The End of Parking

You might’ve noticed on our Quarterly Expense Reports going all the way back to Q1 2015 that Marge and I have a monthly bill for parking that is almost $26. That’s all me.

Years ago, I was able to park for free when my office was in another location. But then we moved to Albany where parking is a hot commodity, so like everyone else, I started to pay for the privilege of parking my car. It’s taken directly out of my paycheck, almost $13 every pay day.

This was a bummer initially, because I had been enjoying free parking at our other location. Then, dangerously, I got used to it. I didn’t even think of it. Funny how recurring expenses quickly go from “burden” to “necessary.”

But now in our modern age of planning for Early Retirement, the parking expense has become harder to ignore. As I cut back on everything from pet insurance to newspapers, and from cell phones to rabbit litter, this one remains. Twenty-six dollars is not a lot of money, but in the land of eternal optimization, I am always looking to cut unnecessary expenses

parkingspace

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Should I Sue Lending Club?

In a fantastic mark of my own procrastination, I’ve never talked about my relationship with Lending Club here in depth. For those of you who still haven’t heard of them, Lending Club facilitates lending from one person to another person. Instead of holding onto deposits and lending them out to whoever they choose as a traditional bank would, Lending Club cuts out the work of the middleman and puts the onus on the investor to choose who to lend money to. This results, in an ideal world, in lower interest rates for borrowers and higher interest rates for would-be depositors.

Since its inception ten years ago, this peer-to-peer lending site has slowly become a mini-darling in the personal finance sphere. Mostly this happened after the big boy himself said he was experimenting with it in September 2012.  That was about 18 months after I started using the site, I might add. I started as an investor (read: lender) at Lending Club in April of 2011. Since then, the total amount of loans at Lending Club has exploded, from about $500 million when I joined, to well over $18 billion today.

LendingClubStat

Initially we got returns around of 12 or 13%. But as the loans have gotten older and more people have defaulted,our returns have pretty much flat-lined around 9.5%. That’s still really good, and though I haven’t invested anything new in a year, preferring instead to max out all of our tax-advantaged retirement plans, I don’t have any plans to withdraw from the account either. And since they enabled automatic re-investing based on your own customizable filters, I spend hardly any time on the site anymore.

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We Paid Off Our Student Loans – Now What?

We’re spending Memorial Day weekend on Cape Cod. I’m sure we’ll be spending time at the National Seashore, one of my favorite places, especially Marconi Beach. (Maybe if you hurry up, you can find us!) I’ll be using some photos from our earlier trips here.

And as part of our trip, we’ll be celebrating a big milestone…

We are now student loan free!

Maebys Marconi Sprint (4)

That’s one happy puppy

Yes, twelve years after graduating college, and hot on the heels of paying off our car loan, we just extinguished another type of debt from our balance sheet. Now the only debt we have is mortgage-related. How did we do it?

Well, over the long-term, we haven’t done much except meet our normal monthly payments. Occasionally I would make an extra payment or two, but if you look at our debt chart, you can see the student loan debt is a simple, straight line until the end. Mainly, between the two of us, we have just been paying the $211 per month dutifully for twelve years.

Marconi Beach Day1 (4)

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Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Last Sunday, Marge scheduled a play date for Maeby at a local dog park. Maeby’s been to dog parks before without incident. She loves to sprint and run around for a few minutes, either letting other dogs chase her or chasing other dogs. Other than that, she stands around and watches. I don’t think greyhounds understand “play,” only running.

An ideal day out for Maeby is a solo run followed by enjoying some nature smells.

IMG_0423 TU

On her way out the door, Marge said, “I hope nothing bad happens.” I have no idea why she said this, and neither does she. I thought she was just worried about getting lost on the way to the park since this was a new one she’d never been to before. Well, they made it there fine, but something bad happened anyway.

Right after arriving, Maeby ran off with some other dogs. And when she came back, someone said, “What is that on your dog’s side?” And Marge said it was a scar, because Maeby has always had a scar on her side since we adopted her six years ago. It’s slowly grown hair and you can’t really see it anymore. But this was on the other side. Maeby had a fresh new gaping wound.

Maeby stitches (2)

Post stitches

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Keeping Birthdays Frugal

Well, it was my birthday quasi recently. Actually, it was two months ago. But that doesn’t matter. “Recently” is all in the eye of the beholder., right? The point is that I had a birthday relatively recently, and hasn’t everyone had a birthday relatively recently?

There’s always an urge to go all out and “treat yourself” for your birthday, or treat your spouse on their birthday. Treat your six kids on all of their birthdays. But in the early retirement lifestyle, all things must be kept in check, and that includes birfdays. You can splurge, but within reason. And at this point in our life of eternal optimization, it takes very little to feel like a huge splurge!

Here’s what we do on birthdays to make it fun and keep our savings in checl:

Eat Whatever You Want!

After abolishing Takeout Fridays, Marge and I hardly ever eat out or get takeout. We’re not lazypants, we like to cook food for ourselves. It definitely costs less, although I refuse to accept the notion that cooking is inherently healthier than eating out. It’s all in what you make of it (the food), but let me say this: Making our own meals definitely means less sodium intake. There’s so much salt in food out among the English. The only times we do eat out is when traveling to fantastic places… and on our birthdays! And on birthdays, all rules are out the window.

Flying ChickenUsually these birthday meals turn into birthday meal weekends. How exciting it is to pick out a favorite home-cooked meal from the past or something from one of our favorite area restaurants. For the past few years, my birthday dinner has been fried chicken and waffles from a local place.

I still managed to especially frugalize this birthday. I was all set to order the fried chicken dinner and noticed on their website that they are now on GrubHub. That’s an online ordering platform, I guess, but the point is that I could get $7 off my first order since I’ve never used the service before. Seven dollars is worth like two fried chicken thighs and a drumstick! Sign me up!

Birthday Beers 2016My other special birthday treat is a handpicked six-pack of craft beer. This is basically the only time I’ll buy a six pack during the year. Maybe one other time if I’ve really “earned” it through DIY work around the house.

Birthday BreakfastSpecial birthday meal for me usually extends to Sunday breakfast as well, which usually means fried eggs, corned beef hash, bacon, and a couple apple cider doughnuts from a local baker. It’s your birthday! Treat yourself! And the treats don’t end there!

Customized Birthday Cake!

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Leaving It To The Professionals

Last week, part of our ceiling collapsed.

Tub Drain Leak (6)

It’s not as bad as it sounds. It was a drop ceiling in the one room in the house that still has that. A leak sprung from our second floor bathtub’s drain pipe and started water soaking into the big drop ceiling tile. The tile got so saturated with water that it collapsed to the floor. Luckily, we have two bathrooms, so we can just use the other shower while we fix the drain pipe.  No buckets for water collection necessary!

I got up into the drop ceiling to see what was up, felt around pipes and found exactly where the leak was: Where a metal pipe fits into a PVC pipe. So I got out my wrench, gloves, and bottle of Blaster to try and and take apart the pipes.  (It turns out you’re not supposed to use Blaster on PVC anyway, kids!) After stinking up the place with Blaster and rubbing my fingers raw trying to get the pipes apart, I had a flashback…

Tub Drain Leak (2)

The culprit

A few years ago, one of the toilets wouldn’t stop running. The water would keep running through the tank. The seal wasn’t tight anymore. So I attempted to fix it. But this toilet was so old that the style of flushing mechanism (technical term) wasn’t manufactured anymore, so I couldn’t buy a replacement part.  Instead, I had to take the whole thing apart, take out the whole flushing thing-a-majig, and put in a new one.

Each screw was excruciating to take off. The toilet probably hadn’t been taken apart in forty years, when it was made. The screws were rusted in place. I spent weeks trying to slowly get the thing apart. I eventually did it, but was a trying experience.

With this drain pipe in the ceiling, I could suddenly see the same thing happening. I saw myself spraying Blaster up there after work, night after night, and pathetically trying to yank the pipes around in their little enclosed area, then probably having to buy tools that I might or might not ever use again.

So instead, I decided it was time to call the professionals. Marge called a guy the next day, he came over a few houes later, and by 5PM, it was fixed. And our pockets were lighter by $149. Ouch!

Call it a Frugal Failure, but sometimes I think it’s worth it to go to the professionals. We paid up to get the bats permanently out of our house last year. Whenever a job takes specialty knowledge, expensive tools, or is obviously going to take us forever to get done, I consider them.

Other times I look to professionals instead of DIYing it

Certain types of food. I’ve never tried making my own beer or wine. I know people do it. And I imagine it tastes somewhere on the scale from “okay” to “something died in this.” But there are people who spend their lives dedicated to the alchemy of alcoholic drinks. I could try to learn some things and waste my time buying equipment and making my own barely palatable swill. Or, for the few times a year I buy beer or wine, I could just go to the experts who live and breath this stuff and buy something that has been tested and judged to be nummy by all.

Birthday Beers 2016

Birthday Beers 2016

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Our Own 1,500 Days…

That’s right. 1,500 days.

Yes, you read that right. 1,500 days until we can potentially retire.

If that name rings a bell, you’re not alone. There are other more famous people out there who have launched websites based on that number and their own calculations. I only point it out because that number came up for me, too. According to the countdown clock on my enormous financial spreadsheet, 1,500 days from today, in June 2020, we should be able to quit our jobs if we want to.

This is what I refer to as QT (Quttin’ Time), a time that Maeby enjoys all day.

IMG_4042

Please wake me up to have my meal

What goes into this calculation?

I project out all of our savings based on our predicted income and where our savings will be saved. We (probably) won’t have $1 million in 1,500 days. But I will be 38 years old and will have put in exactly 15 years at my current workplace.

With that many years, I will be able to claim retirement at age 55 and begin getting 16% of my final average salary. Unfortunately, there’s no accounting for inflation. It will be 16% of what my final salary was 17 years earlier. But as I showed in my classic post pitting a defined benefit pension against a DIY “pension,” having a pension at your job acts like a weak pair of golden handcuffs. Saving on your own, you can make much better returns. Especially if you’re using savings to buy rental properties.

And if we wanted to quit our jobs in 1,500 days, that would be how we (potentially) could do it. In 1,500 days, we probably won’t have enough financial assets that they will be worth 25 times more than our annual expenditures. But bring expected rental income into the picture, and we have enough, between income and assets, to cover our 2015 average expenses of $3,000 a month. After the pension kicks in at age 55, we would have more than enough, and we could sell the rental property.

So… Annual Rental Income of $15,000 + Some Withdrawls From Savings + No Debt + Pension Kicking In At 55 = Ability to pay for 2015’s expenses ($3,000/mo) adjusted for inflation, for all time.

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What Do You Do With Excess Cash?

For me, frugality is a never-ending game of optimization. I’m always looking for ways to either cut costs or get more out of my money. This leads us to do weird things like cancelling the newspaper, cancelling the cable, buying wood stove pellets instead of rabbit litter, and either riding a bike or taking a bus to work. (ed: Self hyper-linking skills are on fleek) The way I’ve forced myself into this position over the years is by promising to always increase our monthly savings as measured in Quicken.

Forced Savings

From the time Marge and I moved in together, our savings plan has basically been this: Force a certain amount of savings per month by using automated investing. Money disappears from our checking account before we even notice it was there, and it escapes to a investment vehicle where it goes to work for us. The investments happen on a weekly basis to maximize dollar-cost averaging.

We started this back in 2006. I arbitrarily picked $1,000 as a savings goal for the month. When it became clear that this was too easy a hurdle, I pushed it up to $1,500 a month. Once we hit that goal for three months in a row, we increased it $100. And we’ve followed that model ever since. The amount of monthly forced savings has increased $100 or more every three months.

Now we are at $4,000 a month. As you can tell, I’ve found this method to be really effective. Every few months, we have to optimize, because the money just isn’t there! The savings must be found.

To be honest, some of this is only short-term savings. Some of the savings are used as a DIY escrow account to pay for our property taxes and home insurance, or if we owe any income taxes at the end of the year. All other expenses flow through the monthly expenses and count against that $4,000 number.

And since months can be lopsided, I sometimes have to push expenses ahead a month or two in Quicken, or push income back, to make that average savings goal appear. Funny math, but you get the picture. Regardless, that monthly savings goal is being forced into savings using automatic investments either through our workplace retirement plans or Vanguard accounts every month. If there is a temporary cash shortfall, I keep $3,000 as a buffer in a savings account.

Then every once in a while, there’s a monkey wrench thrown into the works. We get three paychecks instead of two. A tax refund. Some unexpected income shows up and I’m at a loss of what to do with it. And we are having some of those days again. Oh, joyous days! Continue reading

Our Rental Property Income Statement, The First Seven Months

Rental House (22)I really can’t hardly believe it’s been almost nine months since we bought our rental property. Between the purchasing, the cleaning up, taking photos, advertising the apartments, searching for, denying and approving prospective tenants, and collecting a few months’ rent, it’s been a load of new experiences. It feels like much more time has passed since we purchased the house at the end of last July.

Rental House (13)I’ve told you about my trials and tribulations searching for tenants. It took a while, but we have tenants we love in both apartments now. I also told you about my experience using Cozy.co to vet tenants and collect rent online. Overall, the apartment rental scheme has had a few minor bumps, but it’s basically been pretty easy.

I’ve even run the optimistic return projections. But one thing I haven’t done is finish an actual income statement… until now!

The Numbers

I treat the rental property as its own entity, aside from our personal income and expenses, so I can see how it’s doing as its own business. Is it self-sustaining? Sure seems like it. I mean, I see the rent roll in each month, but what kind of profit is this place really making?

Even though we bought the place in July, I am counting from September 1 to March 31, since September is when we made our first mortgage payment.

Rental Income
Apt 1: $2,981.94 (2 + 3/4 months)
Apt 2: $5,209.68 (5 + 1/2 months)
Total Rental Income: $8,191.62

We were lucky enough to find tenants for Apt. 2 immediately after advertising it in September. Apartment 1 took some more time. We didn’t find tenants that we wanted until December, and they didn’t move in until January. So during the seven months, the units sat empty for a while.

Rental Expenses

Mortgage Payments $5,307.75
Home Equity Loan Payments $784.49
Property Taxes $3,606.61
Insurance $2,351.00
Maintenance $5,317.35
Electric $427.33
Gas $542.16
Water & Sewer $102.65
Miscellaneous $35.00
Total Expenses $18,474.34
Less Loan Principal 3,255.24
Expenses Less Principal $15,219.10

 

After seven months
Rental Income: $8,191.62
Total Expenses: ($15,219.10)
Total Profit: ($10,282.72)

Well that’s not very encouraging! A ten thousand dollar loss so far?? Let me explain why we are showing a loss.

Maintenance – The biggest expense so far has been what I label “maintenance.” This includes many things that we had to get done before we could get tenants moved in.

Rental House (5)Washer and dryer – We knew that when we bought the house, one unit had a washer and dryer in it. Well, apparently they were strictly for decoration, because there was no electrical hookup or plumbing hookup. Someone between our inspector, our realtor, and us, should have, but didn’t notice this. I only noticed it about a day after coming home from Japan, and the day before the tenants were going to move in!

As much as I would’ve loved to do everything DIY, there just wasn’t enough time.  We promised the tenants a working washer and dryer, and I had to scramble just to get an electrical contractor to put in the correct 220 volt outlet and a vent for the dryer, and a plumbing contractor to put in the washer and dryer connections. All told, our tenants were without a washer and dryer for a week and a half, but were very understanding about it.

Chimney – We’re lucky that our inspection went so well. We knew the house was in very good shape, and our inspector found nothing wrong with the house except for the hot water heater exhaust was clogged with dust from the chimney.  Long story short, we had to get the chimney re-lined, and that cost $1,805. We were happy to just get it done and not worry about it.

IMG_5966The other washer and dryer – Even though our first apartment was rented in a heartbeat, our second one sat on the market for weeks without an inquiry. We decided it was because there was no washer and dryer in the unit. What I thought would be a good way to attract two different types of tenants to the two different types of unit (one with w+d, and one without) didn’t work out. We spent $950 (after Lowes coupons) on a new washer and dryer and actually had our tenants agree to move in just based on the promise that the washer and dryer would be there by their move-in date.

Property Taxes – $3,606 is the bulk of our property taxes for the year.

Gas  – Since the heating is gas, and it is included in the rent, we pay for it. This statement covers the coldest months of the year. This should be much lower for the next five months. We’ll see how close my initial estimate of $100 on average per month will be.

Okay, so imagine that we drop all of the maintenance expenses ($5,317) and that the two units were occupied for all seven months (another $5,983 in rent), and suddenly we’ve turned a profit.

The good news is that, so far this year, we’ve made a profit in January and March, and probably will in April. The only reason February was not in the black is that part of our property taxes were due, and we bought that washer and dryer. I see our property turning a tidy profit soon. I’ll post another income statement after the first twelve months.

Any rough experiences out there for first time rental property owners?

Quarterly Expenses and Goal Progress: Q1 2016

Well it’s the first quarter of a new year, and a new year means a new set of goals to keep. Let’s see if everything is “on fleek” so far. Did I just use that correctly?

Total Expenses: $16,323.43
Avg Per Month: $5,441.14

Without Debt Payments
Total Expenses: $10,668.49
Avg Per Month: $3,556.16

Savings Rate: 45.8%

The Necessary Evils :

Quarterly Total Monthly Average
Mortgage $2,083.74 $694.58
Student Loans $2,578.08 $859.36
Car payments $993.12 $331.04
Home Insurance $960.00 N/A
Property Taxes $2,162.99 N/A
Medical $209.52 $69.84

That there is the final car payment! Marge’s 2013 Toyota Corolla is officially paid off. Fun fact: The car has 15,000 miles on it, which after 2.5 years means it is averaging only 6,000 miles per year.
Marge and I both had several doctors and dentists’ visits this quarter, making for an unusually high Medical expense.
That is our home insurance for the entire year, and we made $2,000 in extra student loan payments to help get them paid off very soon. And that is also just more than half of our property taxes for the year.

Wine Club Feb 2016 (5)

Food:

Quarterly Total Monthly Average
Groceries $1,225.60 $408.53
Wine & Beer $70.50 $23.50
Dining Out $127.52 $42.51
Takeout Food $157.33 $52.44
Total Food $1,580.95 $526.98
Moroccan Stew

Moroccan Stew

I think there is some leftover Christmas party and gift food inflating that grocery bill, and many, many cinnamon babkas made for friends and parties. We also hosted about sixteen people for a wine-tasting party with mucho food, and Marge competed in a mac & cheese competition (if you’re curious, reuben mac & cheese, and no). All things considered, this is a pretty good total. And a lot of good food.

 

 

Poets Walk (1)

Kingston Rhinecliff Bridge seen from Poet’s Walk

Transportation:

Quarterly Total Month Average
Auto Maintenance/Other $54.00 $18.00
Gas $197.16 $65.72
Parking $77.76 $25.92
Bus Tickets $130.00 $43.33
Total Transportation $458.92 $152.97

Mostly just commuting this quarter, although we did meet my parents down in the Hudson Valley for lunch and then Poet’s Walk hike in Rhinebeck. $65.72 a month for gas is about $10 less than what we spent on average last year. No car insurance or work on the car this quarter. All is good!

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