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Where the f does our money go?

2013. I had been working at my first fulltime post-grad-school job for 2 years. I was making $42,000, which seemed like a lot. My husband, at 33, was finishing up his degree.

Does that seem late? He is an immigrant, and he had a bachelor’s from his home country. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the school closed down, and the director of the school took all the funds that were left and fled the country (maybe to Israel?). There were no records to transfer across the ocean.

He could possibly have fought it, but his degree, social work, wasn’t really transferable to America, and he wanted to work with computers. When I finished grad school, he started his associate’s degree. It’s a late start to FI, but…what are you going to do.

We had one daughter, Sonya, born in 2010. We were living in a one-bedroom apartment, and we had one car. I biked to work, when I could, because it was about 5 miles from our apartment. This was a bad idea, because really it was a deathtrap (no shoulder on the roads, out-of-control speeding cars…I’ve never seen anybody else biking on those roads. I’m an idiot), but it was cheap. We were considering another baby. We had nothing in savings, $100K in student loan debt, no room, physically or financially.

It only got worse from there. My husband took an internship that cost more in gas money than it made him, but we decided it was a good investment (it turned out to be a good investment). I got pregnant, we decided to look for a house. We didn’t have any money but we had excellent credit, and…somehow, we pulled it together. The summer we bought the house we had space, physically, but less than none, financially. We couldn’t buy a couch for months and months. At Christmas, I was 9 months pregnant, and the only place to sit my weary bones upon was a foldable yard chair that I had brought inside.

2019. I haven’t gotten all the W2s yet, but I think we made $150K last year. We live in the same house from the summer of 2013, and we have added to the family – two more kids and a live-in MIL. We had over 3 times the income from the end of 2013. Why do we still feel so poor?

For one, when our income grew, we had built up a lot of broke-person tension. We had a dead tree that threatened to fall on our house; we always put off getting it cut down but could not do so forever. Our retaining wall under the deck to the basement was completely fallen in – which I didn’t think was a big deal until my husband pointed out that if the land shifted, the whole deck would fall. Our basement was constantly flooding; we had lost some items when we first moved in and didn’t know it would flood, but more importantly, the space was not possible to use. We had three adults and three children living in a three-bedroom home, and space is at a premium – my husband and I do a lot of work at home, so water-proofing the basement seemed like a necessity. Our yard shed, which housed our lawn mower, was so rickety that I wouldn’t let the kids go into it. Our lawn mower, which saved us from being swallowed whole every summer (good GOD an acre of land is a lot more than it seems when you are pushing a cheapish mower all over it every single week), was not up to the job. When our income went up, it was natural to take care of some of that stuff. All told, that’s been about $25K, all in the past 1.5-2 years.

We invited my MIL to live with us in late 2015, which seemed like something we could handle, financially. We had already bought the house, and so what more would it cost? Extra water, electricity, some food? No big deal? I’ll do a post on it later, but it costs about $1000 a month to have her live with us. It turns out that 100% supporting an adult human being who is not very healthy and has no assets and no income is not cheap. It was not something we could handle, financially. That’s been a hole we’ve had to dig ourselves out of.

We decided this summer to put in solar panels. I think it’s a good investment, and it’s something I feel good about. They were financed.

We bought a van when I got pregnant with Amelia. It’s maybe not a good choice to have a 2013 Honda Odyssey but given how much we drive, and how often we use the space, you can pry that soccer-mom minivan from my cold dead hands.

At the start of 2017, I found out I had a massive brain tumor, and needed brain surgery, immediately. We had insurance and the financial hit was not anywhere near what it could have been, but we are still paying off some of that. An…investment?

Those student loans haven’t gone anywhere (although I am planning on having them forgiven, STAT).

So even though we have what I consider a really great income, what happens when you don’t have a good income is that a lot of stuff gets financed (brain surgery), or maintenance doesn’t get done (retaining wall), or all the things you’ve wanted to do forever but couldn’t (buy a van). We’ve only had this income for one year, and so we are playing catch up. I hope that we catch up soon.

And here are the things that we probably shouldn’t spend money on, but do:

1) summer trips to spend a week with my family. When I had the aforementioned brain tumor, it was crystal clear to me that pretty soon (maybe REALLY soon), we are all going to die, and it was a priority to spend time with as many of my siblings, and their children, as possible. It typically costs about $1000 for the week, to get a huge house with my siblings, on a lake (at least, that’s what we’ve done so far), and it is non-negotiable for me. Being at FI would be great. You can’t get back the years and the experiences that you forego when you are trying to retire early. I am quite happy to give up cable and have a cheap-ass phone. I will not give up the summer trip.

2) kid activities. I’ve noticed that there are many in the FI community who believe that spending money on kids is coddling them, and that there’s no need to put aside money for college because student loans are for suckers, and I am firmly outside of that camp. I believe that when you have children, you are signing up for the responsibility of providing for them, in all sorts of ways. I think money should be put aside for education. I think toddlers should go to preschool even if they don’t have to go to day care. I think that when it comes to sports and music and art, children should be allowed and encouraged to do what they want, even if it costs the parents money. Do I think they need new Playstations or whatever and Puma shoes and constant spending money? No. Do I allow them to do horseback camp and spend a stupid amount of money on gymnastics, dance, soccer, basketball, and piano? That is a definite yes. The lessons they’ve learned – about life, about teamwork, about trusting your body, about discipline, about hard work, about commitment, about back handsprings – that’s not something I could easily teach them. I value it far more than the money we spend.

We have done some things right (lots of things), but at the moment, our situation looks much worse than I think it is. Give me another year, and I promise I’ll be filthy rich. Or maybe dirty rich. Or dusty rich. Still. Rich.


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