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simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Tue May 12, 2015 10:00 pm
by shade-tree
Why am I here? (Here meaning, on the ERE forum)

Who knows how I found it, but I think I first came across the “Get Rich Slowly” blog a year or two ago, and was pretty interested in JD Roth’s personal story of getting control of his life and finances by living more simply. It seemed such a new and exciting idea! Then, I somehow found MMM, and he was like a punch in the face-- in the best possible way. Then from there, dug down and found the ERE blog, which seems like the essential, fundamental distillation for the whole philosophy of FI, simplicity and the philosophical question of why we are doing what we do with our time.

But even before finding those sources, I’d picked up a book, maybe ten years ago, by Lloyd Kahn called Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter, which includes examples of vernacular architecture (building shelter with what is handy), as well as everyone’s favorite shelter: the tiny house! I have since discovered that I am not the only person who is obsessed about tiny houses.

So, clearly, I’m attracted to simplicity and (moderate) minimalism and can look back at many times in my life I quit some busy-ness or moved into someplace smaller to make my life easier. I thought I was lazy, but maybe not. Along the way, I married, had a kid and started shopping at Target and here we are.

Where am I going?

This is a long, and probably boring story, for sure. So I'll break it up a bit, and I’ll talk about three BIG expenses that need to be subdued before anyone quits his or her job around here.

My husband and I have one child. This kid is in college. We started saving up as soon as he was born. We saved in bonds, some other funds, and in a 529 plan enough to pay for about 25% of the costs of 4 years at a state university. (Young parents- saving even a little bit will help!) He pays for a portion of his costs with summer work and student loans, and the rest we pay as we go (DH and I are not taking on debt for kid’s college). This expense is a big ticket item right now, but he has to graduate SOMEday, right? So that expense will end in the next couple of years.

Second, we live in a sensibly-sized house that we like. We owe about 45K on it. We are making extra payments so that we’ll pay it off within 3 years. (less if bonus or other extra income comes in). Maybe I’ll put a tiny house on the back lot when it’s paid off.

Third, health insurance and out of pocket medical costs take a big chunk of income. I think this topic is complex enough for its own post, so will save it for another day.

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Sat May 16, 2015 1:04 pm
by shade-tree
As promised, I was going to write about medical care. ugh.

First, I want to say that while I am firmly in the camp of taking personal responsibility for our own health, some of us win the health lottery, and some of us don’t. People can do a lot to stay healthy-- don’t smoke, exercise, eat lots of veg, alcohol in moderation, stay away from nuclear waste and so on. Because DH and I both have/had parents with heart disease we always worked to avoid their fate. DH I and I have been runners since our teens. He swims every week, goes on long rides and hikes with his buddies and is not overweight.

That said, DH, in his late 40’s (a couple of years ago) was diagnosed with a bad disease that will not be cured. Though thanks to science he can have a good quality of life for many years to come. For any disease, medical costs pile up highest at the beginning and end, i.e. diagnosis and end of life. At diagnosis there are scans, blood tests, biopsies and visits to other specialists for a second opinion. As it levels off, there is ongoing maintenance-- mainly drug costs, and the costs of professionals administering these drugs, which can still be significant. (Big pharma gotta get PAID, right?)

Our employer-sponsored HSA-plan insurance has adequate coverage and sensible premium costs but this plan does have a co-insurance requirement, up to a yearly maximum. For a family, this out of pocket max is $10,000 per year, so that’s what we have paid the past 2 years. However, after a friend recently asked a simple question that prompted some thinking, we realized that if I switch myself and child to my employer’s health plan, the co-insurance max will be for a single person, and will go down to $5,000. Since child and I are healthy and seeing the DR for preventative care, we’re unlikely to pay much out-of-pocket through my plan.

In conclusion, unlike the mortgage costs, and the college costs mentioned in the previous post, you can see that these big health care costs for us are not going away, so must always be a part of our FI plan.

One other piece of this story is that my income is about 25% of DH’s income. The low compensation is mainly because my job is part-time. I have been actively looking for full-time work for the past 2 years, (Interviews, but no offers. Very frustrating!) When I find well-paying, full-time work, DH can quit if he needs or wants to. Or, if in the coming years we can accumulate the right FI number to cover the medical costs in perpetuity, then my current income can probably sustain us for the long term.

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Mon May 18, 2015 2:06 pm
by George the original one
> Or, if in the coming years we can accumulate the right FI number to cover the medical costs in perpetuity, then my current
> income can probably sustain us for the long term.

Obamacare, if it continues and you live in the right state, might provide you the opportunity.

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Mon May 18, 2015 5:31 pm
by riparian
Yep! I have health insurance through the ACA and my out of pocket max is $750.

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Wed May 20, 2015 5:30 pm
by shade-tree
@george the original one, Thanks for mentioning that. Yes, Obamacare definitely has brought piece of mind with regard to job-switching and job-quitting as viable options!
@riparian Thanks for that info. Wow! $750 max sounds pretty good!

In general, it looks like the insurance plans in my state have OOP maximums similar to our current insurance plan. Maybe a low-low income would make us eligible for it, but I'm leery of the Medicaid expansion (low income) option for our situation. I have this perception that some providers don't want to accept patients with Medicaid, or that there are long waits for providers who do. But maybe this is just insurance company propaganda? Clearly more research is required! I appreciate being held accountable to report back.

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Sat May 23, 2015 5:05 pm
by shade-tree
A couple of days ago, I finished reading Elizabeth Warren's book from 2004, The two-income trap: Why Middle class Families are Going Broke.
I had been reading so many stories of awesome financial prowess here on the ERE forums and began reading the book with a not-very-receptive attitude. I found it challenging to keep reading at first. It's not very uplifting to read about families going broke because of bad luck.

But, once I got further into the book, I did like what she has to say. For example, her recommendation is that if a family is considering buying a house, but they can only qualify for a mortgage on both incomes, then they really shouldn't buy the house, because if one of them loses their job, they will probably also lose the house. Live below your means... Excellent advice!

In other life news, I have been thinking about taking up a hobby to replace the ridiculous TV watching habit I've been trying to ditch. Habits are hard to break! I do read a book or articles most days after dinner, but since my job involves lots of reading, it can feel like more work sometimes. I'm looking for something different, more hands-on to do. I do find yard word, especially pulling weeds, relaxing, but there's a limited weather window for that here. I eliminated a lot of clutter recently and think I got rid of a bunch of yarn, so don't suggest knitting. It's not going to happen. I think de-cluttering is my hobby these days, but that has to end at some point, unless I have reached some kind of in-coming, outgoing equilibrium?

simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Thu May 28, 2015 10:11 pm
by shade-tree
Yesterday I talked to DH about turning off the TV for the summer, for starters. After writing my last post here, I have been reading most nights after dinner and into prime time. But, he, a victim of the habit I started of turning on the TV at 8 pm would feel the pull to turn it on at that time. I needed to get him to go TV-free too, and of course, he was fine with it. It was MY habit, after all! We talked about unplugging Samsung and putting her in another room, but were too lazy, so settled on turning off the power strip which is kind of inconvenient to reach. That should be enough of a deterrent, right?

I don’t believe I am particularly susceptible to advertising--analyzing faulty ad logic is a favorite sport of our family. But, I do think that the stronger effect of TV on me is more subtle: the way the interior of a typical TV family’s home looks, the casual, yet expensive clothes and hairstyles they are wearing. These are images that work on me to encourage consumption, and are best for me to try to avoid.

TV watching, as well as a habit, is also a method of self-medication. It allows us to escape ourselves, and our own mental states. I don’t have PTSD or terrible childhood happenings, but I am sometimes obsessively thinking about work, or am just bored or irritated with people and want to escape with TV. Also, alcohol obviously can serve this self-medication purpose. I don’t know that alcohol is a problem or addiction in my case, but it is something I was using most days during 2014, a stressful year in which I was working two jobs, commuting a long way and feeling very stressed out about the future. Back down to one job, and miraculously, not drinking everyday! But some days still. Alcohol is kind of an expensive, unnecessary expense, and isn’t the whole point of why I’m writing to figure out where to cut unnecessary expense? To save enough money and not have to work two jobs and feel awful? Certainly we could do something else with that one hundred or two hundred a month, keeping that end goal in mind!

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Fri May 29, 2015 2:16 pm
by Peanut
I enjoyed reading your posts.

Sorry your DH is having health problems. One of the most difficult things for someone to deal with. Is there any possibility of getting it treated/buying drugs in Canada or elsewhere?

Speaking of health, I'll get back on my anti-alcohol hobby horse to suggest you look into the effects of regular alcohol consumption on women in particular. These are risks you don't need imo. Pot might be better for you if you really need to unwind.

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Sat May 30, 2015 6:56 pm
by shade-tree
Thanks, @peanut. I've read also that alcohol is a risk factor for cancer, so I agree, that's another reason to find a way to unwind without it.
Recreational Cannabis is now legal in my state, such a good thing. But I'm job-hunting, and some employers still drug test as a condition for employment, so I'm going to stay away from that for now. Yet another incentive for FI and early retirement!

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2015 7:23 pm
by shade-tree
As mentioned last week, the TV is off, so I've been reading. I picked up a gigantic book of Joan Didion's work and found this gem of a quotation

" is possible for people to be the unconscious instruments of values they would strenuously reject on a conscious level..."

These words invaded my consciousness for a day or two. Then, I came across a Jacob post ... ained.html about the four personality types, Guardians, Idealists, and some others, I forget the ones that didn't involve me. :lol: And I realized that I fit the description of the Idealist, because of my propensity for de-cluttering, and disliking jobs that don't accomplish something useful. And that's also why I found that quotation so meaningful, I think. I don't want to spend time doing work that doesn't matter, or is working against my values. (For the record, my current job DOES matter, and has value but I need it to pay me more)

But back to that quotation. Didion wrote within the context of feminism, but here's an example of unconsciousness at work. My neighbor out there has this vast, bleak expanse of mono-culture that requires about two-plus hours of gas-powered, noisy, carbon output to mow. We don't even live in the kind of neighborhood where this is mandatory-- no covenant or neighborhood association is pressuring him to do this. He's a good guy, and I know that he's concerned about climate change and environmental issues in general, I've talked with him about it! So why is he mowing so much lawn? He is AN UNCONSCIOUS INSTRUMENT of... I don't know, peer expectations, I guess? There's a strong need to display virtue through busyness. A man or woman with a big lawn has work to be done, and work is noble, regardless of its utility.

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Thu Jun 04, 2015 6:10 pm
by shade-tree
Let's tackle one improv-able area of spending: Food & groceries.

When we were a young couple, DH and I had a budget of $200 a week for everything after bills. So, groceries, movies, clothes all that. We (I) have experienced "budget creep" in this area. As we've gradually made more income, our budget has expanded to meet it. I still do frugal things --like buying items when they are on sale, not purchasing prepared foods, cooking with what's hanging around to avoid waste, but I can certainly do better.

I'm at the age where I don't feel I need to apologize. Like Oprah used to say, "When you know better, you do better." So here goes.

I found it helpful to divide the food spending into three categories:

Alcohol (I separate this out from the other categories using a receipt or my memory of)
Eating out
Grocery Store (this might include non-food, like toiletries, vitamins and so on. I'll try to split this further in future months to get a better handle on what's in there)

This is the breakdown for May, for two people, and included a couple of weekends when the college kid was home.

Alcohol $99.00
Eating out $274
Groceries $741

This alcohol amount was lower than it has been in past months, because I was cutting back & just not buying much. But $30 alone was on four drinks at a fancy dinner one night. There's room for improvement here, if we cut back (quit) and don't drink at restaurants.

Eating out. Ugh. This is hard. I LIKE to eat out. But, what I really like is eating at a place with food sourced responsibly and cooked with care, and where the employees are not over-worked, and I don't mind spending on that kind of meal occasionally. I don't like eating out on impulse-- i.e. when you go for a hike and everyone wants to stop at a gross chain restaurant on the drive back.

Groceries: This is a great challenge for me to reduce. I do cook vegetable-intensive meals from scratch-- I don't ever buy frozen pizzas or meals or anything like that. *I do have a weakness for a loaf of $6.00 crusty artisan bread*. But, I've recently learned how to cook it at home, so am buying less. We were vegans for 5 years, vegetarians for longer than that off and on. But my son turned out to be a really picky eater, and I was doing my best to model non-fussy eating when he was living at home, so expanded the menu a bit. He liked chicken, so we reintroduced some meat. We now eat chicken maybe once a week, fish maybe once a month. I know those meat products are a bit pricey per pound--esp. if you buy healthy kind, so I have been thinking about dropping meat again. I can take it or leave it. Luuuv me some Broccoli!

A specific grocery area that could be reduced is to buy fewer (or no) ENERGY BARS. I have stopped eating these, except on rare occasions, instead just eating some nuts and raisins in a hunger situation. My husband, OY! he eats at least one a day, and gets very defensive about cutting back. "A guy needs packaged ENERGY on a long bike ride!" I have tried to convince him that the awesome UltraMarathoner Scott Jurek just makes a vegan burrito, puts it in some tinfoil, sticks it in his pocket and, runs about a thousand miles a day, but this has not persuaded DH yet.

Action step:
I DID go to the big gigantic warehouse store yesterday and bought some staples, a strategy I haven't tried before. I spent $110 on
25# of white rice (.61 per pound!)
12# of brown,
3 lbs almonds
a lot of Raisins,
a lot of potatoes,
Energy Bars :( ( but low cost per unit there)
a big bag of coffee,
some sandwich bread (not that much of the total bill).

This seems like a bunch of $$, but unlike some of the shoppers there I didn't buy lawn furniture, a trampoline, pet accessories or any big TVs, so I saved money, fu sho! The rice and potatoes will probably last a few months. The coffee lasts about a month.
Hopefully doing this will help bring some costs down. But how does one store all this rice? I looked at storage containers (new), and they are expensive. If I buy one, It would take a while to amortize that out.

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 2:06 pm
by Angela
Hi shade-tree. Just read all the posts here. I sure feel for you and your DH and the medical issue. That is certainly something that can just throw a wrench in goals to get to financial independence.

It sounds like you have good plans to chip away at the other expenses though and I am glad to see you are working on the food expenditure so actively. That is certainly one area where we can exert a lot of control over how much we spend and on what since it is truly, daily consumption.

I eat my own eggs and my own lamb and am so fortunate to be in a salad bowl of a valley here where I live. Free and cheap vegetables and fruit abounds, especially in the fall when small gardeners are drowning in potatoes, apples, zucchini, squashes, pumpkin, NUTS (there are often free you-pick black walnuts listed on Craigslist), kale and other greens.

Tiny Houses! Yes, I am delighted with this whole movement. Trailers and RV's aren't as cute but are certainly cheaper. I'm thinking of housing myself in one for a while to save money before I build something more permanent. This is after I sell and find a bit of acreage to land on.

I'm not quite ready to let go of my cable and internet package. I really do like TV, especially now that DH is gone and I'm unemployed and am spending days and nights alone. And YouTube is a lot of education!

I'll be interested to see how you and your DH do with this issue too.

Glad to read along with your journey.

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 4:16 pm
by shade-tree
@Angela, Thanks for reading. Yes, the medical is an interesting, and unplanned challenge.
It's great to have your own food source on hand. Every spring I think of getting chickens, but as I've got a high raccoon (coyote, etc) concentration in my area, I know I'd need a pretty solid fortress for them to stay in at night and somehow never get around to building a chicken house.
I have just started learning about the food available on Craigs list, so will definitely check that out come harvest season.
I think you said you're in the Pacific Northwest, too? Now that it's light until 9:30, I can live without my TV, but when November hits and it's dark by 4:30, I have a feeling I will be turning it back on, so I hear ya!

simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Fri Jun 12, 2015 6:21 pm
by shade-tree
I’ll provide an update about the progress of food spending referenced above at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, there's good news. I have THREE job interviews next week.
+Job one is for an employer I really like and respect, and the job would be doing something I'm excited about and that meets my need for an equal proportion of collaborative and solo activity. But the commute would be VERY far, and the position is limited to one year. However, the organization is large, so there’s potential to move on to something else there when this assignment is done.
+Job two is kind of a long shot, but if this organization decides to take a gamble on me, It will be an excellent experience and opportunity, a permanent position and the commute is not bad at all.
+Job three is a decent-paying part-time job in a different work group at my current employer. I’d be able to do this to supplement my current work by walking upstairs. I am not crazy about this particular type of work, (way more human interaction than is optimal for me) but it sounds like it’s mine if I don't screw it up.

Of course having these as choices is contingent on being offered a position. As I mentioned earlier, I have had interviews--probably ten or twelve since I started job searching at the start of 2013. One interview resulted in hiring, but that was a temporary, half-time position. I am trying to transition from one career to another, similar one, and it’s difficult in this tight market to persuade employers that skill A is basically skill B, just with a different moniker. It’s also a disadvantage being over 40, and challenging to demonstrate skills like “time management” and multitasking when you’ve been working half time for a while. I always try to have a couple of jobs going, to address this.

Annnnd, If I’m 100% honest, and I think I can be here on the ERE forum-- I don’t really WANT full time work. (who does?!?!) But In order to get to a point where I can afford NOT to work, or to work less than full time, I do want the full-time pay, at least for a few more years to hit that target savings number.

Hopefully by this time next week, I’ll be crowing about my job offers. Wish me luck!

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Fri Jun 12, 2015 6:50 pm
by steveo73
There is some good stuff on this journal. Good luck !

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Fri Jun 19, 2015 12:47 pm
by shade-tree
First, thank you steveo73!
steveo73 wrote:There is some good stuff on this journal. Good luck !
Sorry, no news on the jobs front yet, other than that I survived week with THREE job interviews. Whew!

I have been reading again. TV is still off, so that’s what I do when it's too mosquito-ey outside.

Just finished a little book called Early Retirement Extreme. It’s quite good; I recommend it. ;) Just now I read the “Further Reading” list at the end of this book and found a list of titles, most of which I’d never even heard of, let alone read. I was excited to see one of my favorites, The Last American Man, on the list. (side note: Until my son was 14 or so, I’d read to him each night. After we graduated from picture books, we read The Hobbit, A couple of Harry Potters, many others, and I even read him this one.) The author, Elizabeth Gilbert is an engaging writer. Her portrait of Eustace, the man referred to in the title, sets him up as a sort of worship-worthy counterculture hero. But as well all know, when we meet a hero and get to know him well, his flaws are exposed, and we see that he is human after all.

In other reading reports, I read the book, Zero-Waste Home recently and yesterday 'liked' the author Bea Johnson’s page on FB. I saw a “you may also like” recommendation to view a page belonging to Beth Terry; “My plastic free life” and visited her page too. Terry recently did an AMA on Reddit and so, I read it. Miller’s AMA questioners contained mostly friendlies, but there were a number of angry questions from people who thought it was thoroughly un-American (my words) to not use plastic. I was surprised at the defensiveness caused by her proposition that we might avoid filling the ocean with plastic produce bags through personal choices!

Anyway, let me loop this back to the ERE book. In it, Jacob recommends the ERE equivalent of: “the first rule about fight club, is don’t talk about fight club”, in which the noun “fight club” is replaced by “Early Retirement.” (or even “plastic-free life”) He writes, “If you prefer to avoid confrontation, keep a low profile when it comes to this area of your life.” Probably a sound policy for most money/religion/politics issues BUT, secrecy can be rather isolating, don’t you think? I suppose that’s one reason why I like visiting this site so much, and why I am writing--to find other people who are sympathetic to “the cause.” But in real life, it’s tough. I’ll see someone eating leftovers at work, and think, “Yay, one of my people!” But then, I’ll have a conversation with them to find out they’re just saving up for a down payment on a new Humvee or something, sigh.

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Thu Jun 25, 2015 4:37 pm
by Angela
Hi shade-tree, just catching up on your recent posts. Glad you survived a three interview week!

You've got some interesting reading going too. I'm out with the livestock until quite late this time of year so I barely get a page read and fall asleep!

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Mon Jun 29, 2015 10:50 pm
by shade-tree
Thanks for checking in Angela. These long days are busy ones for farmers & livestock owners, it seems. I think more reading gets done in the winter for me. You say you're reading something interesting. Any recommendations?

Re: simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Sun Jul 05, 2015 4:19 pm
by shade-tree
I was offered two of the three jobs I applied for. I got the part time one, which wasn't a great surprise, and got the one I really wanted that's close to home. I should start it later this month. Yay!
See, the karma of ERE forums at work, only had to post 25 times to get it. :)

On the food spending front, June was not our best work. We did well when we were at home, but had two mini-vacations. DH had an out-of-state graduation to attend, and then we all flew to meet up with some other family on a different trip. There's just a lot of wine-drinking, eating out and shopping. We did try to eat in some days, but then this involved buying a lot of ingredients at the farmers market, and so it still got a bit out of hand.

Here's the damage.
Groceries: 567
Eating out: 500
Alcohol: 160
Total: $1227.

Obviously there were costs of flights and lodging as well, some of which was offset by my Capital One card's travel points.

DH's family lives on the other coast, and we both think it's important to see them regularly, so these travel costs are a necessary line item in the yearly budget. However, the overspending on food and other entertainments could certainly be reduced without hardship if we were all in the same mindset about spending. DH's family (sibs and cousins) all work VERY hard. And a strong work ethic is good! But several of them work hard to the detriment of health, relationships and financial security (make a lot, spend even more!). Working a lot allows them to feel secure. It's kind of like, "I work hard, so I don't have to worry" mentality. I think it's compensation for having a frugal upbringing alongside some very rich people. I have to note that my DH is good with money and balancing work and life (mostly), and I like to take credit for this mellowing influence on his familial predisposition to workaholism.

simplicity homework- a journal

Posted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 12:06 am
by shade-tree
I have been feeling kind of down the last couple of weeks triggered by some life-change event stress.

-Stressed out over the job change and the timing of it--A main concern is leaving old employer in a difficult/badly timed replacement situation. I gave two weeks' notice, then upped it to three upon request, (they want to the end of the quarter--8 weeks!) am still feeling guilty at disappointing somebody (it's my "nice girl" syndrome).
-Frying pan-to-fire concerns. Though my current job is irritating, and I'm five years past ready to be done with it, what if the new job is EVEN WORSE? Probably won't be, though, right? Can't be!
-My son's college grades. Why can't he just get good enough grades and not have to re-take required courses that cost us many extra $$? And why doesn't giving a long lecture to a 20-year-old about how he should do more homework and less *____ (fill in blank with appropriate time-wasting thing) seem to have the desired effect of improving his grades?!

A job-change is a fairly major life event--as defined in the often-referred-to Holmes and Rahe stress score list. Stress is also, of course, measured in how we personally perceive and deal with what's happening, the level of control we have over events, and so on. I kind of do and kind of don't have some control here, so mixed feelings about what should be a pretty happy new-job, more-pay occasion. (Who will take over my job? When will that happen and how can I make things go well for the people I work with) As far as my son's grades, well, I have zero control over those, regardless of how much yelling I do, so this is annoyingly stressful, though not life-altering.

The predictable effects of stress are wanting to do all the activities that I'm trying not to:

TV watching (have resisted thus far- am TV free since end of May!)
Drinking wine (not going totally crazy, but not exactly abstaining, either...)
Eating sugar (make Choc chip cookies and ate many of them)
Shopping (bought two air purifiers: I read something on the internets about dust, cat dander, mold, which compelled me to buy TWO of them. On the other hand, I did go to the mall to buy some work clothes, and bought none.