go fishing on Monday, July 16, but the fish counts were still unseasonably low, so we postponed until Wednesday.

We got down there Wednesday and fished Wednesday afternoon/evening and Mr. T and I caught a combined 9 (I only caught 1 of those). Mr. T got back in the water Thursday morning and only caught 1. Then, during the low tide Thursday afternoon, we both got back in the water with our nets and the fish came! It’s always so fun to see a spike in fish while you’re in the water. It starts boiling with salmon and we were just throwing them out of the water. We filled our coolers and had to stop because we couldn’t fit any more!

Our friends joined us Thursday night and we watched their two teenage sons catch 20 before we all ate dinner. We got home Friday around 5pm and Mr. T and I washed and filleted salmon until around 10:30pm and then packaged all the fillets with the FoodSaver for the freezer until about 2am Saturday.

We ended with a total of 34 sockeye salmon! (though our household limit is 65, we never need that much!) That equals 91.8 lbs of edible salmon fillets! 

Biggest fillet this year: 34 oz

Smallest fillet this year: 12 oz

Dipnetting Costs

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

  • $107.46 – 2 new camping pads for Mr. T and I. After waking up on our $7 cheap inflatable pads with leaks and being extra sore for the second day of fishing, I decided we were too old for this and immediately ordered some nice camping pads for next year. So, even though we didn’t get to enjoy them for this year’s trip, I’m counting them as part of this year’s costs.
  • $60 – The cost of 2 nights of camping on the beach and a $10 drop-off fee (we’ve only ever stayed 1 night in the past, but quite enjoyed being there a second night).
  • $42 – Gas for the car for the roundtrip.
  • $6.58 – Ice to keep the fish cool.
  • $17.34 – 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).
  • $12.35 – Some PVC fittings and a plastic container: Every year I descale the fish while Mr. T fillets. I’ve been doing this in our coolers in the grass, but the bending over gets harder each year. This year, Mr. T developed a sort of sink think that drained the water out and he clamped the hose to the side so I could do everything standing up. It made it so much easier!
  • $58 – Fishing licenses for Mr. T and I.
  • $69.90 – 1 new net (just the netting) and 2 new pole extensions. After catching very little last year with my short net and dumb netting, we got me new netting and 2 pole extensions to make my net as long as his. I’m happy to report I was a very successful fisherwoman this year with the new gear!
  • $66 – The cost to get 12 lbs of our fish professionally smoked.

Total Costs: $439.63 – A much more expensive year than usual thanks to new gear and staying an extra night.

Total Cost Per Pound: $4.79/lb 

It was a record-breaking year for us on poundage (the most edible meat we’ve ever caught!) but it was also a record-breaking year for our cost per pound (in a bad way). Check out Dipnetting 2015, Dipnetting 2016, and Dipnetting 2017 to compare. $4.79 is still pretty good for market rate fresh sockeye salmon that we eat weekly. If you end up with some salmon, be sure to check out Mr. T’s perfect salmon recipe!

4 Week Europe Trip Costs + Merch Challenge Q2 2018 Update

4 Week Europe Trip Costs + Merch Challenge Q2 2018 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.

I’ll be providing quarterly updates. This one is 2018 Q2 update:

The Current 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.

  • Flights: $2,035.48 – This amount includes :
    • Flight from Anchorage to NYC for a day before flying to England (we used Alaska miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from NYC to London (we used AA miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from England to Norway (paid Cash, SAS airlines – $355.63 for all 5 tickets)
    • Flight from Norway to Iceland (free layover for 4 days) to Alaska (paid cash – $2,123.85 for all 5 tickets)
    • – $500 – from our sign-up bonus on the Barclay Arrival+ card. Yay for a $500 discount!
  • Lodging: $2,859.50 – All lodging:
    • 3 nights in London, England – $677.01
    • 1 night just outside Reykjavik, Iceland – $250.49
    • 3 nights on the Golden Circle in Iceland – $681.03
    • $1000 worth of discounted AirBNB gift cards we’ve used to purchase lodging in England and Norway – $910
    • 2 nights in Bergen, Norway – $340.97
  • Transportation: $1,712.29
    • Norway Car Rental: $294.26
    • UK Car Rental: $364.71
    • Iceland Car Rental: $307.35
    • Airport Shuttle from Newark – $48
    • Airport Shuttle to Bergen – $26.35
    • Bergen Funicular – $36.39
    • Public Transportation Costs – $229.18
    • All petrol – $359.72
    • All parking – $46.33
  • Stuff: $1,487.17 – The gear (which we won’t have to purchase again for the next big trip!) plus the souvenirs:
    • Passport fees for the 3 kids – $315
    • Global Entry for all of us – Free (thanks Amex Platinum card!)
    • Travelable booster seats for all 3 kids (their normal ones are way too bulky to travel with but we wanted to be safe/legal) – $103.97
    • Travel Backpacks for the girls (Lui will use his small school backpack) – $204.30
    • GPS with all Europe maps (which we will use for all future Europe trips) – $149.90
    • Souvenirs (including an Icelandic sweater for me, a sweater for Mr. T and a jacket for me from the Dale of Norway factory store, a few Christmas gifts, a retro Iceland winter hat for Mr. T, a few new outfits for me and the kids from England, and the kids’ souvenirs) – $714
  • Experiences: $1,468.95
    • Empire State Building – $70
    • Tickets to see Matilda the musical in London – $348.15
    • Tickets to the Harry Potter Film Studio outside London – $183.73
    • Westminster Abbey Tickets – $62.63
    • UK Family National Trust 14-day Touring Pass – $104.79
    • London Eye – $160.72
    • Tower of London – $99.95
    • Wales Castle Explorer Family Pass – $60.07
    • York Minster – $29.64
    • Borgund Stave Church, Norway – $34.99
    • Oslo Passes – $260.18
    • Kerið Crater Entrance – $7.30
    • Geothermal Rye Bread Experience – $41.28
    • Public Toilets in Iceland – $5.52
  • Food: $849.47 – We bought mostly groceries, but did eat out occasionally. We were also spoiled by my parents for a week when we stayed with them (thanks mum and dad!).
    • New York: $171.25
    • UK: $390.98
    • Norway: $96.58
    • Iceland: $152.65
    • IcelandAir Airplane food: $38.01

TOTAL SPENT: $10,412.86

Thoughts: We went to 3 of the most expensive countries in Europe and stayed there a month! We weren’t attempting to be super frugal about this trip, but we cut costs where we could and really enjoyed it. I felt like I was living my best life traveling and teaching my kids during this past month. It was absolutely amazing.

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) – hopefully sales will pick up again soon so we can start shoveling money toward the mortgage!
  • $0 (April)
  • $0 (May)
  • $0 (June)

TOTAL EXTRA PUT TOWARD MORTGAGE: $5,400

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
  • TOTAL: $14,182.72

minus our total mortgage payments and total trip costs of $15,812.86

Merch Challenge Totals: -$1,630.14

Verdict so far: Still Positive

I’m actually pretty thrilled that the entire trip has been covered with just t-shirt sales! How exciting is that?!

Now, we’ve got 6 months left of t-shirt sales to cover about $23,600 of the mortgage (about $22,000 left on it plus another $1,630.14 that we’ve already paid toward the mortgage listed above). We may or may not be able to earn $23,600 in 6 months with t-shirts alone (last year, we earned about $9,900 in the same 6 months).

However, we are getting a little help from the state of Alaska. Our PFD amount has been decided for 2019 and we’ll each be getting $1,600 (a total of $8,000). Now, we tithe our PFDs as we do with all our income, so after tithing, we’ll conservatively say we can put $7,000 of the PFD toward our mortgage. $23,600-$7,000=$16,600.

AND keep in mind that our regular mortgage payments alone will bring our mortgage balance down to about $18,000 by the end of the year. $18,000+$1,630-$7,000=$12,630! TOTALLY DOABLE (maybe. i start second guessing every time i declare something like that!) Do you think we can do it?

June 2018 Plan Update

June 2018 Plan Update

Since I don’t want to inundate you with pictures or info about our trip, I’ll just give a quick run-down here in the June 2018 Plan Update (since our June was almost entirely overseas!).

We started the trip with an amazing two days in NYC. I was able to see Hamilton with a friend of mine. She paid for the tickets and wouldn’t tell me how much they cost. Mr.T, in his infinite wisdom, told me that I should respond in-kind instead of attempting to pay her back monetarily, so I’m coming up with an equally-stunning excursion for the two of us, my treat (perhaps a weekend to Seattle to see Dear Evan Hansen?).

On the flight to London, I left my phone on the airplane. Oh well. It did mean we had to drive to the airport after staying in London for a few days to pick up the phone. Could have been much worse. In London, we took the kids to see Matilda and they loved it. We also got to enjoy the amazing kid activities at the Tower of London, go on the London eye, have ice cream cones with Flakes, see the amazing museums, explore the Harry Potter Studios, and watch my kids become expert London tube travelers.

Lui on the London Eye

This is how Lui enjoyed the London Eye

Tower Bridge Rainy Selfie

An attempted family selfie in the rain at Tower Bridge

We then drove to Stonehenge and Avebury and then explored a whole bunch of castles all through Wales for 3 days (our favorites were Raglan, Caerphilly and Caernarfon, for the record). Each castle had an amazing “Castle Quest” for kids. Wales and castles = my favorite! Then we spent a night with some friends in Chorley, England and then drove to stay with my parents for a week in Leeds. They treated us to my kids’ first afternoon tea at Betty’s, Harry Potter broom flying lessons where they filmed it at Alnwick, and exploring in the Yorkshire Dales. Brimham Rocks is still a favorite and my kids agree! I also managed to find some clothes I like while out shopping with my mum! Yay!

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey, a ruined monastery in South Wales

Brimham Rocks

Brimham Rocks is an unexpected find in Yorkshire and turns out to be one of our favorite places in England

From there, we flew to Bergen, Norway where we took the funicular up the mountain and played on one of the greatest playgrounds of all time in the troll forest.

Troll Forest Playground

We loved this playground in the Troll Forest on Mt. Fløyen

We were also able to meet up with some relatives of Mr. T who cooked us a delicious Norwegian feast and let us go paddle-boating out in the Norwegian fjords by their home. (The header for this post is the view from our hotel room in Bergen.) We drove from Bergen to Oslo, stopping to see the Borgund Stave Church, fjords, waterfalls, and then driving through the longest road tunnel in the world. In Oslo, we saw all the boat museums, the Nobel Peace Center, and ate the most delicious waffles (a Scandinavian heart-shaped waffle iron will probably show up as one of our expenses in the next few months!).

Borgund Stave Church

The Borgund Stave Church is a remarkable feat of wooden architecture from the 12th century.

From Oslo, we flew to Iceland where we were part of an Icelandic National Day parade, saw a million amazing waterfalls, ate amazing rye bread that was cooked in the ground geothermally, and stayed in an amazing cabin with a geothermal hot tub.

Iceland's National Day

We unexpectedly became part of a parade for Iceland’s National Day

Iceland Waterfall

Between the weather and the waterfalls we got plenty of use out of our raincoats in Iceland!

Overall, for a month-long trip, it was near perfection! All of our preparation with the kids really paid off as they were completely engaged in everything we were doing and seeing and never complained at all (minus poor Lui, who after about two weeks, just wanted to have a day where he didn’t have to walk anywhere!). I can’t wait for the next trip!

Reynisfjara Beach

Despite the crowd, we loved climbing the basalt columns, also known as trap rocks, at Reynisfjara Beach

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 $22,000. No extra paid this month, but next month, I really hope to start killing this thing with extra payments!

Investments are now at $206,200. Have I mentioned that since moving from a contractor to an actual employee, I now I have my OWN 401k? It’s very exciting, I know! I’m up to a whole $220! Interestingly, they only allow percentage amounts to be put in a 401k and those max out at 50%. Since I only make around $20,000/year, I can’t actually ever max mine out. But, next year, after the mortgage is paid off, you bet I’m bumping right up to 50%! I also won’t start seeing employee matches until next May since I wasn’t officially an employee before and new employees have to wait a year to have the company match anything. Boo. Oh well.

2018 Financial Goals Update:

  • KILL THE MORTGAGE – $22,000! Now that the trip is behind us, this is HAPPENING!
  • Merch Challenge Update (paying for our 27-night Europe trip and our extra mortgage payments with t-shirt sales) –  -$1,630.14 – Earned: $14,182.72, Spent: $15,812.86 (with “earned” meaning the money we’ve made from selling shirts on Amazon and “spent” meaning all of the costs for the trip as well as any extra payments toward our mortgage) – Details on most of these numbers can be found in our Great Merch Challenge Q1 update with another one coming Friday! – So many details coming!
  • Max out Mr. T’s 401k – Automatic – however, limits rose to $18,500/year which makes it messy if you get 24 paychecks a year. We’ll probably make a contribution toward the end of the year to top it off.
  • Stretch Goal: Put $5500 into My Roth IRA – Not yet.
  • Market-Based Goal: $250,000 in investments by the end of 2018 – Not yet.
May 2018

May 2018 Plan Update (Delayed!)

I cannot express to you how fantastic our trip was. It was absolutely tremendous. However, since I got sick on the way home and am now bed-ridden with bronchitis, prepare yourself for all the updates. First off, today’s May 2018 Plan Update, next Monday will be the June 2018 plan update (pared down a bit because…), then next Friday will be all of our trip costs coming at you next week in our Great Banks Merch Challenge Q2 Update. What an exciting week on the blog!

The whole trip really solidified to me how many doors open up when money isn’t a priority. Since I knew we’d be okay financially for the month I was gone, I didn’t worry about how to pay for things. I just lived. THIS IS THE GOAL. We can argue all day about terminology: early retirement, financial independence, entrepreneurship, digital nomads – the point is that WE save money so we can do WHATEVER WE WANT!

It was so freeing to just spend the money when we wanted to spend it and not have to live around working. We’ve already developed habits of money spending that enable us to not want to go crazy when we can. We’re still conscious about spending money on things that are important, but we also don’t want to feel like we’re giving too much up doing so. But the things we don’t care about, we don’t spend money on.

I did do some work while I was on the trip – not much, but some. And being on vacation with my family really helped me identify what I actually WANTED to do and what I didn’t. I enjoy some aspects of work. I’m going to focus on those. If I lose my job in the meantime, so be it. I also discovered that I actually still love this whole designing and selling shirts thing. It’s fun. I enjoy it. I’m not just doing it for the money.

I just calculated all of our costs and I don’t regret any of them. We were really good at aligning our money with our values and I committed to keep spending money on travel with the family. It’s absolutely our first priority for spending our money.

Sometimes a one-month “trial run” of financial freedom is just what is needed!

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 $23,100. With the trip behind us, we have 6 months to kill this. If we pay no extra on our mortgage, we’ll end the year with an $18,000 mortgage balance. That means we just have to come up with $18,000 before the end of the year! I’m hopeful. Especially since we’ve got $7000 of the PFD going toward it in October. That means just $11,000 extra to add!

Investments are now at $205,580 (as of June 1). I was right! We went back to hitting another big number while we were on vacation! If you’ll recall when we hit $100,000 Mr. T and I were in the UK as well (and I got obsessed with the idea of hitting money milestones while on vacation)! It’s only right that we hit the second $100,000 while back in the UK with the family (we’ve hit it before, but it went back down and now back up)!

2018 Financial Goals Update:

  • KILL THE MORTGAGE – $23,100 to go! We’ve learned that I’m a terrible multi-tasker when it comes to financial goals. With the trip behind us now, I’m putting my head down and working hard to get there!
  • Merch Challenge Update (paying for our 27-night Europe trip and our extra mortgage payments with t-shirt sales) –  -$1,630.14 – Earned: $14,182.72, Spent: $15,812.86 (with “earned” meaning the money we’ve made from selling shirts on Amazon and “spent” meaning all of the costs for the trip as well as any extra payments toward our mortgage) – Details on most of these numbers can be found in our Great Merch Challenge Q1 update with another one coming next Friday! – Back in the negatives, but I think we’ll be able to do it!
  • Max out Mr. T’s 401k – Automatic – however, limits rose to $18,500/year which makes it messy if you get 24 paychecks a year. We’ll probably make a contribution toward the end of the year to top it off.
  • Stretch Goal: Put $5500 into My Roth IRA – Not yet.
  • Market-Based Goal: $250,000 in investments by the end of 2018 – Not yet.
April 2018 Plan Update

April 2018 Plan Update

It’s MAY, glorious MAY, wonderful MAY!

School gets out in two weeks and we jetset shortly thereafter (woo hoo!). The kids recently finished their historic timeline on our hallway walls, so we’re officially ready (minus all the actual stuff we need to do to get ready!).

I should also tell you that I did a thing! Erik from The Mastermind Within was kind enough to have me on his podcast, so if you want to hear my voice and hear more of the details about what we’re up to (instead of hanging out here as often as we once did), have a listen.

Other than that, we’re just hammering away at shirts so we can try to keep sales going while we’re on our big trip. BIG GOALS, remember?

Also, June’s plan update will probably be delayed. You know, out of the country and all…

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 $24,300. Paying no extra still. But chipping away. Q4 of t-shirt sales will determine whether we’re able to kill it before the end of the year as hoped!

Investments are now at $198,080. Almost back up to $200,000. I’m expected to hit it next month since I was in the UK when we hit $100,000. It’s only right that we hit the second $100,000 while back in the UK with the family!

2018 Financial Goals Update:

  • KILL THE MORTGAGE – $24,200 to go! Once we get this trip out of the way, we’ll be able to start chipping at this again.
  • 27-Day Europe Trip –  $467.22 – Earned: $12,495.88, Spent: $12,028.66 (with “earned” meaning the money we’ve made from selling shirts on Amazon and “spent” meaning all of the costs for the trip as well as any extra payments toward our mortgage) – Details on most of these numbers can be found in our Great Merch Challenge Q1 update – We’re in the black again, though I anticipate that to go back to negative next month as our spending will outpace our earnings next month most likely.
  • Max out Mr. T’s 401k – Automatic – however, limits rose to $18,500/year which makes it messy if you get 24 paychecks a year. We’ll probably make a contribution toward the end of the year to top it off.
  • Stretch Goal: Put $5500 into My Roth IRA – Not yet.
  • Market-Based Goal: $250,000 in investments by the end of 2018 – Not yet.

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:

  • $10 – To get a notary to fill out my I9 for my company changeover.
  • $22 – A yearbook for my daughter’s school
  • $601.20 – Flight for a big road trip in the fall to see Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and everything in between (because one big vacation this year just isn’t enough!).
  • $174.62 – Enough grains for oatmeal for the rest of the year.
  • $19.19 – The charge to pay my taxes with a credit card – but it helped me earn 80,000 Ultimate Reward points, so it was worth it.
  • $1,026 – Taxes. Blech.

Financial Phrases:

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

  • “My company’s ____ (couldn’t hear) process is so complicated. I spent all last week just trying to get in to do the things they want me to do. I spent hours on the phone with I.T. – now multiply that by the entire company and think how much this inefficiency is costing!”
  • I was told Discovery Channel will pay you $30,000 per episode for your idea for a reality TV show.
Great Banks Merch Challenge Q1 2018 Update

Great Banks Merch Challenge Q1 2018 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.

I’ll be providing quarterly updates. This one is 2018 Q1 update:

The Current Merch Challenge Numbers

Current Trip Costs:

  • Flights: $2,035.48 – This amount includes :
    • Flight from Anchorage to NYC for a day before flying to England (we used Alaska miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from NYC to London (we used AA miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from England to Norway (paid Cash, SAS airlines – $355.63 for all 5 tickets)
    • Flight from Norway to Iceland (free layover for 4 days) to Alaska (paid cash – $2,123.85 for all 5 tickets)
    • – $500 – from our sign-up bonus on the Barclay Arrival+ card. Yay for a $500 discount!
  • Lodging: $2,518.53 – All lodging (except 2 hotel nights in Norway we’re still travel hack):
    • 3 nights in London, England – $677.01
    • 1 night just outside Reykjavik, Iceland – $250.49
    • 3 nights on the Golden Circle in Iceland – $681.03
    • $1000 worth of discounted AirBNB gift cards we’ve used to purchase lodging in England and Norway – $910
  • Transportation: $658.97 – (we’ve reserved our rental car for Iceland, but won’t pay for that until the trip):
    • Norway Car Rental: $294.26
    • UK Car Rental: $364.71
  • Other Stuff: $1,217.78 – All of the other experiences, tickets, and stuff we’ve purchased for the trip:
    • Passport fees for the 3 kids – $315
    • Global Entry for all of us – Free (thanks Amex Platinum card!)
    • Travelable booster seats for all 3 kids (to be legal in Europe) – $103.97
    • Travel Backpacks for the girls (Lui will use his small school backpack) – $204.30
    • Tickets to see Matilda the musical in London – $348.15
    • Tickets to the Harry Potter Film Studio outside London – $183.73
    • Westminster Abbey Tickets – $62.63

TOTAL SPENT SO FAR: $6,430.76

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) – hopefully sales will pick up again soon so we can start shoveling money toward the mortgage!

TOTAL EXTRA PUT TOWARD MORTGAGE: $5,400

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

  • June: $7.07
  • July: $218.24
  • August: $810.78
  • September: $1,065.67
  • October: $3,352.58
  • November: $1837.50
  • December: $2627.96
  • January: $1076.85
  • February: $695.83
  • TOTAL: $11,692.48

minus our total mortgage payments and total trip costs of $11,830.76

Merch Challenge Totals: -$138.28

Verdict so far: We’re pretty darn close to breaking even on this thing, but that doesn’t mean much right now since we still have over $25,000 left on the mortgage and we still have tons to pay for on the trip (most of our experiences, castle passes, food, a few hotels, one rental car, etc.). Sales have also been pretty dismal. We now have 2000 listings on Amazon filled and we hope sales pick up for the summertime. We’re hoping to have 4000 filled at the start of Q4.  Do you think we can do it?

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