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Weekend Frugal List - 6/6/21

June 6th, 2021 at 05:05 pm


I've somehow got out of the habit of doing these frugal lists - partly because I am barely spending any money these days apart from just regular life expenses, so it is hard to come up with a list sometimes. At the moment, most of my frugalness comes from my garden. Anyway, here's my list from this week:

(1) Bartering Galore: Spring and late summer are two of my barter-heavy periods. There is a thriving community of backyard farmers in my town who trade all kinds of garden and food related things. Since I always start about four times as many seeds as I need plants, these are part of my Springtime trades. The two other big things in Spring/Early summer are new raspberry starts and the huge excess of herbs that I have. Not only does starting plants from seed save me money (a 4" start at the home-garden store is ~$3.49), but I also get to trade them for other goodies. This year I have traded for starts I don't have, as well as chicken and duck eggs. Later this year, I will trade my excess produce for produce I don't have or for goat's cheese, eggs and honey. This is the first place I have lived where people barter like this, and I absolutely love it.

(2) The garden is super productive right now. Over the past few weeks, I have finished harvesting all the peas, harvested 30 heads of garlic (20 more heads will be ready in another 2 weeks), harvested all the green and walking onions, the first flush of cilantro, and loads of lettuce. Also, some cut flowers for the home. But, this year we've had really hot weather, and my first round of Italian basil was bolting early. I cut a whole bunch for a bouquet and it looks beautiful in addition to making my kitchen smell absolutely heavenly. I've replaced it in the garden with sweet basil and Thai basil for the rest of the summer.

(3) The realtor I used to purchase my home sends regular ads to people who have bought from her before as one of her marketing methods. She will frequently include things for the receiver (calendars in December, free coffee coupons, free frozen yogurt coupons, and so on). This month, her newsletter ad came with a free coupon for a car wash. It was quite welcome since I was thinking of getting my car washed sometime soon anyway. 

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

Weekly Frugal List - 4/3/21

April 3rd, 2021 at 02:58 pm

(1) I cut my own hair. This is the second time I have cut my hair during the pandemic, and I love it. I have very curly hair, and it is a bit hit or miss with hairdressers since curly hair does not behave the same way when it's wet as straight hair does. This is especially true if I try to get a layered cut. Anyway, I found this youtube video that provides a quick tutorial. I have used it twice now, and I have to say that it's the best haircut I have ever had. And what's more - it's absolutely free! The first time around, I gave myself a very deep "V", and I adjusted the angle of cut this time around, and it was perfect! Who would have thought that the best haircut of my life would have taken 5 minutes, and would be absolutely free?!!?!!

(2) Once I retire, one of the things that I want to do is walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It takes about 35-40 days, and I won't be able to do it before I quit work. So, this is a retirement goal for me. There are multiple routes, but the one I want to do is in Spain, and I have decided to give myself 10 years to learn Spanish. I've been using the free Duolingo app to learn it, and it's a slow and frugal way to learn some basic Spanish. My sister also got me a book on Spanish vocabulary - isn't it lovely to have supportive family? Spanish is so like English, and this makes it easy. I speak five languages, but English is the only romance langauge and it has been fun to learn another one. I've done 40 days already, and am doing pretty well so far (at least as far as Duolingo Spanish goes).

(3) I registered for a few amazing looking free virtual events. Those and a bonus are included below for you too

a. In Pursuit of Happiness: A conference on seeking happiness. It has some interesting speakers. Free to register for this virtual event.

b. How to be an Anti-Racist: A lecture by Ibram X. Kendi who wrote the excellent book on Anti-Racism. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. This virtual event is also free.

c. Hi Dr. B: A resource that connects you with local providers who have extra doses of the COVID vaccine. Free to sign up and be alerted.

NW: $280,921.73

Mortgage Refinancing

March 31st, 2021 at 04:06 pm

I've written here about my mortgage troubles with the bank I refinanced with last year. It was not a good experience at all and has continued to suck even a year later with their refusal to drop PMI, etc.

Since my taxes for this year are filed and I now have two years of adequate income in self-employment to show, I started the process to refinance my home.  I contacted my sister's mortgage person and right off the bat this person is about a million times better than the previous one. It's with USBank with whom I have been since 2004, and I trust them. And the mortgage officer is incredibly responsive and helpful.

I already have a small amount of savings - the mortgage officer ran my home value through the automated system and it came back at around what the Zillow estimate is, so I do not need to do an appraisal since my loan amount is less than 78% of the home value. That is $575 in savings right there! Not to mention that I will not have to pay PMI, which will be an additional $39.95 saved each month. 

Yet again confirmation that I needed to leave the old awful bank I have the mortgage with. My current mortgage lender refused to run an automated appraisal for me and insisted that I would have to pay for a new appraisal. Furthermore, regardless of the appraised value, they insisted that I would have to continue to pay PMI for the next two years despite my having ~29% equity in my home. Screw them! I can't wait to be done with them.

I'm refinancing for a 15-year loan term. 2.75%

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


February 19th, 2021 at 02:42 am

I was scheduled to get the second dose of my vaccine this weekend, but the shipments have been delayed due to weather conditions en route. So, my second dose is delayed by 8 days - I'm still in the window within which it's fine to get the second dose.

I found a really affordable handyperson to work on my front lawn. I considered putting in grass, but didn't want to deal with mowing and watering in the summer, so I am paying her to take out the landscape fabric, use cardboard to suppress the weeds and cover with a thick layer of woodchips.  That should be sufficient to last another two years at least before I have to decide once more whether or not to install grass. I am glad to have contracted this out rather than to have to do by myself. 

I have been weeding the garden area myself. I completedly weeded the garden area. Added sulphur to acidify the soil for my blueberries and raspberries. Sowed lettuce, radishes, spinach, peas, beets, carrots, nasturtium, and cilantro. My jobs for the upcoming week are to weed a bit more, give the garlic a spring feed, rotate my compost pile, clear my flower beds from fall debris and plant flowers, repot my sage, and clean out the greenhouse. If I can do all of this stuff, then I can go on vacation after my second dose without worrying about all the tasks to tackle when I get back.

The next home task I have to do is to install a ductless heat pump. I may need two because of the layout of my house. I'll get a few of quotes within the next month or two.

Got all my tax documents and gave them to a tax preparer. I had initially thought that I would go with the person I used last year for the sake of ease. But, I decided to switch sooner rather than later. I am using another person recommended to me, and in my first conversation with him, he was already aware of what I had to correct my previous person on. So, I feel much more confident already. Once I hear back from him, I will know how much more I can add to my SEP-IRA.

Weekly Frugal List - 2/13/21

February 13th, 2021 at 03:58 pm

Happy Valentine's Day everyone. ❤️💖

Here is my list of frugal things:

(1) Finished reading four books so far this year (and am halfway through two others). I had been on a very long run of reading only non-fiction, and got back into reading some fiction again. Three of the books I read were fiction, and I recommend them: "The Silent Patient" and "Memory Man" are both gripping page turners. The other was "Good Omens", and I haven't laughed as much while reading a book in a long long time. I highly recommend it. Got all of the books read this year for free through the library on either Hoopla or Libby.

(2) Sowed peas, beets, flowers. I start almost everything in my garden from seed. It's very frugal since it's just pennies as opposed to buying starts from the garden center for $1-2. I also started some eggplant seeds for the garden this week - starting them early because I hope to get them nice and big before I transplant them. I'll start spinach and radishes in the next week or two.

(3) I've been making loads of stir-fry lately. I ran out, and so made a new batch of hot oil. I'll share the recipe below in case anyone else is interested. I used to spend $4.99 for a small bottle of it at the Asian store until I started making my own. I highly recommend it since you can customize it to suit your taste, and it costs less than a dollar to make a good sized bottle of it.

I used to buy hot oil (the condiment you find at the tables of Chinese restaurants) because I made lots of stir-frys and also because I found that when getting take-away food from a restaurant, I was given the condiment in impossibly tiny containers and it was never nearly enough. However, it can be expensive to buy it (if you eat lots of hot food like me), and so I started making my own. The only two ingredients you really need are red pepper flakes and oil (something that has a higher smoke point - not olive oil). I usually buy the red pepper flakes from the bulk section of the grocery store for a few pennies, but you can also buy bags of it for $1-$2, and you can use those for 4-8 batches depending on how much red pepper you are going to use. And I use regular canola oil.

1. Add the red pepper flakes to a glass jar. The more flakes you add, the hotter the oil will be. I usually fill the jar about half full because I like hot spice.
2. Add any other ingredients you like (I usually add a little pink salt, some sesame seeds, peanuts, and thin garlic slivers). This is optional, but I find makes it much more flavorful.
3. Heat the oil in a saucepan that has a lip for easy pouring. Heat until you start seeing small wisps rising.
4. Place the jar on a flat surface and slowly pour the oil into it in small batches. It will bubble up and smoke, so stand back. Once the jar is filled, take a spoon or chopstick and mix the peppers about in the oil to ensure that you don't have any dry spots or air pockets. You can do this indoors, but I don't recommend it because you'll be coughing a lot and your entire kitchen will smell like chili peppers for a week. I always do it outdoors. I then leave it outside until it is at room temperature before I bring it in.

It can be stored at room temperature and will last for months. I add it to my stir-fry of course, but also use it in loads of other ways. A little spoonful in scrambled eggs, mixed with yogurt or sour cream for a spicy dip, mixed in with some plain hummus to make it spicy, etc. The possibilities are endless. Enjoy.

This and That

February 4th, 2021 at 09:53 pm

GME continues to tank. It's at 50-something today - still more than it's worth, probably. I don't think it's going to rally at this point. If RH had not restricted buying shares last week, I imagine it would have risen more. At one point they were only allowing retail investors to sell and not to buy. Later, they changed it to a limit of owning 100 shares, and then this morning to 500 shares. The free market is not so free when you can manipulate who can buy shares, is it? My disillusion with the financial system continues. SEC is going to hold hearings in two weeks. I don't think much will come out of it - I wish I were more optimistic about it. I am reminded of what Steve Carell playing Mark Baum said in The Big Short - "In the end they will blame the poor people". But, both Ted Cruz and Ben Shapiro agreed with AOC about the situation - that's not something that you get to see very often, and made for some pretty hilarious twitter reading.

In the realm of things that are more under my control, things are ho hum overall. I have not been doing much money-wise. I got take away for the first time this year yesterday. And, bought my sister a birthday present. I also got some seedling compost for seeds this year.

I decided this would be a good time to make a vision board. I have been thinking of and coming up with a new strategy/timeline for how I want things to be in my life, so a vision board seems like a fun way to dream and enjoy some creative time focusing on what I want in my life. The last time I did this was five years ago, and I ended up doing/accomplishing about 90% of things that were on there. I got a bunch of magazines on Buy Nothing, and started to clip out images. I'm having a hard time finding things related to what I want financially. It's surprising how little there is related to money in most magazines. Unless they are financial managizes, I suppose. So far, about 50% of my board is related to travel - I think being cooped up in the pandemic is making this desire more prominent in my mind.

Harvested some mustard a few days ago. I need to get started with some February seeds. I have shallots coming up nicely and did an early sowing of eggplants - I am hoping to get them nice and big by the time they are ready to go out into the ground. I will also be planting peas, more mustard, and some greens in the next week or so. I am so ready for Winter to be over. For all of those out East and getting the bizzards, stay warm and safe.

GME Update 1

February 2nd, 2021 at 11:38 pm

GME was a roller coaster today. Well, not so much a roller coaster as a complete plummet downward. I checked every now and again between work, and it pretty much tanked the entire day as far as I can tell. But, I was much less stressed about it today than yesterday.

I gave it some more thought yesterday, and came up with two important deciding factors: (1) Emotional: I am not in it for the money. In fact, I was aware of this back in December, but didn't buy it till last week after it had already fallen 50% in value from its peak. The RH manipulation and a couple of other things happened and pissed me off. The video of Leon Cooperman (billionaire, convicted insider trader) literally crying in an interview and then losing his shit and saying that "people sitting at home with their $600 government checks" are using it to "attack wealthy people" and "we all need to just work together" pissed me off even more. So, the second stock I have ever bought in my life was a protest stock, I guess. If you had told me a month ago that I would be doing this, I would have laughed. (2) Financial: I read Marc Cuban's AMA on WSB. He said that if you can afford to hold the stock, to hold it. I can afford to lose the little bit of money I have put in, so I decided to stick it out and removed my stop losses. So, at this point, I guess it's all or nothing.

So all in all, I decided that I was neither emotionally nor financially stressed about it. It's a good story to be part of. And talking about stories, both MGM and Netflix are working with a screenwriter to make this into a movie.


January 23rd, 2021 at 07:56 pm

I got my COVID vaccine today. I got the Moderna vaccine.

I am so relieved. I knew I would be, but I guess I hadn't realized just how much. My sister is getting hers on Wednesday. I had vague plans of visiting her sometime this year, and this makes it much much more doable earlier in the year than I had dared to hope. Her baby is almost two and a half years old, and growing rapidly. I want to see her. And, I want to be hugged and held. No one has touched me in a year, and I feel so excited to see them and to give and receive giant big hugs.

PMI Frustrations - Part 2

January 12th, 2021 at 04:50 pm

I heard back from my mortgage lender. They won't automatically drop the PMI within 2 years of executing a refinance on my mortgage even if I have paid down to 78% of the home value (even if I don't account for appreciation). I can request and pay for an assessment to demonstrate that I have made substantial improvements (they apparently won't consider appreciation of home prices in the area), and even then it's not a guarantee that the assesor's report will make it happen. I am pissed! I have had nothing but trouble with this particular credit union through the whole process, and this is the last straw.

So, after filing taxes in a couple of months, I am doing another refinance as long as the interest rates remain low. This time, I will take out a 15 year mortgage with a different bank. I ran the numbers and it looks like if the mortgage rates remain the same as they are today, and I keep the same accelerated monthly payment amount as I am paying now, and presuming I won't have to pay PMI on this new refinance, I will pay $17k less in interest, and pay off a year earlier. It seems worth the hassle and the refi costs.

I hate debt for the years I spent in debt, and with the one remaining debt I have, I keep being reminded of how little power and freedom a debtor has. Debt is EVIL!

/rant over.

Weekly Frugal List - 1/9/21

January 9th, 2021 at 05:55 pm

What an awful week this has been! I'm sad and angry, but also deeply grateful that the democratic process continues despite the repeated assaults on it.

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

(1) Harvested the rest of the carrots, and a third of the mustard greens this week. There weren't a whole lot of carrots left - about a dozen or so, and most were little ones, but still enough for sides for 3 meals. Cooked up the mustard greens into a frittata. I've still been eating from the freezer and pantry, so no grocery expenses this week.

(2) Got a referral link from one of my friends for M1 Finance. $10 free for both of us for using the link - it's not a lot, but it's free money. I'm going to use this account to play around with investing. I won't add a lot of money to this - most of my money is stashed in low cost index funds that I am going to hold for the long term. This account is going to be to learn to work with individual stocks. I am pretty risk averse, so I don't know if speculating will be fun or stressful. We shall see.

(3) Started crocheting an amigurumi toy for my neice using a free pattern. I almost feel like it's silly to add this to the frugal list since there are so many free patterns out there. But it will be a frugal gift to give the little toddler. She likes horses at the moment, so it's going to be a purple and gray horse since those were the colors of yarn that I had on hand. The bag of polyfill that I purchased for $4.97 will be enough for about 4 toys, so I see more crocheted toys in my future. I also hope it will help me curb the ridiculous habit I have of simultaneously watching TV and browsing on my phone.

Weekly Frugal List - 1/2/21

January 2nd, 2021 at 04:52 pm


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

(1) Started out the New Year by starting a free book through Hoopla.

(2) Started seeds for shallots on New Year's Day. They will go out into the garden on the 1st of March and all being well will be harvested at the end of July. These are my first seeds for the year. Last year, I started them in mid-Feb and had small-ish shallots. So, decided to start them sooner this year. It was a lovely way to start the new year.

(3) This one cost money, but will save me money. I purchased a National Park Pass. I plan to go on a camping road trip later in the year to visit all of Utah's national parks. I have been to the Zion and Bryce Canyon NPs about 10 years ago, so it will be fun to go again. I paid less for the pass that I would have paid in individual entrance fees on my one week trip. And I can use it to go to other national parks and monuments if I travel any more this year.

Starting New Year's Day with reading, gardening, and travel related things are hopefully something of an auspicious omen for how this year will go. I hope you all have a wonderful 2021.

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

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.

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!

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.


November 18th, 2020 at 06:56 pm

The markets look beautiful this week, and I am excited for what my NW at the end of the month may look like. I hope I cross the $200k mark - I am very close.  

My accountant caught an error she made, and I probably will only be able to put another $10k into my retirement account for the year. I thought the $29k estimate she gave me was too high, and I was correct. Glad she caught it! $10k is still a good amount. She also said that based on her recalculations, she does not think there is any financial benefit to me making an S-election on my taxes next year. I'm somewhat disappointed because I thought it would save me some money, but I don't mind too much because I would have lost a lot of control over how I manage the money in my business account. I'll revisit this in a couple of years once I have a better estimate of how much I will make a year in self-employment. This year has been odd: part-time SE for the first quarter of the year, even after going to full time SE the pandemic means I am working slightly fewer hours than I might in person, pandemic also means that I am making money each week whereas I typically might take a few weeks of vacation/year. So, I guess I will wait.

My state is going to lockdowns again starting today. It's about high time, I think. It's really disheartening to see people going about interacting as though there isn't a deadly pandemic going on. Grocery stores will still be open, but I went and made my bi-weekly grocery store trip yesterday and stocked up on a few things. I think I shan't need to groery shop again until mid-December now.

I gave up on the exercise everyday goal - modified it to a three day cycle of HIIT/Cardio/Rest. That seems to be working better. Weight isn't budging at all. Sleep has been better.