Property Tax Fun

Our house is new construction, and we were warned by the sales guy for the builder about interim taxes.  We were also expecting to get billed for the interim taxes *after* we got the money back from our escrow analysis for this year (expected April/May).  It didn’t quite go down like that.

Mortgage companies don’t pay for interim taxes.  Since we have new construction, and the property hadn’t been assessed at the time the tax bills went out, we paid taxes on the unimproved land amount (about $200).  But, we own improved land with a house on it, and the county comes by to re-assess the property once the deeds are filed and they get off their asses to do so.  We had gotten the 2016 assessment back in September, and know what we’ll be expected to pay (more or less) next year.

On Thursday, I got a letter letting me know that the county assessed our house in 2015 for interim tax purposes (at more than our 2016 estimate?).  On Friday, I got three bills from the local tax collector: one for 2014 school taxes (2 months worth since they’re on a fiscal year of July-June), one for 2015 school taxes, and one for 2015 borough taxes, totaling about $8.5k. Not having that money easily accessible and deciding to borrow from our line of credit (again) to cover us until we got the expected escrow analysis in April, I moved money into our checking account and wrote the checks (yes, they had to be three separate checks).  I had until January 19, 2016, but I figured I’d rather take the tax deduction this year rather than next.  So, I put the checks together, put them in an envelope to mail off this morning (Monday).

Monday mail arrives, with the escrow analysis and a check for $6.1k.  Now, we only have to cover just over 2k in taxes, which we expect with Dad’s annual bonus in a few weeks.  It’s not that I *like* coming up with 2k out of the blue, but we were kind of expecting this to occur, just not as quickly as it has.  That $6.1k will be deposited tomorrow once we both sign it, and then it will be transferred back to the line of credit so we’re not borrowing quite as much.

There’s still quite a large escrow balance with our mortgage company, and we’re probably going to “owe” them next year for escrow (about $300-$400), but it was nice getting that check now instead of in April/May when it would have been a year since we got our mortgage.  I wonder if the analysis will continue to occur in November or the very large balance in the escrow account triggered the analysis, or if it’ll begin occurring April/May like I was expecting.


October 2015 Early Retirement Progress

We contributed $5,062.46 this month to our retirement accounts, and we gained $26,776.07 in investment value this month.

We’re back in positive investment gains territory (by like 6k), and we contributed a lot this month.  Mostly from an extra $250 I put in my Roth to keep it above the 10k minimum for FSTVX.  I’m almost positive we’ll be within the MAGI limits this year, but that decision could be expensive if Dad gets a significant bonus pushing us over the limits (and rumors are going around that his company did well, so we might get a large bonus :( ).  I’m hoping our HSA, 529 and 403(b) contributions bring us down at least into the phase-out range.

Dad’s retirement plan is changing next year, and we’ll be able to put even more money aside.  Right now, it’s three tiered, 2% mandatory with 5% “match”, up to 10% with a 3.33% match, then up to IRS limits with no match.  The new plan is two tiered: 3% mandatory with 3% “match”, up to IRS limits, with a 1 to 1 match up to 6%.  So, instead of 2% +18k + 8.33% match, we’ll be contributing 3%+18k+9% match.  I estimate we’ll be putting about 2k extra per year into his 403(b)/401(a) plans because of the changes  (mandatory contributions don’t count against the IRS limit of 18k).

With HSA contribution changes, we’ll also be putting more in there next year.  I suspect we’ll be able to hit our 2016 70k goal easily and perhaps a 75k goal – since we’re (hopefully) not moving again, our expenses will stabilize.  We want to put a deck and patio on the house next summer, then we’ll be more aggressively saving towards retirement again.  The HSA is one of the few ways we can avoid PA state taxes on some of our income, so I’m aggressively taking advantage of it.

Not sure I want to contribute to a Roth or the taxable account with extra funds.  With the Roth, we have to keep the funds basically in cash (or invested in our taxable account via dollar cost averaging) until we do taxes and know if we’ll be able to contribute or not.  There are no restrictions on the taxable account vs the Roth, it’s our money to do with as we please.

2015 Totals

In 2015, so far, we’ve contributed $55,516.56 (79.31% of our goal of 70k), and we’ve gained 6763.36 in investment value (28.33% of our planned total).

Detailed Financial Picture – November 2015

October’s Numbers

As of November 5, 2015, we are $323,794.23 in debt with a mortgage.  We currently have $911,271.88 in assets.  Our investment accounts are at $492,498.51. Our Net Worth is $587,477.65, up from $576,110.21 last month (1.97% increase)


We’re almost at half a million dollars in our retirement accounts – as long as there is no major decline in the markets, we’ll get there just with our contributions before the end of the year.

I added another $250 to my Roth as I’m reasonably sure we’ll be under the MAGI this year because we’re contributing so much to our 403(b)s.  That brought me well into the > 10k range for the advantage class fund.  Next goal is to add $2500 to Dad’s Roth to get him up to being able to invest in a mutual fund rather than an ETF.  He never had a Roth before last year (aka this February), and I’m not sure that it really makes sense for us to contribute that much to Roths right now because of our tax levels.  I had one from when I didn’t make much, but that’s been sitting around growing for a while.

We’re steadily paying off the line of credit and once we do, we’ll be saving to put a deck on the new house next summer.  We’re going to be building it ourselves with the assistance of a friend who has built them before, so that’ll save us a lot – and be quite the adventure!

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

  • Line of Credit (8.75%): $5,600 (-1,200.00)
  • Car loan – RAV4 (0%): $8,750 (-500.00)
  • Car loan 2 – Camry (0%): $24,550 (-450.00)
  • Mortgage (3.875%): $290,494.23 (-485.52)

Total paid off in September:  $2,635.52


Detailed Financial Picture – October 2015

September’s Numbers

As of October 13, 2015, we are $325,229.75 in debt with a mortgage.  We currently have $901339.96 in assets.  Our investment accounts are at $477,938.09. Our Net Worth is $576,110.21, up from$546,437.20 last month (5.43% increase)


The markets have been nicer to us this month: I’m almost back at the minimum 10k needed for FSTVX in my Roth account (without adding anything).

We’re squirreling away some money for medical procedures that we know are happening this year, and maybe above our deductible(?).  So, we’re relatively slow at paying down the line of credit.  But, I’m much happier having our full buffer back.

We’ve spent about $600 on landscaping for the front yard, all of which will come back to us from the builder, but I have no clue how long that will take.  Some simple plants, a lot of mulch and a lot of bricks for lining the flowerbeds.  Only 5 trips to Lowe’s – it was more of a factor of how much we could fit in the RAV at one time than that we forgot things.  But, it’s done and we have an extra bag of mulch for when the plants die and we need to cover them with mulch for the winter.

We’re chugging along otherwise.  I’ve been working on a class that’s taken all of my spare cycles, and it will be over soon.  Then, we’re going to tackle the basement and get it all set up.

We had an HVAC company over a few weeks ago to install our whole house humidifier, and an electrician will be coming tomorrow to install some more circuits in the basement, which will allow us to plug more things in without worrying about tripping the circuit.  Our goal is to spend 30 minutes each in the basement every day/evening until we get things cleared out and put away. It might take a while, but it’ll be completed!

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

  • Line of Credit (8.75%): $6,800 (-200.00)
  • Car loan – RAV4 (0%): $9,250 (-500.00)
  • Car loan 2 – Camry (0%): $25,000 (-450.00)
  • Mortgage (3.875%): $290,979.75 (-483.96)

Total paid off in September:  $1,633.96


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?