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Archive for December, 2020

Net Worth Update - Dec, 2020

December 31st, 2020 at 05:57 pm

I reallocated $11k from tax savings to the brokerage account since I'm pretty certain I have saved way too much for taxes again this year. Good NW gains this month overall.

In fact, this has been a good year overall in terms of NW. In addition to growing in numerical value, this process has also provided me with emotional relief and knowledge/learning. So, I have included some (mostly) non-number gains for the 2020 year below:

HOUSE: There was a whopping $30k in appreciation this year. Refinanced to a lower interest rate in July, but was not able to drop PMI as I had hoped.

SAVINGS/EF: This year, I saved to have an acual EF instead of having my tax savings double as one. Most of this came from grossly overestimating how much I needed to pay in taxes for 2019.

BROKERAGE/RETIREMENT: Learned a new skill - how to invest. I opened the brokerage account this year, and it has been very exciting to learn how to invest even though I use a very boring "buy and hold index funds" strategy. My 457 from my previous employer is managed for me, and is all in a target date fund. I don't get a choice on what happens with that, so I never had to learn. Although I started self-employment a couple of years ago, it wasn't until this year that I started retirement savings through my self-employment.

HSA ACCOUNT: Until June of this year, my health insurance was always paid through my previous employer. I learned about the triple tax advantaged HSA accounts, and picked an HSA plan. My deductible (which is also my maximum out of pocket) is $7000. I have more than this amount in my EF if needed, so medical costs won't sink my financial plan. The plan is to keep the money in the HSA for as long as possible. I am healthy-ish for now, but this will not always be the case. The tax advantages will come in handy when I am older.

I am excited to see what the future years hold in stock.  

77,400 - House Equity
29,700 - Savings(EF)
33,100 - Brokerage
29,900 - SEP IRA
52,300 - 457 Account
4,200 - HSA
226,600 - NET WORTH

2021 Financial Goals

December 29th, 2020 at 04:08 pm

For the past three years that I have been self-employed, one of the hardest things has been getting used to a variable income. Now that I have almost a full year of full time self-employment, I have a better idea of what to expect. I have decided to give myself a "salary" so that I am withdrawing a set amount each month rather than just take money from my business account as needed. I took my lowest earning month from the past year, and based my budget and withdrawal based on that. I can always revise it as needed. The hope is that taking a regular monthly withdrawal will help me make regular investments so I can take advantage of dollar cost averaging. It also helps me to have a more streamlined budget rather than trying to rework it every month.

And then stash it away in HSA, 401(k), brokerage, and extra payments towards my mortgage principal.

I am moving to a solo 401(k) instead of a SEP-IRA because I can save substantially more for retirement this way. I plan to max out the employee deferral. And, if possible to max out the employer contribution as well.

I have lost faith that my current accountant knows what she is doing. She gave me some wrong information that caused me to be able to save less this year in tax-deferred accounts. I corrected her, she doubled down on what she thought was right. I had to research and send her information on why she was wrong, and she passed it off saying, "Of course I knew that. I just didn't realize you wanted to save that much." But, I could not undo it by then. Then she made another error that is going to take some time for me to call around and undo. This one is fixable, but an annoyance. Finally, she thinks that I will not benefit from making an S-election on my taxes. I ran the numbers and I don't think that is the case. I am going to use her again this year for the sake of ease. But, when things slow down after the tax deadline, I'll look for another person.  

I used to do this diligently. But, I froze my account with all three credit bureaux immediately after the 2017 Equifax data breach. Since then, I have slacked off on this a bit. While my credit is still frozen, it will help to make sure to run an eye over the reports a few times a year. An additional hope that my credit score rises over 820. It is currently 792.

Also, drop PMI on mortgage.

Paint the house, and install a lawn in the front yard. Painting needs to happen this year or next. The lawn is optional, but pretty high on my wishlist. The front yard currently has landscape fabric that is covered with woodchips - done by previous owners. While this is very low on time and maintenance in the summer and winter, it is an absolute nightmare in the Spring and Fall. In the Spring, I am constantly digging out weeds and grape hyacinth. In the Fall, the whole thing bubbles up because there is a giant layer of mushroom that grows beneath the landscape fabric and I have to keep pulling it up, removing the mushrooms and replacing the fabric and the woodchips. I hate it. Also, the mushroom is Agaricus Campestris. So, if I had a lawn, I could actually just pick the mushrooms to eat. They're deformed and squashed and dirty when they grow underneath the landscape fabric and squashed against the soil. I removed a whole wheelbarrowful of mushrooms this year, and it make me so sad to just have to throw them away. Installing a lawn will mean that I will need to mow it most months and water it in the summer. But, that seems infinitely preferable to how things are right now. I'm going to get some quotes on someone coming to do the whole thing because I don't want to put in the labor myself. Another option is to remove the landscape fabric, and cover in more woodchips. This doesn't look as pretty as I would like it to, but is very low-maintenance.

Towards the end of the year, if it looks like the pandemic is more under control and 2022 is going to be a year when folks from the US can travel more widely, then in the 4th quarter of 2021, I plan to open a travel bonus credit card and try my hand at travel hacking for the following year. I have never had a credit card that carried an annual fee, so this is going to be an interesting one. If any of you use these cards, please let me know what your experience with them has been.

(9) LOSE 12 lbs.
One pound a month should be pretty doable. Also, exercise 120 days - that works out to one in three days of the year. I think right now I'm only doing around 2x/week on average. This  health goal will have positive financial implications.

2020 Goals Recap

December 27th, 2020 at 05:05 pm

I started my blog late in the year, and didn't post my 2020 financial goals here. But, I make new goals each year and track them. Here is the recap.

(1) Quit my job for full time self-employment
To be fair, this was something that I had been planning for two years. So, the work towards this goal was spread out between May 2018 and March 2020. I made the switch the last week of March 2020, and it just happened to coincide with the pandemic lockdowns. This was absolutely heavenly because I could just make my own decisions rather than have to deal with organizational resistance and issues related to the change. I have learned a lot over this year about self-employment. The biggest things to get used to were managing my own retirement savings/contributions, and getting used to inconsistent income.

(2) Save 75% of income
NOPE. But, almost done.
I ended up saving 69.27% of my gross income this year. This is still an astonishing proportion of savings, and I am delighted by it. I chose to measure %-age of gross income since a lot of this is saved pre-tax. Included in the savings are: HSA, SEP-IRA contributions, EF/savings, additions to brokerage account, and mortgage principal paydown. Not included are mortgage interest and escrow (property taxes, insurance, PMI), any of the money put aside for taxes, and any interest/appreciation on savings/investments. I am going to keep the same goal for next year, and see how it goes. If I don't meet the goal next year either, maybe I'll revise it to 70%.

(3) Credit Score over 800
If I use the FICO reported on my Citi account (reported by Transunion), my score is 845. But, I am picking the FICO reported on my Chase account (reported by Experian) to gauge this. Based on that, I'm at a 792 score right now.  Either way, I am up from my score last December when it was a 748. I like to think that refinancing my house required pulling hard credit which prevented it from rising the last 8 points. Two credit cards that I was not using also closed, and this may have had an impact on the score, although I am not sure.

(4) Consistently put extra money towards the mortgage
I put extra towards the mortgage each month. I also refinanced the house in July and went from a 4.5% rate to 3.125%. This helped more of my extra payment to go towards the principal. Now I wish I had waited longer since the interest rates continued to go lower. But, it's still a substantial savings. Even with my accelerated payoff plan, the change in interest rate shaved 1.5 years off my payoff date, and $17,800 off the total interest I will pay.

(5) Have six months worth of an EF
I did have an EF last year, but it was not a dedicated EF. My tax savings was also doubling as my EF. This is super risky, and I decided to save a separate dedicated EF for peace of mind. Based on an MMM blog post I read, I am considering opening a home equity line of credit to use as an EF if I need more than 2-3 months of expenses. This will enable me to put about $15k more into the market. It's riskier, but $20k sitting in my Ally account isn't really doing very much. What are your thoughts on this?

(6) Max out HSA
First time having an HSA. Fully funded for the year.

(7) Max out SEP-IRA
DONE (ish).
I won't know exactly how much more I need to add to max this out until I have year end numbers. My accountant estimates $10k more, and I have this amount saved. I just don't want to add it to my IRA account until she runs final numbers just so I am not running into any issues about contributing over the limit. This is my first year managing my own retirement accounts and contributions. It has been a learning process.

(8) Travel more, and do so frugally
DONE (ish).
I had hoped to travel more since I was anticipating having more time on my hands when I left my job. I had planned to take a cruise, go to NYC for a conference + personal time, take two camping trips, and go to Iceland and England. The pandemic changed all of this. However, my cruise (mid-Feb) and NYC conference (early Mar) both happened before the pandemic shutdowns. In retrospect, I was so lucky to not be quarantined aboard a cruise ship or catching the virus when I was travelling. The first reports of COVID in New York happened while I was there. I ended up not attending any of the conference social gatherings, and at the sessions I sat as far away as possible from others. This was lucky since many attendees reported that they tested positive in the month after. No travel has happened since I returned from NYC. I ended up getting a refund for my airfare to Europe. The two camping reservations I had made were canceled because the state parks here were closed and I was not feeling adventurous enough to go boondocking. The two trips that I did take early in the year were done frugally.

(9) Manage my health
DONE (ish).
I started 2020 by breaking my toe on New Year's Day. So, my very first expense of the year was a trip to Urgent Care and a ridiculously expensive boot that they gave me. Thankfully, that and a new pair of glasses have been my only medical expenses. I ended up losing about 12 lbs this year. Mostly, I think this was due to less stress after leaving my job and consequently less stress-eating. I also started to semi-regularly exercise since I now have more time to exercise. And, I learned how to hula hoop, and this was loads of fun. I had hoped to lose 17 lbs, and achieved most of this, so I am happy. My blood sugar is still being managed without medicine or insulin. My diabetic eye exam this year was normal. I decided not to go to a dentist this year due to the pandemic, but my teeth seem to be in good repair as far as I can tell.

(10) Create a plan for FIRE
I have a plan to retire by my 55th birthday. I worked on it all year - this included crunching numbers, planning retirement contributions, learning how to best invest my money, spending a few hours each week reading books, watching YT videos and listening to podcasts that help me prepare for FI. I have been working and tweaking a plan for how I can make this happen, and even with very conservative estimates, I think this is doable by age 55 in the year 2034. If the market continues to rise, or my income rises (I anticipate that I can work a few more hours a week when I am working in person), I can make this happen by 2032. If there is a housing market crash and I am able to get a deal on some rental property, then this can happen by 2031.

Weekly Frugal List - 12/26/20

December 26th, 2020 at 04:16 pm

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.

Here is a roundup of this week's frugal things:

(1) A friend just moved into a new house, and I had the perfect gift for her that came from my "gift closet" - when I see something nice on sale that I would like to gift, I buy it and stick it in my gift closet. If there isn't already something specific I have in mind for someone or if they don't tell me they want something in particular, I can usually find something really nice from my collection of frugal gifts.

(2) I got a code for 5 free magnets on shutterfly, and made five sets of photo-magnets for friends and family who have children with pictures of their kids from this year. I think they are super cute, and only cost me the price of shipping.

(3) My sister ended up buying the camping cot for me for Christmas, so that is one purchase that I don't need to make this year. I am so excited. I love getting gifts that I want. Also, one of my friends made handmade soap for gifts and brought me some. It is chai-scented and smells heavenly.

(4) One of my friends who is also single shared his HBO login with me. He can stream on 3 devices at a time, but only uses one at a time since it's just him. So, this week I watched Wonder Woman '84 as soon as it was released and binged two whole seasons of Insecure.

(5) This Christmas was a frugal one in general because I am not traveling anywhere to see anyone. I would have gladly forgone this frugal thing.

Weekly Frugal List - 12/19/20

December 19th, 2020 at 05:25 pm

This week's frugal things:

(1) I atteneded a zoom training hosted by my previous workplace, and got 3 hours of free CEs. It's always nice to be able to get those for free.

(2) Sold a couple of things on FB Marketplace. I don't have a glut of things, but I have more than one person needs. I don't think I will ever be a minimalist, but my goal is to sell or give away more things and distill my posessions down to a slightly lower level.

(3) Harvested half the remaining carrots. The other half will be harvested immediately after the new year. Also pulled some leeks. I will make some leek risotto with cauliflower rice.

BONUS: I didn't get this myself, but for those of you who are healthcare workers, Starbucks is giving away a free tall cup of coffee to healthcare workers and emergency responders for the month of December. Coffee just for the price of the tip is a good frugal thing.

PMI Frustrations

December 18th, 2020 at 04:27 pm

I had requested early this month to drop the PMI since I now have 22% equity in the house. It's not a lot of money, but I was excited about this milestone and putting $40 extra each month towards the principal balance. I heard back from my Credit Union mortgage person. The CU is still the servicer of the loan although some other company purchased my mortgage a few months ago. 

She told me that she is going to let the company holding my mortgage know to see if this is possible. I asked her why it would not be possible since I am now at a point where they legally have to drop the PMI. She said that sometimes PMI can't be dropped until it has been a year since the loan has been taken out. She is going to find out for me if this applies to my loan. I had refinanced in June, and if this is the case, I would have to wait till June of next year to drop the PMI. I was pissed. No one told me about this when I refinanced. It may have been in the fine print, but I did not read that - and that is on me. I am cheesed off nevertheless!

2021 Garden Outlook

December 16th, 2020 at 04:28 pm

I thought I would do a garden post since I have been in a flurry of garden planning for next year. This is one of my favorite activities, and also is a very frugal thing that helps me save thousands of dollars in grocery bills each year.

My veggie garden is one of the great joys of my life. The first thing I did when I purchased the house last year, even before I unpacked my boxes, was to construct raised beds and start a garden. After nearly 15 years of living in apartments, I could finally have a garden - something I have always loved. In addition to being a frugal habit (organic veggies are expensive), it also provides me with hours of fresh air, exercise, and peace throughout the year. I love tending to my plants. I feed them, care for them, protect them, and they repay me by feeding my body and soul.

Last year, I grew a lot of veggies, but it was far from ideal. I worked out a better method this year of intensive planting paired with flowers for the bees, and this helped increase output. I also asked for and received a small plastic greenhouse as a Christmas gift last year. This helped me to give many of my seedlings a head start, and this meant a longer productive season. I also got more effective at processing and storing the food, and bought a small freezer to store it all. It really helped that I was working much less this year, and was working from home all the time. My garden really benefitted from this. Learning from what I did this year, I have worked out an even better plan for next year. This includes a more intentional staggered system of planting, growing even more intensively, adding a lot more flowers, and growing a few things that I didn't grow this year to save even more on grocery bills.

Here is my garden plan for 2021:

Garlic - Shantung, Corsican Red, Russian Red (already in the ground and growing)
Tomatoes - Black Krim, Sungold, Chocolate Cherry, Purple Russian
Peppers - Cayenne, Serrano, Hungarian Wax, Jalapeno, Bird's Eye, Aji Lemon Drop, Sugar Rush Peach, Brazilian Orchid, Jimmy Nardello
Eggplants - Rosa Bianca, Listada de Gandia, Little Prince, Galine (if it overwinters)
Peas - Magnolia Blossom
Shallots - Zebrune
Beets - Detriot Dark Red, Golden
Greens - Red Russian Kale, Mustard, Mache, Spinach, Mixed Lettuce
Beans - Royal Burgundy, Red Noodle
Summer Squash - Pattypan, Ivy gourd
Winter Squash - Red Kuri, Delicata, Butternut, Sugar Pie Pumpkin
Onions - Walking, Bunching (already in the ground and growing)
Leeks - American Flag
Carrots - Purple Dragon, Nantes, Danvers
Herbs - Thyme, Oregano, Basil, Mint, Cilantro, Nigella, Sage
Berries - Blueberries, Raspberries

I will take a break from growing zucchini since my food resue group gets hundreds of pounds of it donated from one of the organic farms for whom we harvest. If I have the space between rotations or between plants, I will also add radishes, turnips and cucumbers. But, mostly I will focus on the above.

At first glance, this might seem like a ridiculous number of things to fit in three garden beds and a few pots (for the herbs), but I do almost year round planting, and these are planned to be staggered so that something is growing in each bed almost at any given time. Each of these crops lasts 2-6 months from planting to harvest. So, staggering them based on what grows in each season helps me to grow much much more than if I didn't.

In addition to the vegetables, I am going to plant loads of flowers - both for aesthetic appeal, as well as for the pollinators. The first year I had my garden, I planted no flowers. The second year, I added a few marigolds, a few calendula, sweet peas, one peony, and two lavender bushes. Once I did that, my garden was teeming with bees and bugs, and my yield went up by more than twice my first year. This year, I plan on having - poppies, sweet peas, hollyhocks, calendula, marigold, dahlias, Persian buttercups, carnations, cosmos, zinnias, peonies, morning glory, shasta daisies, gazanias, lavender, sea thrift, nigella, mallow, sunflowers, lobelia, gypsophila, and whatever is in two wildflower seed packets I got. That should keep the bees in the area happy, and will make my whole garden look like a delight in addition to providing me with cut flowers for every room.

The major garden projects this year are (1) re-do the irrigation plan I have to make it more time efficient for me, and (2) take out five rose bushes in my front yard and replace them with annual flowers. I like the idea of roses, but I don't actually like having the rose bushes themselves. Also because the earwigs seem to prefer the roses more than anything else on my property.

Weekly Frugal List - 12/12/20

December 12th, 2020 at 08:44 am

Here is a roundup of this week's frugal wins:

(1) My food rescue group received a very large seed donation for last year's seeds. So, a volunteer made up bundles of seeds for the members (we have almost a thousand households in the group). I receieved a bundle of 50 seed packets. While they are last year's seeds, seeds often remain viable for several years. I already had planned and collected seeds for about a half of next year's garden, and will certainly use many of these seeds. I will keep what I will use, and then donate the rest back to the group. Earlier in the month, I had planned on using's yearly seed swap, and then backed out of it because of the pandemic. If you have a garden, it's a frugal way to get a bunch of seeds. You post seeds you have to swap, and then for about a week or so, get to pick seeds that you want. Then you mail off your seeds to the host who collects all the seeds, then redistributes them into packets of seeds that each person picked and then mails them out. It costs $9 (varies by year) to enter the swap (to cover the host's postage) plus the cost of mailing your box of seeds to the host. All in all, it may cost about $15-$20, and is an economical way to receive seeds for close to a 100 different crops. The swap happens in November and is closed for this year, but for future years, here is the website: While that is extremely economical, my free seed bundle was certainly a wonderful frugal surprise.

(2) I needed a new warm hat for this winter (although it's not very cold here yet). I was thinking I might get one in an after Christmas sale. But, someone I know said that she was crocheting as a coping mechanism for this year and had made hats and scarves for everyone she knew and was constantly making more. I got an amazing and beautiful crocheted hat from her. It is so beautiful and fits my head perfectly. This is an absolutely wonderful way to cope with the craziness of this year.

(3) This would be the week that I typically send out Christmas cards. I love sending Christmas cards, and this is a line item in every December budget because of how many I send (domestic and international). However, I decided to forgo cards this year so that people don't have to handle mail that several other hands have touched. This is another unintentional frugal thing this awful year. I'll send e-cards instead.

(4) My sister asked me what I want for Christmas, and I gave her a couple of options of things that I was going to buy myself anyway. I started doing this years ago, and while she is not a big fan of "useful gifts", she has come to accept that I go completely gaga over something useful and those are the kinds of gifts I like best. Over the years, she's given me things I would have bought anyway (a greenhouse, my first iPhone, an Apple TV, my favorite perfume, a big pack of assorted bottles of hot sauce, my Fitbit, the wallet I have been using for the last four years, etc. - all things that I use every day or almost every day). Of the options I gave her, I hope she buys me the camping cot. It will make camping much more comfortable.

(5) Gave away an older microwave that was sitting in the garage for about a year or so on Buy Nothing.

P.S. I don't seem to be able to add a link here using the URL tag. How do you all do it?

Rakuten Thoughts?

December 9th, 2020 at 01:32 am

Hi Everyone,

I've been hearing a lot about Rakuten. I have not used it, but I am sure someone here has. Is it simple to use? I don't do cumbersome things, but if this is easy, then I would like to join. I think they have good referral bonuses as well.

That being said, does anyone here have a referral link to share with me so that if I sign up, you get something too. 


Reallocated Some Savings

December 7th, 2020 at 09:58 pm

I mentioned before that I had about $8k more than I needed in my Ally savings account (which I use as my EF). So, this week I ended up moving it to my brokerage account and buying more index funds. Wish I had done this at the beginning of November so I could have benefitted from the markets rising. Oh well...

This leaves my EF at $20k which will pay for 6 months of expenses including mortgage payments.

Weekly Frugal List - 12/05/20

December 5th, 2020 at 05:48 pm

Here is a roundup of this week's frugal wins:

(1) This has been a expense-free week. I did not spend any money this week. This is not usual. It helped that I had stocked up on groceries a couple of weeks ago.

(2) Most of my meals this week were made from the veggies and herbs from my summer garden. I preserve (mostly by freezing) loads of veggies between July and September, and this feeds me through most of the year.

(3) I started reading another free book I got on Hoopla through the library. I recommend it. It is "Playing with FIRE" by Scott Rieckens. It documents the author's family's journey towards financial independence. There is a documentary based on this too, but I was not able to find it streaming anywhere. You can rent it or buy it, but I no longer rent or buy DVDs or videos - I only watch things on my two subscriptions (Netflix and Amazon Prime), and borrow things from the library.

(4) I set up my Christmas tree. It's a 4-foot fake tree that I bought in 2004, right after I started grad school when I moved in to my very first roommate-free home. I bought it for $20, and if I get four more years out of it, I will have spent about $1/year on it. Thankfully, it is still sturdy and in great shape, and I think I shall get at least another 5-10 years out of it. It is pre-lit with fiber optic strands, and comes with three color schemes. So each year, I can choose a different look for the tree. I mostly use the same ornaments each year and only buy new ones if I really particularly like something (and then I probably buy them at after-christmas sales).

(5) I gave away a paper shredder, some Christmas wrapping paper, and a couple of food storage barrels on Buy Nothing. They were all picked up within two days.

Odds and Ends

December 2nd, 2020 at 06:27 pm

I love the end of the month for the blogs since so many people post monthly updates and outlooks for the following month. It really is so very interesting to read how people live the frugal life, and I get some excellent ideas from others.

My exercise and weightloss goal went totally flat the week before Thanksgiving. I lost motivation and just gave up for about two weeks. So, I only lost 1.4 of the 3 lbs I was hoping to lose in November. It's still a loss, so I am happy. But this does mean that my December goal is 5.6 lbs. GRRR!

I called my mortgage servicer today and requested that they drop the PMI. I think (based on zillow) that I now have 78% equity in my home. They said that they would put in a work order for this and let me know within a week if they run into any issues. I was originally anticipating taking this step in March of next year, so am excited that it may happen a few months sooner. If it goes through, then that's $38.85/month more that I can put towards my principal. Even with my accelerated mortgage payoff, this will save me $6201.92 over the course of my loan, and will shave two months off my loan term. Fingers crossed that they drop it.

On another note, here is no cost donation idea for giving this season:

Since so many of us will be doing online shopping for Christmas, and probably a lot of that will come from Amazon for many folks, I wanted to put a plug in for Amazon Smile. It's a no cost way for you to give to a charity of your choice. All you do is go to and pick a charity that you want to support. And then instead of shopping at, you shop at There is no difference in price or availability to you - you're still shopping on Amazon, but when you add the "smile." bit in the URL, Amazon will donate a small portion of your purchase price to the charity you pick. It's only a few cents per purchase, but for the charities, it adds up. It's a extra way to donate without actually spending anything yourself.

Net Worth Update - Nov, 2020

December 1st, 2020 at 04:38 pm

There have been some wonderful NW gains this month - a whole $13,400!! This also means that my NW is now over $200k. I am grinning!

My home equity went up $8K (appreciation + paydown). This was the biggest monthly jump in house price estimate this whole year. I imagine this will decline at some point if there is another housing market crash, but for now it's lovely to see.

With the financial markets rising, all my retirement accounts, the HSA, and the brokerage account went up.

My EF is fully funded, and went up by earned interest of $20.70 this month. I don't think I need $28k sitting there, so I think after paying taxes next year, I will take whatever is leftover from my tax account, and $8k from my EF savings, and add that to my brokerage account.

74,000 - House Equity
28,000 - Savings(EF)
21,400 - Brokerage
29,100 - SEP IRA
52,100 - 457 Account
4,100 - HSA
208,700 - NET WORTH