Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Abandoning Early Retirement
January 7, 2017

I mentioned that I went on a brief early retirement kick a few months ago.

At the time, I had just switched to a new job that was proving to be completely unfulfilling. The pay was amazing, but I’ve learned that no amount of money can really make up for a boring job. Although I knew realistically that I could leave whenever I wanted (my old bosses wanted me back, and I had offers from another company), the day-to-day reality of waking up and going to that job wore me down.

The timing for this malaise was especially bad since we’d just bought our house and wanted to try for Baby #2.  I punched number after number into J Money’s Retirement Calculator, tweaking the numbers for every possible eventuality. I started reading blogs like Freedom 35 and Early Retirement Extreme and even Mr. Money Mustache, at least until the hyper-frugalism and frugal smugness grated too hard.

Early retirement is only slightly easier to plan for than regular retirement.  Would we keep the house or sell and move to a lower cost of living area? Would we downgrade to less demanding jobs or work part-time or just be bums? Every set of numbers had a different set of assumptions, and this can make the answer really different.

Interestingly, though, one truth became clear: people can retire – are retiring – on what we currently have saved.

And like a baby sucking its thumb or hugging a teddy bear, my calculations were soothing to me.

I’d done something similar when I hated my first job and considered going back to school full-time.  Calculating living expenses vs. savings and knowing that I could quit at any time and still finish school made it easier to go to that soul-sucking job every day.

(Of course, I’m older and wiser now and more skilled and more likely to speak up for myself.  I went to my boss and told him it wasn’t working.  He immediately changed my duties to be more in line with my experience and the job I hated quickly became a job I loved. Early retirement suddenly seemed way less important.)

Still, the knowledge that I really wasn’t tethered to a job – any job – was a little eye-opening.

Realistically, I get way too many of my feelings of self-worth from working. I also have a pretty neat job in a really cool industry where I get paid a healthy salary. And even if admitting this makes me a  terrible mother, I’m also way more partial to working than to childcare (sometimes it’s just nice to sit and drink a whole cup of coffee while it’s still hot, you know?), though Mom Guilt often sneaks in and it’s hard to balance everything.

So what do you do when you’re sort of financially independent except you’re risk averse and not interested in not working?

I was inspired by a former coworker who worked 2 days a week for about 10 years. Her resume has no gaps, and I doubt any future employers will ask her if she worked 40 hours per week during those years. I wasn’t interested in working quite that little (plus we depend on my benefits too much).

Our solution is for D and me to each work 4-day weeks.  This gives each of us a chance to get chores and errands done, or to spend an extra day with the kids. With the arrival of Baby #2, it was a good opportunity to ask our bosses for these reduced schedules.

My concern in the short term will be my control freak tendancies at work and the lack of understanding from our coworkers.  I found that three days a week was too hard – too hard to get my work done, too hard to meet with other employees, and too hard to be as involved as I wanted to be with our projects.  I also got a little bit of pushback from some coworkers. Why can’t we have a meeting on [day you’re taking off]? Can you cover XYZ that’s not only on your day off but also at 8pm? How long are you going to be part-time? Etc.

In theory, this does make our nominal budget very tight, especially since the two biggest line items – mortgage and daycare costs – are relatively fixed. That said, we can always work more if money becomes a problem.  Right now, the lowered stress and extra time with our kids seem to be in far shorter supply.

What would you do with almost financial independence but with a lot of uncertainty?


4 years later…
November 18, 2016

*cracks open wordpress, bats fly out*

It has been nearly 4 years since I wrote an entry.  I had no plans to stop blogging, though by that point I think my updates were coming monthly.

When I wrote that last post, I didn’t even know I was pregnant.

I lost that baby.

It was already dead, though my body (for whatever reason) decided to hold onto it for an extra month.

At the time, we’d been struggling with some fertility issues. Minor surgery corrected the problem, but we’d been trying for nearly 2 years by that point.

It was a blow.

I didn’t realize then how common miscarriages are.

At the time, I think I considered writing a post about it, but it was still so raw.  As time stretched on, it seemed exhausting to go back and share everything.  Finances didn’t seem important (and by that point, as DINKS with engineer salaries, it was a steady drumbeat of automated savings… fun to watch it grow, but nothing interesting to share).

I got pregnant again.  I held my breath, keeping it a secret as if that would keep this baby safe.

He’ll be three in February.

Baby #2 was born in August. I go back to work on Monday.

We bought a house.  We bought another new car. I switched jobs after my promotion was denied 3 years in a row. I started teaching yoga classes. We’re inching closer and closer to major net worth milestones, we surpassed various salary milestones. We itemized taxes for the first time.

I’ve wanted to blog again, now that there are so many more things to think about.  How we’ll pay down our mortgage.  How we’ll afford $30,000 for daycare for both kids. How we’ll handle college savings.  How we’ll manage to keep our house clean with both of us working full-time.

I’m still reading most of the blogs I used to (the ones that are still going), though I don’t think I’ve commented.  I was also reading a lot of Early Retirement blogs for a while, though I’m off that kick now.

I don’t know that I’ll blog again, but that’s what has been up with me.

Miss you.

Eyewear Sticker Shock
October 4, 2012

I’m lucky enough to have avoided most health problems in my life, with one exception: my eyesight is terrible.  When I was twelve, my dad (who also has bad eyesight) tried on my glasses and was amazed that the prescription was so close to his own.  Luckily, my prescription has tapered off by now, but I still need glasses and/or contacts to function like a normal human.

I went to the eye doctor last week to update my prescription and order new contacts and glasses. I have one pair of contacts left, so I need to reorder. I haven’t had new glasses in years, but the anti-glare coating on my current pair has started flaking off, so they need to be replaced.

Right now I’m going through a little bit of sticker shock!

For contacts, the doctor is saying I should go for daily lenses.  They gave me some free daily lenses to try out, and let me tell you, those things are luxurious.  No need to worry about remembering to pack a contact case or solution, no need to track how long it has been since I last swapped to a fresh pair.

However, do you know how much those things cost?? It’s $650 per year.  Normal 2-week lenses are only $250 for a year.  I am also worried about how much waste goes into the daily lenses.  That’s 730 little plastic blister packs with foil seals.  That’s a lot!  And it seems like such a stupid thing to worry about (especially since I contribute my fair share of waste to landfills), but seeing the pile from just a week of these babies made me feel like a bad global citizen.

I was considering getting a 6-month supply of daily lenses and then just wearing them half-time with glasses, which would at least decrease the cost/guilt slightly.

Unfortunately, it looks like glasses are going to be expensive too!  My insurance will only cover a specific amount for either glasses or contacts, so either way I’ll have to cover a chunk of cash.  Here is the glasses breakdown:

Frames: $250 (The cheapest pair they had were about $200, my favorites were, of course, around the $400 mark)
Lenses: $100 for thicker lenses OR $200 for thinner lenses, + $100 for anti-glare coatings

I could keep my old frames, but in all honesty, they have not fit properly since I bought them.  They look good on my face, but they slide down my nose.  Plus the plastic is discolored in places (and oh my gosh I walk around like that all the time, what is wrong with me).  The lenses would definitely need to be replaced, which I might end up also doing to have a backup pair.

I’ve also been looking at some of the online retailers that promise glasses for $100, but I’m a little wary of them.  Maybe as a backup, but that still means spending the $400 – $600 on the primary pair.

The debate in my mind seems a little silly since obviously I need to see, but at the same time, it makes sense to optimize my spending, especially when we’re talking about over $1000.

Do you wear glasses/contacts?  What kind do you use, and how much do you pay?

What I’ve been up to
September 14, 2012

One of the most most difficult parts about being a slacker blogger is that each week I skip posting, there’s more and more stuff I want/need to post about.  Posting goals & wrap-ups as my two posts a month just feels like cheating, so I skipped those too.  This is stupider, since now it has been 6 weeks since my last post (boo).

Is it more forgivable if I don’t have internet access at work?  One of my coworkers was just fired for looking at “obscene material” (!!) on his work computer, so now no one can access anything outside our company’s intranet.  We can access company websites, that’s it.  I’ve started taking cell phone breaks (because we can’t have those either, lest someone take a picture of some drawing and sell them to a competitor. Which has happened.) at lunchtime, but it’s really hard to blog on that thing!  It’s hard enough to send a decipherable text message.

So here you go.  An infodump.


So… we have two incomes again.  This is a magical thing!  The problem? I forget that after a few years of “famine” (and since our household income has been above $100,000 each year thanks to D’s grad school stipends, I mean it’s like a famine where you have to eat cheddar and drink apple juice instead of having caviar & wine) it’s not a good idea to gorge yourself on everything you’ve been missing.  We basically spent D’s 2012 after-tax income on a new car.  Then we booked a trip to Hawaii (we have a travel fund that should just about cover it, but still!).  We’ve been taking weekend trips and buying brand name groceries.

I’m aware this is all very tame.  But for someone who blogs about personal finance, this is rock bottom or a cry for help or SOMETHING.

(These are First World Problems.)

Now I’m itching to make The Biggest Purchase of my life.  I’ve been looking at houses on Zillow, and all of a sudden, I want one.  Badly.  If certain houses on Zillow had a Buy It Now option, I’d probably have 5 or 6 by now.  My brain keeps running the numbers and saying, “If you just wait a little longer…” and I calm down for a day or two and then one of my favorite houses sells and I panic all over again.

D and I have agreed not to do anything until after my sister’s wedding.  We at least have to replenish our savings accounts!


Remember how I was going to buy quality not quantity and stop shopping at Old Navy?  Yeah, not so much.  You see, I accidentally lost 10 pounds (accidentally- see my explanation below) and then none of my clothes fit.  And of course, I sold off or donated most of my smaller clothes last year, thinking, “There’s no way I’ll be that small again.”  I’ve been wearing most of my too-large clothes anyway, but sometimes it’s hard to ignore that I look frumpy.

Since the whole thing was an accident, I assume that this size is temporary.  I think my body generally prefers to be about 5 lbs heavier, which puts me right back in my bigger clothes.  So I’ve been justifying cheaper shopping sprees.

Also, my personal budget keeps getting eaten up by yoga classes and iPhone apps.

That said, I’ve been enjoying buying some accessories (they always fit!).  My quality-over-quantity purchases this year have been a Kate Spade necklace (it’s reversible!  Which means I got TWO expensive necklaces for the price of ONE exorbitantly expensive necklace!) and a J. Crew purse.  Both were more than 50% off but still cost well above what I’ve ever spent on one item.


I started taking a kickboxing class!  I even did something out of character and bought gloves after 2 classes.  This is something normal people do all the time, but I am so cheap that I won’t buy yoga accessories and I’ve been doing yoga regularly for 3 years now. The gloves are blue and I like to tell people that I bought them because they match my new purse.

It’s a lot of fun, even if I end up with bruises from kicking the pads wrong.

I said above that I accidentally lost weight.  This is an obnoxious thing to say.

The truth: I tend to eat whatever D eats.  When D went on a diet earlier this year, I was eating less without thinking about it.  I still worked out at the same level, but I was actually eating healthy.  Will this continue once D moves on to maintaining?  Maybe, but I’m not holding out much hope.


Work is going well.  My boss is putting me in for a raise!  It’s not a sure thing – I’m just at the cusp of the experience level – but I sent her an updated resume that basically plagiarizes the  job postings they’ve had for the next salary level.  Fingers crossed!

So what have you been up to?  I still have 200 unread posts in my Google Reader (this is down from 500!), but slowly & surely, I’m catching up on everyone’s lives!

Uncertainty Kills Me
May 10, 2012

I confess: I love structure.  I like it when there are rules, when there are set plans, when each dollar has its assigned place.  This is probably why I love math & science, and also why I get such a kick out of personal finance.  There’s the natural order of things, a script.  This is probably also why I like baking more than cooking. Baking, the exact chemical reaction, vs. the freer nature of cooking (and that annoying thing where good cooks pretty much cook by instinct without measuring)? No contest!

By contrast, I’ve often felt stymied by literary analysis and film theory etc. (what do you mean there’s no right answer?).  I ignore investing advice because the stock market is so random – or at the very least, unpredictable.

And I hate waiting for things.  I hate not knowing the future.  I hate not having a plan.

D graduates in 2 weeks.  At this point, he’s interviewing for jobs, but not knowing is driving me crazy!  We always said if he can’t find work here, then we’ll move.  Of course, at what point do we give in and look elsewhere?  What do we do if one of us finds a job in a new place and the other doesn’t?  Most importantly, how do I set up a budget without having any information about what our finances are going to look like?

In my saner moments, I know that the worst case is that we keep on as we have, with D pursuing… something, while I keep working at my job.  My job is awesome, it pays me very well, and I’m lucky to have something that can support our family.  Best case is that D finds something here that pays well and we do all the grownup things we’re supposed to do next: house, baby, etc.  And there are a million other possibilities, such as we move to a new state or a new country or we quit our jobs and travel for a few years (not that that last thing is in serious contention, but you never know!).

I know some people would love to have wide open possibilities.  I just find it terrifying. I want a plan!

I guess I just need to wait a few more weeks, and by then we’ll probably know what will happen.  Until then, I’ll just have to be content with making plans for every eventuality.

Do you prefer to plan out the path of your life, or do you like to being freer to do what you please?

March 19, 2012

If you asked me on laundry day, or on Day 78 of a shopping ban/wear everything challenge, I would tell you that I have too many clothes. If you asked me at 7am on a weekday, I would tell you that I need to go shopping because I have nothing to wear to work today.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it on the blog or just on Twitter, but I repeated my challenge to ban all shopping until I’d worn everything in my closet. I’m getting down to the wire (although technically I’ve broken the ban by buying emergency underwear when I forgot to pack panties for a weekend vacation), and both the itch to shop and the itch to purge are in full force. Yes, I am aware that those 2 things are somewhat contradictory.

Here is part of the problem:


Those are my 3 magenta clutch purses. Not shown is a larger magenta tote. I would say that 4 magenta purses is too many, especially when 3 of them are so very similar!

In my defense, 3 of said purses were gifts (2 of the clutches were from the same person!). And they do all serve slightly different purposes: one is fancy, one is casual, and one is a luxe suede that could go either way. I’ve gotten compliments on all 3.

It’s clear that I need to let at least 2 of these go, but I tend to be really sentimental about gifts. If someone put thought and effort into choosing a gift for me, how do I just throw it in the Donate pile?

My sentimentality made sure these purses made it through my last purge, but decluttering my closet for real means being a stone-hearted biatch.

And the worst part of all of this? I don’t even really like the color!

Do you hang onto gifts, even of they’re no longer “right?” What would you do if you had my purse problem?

The Life I Want vs. The Life I Have
February 13, 2012

D does not understand my interest in fashion. He likes to look fondly back on College Sarah, who rocked socks with sandals and only owned one other pair of shoes, whose tiny wardrobe couldn’t fill apartment closets, who could wake up and be on the bus to class in 10 minutes.  Grownup Sarah likes to wear skirts out to dinner, insists on wearing high heels on New Year’s Eve, and feels constantly self-conscious about how her hair looks.

We were taking a walk around our neighborhood today, and we got onto the topic of shopping for a life you wish you had vs. shopping for the life you’re actually living.

When shopping for clothes, I tend to make these giant leaps of reasoning. If I have this fancy dress then the exciting party invitations will start rolling in. If I have this beachy maxi dress then I will have a vacation where the long skirt flutters becomingly in the breeze as I stroll along the water’s edge. If I have that skirt then I will become leggy and slender and effortlessly cool like the model. If I have that suit then I will be capable and respected at work.

I like to think that I’m immune to marketing – after all, I’m not buying name-brand items or getting caught up in the Missoni for Target hoopla (thought I admit the Jason Wu stuff was cute) – but I’ve been fooled all the same. Why else would  I believe that I could buy myself into a life filled with parties and tropical vacations and a model’s body?

Worse still is that the life I shop for (or wish I could shop for) is a life I probably would not enjoy.  I enjoy dressing up, but I hate parties. They make me tense; I fret the whole time over making sure I say the right things. I don’t like the beach much either. My Irish-pale skin burns easily and I get bored after sunbathing for just an hour. I wouldn’t mind looking like a model, but I bet I’d have to stop eating cheeseburgers and pizza for dinner. I already am capable at work, so the suit may give me a confidence boost but not much else.

Often, the life we have is the life we really want, the life we’ve shaped through our decisions and the choices we make based on our own priorities. My imaginary shopping lists are just that, at least until my priorities change or we win the lottery.

What kind of life do you wish you had?  Have you shaped a different sort of life for yourself, or does your purchasing align with your dream life?

TurboTax Happy Hour Recap
February 5, 2012

It’s tax season!

I went to a happy hour sponsored by TurboTax on Wednesday, thanks to the lovely Brian from My Next Buck, who scored me an invitation.  We enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and drinks while TT showed off their new apps for phones and for the iPad.  I don’t have an iPad (woe), but the app for the phones was pretty cool – you take a picture of your W2 and it reads in all of your data from the picture.  We have too many things going on to use the 1040EZ (which is all the app is designed to handle by itself), but the app will transfer your data to the online system.  Which beats typing in all the numbers!

And no, I didn’t get paid to write a review or anything – although in the interest of full disclosure, I did have a beer and some crackers and dip. And I got a swag bag with some sweet TurboTax stuff (giveaway coming soon!). I also spent like $10 taking the Metro, and we have beer in our fridge, so I pretty much could have done the same thing at home for free.

It was fun to get to see everyone (Brian, J. Money, Shawanda, Stephen Popick), again; I haven’t made it to a DC Blogger Happy Hour since March of last year.  I also got to meet Ginger from Girls Just Wanna Have Funds, who is intimidatingly gorgeous and put-together in person, and TeacHer Finance, who is so nice and just 100% adorable and I wanted to steal her whole outfit. And some others whose blogs I can’t remember, but I’m not sure they’d want me posting their names on the internet, so.

A bunch of us left around the same time and ended up riding the train together.  Have you ever seen people talking about blogging on a train (OK, we also talked about mice and pets)?  That was us. And there were so many of us that we could have ganged up on anyone who thought we were creepy. We could have beaten them up with our TurboTax notebooks.


Anyway, giveaway coming soon, and I will hopefully get my February goals posted before the month is over. We’re hosting a SuperBowl party tomorrow, so maybe I’ll get the post up by Monday.

Have a great weekend!


Musing on Christmas Gifts
January 3, 2012

My parents offered to buy Chad and me a new TV for Christmas this year.

We’ve had a giant tube TV since we moved to California 6.5 years ago, a giant tube TV that also looked as though someone had taken a bite out of the side due to an accident on the moving van.  We’d been talking about getting a new one when Chad started working, a date that moved further away as Chad decided to go back to school full-time.

Instagram makes everything look classier than it really is.

Still, after upgrading the little TV we kept in our bedroom, we were itching for a new flatscreen in the living room.  The want got worse every time we came home from watching football in HD at our friends’ house (you just can’t tell if that player’s foot was in bounds when you’re watching in standard definition).

After dragging my parents to Costco to look at TVs one more time, they finally offered to buy us one for Christmas.  It took up all of our Christmas budget AND I won’t be getting a birthday present next year, but I would say it’s worth it!  We now have this 47″ monstrosity that dominates our living room and is complete overkill considering that we only sit about 5 yards from it.


We probably still could have seen that Penn State sucked, even in standard definition.

My original plan was to write a post titled “Gifts that cost money” and it would, of course, be about how upgrading our DirecTV to HD would increase our monthly bill by $XX, meaning the gift would commit us to enough extra money that we could buy the TV again.  I was not prepared for what actually what happened when we called: our bill dropped by $15 from the “discounted” price we had to call every 3 months to maintain.  And the features are a little better; we got the new dish for free, got the upgraded HD DVR and we can watch DVR’d shows in the bedroom.

No, we’re not “saving” any money, since we’re still shelling out $50/month to watch TV.  And while I still think the TV commits us to some extra expenses – shelling out for BlueRay versions of things, new cables required for everything, etc. – I still think it’s a fun gift.  I just wish we’d done it earlier in the football season!

Did you get any fun gifts this year?  Are they going to cost you extra, or save you some money?

Winter is here!
December 10, 2011

Here in DC, we’ve been enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures.  I’ve been enjoying the extension of fall, where I can pile on thin layers and cute coats, in contrast to winter, where I throw on my thickest sweater and unflattering puffy down coat and horrible faux Uggs and basically cease to look cute for the next 4 months.  I’ve also been enjoying our utility bills!  With no need for heat or air conditioning, they’re the lowest they’ve ever been.

I’ve been loathe to acknowledge the temperatures dropping.  But yesterday I had to scrape ice off my car for the first time, and apparently, our heat vampirism is no longer enough to keep our apartment toasty.  After a night of waking up freezing because Chad had wrapped the second comforter around himself again, leaving me nearly uncovered, I checked our thermostat.

55 degrees. Oh.

So the heat has been turned on, and we’ll probably have to keep it going until April.  Still, I’m glad I won’t be walking around my apartment wearing gloves this winter.

What’s your temperature limit? At what point is it too cold for you to keep your heat off anymore?  I work with a guy who said he keeps hims thermostat at 55 degrees when he’s home.  Could you do that?