favorite things life money

Married? You might need an allowance

It may sound silly, but allowances are a great way to ease financial strain on a marriage.

Allowance. Sounds so restraining. So … childish.

But: Hear me out!

When you have combined finances, there’s a lot of work involved in managing it. No matter what two people are involved, there’s always going to be be a differing opinion on what the money should be spent on. It takes a lot of work to figure out that compromise. A lot of ongoing work.

But for the fun stuff? Everyone should get to do some fun stuff! Without judgment from others. Without guilt that the money could be going to something more useful.

Before we instituted the allowance, I did much of the money management. And whenever the husband asked me if he could buy something, my answer was yes! Unless the money wasn’t there, and then the answer was, not right now, but in a few months. But … I rarely gave myself that same permission. My default setting is to save. To feel guilty for being too indulgent.

And the husband often expressed doubt that we had the money for the things he wanted … and then guilt for buying them. Especially because he could see me doing a whole lotta not buying stuff for me.

It was not a healthy dynamic I was creating. We stayed in our budget, sure, but I was breeding inequality. Totally my fault.

Enter the allowance! Every month, we have two allowance “bills”. One for me, one for the husband. Each for the same amount of money. We used to use separate savings accounts to keep the money in, but now we use ynab to do it virtually.

And this allowance pot we each have? No rules. No judgment. No guilt. Spa days and yarn I’ll never get around to knitting? Go for it! The husband wants gaming laptops and xbox games? Why not?

It may sound silly, but it’s so freeing to have a little pot, all your own.

Give it a try. You might just that find you like it.

life money work

Downsizing: house edition

After the husband launched his writing career, he found himself highly motivated to be able to keep writing. The original plan was for him to take six months off to write a novel, and then return to the daily grind while he shopped it around to get published.

Six months, because that is how long I calculated our savings would last at our expenditure rate.

But a funny thing happens when you are highly motivated to keep writing: there’s a whole lot of budget analysis and soul-searching to figure out what’s really important.

And you know what wasn’t actually important to either of us? Home ownership.

But … it’s the American Dream!

But it’s also a whole lot of work. Yard work, house cleaning, figuring out how to fix stuff when it breaks or else hiring someone to fix stuff when it breaks. And all that stuff adds up: it’s time and/or money you can’t use to do other things that, let’s be honest, are way more fun. (Ok, I get there are some people out there who love mowing their lawn? I guess that’s a thing neither I nor my husband inherited …)

I wasn’t sold on the idea of apartment life when the husband floated the idea. I thought back to my college days of cinderblock walls and 20-year-old, filthy carpet. I looked around at my custom-built home with acres of wood floors. And I didn’t think I could take that plunge.

But, y’all: there’s a whole big world of apartments out there! With (faux) wood floors and actual tile. With upgraded appliances, open kitchens and floor-to-ceiling windows. With garages. With pools that you don’t have to maintain! With gyms! With fancy clubhouses for entertaining your friends! With package lockers, so no need to worry about porch bandits!

So we took that plunge, downsized from 3200 square feet to 1200. We got rid of 2000 square feet of … well, stuff. Stuff that we acquired for the sole purpose of filling up our American Dream. The American Dream that everyone told us was our dream, but … when we really thought about it … wasn’t the dream that made sense for us.

I know the apartment life isn’t for everyone. But for us? With no kids? With our serious lack of handy man skills? With our desire to live in a clean place but without a great love for cleaning? (Seriously, 1200 square feet is so. fast. to. clean.) With a desire for a pool, but no desire to change in a locker room or drive home wet … or the desire to maintain one?

It’s a pretty sweet gig. For us. No diminishment in happiness. A lot of time and energy freed up for the stuff we love!

And: it allowed the husband to get our budget into shape, so now he can focus on the writing. (Fourth book is out later this year!! Three years later with 4 published works? That’s some serious focus.)

life money work

The way it really happened

The husband posted yesterday about how he launched his novel-writing career. (I hope it’s a career! Fingers crossed!) But, he didn’t quite get our conversation right.

The real conversation:

TH: I don’t want to work any more. [Manly pout.] I want to write a book.

ME: MmHmmmm. [Log into YNAB.]

TH: Complain, complain, complain …

ME: Yeah, it sucks. [Run some reports in YNAB.]

TH: I’ve always wanted to write a book, I’ve started so many.

ME: Yeah, I want to know how the cable guy one ends. You stopped just when it got good. [Budget analysis in YNAB.]

TH: Retirement’s so far away, I wish I didn’t have to wait.

ME: Can you do it in 6 months?

TH: Can I .. what? Write a book in 6 months?

ME: Yeah, can you write a book in 6 months?

TH: I don’t … Probably? Probably, yeah.

ME: Ok, let’s do it. You have 6 months. But that’s all, you’ll need to go back to work after 6 months.

TH: Wait, you mean just … quit my job and write a book?

ME: Yeah. But only for 6 months. That’s when the savings runs out.

TH: Really? You mean for real?

ME: Yeah. But not forever, ok? Just, you know. 6 months.

TH: [Manly cartwheel.]

Ok, ok, so maybe that’s not how it really, really happened. I don’t know that there was any pouting and there probably weren’t any cartwheels. Probably. But, in any event, it all came from a place of careful calculation … not from anything like a ‘heart’. I’m not so noble or generous as the husband’s post would imply. But, I suppose, that’s the novelists’ prerogative.

general complaints money

um, so this is how capitalism works?

So I just plugged all our numbers into some of that fancy tax software, and the results are, well, enough to make me want to stop working so hard.  Or at all.

The husband and I had slightly more taxable income in 2008 than 2007.  For that we are grateful, especially in this time of financial distress for so many.  But our owed tax is significantly more expensive in 2008 than 2007.  Thanks to the AMT, 58% of our increase is owed as taxes.  That’s MORE THAN HALF of our increase! 

So why do I work so hard again?

knitting life money shopping travel

still alive!

No less than TWO of my family members were starting to worry about me since I haven’t posted in awhile.  So yeah, here I am, still alive!

So, just to recap, in my time away from blogging, I:

got summoned for Jury Duty

had Christmas in Texas

decided to write another murder mystery

knitted two Jayne hats

knitted a pirate sock and a half

decided to host a candle party

bought some new sweaters in 75% off January

got pretty and went to the husband’s company party

bought travel books for Italy!

and, talked to a financial planner.

Except for my time in Texas, I have been freeeeezing the entire time.  The butt-cold does NOT agree with me.

And I am exhausted.  I know I just had a holiday with New Years and all, but I am so ready for this upcoming 3-day weekend.  So very ready.

general complaints life money

nobody wants to bail me out

3 years ago, the husband and I took the plunge and bought a house.  It was 2005, and housing was booming.  Lenders were willing to loan ridiculous amounts of money.  In fact, they scoffed at the “modest” amount of money the husband and I requested.  They offered to loan us twice as much, but we declined; we knew how much money we made, we knew how much other debt we had, and we knew what kind of lifestyle we wanted to maintain.

And so we got a loan we could afford.  We took a risk with an ARM, but even in a worst-case scenario, we knew we’d be able to afford the payments.

Silly us!  If we had over-extended ourselves, we’d be able to renegotiate our loan terms.  Instead of being stuck with a loan for twice as much as what our foreclosing neighbor is selling her house for, we might be able to get our principal reduced.  Or get our ARM converted to a standard loan.

But, alas, we were responsible.  And so there is no help for us.

confession money

dirty money

So, I was thinking about all the free money I got to cover my college bills, and I realized that it was all, well, from people surrounded with controversy.

I got money from an ENeRgy cOmpaNy who stole peoples’ retirements.

I got money from a paper company who went to court for violating EPA standards.

I got money from the US government.

I got money from a senator who used to be a high-ranking KKK official.

And I got money from the Mormons.

So I guess if they were all hoping for me to turn into a polluting, livelihood stealing, racist conversative war-mongering torturer, well, then, they sure did waste their money on me …


paying for college

I managed to make it through college without financial assistance from my folks.  The husband managed to make it through college without assistance from his folks.  We are both reasonably happy, reasonably successful, reasonably well-adjusted people.

In all my reading about financial matters, I keep running across articles about saving money for your kids’ college.  Start as soon as you have the baby!  they say.  Saving just $10-$12K a year with an 8% return will leave you with enough for 4 years at a public school (at 90K a year, youch).  I’ve read all kinds of articles about how parents are having to choose between retirement or paying their kids’ school bills.  To me it’s an easy choice:  401k.

I guess I’m just heartless, but I don’t feel like I owe my kids a college education.

I will be the first to admit, that I was a little lucky when it came to being able to pay my school bills.  As a Japanese American female, majoring in computer science, with good grades and even better test scores, I was what scholarship folks call “a good investment.”  Oh, and coming from middle-America with a moderate financial need didn’t hurt either. 

The husband got some good scholarships too, some based on merit, some on merit and financial need.  He took out a modest student loan.  And he got his degree.

So now here we are, with our degrees, in a very different world than the one we grew up in.

We are now in a world of entitlement, where ALL the kids in the local high schools drive nicer cars than anything I could have dreamed of when I was in high school.  Where all the kids take SAT prep courses.  (I took the SAT once; the $20 fee was not insignificant at the time.)  Where all the kids are counting on money from mummy and daddy to put them through college.

With the cost of school rising faster than the rate of inflation, it does seem that expecting scholarships and loans to cover the full cost of school might not be reasonable in 20 years.  And with our cushy white-collar jobs, our children won’t be eligible for anything need-based.

So how to balance out our desire to raise non-entitled children, while also not dooming them to a lifetime of paying back student loans?  We haven’t figured that out yet.  Good thing we don’t have kids yet …



I just put the very last car payment in the mail. It’s a liberating feeling, to own my car free and clear, while it still has some years left in it. The odometer has yet to hit 40K. She’s still in good shape, except for a dent courtesy of a drunk Diamond Rio fan, and a horribly crumpled front license plate, courtesy of a minor fender bender. Both are things that can be easily fixed, I just don’t know a good body shop.

Unfortunately, having the car paid off doesn’t free up any cash, due to the fact that I am a money nazi. And I’ve got another car payment and two student loans to worry about. Not to mention my ill-timed mortgage. My ill-timed interest only mortgage. My ill-timed, interest only, 100% financed mortgage. My ill-timed, interest only, 100% financed ARM mortgage that resets in another 3 years. I know, I know, what was I thinking? All I can say is, at the time, I didn’t foresee my house suddenly losing 15% of its value. And, well, I didn’t think I’d be in the house for longer than 5 years. Which, I likely will be, seeing as I’m not exactly gaining any equity …

So now comes the hard part – do I put all that extra money to the littlest loans to get them out of the way? Or toward the monster mortgage? Or do I attack the loan with the highest interest rate? Or do I just leave all the loans the way they are, making the required payments, and invest my money elsewhere, assuming I can get a return that’s larger than my highest interest rate? Also assuming that I can keep my grubby hands off that money long enough for it to grow into something besides ‘a fabulous trip to Italy!’

Before I decide what comes next, though, I think I’ll take my car for its first fully-owned spin around town.

general complaints money


I was recently reading an article about Americans readiness for retirement, and it greatly disturbed me. For the sake of most Americans, I hope the stats are skewed, or that there is something that I am missing.

The article states that:

“58 percent of workers between ages 45 and 54, and 56 percent of those age 55 and older had less than $50,000 in savings.”

Now, this is strictly talking about 401ks, IRAs, and other retirement accounts, so I suppose these baby boomers might have some really amazing pensions, or they may own a multi-million dollar home that they plan on trading in for something more modest, or perhaps they plan on retiring at the age of 75. I don’t know the ins and outs of the social security system, but it doesn’t seem to me that any government assistance would really be enough to live on. Well, not unless you’re Canadian.

My dad falls into this camp – or close to it – but he was Enronned. Literally. By Enron. (Thanks to a class-action lawsuit, he will soon be receiving a penny for every dollar that Mr. Lay borrowed. Such a nice man, that Mr. Lay. He surrounded himself with such upstanding people.) Luckily, my dad’s a union man, so he has pensions and whatnot, but even then, he’s had to seriously rethink his retirement. Like the early retirement he was going to take so he could run a b&b, or start a music career, or finally become a seasoned world traveler.

Retirement should be a fun time. After years of working for the man, retirement should be a time when you get to do whatever you want. Like buy a winnebago and visit all the national parks, with stops along the way to see your kids and embarrass them by parking the RV out front. Or open a roadside jewelry stand in New Mexico. Or run an animal rescue. Or start a full-time letter writing campaign to NASA, in support of a mission to mars. Or anything you’ve ever wanted to do, but didn’t have the time. Retirement accounts should be there to make sure you have the money.

I’m 26 years old, and I already have close to $50K in my 401k and IRAs. Admittedly, I am a bit of a planning freak, and I was lucky to be able to start my first 401k when I was 19. I suppose the article stats should make me feel good, to know that I am as prepared as over 50% of baby boomers, but it instead makes me worry for all the people who will reach retirement age in the next 20 years. I hope they all have amazing pensions will full health-coverage – or that they like Canada.