Hard Choices, Home edition

Note: I wrote and scheduled this post before Coronavirus changed our lives. I decided to post it as is for my own future reference. Not sure yet how the tanking economy will impact our renovation plans.

As promised, here is list of home-related and other wants/needs that need prioritizing.

1) Tile the bathroom – $64 to $131 for 1 box of tiles, plus installation cost. A small bathroom is not normally a desireable thing. However in our case this allows us to splurge on higher-end tiles.

2) Sidings for house exterior – $5,000 Our home’s exterior paint is only three years old, so sidings are definitely a want. We are thinking of only adding front siding to save some bucks.

3)Backyard landscaping – $1000+? Our backyard is basically an uneven lot of dirt and weeds. We want to grade it with quality soil, level the terrain and add some gravel or pebbles. We may need to build small steps and a low wall. I would like to plant two trees; my husband is pushing for three. Update: We decided that one tree is enough.

We hope to cut costs by furnishing with second-hand finds and doing the design ourselves. But frankly after hours of scouring Pinterest, we still end up with uninspiring and awkward designs. Now I understand why good landscape designers can command big bucks.

4) Front yard and porch – $800? The most important thing for us is to make it a drought tolerant space. We also want to install a pathway from the sidewalk to the front porch, which could also use some improvement. We don’t need to buy a ton of plants since we already own a lot of succulents. Update: Porch alone will cost $900 for labor plus lumber. Ugh!

5) Garage door repair – $1,000? Our ancient garage closes on its own due to rusty hinges. My husband has gotten several quotes but we are debating manual versus electric with a remote. Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind getting a manual door if it saves a lot. I just wonder if this will be difficult to open when we get older.

6) Awnings for back patio area – $3,000? We need coverage if we want to enjoy the patio area and limit sun damage on our outdoor furniture. The problem is that there are so many options. Retractable or not? Sails? Awning with wires? Or should we suck it up and just get a large patio umbrella? Update: Bought umbrella for $200.

7) Two gates and a fence – $1,000 I grouped these together because they are all related to perimeter security. One gate is not closing properly; one “gate” is a currently a piece of heavy wood; one part of the back fence is ridiculously low (due to sinkage or leaning) and needs to be strengthened somehow. Update: $1,100 for gate repair.

8) Electrical work – $500? Our exterior outlets stopped working. I would also like to move one of the bathroom outlets, but that is purely a “want”.

After writing out this list, I realize it looks like we won the lottery or came into a large inheritance. While those things definitely did not happen, we did enjoy a bit of financial luck. Not enough to put us into the top 10 or even 20% or to quit working, but we were able to put down a larger down payment and still have leftover funds for renovations.

I also admit that we are sort of in denial about the money we need for retirement, medical bills, and the special needs trust.

What big items are on your wish list? What would you prioritize if you were me?

Hard Choices – Midlife Crisis Edition

Remember my last list of hard choices? Well, due to an “unexpected” purchase, I’ve decided to take the new bedframe off the list. I’m also down-sizing smartphone expectations.

1)  Trip to Europe – $2,000 to 2,300? Mid-life crisis. I can justify this but at the same time, I know it’s a bit crazy to travel to Europe by myself.

2) Replace Car #1- $25,000+? This would replace Car #1 which needs some costly repairs. We’re not sure it’s worth it.

3) Swim Lessons – $300 to $500? We need private lessons for special needs kiddos. $39 per lesson — yikes — but I’m shopping around.

4) NEW! Smartphones – $650 (?) for two. UPDATE: I think I’d rather pay closer to $100 and no more than $150 for a phone. Smartphone prices are crazy!

5) NEW! Lawyer – $5,000 –  This is a wild guess. I assume a first-time  consultation is free but we would need time/expertise to create a special needs trust and wills.

6) Apple software program – I’m leaving this at #5 because I can’t ask my husband to stick to a budget now that my trip is pending.

7) Car #2  We spent $584.85 in 2015 for repairs.  More repairs anticipated.

8) Foam mattress  UPDATE: $600-700  – I looked into reader suggestions and have discovered a lot of quality mattresses that cost much less than the $2,000 I had anticipated.

9) NEW! Bed frame – $550 – DELETED

In terms of justification, it’s easy to mentally subtract the $550 from the $2,000 trip and convince myself that the trip is ‘only’ an extra $1,450 in terms of planned spending. BUT I think that’s a bit of a cheat.

I may post more information. Or I may take this post down at some point. I thought I was immune to mid-life crisis type purchases. Oh well….

Advice? Have you ever splurged due to a mid-life crisis (or quarter life crisis)? Do you know anyone who has? 

Mid-life crisis image from The Other Side of the Equation.


Hard Choices, Part 7

We’ve been pretty good about keeping big expenses low for a few months. Then, all of a sudden, new BIG needs/wants spring up.

1)  Replace Car #1- $25,000+? This would replace Car #1 which needs some costly repairs. We’re not sure it’s worth it.

2) Swim Lessons – $300 to $500? We need private lessons for special needs kiddos. $39 per lesson — yikes — but I’m shopping around.

3) NEW! Smartphones – $650 (?) for two. Our phones are crapping out. I am willing to go with something in the $200 range but I think my husband would prefer something higher-end like the Samsung Galaxy S5 or S6. The lowest price I’ve seen for the S5 is $400.

UPDATE: I think I’d rather pay closer to $100 and no more than $150 for a phone. Smartphone prices are crazy!

4) NEW! Lawyer – $5,000 –  This is a wild guess. I assume a first-time  consultation is free but we would need time/expertise to create a special needs trust and wills.

5) Apple software program – I know my husband wants to get a new program. No idea of cost. I’m including this at #5 because he’s been complaining about his current program for weeks.

6) Car #2  We spent $584.85 in 2015 for repairs.  More repairs are probably needed this year.

7) Foam mattress  – $2,000 –  This has been on the “hard choices” list for a long time. Now I want a new bed frame, too.  UPDATE: $600-700  – I looked into reader suggestions and have discovered a lot of quality mattresses that cost much less than the $2,000! It looks this might move up the list.


8) NEW! Bed frame – $551 –  We still haven’t upgraded our 10+ year old mattress but now I want a new bed frame, too. I like a simple, modern style like one in the photo (left). For the frame only, it’s $551. Headboard is sold separately. I’m happy with our headboard but not sure how it will look with a new bed frame. Lifestyle inflation at work!

Since my last report, I’ve gotten retainer replacement ($400) and hub caps on Car #2 ($70).

What big items are on your wish list? What would you prioritize if you were me?

I Lost My 2016 Resolutions

I had a list of New Year’s Resolutions divided into categories: Work, Money, Personal and Relationships.  It was neatly typed up, with photos, printed out and pasted to the back of a daily planner.  A few days ago, I dumped the planner. I forgot that I hadn’t saved a copy of the NY Resolutions List.  Luckily, my finance and career-related resolutions were logged in an old blog post.

  1. Get my house in order with a will/special needs trust, life insurance, etc..
  2. Look into passive/side income. Research the rental market, perhaps increase funds in my peer-to-peer lending account.
  3. Focus at work.  I had 4 concrete actions to achieve this goal.
    1. Have only 2 tabs open on my computer at one time so that I’m not clicking between 5+ different websites.
    2. Read career-related books or articles during down time.
    3. Print out important information so that I really read it instead of scanning, as I tend to do with content on screen.
    4. Limit blog reading time to Grumpy Rumblings in the morning.

So far, I’ve been doing well with the “Focus at Work” goal.  I’m multi-tasking a lot less and absorbing more information. I also signed up for a conference in my field. I’m hoping that my employer will pay for it but it’s my personal goal to keep up with changes in my field and this conference was the most reasonably priced one I’ve seen in a while, and it’s local.  I’m extremely bad at networking but it’s important to keep your skills fresh and that’s my primary goal for going. I’m pretty excited because I haven’t invested any extra time or money into my career for years.

Even though I no longer have my resolutions list, I know that it included exercise (fail) and making time for friendships and spouse. I’ve been pretty good about planning outings with friends but that’s obviously an ongoing process. My spouse and I had an “accidental” date and it reminded me/us of our carefree pre-kids days. We’re planning another half-day lunch/outing soon.  We’re also going to a concert in a few weeks – my first in years! I can’t stress how important it is for us (and most couples) to find quality time together. Otherwise, most recent memories will be of family stuff, fights and chores. At least that’s the way it is for me.

I also added a shopping ban after a rather spendy January/February. I have some good tips on keeping to this ban which I’ll share at some later date.
Hope you’re doing well on your resolutions!

Financial Goals: The Long, Short & Middle Of It

I’ve been inspired by this post to list out our/my financial goals. I like the idea of planning out savings the same way you would plan out paying off debts using the Dave Ramsey snowball method.

Hopefully I will remember to refer to this and update as the years go by.

Short Term Goals (anything that needs attention in the next year):

Name: Maintain Emergency Fund
Life Reason: To give us the freedom to undergo hardship without stress
Terminal Amount: $40K (Source: Savings)
When goal needs to be met: Already met

Name: Car Replacement
Life Reason: We have 2 old cars but one is likely to die soon or cost too much to repair.
Terminal Amount: $25K
When goal needs to be met: September 2016

Once a short term goal is funded, you can immediately spend the funds, or save that money toward mid-term goals

Worthy Midterm Goals (anything that needs attention in between one year from and when we retire):

Name: House Down Payment
Life Reason: I would like to own a house that can be left to kids. However I firmly believe that most houses are not investments.
Terminal Amount: $200K
When goal needs to be met: 2017

Name: Life Insurance
Life Reason: We have a special needs child who will need financial help after we’re gone.
Terminal Amount: $100K*
When goal needs to be met: 2037-ish
* Truthfully I don’t know how much we need in this account. Several people have told me that the government programs will suffice, yet these are the same people who tend to favor budget cuts in government programs (which would include any program helping the disabled).

Long Term Goals:
Name: Retire
Life Reason: We want a comfortable retirement with ability to leave enough to our kids.
Terminal Amount: $1.5M indexed to inflation
When goal needs to be met: 2037-ish

While we’re okay in terms of emergency savings and our car goal, it seems highly unlikely that we can meet the 2 biggest goals — house down payment and retirement.  I am assuming that the house value will have to be a part of retirement or inheritance for kids.

How To Save When Your Spouse Is Not Interested In Finance

It’s very common for couples to have different spending / saving styles. Read this if you want good suggestions on how to get your spouse to be more frugal. (I’m assuming you’re the frugal spouse since this is finance blog.) Keep reading this post if you’re tired of attempting money talks with a partner who would rather gouge out his/her own eyes than read money blogs.

Without further ado, here are my uncommon, alternative “solutions” on how to save when your spouse is not interested in money.

  1. Your spouse keeps spending on “extras” because he/she has no idea how much money is needed for life’s necessities or future goals like retirement.  You’ve tried doing monthly/quarterly money talks over a romantic dinner. You’ve tried posting a picture of your future house on the fridge. Nothing has worked.  My solution: It’s time to get pro-active and set aside an amount via direct deposit to a retirement account (or accounts) each month. With time, the spouse gets used to a lower, net income.  Once in a while, he/she will ask “where does all our money go?” but their lack of interest in financial things will prevent a true investigation.
  2. Your spouse hates the idea of budgets. My solution: Get a joint credit card and have you and your spouse put most of your spending on this. The financially-savvy spouse can keep track of this by reviewing monthly credit card as well as bank statements for cash withdrawals.  Your spouse doesn’t have to know details but you can casually mention whether you’re in the red or black that month.
  3. Your spouse does not shop sales and wouldn’t know if a markdown is good or not anyway. My solutions:  1) Share drugstore and supermarket loyalty cards.  Every few weeks, CVS emails special offers such as “Spend $15, Save $5” or “Save 15% off your entire purchase”.  These are printable but can also be sent directly to your loyalty card. My husband shops at CVS without regard to sales but he is more than happy to see extra savings at check-out. 2) Get your spouse to try generic brands. Over time, you’ll find many items that are just as good as brand names. This is an easy way to save on groceries/household goods without using coupons.  3) Finally, be your household’s shopping ninja. Stock up on necessities during sales. Even if only half the household is saving money, that’s better than none.

However, it’s important NOT to think of money as his and hers, i.e. separate. At the end of the day, your finances affect each other.  On a day to day level, if you both spend without regard to household income/savings, it will be extremely difficult to save money for “bigger” things such as vacations, cars or home renovations.  At retirement, you will both need to have enough money to live on. You can’t eat caviar while the other one eats tuna!

To summarize, if your spouse is not interested in fiances and you want to save, practice deceit, take on the saving ninja role, and let it go because trying to change someone is impossible.

Of course the dividing line between frugal and non-frugal isn’t really clear cut. In our case, we usually agree on big expenses (which is important). Also, with time, we’ve influenced each other in good ways. I’ve learned to spend more freely. My husband has learned to hate late fees with a passion. He also asks me to find coupon codes before making most online purchases. Baby steps, baby steps…

Money Lessons From De-cluttering

I suffer from “sunk-cost fallacy“.  The term is used in economics and business to refer to a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered*.  For example, an investor bought a stock in a company for $100 a share. Subsequently, the company starts failing. The stock drops in price…$80 down to $70 down to $30 etc.. The investor holds onto the stock because s/he doesn’t want to lose more money (see loss aversion), regardless of the fact that the company is doing poorly.

How does this relate to de-cluttering efforts?  Like many people, I’ve held onto clothing and shoes that no longer fit, are not my style, have sentimental value (gift), wore once, etc.. simply because I attached a certain price to these items. Rationally, the money is already spent and if I don’t like the item, I should get rid of it. I could even sell it to recoup some of the cost. Instead I hold onto the clothing item because of sunk-cost fallacy.**

This weekend, I finally managed to really clear out my closet. For some items, I threw them in a donation bag and waited a few days to see if I would change my mind. Finally, I managed to donate these.

*Disclaimer: I’m not an economist. 

** Again, I’m not an economist.

I spent way too much on kids clothing.  I don’t need a shopping ban for myself. I need to rein in my spending on the kids! I now have 2 bins in the closet for “extra” clothing — i.e. clothes that fit them but are redundant. How many rugby polo shirts can a kid wear in one lifetime?

De-cluttering can save money. Now that things are grouped together and I can easily assess what I/we actually own, I feel like I will make much better spending decisions. Oh, I should give kudos to this book review post that helped me let go of more stuff.


Re-organizing can cost money. Even though i focused on de-cluttering, I did buy some storage and shelving to better organize some closets. I can also understand the allure of the Container Store!  My Cost breakdown (so far):

  1. $30.45 for plastic storage carts
  2. $13.07 for hamper (RETURNED)
  3. $35.50 for stackable cubes (RETURNED)
  4. $25.00 for clothes to replace clothes I dumped (!)

I’m proud that I was able to re-purposed items to use as a charging station, book ends and miscellaneous storage.

All in all, I’m happy, probably way too happy, that I took the time to de-clutter and re-organize. The garage is another story for another day….


Time vs. Money Or Another Reason Being Middle-Class Sucks

Do you ever feel like you often have to choose between saving time or money? I do. That’s not to say it’s always a choice between one or the other, but it sure seems like it.  If you’re poor, you often have to save money and spend the time. If you’re rich, it’s a easy to save time by spending money.

timemoneyTake the example of hiring cleaning help. If you’re barely scraping by, there’s no way you could justify spending money on this luxury. If you’re rich, there’s no way you would clean the mansion all by yourself.  The assumption is that if your time is worth a $$$$ amount per hour and that time should not be taken up by chores.

However, if you’re in the middle, there isn’t a simple answer. You have to weigh the pros and cons of both options. For example, if it’s a particularly expensive month, I may have to skip the cleaning service. However, if my husband or I are extremely busy with work, spending money for cleaning is a much better option. Of course, oftentimes, we’re extremely busy during a high-spending month, at which point we are paralyzed by indecision.

In short, being middle-class sucks.

Retired by 50?

Many finance bloggers are on the Early Retirement track.  They save a high percentage of their income in order to get out of the rat face, preferably no later than age 40. While early retirement has never been my top priority, I can see the attraction of spending more time on doing things you love/like and with friends and family.

However, I have seen way too many older workers get laid off in their 40s and 50s who are then unable to find a new job.  Maybe a forced Early Retirement will be the new normal?


As I approach my mid-40s, it’s hard not to wonder if I’m next on the cutting block. I enjoy learning new things and am relatively digital-savvy but I still find it hard to keep on top of technological changes. When I first got a smartphone, I had to ask a younger co-worker how to use it!  I still have no clue about Apple TV or other ways of streaming video to your TV set. I rarely use Twitter and haven’t even tried SnapChat or Instagram.

There’s a huge difference between getting laid off in your 20s/30s than in your 40s or 50s. Age discrimination is very real in corporate circles, from the lower echelons up to middle management. Even an experienced middle-aged manager with a stellar history can be passed over in favor of someone younger who is experienced but presumed to be more, tech-savvy and less expensive.

I’m not so much as focused on retiring in my 40s as NOT being retired by age 50 or sooner!