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Another Big Expense Done

May 14th, 2021 at 01:46 pm

A couple of days ago, the installation of my ductless heat pump was completed. It's a two-headed Daikin system, and I am delighted with the results. It will be useful both summer and winter, but especially in the winter. It's also more energy efficient and will probably lower my electricity costs. I will also get a $300 tax credit on this year's taxes. The total was $5412 - homeownership is not cheap!

Yesterday, I went out to water my frontyard flowers, and saw that someone had dug up a whole clump of sweet alyssum! It was there the day before, and then just gone - leaving a gaping hole in its wake. I was really upset. But, I grow most of my plants from seed, and have other flowers in the greenhouse that I can plant there. It's just really annoying and such a rude thing to do - who the hell steals plants already in the ground???!#@#$!^&!$@

My garden is starting to be productive again, and I have more food being produced that I can use up - so most of the excess is going to get processed for later months and next Winter. Right now, I have an excess of walking and green onions, spinach, fava beans, and am absolutely overrun with cilantro. This weekend, I am going to do a massive fava harvest. I'll have another one a week from now and then replace the plants with peppers and eggplants.

Still waiting on the final update from the bank's underwriters to close on the refinance.

NW: $287,581.23

Month End Update

May 1st, 2021 at 03:38 am

April has been a good month financially. It's been brisk for business and I am very much on target for what I want to make this year. There were a bunch of largish purchases and expenses that left my savings account mostly depleted. Some were expected (mortgage refinance initiating fee, ductless heat pump installation, vehicle rental for my trip next month, an airplane ticket for later this year to go see my sister, tax prep, and taxes) and some were unexpected (new phone, car repair which ended up being a camshaft exhaust solenoid replacement $300.95). I had enough money to cover it all, and am not in the red.

My home value keeps skyrocketing. There was an $9k jump in the Zillow estimate this month (borne out by the refinance auto-appraisal). While I don't plan on selling anytime soon, and this is not a liquid asset, it feels nice to see jumps in my NW because of it. I went from $14k equity in it when I bought it in March 2019 to $108k equity in it this month.

I noticed that one area of my roof persistently has moss on it despite me adding the moss treatments each year. A maple that has a bunch of moss overhangs this section and so this bit of roof also doesn't get much sun. I hired a handyperson to scrape the moss off the shingle edges and apply more moss preventer. It cost $158.98 in all (mostly labor), but hopefully this will save thousands in terms of delaying leaks or replacement costs. I am seriously considering taking out that maple tree. It is slightly damaged and will have to come out within the next 10 years or so anyway.

I got a somewhat broken changing table for free off craigslist and altered and fixed it up to make it a rather excellent potting bench. It's been helping my back tremendously.

NW: $296,258.39

This and That

April 9th, 2021 at 11:14 pm

I sent in my Federal, State and County taxes as well as the estimates for Quarter 1. I also fully funded my SEP-IRA for last year. This has left my bank account almost completely empty. That money was never really mine to use - I just had it saved up and earmarked for these things. But, seeing about $50k disappear from my bank account is quite heartbreaking. This is one of weird psychological things about self-employment. This year, my estimated taxes will be much closer to the correct number, so I suppose next year I won't have to go through this illogical sadness for the loss of money that was never really mine.

The refinance process is going well. They anticipate closing around mid-May. The loan officer told me what my credit scores that they pulled were: 803, 813, 826. That's the first time that I have been aware of that all three of the scores were over 800. I felt warm and gooey about it. About 8 years ago, my credit score was in the 600s.

My phone started acting up - it arbitrarily depletes its battery only to be full again when I restart, or will crash and turn off at arbitrary times. The screen is a little bit cracked too from me dropping it several times. It's an iPhone 7. I went ahead and ordered a new one - this one an iPhone X.

I got quotes for installing a ductless mini-split with two zones in my home. In my area it's common to have ceiling heat panels. It boggles the mind why someone created this bizzare physics-defying method of heating. It doesn't get too hot where I am except for about a month or so at the height of summer, so many homes including mine also don't have A/C. This new ductless system will solve both problems for me. The quote was for $5650 including a rebate from my local utility board. And I'll also be able to claim a rebate of $300 on this year's taxes for installing it. The quote is quite reasonable for what it is, but coming at the heels of tax depletion, a new phone, and closing costs, this is another thing that makes me feel financially stretched this month. But, I am grateful when I remember how not that long ago, this would have pushed me deeper into debt and cause a sense of loss and despair.

Once the refinance and the heat pump are installed, my only remaining big financial goals for the year are to replenish my savings account, and to fully fund my 401(k). That's doable, I think.

NW: $287,189.40

First Vacation Since the Pandemic Began

March 25th, 2021 at 04:38 pm

I just returned from a three week vacation to visit my sister and her family. My parents are abroad during the pandemic, so it will be a while until I get to see them. But, they have received their first doses as well and will get their second doses in two weeks. So, everyone in my immediate family except my brother in law is vaccinated, and this gives me an immeasurable amount of relief.

This was my first vacation since the pandemic began. It felt so good to get out of town and visit my family. Here is a gist of my thoughts on it:

(1) I chose to fly Delta because they seem to be only one of two airlines flying out of my local airport that are committed to blocking middle seats. (Alaska was the other one). United and American are the two other major airlines that fly from here, and neither of them are committed any longer to blocking middle seats. I hate United, and will never fly with them if I can help it, and this convinces me further that they are not a company I want to spend my money on.

(2) There is a marked difference between how people in the west coast (at least in my state) treat the pandemic, and how it's treated in the Midwest (at least in the city my sister lives in). I saw loads of people wear masks underneath their chins in stores, playgrounds absolutely packed with hundreds of parents and kids, people not maintaining 6-ft distance in stores, etc. It was quite astonishing. I was not prepared for that.

(3) I spent way less money. Usually we go out and do things when I visit. This trip, most of what we did was hang out at home, go for long walks, watch movies at home, and cook together. My only expenses this trip were a few times I ordered take-out for us all, and the Uber drive back home from the airport when I returned. It was probably the cheapest 3 week vacation I have been on.

(4) It felt absolutely wonderful to be with family. My sister thought it was funny that I wanted to eat only when she ate. In our family, we only eat dinner together, for the other meals we just eat whenever we are hungry - which means it ends up being at different times. But, eating meals with family is something I have missed this past year, and I ate every single meal with her and my neice. I think I ate more than usual and not always very diabetic-friendly meals. But amazingly, I somehow lost 3 lbs.

(5) Time away from work only made me even more determined to retire as soon as possible even though I love my job. It is not what gives me a sense of worth or meaning. My joy comes from family, travel, nature, gardening, reading, and all my other hobbies. I have my fingers crossed for a 10 year time frame to retire.

Financial things while I was gone:
(a) The new CPA did my taxes, and I am very pleased with him. I am also delighted that I chose to switch this year to a new person rather than wait as I had initially thought to do. He is excellent, and cost me about $150 less than my previous person.

(b) For the most part, I did not really keep track of finances except to keep an eye on GME every so often. In the three weeks that I was gone, the price rose from ~$40 to a high of ~$265, and then back again. It's currently at ~$160 as I write this. The GME subreddit was somewhat funny over the past month while the users were having some fun at the expense of the bots, in the earlier part of the month. But in the last few days at least two of the subreddit mods who post daily DD have reported that they are getting death threats and hate/disparaging messages. It's ludicrous to think that any individual share owners would do this - especially as the price rises, so I believe some form of psychological pressure from Hedge Fund reps to drop the subreddit's morale. It makes me feel even more disgusted with the nefarious ways in which these large financial entities run. I'm still holding my shares. Since I had reconciled myself to losing the lot, anything over zero just feels good.

(c) My garden has exploded in the weeks I was gone. In the green house, my eggplant, peppers, basil and tomatoes have germinated and started to put out true leaves. In the garden, the radishes, spinach, lettuce, and cilantro have sprouted. The fava beans have flowered, the shallots and kale are growing well, the sage and oregano have exploded, the peas are climbing their trellises, almost all my flower seeds have germinated, and the raspeberries and blueberries are filling out with foliage. In the front yard, the daffodils and hyacinth are putting on a good show, the nigella and tulips will flower within a month, the Persian buttercups and the daisies are looking healthy, the plum tree is in blossom, the comfrey has loads of flowers and the bees are loving it.

(d) I set up appointments to get quotes to install ductless heat in my home. Apart from redoing the front yard, this is my other big home expense for this year. I will push painting the outside until next year.


NW: $274,888.12

End of Month Updates

March 2nd, 2021 at 04:53 pm

Got my second dose of the vaccine a few days ago. Contrary to expectations, I didn't have any diffiuclt symptoms following either of the doses. I can now finally go and visit my sister. She also has got both doses, but no one else in her family has, so I wanted to make sure that I was fully vaccinated before I go there.

February started out good as far as investments go, but was brutal in the last few days with a downturn in the market. The returns on my investments were down a bit, but they have rallied in first few days of March. I also purchased my first ever options. I have a way to go before they expire. They're already in the green and it's a company I feel really good about, so I hope to make a good bit on them.

The value of my house seems to be skyrocketing. I live in what used to be one of the nicer but still affordable parts of town, but it is rapidly turning into a nice and somewhat unaffordable place to buy. I am glad I bought my house when I did. In the last month, it appreciated by $14k.

NW: $265,320.45

Thoughts on Last Year's Expenditure

January 6th, 2021 at 05:27 pm

I decided to take a look at my expenditure for 2020. Interestingly, though I have been keeping accounts of every purchase I make for the past 15 years, I have never done this before. While I was in debt, this might have been more a depressing experience than an uplifting one - I imagine I was putting away far far more towards debt than I was to living expenses. But, doing this today has been quite an eye opening and pleasant experience, and makes me feel even more confident that I will be able to achieve financial independence by my 2034 birthday if not sooner.

My total expenses for 2020 were: $52173.23. That alone is pretty impressive to me. But, this includes my regular and extra mortgage payments. This year, I paid $17,916.99 in mortgage payments (principal, interest, PMI and escrow) and an extra $9,083.01 towards the principal. This means that if my mortgage were to be paid off, my total living expenses would be $25,173.23. To me, that is a pretty low amount considering that I don't really deprive myself of anything - I am frugal, but I end up buying everything that I want and doing everything that I want to.

Of course, this has been a pretty unusual year. However, apart from travel costs, the above numbers are similar to a typical year.

The $25,173.23 above includes some pre-pandemic 2020 travel: expenses while I went on a cruise in February, and visited NYC in early March. The cruise had been paid for in 2019 - only the expenses on board and at ports are included in the 2020 expenses.

The total also does not include my health insurance expenses - about $400/mo for health insurance comes out of my business account. I am diabetic, but this is managed entirely through diet and exercise, and I am not on any medicine or insulin. So, healthcare expenses are also negligible for now. All being well, my hope is that this continues for as long as possible.

My grocery bills are pretty low, as are my restaurant expenses. I grow most of my vegetables and some berries in my garden, and freeze or process enough for them to last me all year long. I am vegetarian, so I don't have any meat/fish/poultry costs. I purchase dairy and non-perishables at the grocery stores. I get my eggs for most of the year from local folks who keep backyard chickens - some of this is purchased, and some I get from bartering my excess produce. I also am part of a local food rescue group that goes to organic farms/orchards/backyards and harvests produce that would otherwise have rotted on the plant. The farmers/homeowners get a tax break for donating to our non-profit group, and for a few hours of labor, we get plenty of fruits and veggies. I only went on one harvest this year (about 3 hours of time), and got a wheelbarrowful of delicious Shiro plums that I dehydrated. But, there often is so much produce and fruit, that we share with the group. And over the year, I picked up apples, pears, winter squashes, cauliflower, kale, and zucchini that others harvested. We end up rescuing thousands upon thousands of pounds of perfectly good food that would otherwise have been wasted. I also forage the delicious, but extremely invasive blackberries that are taking over the PNW. For the price of scratching up my hands on the brambles, I can have an unlimited supply of berries for the year. I enjoy going out to restaurants, but it is almost impossible to find vegetarian low carb food at most restaurants. So, my restaurant costs end up being pretty low even in non-pandemic years.

I have about $7600 in atypical expenses this year - refinancing the house, a new couch, a new small freezer, a tree removal, etc. But, there probably will be other things each year that probably will cost around that much - painting the house, a new appliance, a new fence, or other expenses.

So, I guess this means that I have been living on about $2000/month (not including mortgage). If I were to add in more travel expenses, it might mean about $2500 each month post-pandemic but before retirement. And adding in health insurance and more travel post retirement, I might expect to spend about $3500 monthly in today's money.

Provided I keep saving the way I do, if I retired at 55, I think I shall have more than enough money to safely draw this much monthly, and still have enough for periodic larger expenses. If I stick to my plan of paying off my house, this becomes all the more realistic.

All in all, this was a wonderful exercise to do. Having some tentative numbers makes me feel more at ease, and more prepared.

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 - 12/12/20

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?

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

Weekend Frugal List - 11/27/20

November 27th, 2020 at 09:42 pm

I thought it would be fun to do a roundup of the week's frugal wins:

(1) Frugal Thanksgiving - this is an involuntary one. Saved on travel and food costs. Did a zoom dinner with family instead.
(2) Harvested my first winter veggies - leeks and carrots. It's my first time growing both. The leeks are a success. The carrots are a bit smaller than I thought they would be. But, they function double duty since you can eat the leaves like you would eat spinach. I'll let them grow a bit more and harvest the rest in mid-December.
(3) Bought an airfryer at a Black Friday discount. I meant to buy one for myself for Christmas. The one I had identified was listed on Amazon was $69.99. I got one of a different brand but same capacity at a local store Black Friday sale for $29.99.
(4) Got a beautiful antique desk chair and a brand new food scale on the Buy Nothing group. The food scale was another thing I meant to buy myself, and now I don't have to.
(5) I'm in a local group that combats food waste, and this week we were donated about a 1000 tubs of hummus that have a sell by date of the end of the month. I got three, opened one and froze the other two. Hummus freezes really well.
(6) Read a book I got through Libby. If you have a library card, you can use Libby/Overdrive and Hoopla which are two apps that give you access to free library resources.
(7) I was feeling restless earlier this week, and was missing travel. So, I planned a road trip to the Utah national parks, and spent about 6 hours planning a 7 day trip down to the tiniest detail. Now, I have a full itinerary ready to go, and got to enjoy the closest thing to travel that I can right now. It was a fantastic pick me up, and was completely free. I guess this isn't really a frugal thing since it is always free to plan a trip. However, the itinerary that I planned is extremely frugal, so I am counting it here anyway.


Happy Thanksgiving

November 25th, 2020 at 05:47 pm

I'm looking forward to the long weekend. This is probably the first time since the pandemic started that I've decided to take a 4 day weekend. I usually don't work Wednesdays, but worked part of the day today, and now have a 4.5 day weekend.

I raked most of my leaves over the weekend, but ended up deciding to buy a leaf mulcher to mulch the leaves which will reduce the size of my leaf pile and also create more surface area so the leaves break down sooner. Got one on Amazon for $79 that had decent reviews. I am so thankful for the way that nature works all year long to provide me with food. The sunlight, rain, worms, leaves, kitchen scraps, the soil and its microbes, - that's all I need to provide almost all of my vegetable needs for all of the year.

I am also thankful for:
(1) Having a job during this pandemic year
(2) Being able to work from home and set my own hours
(3) Having been able to have taken two big vacations this year before March when the virus started to spread
(4) That my family and I are safe and healthy
(5) For the bounty of my garden
(6) For my wonderful and supportive friends who share many of my values - including frugality
(7) That I enjoy my own company - this year would have been hard if that were not so
(8) For the astounding net worth gains made this year
(9) For the election
(10) That the wildfires did not reach my home

Have a wonderful holiday, everyone.

Gratitude and Nostalgia

November 14th, 2020 at 05:34 pm

I made tea this morning. I usually make coffee, so it had been a couple of weeks since I took out my tea canister from the back of the cupboard. Every time I see it now, I am struck with waves of nostalgia and gratitude.

I moved to this town in 2010. I was just out of graduate school, was broke and in debt. I moved here for a job, but there was going to be a two month gap between when school ended and the job started. I had borrowed $1,500 from my parents to help me tide over the gap - that was to be stretched to pay for the move, deposit and rent for an apartment, and to help me survive for a couple of months. I drove to the PNW from the Midwest with my sister. It was a difficult time in her life and she was very depressed. She was moving abroad at the time for work, and we did not know when she would be able to return - we were hoping within the year, but it was possible it could be years. It was immediately after the Great Recession and jobs in her field were hard to come by. She also had just graduated, and had tried all she could to find a job here, but ultimately had to move. She was broke too. I was heart broken that she had to leave. My joy at finding a job and moving to a place I always wanted to live was shrouded by grief and poverty.

In the week between arriving here and when she had to leave, she helped me find an apartment and buy some essential things to help me settle in. We had stopped at TJ Maxx, when I spotted the tea canister. For some reason unknown to me, I really, really, REALLLY wanted to buy it. It almost felt like I had to buy it in order to hang on to the hope that I deserved to have the things I wanted. I wanted my sister to stay. I wanted not to worry about money. I wanted not to be devastated with grief. I wanted to know what would happen within the next year. I wanted so much, and the tea canister seemed somehow to hold the power to prove to me that I could have it. 

I did not need a tea canister - I could just get the tea out of the package that it comes in. Furthermore, it cost $2.99. That is not a lot of money, but when one is broke, $2.99 can buy the ingredients for four days worth of beans and rice. I agonized for nearly a half hour trying to decide whether or not to buy it until finally my sister told me to buy it. And I did.

The following day, she and I had stopped at a local fast food chain, and we only had enough money to get the medium-sized rice bowl that they had. We had never eaten there before, and at the end my sister told me that she really enjoyed it and wished that we could have got the large-sized rice bowl. After my sister left, for the entire time she was gone, each time I saw the tea canister, I felt waves of guilt at having bought it. If I had not bought it, she could have had more to eat. I cried each time I thought of it.

My sister returned the following year. I eventually got out of debt. I am privileged now so that I can spend $2.99 and more on things that I want even when they are not necessary to me. I can now look at the tea canister with gratitude instead of guilt.

I will never again buy another tea canister. This one is so precious to me. I never removed the TJMaxx label so that I would never forget how much it cost, so I can always remember to be grateful for what I now have.

EOY 2020 Goals

November 9th, 2020 at 05:49 pm

I am a big one for new year's resolutions. And birthday resolutions, sunday resolutions, month beginning resolutions, and so on. It gives me a sense of motivation and excitement. I accomplish some, and don't accomplish some. I somehow seem to be completely devoid of the guilt that comes with failed resolutions. If I don't accomplish it, I feel a bit annoyed, but just turn around and make it again.

Last week, I was in a bit of a funk, and on Friday, started to come out of it. I had a beautiful weekend, and vaguely made up some more resolutions for now till the end of the year. 

1. Make my sleep schedule more regular. I have been up later and sleeping less. My fitbit always gives me a "fair" score, and I need it to at the very least be "good". So, I plan to get in bed by 10pm, at the latest.

2. Lose 7 lbs. That's about a pound a week, and very doable, I think. I have amazingly lost weight since the start of the pandemic. I have not tried to lose weight, I just have. I think it's because the start of the pandemic just happened to coincide with my plan to go into full time self-employment, and I went from working 50-ish hours/week to about 28 hrs/week. The resulting lack of stress is what led to it, I think. I have never before in my life lost weight without trying to. I haven't lost a lot - about 10 lbs over the last 8 months. If I try and lose another 7 lbs by the end of this year, I will be at a weight I have not seen since 2005.

3. Exercise every day. This is unrelated to the weight-loss. I have over the past few years been very much out of the habit of regular exercise. I started to do a 15-min HIIT exercise about a month ago. And this month, I have changed this to alternate days with a 30 min cardio on alternate days. I can tell that the exercises are getting easier as time goes by and that makes me feel good.

All the above seem to be health goals. But, I know that health is inextricable from wealth. If I have health, I incur fewer healthcare costs. I potentially get to live longer and enjoy the fruits of my labor for longer. So, I definitely see this as a financial goal as well.

Other financial goals seem to be on track. I don't know exact numbers yet, but my accountant projects that I can put another $29k pre-tax towards retirement this year, and I think that will leave me with another $21k to to add to my brokerage account. These numbers seem high, but we'll see. I won't actually know until the beginning of February. I always overestimate how much I need to pay in taxes and save more than I need, so it's possible it will work out like this.

In other good news, I read reports this morning that Pfizer thinks their vaccine is about 90% effective. I am hopeful. I can't wait for the pandemic to draw to some sort of an end, and for me to see my parents again.

Net Worth Update - Oct, 2020

November 1st, 2020 at 01:41 am

My net worth has jumped $12,400 this month. It's a significant jump. Here is why:

I have not made a bunch more money this month. Rather, I did some calculating, and have a much more realistic sense of what I am going to owe in taxes. Since self-employment is new to me, I'm still learning what I am going to make and how much I will spend - all this makes it hard to know an exact amount for taxes. But, since this is my first year, I am not even sure how much I will approximately end up owing. I typically save away 40% of what I make and earmark that for taxes. But, it's close enough to the end of the year that I have a better sense of how much I will owe on the outside. I moved the rest to my savings/EF for now. If I end up owing more than I anticipate, I will just take money from there and send it to my taxes. If I end up owing less, I will take the excess and put it in my brokerage account. So, I ended up adding about $8000 more to my savings than last month.

The value of my house went up by $5800 this month (zillow estimate). If it goes on like this, by December, I should have 20% equity in the house, and will ask the bank to drop my PMI. With the extra I am putting towards the mortgage, I had anticipated that it would happen around April-May of next year. But, if it happens sooner, all the better.

My retirement accounts, brokerage, and HSA have all changed a nominal amount, and they are also reflected below. Unfortunately, most of them went down.

65,800 - House Equity
26,200 - SEP IRA
52,100 - 457 Account
19,500 - Brokerage
28,000 - Savings(EF)
3,700 - HSA
195,300 - NET WORTH

Bittersweet Refund

October 24th, 2020 at 03:20 pm

Pre-pandemic, I had booked a trip to Europe with travel to Iceland and England. It was supposed to be a celebratory trip to mark my starting to be fully self-employed. To celebrate that I can set my own hours and take vacation whenever I wanted for however long I wanted. No more applications for leave to be approved! I had really been looking forward to it. It was supposed to happen in August. My sister and her family were to have joined me for a portion of it. 

Needless to say, the trip did not happen because of COVID. Iceland Air, who I had booked the trip with, canceled one leg of the flight several months ago, and I immediately cancelled the trip and applied for a refund. They kept delaying  the refund. Anyway, about a week ago, I got notification that my refund had been processed. It showed up in my account today, five months after I submitted the refund request.

The refund amount is $1665. It is bittersweet. I really wish I could have gone on this trip. But, on the other hand this will pay for about 3 months of expenses. Oh well - Iceland will always be there. I can go when it is safe to go.

A question - is anyone else having trouble copy-pasting your entries? I lost my entries so much over the past week, that I wrote it out in a different document and tried to paste into the editor. But, it does not save my entries when I do that. I have to type out the whole entry each time with no guarantees that it will actually save. Very frustrating!


Hello World

October 14th, 2020 at 03:38 pm

Hello World,

Last year, when several months of blog entries were lost, I lost my blog. All my entries were within the time range of lost entries. I kept waiting for them to be re-instated, but it did not happen, so I am starting again.

I am 41, single, no kids, in the healthcare field, and am newly self-employed.

Here is the gist of my financial situation:

For all my twenties, I was a financial idiot. I saved nothing, spent more than I could afford, did not learn about managing money, and got myself into a giant mess of high-interest consumer debt.

In my early thirties, this started catching up with me, and I started to educate myself about money and how to dig myself out of the hole. Unfortunately, two things were working against me - the high interests made it harder to make a dent in the debt, and I was in an abusive relationship which also included financial abuse and a gambling habit. I divorced when I was 36, and spent the next four years pulling myself together financially. I started working for myself on the side, paid off all my debt (~$58,000), purchased a new-to-me car in cash, saved an emergency fund of $20K, saved 5% for down-payment and purchased my current home, and determined that I will never again carry consumer debt.

I have just started my forties. Earlier this year, I left my salaried job of ten years, and went into full time self-employment. I work 2/3rd as much and make twice as much, and was the best decision I could have made for myself. For the first time in my life, I am not living paycheck to paycheck. For the first time in my life I am not constantly thinking or worrying about money. So, for the first time in my life, both my money and my time actually belong to me. It is a tremendously freeing experience. I am truly happy for the first time in my life.

My current focus is trying to save and catch up on retirement planning and investing as much as I can. Never having had money to invest before, this is new to me and I am learning as I go. I hope to retire at the age of 55. However, it will require consistent and aggressive savings to do since I am starting so much later than I should have. I hope to save 75% of my post-tax income if I can. At my current income level, I think this is doable. Years of living frugally due to necessity also makes it easy to save - it has become habit by now. It also helps that I have no debt and am a single member household. I have a small amount of retirement from my previous job, but apart from that, everything else I have saved in just this year.

My financial strategy is as follows:
1. Save by maxing out tax-deferred retirement contributions. Since I am self-employed, I get to save more than the traditional IRA amounts.
2. Invest in taxed retirement accounts. (Can I have a Roth IRA in addition to the tax-deferred? Need to check up on this)
3. Invest the remainder of what I can save in a brokerage account
4. Pay off my house in 10 years. It is a 30-year mortgage, but I want to prioritize paying this off because I only have one income coming in and want to get this off my back as soon as I can. This provides psychological relief, but also if I don't carry a mortgage into retirement, I need to save less for retirement.
5. As I get closer to paying off my mortgage, purchase some rental property and pay that off by the time I am retired. This should provide passive income for me to live on in addition to savings/dividends until I can draw on retirement and social security income.

Here is where I currently stand. (** I am not going to do exact decimals. I will round debt up and assets down to the nearest hundred)

60,000 - House Equity
27,000 - SEP IRA
52,000 - 457 Account
20,000 - Brokerage
20,000 - Savings(EF)
3,900 - HSA
182,900 - NET WORTH

Edit: Thanks to a comment by Petunia100, my NW jumped $253,000 this morning. I guess I was incorrectly counting my mortgage twice. I have been in positive NW for a while now, but my brain has just caught up with this fact. WTH! How am I so lucky? Petunia - thank you so much!!