Category Archives: Saving Money

Personal Finance: Stuff to Think About

Every year, I try to share a few tips, tricks and other things that make a difference in our financial life.

The Marcus Savings Account by Goldman Sachs (yes it is called that) is currently yielding 2.25% interest. Seriously.

We use Mint to keep track of all of our spending in aggregate. In our opinion (mine and Marcus’) it is a terrible budgeting platform but we use that along with our Excel spreadsheet to run our actual budget. I also have friends who use You Need A Budget (YNAB) and love it. I will note that YNAB is a paid service.

ALDI. If you’re not doing it you need to give it a try. I could go on and on about the reasons why but ultimately unless you are shopping at a premium/gourmet grocery store, you are paying too much for your shopping experience (and your groceries). For example, at the beginning of January, there was one trip where I was able to purchase a few cases of Spindrift AND I found chicken thighs being sold for $0.79/lb with an additional $1.00 off the entire package. Their organic kids fruit and veggie pouches are like $0.79 per pouch. They have everything, the quality is great.

We have allowances each week that we use for meals out with friends and personal purchases (clothing, lattes, books, etc.). It gives us a way to have fun without paying attention to what the other person is spending.

Finding a method to curb impulse spending. A great one I have found is to keep a list on my iPhone of the things I want to buy. If it isn’t already on the list I cannot buy it.

We accept basically all hand-me-downs we are offered for the kids and we work to purchase as much of their clothing as possible used. Until 2018 I did not have as much energy for this but something clicked and now I do have the time to go to Goodwill, the local kids’ consignment shop, or garage sales or sometimes I’ll even use eBay. My mom and mother-in-law also help in the hunt. I manage this by keeping track of what I already have for them in their next sizes up. With this in mind, I know what to look for and can start looking 3-6 months in advance. We also pass things onto friends to keep the cycle going.

As always, if you have any tips and tricks that have worked for you this year, feel free to share them in the comments!

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The State of our Financial Union: 2019 is Here!

This is probably a much shorter post than many of you were expecting but there is only so much to be said.

This year we expect our overall savings rate to decrease significantly – we will be paying for two children to attend daycare and that costs a lot of money.  We all know! Critter didn’t start daycare until he was 19 months old and Glitter will not start until she is 16 months old. We are so lucky we have only had to pay for any daycare for a year and a half but like I said, now we will pay for two kids worth.

We will direct the majority (or all) of our savings efforts toward our retirement accounts. We will also maintain the same contributions to the kids’ 529 accounts. The only way that this will change is if we get raises or bonuses. In that case the money will go towards cash savings or charitable giving.

The biggest home improvement we plan to make is installing a large play set in our backyard. This is really a gift to ourselves.

We will maintain emergency funds for the possible situation in which we need to replace my 2006 Honda CRV or our 30 year old air conditioner and 20 year old furnace or everything. We hope we don’t have to replace anything but based on the ages I just listed, I am sure you can understand why we will always have to have a plan for this.

That’s a wrap! Feel free to share your own goals/questions/thoughts in the comments.

The State of our Financial Union: 2018 in Review

Why am I sharing this? As always, on the chance you are curious about what others do with their $$$. I’ll also share in separate posts what we are doing for 2019 and some tools or information sources I have found to be useful this year. As always, I’d love to hear what you are up to or any resources you want to share!

When I reflect on what we are doing financially, I give thanks to the Lord every day for provisioning us.  Marcus and I try to keep up our end of the bargain by being mindful of what we have, and by paying it forward to those who need it through acts of philanthropy and service.

Our Total Savings Rate was 23.7% of our net income. This was broken out as 70% into our retirement accounts (Roth 401(k)s), 21% into cash and 8% into 529 savings plans for Critter and Glitter’s education. I know that only totals 99% – I didn’t want to get into minutiae of percentages so I rounded. I am sure you all understand and directionally get where we are going here.

Charitable Giving comprised 4.11% of our net income.

Pre-Tax Accounts.  We continued to max out our HSA account because we have a high deductible health plan.  As everyone knows, when you have little ones you go to the doctor a lot.  So we spent all of it! We also maxed out our contributions to a dependent care FSA this year.  As I am sure we all know, that comes nowhere near paying for our full daycare need, but being able to set aside some of that money tax free really helps. 

You’ll notice that I did not list 401(k)s here.  That is because we participate in Roth 401(k)s post-tax instead of traditional pre-tax 401(k)s.  We also maintain separate Roth IRAs that we contribute to as we are able to in any given year.

Fin. I’ll post later this week/next week with our reality and plans for 2019 (Spoiler alert it involves doubling our daycare bill! Fun!).

The State of Our Financial Union: 2018 is Here!

YOU GUYS. I just don’t know what to say here. At the current moment we are not planning exotically interesting things financially. More stay the course.

As always we’ll contribute 10 – 11% of our income to our 401(k)s. We’ll plan to save another 10% of our post-tax income in cash and investments. Something that helps us with this strategy is that we do not spend our raises. Thus, we can increase our budget when we need to due to cost of living increases, but we still have some extra cushion.

What do we have planned?

We’ll max out a Dependent Care FSA. We have never had one of these before! It won’t fully cover this year’s daycare bill but it WILL lower our taxable income. WIN!

Continue to max out our HSA. Contribute to Section 529 plans for both children. Contribute to our 401(k)s and Roth IRA. Boring dot com. Planning on our future selves thanking our past selves for this.

Last year we maxed out our HSA and we spent all but $400 of it paying for Glitter’s birth and meeting our max out of pocket (party!). We’re hopeful we might be able to keep a little more cash in the HSA this year and actually invest it.

We’re planning for some (bigger) house purchases. We’ll be replacing both garage doors and openers this spring. It simply needs to be done. Our water softener has died (RIP) so we’re having a new one installed Friday. We also have saved to purchase a kitchen table (when we find it). I would like to (myself) paint our master bathroom. An entertainment center for the family room is on the way (and a new rug and lamp arrived earlier this month). All of these expenses are covered by the moving budget that we allocated last year – we didn’t spend all of the money in July when we moved because we knew it would take time to settle in and see what we needed.

Stay off cable TV.

We didn’t set up cable when we moved into our house and we plan to keep it this way. Instead we are using a combination of: an antenna (free TV from the air!!!), Sling, and Netflix. This combination allows us to watch all of the shows we love and thanks to Sling’s setup, we can watch TV when we want, not just live!

The State of our Financial Union: 2017 in Review

Why am I sharing this? As always, on the chance you are curious about what others do with their $$$. I’ll also share in separate posts what we are doing for 2018 and some tools or information sources I have found to be useful this year. As always, I’d love to hear what you are up to or any resources you want to share!

This was a banner year and I will just say outright I give thanks to the Lord every day for provisioning us. Marcus and I try to keep up our end of the bargain by being mindful of what we have, and by paying it forward to those who need it through financial donations and volunteerism.

Our post-tax savings rate (Roth 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, brokerage accounts, 529 plans, cold hard cash) was about 25% of our income this year. Pre-tax, we also maxed out an HSA (which we promptly spent most of having a baby!). Back pat, golf clap. What did we all do?

We saved some money.  Things that help us to achieve our savings goals: not spending our raises, living with my parents while we were trying to find a house. Other motivations: not wanting to worry about money. Ever.

We bought a house. Our overall cash stash decreased a bit this year because we were saving to purchase a house! That said, the down payment and repair/renovation money was always in its own silo if that makes sense? We always knew where and what it was going to. I will say that we greatly benefitted from the sale price of our home. There is a high demand in our market for “affordable” housing, which is what our townhouse was considered.

We sold some stuff.  Like the fan that was in the dining room of our house (who has a ceiling fan in their dining room?!).  The refrigerator in our basement.  The large sectional couch I should not have allowed into my house in the first place (it has a new life as a throne for a squad of Dungeons and Dragons players…seriously).  Our old patio furniture that does not fit on our new deck.  So we made a few extra bucks.  I also want to give a shout-out to Marcus for believing that we actually could sell that couch.  It took about three tries to find serious buyers but we did it!

We started using our Roth IRAs as a medium term savings vehicle. This is a longer story so it is going to be a separate post with some additional information so you can determine if this is right for you.

We pre-paid our 2018 property taxes.  To take advantage of current tax laws before the new tax laws go into effect for 2018. There is some debate about whether or not you can deduct these on your 2017 taxes. Either way we were going to pay the property taxes so this gives us our best shot at maximizing a tax benefit. If we didn’t pre-pay them our window of opportunity shrunk to zero.

We advanced some 2018 charitable giving into the end of 2017.  Again to take advantage of current tax laws before the new tax laws go into effect for 2018. We didn’t give anything we weren’t planning to already.

Tis the Season to be Spending

Over Thanksgiving weekend we ordered a new couch for our family room.

While we did a lot of important/functional design things to the house before/as we moved in, there were a lot of things we held off on until later. Like furnishing the family room and dining room in their entirety (our kitchen table is a card table right now). At some point I’ll write a post about what we did and why but today I’m looking at this from a different angle.

After scouting out couch options the weekend prior, we went back to HOM to make our purchase. When the couch our salesperson ordered rang in at $700 more than the base price (versus the “few hundred more” he indicated it would be), we looked in his expectant eyes and said Absolutely Not We’ll Take The Base Model Please.

This is the season where everyone is buying things.

If we are being absolutely honest, my holiday weekend shopping was straight-up practical.

I took part in an offer to buy $50 in gift cards at Caribou, get $10 free. Great. Free money to buy coffee I am going to drink anyway. $60 for 10 class pass to Blooma, the baby yoga studio where we attend tots yoga and barre class. Fantastic. $6/class for Glitter to nurse or cry through a class is much better than the regular (discounted) $18. Which, frankly, is not a cost I can abide.

15% Target.com on Cyber Monday plus 5% off using my RED Card? Shampoo and Conditioner, Contact Lens Solution, RX Bars, pants for Critter.

$10 gift card for spending $50 at Target? Prenatal vitamins.

IT IS CRAZY HERE.

Over the next six weeks you are going to be straight-up bombarded. By deals you cannot refuse for things you do not need. By picture-perfect social media posts of friends and friends-turned-strangers buying and receiving gifts or treating themselves to things that you could never fit into your budget.

It is hard because with social media we see all of these things instantaneously. It is hard because we know not the shoes they walk in. You will see the things that people have worked to save all year for and the things people are putting on maxed-out credit cards. And generally, you will never ever know the difference. You will just be told to keep up.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it’s okay to say no to that extra $700 you weren’t planning on. To take advantage of those deals to buy staples for your family. To sit this one out if it’s just not for you.

Buying/Selling a House with Redfin

Add this to the List Of Posts I’ve Been Meaning To Write But Have Not Had The Time To Hammer Out.

When we sold our townhouse and bought our current home, we did it through Redfin.  When we tell our friends we did this instead of using a “traditional” real estate agency in the area they usually have questions because they either (A) Have never heard of it or (B) Have heard of it but don’t really know what it is or (C) Want to know What On Earth We Were Thinking.

The best summary I can give is that from the buying side, it is like Uber but for real estate.  You have an app on your phone with access to all MLS listings.  You search for homes that fit within your specific criteria, like any other real estate website.  When you find a house you want to see, you request a showing and date/time and then Redfin matches you with an available agent.  You meet the agent at the house and you tour it.  If you want to view more than one house in a tour, then you drive your own car from house to house and meet the agent at each house.  You see a house you like?  They write the offer, negotiate, etc.

Honestly, the reason we know about Redfin (and felt comfortable trying them out!) was because my parents bought their home through Redfin in 2016.  They had a positive experience, so we felt like it was a decision we were comfortable making.

The best part (AKA the whole reason to do this) = if you buy your home through Redfin they refund you part of the commission they earn on the sale of the home.  For the house we just purchased, that was $2,600 we got back simply because we used them.

From the buying side, I will say the following:

  • While we worked with a primary agent, sometimes we saw houses with other agents.  This was not important to us.  If you only want to work with one person, this model will not work for you.
  • Since their agents aren’t getting paid in the same way as traditional real estate agents, they’re not overly motivated to sell you a house and they don’t get frustrated with you if you have toured, say, 20 of them and still haven’t found the right one.  This was especially important to us because the inventory in our market was really low and out of the 30 houses we saw, there were only two we put offers in on and only four or five that we seriously considered.
  • Many of the agents we worked with had “day” jobs and so there was a wide variety of skill levels.  We knew what we were looking for in a house.  We also knew what sorts of things we were looking at in a house (windows, water damage, age of the HVAC system, etc.).  If you are completely clueless, this may not be the route for you.

With all of that in mind, 100% we would use Redfin again as buyers.

From the selling side, based on what we paid in listing fees to sell our townhome, we saved $1500 compared to the fees charged by a traditional brokerage (they simply charge a lower percentage of listing than traditional brokerages). Redfin also provided us with a $250 “sparkle” fund reimbursement for the small improvements and repairs we made to the house to get it ready to sell.

Selling our house was a whirlwind, honestly.  We met with the listing agent in November just to get an idea of pricing and what we needed to do.  Once we were ready to move forward at the end of January, within the span of a week we had our house measured, photographed, listed, with God, I can’t remember 17 booked showings and an open house and by the end of the weekend a signed purchase agreement.

There were times where we felt communication was a bit rocky, but at the same time, for the amount of effort we had to put into selling our house (really not that much) and the amount of money we saved in total on the sales-side ($1,750!) I’d say things went swimmingly.  Frankly, they could have been outright mediocre and it still would have been worth the savings.

TL;DR Redfin is the Uber of homebuying, by using them for buying and selling, we saved a total of $4,350.  11/10 would use again.