Denali Northern Expenditure

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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?

March 2018 Plan Update

March 2018 Plan Update

Ever have months where you step back and go: I think I’m crazy?! No? Only me? Alrighty then…

I’m starting to think we’re crazy for trying to pay off our mortgage AND take a family of five to 3 of the most expensive countries in Europe for a month. Do I think we’ll be alright financially? Yes. We are very privileged that we make right around $100,000 combined which is very high compared to many, many people. Can we reach all of our goals? TBD.

March is the month where winter turns to spring in Alaska. It starts with the Iditarod and ends with full on break up season. (April is where the grass turns green and the leaves start growing on the trees.) We stayed home for spring break but did some fun things around town (as you’ll see below in our expenses).

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 $25,400. We’re still not really putting much extra toward the mortgage because of the impending trip (in 2 months!). I’m really hoping t-shirt sales will pick up in the summer so we can easily pay for everything for our trip and then start shoveling money into the mortgage fire!

Investments are now at $194,436. Another increase in net worth month. I’m telling you that this whole market is bonkers. It’s not going super high up right now, but it’s still flat enough that if we invest, our net worth goes up. No complaints here.

2018 Financial Goals Update:

  • KILL THE MORTGAGE – $25,400 to go! If this was the only thing we were doing this year, I would feel super confident, but this big trip AND paying off the mortgage… it feels like a stretch! If we nail both of these goals this year, I will be ECSTATIC!
  • 27-Day Europe Trip –  -$138.28 – Earned: $11,692.48, Spent: $11,830.76 (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 these numbers in our Great Merch Challenge Q1 update next week!
  • 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:

  • $60.75 – A Wrinkle in Time for Penny’s birthday – we brought her friend along. They really loved it. Fun time had by all.
  • $48 – Moose’s Tooth pizza (if you come to Anchorage, you HAVE to go here) for Penny’s birthday before the movie.
  • $20 – Spring Break swimming at the local high school pool with a slide and diving board.
  • $84 – Spring Break brunch
  • $183.73 – Tickets to the Warner Brother’s Studio to see the Harry Potter sets outside London with the kids.
  • $62.63 – Westminster Abbey tickets (we wished we had purchased them ahead of time when we went two years ago, so we purchased them before we forgot about that).

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 always have to pick a couple of stocks because it feels like gambling. Plus Amazon’s been good to me.”
  • An administrator at an elementary school: “I go into Costco weekly for work and I was talking to a lady that works there who’s been there forever. She was talking about how much she made. It was more than I do! I picked the wrong career!”
  • “I went to the store yesterday for hamburger, pickles, and OJ, and I walked out with 4 or 5 bags. Because things look good!”
Maggie's a Working Woman

Maggie’s a Working Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tricking Ourselves Into Learning

Tricking Ourselves Into Learning

Everything we do teaches us something. Life is all about tricking ourselves into learning.

Penny’s Big Invention

Penny had a big school project last year where they got to invent something. It sounded like an amazing idea and I was very excited to see what she would come up with. You know what she invented? A pencil box. Made out of paper. (So I’m not counting on her invention skills to get us to early retirement quite yet!) But instead of saying: “Hey Penny, see that plastic pencil box you’re using that actually holds the pens because it’s a durable material? It’s already been invented!”… I let it go to see what would happen. Surely the teacher would tell her it was a terrible idea and help her come up with a better one. But guess what? She did not.

Putting Process Over Product

I know, you educators are probably eons above me in this story and you can already see where it’s headed, but Penny’s teacher didn’t care about the product. Instead, she used the invention project to teach the kids through the process. Penny may not be winning any invention awards, but she learned the process of inventing. She had to make a working prototype. She had to work with a team. In order to do that, they had to learn Google Docs to share their notes. They learned how to put together a powerpoint presentation (filled with funny GIFs and cute kitty pictures). None of this felt like work to Penny because she was so excited about their amazing paper pencil box, she was excited to do what had to be done.

Tricking Ourselves Into Learning

As grown ups, these same situations often arise, but I feel like sometimes we ignore the lessons. If something’s hard, we want to forget it and move on instead of analyze what we’ve learned and move forward. Because we choose to ignore the lessons, we don’t emerge any different.

Though this applies to all circumstances, this is primarily a personal finance blog, so I think we should talk about money. I’ve witnessed tragic financial circumstances. When people hit rock bottom, they just want to start over. Everyone needs a fresh start sometime. But these people need help.

This is what I’ve learned from witnessing these situations. And I’m better for it. If we’re able to learn from the situations of others as well as our own, our education expands exponentially.

Get yourselves out into the world. Do good. Help others. When we get ourselves out there and interact with others, we are tricking ourselves into learning. But it’s up to us to apply the lessons.

What lessons have you learned from the situations of others?

February 2018 Plan Update

February 2018 Plan Update

I keep feeling like I need to apologize for not filling this space as often as I used to. But then I remember you guys are my friends and the whole point of not filling this space as often is because I’m practicing what I’m preaching. I’m following the money while trying not to lose sight of what’s important (like my children, for example). So, here I am with another plan update.

February was crazy busy for all of us. We got the science fair project for Penny started (rock candy with every kind of sugar available currently growing on my counter). We spent many days reshaping our snow pile into sledding tracks, watching the Olympics, taking the kids to swimming, etc. Life is glorious, isn’t 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.)

Our mortgage is now at $26,700. We weren’t able to put any extra towards the mortgage this month because we owe just over $1,000 for taxes. Blech.

Investments are now at $186,840. I told you we’d be back below $200,000 this month, but it was fun to hit another nice round number first!

2018 Financial Goals Update:

  • KILL THE MORTGAGE – $26,700 to go! If this was the only thing we were doing this year, I would feel super confident, but this big trip AND paying off the mortgage… it feels like a stretch! If we nail both of these goals this year, I will be ECSTATIC!
  • 27-Day Europe Trip –   -$487.75 – Earned: $10,996.65, Spent: $11,484.40 (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) – We didn’t put any extra toward our mortgage and didn’t pay for any trip costs this month. Sales are low this time of year and next month is going to look worse than this one!
  • 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:

  • $24.26 – Batting to finish a quilt I got in the mail from someone who made the top for my wedding 12 years ago and then never got around to finishing the quilt. Now I need to figure out how to finish it! LOL!
  • $9.99 – This is a monthly fee, but I’ll only include it once. Mr. T has photoshop on his computer, but I wanted to get more into photoshop myself, so I signed up!
  • $8.97 – Carl’s Jr. dinner for my children for Lui’s birthday.
  • $15 – The cost to pull the police report to file to insurance to replace our neighborhood mailbox that got plowed over by a car in December.
  • $15 – Taking a friend out to peanut butter pie for her birthday.
  • $77 – Mr. T and I went out to a semi-fancy restaurant with friends on a double date. It’s fun to do this on occasion.

Financial Phrases:

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

  • “$7,000 isn’t a lot a lot, but I could have stretched it pretty far.”
  • “When you have a mortgage, three car payments, student loan debt, and credit card debt, a $5,000 tax bill is enough to crush you.”
  • “I decided I’m going to use my birthday money to buy an ukulele.” – This is Penny. And don’t worry… you’ll probably see an Ukulele in our expenses for next month. (shhh. Don’t tell.)

Mosaic Thoughts After a School Shooting

“Mosaic thoughts” means these thoughts are all over the place and the only connector is the most recent school shooting:

Life is Heavy Sometimes

The weight of this school shooting really hit me the next day after I dropped Lui off at preschool. I returned home to an empty house and instead of getting anything done at all, I just wept. For a really long time. I cried again later that day when I heard Pink’s song on the radio: “What about us? What about all the times you said you had the answers?” – We’re failing our children. And it hurts.

The weight really made me ask myself a few questions this week:

  • If any of my family members died today, would they die knowing I love them? What was the last thing I said to them and how did I say it?
  • If I knew any of my children had just one year left to live, what would I change about this next year?
  • With so much darkness in the world, how can I bring light?

Light up YOUR world

I can’t solve the world’s problems. I can’t change the hate that gets thrown around on a daily basis. But I CAN brighten my world. I focused more on that this week. I spent time in my son’s preschool class. I collected clothes for twin baby boys that were born in Anchorage from the bush so they could go home equipped. I brought dinner to another new mom. I snuggled with my kids.

Each day I need to focus on lighting up some part of my world. And if you do the same, eventually, the world will be a better place. I truly believe that.

Fighting is Better than Hiding

Our school district recently moved over from lock down drills to ALICE training. The big difference is that the kids used to hide behind coats and be really quiet and basically wait to die. Now, they actively barricade, run, zig zag, throw things, etc. I MUCH prefer this for two main reasons:

  1. Empowerment – The demeanor of my kids explaining ALICE drills is TOTALLY different than how they used to explain lock down drills. After hiding in coats and trying not to breathe, they were so scared. Now, they have an active plan. They’re excited they get to take control. They no longer have to wait to see if they’ll be the one to die. They’ll ACT. When we have a plan for things, we don’t feel as scared about them. Instead, we’ll be prepared to jump into action because…
  2. Statistics – The chance my kids will be involved in a school shooting is still statistically very low. I absolutely think they should prepare kids for that event even if the chances are slim, but the trauma of pretending to wait to die is so much worse than giving them tools to fight back and succeed. The drills are hard no matter what. You’re telling kids that a bad guy may enter your safe space and kill you. That’s never easy. But it’s the truth. And if we have the truth AND tools, we can move past the fear of that event happening.

Some Things are More Important

Six weeks into each year, I realize I’ve set my goals too big. I take too much on. This year is no different. And this event happened at the exact same time. It really shook me out of thinking: “You’re failing at everything you set out to do” and instead got me thinking: “You’re failing those things because you’ve been focusing on what’s important.” It’s hard to remember that playing with your kids instead of writing a blog post is the right choice. When you’re constantly reading about personal finance and entrepreneurship, it’s hard to remember that spending time watching the olympics with your family instead of throwing yourself neck-deep into work is the right choice. But those are the choices I’ve been choosing.

So I’m not failing at all.

January 2018 Plan Update

January 2018 Plan Update

January was a crazy month for the Banks family. The kids started swim after school twice a week which has been quite an adjustment for all of us. On top of that, we’ve had some big responsibilities at Church. We’ve also been trying to get our Merch shirts organized so it’s easier to relist them if they don’t sell and Amazon takes them down. So lots of awesome, productive things going on, but really busy.

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.)

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Following the Money: In Practice

Following the Money: In Practice

One of the big entrepreneurial concepts is following the money. If you haven’t figured out how to get paid or you’re not chasing the pipeline that is actually paying you, you’re doing it all wrong.

Following the Money

As you know, our current most lucrative side hustle is selling shirts. When we realized the potential of selling shirts, we had to hit it hard (getting 1500 listings on Amazon takes real work!).

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2018 Non-Financial Goals (and 2017 recap)

2018 Non-Financial Goals (and 2017 recap)

I like to also set non-financial goals here at Northern Expenditure because life is worth living for more than just money!

2017 Goal Recap:

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The Great Banks Merch Challenge January Update

The Great Banks Merch Challenge January Update

As a reminder, we’re attempting to pay for our 27-day Europe trip and all the extra payments toward our mortgage until it is gone with nothing but selling shirts on Merch by Amazon.

First off, this trip is not cheap. We’re not trying to do it all that cheaply. We’re taking our kids to some of the most expensive countries (we’ll reserve our next international trip for Cambodia!). But we also really wanted to stretch ourselves this year with our t-shirt sales, so we decided to add in our mortgage to really make things interesting. Also remember that most t-shirt sales come in October-December, so it’s going to look pretty bad here at the beginning of the year as we keep spending, but don’t make as much. But hopefully, by December, everything will come together in magical ways and we’ll pay for our whole trip plus our mortgage with just t-shirt sales! Wish us luck!

I’ll be providing quarterly updates. This one is 2017 Q4 update:

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