October 2017 Net Worth Update

October was another great month for the DIY$ household. We had a lot going on financially but were still able to increase our net worth by $15k to $715,925.

Here’s how it went down:

CASH

Our cash balance got decimated this month. We paid almost $4k for our new patio that finally got completed, and also bought a new car. A lot of the cash had been earmarked for a car anyways, so this isn’t entirely unplanned. We’d rather keep our cash balance above $20k though, so we have some rebuilding to do. We should only be below $20k for a couple of months.

INVESTMENTS

Each month we add about $1,600 to our investments accounts, almost all of which is tracking the S&P 500. The S&P was up 2.2% in October, so this explains the vast majority of the change in our investments.

Investing in index funds certainly isn’t the most exciting way to build wealth, but it makes for one less thing to worry about. I don’t spend an incredible amount of time researching mutual funds but do periodically rebalance between US and international, large-cap and small/mid-cap.

While the majority of our investments are in index funds, we do make the occasional speculative investment. I do this to learn about new markets, keep a pulse on other trends, and sometimes just to have fun. The rule that we have set for ourselves is to have no more than 1% of our net worth tied up in our non-core index fund strategy.

As of right now, we are way under this limit, but some of our speculative investments currently include

  • Amazon (AMZN)
  • Bitcoin
  • Some REIT ETFs (MORL and NLY)
  • Various options trades – none at the moment, but I have historically traded spreads

CARS

We finally said goodbye to my trusty old Corolla. For weeks, I had been unsuccessfully making offers on cars but wasn’t having much luck getting what I considered a good deal. I was looking at newer Corollas, Camrys, and Fusions or slightly older Lexus in the $15k range. We ended up with a 2012 Lexus for right around $15k plus tax and traded in the Corolla.

I probably could have gotten an extra $1k or so if I sold the Corolla on my own vs trading it in, but I really value my privacy and time and didn’t relish the thought of having to meet up with random strangers from Facebook or Craigslist to sell it. I wasn’t pleased to trade the car in for less than my previous net worth calculations valued it but decided that it was worth avoiding the hassle.

If the Corolla was actually worth more than $2,500 I may have tried harder. Although it probably has another 100,000 miles left in it, the list of small things wrong with it was actually pretty long once I started to list them.

Here’s a list of some of the little things that were wrong with the Corolla:

  • Fading paint on the roof
  • Scratched/peeling tint on one window
  • Weatherstripping coming loose from one door
  • Broken latch holding down center console lid
  • Sunroof shade that wouldn’t close all the way
  • Squeaky A/C
  • A slight smell in warm weather that I never could put my finger on
  • A loose section of the body kit

The new car has none of these problems. In fact, it has quite a few upgrades that I’m really excited to have. The KBB when I bought the car showed that I paid right about what it was worth after taxes and fees, but by the end of the month it had dropped a couple of thousand.

HOUSE

A lot of our net worth increase came from the value of our home. The value still seems in line based on prices in the neighborhood. The house next door is still for sale, but I’m not surprised it hasn’t sold yet since there haven’t been many updates to it.

In October, we increased our payment slightly and will bump the payment amount up again starting in January. We’ve always paid extra, but haven’t been paying the maximum we could since we were building cash to buy a car. Now that we’ve bought the car, we’ll start to really attack the mortgage once our cash is back at a more comfortable level.

NET WORTH SUMMARY

With our net worth already exceeding our 2017 goal of $700k, I’ve been making some projections for our next goal/milestone. It no longer seems that out of reach to hit $1M by 2020, so that is going to be our new target. It still feels strange to be within sight of $1M, but so did getting to $500k just a few years ago.

Also, starting in January I am going to start including our 529 accounts with our net worth. Even though the money is earmarked for kid’s college it is still ours and we can technically use it for anything. We discussed it and just decided that it makes sense to include it.

Work 401k Seminar Prep

As part of my job, I was recently put in charge of hiring new graduates to join our finance department. Once they start, we pair them with a mentor and I stay in touch and offer career advice and guidance as needed.

As part of my ongoing advice and guidance, I’ll be hosting a 401k seminar later this month. This is the first time I’ve done something like this, and I’m honestly pretty excited. I’ve solicited questions from the group and a couple of themes have emerged. As part of my preparation, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on these topics.

To provide some context, the audience is all 20-something recent college graduates working at their first job. We pay them pretty well (mid 50’s), are in a lower cost-of-living area, and provide some amazing benefits. Our company offers an excellent 401k match and relatively short vesting period.

401k Match – this is ‘FREE MONEY’ and there are almost no good excuses for passing this up. As an incentive to get you to contribute to the account, employers will often provide matching contributions. Make sure you’re at least getting your full match.

Vesting Period: The money your employer puts in your 401k might require you stay working there for a period of time. I’ve seen as short as 2 years and as long as 7. If you leave the company before you are fully vested, you may forfeit some of the employer contributions. The money you put into a 401k from your paycheck is always yours and you’ll never have to give it back. 

Q: What is the difference between After/pre-tax contributions and which should be a priority?

A: We have the choice between traditional and Roth 4o1k’s. My general advice to anyone is to focus on Roth contributions. This is especially true for those who are young. The difference between the two is that you end up with lower take-home pay by doing Roth, but you end up with much more in retirement. Here’s a simple example:

Either way, a 6% contribution puts $3k into your 401k. The difference today is that if your contribution is in a Roth, you end up paying slightly more taxes now, but won’t ever have to pay taxes on that money again.

If you invest $3k per year for 30 years and it grows at 8% per year, you end up with $339,000. Not bad for only investing $90,000, right? But you will pay taxes when you withdraw if your contributions are made pre-tax (traditional). All of a sudden that $339,000 is more like $288,000 (15% taxes). It’s even less if you want to take out so much that you get pushed into a higher tax bracket.

On the other hand, if you had been making Roth contributions, that $339k is ALL YOURS. This is why I sometimes say that Traditional 401k/IRA’s include ‘Phantom Money’. Even though you see the balance, it’s not all yours unless it’s Roth.

My preference is to have all of my contributions go into Roth. Since employer contributions can’t go into Roth, I’d prefer to have as much as possible actually be MINE. For those currently doing pre-tax contributions, I’d consider transitioning your contributions over.

Q: Can you talk about 401k early withdrawal penalties and payback options?

A: Honestly, I’d rather not. Long term you’ll always be better off finding ways to avoid taking money out of your 401k before retirement. While you are actively employed, the only way to get money out of your 401k is to take a loan. Loans are paid back via increased payroll deduction. Although it is true that you pay yourself back with interest, the interest rate you pay yourself is generally much lower than the returns you’d be missing out on if the funds had stayed invested.

The big risk of a 401k loan is that if you leave the company, the balance of the loan is due in full within 60-days. Any amount left unpaid is considered an early withdrawal, taxed, and penalized (if you’re younger than 59 1/2).

Several in my audience may be considering going back to school for an MBA in the next few years. To them, I would recommend avoiding student loans but definitely plan ahead and do not rely on 401k funds to pay for the degree. Although there are provisions where Roth contributions can be withdrawn without penalty, I still believe that it should be avoided before retirement.

Q: What’s the right mix of stocks and bonds?

A: This is perhaps the hardest question to answer because there really is no one-size-fits-all answer. The right mix for each person depends on your goals and risk tolerance. You may have heard that in the early stages of your career you should be as aggressive as you can tolerate, but without having gone through a bear market it’s hard to really know your risk tolerance.

There are rules of thumb out there like “120 minus your age is the percentage you should have in stocks and the rest in bonds”. Rather than give that blanket statement, allow me to share how my asset allocation has shifted over the years.

My Asset Allocation History

When I started my first 401k, I loaded up on stocks and maybe only 5% in bonds. This was back in 2006 and the market was hitting new record highs, sound familiar? A few short years later, I had built up around $25k with more of a 70/30 stock bond split. And then the financial crisis hit. My portfolio was basically cut in half in what seemed like a matter of days. This was a huge gut check for me and caused me to rethink my asset allocation. Thankfully, I didn’t get out of the market like many clients I was advising at the time wanted to.

I kept a 70/30 mix for years and was a believer of the age-based asset allocation model. When friends or family members were just starting out, I would recommend using Fidelity Freedom Funds or Vanguard Target Retirement Funds that automatically rebalance as you get closer to your target retirement date, eventually landing in a 20/80 stock/bond mix. There is nothing wrong with this approach, and for many people, it may still be a great one.

My Current Allocation Strategy

Where I differ now from the mainstream age-based strategy is that I am planning on retiring much earlier than traditional retirement age. Also, I believe that we in the DIY$ household have proven to not act irrationally during bear markets. During down markets, we don’t sell and continue to dollar-cost-average into our investments. This tells me that we can handle having a larger allocation to stocks. Our current asset allocation is over 90% stocks, and we plan to keep it that way until and during retirement.

I am subscribed to the strategy outlined in Simple Wealth, Inevitable Wealth. Simply stated, this strategy is to only invest in stock mutual funds, and during retirement to keep a cash reserve equivalent to 2 years expenses. During retirement, we will replenish cash from investments except during significant down markets. During those times, we’ll draw down cash to allow the market to recover and build the cash account back up after the investments recover.

This strategy may not work for everyone, but this is why personal finance is so personal. You need to find what works for you, develop a plan, and stick to it. That’s the important part though, having a plan vs. not having a plan. I’m sure we’ll have plenty more to talk about, but these are the thoughts I’ve collected thus far.

September 2017 Net Worth Update – We made it!

September was a momentous month for us in that we reached our 2017 net worth goal of $700,000. We took a slight step backward already in October by buying a new (to me) car today, but any ground we lose should be recovered again by the end of the year.

Sept 2017 Net Worth Overview

We had a lot of green this month and just barely bumped up over $700k. Our expenses weren’t too high for the month, but October expenses will be much higher. We got the backyard patio installed and bought a new car.

CASH/CARS

Our cash balance crept up at about the rate of growth I would expect from a normal month without any big expenses. We had a quick trip in September to visit family, but those expenses were minimal.

We’ve been building up our cash for a new car, but as of the end of last month, we still hadn’t found the right thing. I’ve been looking for the right deal and found something today that checked all the boxes (including price).

Say hello to our new addition. I upgraded the 2005 Corolla with 209,000 miles to this 2012 Lexus with 50,000 miles. I was looking at Toyota, Lexus, and Ford sedans and was looking for a deal. More details to come, but suffice it to say I’m pleased with how it worked out and will miss my old Corolla (I traded it in).

INVESTMENTS

Yet again, we didn’t really do anything exciting with our investments, yet they managed to grow (including our contributions) by almost $10k. For the year, just my 401k is up over 16%. My return assumptions for long-term growth are much lower than this and market growth is the main reason that we have reached our net worth goal this early in the year.

HOUSE/MORTGAGE

Like normal, we paid extra on our house and knocked down the mortgage by another $1,100. We’ve been holding off making larger payments until we bought a car so next month we will start paying even more towards the mortgage.

Our neighbor finally has his house up for sale and is asking $420k. His house is smaller than ours and needs some updating, so I still feel pretty good about our $450k assumption. Another slightly larger house down the street just went up for $485k, so we’re right in the middle.

Our next door neighbor is in his 50s, divorced, and an empty nester. He was waiting to move until his kids were all out of high school, and it turns out the reason he waited so long to sell is that he had to sue his ex-wife again to take her name off the deed. They’ve been divorced for at least 5 years. He already paid her everything that was owed in the divorce, they just hadn’t officially taken her name off the house.

Divorce is a terrible thing. I’ve got a few friends and family members in various stages of divorce and it’s just sad. In The Millionaire Next Door, a lot of time is spent talking about how divorce destroys wealth, and that you are more likely to accumulate wealth if you get married and stay married. Money isn’t everything though. Even without the financial impact though, it’s a devastating thing to have to go through.

WHAT’S NEXT?

In recent years, we’ve added ~$100k to our net worth each year. An increasing portion of that growth simply comes from our staying invested. I guess the next big milestone from here is $800k but really, we’re getting excited about closing in on $1,000,000.

Setting a goal of $700k for this year was very achievable. I knew what needed to happen and none of the assumptions were that aggressive. It’s extremely unlikely that we’ll get to $1M in 2018, but with some aggressive assumptions, it could happen in 2019. That’s crazy. It’s right around the corner. We’ll have to do some goal setting as a couple in the next few months and this will definitely be part of that discussion.

August 2017 Net Worth Update – up to $685,332

August was a crazy month here in the DIY$ household. We got some of our last trips in before school season makes it harder to skip town with the kids, got the backyard prepped for our concrete patio that will be poured in September, and increased our net worth by $4K to $685,332.

NET WORTH SUMMARY

We’ve done a pretty good job at growing our net worth. With the recent madness of hurricanes and other extreme natural disasters, it has caused us to reconsider some of our net worth allocations. I’m not talking about bonds vs stocks or international vs domestic, I’m talking about taking stock of our ‘survival’ inventory. We already have a bit of non-perishable food stored and lots of tools, but we’ll be re-evaluating whether we have enough. We may also find ourselves buying things that are really just for emergency preparedness purposes.

CASH

Our cash balance crept up again this month, helped out a lot by an extra $1,000 that came our way unexpectedly. I know I keep saying that we’re done with big trips, but our travel never seems to end. It isn’t impeding us from saving for retirement or building our cash but it does slow down our cash pile-up. This month I traveled for work a bit (no out of pocket expense), and we took the kids to California for a wedding. I also just got back from a quick trip to go to a football game with my dad and brothers.

After spending a few days in the SF Bay Area and Sacramento, I think I’ll be adding that area to my list of ‘places I won’t be upset if I never go back to’. Las Vegas and Chicago are already on the list for me. We got to see the Muir Woods (along with what felt like an entire small town), and that was great. I’d still like to see Yosemite, but the city and traffic are just not for me.

INVESTMENTS

The S&P 500 was basically flat in August, growing just 0.05%, yet our investments managed to grow by about 0.5% excluding our normal monthly contributions. While most of our investments are invested in S&P 500 index funds, we do have some international funds that did well.

CARS

Nothing has really changed in our driveway or replacement plans. We have a gas guzzling Expedition EL to tote around our crew and it is great. When we travel and have to rent a vehicle like we did in San Francisco, we typically get a minivan. Every time we rent a minivan, I’m reminded how much I prefer a large SUV.

My little Corolla is a great car. There really isn’t much more to say. It has over 207,000 miles on it and has never had any major repairs. The end of this year will mark 10 years that we’ve owned it. As much as I love it and know it could probably go another 5-10 years, I’ve started looking at replacements. It is getting old and while it runs great, it’s cosmetically showing its age.

HOUSE

Yet again, we paid extra on the mortgage. Our total home equity went down slightly as Zillow has our home value declining. Our neighbor has moved out and has been doing some home improvements before selling. We’re curious to see when he lists his house for sale and how much it ends up selling for.

A friend who lives nearby recently sold his house and it was only on the market for two days. In our area, updated houses sell quickly and for top dollar. Houses that aren’t updated tend to sit until homeowners realize they won’t get top dollar based solely on location.

MINI DIY OOPS

A few times each year, Sherwin Williams has a 40% off sale. Pretty much whenever this sale happens, we buy a couple of gallons of paint. Even with the 40% off it’s still more expensive than some of the stuff at Home Depot or Lowes, but it covers so much better and is much easier to work with. There’s a reason the pros use it. One thing we love is that they keep a record of all the colors you buy, so you can go in and say “I need another gallon of the color I bought last Spring”, and they’ll know what color you’re looking for. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

We bought 3 gallons back in July but didn’t get around to using it until August. Halfway through painting a room, we realized it wasn’t the right color (doh!). It looked a little off from the get-go, but it was close enough that we thought maybe it would dry right. Not so. Turns out, someone fat fingered the numbers and gave us something one shade off from the same sample card. At the store, they were great and swapped it out for the right color even though we had already used some of it.

The room looks great now, but we wasted a couple of hours painting the wrong color. The moral of the story is that Sherwin Williams is great. But when it comes to paint colors remember to ‘trust, but verify’.

So that’s the August update. Better late than never, but life seems to get in the way sometimes. We’re still on track to get to $700k by year-end and are excited for what’s next.

I Got An Extra $1,000!

I recently have heard folks talking about what they would do with some unexpected additional money. J Money asked his readers “What Would You Do With an Extra $1,000?” I generally don’t spend too much time thinking about these type of hypotheticals, but this week it became my reality. I got a call out of the blue informing me that a $1,000 check was on the way to me!

This clearly isn’t something that happens frequently, and sadly isn’t something I’d recommend anyone try to replicate. There is a story with a lesson that goes along with this check.

Rewind to 2014

In the second half of 2014, we were doing a lot of home renovation projects. We had a large bonus room we were converting to a bedroom and adding a bathroom to it. At the same time, we were also remodeling an existing bathroom. The project started in last August and by early December we were getting close to being done. Normally we’re a bit faster, but my wife had a baby in this window and she’s the handier one in this duo.

Part of the bathroom work involved moving the toilet to a different part of the bathroom. Shortly after the toilet was installed in the new location, we went on a week-long vacation to introduce our new baby to our family. We had a great time on the trip but when we got home, we were greeted by water running out of the garage. Not good.

The brand-new supply line for that newly repositioned toilet sprung a small leak. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it must have gone on for several days. This was also an upstairs bathroom, right above the kitchen, and when I entered the kitchen the ceiling had fallen to the floor. Welcome back from vacation, right?

The Cleanup

This was a pretty emotionally draining time for us. We had a newborn, and weren’t getting much sleep already. We were so close to having our house put back together and then this. Now we had to rip out carpet and worry about replacing warping wood floors. We had some money saved up, we just didn’t really want to spend it on all these additional projects. I spent that first night and the entire next day ripping out soggy carpet and trying to dry things out.

Submitting an insurance claim wasn’t actually my first thought. After all, I was the one who installed the toilet supply line. What if I did something wrong and they said they wouldn’t cover the damage? I went back and forth for a day or two before a co-worker reminded me that this is exactly why you have insurance. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, so long as it was an accident. We called our insurance and they stepped in were a huge help.

If you’ve never had to deal with a homeowners insurance claim, here’s how it goes. They first bring in a restoration company. In our case, because the water was clean water and not sewage, the cleanup was mostly just drying things out. This involved several dehumidifiers and fans placed throughout the house running 24/7 for almost a week.

Our kitchen was a pretty much unusable as they tried to salvage the wood floors by sucking out all the water. This was our kitchen for a week or so:

The Repairs

Once our house was completely ‘restored’ and dry, we were ready to start actually fixing things. The adjuster had come through and identified the cause and everything that had been damaged. He ran some fancy software that quickly spit out an estimate of how much it would cost to repair/replace everything.

In pretty short order, we got deposits to our bank account and were able to start putting things back together. We ended up spending a little bit more than our insurance gave us since we upgraded some things from what they were before the damage. For example, we upgraded one room from carpet to hardwood floors, and ended up replacing the majority of our carpet instead of just the section that was damaged. As much as possible, we did work ourselves. Placing rolls of insulation in the floor joists in the crawl space is simple and only took three hours, but I saved $500 doing it myself.

Our insurance policy had a $1,000 deductible, meaning we had to pay $1,000 before the insurance kicked in. I didn’t actually have to pay anyone, the insurance just paid us $1,000 less than what they estimated the damage to be. As part of the adjuster’s research, he also took the faulty braided supply line with him to send to a lab to see what went wrong. At the time, we were told that the insurance company was going to attempt to recover costs from the manufacturer if they found it to be improperly made. If they were successful in getting anything back, the first $1,000 would go to pay us back our deductible.

3 Years Later

I don’t talk to my insurance company often. Whenever I did, I would ask about the status of getting this $1,000 back. A few months after the incident, I was told that it was tied up with lawyers in a class-action suit. Having been involved in other lawsuits at work, I knew this meant it would take a long time.

Maybe 18 months after the event, I was told that the company that made the supply line had gone bankrupt and the odds of recovering anything had gone down substantially. At that point, I mentally wrote it off.

Imagine my surprise then, when my insurance company called me the other day and asks how I wanted to receive the payment. I was like, Cash Please!

Image result for wayne's world cash gif

So Now What?

So, I’ve got an extra $1,000 I wasn’t expecting. Now what? For me, it’s pretty simple. I’m not going to go out and buy anything I wasn’t already planning on getting. If I want something bad enough, I fit it into the budget and I buy it. I don’t need an excuse of having extra ‘found’ money to do so.

In this regard, I like Dave Ramsey’s baby steps, which says that you focus on whatever step you are on in the wealth building process. We are on baby steps 4, 5, and 6 (save 15% towards retirement, save for kids college, and pay off the house early), but are taking a quick breather to beef up our emergency fund (baby step 3). We have enough cash in our emergency fund for any typical emergency but want to make sure we have enough to buy a new car on top of our normal emergency fund amount.

All that to say, this money is just going into our savings account since that’s our area of focus. Once that’s beefed up enough, every extra amount goes straight to the mortgage.

So that’s my recent surprise and my boring plan for what I’m doing with it. I hope you can find some extra money, too, I just don’t recommend this path for finding it.

9 Things We’ve Done to Save Money (Some crazier than others)

We’ve done some crazy things in our day to save money. Some were done out of necessity at a specific time and others have become ingrained into our lifestyle. It’s easy for me to downplay those that are a part of our firmly established routine and to think of them as nothing special. Yet, as I interact with and see the behaviors my neighbors, co-workers, or family members I am reminded that some of the things we do aren’t ‘normal’.

These habits have helped us grow our net worth. An even greater benefit is that they have greatly contributed toward our overall sense of contentment. Some of these we don’t do anymore, but some we do. So in no particular order, here are 9 things we do (or have done) to save or spend less money.

Garage Sales

We recently hit up a nearby garage sale where there had to have been $10,000 worth of kids clothes. Everything was a high-end brand name and a lot of things had never been worn. By garage sale standards, the prices were a little high, but for $50 we got what would have cost >$250 in stores and everything is basically brand new. If only my feet were a little smaller, I could have got some handmade Italian leather shoes for just a few dollars. Our entire neighborhood isn’t so flashy, but having neighbors with expensive clothes and flashy cars is a natural byproduct of living in a neighborhood like the one we do. Their waste is our gain.

On the other side, we try to be really selective about what we bring into our home and to shy away from short lived “trendy” items as to not be having the need to have garage sales of our own.

Get Multiple Quotes

In our house, we do a lot of home improvement projects. Lately, it seems that we’re about 50/50 in terms of doing the work ourselves or hiring it out. (Rules of thumb: We always hire out drywall – it sucks. We never hire out painting – it’s easy to do ourselves and my wife can spend the time to get it to her exacting standards. She’s not been impressed with many “professionals” work).

Sadly, there are some real boneheads out there amongst residential subcontractors. Take, for example, the guy we had come to our last house for a drywall estimate. We were finishing our basement and had done all the work ourselves up to the point of drywall. He walked around the basement, saw what needed to be done, leaned back with his thumbs in his belt loops, and after taking a deep breath pronounced “Yup, I’ll get ‘er done for $3,500”. No measurements were made, nothing was written down, just 3-minute walk through and a 30-second mental estimate. The contractor who got that job actually did some math and did it for just under $2,400. Always get multiple quotes.

Thrift Stores

To this day, we have spent very little on brand-new clothes for our four children. We only really buy clothes for our oldest son and daughter and the other kids get hand-me-downs. Most of the clothes we buy for them come from consignment stores or thrift stores.

(Side note – in our town we actually only have donation centers for Goodwill. We have to go to the next town over to be able to buy stuff from Goodwill. Our town is definitely the demographic of Goodwill donors, not shoppers).

Nowadays it seems that most families don’t have more than two children, so there are often plenty of perfectly good clothes that kids outgrow where there isn’t a sibling to hand them down to. Most of what we buy at thrift/consignment stores is for the kids, but one of my favorite ties is a Brooks Brothers tie I got for $1 at Goodwill.

Packing Lunch

When we were getting out of debt and paying our way through graduate school, I think I probably went several years without going out to eat for lunch at work. Not only that, but the lunches I did eat were pretty pathetic. I think I’ve eaten enough Michelina’s frozen lunches for a lifetime. We’ve also packed meals for road trips and flights to avoid the need to purchase food on the go.

Even now that I’m no longer paying for grad school I continue to pack my lunch, but now I eat a lot healthier. I do eat out at work on occasion now, but when I do I try to make it a networking lunch and use it as an opportunity to maintain relationships with people I don’t work with every day. Making this sacrifice early in my career had a compounding effect on our net worth and ability to save, but now has become a money saving habit.

Carpooling

When we were both working, my wife and I carpooled to work for over two years. We had sold our second vehicle and worked close enough to each other that we didn’t have to get a second vehicle or pay >$1,000/yr for a parking pass at her job.

Currently, I have a couple of co-workers who live nearby and have carpooled with them, but it’s not a regular occurrence and it’s more a convenience thing than a cost savings thing when it does happen.

Takeout vs. Dining In

For years, we almost never ate out to ensure having enough money to pay for grad school. Now, we still don’t eat out much, but it’s because we have four kids and taking them all to a restaurant just sounds like it’s own special form of hell. But we still want to eat good food without making it ourselves every once in a while. Our latest tradition is that I will pick up take-out on my way home each Friday.

This isn’t really an area of saving money, but I have learned that at most restaurants the folks that handle take out orders get paid a little bit more to compensate for not getting tips. Knowing that, I have no problem skipping the tip on a takeout order. Boom – 15% savings. My kids are picky eaters too. Unless we’re going to a pizza place, any restaurant food we buy for them is a waste of money.

Avoid Tolls

There are certain cities where toll roads are just a part of life. Just driving into Manhattan or crossing the Golden Gate Bridge will cost you a decent chunk of change. This can come as a surprise to folks visiting from smaller parts of the country where all roads and bridges are free, but to locals it’s just part of living in a big city.

One city that I’ve found particularly egregious for tolls is Orlando. The worst is the one toll booth that you HAVE to go through to get in/out of the airport. Or do you? On your favorite navigation app, you can simply turn on the ‘Avoid tolls’ option and find ways around those pesky tolls. Note that this isn’t always recommended since your time is worth something too. One time we were driving from Orlando to South Florida and decided we wanted to save the ~$12 toll and avoid the Turnpike. We made it, but it probably tacked on 90 minutes to our trip. Next time we’ll just pay the toll.

The Orlando airport toll takes just a couple of minutes to avoid and doing so gives me a sense of accomplishment, even though it only saves $0.50. Note that this isn’t always recommended since your time is worth something too. One time we were driving from Orlando to South Florida and decided we wanted to save the ~$12 toll and avoid the Turnpike. We made it, but it probably tacked on 90 minutes to our trip. Next time we’ll just pay the toll.

Learn to Sew

This is an area where all the credit goes to my wife. I’m not talking about making your own clothes. I know people who do that, but the cost/benefit doesn’t make sense for us. For me, I regularly will need buttons reattached, hems to be redone, or even holes patched in my pants. My wife has taught herself how to sew and now I don’t need to go anywhere to get clothes repaired.

It blows me away that I meet people who won’t even attempt to repair clothes. It’s just seen as easier to replace something that only needs a simple fix. We draw the line at socks. If my socks get holes, they go in the trash.

Wal-Mart Parking Lots vs. Hotels

Here’s one that I haven’t seen anyone talk about before. Now, it’s been a few years since I’ve done this, but I’ve taken a few cross country road trips with only me in the car. When I’m by myself, I hate spending ANY money on hotels. All I really just need a place to lie my head down for a couple of hours before getting back on the road. Enter the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Did you know that most Wal-Mart parking lots allow for overnight RV and Semi-Truck parking? Regular cars are allowed too. It isn’t often the best nights sleep as the semi trucks leave their engines running and the flood lights stay on all night, but it’s completely free. I’d compare it to sleeping on a plane, which I’ve done more times than I can remember. My favorite part is that I can walk in at any time of the night if I need to brush my teeth or use the bathroom. In the morning, I grab a donut, a banana, and am back on the road before the crowd.

I’ve even met some cool people doing this. The most memorable time was driving through South Dakota and sleeping at the Wal-Mart closest to Mount Rushmore. This was near the time of the huge Harley Davidson rally in Sturgis and there was a caravan of RV’s and motorcycles that had formed a circle in the parking lot and they were up all night having a good time.

Note: this would never fly if I was with my wife and kids. I’m not sure I’d suggest my kids do it either, but I’d probably do it again.

 

There are a lot of other things we do that didn’t make this list. At the end of the day, I think it all comes down to being deliberate in your spending. You’ll be served well if you find ways to do things yourself rather than automatically hiring someone.

July 2017 Net Worth Update

I can hardly believe July is already over. The year really seems to be flying by. In the month of July, I finished reading seven books, vacationed to both Florida and Hawaii, and somehow we managed to grow our net worth another $12,800 to $680,980.

If you’re looking for a good read, the best two books I read this month were:

Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall by Neil Barofsky

A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William Bernstein

July 2017 Net Worth Overview

Cash

As you can see, our cash balance continues to be stagnant, and this months excuse is a trip we took to Hawaii. It was totally worth it (left 3/4 kids at home!), and we snuck it in before school started. With school starting, we’ll be staying put for a while and should see our cash start to grow in September (we’re finishing up a backyard patio in August or September). At least our cash is paying a whopping 1.1%, right?

Investments

Again we continue to do nothing different or special with our investments. The S&P 500 was up 1.93% in July and we continued to invest. I keep about 1% of our investments available for more speculative, risky investments and one of those investments is Amazon. I’ve always said that I love the company but hate the stock but decided to buy some early this year on a dip in the $740 range. I still hold it and continue to be surprised at how much it’s gone up, despite recent declines.

Cars

Nothing new to report here, but Kelley Blue Book periodically shows an increase in the value of our SUV. Tesla launched their new Model 3 last week, and I now have a somewhat renewed desire to buy one but my little Corolla keeps chugging along so nothing planned here.

Side note – when we went to Hawaii, we couldn’t reserve a rental car online since the trip was planned at the last minute when we found really good flights. As a result, the cheapest car we could rent was a BMW 7-Series (non-luxury SUV’s and Minivans were available but even more expensive).

So for a few days, I went from driving a $3k 2005 Corolla to a $85k+ 2015 BMW. You know what’s crazy though? I didn’t like it. The gear shifter was confusing, the doors always took two tries to close, and I didn’t figure out how to unlock the doors without the key fob until the second day. There were other issues, but you get the idea.

Sure, it was roomy and comfortable, but it was a really big car to navigate through crowded streets (Waikiki is awful, it’s much more enjoyable out of the city). The island was also too small to really test out the powerful engine. My takeaway though was that I don’t get much enjoyment out of driving a really nice car.

Our Hawaii rental where we went to see a beautiful sunrise.

House/Mortgage

We continue to pay extra on the mortgage and our home value increased slightly, boosting our equity by $3,700. Our next door neighbor is getting ready to sell, that should help us gauge our own value. His house is smaller and needs some updates but he’s got great neighbors so it should sell quick, right?

We need our net worth to increase by $4k per month to hit our goal of $700k by year end. The concrete patio should be the last big house project for the year and travel will slow with school in session. Next year I’ll be excited to really start making a big dent in the mortgage.

 

Survivorship Bias and MLM’s

 

XKCD.com

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about survivorship bias and how it can cloud our judgment in evaluating financial opportunities.

We are guilty of survivorship bias when we see someone being successful and think that all we have to do is do whatever they did to reasonably expect the same results. What this way of thinking ignores is that in most cases MANY other people have done some of the exact same things and yet haven’t had nearly the same success.

Survivorship Bias Unpacked

For example, If we were to stage a competition of flipping coins where you advance to the next round simply by flipping heads, you would expect to lose about 50% of coin flippers in each round. If you start with 1,024 contestants, you’d expect the number of participants in each round to be roughly:

1,024 -> 512 -> 256 -> 128 -> 64 -> 32 -> 16 -> 8 -> 4 -> 2 -> 1

So after 10 rounds, you’d expect to only have one person left. Is he/she the best coin flipper in the world? How else is it possible that they flipped heads 10 times in a row! We need to interview them and have them give motivational speeches and buy their books, etc.

Seems pretty ridiculous, right? Except we do it all the time when we prop up legendary investors, the 19-year-old in California who won the lottery twice in one week, or those rare few individuals who achieve some degree of financial success with a multi-level marketing company.

What we miss in all of this thinking is that there were 1,023 other people who did the exact same thing and didn’t get the same result. We admire the sole survivor, yet ignore the existence of the other competitors. Nassim Taleb has written extensively about this and related topics in his book Black Swan but you really can’t go wrong with reading any of his books.

MLM Survivorship Bias

It’s the MLM’s that really get me with this. You know how this works by now. You get a Facebook friend request from someone you haven’t heard from in years and accept it thinking “oh, I wonder what they’ve been up to”. After accepting, you check out their profile and quickly notice that they’re involved in Rodan & Fields, or Beachbody, or Lipsense, or Isagenix, or Herbalife, or Essential Oils, or whatever else they dream up next. Now that you’re ‘friends’ they’ve got a great ‘opportunity’ for you to ‘be your own boss’ and generate ‘passive income’. They make it sound so easy and they all seem to project an air of success, following the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ strategy.

This got under my skin recently when a friend of a friend went all over social media touting all the success she’s had selling makeup through an MLM. She’s reached a new level and qualified for a free trip to a resort in Costa Rica. Good for her. She’s just doing her job, and so is the company. She gets a nice trip, and now probably dozens of people see what she’s doing and now want to get in.

For every success story you see in any MLM, there are literally thousands of failure stories you’ll never hear about. If you’ve got Netflix, I recommend watching Betting on Zero. I’m glad that this is helping get the issue out there, but I’m not sure these pyramid scheme type of companies will ever go away. The lure of a simple path to wealth and riches is too appealing, even if too good to be true. There is no simple or fast way to wealth. It requires hard work and time.

June 2017 Net Worth Update

I’m just getting back from a nice quick trip for the 4th of July and wanted to provide an update on our net worth. June was an expensive month for us in the DIY$ household. Nonetheless, we managed to still grow our net worth by $3,900 to $668,176.

June 2017 Net Worth Details

Cash

Our cash balance crept up this month but should jump more in July. We finished installing a backyard fence and had multiple trips that had me on planes for 27 hours in the month. Side note, it’s REALLY expensive to rent cars now that we need vehicles that can hold 4 car seats/booster seats.

I even added another stamp to my passport by visiting Santiago Chile for the first time. The best part of the trip was that my 6-year old son was able to join me. While on that trip, I almost had a disaster when I realized mid-flight that I still didn’t have a replacement debit card from when our accounts were hacked. Thankfully I did have some cash to convert and I made to sure to use credit cards everywhere I could and it worked out. Travel and home projects for July should be much lighter.

Investments

The S&P 500 returned 0.48% in June and we continued to stay the course. We continue to add 15% of my income to my 401k and are primarily invested in S&P 500 index funds. The only sort of exciting thing here is that our liquid assets are about to surpass $400k.

Cars

Our car values supposedly went up this month, but the overall trend still is down. I am a little bit nervous that one of our vehicles might die soon, but the fear is ungrounded. Both cars are doing great just getting old. What’s the longest you’ve heard a Corolla lasting? I drove my mom’s Suburban the other day and she’s at 210,000 miles.

House/Mortgage

Yet again, we paid extra on our mortgage but not nearly as much as we’d like to do. Once our cash builds up a little more we’ll start making much larger payments. For the first few years in this house, most of our home improvement projects were on the inside of the house. In the past year, we’ve shifted our focus to the exterior of the home. In June, we finished installation of a new aluminum fence.

We live on just under two acres but fenced in an area large enough for the kids to play in, but small enough to be relatively easy to manage. The next step was to tear down our deck. Rather than rebuild the deck, we’ll be pouring a concrete slab with some steps down to it from the house. Once that’s done, we’ll be focusing on the grass and possibly starting a garden. It’s going to be a lot of work, but surprisingly it feels less intimidating now that we’ve fenced in the area we’ll be focusing on beautifying.

Here you can see part of the new fence and the area the deck used to be

Overall, it’s been a good start to the year for us and I’m optimistic that we can reach our net worth goal before the end of this year. I’ll leave you with another view on our progress so far this year. 

 

May 2017 Net Worth Update

I just got back from a work trip, but wanted to make sure I kept up with my tradition of monthly net worth updates. Our May 2017 Net Worth increased by $6,470 to $664.267. 

May 2017 Net Worth Summary

Cash

Our cash balance went down slightly this month. We had to spend >$300 pumping out our septic tank and also spent most of the month on a low carb diet, which increased out grocery bill a bit more than normal. In May, we also paid for the materials to install a fence in the backyard. Now that school is out in our area, we’ve been wanting to allow the kids to play outside with less supervision and this will allow that. In the not-too-distant future, we may also be tearing down our deck and pouring a concrete pad in its place. None of these projects really will make a significant dent in our cash, but they will slow our growth and delay our acceleration of mortgage reduction. I expect our cash will stay around these levels for the next couple of months.

In May, we also paid for the materials to install a fence in the backyard. Now that school is out in our area, we’ve been wanting to allow the kids to play outside with less supervision and this will allow that. In the not-too-distant future, we may also be tearing down our deck and pouring a concrete pad in its place. None of these projects really will make a significant dent in our cash, but they will slow our growth and delay significant mortgage reduction. I expect our cash will stay around these levels for the next couple of months.

Because our accounts were hacked, my direct deposit was rejected on 5/31. Our old account numbers have all been closed and I missed the deadline by one day to have payroll make my deposit go to the new account. I’ve been out of the office but am told that there is a check on my desk for when I get back. These numbers assume that my paycheck had already been deposited. I feel blessed that missing a paycheck by a couple of days doesn’t really impact our lives like it would for many Americans.

Investments

The S&P 500 earned 1.16% in May and our investments continue to be primarily tied to that index. We had a little scare with some fraudulent activity in our accounts. Someone sold all our index ETFs and bought another stock. Everything is now resolved as if it never happened.

Most of our index funds are invested in ETFs. Whereas mutual funds can only be bought or sold at the end of the day, ETFs trade throughout the day like stocks. I like the flexibility of ETFs, but in reality, I don’t place many trades. I am considering changing to traditional index mutual funds ever since we were hacked. So far I haven’t made any changes but am open to suggestions.

Cars

Our cars continue to depreciate slowly but really nothing too exciting is going on in our garage. The only thing I really did this month was to change the oil and get a new antenna.

House

Similar to previous months we paid extra on our mortgage this month, decreasing our mortgage debt by about $1,100. The house value according to Zillow came down slightly, but overall our home equity increased. I’m excited to start paying A LOT more extra principal payments. Before we can do that, we first need to increase our cash and finish some home improvement projects.

529 College Savings

Our automatic investment to this account was missed this month because our accounts were compromised. I’ve since corrected this, but that explains why the account didn’t grow by as much as it has in previous months.

Summary

May was another pretty good month for us and June is already off to a great start. We are still on target to hit our 2017 Net Worth goal. I continue to be blown away at how quickly things have accumulated.