I will do my best to be … friendly and helpful … and be a sister to every Girl Scout

Starting in the fall, I will be a Girl Scout Daisy Troop Leader.  We’re already registered and signed up, but the new leader training won’t occur until late August, and the “official” start of the Girl Scout 2016-2017 year isn’t until October 1, 2016.

How did I end up as a leader?

Daughter Person is entering Kindergarten in the fall (wait what?), and she’s expressed interest in being in girl scouts.  However, there was no troop or leader yet for the incoming K students in our area.  So, I found another volunteer to be a leader, and we’ve gone through our local council to start a troop.  We already have 5 adult volunteers registered (and cleared in PA) other than the leaders.  They are moms (and dads) who just wanted to help, but weren’t interested in taking on a Leader role.  There are also 5 girls that we know of registered, and once we settle on a meeting place and time, we’re opening up the registration on the Girl Scouts of America’s main web page to allow incoming girls and parents to find our troop.  The current K-level Daisy troop has 12 members, so I suspect we’ll have a similar number.  The limit is 12 girls with only two leaders – we’d have to find another volunteer to step up to be a leader to have more than 12 girls.

I did girl scouts long ago (before there were Daisies!), and my mom was a scout even longer ago, although she was a leader when I was in scouting.  We both showed Daughter Person things we did and pictures, and that’s how she got excited.  I have the cutest picture of her in her new Daisy uniform – complete with the Beanie (her choice!).

This will be a new adventure for both of us, and so far, I feel like I’ve been drinking from a firehose with information from our council about meetings, and troops, and training, and everything else involved in starting a troop.  I got a lot out of scouting when I was younger, and I hope Daughter Person does too!

New Job for Dad

Dad has accepted a new job, at a larger salary than he is currently making.  But, he’s not likely to get any bonuses like he does for his current company.  We’ll be losing 5% of company match in our retirement accounts and 3% of his salary, but the savings of benefits/health care almost makes up for it.  Instead of the $260/mth HSA plan we’re on now, we’ll be on the $75/mth HSA plan (unfortunately, new (higher) deductibles 🙁 ).  We’re continuing the HSA plan this year to not have tax headaches next March, but the following year, we’ll have $130/mth PPO coverage – for all three of us.

We’re holding off on any budgeting decisions until I see what his first paycheck is (end of May), but we’ll likely be putting more aside into a Roth or our taxable account (with less tax advantaged money to reduce our AGI, we might be over the limit on Roths rather than just under it), and maxing out our HSA again this year.  Not sure we’ll be putting aside as much as we initially planned this year, but we might be!

His company is based in Europe, and the benefits show it.  Other than the retirement being “normal”, the remaining benefits are amazing – if it were just Dad, he wouldn’t be paying anything at all.  We’ll also remain “healthcare agnostic”, which is important in Pittsburgh thanks to the big fight between UPMC and Highmark/Allegheny Health Network (AGH).  We’ve been seeing mostly AGH doctors (because a AGH hospital is closest to us), but the option to see UPMC doctors is nice, and if we went with my healthcare, we’d be going UPMC (it’s 1/4 the cost of Highmark plans), and having to change doctors – every year as the price war rages on…

He’s going to be traveling a lot at first, but then that will settle down, and he’ll just be commuting.  I expect our gas spending will increase (he’ll be driving more), but that’s it.  We’re hoping to have plans in place to not eat out, and to have ready-made food available to avoid that.  We’re also expecting a general increase in income to more than offset that.   We just won’t have as much tax-advantaged space to work with.

March 2016 Early Retirement Progress

We contributed $5,478.73 this month to our retirement accounts, and we gained $29,203.07 in investment value this month.

I did get a raise in March, which resulted in a bit too much being contributed to my 403b since the HR system still had my old percentage calculation.  I’ve adjusted it so that I contribute slightly less next month to be more in line with the IRS’s 18k max.  My raise also means I got more of a “match” from my employer since it’s based on percentage.  I adjusted the rate to what would be taken out normally, so my paycheck will be quite large in December with no contributions taken out (no worries on my “match”, it’s paid whether I contribute or not).

We finally made it into positive territory for investment gains this year – even if not by much. We didn’t spend enough on our Fidelity Cash back card to warrant a “reward” to our taxable account last month. It was close, but not quite.  We’ll be able to redeem those points for cash back this month though.  We’re focusing spending on a new AMEX we got that gives $300 cash back when you spend $2,500 in 3 months.  No credit pull was necessary, and it’ll replace our Costco AMEX as an AMEX card in late June.

2016 Totals

In 2016 we contributed $18,296.26 (26.14% of our goal of 70k), and gained $5,846.21 in investment value.

Detailed Financial Picture – April 2016

January’s Numbers (the last I did…)

As of April 8, 2015, we are $316,810.17 in debt with a mortgage.  We currently have $930,763.79 in assets.  Our investment accounts are at $511,183.09. Our Net Worth is $613,953.62, up from $584,336.14 in January (3.5% increase)

We’ve passed the half-million mark in our investment accounts and have stayed there for about 2-3 weeks now, so we’re probably going to continue staying there until we start drawing down our accounts.

We’re hoarding some cash at the moment to start building a deck on our new house, so I haven’t paid off the line of credit as aggressively as I probably could.  We’re pouring the concrete patio in June, and will start building over the winter, so we can enjoy the deck next summer.  I’d love to just pull the money from our line of credit to get it done this summer, but Dad has talked be out of that idea.  We’re settling for designing it and getting the patio poured  this summer.  We need to have the deck design so we know where to tell the concrete folks to dig a big hole for a support post.  We are going to save a whole lot of money doing it “ourselves” though.  I say ourselves in quotes because really, a friend is helping majorly, we’re just providing the money, labor, and food to actually build it.  I’m responsible for the design though, so I’ve been trolling google images figuring out what I want.  We’re planning about 15-20k (I want a covered portion) for the whole deck + patio.

Dad is considering a job change, which likely means a drop in his salary, and we’ll lose our HSA plan, so we’re likely to slow down a bit on the income, but we’ll be able to put almost as much aside for retirement, it just won’t be as tax-advantaged (no 3% mandatory contribution). We’ll see how things shake out. We can afford for him to take quite a significant cut in salary, but the benefits for him might not be worth it.

 

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

  • Line of Credit (9.75%): $5,500 (-600.00)
  • Car loan – RAV4 (0%): $6362.86 (-489.44)
  • Car loan 2 – Camry (0%): $22,404.30 (-439.30)
  • Mortgage (3.875%): $288,043.01 (-493.41)

Total paid off in March:  $2,022.15

 

Over Half a Million in our Investment Accounts

In the past month, we’ve reached a milestone: we have more than half of a million dollars in our portfolio – the majority of which is earmarked for retirement – about $10k is for Daughter Person’s 529.  Our net worth is more because we have a house (mostly) and some cash accounts, but this is the bulk of what we’re saving for retirement.  Our goal is about $2 million before we retire – 25% of the way there.

Of course, the markets could go south again, and our balances would go with it, but we have time to ride out some of the market swings.

Most of our contributions have happened in the last 3-4 years.  We’re continuing to try to increase our annual contributions, and if the markets do their thing, we’re looking at working another 9-10 years at the most, and we’ll have a nice cushion for unexpected expenses, and not have to work.

From personalcapital.com - our portfolio balance

From personalcapital.com – our portfolio balances

Reducing the Grocery bill (aka done potty training – finally)

We are now “done” with potty training, and I’m more happy about the fact that we’re not buying any more of the almost $1 each night time pull-ups/diapers.  Daughter Person went almost two weeks with a dry pull-up every morning (except 1-2 accidents), and we asked her if she wanted to try sleeping with underwear instead, and she jumped at the idea.  She’s now gone two weeks with no pull-up, and only one accident.  I call that a win!  We’ll be giving friends who have a younger boy the remaining pull-ups for them to use.

I’m just happy that we’re not buying them any more.  We were using the Target brand “nighttime” pull-ups for older kids (knock off brand for “goodnites”) because she was too big for the night time version of huggies and pampers pull-ups (why the night time sizes stop at 3-4t and the daytime sizes stop at 5t is beyond me, most kids are delayed at night time training vs daytime training).  She’s happy about it too because she’s a “big girl” now.

Now, I just have to survive her starting Kindergarten in the fall!

PCI Nightmares

I have now seen PCI from the merchant side. I’m on the PCI team on campus, and I help get everyone ready for our normal reporting date of June 30.  Except, this year, we’re a level 2 merchant, and we’ve chosen to have a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA), come in and basically audit us.  And all the data collection starts a *lot* earlier.  I’ve spent the last 4 months working with our various departments and getting all the paperwork ready for our initial submission to our QSA – mostly involving nagging people to get things done and produce evidence, and learning that things people said were in place last year, weren’t really in place, and pushing folks to get them in place for our deadline.

Now, we wait for our QSA to do their side of the work, and tell us what we’re missing.  It’s been an interesting process, and I highly suggest that any merchant go through with a QSA, even if they’re not required to.  1) The QSA acts as an advice authority.  They’ve probably seen it all, and have suggestions on efficient ways of doing things that you wouldn’t have thought of.  2) They make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row as it relates to PCI and that you have all of the documentation to prove it.

It has been a lot of work, and I’m looking forward to a bit more relaxing at work.  I have 300+ e-mail messages in my inbox right now because I’ve been working on this pretty much to the exclusion of everything else I also have to do.  This next week is going to be clearing out the junk – both e-mail and mental fog that’s been surrounding me the last month or so of this final push.  You should see more regular posts from me now that this is over and I have time to actually think instead of just do.

February 2016 Early Retirement Progress

We contributed $5,290.70 this month to our retirement accounts, and we lost $1778.27, in investment value this month.

I expect to get an “out of band” raise this month based on market analysis that I’m not being paid enough for my job description (the University generally aims to be at the 25th percentile of market pay, except since our department is “hot” and difficult to hire in, we’re getting the 50th percentile of pay).  Nice to know I’m worth more – especially after the last 4 months (more details to come)!  It also means that the University’s contribution to my retirement accounts will increase by a similar amount since it’s percentage based.

Dad is considering finding a new position, so we’re going to have to hold off on contributing to our HSA until August (We’ve already contributed through June), and if he works somewhere without an HSA (my job doesn’t offer an HSA plan), we’d have to go through the rigamarole of taking out excess contributions.  So, I’m just stopping contributions until we know for sure, and then I’ll put them in at the end of every full month we’ve still got an HSA.  I’m still setting aside the same amount every month, but it’ll just be contributed differently.

2016 Totals

In 2016 we contributed $12,817.53 (18.31% of our goal of 70k), and we lost $23,356.86 in investment value.

January 2016 Early Retirement Progress

We contributed $7,526.83 this month to our retirement accounts, and we lost $21,578.59 in investment value this month.

January was not a nice one for the markets.  However, we can’t control those, so we have focused on what we an contribute.  This month was slightly higher due to Dad’s company’s $2250 contribution to our HSA, but we also contributed $375 this month and will continue to do so every month this year.

Last January was a perfect storm of the HSA contribution and a 3 paycheck month for Dad, so this January is not quite as high as last January’s contribution.  But it will even out throughout the year.  Dad now has a mandatory 3% contribution (vs 2%), so we’ll end up contributing about $1200 more to his account over the year than last year.

We’re both maxing out our 403(b)s, and it was gratifying to see that on our W2 forms.

2016 Totals

In 2016 we contributed $7,526.83 (10.75% of our goal of 70k), and we lost $21,578.59 in investment value.

Disney on a Budget

In January, we took Daughter Person to the most magical place on earth for her 5th birthday – Disney World.  We spent some time in Hollywood Studios, but mostly in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  We also got to spend an extra day because of the snow storm on the East Coast – we figured an extra day at Disney was better than waiting around in the airport with a 5 year old – we made the right call.  On Wednesday, we had our flights re-routed through Chicago (instead of DC) and flying on Sunday vs Saturday – no issues or delays getting home at all!  I used my miles on United to book our flights, so they were $30 in fees (and free checked bags!).

Park Tickets

We spent the most at once on Park tickets. We bought a 5-day pass through Undercover Tourist using two Barclay’s cards, $944 for the tickets, $800 statement credit for us.

Hotel

We were going to stay in a Hilton via points, but for 2016, the Lake Buena Vista Hilton didn’t have the Disney Perks of an on-site hotel, so we changed tactics and paid for the Caribbean Resort.  The Magical Express was nice, and saved us from renting a car. But, we really wanted the on-site perks because it was Daughter Person’s 5th birthday and we wanted to make sure that we got reservations to Cinderella’s Royal Table on a Friday Night.  We had a better chance of that by staying on-site and being able to make the reservations 186 days in advance rather than 180 days.  We didn’t have a package, and we spent about $900 for 6 nights (vs the originally planned 5 nights).  No points, but used our cash back Fidelity card (2%).  Not having a package ended up being a good thing when we had to extend our stay by a night.

The resort was nice, but it made me think of a cheap motel because all of the room doors open directly to the outside.  It was clean, it had a cool pool, but it was nothing to write home about.  I’m pretty utilitarian in my hotel choices – it’s really just a clean place to sleep.

Food

This is where we spent most of our money.  We didn’t go with a dining plan because we tend to eat very light for breakfast and lunch and then nice dinners.  The dining plan didn’t cover many of the dinners we had reserved and planned, so I Was planning on paying out of pocket for all the food.  We probably spent about $250/day on food and drink: breakfast, lunch, dinner and the occasional snack.  I did drink my way through the world at Epcot, so that was a good bit of it…  After talking with some folks, the dining plan might have been a good option for us.  I did try to help with getting the occasional kids meal for myself for lunches – no one asked or batted an eye, I wouldn’t have been able to do that on the dining plan.

Other Notes

We did get the Memory Maker photo package, which I thought was worth every penny.  You just find a photographer on property, ask them to take your picture, and scan your magic band, and the picture shows up online and I own limited digital rights to them.  We definitely got our money’s worth with this, and we didn’t have to worry about taking the pictures ourselves or not being in the picture.

Daughter Person had a blast, and already wants to go back.  Mom and Dad were stressed out with the crowds (and it was “low” season!), and aren’t planning on making a return trip until Daughter Person is in middle school or is at least tall enough to go on the rides at MGM and Universal Studios.  Then, we’ll probably stay off property, rent a car and do things on our own.

I was somewhat disappointed in the number of thrill rides available – I prefer my coasters to go faster than 30 mph (so does Daughter Person, she kept asking where the “real” roller coasters were). We didn’t ride that many rides, but instead played the various “games” at the parks.  The Magic Kingdom has the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card game and several adventures in Adventureland related to Pirates of the Caribbean, and Epcot has a Phineas and Ferb game with “Agent P” that takes you through the various countries and trigger neat effects.

The trip was worth Daughter Person’s enjoyment at seeing the “magic” for the first time, and 4-5 was a perfect age for it!