Thursday, August 3, 2017

Easy way to help prevent identity theft!

The Social Security Administration has joined the 21st century and has online accounts. Only one account can be linked to each Social Security number - so why wouldn't you go ahead and register now before identity thieves helpfully register you on their behalf. 

It's a small thing, but to my mind it's like registering your email address or domain name - just do it, even if you don't think you'll use it for a long time. 

Thanks to the online friend who pointed this out to me!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Round Up

Well, I asked for my raise. I got a "let's keep talking about it" response, which is not terribly surprising. I think I will probably get something ahead of the next company-wide cost of living adjustment, but what it really tells me is that this "promotion" is somewhat temporary - I had suspected that my department may be reorganized again within a year, which would take these strategic decisions back off my plate, and I'm now fairly sure that that's the plan. Which is also fine with me - we're doing fine on my income as it is, but I felt like I should advocate for myself since the workload did increase. And I probably will get something out of it, because the sales numbers certainly don't lie. I have a chance to have a one on one conversation with HR later this year as well, and I will bring it up then if nothing has happened by then. 

This post on Habits vs Goals was great. I've pretty much stopped doing goals posts for this reason - I don't really have goals per se anymore. I try to develop specific habits (bring lunch to work every day, 100 push-up challenge) and those aren't motivating to report on. But they make a bigger and more longer term impact on my life, so that's where my focus is instead. 

I've been trolling through J Money's blog directory looking for new pf blogs to read. It seems like the blog world has really changed a lot in the last year or two - so many blogs have turned into "content" machines, and fewer of the personal blogs that I really like to read still exist. I don't read blogs for personal finance advice anymore (if I ever did) but more for people's personal experiences, choices, goals, hopes, and dreams, and those are getting harder and harder to find. Maybe people are talking about that stuff on Facebook or something instead? I don't know. 

Where do you find new pf blogs to read?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Am I a workaholic?

I've been back at work for not quite a year and a half. I've been the breadwinner since September. I am managing people for the first time, charged with turning around the sales of a failing business division. I am in meetings 30 hours a week. I get over a hundred new emails per day, on a good day. I wear a ton of hats at work, and jump from project to project many times throughout the day. I travel on average once a month.

I love it - I love learning and being challenged and figuring out strategy and helping a team come together and seeing our hard work reflected in our numbers. I love feeling like I'm contributing to something larger than me and supporting my family and putting my education and experience to work. I feel weird about the idea of retiring in 12 years (almost twenty years early) given how much I wanted to be back in the workforce.

But sometimes, when I am answering emails or correcting proofs at 10 p.m. or 6 a.m. because I didn't have time to sit at my desk all day long, I wonder if it's all too much. I think I draw pretty firm boundaries - I come in at 9 and leave by 5 every day. I do not have work email pinging my phone. I tend to not work on weekend days. Most evenings, I do an hour or two of work simply to stay on top of things. Each time it gets really busy, I think, well, it's just this project and it will get better after the deadline. Which is always true, until another big project comes along.

My dad is a workaholic. He has worked 16 hour days as long as I've known him. He does not take vacations. When I visited him as a child for two weeks in the summer, sometimes I wouldn't see him except for dinner the entire time. When he came to meet Pickle, when she was in an incubator fighting for her life, he brought his laptop and worked from the hospital. When he had a major health scare a few years ago, he swore he was going to cut back, and he did change some of his eating habits, but he is still in the office before sunrise and leaves after dark. And I believe that he really loves what he does, but I don't think he's been happy a day in his life. His work IS his life.

I'm trying to keep that difference in mind. My work is what I do and how awesome that I get this chance, but even when I am pulling out my laptop before bed, I have to ask myself why am I doing this. Is it because the place will fall down without me? (no) Is it because I can't interact with my family because I don't know who they are? (no) Is it because people at work schedule too many meetings and not enough time to do the work that comes out of those meetings? (yes) Is it because I'm not delegating enough? (possibly)

The minute I feel like I NEED to do work outside of work or else the whole house of cards will come crashing down, I will know that it's gone too far and I need to change direction. But I don't want to get all the way to that point - I want to catch it before I lose myself to my job. As a person, I always feel like I need to be busy and productive; I have a hard time not doing something. Even on my days off at home I have a to-do list of one kind or another. So it's a fine line that I feel like I'm always balancing.

Do you worry about being a workaholic? How do you watch out for that tendency?

Friday, June 2, 2017

What we don't spend money on...and some things we do

Peanut and I sometimes can't figure out why we don't often feel strapped for cash when we're living on one income and saving almost 30% of that for retirement. We figured the other day that there are some pretty standard things we don't spend money on that are pretty big money pits.

1. Alcohol. Peanut doesn't drink at all, and I drink very rarely. Like, a few times a year, and a single drink each time. (And when I say Peanut doesn't drink at all, I mean that he has never consumed alcohol in his life.) And booze is expensive! The cost is not the major factor for us, probably, but it sure doesn't hurt.

2. Travel. I travel plenty for work, and we go to see my family once a year in another state. But we haven't taken a vacation since our honeymoon which was almost seven years ago. We are planning our first getaway since kids for later this year, but we'll pay for it using points from all my work travel. So romantic, we are.

3. Cable. We've never had cable. Sometimes we're not sure it's worth it to pay $9 a month for Netflix. That's how often we watch TV.

However, we aren't total luddites, and we do spend money on some stuff.

1. Experiences with the kids. I have total working-mom guilt and I tend to do fun stuff with the kids when I'm home on the weekends. Crayola Experience, Children's Museum membership, the zoo...I'm all for it. I try to pack lunches and look for coupons and deals, but I definitely don't regret the money I spend doing stuff with them. We won't be a Disney-every-year family but when we do go, we won't skimp out either.

2. Technology. We each have a smart phone (although we have Ting for our carrier, for cheapy cheap!) and we absurd number of computers in our house. Like, twice as many computers than humans, easily, not counting tablets and phones. We also have a Google Home and a Vive virtual reality thingy. (Would you guess that this is my hobby, or Peanuts? :p) We have lots of smart lights and other sensors hooked up to each other, so we can tell the house to turn off the lights or have a dance party in the living room. There are more things that we'd like to do to get connected to the Internet Of Things, but we're waiting for some of the kinks to work themselves out of the first and second generation AI before we spend more money on it.

3. Movies. I like seeing movies in the theater, by myself. AND I get popcorn. That's my mom's night out. I don't go every single week but a few times a month isn't unusual. It seems ridiculous compared to what it would cost to wait for it to come out on Netflix, but as a hobby it's one of the cheaper ones I've had.

Are there some things you think other people would be surprised you don't spend much money on? What about "pf blogger" taboos that you do spend money on?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I'm asking for a raise

I got promoted a few weeks ago...I think. It wasn't apparent at first that it was a promotion, more like a reorganization. But in the time since, it's clear that there will be a lot of new responsibilities handed over, as my new boss is not going to provide the same kind of leadership and strategic planning for my department that my old boss did, and it will fall to me. This is actually fine with me - I know and like my new boss and I'm open to the challenge - but it does put me in the weird position of feeling like I DID in fact get promoted, except I got no new title or salary increase to go along with it, so now I have to ask for it. I've never asked for a raise before so it's making me a little nervous.

I have a great track record to go in with (like double-digit percent sales growth, major cost-saving measures, and great reviews from my direct reports) as well as these added responsibilities to point to. I plan to ask for a 10% raise, which will bump me up over six figures (woo hoo!). And I plan to do it next week.

And now that I've put it out into the world, you know I have to go through with it! Wish me luck!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Basing life on what you can afford.

Short profiles like this can never tell the whole story, but I thought it was an interesting read to see how regular people around the country make trade-offs around what they earn and what they spend.

Basing life on what you can afford (New York Times)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Savings and Retirement 2016

Even though our spending went way up in 2016, our income did, too, and our overall cash net worth increased by $47,000 or 32%.

Where did those gains come from? The vast majority of it was in our retirement accounts.

We contributed just under $17,000 to our accounts (includes pre-tax and Roth IRAs) and our employers matched almost $4,000. And we had nearly $25,000 in market gains. So more than half of our growth happened because of retirement savings that we did prior to 2016. That's pretty cool!

Next year, we are set up to max out my 403(b) as well as our Roth and an HSA (total savings of around $35,000). We've never attempted to match a pre-tax account before so we'll see how that goes. I'm a bit nervous to see how much of a bite it takes out of my paycheck but we've run the numbers and it looks like we should be fine. And it will be very exciting to see the numbers grow! I just hope that it's another good year for the market.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Women's Money Week: Identity Theft #wmweek17

There are two kinds of identity theft: one is true identity theft, where a person has your information (birth date, social security number) and is actually masquerading as you, opening new accounts, using your social security number to file taxes and get a refund, or otherwise actually stealing your identity. Usually this is done by someone close to you (sorry) or when you fall for a phishing scam and provide your identifying details by phone or email to someone you don't know.

The other kind is where your banking or credit card information is compromised and the thief has enough information to make purchases using your information but isn't trying to, say, get a mortgage in your name and then skip out on the payments. These thefts often happen en mass (hello, Target, Sony, and many other major business data breaches) and the information gets shopped around the black market. It feels personal if you're out the money but it really isn't.

The steps to prevent each type of identity theft vary, but the underlying principles are the same.

1. Protect your information. Don't give out information unless truly necessary. I decline to share my email address or phone number when asked by cashiers (if I want coupons, I have an email address that I use for that purpose). Definitely never give out information unsolicited - if your credit card company, bank, or the IRS calls you and asks you for a bunch of information they should already have, hang up and call them back at the number that's publicly listed for them (NOT one that they give you) and see if it's a legitimate call. Don't leave statements lying around your house for people in your life to see. Use tough security questions that people who know you wouldn't be able to guess.

2. Practice good security hygiene. Your bank account and your email account should have different passwords. Full stop. Actually, you should not repeat passwords across any accounts that are likely to be linked. We've started auto-generating all of our passwords for additional security and storing them in a password-protected and encrypted password storage system (we use KeePass; others are OnePassword and Last Pass). One good tip for creating hard-to-crack passwords is to think of a sentence like "That's no moon" as a trigger and then use that to come up with a shortened secure word like "Th4t5n0Mo0N!". Hard to crack, easy to remember. Also, enable 2-factor authentication on any account for which it's available - this is where you get an email, text, or phone call with a code when logging in from a new device. It's available on most of the types of accounts that are likely to get hacked (email, Facebook, Twitter) and you can register each device you regularly use so you don't have to do it every time you log in - but someone without access to your phone won't be able to log in to your account.

3. Use a credit card instead of a debit card for purchases. Two reasons: one, debit cards take money immediately out of your bank account, so if someone goes on a shopping spree with your card, you are out that money straightaway, probably before you even notice. And two, a federal law in the US called the Fair Credit Billing Act means that your liability for credit card fraud is limited to $50 (which in my experience the credit card companies usually waive). With a debit card, depending on how soon you discover and report the card missing or stolen, there is no limit to your liability, meaning if you wait 60 days to figure out something is wrong, that money is gone. Use a credit card for purchases whenever possible to get that protection. Assume that your card number will be compromised at some point, whether by a skeevy waiter or a mass data breach at a big box retailer, and protect yourself accordingly. (Pay the full balance of the card monthly to avoid carrying debt - you can treat a credit card like a debit card in that if you don't have the money to pay the bill, you don't buy the thing.)

4. Keep an eye on your credit report. Pretty much the only way to find out about new and unauthorized accounts is to take a regular look at your credit report and make sure everything you see there is accurate. You can get your report for free once a year from each of the reporting bureaus through I pull from one of the bureaus every four months, so I can stay on top of things.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Where It Went 2016

2016 2015 % change
blog $26.75 $40.50 -34%
business $67.38 $46.68 44%
car jeep $151.40 $669.95 -77%
car mazda $962.47 $1,882.43 -49%
Car Toyota $6,966.71 $6,866.73 1%
cat $0.00 $169.26 -100%
cell phones $1,727.49 $1,529.95 13%
charity $392.63 $454.18 -14%
clothing $2,875.17 $1,183.10 143%
Daycare $23,432.95 n/a 234329400%
dental $790.33 $2,814.55 -72%
electric $1,090.66 $1,178.40 -7%
electronics $2,419.67 $17.23 13943%
Entertainment $2,179.78 $989.82 120%
food  groceries $6,707.67 $5,234.81 28%
food  other $3,606.54 $3,178.88 13%
gardening $201.63 $175.76 15%
gas $673.66 $727.39 -7%
Gifts $764.97 $1,185.30 -35%
helicopter/robot $109.75 n/a 1097400%
house $17,458.10 $19,199.83 -9%
household $2,671.79 $2,206.51 21%
hygiene $94.22 $380.43 -75%
insurance $892.48 $1,224.96 -27%
internet $806.80 $803.13 0%
medical $3,680.87 $4,407.81 -16%
sewing/quilting $0.00 $52.48 -100%
school $900.00 $270.00 233%
transportation $102.69 $140.00 -27%
travel $1,359.76 $1,167.03 17%
water & trash $897.84 $919.73 -2%
Total $86,028.16 $59,116.83 46%

Notes: YOWZA. A 46% increase in spending in one year?! A difference of almost $27,000?!?!

Well, it's not really all that surprising when you consider that $23,432 of it was childcare expenses (six weeks in daycare + seven months of full time nanny) which we had never had before. That leaves a $3,479 lifestyle inflation that we experienced after doubling our income in 2016. Half of which I spent on work-appropriate clothing after three years as a stay-at-home mom. 

We actually decreased our spending in some key areas: house (only one major appliance replacement in 2016!) and cars (sold one car, no repairs on one of the remaining ones).  Our entertainment and electronics spending went way up. We got some home automation stuff and two new cell phones but the biggest chunk of that was a very nice camera that we bought used from a friend, which should last us for years. Our entertainment budget was mostly stuff for the kids (a museum membership, indoor playgrounds) and I also got a membership at Massage Envy. We can bring both of those categories down for next year but I think it was also kind of a fluke so I'm not too worried about it. 

We've been able to max out our Roth IRAs again this year, we starting contributing to an HSA (instead of just cycling money through it as we had medical expenses), and we were able to save a bit as well. Overall, I'm very happy with how this year went. 

Previous Years: 2010201120122013, 2014, 2015

Monday, January 2, 2017

Women's Money Week: Goals #wmweek17

I used to do monthly financial goals as well as New Year's Resolutions. I used to have savings targets and sinking funds and ways to help me measure and track my goals.

I've moved away from that in recent years, in large part. Partly it's that we are much more financially comfortable so I don't "need" to meet those goals in order to survive. Partly it's that we got busy with kids and so I pay less attention to my daily spending than I used to. And partly it's that our goals are boring now: retirement and college funds. It was more interesting to be saving for a house downpayment or a sunny beach vacation than it is to set my 403(b) contribution and forget it. I can review the allocations once a year but there's just not as much incentive to fully participate, and in fact, paying too much attention to the market makes me anxious and makes some people make shortsighted decisions like pulling out after a big loss and missing out on the rebound gains (I've never done that, but when the market was crashing in 2008, I really wanted to. I'm glad I didn't!).

Still, when I actually stop to think about it, the kind of retirement savings we are doing right now IS very exciting. We are past the point where we need to save for retirement (meaning, if we stopped contributing right now, we could retire on time with enough to live out our expected lifespans at a reasonable standard of living). But that means that everything extra that we save for retirement either moves our retirement date up sooner, or improves the standard of living in retirement (hello, permanent cruise life!), or creates wealth for us to pass along to our kids. Shouldn't that be more exciting than saving for one measly vacation?!?!

I hope so. We are taking steps to feel a financial pinch thanks to retirement savings in 2017. We're maxing out my 403(b) and HSA contributions (~$18,000 and $6,750 respectively) and are still going to try to max out our Roth 401(k)s as well ($5,500 each, so another $11,000). That's a total of $35,750 into retirement savings*, which is about a third of my income. We also have our regular lives to pay for and want to build up our liquid emergency funds as well. It might feel kind of tight, which is good - I think feeling that pinch is what helps me stay focused on meeting our goals.

As for college savings, right now all monetary gifts that the kids get go into 529 accounts but we're not funding them out of our own pockets. There are no loans for retirement the way there are for college! And we have lots of options right now for what our financial assistance might look like (maybe we cash-flow those payments, maybe we pull out Roth contributions, maybe they get scholarships). Once we have a sense of our maxing out retirement feels, we add a college savings goal.

How have your financial goals changed? What are your goals for 2017?

* Technically, an HSA is not a retirement account. But it is the only account that is triple-tax-advantaged (pre-tax contributions, growth is tax-free and distributions for medical expenses are tax free). If you can cash-flow your medical expenses now (when you have income) and keep the savings until retirement (when you have no more income, and medical expenses tend to rise), you can bask in that tax-free goodness.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Women's Money Week: Financial Organization #wmweek17

I've had a financial organization system for longer than I've had this blog. It went through a number of changes while I was single, and then a big change when Peanut and I merged our finances, and every year we tweak it a little and make it a bit better. Here are the components:

1. A tracking system. I've used everything from a piece of paper in a notebook to our current Excel spreadsheet that uses a pivot table to calculate our monthly spending by category. For me, tracking spending is the most important component of a budget or financial organization system. If you don't know where your money is going, you can't tell it what to do. We don't have a budget but we do track every dollar we spend, and it helps us meet our goals.

2. A filing system (or two or three). We have one small filing cabinet for paper stuff, but mostly I use email as my filing system. I set up filters in gmail so that all my financial documents go to one folder, and I set up electronic delivery for every bill, statement, and financial paperwork that I can. Email is keyword-searchable, so it's a lot easier to find something there than wonder, did I file it under C for Car or T for Toyota or I for Insurance? We also have a lot of things filed away in an offsite backup program, like digital copies of tax returns and other important financial paperwork. Some stuff just has to be paper though, so we do manage

3. A goal. It's hard for me to stay excited about money when we don't have a goal. It's easy for me to cut back on my spending or save when it's for a downpayment on a house or killing a student loan bill. It's much harder for me to save whatever's leftover at the end of the month without a "reward" in sight. (This is why I try to max out pre-tax savings first!)

And one warning: a financial organization system should not be overbuilt. I tend to overbuild my tracker in a mean way. For a while I was juggling multiple checking and savings accounts due to freelance work, as well as multiple trackers and it's just so complicated. It doesn't need to be that complicated. I recommend the fewest number of accounts that you can get away with (including retirement - keep rolling those babies into an IRA!) and the simplest method of recording your spending. It makes it easier to use and therefore more likely to be used.

Sunday, December 18, 2016


We recently were in a minor car accident. The kids were in the car but we are all fine. We hit some black ice approaching an intersection and slid through it into a car that was turning left in front of us, which then hit a third car. It was slow enough that there were no injuries, but it was kind of scary - I had never been in that kind of an accident before, and while that part of me was quietly freaking out, the rest of me had to stay calm for the kids and make sure that they were okay and staying warm (it was -14 degrees out, but we couldn't leave the car running in case of exhaust leaks).

At any rate, this accident came less than a week after we paid almost $600 to have the wheels aligned and a bearing replaced after we hit a curb on a different patch of ice in the last snowstorm.

In other words, this winter has been expensive for us! It's also an anomaly, because in a combined 38 years of driving, neither of us have ever had any kind of winter driving situation requiring car repairs.

Luckily, we do have insurance which should cover the repairs and also a rental car if we need it. Our deductible is only $500 although I guess our premiums will probably go up a bit. We might raise the deductible to $1,000 if we can (I think our lender might require a lower deductible, because typically we always set higher deductibles). We may not need the rental car because we've been intentional about reducing our need for a car - Peanut walks the kids to preschool and I take the bus, so really we only need a car for visiting family in the 'burbs and grocery shopping.

As always, I'm thankful for the situation we're in that mean that something like this is unfortunate but not a disaster. It'll be an expensive month but our savings can cover it, and most important, no one was hurt. The kids are asking a lot of questions about what happened (and it might be a while before they want to watch Cars again!) but we're all okay.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I'm practicing right now!

Are you an expert computer user? If you're reading this post, likely you are in the top 5% of computer users in the world.

 I was surprised by that article, but perhaps I shouldn't be. It's said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something, and I use a computer in some form probably 90% of my waking hours and have done so for, hm, between 15-18 years? I've definitely got my practice in.

The interesting lesson to take away from this is that expert experts are the ones designing software and writing code, and they literally cannot see things from the most elementary users' point of view. They can't un-know what they know, or lose the understanding or assumptions they have about how software works.

I think actually this goes a long way towards explaining my frustration when dealing with a digital tool that is badly designed - the coders didn't even stop to think whether the end user would have different assumptions than they do.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Amazon Go (Away)

So Amazon is opening a new store where you don't have to pay for anything; you just go in, pick up what you want, and leave, and your purchases are automatically charged to your Amazon account via an app on your phone.

I think this is a terrible idea. I have documented previously why I am anti-Amazon, but I would think this was a bad idea no matter who came up with it.

First, the system relies on extensive surveillance, more than I am comfortable with experiencing in a public place. A series of cameras and microphones as well as tracking software is needed to make this experience seamless for the end user, but surveillance technology is still not perfect, and I see this system as rife for abuse. (Good information about that technology here, but be warned that video and audio autoplay when you load the page*.)

Second, all of this technology replaces real, actual jobs that could be employing human beings. And at least in the beginning, that technology is going to be more expensive than humans, so there will not be any real savings to pass along to the consumer. I expect that Amazon will operate as it has before and take a loss on products to establish itself, then take a monopolistic approach to its vendors, forcing them to operate on its terms.

Third, and most important from a personal finance point of view, is that removing the barrier of paying means removing the psychological understanding of what has transpired in the transaction. We already know that paying with a credit card causes us to buy more than when we spend cold, hard cash. What will happen when it doesn't feel like we're paying anything at all? I presume the app would allow you to see your total as you shop, but the video makes it look like you don't need  to think about what you're spending at all, and that's dangerous territory.

*Which was a good incentive for me to install a browser extension that blocks that from happening. It worked so nicely that I'll be installing one on all the browsers on all the computers that I use regularly.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Book Review: Essentialism

Essentialism is, well, an essential little book. It could be summed up as "less, but better". I liken it to The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying-Up for its inspiring but still very implementable message.

Author Greg McKeown offers insight and advice on how to change your entire mindset from scarcity and FOMO to determining what is essential for you and ruthlessly (but politely) carving out that which is not. Most of us, I think, are aware of when we are getting stretched too thin, and we can even identify the causes - bosses who pile on the work, friends and family whose feelings matter to us, an expansive desire to have it all. But we don't know how to deal with being pulled in all of these different directions in a way that allows us to keep our jobs, our relationships, and our contentment intact.

Essentialism answers those difficult questions and more. As a rallying cry, as a practical manual, as a manifesto, a call to action, and a muse, this one is highly recommended.

I got my copy from the library, but am keeping an eye out for a copy to own as well. Support your local library, indie bookseller, or brick-and-mortar bookstore!