Where’d time go?!

Holy crud, it’s already November!! I’m excited for snow andย visiting family over the holidays. I’ve got some cool gift ideas and I’m excited to get the things in motion. ๐Ÿ˜€

The end of a year often brings introspection and I think I did a lot of things right this year:

  1. Development Chops: Overall I’d say the time it takes me to get started on a new thing is getting shorter and shorter! This means that I spend less time in the weeds and more time deliberately creating. It’s been very gratifying to see my progress and next year, I have a plan to ship/ship/ship a bunch of personal projects that have been marinating on my poor Windows system. Yes, I still use a Windows PC and I cannot wait to get my Mac. I have used a Mac at work for years now and the experience is like heaven.
  2. Finances: I hit a lot of my savings goals, succeeded in beating back old debt & not taking on new debt. I attribute that to a deliberate focus on making savings a priority and planning for expenses. This has been a theme through out my blog and it’s really only dawned on me just how much I’ve grown in this department. ๐Ÿ™‚ Here are some of the successes I’ve had:
      1. fully stocked 8-month emergency fund (EFund). In reviewing older posts, I’ve talked about a 9 month fundย but I will make it a goal to surpass this next year. I’m proud of this achievement despite major events and part of the reason was my dedication to saving which meant the big expenses that came our way this year were handled just fine. It is very disconcerting that many Americans are a firing-away from being broke and I am striving to not become a statistic like that.
      2. maxing out my 401k account – with every pay increase and bonus I received, I updated my pre-tax contribution amount and thanks to that work, I’ll hit my 401k plan limits before the year runs out! In related news, the IRS has increased the contribution limit for 2019 to $19, 000 from $18, 500! I already can’t wait to bump up my contribution to meet this limit! ๐Ÿ™‚
      3. regular contributions to other investment vehicles – Despite the turbulence in the stock market, I’ve made investment a priority this year and made consistent contributions.
      4. high credit score – maintained a 8xx credit score for the latter half of the year. I attribute this to no changes in debt load and a good mix of account types.
      5. use of sub accounts to plan for expenditures: I use Capital One and I particularly appreciate the ability to create sub accounts for various goals (aka ‘money baskets’).ย  For me, the major benefit of this type of tool is that it gives my money ‘work’ to ‘do’. For example:
        1. For holiday travel, I created a travel fund to which I contributed throughout the year. This meant that I was able to book tickets at my convenience and not impact the monthly budget.
        2. Rent payment is never a surprise since (you guessed it) the rent funds go into a sub account
        3. Next year, I am planning on a Macbook purchase next year and guess what, I’ve already created a Macbook fund to remind me of my promise to myself. ๐Ÿ™‚
        4. For a planned health event, I created a sub account and this ensured that I got through the experience without any new debt (major props to the decent insurance plan I’m on via my workplace). Next year, I think I will continue this sub account so that any medical expenses will come out of that first before a need to dip into other accounts.
        5. And so on… If all that money was just piled up in my checking account, I guarantee that I’d forget about a few things!ย I’ve mulled the question of automating bills but I’ve had a few scares where various service providers billed me wrongly and come to the conclusion that I’d rather not be out of funds while things are being fixed. As long as my bill pay reminders are firing off, this is a low priority item.
      6. student loans paid off! I am inordinately proud of myself for this and this was a large contributor towards being able to hit the EFund goal.ย In retrospect, I paid what I call stupid tax by not planning my repayments out more efficiently but live n learn! The car
  3. Philanthropy: I scaled back a bit on this (mostly on political contributions and Patreon support) but I increased the time I spent on volunteer efforts. In addition, there are three charitable organizations I currently have on auto-pilot:
    1. Pamela Atkinson Homeless Fund – money goes to organizations that work to help homeless people
    2. Let’s Encrypt – helping the world be a slightly safer place
    3. Human Utility – helping folks with water bills

    I could stand to do a lot more in this arena so stay tuned.

  4. Personal:
    1. Food: we’ve made some deliberate choices in what we eat and put on our bodies. This is part of why our grocery budget is still embarrassingly high but I’ve started cooking and looking to continue this trend into next year. My husband and my body clearly love what I’m making so this is great positive feedback to keep me going. So far, I’ve recreated a not-too-shabby version of Egusi soup (looked great and tasted great), jollof rice (looked meh but tasted good!), and tomato stew (looks good and tastes good!). I hope to expand my cooking repertoire.
    2. Body: we’ve been much more aware of what goes into skin care products and as a result, I find myself spending a bit more for higher qualify skincare with ethically sourced materials and a bias for natural ingredients (less is more!). My skin looks supple and even M’s sun-beaten arms are looking fresher than ever! The skin care budget pretty much doesn’t exist and I regret nothing! lol
    3. Work: Continuing with last year’s trend of working smarter, I continued to keep my laptop home for most of the year and I felt great about this choice. My work output did not suffer and it made me focus a bit more. I made a conscious decision this year to be more thoughtful with my feedback and I feel I’ve made significant headway in my journey to becoming a senior developer. I look at majority of the PRs I get notified about (GHE does this if you watch repositories) and where I understand the code base, I provide actionable feedback. It’s been a great learning experience for me to think through someone else’s work and look for potential bugs or design concerns. I am looking for some specific outcomes from my work come review time so I am excited to share my achievements when it comes to review time.
    4. Mental: conflict resolution was a biggie for me and I feel I did a decent job of standing up for myself this year. I did not let real or perceived slights bother me as much as they would have in the past and this is a huge win. M was a boon to me in this regard and I talked through things with him to place events in the proper context.

I did not expect this list of successes to be as long as they turned out and boy am I glad I took the time to list this out. Today, specifically, I got to feeling blue but a call from my mom, a kiss from M, and me counting my blessings have turned things around. ๐Ÿ˜›

Some things I look forward to tackling in 2019:

  1. Philanthropy:
    1. either being more active with my current organization or picking up an additional position within a different organization.
    2. Increasing the monthly donation budget by $25 to $50
  2. Finances: This article talks about a lot of the considerations I’m making and provide good backing for the targets I’ve chosen:
    1. Max out 401k again next year
    2. Pay off car loan by June 2019.
    3. Purchase Macbook using funds from sub-account (no cheating, trust the process!). ETA anytime before second quarter of 2019
    4. Improving savings rate (off net pay) from 20% to 25%
    5. Make 8-month EFund a 9-month
  3. Personal:
    1. Health:
      1. A dedicated workout session at least 2X a week. I haven’t done as much physical activity as a young’un my age needs. While that hasn’t translated to additional pounds (I hover around 120 – 125lbs these days), I feel squishy and it’s not good for my heart!
      2. Meditate at least 1 hr a week (spread this over 7 days)
    2. Development:
      1. Dedicate 4 hrs a week to learn something new or read something that is not related to fiction.
    3. Family:
      1. Continue to communicate with my immediate family more! Thanks to technology, I have conversations with family across the pond at least weekly. When I’m feeling less vulnerable, break the ice with my mom’s relatives who are in the US as well
      2. Continue to plan on monthly support for parents
  4. Work:
    1. TBD; I haven’t fully fleshed out what my 2019 work-related goals are but the watch phrase is “Know your worth!”

That’s about it for now. Happy holidays in advance and here’s to being grateful for how far we’ve all come and for the new paths to be trod in the new year!

An early present

Money matters

I couldn’t wait; I’ve paid off my student loans! The car loan should will be done by EOY and we’ll be officially debt free. Of course, life has its own way of humbling me at times this because I’ve got a pretty big unexpected expense coming up. Still, I’ll celebrate my wins as I get them. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve also upped my 401k contributions to ensure that I should be hitting the maximum amount (18, 500) going forward. I’m pretty stoked to get to this point without harming my savings rate or needing to cut back.

Cutting Expenses

Lifestyle creep is a real thing and I’m ashamed to report that I’ve been bitten by this. Some areas where I currently indulge & need to scale back in order to increase my savings rate:

  1. UberEats – ordering in is a privilege and we need to scale back on frequency of use. We easily spend ~ $100/week on this and this needs to go ASAP. This is probably the biggest waste.
  2. Starbucks – I’ve reigned this in a bit but I keep getting sucked back in with their promotions! I’m holding at $50/monthly on this splurge.
  3. Uber/Lyft – I don’t drive and this convenience is probably a $20/week habit. I’m holding on this because it is very empowering for me to be able to get about town w/o relying on others.
  4. Food spend – We don’t have a good system for meal planning and preparation. As a result, we often shop mid-week and weekly for food items. Unsurprisingly, our grocery costs are high just due to the lack of planning. I estimate we probably spend well over $600/monthly on two people which feels high. We won’t compromise on getting high quality food ingredients (organic, non-GMO where possible, etc) but we could be more efficient about this.

Financial Goals for 2018

  1. TBD (once various accounts settle, I’ll make projections for what I can realistically achieve this year)

 

Goals

I’m goal driven. Not in a type A way but in a way that seeing my goal’s progress makes me excited and motivated to stay the course.

This year, some immediate financial goals I have are:

  1. Build back our emergency fund to 3 months of living expenses.
  2. Max out my Fidelity Roth IRA contributions for the year
  3. Pay off my highest interest (16.99%) credit card and commit to using it only if paid off at the end of the month.
  4. Use snowball method to pay off second credit card with a slightly lower interest rate (14.99%)
  5. Continue down accrued interest on my student loans

Some long-term (i.e. by Dec 2015) financial goals I have are:

  1. Build up emergency fund to 9 months of living expenses.
  2. Max out Fidelity Roth IRA and open a Vanguard Roth IRA and max
  3. Open a long-term CD

A few years ago, I made a boneheaded decision that at the time, seems like a really good idea and I have since made a resolution that I’d rather eat bread and water than repeat said boneheaded decision. Nothing life threatening so don’t freak out mom! lol. But this is me being mature about my financial life now. ร‚ย ๐Ÿ™‚

‘Tis all for now!

When the going gets tough, the tough gets going… :)

Or so the saying goes.. ๐Ÿ™‚ Since the year began, I’ve been hard at work with a new (to me) course for the Spring Semester. My job’s physically demanding and thankfully, I’ve been up to the task. I love all my bosses especially as I feel really appreciated. The students I’ve been working with also appreciate the work I put in to making the laboratory a comfortable place to be despite the circumstances. lol. Matt’s been acing his tests and exams. I couldn’t be prouder of him and how far we have grown as a unit. Not too long ago, I posted a status message on my Facebook page about how nothing beat taking a stroll in the woods with the one you love. That continues to hold true and I couldn’t be happier with my choice of a life partner. Alright, enough sappiness. ๐Ÿ™‚

In personal finance management news, our heating bill saw a $20 spike in the month of December and we continued getting heating bills in the ~ 60s for a while until last month when it finally came down to $58. However, that didn’t give me much consolation because our energy usage per day was still higher i.e. ~ $2 per day. In any case, we’re doing pretty good considering I’ve sorta given up being so strict.

With news of the American economy tanking, Matt & I have continued our habits of keeping our credit card debt as low as we can i.e. 22% of our credit limit which is just enough to let the credit card company that we are actively using the card, but low enough for them to understand that we are not in trouble & maxing out the card. Our savings are not where I’d like them to be, but that’s to be expected when unexpected expenses arise. It didn’t make it easier when our federal and state tax refunds were less than half of what we received last year. Thankfully, we have a good grasp on our finances and it didn’t really matter whether we received a tax refund or not. As a matter of fact, I’d rather keep more of my paycheck and receive a smaller tax refund because I’ll be able to put the money to better use when I have ownership of the funds right away!

In retirement account news, my Fidelity 401(k) has been tanking. My rate of return for this year is ~ -14%. Thankfully, my employer’s match takes the sting out of seeing the funds drop because the way I see it, it’s not my money that’s disappearing although it kinda is. lol. Does my weird logic make sense? I haven’t even looked at Matt’s retirement accounts lately although his accounts should do well. That’s about it for now. A ‘thicker’ post to come!

Heating bills and financial lessons

Okay, breathe with me. Last month’s heating bill was ~ $44. This month’s heating bill = ~ $66. My jaw literally dropped and I instantly placed a call to my energy company to schedule a free high-bill re-check. Then, I called my husband and broke the news to him. lol. He claimed he wasn’t surprised, but I was honestly was. In retrospect, and if I’m brutally honest, the high heating bill was my fault. My usage of my small space heater was drastically increased (I’m talking about turning it on daily for ~ 12 hrs each day!). Being the argumentative wife I am, I argued with Matt that it must have been the 3 – 5 times we must have run the heater for the house or leaving lights on. In any case, this is a huge wake-up call for me. I cannot do things like run a space heater for 12 hrs daily and not expect my heating bill to bite me in the ass. *sigh*

In other news, if you have been living under a rock, the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates further and while this is goodร‚ย  news for borrowers, people with money in savings account (i.e. us) are essentially seeing our savings rates slashed too. Right now, ING Direct’s Current Annual Percentage Yield is 2.75%. I’m not complaining though because it is still better than Wachovia’s saving rates. Now I’m on the topic of finances, I just have to say that we have done rather badly in terms of savings. This wasn’t because we went on a huge spending spree. We had strategic investments i.e. payments to make. For one, I finished making payments on my laptop and we also bought a used car from Matt’s friend (which was a steal). Nevertheless, I’m forging ahead and I clearly won’t make my saving amount of ~$5, 000 for the year (although that goal was set while at my previous job).

The Suntrust account is still 75% paid off and I’m disappointed that I didn’t do more to get this figure up. Nevertheless, my financial goals (going into the new year) will be:

  1. Keep making “payments” to our ING Direct savings accounts: Again, it bears repeating that everyone needs an emergency fund. Ideally, this should be 3 – 6 mths worth of money that will allow you to ride out the loss of 1 income source, a health issue, a car wreck, etc. We technically don’t even have an emergency fund yet because once I remove the cost of our current liabilities (just 1 credit card), we’re left with not much. These payments will occur monthly and the deposit will be at least $150 each time.
  2. Pay off Suntrust credit card before April 2009: This is a rather modest goal and definitely eases the pressure. We have enough room to keep making just the minimum payments, but I’ve been reading horror stories about people who saw their lines of credit cut in half & their credit scores plummeting. I definitely want to keep my score (~ 720 in all 3 credit bureaus) looking the way it is. ๐Ÿ™‚
  3. Resume payments to Fidelity ROTH IRA: Since the purchase of my laptop and other big ticket items, I put my payments on hold. I haven’t actually begun investing the current funds in my ROTH IRA because it needs to be at $2,500 or above in order not to incur yearly (not sure if they are monthly) fees for making investments in mutual funds. The only way to get around those pesky fees is to commit to making automatic payments of $200 or more in order to invest in mutual funds.
  4. Consolidate my retirement accounts: Actually, this is already done because I’ve got my employer’s matches going into a Fidelity retirement account as well as my contributions. Fidelity’s also the holder of my ROTH IRA. The consolidation largely refers to the previous holder of my retirement account. It should be interesting how this all plays out on my taxes filings.matt
  5. Figure out investment options with Matt’s retirement account: His rate of return is currently -26% while mine is -1.8%. Now, my low rate of return is largely because Fidelity (for some reason) has about half of my stuff in a money market account. I’m sure when all that’s migrated to actual investments, I’ll see my rateร‚ย  of return get lowers. Now, Matt’s retirement account is managed by Merrill Lynch and while they provide a more hands-on approach, their selection is a little bit limited (not to mention confusing!). I just want to put his funds into an investment “bucket” (so to speak) because they takes the headache out of managing his account. I adjusted his investments to spread the risk so I’m hoping that it will stem the bloodletting. lol.

Enough of the money talk. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m currently jamming to some Alicia Keys. Peace and I’m out!

Financial recap and other musings

So, I haven’t said much about savings, retirement planning et cetera. In fact, all that stuff seems trivial in the face of the real depression-style era that is looming ahead of us if things continue as they have in the US lately. The economy is in a free-fall as more people and investor panic and yank their money out of the system. I don’t blame them, but it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. *shudders* Anyhow, I’m not retiring anytime soon so I hope that my investments will stand the test of time. I’m sorely tempted to do the usual trick of investors i.e buying stocks at low prices, but what if they never recover? Well, that was not the sole focus of this post. I was going to talk about our energy usage and brag a little bit even about how two of us are keeping a low energy footprint in our apartment in the face of a hot summer and now, perhaps an unusually cool winter? Here’s a chart I whipped up in Excel:
As you can see, we haven’t even cracked $42 in bill payments yet! Clearly, we’ve shot up during the summer, but not enough to get me worried. My guess for this winter will be that we won’t hit $50, but I anticipate running some standalone heating elements because I’m really anti-cold. ๐Ÿ™‚ According to M, reason number 2001 to have more body fat. Here are the actual numbers:
Now, if only other areas of expense resemble our energy costs! In fact, our utilities are the most stable liabilities we have i.e. internet and energy. Food and Gas are the current major money guzzlers and we are working on a means to cook at home more. We are paying the price of eating out and constantly having excuses for not cooking at home. Heck, I can’t count how many items have gone bad because we didn’t cook them in time.

Payday is nigh and I’m already feeling pinched! Here is a quick breakdown of some of the pre-programmed expenses I have:

Jane’s expenses
HP Laptop Credit Card $500
SunTrust Credit Card $100
Roth IRA $200
ING Direct Savings $250
Rent $275
Cellphone $50

Now, in a sick and twisted way, seeing the expenses laid out gives me courage to keep going on because I know that my aggressive strategy will pay off! For instance, after another such $500 payment to the HP laptop fund, I’ll have an extra $500 to “play” with. We have slowed off on the SunTrust payoff, but I’ve been snowflaking little amounts to it so I fully expect to have a balance of zero by the end of the year. I’ve been making little contributions to a christmas fund so that I’ll be able to get little tokens of appreciation for people. Overall, I don’t think our financial outlook is dire. After I got my laptop, things got thrown off kilter a little bit, but I definitely don’t regret that purchase. In a couple of years, I see myself upgrading the laptop i.e. giving Matt this one and getting the next OS upgrade that Microsoft has to offer. On that sombering note, I’ll sign off and I bid you all a good night!