September 2015 Early Retirement Progress

We contributed $4,804.06 this month to our retirement accounts, and we lost $10,529.49 in investment value this month.

I think this year is going to be negative on interest, but net positive because of our contributions.  We’ve contributed about 30k more than we’ve lost, so we’re still ahead of the game.  So far, October is looking up, but I’m not going to count my money until I sell my investments and take it out of those accounts.

We’re only contributing any cash back to our taxable account for now (and probably until next summer), but it’s been significant – over 1k this year so far.  That will change now that we’re done “moving”, and only pick up again once I start buying things for the deck next summer.   The only reason we’ll be contributing in October is a 2k whole house humidifier that we installed and put on the visa card (because cash back…).

2015 Totals

In 2015, so far, we’ve contributed $50,454.10 (72.08% of our goal of 70k), and we’ve lost $20,012.71 in investment value (-83.82% of our planned total).

Detailed Financial Picture – September 2015

August’s Numbers

As of September 10, 2015, we are $333,633.71 in debt with a mortgage.  We currently have $880,100.91 in assets.  Our investment accounts are at $458,255.91. Our Net Worth is $546,437.20, down from $579,248.78 last month (5.66% decrease)

This month, our line of credit is making a reappearance.  I got tired and stressed about not having a full month’s buffer in our accounts, so I pulled from our LoC to make one – we expect it’ll be paid in full in December.  I could have continued to float on our credit cards and timed payments to paychecks, but that was getting too stressful, so I stopped it – it’s worth the peace of mind and extra sleep at night to pay a little bit in interest.

The markets have been mean to us this month (along with everyone else), and we’re down 4.95% this month, despite contributing about $4500 to our accounts.  We’re still up 7.61% from the beginning of the year, but that’s all contributions.  We’re just continuing to contribute and hanging on for the ride!  I have one Roth account which has only FSTVX in it (advantage class), and it’s dropped below the 10k minimum, and I can’t add to it until I’ve done my taxes and are sure that I’ll be able to contribute this year :(  I’ll probably get a letter from Fidelity soon about kicking me back to FSTMX which has a slightly higher expense ratio unless the markets take a turn for the better.

We’re plugging along on the car payments, focusing now on the Line of Credit, and letting normal payments on the cars continue – at 0%, we still make a pretty good dent every month.

If you’re continuing to pay down debt, how is it going?

Debt (in the order we’re paying it down):

  • Line of Credit (8.75%): 7000 (+7000)
  • Car loan – RAV4 (0%): $9,750 (-500.00)
  • Car loan 2 – Camry (0%): $25,450 (-458.00)
  • Mortgage (3.875%): $291,463.71 (-482.40)

Total paid off in August:  -$5,559.60

The swingset all done

Swingset is Done!

I’m now more confident in our ability to add a deck next summer/fall – Dad, not so much.   There were some differences between the instructions and reality, and we did OK in resolving them – one involved another trip to Home Depot for another piece of lumber to re-drill (luckily, not a 12′ beam!).  There were only two trips to the hardware store after assembly started – to acquire an impact wrench (best invention ever!) and the second beam of wood.  There were multiple trips while I was prepping the wood however.  I needed a longer drill bit (did you know a standard drill bit won’t fit through a 6″ beam of wood? – they sell extra long bits for this purpose), the right size socket for the impact wrench (there are special impact sockets), and I picked up an impact driver as well.  I have to say, I really like the impact driver and wrench.  Between the two, we were able to drive in 3 1/2″ lag screws pretty easily and attach the decking and rock wall very quickly.

My little brother said he was going to come over at 8am on Saturday, and he’s notoriously unreliable, so we planned for him to show up around 9 – he actually showed up around 10:30.  So, we didn’t even really get started until 10:30-10:45 on Saturday.  And lucky for us, it was one of the hottest weekends of the summer (yuck!).

The basic fort frame.

The basic fort frame.


We started following the instructions, and set up the fort frame.  Then quickly discovered that our “level” backyard isn’t so level.  We had to dig out 4″ at the “front” of the fort to have it level.  That took what seemed like forever.  And the portion of the yard we put it in gets zero shade throughout the day – not morning shade, not afternoon or evening shade (And I forgot to put on sunscreen – ouch!).

As you can see, the fort is a good size (6’x6′).  We had to measure carefully, because there will eventually be a 10′ monkey bars hanging off the right side there.


Daughter Person checking out the Rock Wall

Daughter Person checking out the Rock Wall – progress at the end of Day 1

By lunch, we had gotten the basic frame of the fort done, and we ran into our first issue with the instructions.  The side that holds the swingset needs a swingbeam (4x6x70″) instead of a simple panel.  There were no holes drilled on the posts to put the carriage bolts through.  So, I had to go get the drill, find the extra long extension cord and drill new holes – which weren’t quite straight since I wasn’t using the worktables in the garage.  But, they worked, and we got the beam on.  Then we went to put on the metal support for the swingbeam, and the holes weren’t drilled evenly (or even close to the holes in the support).  My brother tried to fix it, but wasn’t super successful.  He had to go to a party, so he and my mom left, and Dad and I continued and installed the rock wall.  My mom and my brother were to come about 9am to resume helping.

Again, my brother is not very reliable, so he and my mom showed up about 12:30 – after we had eaten lunch (and he was upset we didn’t save any pizza for him).  While we were waiting, Dad and I were able to put together the ladder to get up into the fort, and attach the bottom beam for the rope ladder.

Progress Halfway through Day 2

Progress Halfway through Day 2

We had a few kludges here too.  One, we had to work with Daughter Person around us and getting into all kinds of stuff, and the ladder didn’t fit into the opening :(  I hauled out the miter saw again and cut a few angles and solved that issue, then we had to contend with the un-level ground again, and dig in the bottom of the ladder and rope ladder.  I hate digging.

At this point, my brother showed up and we decided to just go get a new beam for the swing support and re-drill the holes.  My brother and Dad installed the slide and the rope ladder by the time I got home from Home Depot with the wood.  I went back into the garage to drill the holes right (measured off the metal support thing rather than the tape measure!), and Dad went to rest his back and complain that he’s old.

Hanging the Swings

Hanging the Swings

We *finally* get the swing beam support up and attached and then we have to tackle installing the swing beam.  That was probably the hardest part of the entire operation – and tempers were flaring.  My brother almost broke the A-frame metal support by trying to connect the legs to the swing beam while it was vertical and then tipping it towards the fort. Turns out, following the instructions was the almost right move in this case: support the swing beam on the fort while attaching the legs, then walking the legs away from the fort.  Then, you get to level the swing beam by pulling apart the legs (thus bending the A-frame support – just in a different way).



It’s done, we’re proud of it, and still talking to each other.  Although, both of us are a little singed and very sore from using muscles that we don’t normally use.  And, I don’t want to go outside until the temperature drops well below 90!


August 2015 Early Retirement Progress

We contributed $4,844.74 this month to our retirement accounts, and we lost $25,029.45 in investment value this month (not including September 1 :( ).

Holy volatility!  We’re down almost 10k for the year, despite putting in over 45k, so we’ve “lost” 55k just this year.  This money is for long term use, so it’s not that concerning to me, but I still don’t like to see my balances drop that much!  It does make our numbers look bad, but we’re not touching this money for at least 15 years – I’m confident that we’ll make it back up in that time.

My immediate concern is that the balance in my Roth IRA has dropped below the 10k needed for the Fidelity Advanage class fund, so I might end up back in the Investor class fund paying slightly more in management fees.  I’m pretty sure we’ll be under the MAGI for a Roth this year, but I don’t want to add more money into the account until I’ve done our taxes to make sure :( That won’t be until about February/March.

I’m trying to rework our budget to add more money into retirement accounts while the market is “on sale”, but it’s not really happening.  The regular contributions are still going on, but we want to get out of the cash flow problem first, so taxable contributions have stopped other than the cash back from my Fidelity Visa.

We can only control how much we contribute, so that’s what I’m focusing on.  Have your investments done as poorly (or as well) as ours?


2015 Totals

In 2015, so far, we’ve contributed $45,650.04 (65.21% of our goal of 70k), and we’ve lost $9483.22 in investment value (-39.72% of our planned total).

First DIY Building – Ever – Starting Our Swing Set


The slide and all – aka “the kit”

Having just moved into a brand new house, there’s not much to repair/improve on yet (There’s a large list of wants though!).  But, we now have a nice large yard, big enough to have both a deck and a swingset with some grass left over.  We’re saving up to build the deck next summer/fall, but we’re working on the swingset.  I got a ready-to-build kit (minus the wood) from Plan it Play for $879 (delivered!).  It provides the plans and all of the hardware for the swingset, as well as the swings, slide, rocks and rope ladder.  I’m sure I could have gotten the parts cheaper, but the slides are pretty darn expensive by themselves, and I really have no clue what I’m doing when it comes to a structural building that I’m going to trust my daughter’s life on.  I’ll pay a little more for vetted plans!

The parts arrived last week, and last weekend, I convinced my little brother to borrow his boss’ truck to haul 12′ long lumber from Home Depot (totally legit – he’s allowed to borrow it as long as he puts gas in it).

Hauling wood

Hauling wood – my brother loves my daughter!

Home Depot didn’t have exactly what we needed for all of the wood, so we paid a little more for ground contact pressure-treated pine when we didn’t need to in some cases. They also didn’t have one of the sizes I needed in ground contact PT pine, so I picked up the last pieces of  wood with the RAV on my way home from work at 84 lumber (only need 70″ lengths, they only have 8ft lengths, but I fit them in RAV, so paid a little more there as well because of the waste).  About $410 in wood later, plus $130 for tools I didn’t have, like a hand router and roundover bit, we’re ready to begin building the swingset.  I’m going to be prepping the wood between now and Labor day weekend, and then several friends will be arriving that Saturday to help assemble it.  The plans estimate 15-16 hours of work, but I’m hoping I can cut that down on the weekend by pre-cutting, pre-rounding, and pre-drilling the bolt holes.

Most of the wood - ready to go

Most of the wood – ready to start pre-work

(Recycling only comes every two weeks, the packaging for the kit is waiting until this upcoming week to be broken down and recycled.)

We’ve never built anything structural or weight bearing before, so this will be our “practice” for the deck next summer.

Wish us luck!

Surgery with a High Deductible Plan – Part 2

We’ve now (finally) gotten all of the bills from Daughter Person’s surgery and followup.  Total damage: $2,562.97, not including the first two appointments with the specialist to determine and confirm she’ll be getting tubes (those two together were $508.90 out of our pocket) – those were in the health insurance’s estimated cost of $2600.  She’ll also be having followups every 6 months until the tubes fall out on their own, or we have to pay for another surgery to have them removed.  The first 6 month followup will be in December 2015, and will include a hearing test, so it’ll be approximately $400 (based on the previous appointment she had with a hearing test).

Despite having a high deductible, we still get the “benefits” of the health plan negotiations with the doctor and hospital – not sure it’s really worth the premiums we’re paying, if you pay cash and negotiate yourself, you can probably get similar “discounts”.  Below, you’ll see what the “actual” charge was, and then what we have to pay.  The charges from top to bottom in the image are: the 3 week followup appointment with the ENT, the hospital, the anesthesiologist, and the surgeon/doctor’s fee for surgery.

Claims Summary for Insurance

Claims Summary for Insurance

This is the first full year we’ve had a high deductible plan, and this will likely be a year that we meet our deductible.  Dad has some elective outpatient surgery he needs to take care of, so he’s scheduling that this year.  I’m making sure that any outstanding medical issues we’ve been putting off are being taken care of this year because we’re so close to the deductible.

We have over 4k in our HSA, but at this point, I’m just paying with my cash back card and adding up the amounts I’ll be able to withdraw in the future.

The best part (not really): the surgery may have not been necessary.  When they did it, they didn’t find any fluid behind her ear drums.  So, we paid almost 3k to prevent ear infections that could be resolved with a $54 doctor visit and $4 in antibiotics.  That’s over 40 ear infections. I get that doctors are cautious with kids and so on, but I’m still rather pissed about it – *he* didn’t pay 3k for basically nothing (granted, he didn’t get most of the money from it either).

Do you have a high deductible plan?  How do you handle “major” medical issues with it?

July 2015 Early Retirement Progress

We contributed $6,117.65 this month to our retirement accounts, and we gained $6762.49 in investment value this month.

July was a three paycheck month for Dad, so we contributed more than most months.  I also got an increase in my salary – $18.34 more to my retirement accounts from the University  (whoohoo!) and $7.19 more from me per month (which will reduce December’s contribution).   December is also a three paycheck month for Dad as well, so we’ll have a slightly higher contribution there.

The markets were nicer this month than last, but still relatively flat.  It’s looking like the markets might not make the historical average of 6% annual increase this year. No biggie, we had a huge increase last year to ride off.

We’re getting into a cash crunch with new house stuff and the car, so I’m reducing my taxable contributions for a bit until we get back to living on last month’s income.  It’ll mean that we likely won’t make the 70k goal contributions, but we’ll be pretty close.  Considering that last year’s goal was to contribute 40k, and we ultimately contributed about 45k, I think we’ve really improved our situation.

We’re feeling a little cash crunched in general, although some of it’s going to accounts where we can pull the money from if needed (HSA and taxable).  I felt like we had more money while paying off debt, and we sort of did – because we were prioritizing paying off debt rather than retirement savings.  Now that we’re prioritizing retirement savings, we (obviously) have less money to pay off our 0% loans, so it feels like they’re taking forever to pay off.

How are your contribution goals going for this year?

2015 Totals

In 2015, so far, we’ve contributed $40,766.65 (58.24% of our goal of 70k), and we’ve gained $15,546.23 in investment value (65.11% of our planned total).

Detailed Financial Picture – August 2015

July’s Numbers

As of August 3, 2015, we are $328,104.11 in debt with a mortgage.  We currently have $907,352.89 in assets.  Our investment accounts are at $482,118.58. Our Net Worth is $579,248.78, up from $570,236.46, last month (1.58% increase).

Normally, I’d do our early retirement progress first, but Fidelity’s NetBenefits pages are borked, so I can’t get definitive statement data – maybe tomorrow.

We’ve had our first Net Worth increase in a few months, despite buying a new car and taking on a loan for it.  The markets were very nice to us this month.  I am getting about $128 more per month in net salary, and about $30 more per month to my 403(b) – both my contributions and my “match”.  I’ll have a slightly decreased contribution in December to true up with the IRS limits.

We have a new car – a Camry Hybrid LE and are loving it.  It’s the new “family” car.  We picked it up finally on July 17, and we’ve had to fill it up once (and it’s still mostly full).  The “estimated miles to empty” indicator starts at 617 miles with a full tank.  Dad’s driving it until we get to winter, then he’ll be driving our RAV since he’s the primary transportation for Daughter Person, and the RAV does better in the snow.  I get to drive it on the weekends though :) We’ll be putting it through it’s paces in August with two long car trips planned: one to Sesame Place outside of Philly and one to Baltimore to see Dad’s family.

I made a reduced payment on the RAV this month due to cash flow issues.  We put Daughter Person’s ear surgery on the credit card, it’s due this month, and I’m trying to survive without pulling it out from our HSA investments, so cash is a little tight this month – I paid just over the minimum needed on the RAV for the month to give us some cash cushion until we can get back to living on last month’s income.

We’re finally stabilizing in the new house and have unpacked everything except the basement.  We can even fit both cars in the garage!  With Daughter Person’s surgery over, we should be spending a lot less in August.  I’m not focusing on the debt repayment until we can build up a good buffer and emergency fund, after all, everything except the mortgage is 0%.



Debt (in the order we’re paying it down):

  • Car loan – RAV4 (0%): $10,250 (-250.00)
  • Car loan 2 – Camry (0%): $25,908 (-450.00)
  • Mortgage (3.875%): $291.946.11 (-480.84)

Total paid off in July:  $1,180.84

Credit Security Freezes – and why you might want to consider one

I’ve just finished up placing security freezes on both Dad and I. We’re both victims of the latest OPM breach of background investigation data having worked for government contractors. Daughter Person is also a victim, but in our state, we’re not allowed to place a freeze on her credit report as a minor (if we were still in VA, we could). It cost us about $60 for the both of us, but for the protection it offers, I think it’s worth it. Note: If you’re already a victim of identity fraud, you can generally get a security freeze for free with a copy of the police report, but you won’t be able to do it online.

What is a Credit Security Freeze?

Brian Krebs does a better job of explaining it, but the basic gist is that the credit reporting bureaus (all 4 of them!) will not release any of our credit information without us initiating a “thaw” first. In practice, this means that no one will extend “us” credit because they can’t verify how creditworthy we are. I’m sure there are some lenders who don’t bother to check, and we’ll have to deal with those accounts on a case-by-case basis. But, basically, if anyone tries to open a credit account/loan/etc in our names or using our socials, they won’t be able to. It’s a bit of a pain for us because we have to provide a special PIN (10-digits) and $10 to each agency to “thaw” our credit reports to obtain credit – no more card churning for us.

Why did we do it?

Why did we take the (rather) drastic step of freezing our credit reports? The data that is in the OPM eQIP system (used to electronically fill out the SF-86 form) includes our social security numbers (and those of people we live with – like each other and Daughter Person), other names, our addresses for the last 7 years, employment history, citizenship, and educational information. Some financial information is also included. If you’ve ever had to answer ChoicePoint’s set of “identification questions” based on your credit report – guess what someone (China?) has? OPM is planning on offering 3 years of fraud protection and insurance assuming we actually get the letter since my file is out of date (Dad’s should be current), but this information doesn’t really change, and now that that’s been announced, anyone who stole that data is just going to wait 3 years to use it.

We just got a mortgage, and we’ve already been approved for our car loan (whenever the car actually gets to the dealer), so I went ahead and initiated the freeze this week. We shouldn’t need to have our credit checked in the near future (until the Costco AMEX goes away and I have to decide what to replace it with), and I’ll have enough time to thaw the appropriate report before we apply.

Should you Freeze your Credit?

Unless you have reason to suspect that your social security number and other identifying information (like previous addresses) have been compromised, it’s a pretty drastic step, and I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’ve just had a credit card number taken and used fraudulently – don’t bother – this won’t prevent that type of fraud. Freezing your credit only prevents new credit from being issued in your name/social, it doesn’t affect existing accounts (including potentially fraudulent ones).

If you do decide to freeze your credit, check the fees in your state, then go to all four of the credit agencies and place the freeze: Equifax, Transunion, Experian, and Innovis. I was able to place the freeze online at all 4 agencies, but others have had to do it via mail, with a photocopy of an ID document. We had one issue with Equifax not giving Dad his 10 digit PIN once we froze his account, and we’re fighting with them to not have to file for a “change of PIN” with attendant $10 fee.

Hopefully, no one else is in this situation, because it’s a PITA, but a security freeze is one of the many things you can do to protect your credit rating/score.

June 2015 Early Retirement Progress

We contributed $4,442.69 this month to our retirement accounts, and we lost $8,398.29 in investment value this month. 

Our contributions were a bit lower this month because I “subtracted” our HSA withdrawals from the contribution value.  We still contributed to our HSA, we just also withdrew more than we contributed this month.  I’m still unsure on whether we’ll be withdrawing from the HSA to cover Daughter Person’s surgery on Friday, but I’m trying to avoid doing so. (I can withdraw it at any time, so it may wait until we have a money crunch).

The markets have gone down, down, down, and I foresee that they will continue to go down until Greece is either in or out of the euro zone.  We might even end up negative for investment increases this year – as long as I average out to 6%/year, I’m a happy camper.

I got a 3% raise for the upcoming fiscal year, so based on the ADP calculator, I’ll be getting extra from the University match, and my contributions will go up until December, when they do the calculation for IRS maximum (I hope) and they’ll only let me contribute the difference.  I’m keeping my 20% contribution rate, because it’s still close enough to the max, and I don’t feel like doing the new math :)  Unlike Dad’s, there is no “take out the maximum allowed by law” button on my HR site, so I have to do the math every year.

2015 Totals

In 2015, so far, we’ve contributed $34,649.00 (49.50% of our goal of 70k), and we’ve gained $8,783.74 in investment value (36.79% of our planned total).