Sunday, October 15, 2017

Meal plan? What's a meal plan?

I tell you what, being the breadwinner while Peanut is the stay-at-home parent is awesome. I don't have to cook hardly at all anymore, or do any meal planning or anything. We go grocery shopping as a whole family a few times a month, but that's more fun than stressful now for me. Also, we are eating better than we were when I cooked. I just compared our average spending for my last year at home and his first year at home, and we have spent about $20/month less on food (groceries and eating out) with him in charge than with me in charge.  It's a win-win-win!

I usually make breakfast for myself and the kids so Peanut can sleep in. Breakfast is usually frozen waffles and scrambled eggs, or cocowheats and oatmeal, so it's not too difficult. Baby Bear would live off of cocowheats if he could. Pickle is a little more adventurous, asking for different things every other day or so. I can't stand eating the same thing over and over again, so I usually make something different for myself every day.

I take my lunch to work. We don't often have leftovers, so I buy Amy's frozen lunches, but only the Indian-inspired ones - matter paneer, saag paneer, and vegetable korma. Once or twice a month I buy lunch, and also once or twice a month lunch is provided as part of a meeting I attend. When I buy lunch, it ranges from $5-$16, which is why I don't buy too often. I used to keep some GoPicnic meals at my desk in case I forgot a frozen lunch, but I haven't been able to find them at Target in a few months. Did anyone else notice that?

Since Peanut cooks dinner, and he can eat the same thing every day for the rest of his life, we've learned to compromise about what he makes. He makes a really good halal-inspired chicken and rice dish but served it so often I rebelled. Now he rotates among that, spaghetti and meatballs, shakshuka, pork chops, and pizza, and maybe a few other things. This is very different from how I did meal planning, where I felt like (for some reason) I couldn't repeat anything for a month or so and tried to have like "Mexican night" and "new recipe night" and other rules that made it more work than it needed to be.

Meal planning is one of those grown-up chores that I just hated, and I'm so glad it's off my plate now. In its place I am doing board deck revisions and sales forecasts, and we are all much happier.



Friday, October 13, 2017

Linkfest

Why should WE have to pay for Equifax's blunder?

"So Facebook knows your phone ID and can add it to your Facebook ID. It puts that together with the rest of your online activity: not just every site you've ever visited, but every click you've ever made – the Facebook button tracks every Facebook user, whether they click on it or not. Since the Facebook button is pretty much ubiquitous on the net, this means that Facebook sees you, everywhere. Now, thanks to its partnerships with the old-school credit firms, Facebook knew who everybody was, where they lived, and everything they'd ever bought with plastic in a real-world offline shop...What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens."

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Five Frugal Things



1. A friend had an extra ticket to last week's Beck/U2 concert at the Vikings Stadium, and offered it to me for free. We had a great time!

2. The day before the concert, I noticed a post on my company intranet about a nearby parking garage offering a free day of parking in exchange for a name and email address. I took advantage of it the night of the concert, so I didn't need to pay for either parking or an Uber. I'll get a few emails from this parking garage, which I can delete (or hang on to, if they are offering a discount on future parking) and I saved at least $20. 

3. I had my kids try on every single piece of clothing they own, including all their winter gear. I also took their measurements from head to toe, and had them stand on a piece of paper to trace their feet for shoe sizing. Next weekend is my favorite local kids' consignment sale, and I plan to go on half-price day. Now I know exactly what they need (and what they don't!), and what sizes to buy. 

4. We're almost done with diapers! Baby Bear starts potty training this weekend. We use the Oh, Crap! Potty Training method, which means I am 100% confident that this is it and we will not be going back to diapers. What a milestone! 

5. We just celebrated Pickle's fifth birthday (!!) and she had a homemade cake that looks kinda sorta maybe like I had intended it to. The thing is, I didn't make that cake to win any awards. She really wanted me to make it, she wanted Dora on it, she wanted it vegan so her cousins could eat it - and she loved it. So it was a win, and it cost me about $5 compared to a store-bought vegan cake that would be at least $30+. We bought her one present (a kitkat bar), and we celebrated her and how much we love her and how glad we are that she is in our family. Especially for very young kids, their birthdays don't need to be expensive to be special. 

What frugal wins have you had this week?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Linkfest!

It's been a while since we've had one of these! Here are some of the great things I've been reading on the web lately.

On Being a Bad Manager - People get promoted out of individual contributors to managing people, which is a skill set that doesn't grow out of being a great individual contributor. I have been leading a team for a little over 18 months now, and it's been challenging in very different ways than anything I've done before. I've had some good mentoring on that, but I was still really surprised at how different of a job it is to be a manager versus a regular employee. My HR department has started a regular meeting for us middle managers and I'm hoping there will be some training to go along with it.

The highest-paying jobs and fields of study in the United States - is your field on here? Mine's not, and some of those numbers are HUGE!! I'm happy with where I'm at salary-wise but it's eye-opening to see what's possible with enough training and specialization. 

The Equifax hack is possibly the largest disaster in the history of the social security administration. The social security number was never intended to be used for all the things it is currently used for - so it's a highly private identification number that is used for all sorts of public things by companies whose security systems are not strong enough to protect it adequately. I hope that this breach will be the thing that finally triggers an overhaul of the system of financial and government identification in the US, but I am not holding my breath. Also, consider carefully whether you want to sign up for the free "credit monitoring" service Equifax is offering to those affected - you may be signing away your rights to recompense from a class action lawsuit by doing so. Right now, we've opted for a credit flag and credit freeze with the three bureaus, and continued tri-annual monitoring of all our credit reports. 

Recently Read & Highly Recommended:
Four Queens
All Our Wrong Todays
The Dark Tower series (how late am I to this game!)
For kids: Fox and Hen Together

Monday, September 4, 2017

Sharing and subscriptions for the win!

My family recently celebrated a wedding, and so there was travel involved. We were all set to book a hotel room in the block the bride and groom had set aside when one of my siblings suggested that we (the siblings not getting married) split an AirBNB.

I had only used AirBNB one time previously, on a work trip, so it hadn't even occurred to me. But I did some poking around and managed to find a big apartment only two blocks from the wedding venue. We ended up paying around $75 per adult instead of $150+ per adult, plus we got to hang out communally during our down time, we had a kitchen at our disposal for easy breakfast and snacks, and being only two blocks from the venue it wasn't a problem to walk the kids back during the reception when they got overtired. Lucky Peanut got a break from all my extended family and hung out there playing video games in the living room - if we'd had a hotel room, he'd have had to hide out in the bathroom or something so he wouldn't keep the kids awake.

And it turned out that the apartment we rented was owned by a hairdresser, who is a friend of my new sister-in-law and did her hair for the wedding. What a fun, small world!

I am loving the growing and evolving economy of sharing (AirBNB, Uber/Lyft, tool libraries) and subscriptions (software licenses, Movie Pass). I think this is a much better use of our resources and a better way to build community, save money, and get things done. It's still not a default for me - like I said, I was ready to book in the hotel block, because that's what I've always done for weddings before. But as I have more positive experiences with the sharing economy and subscription models for experiences and services, I am starting to check there first before resorting to the traditional way I've done things growing up.

(Somewhat randomly, a few days before our trip we listened to the How I Built It podcast with the founder of AirBNB, which was really good!)

The one sharing/subscription thing I haven't really got into is the boxes, especially the clothing subscriptions. I don't buy enough clothes to justify it, probably, and I really, really prefer to try things on before spending any money (and also prefer to buy used stuff), but I like the concept of it.

What are your favorite sharing economy or subscription model offerings? 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Is Facebook the new blogosphere?

Is Facebook the new blogosphere?

It sure seems like most blogs I read are now feeding posts to a Facebook page; some even have Facebook groups or communities. On the one hand, this is annoying - I blog anonymously for a reason and want to be able to leave comments without having them broadcast to my entire IRL friends list. On the other hand, it's harder and harder to find an RSS feed reader that I like, and pretty much all the information I find from anywhere is through Facebook (I kind of hate admitting that, but it's true), and it's nice to have more of that kind of thing on there than the stuff that's being shared by the people on my friends list. So, there's that.

Part of what brought this up is that Peanut and I attended a FIRE meet up today. Go Curry Cracker was in town, and we thought it would be interesting to meet people who share our thoughts about money. It was a fun (and frugal!) time; we met some nice and interesting people, and enjoyed a beautiful day outside at a lovely park. It made me wonder how much I want to be anonymous, and really, how much I want to blog generally going forward.

I haven't posted much lately. I haven't had much to say. In truth, I am fairly disconnected from our finances. I earn, we save, we spend. We are maxing out my 403(b) this year and while we thought that was going to be a stretch goal, we haven't even noticed. We are on track to max out our Roth IRAs as well. We are saving as much as we're spending, we're hitting our goals, and we don't even feel it - there's not much to say. Bringing lunch is a habit. Buying used (or not at all) is a habit. I hardly spend money except when I'm traveling for work and it doesn't matter. I have therefore become terrible about keeping track of my money, even with an app on my phone for recording what I spend. Peanut pays the bills every month so I'm not even engaged in looking at the trends of our finances anymore.

It seems like we are in the limbo period where everything we could do is in place and we are now waiting for time to make the compound interest magic happen. It's fairly boring.

However. I am coming up on the 10 YEAR anniversary of this blog! I've been blogging longer than fourth graders have been alive. The PF blogosphere is a huge reason that we are where we are financially - the support, encouragement, and community that I found when it was a struggle to figure out how to manage my money and where to aim my goals are the things that really helped me be weird in a world that thinks being in debt is normal. Over the years, the blogosphere has changed. Some of those changes have been good (more women!), and some of those have been not so great (spam! losing great bloggers! content mills!).

So I'm wondering if I'm seeing the next shift of the PF world - to one that is less anonymous and more in the public of our every day, by happening primarily on the place where we spend our online lives, on Facebook. In a way, that's why I've been writing for the last decade - to make personal finance a thing that we talk about, to not equate salary with worth, to have open discussions about the meaning of money and what it enables us to do with our lives. I don't think I'm done trying to move that conversation forward, and maybe getting back in the habit of talking about it will help me feel more engaged and connected with the future we are building.

So, all of that to say - I'm on Facebook now. Pop over and say hi! Facebook.com/littlemissmoneybags

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 have....an 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 AnnualCreditReport.com. 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