Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thanksgiving and Milestone

It is the start of the holiday season and on this very special day, we are very thankful for everything we have.

This year, we are thankful for:

- the roof over our head

It started snowing very early this year. I am very thankful we did not live in the area with 16 feet snow. Earlier this year, our house suffered damages due to hail and strong wind. Luckily, insurance paid for most of that and we now have a new roof and half of new sidings.

- family and friends

It is wonderful to have family and friends always by your side through good or rough times. We are thankful for family helping out when we need.

- wonderful trip in the wilderness

The trip to Alaska opened our eyes and firmed our goals of early retirement. It reminded us of all the greatness that is out there awaiting for us to see. It is not worth a lifetime to make money but to chained to a desk. It is important to live to experience.

- hiking 

It was the new found hobby of ours. It increased our activity level and helped us stay in better shape. It seems to be a nice thing to be closer to nature and appreciate what we have so close to us.

- reached another milestone

We officially reached 600k as of today. Exactly 600,000, 7 months after we reached the halfway mark of half a million. Market has been hype for the past month and we continue to save and invest. We are another step closer to FI.

It is Thanksgiving. We have food on the table and family around us. It is snowing outside. It has been a good year so far. There is nothing better than starting the holiday season with family.

We wish you a happy Thanksgiving. And Gobble! Gobble!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Moving our blog

We are going to move our blog to a newer and better host:

See you there!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Water Cooler Stories - Brown Bag Lunch

Nowadays, we all sit in small spaces in modern office buildings. Row after row of cubicles like diligent worker bees. Because of the tight spaces, I tend to overhear many interesting stories. Today I would like to share with you a story about brown bag lunches.

One of the younger worker bees decided to increase some of his cash flow by making sandwiches, instead going out for lunch every day. One of his friends stopped by and said it was not worth the effort and the time. He stated that each lunch was probably less than $10 and it did not really add up that much for a year. 

I listened and smiled. Then I did some simple math (see below) the same night. The following calculation assumes that lunch is $7 and there are 20 work days per month. It also assumes that the average American works for 35 years. To be safe, I only used a 6% rate of return on investments.

At $7 per lunch at 20 lunches a month, it is really only $1,680 per year. On a salary of $55,000, that is roughly 3% of total income per year. It is not that much, you might think to yourself. However, given enough time, saving that little money a year - it can turn into almost $200,000 by the time it's time to retire. Again, this is because of the time value of money.  However, the calculation is fairly conservative.  The average return is probably around 8-10%, which would significantly increase the total savings amount.

Usually people who do not bring lunch to work, will also end up buying dinner as well. Enjoying good food is never a bad thing. However, it can be affect your overall health, in addition to creating holes in your cash flow. Restaurant food sure tastes great, but it also means high sodium and more oil/fat you're putting into your body.

Home cooked food can also be delicious and can save some money on the side. Home cooking might take some time, but can be a great experience trying new things on our own without breaking the bank.

Financial independence is our ultimate goal. Anything we can easily do to save that extra dollar without greatly affecting our life experience is good. With that in mind, we will continue to bring our own tasty home made lunches to work. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Goals in Life for A Dear Friend of Mine

Hello, Mrs Y here. I was busy working this afternoon in my office and all of a sudden, thought of a conversation I had with a friend during beginning of the year. As it was time for New Years Resolutions, I asked her what she wanted in her life. Her answer was a successful career, a happy marriage, and a condo in the city. I smiled.

Here's some background information about my friend. She is almost 30, works as a tax accountant in one of the large accounting firms. Half of the year, she is usually extremely busy, working 60-80 hours a week. During the other half, she works 9-5. She has a terrible commute like mine, about 3 hours a day.

Since she is too busy working most of the time, she is still single. She is always saying that she can never meet the right man at the right time. Well, think about it. If you work about 12 hours a day and spend another three on a train, there is really no time to meet people. Time is a real problem here.

Now about her career. There is always one common theme about those large companies - no loyalty. The time and effort employees put in usually do not equal to pay increases or promotions. There is really no such thing as a successful career when all you have is just a job to make money. Plus, what can you do with your success when you have no one to share the happiness with? The other thing to keep in mind is that everyone can be easily replaced. It is just a matter of time before the new college graduate catches on and performs your job just as good as you. Don't ever overestimate your value to your company. Profit is always the bottom line driving most companies. Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of good companies out there as well, but they are hard to find.

I am always too hesitant to share the whole financial independence dream and early retirement ideas with my friend. You see, you can never stop working and have enough money in the Asian community. If you stop working in your 30s, there must be something wrong with you or you are just so horrible at your job that you have to stay home instead.

So, back to my friend's final goal of having a nice condo, with a doorman in the city. It is really worth it? The city is always much more expensive to live in. It probably makes more sense if you are making significantly more money than you would in a nearby smaller town. The good thing with my friend is that she still lives with her parents. That is smart of her since it saves her tons of money. What she has been doing with her money is another story to tell for another time.

Everyone has different goals in life. I will not force my friend to agree with me on my early retirement approach. However, her goals strengthens my brief that work is just a method of accumulating wealth for a better and more independent life.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


We recently went on a trip of lifetime, spending a week in Alaska. The wildness and the lack of internet made us want to retire more than ever. It allowed me to breath in the fresh air, to look at the blue sky, and not worry about what might have happened at work.

We also wondered what we would do with all our time once we do retired. My three months adventure as an unemployed/stay at home housewife ended with boredom and disappointment. Spending 24 hours inside the house during the winter months was not very fun. It felt like being trapped. Housewife duties ended pretty quickly, since there was so much cooking and cleaning to be done every day.

The journey into the wilderness made us realize that there is nature out there for us to explore, and many free resources around us that should be utilized. We were not very outdoorzy. It was always either too hot or too cold or the sun was too bright. During our trip, we discovered the enjoyment of hiking. Hiking is also a form of exercise that keeps us healthy. Now we finally understand why many FI bloggers enjoy it.

Our trip to Alaska also opened our eyes to the way we see travel. We always hated tour groups so we never went with one. However, this trip was different. We walked, hiked, ate, and learned with a small group of people. It did cost much more than our usual trips, but it was worth every penny.

Financial independence will allow us to do more of those trips, but we will also need to increase our retirement budget and income. Travel will be an important and big part of our retirement. Part of the reason of wanting to retire early is to be able to travel and be active before we are too old.

Life is about the experience, not about the things we have. We were very glad we discovered what we would enjoy during our retirement. Finally, we will now leave you with the song where we ended our wonderful trip - Anchorage.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Crazy Rat Race Part 1

The Daily Punishment

It was late March and I was finally at a point of being offered two jobs after about four months of a difficult job search. One of the recruiters repeatedly told me that having multiple offers was always a good problem to have. Of course it was, but it was a dilemma and involved making a huge decision. 

Job 1, large company, better pay, better benefits but a much longer commute. Job 2, private company, known for its work and life balance, short commute, much lower pay. As far as advancement went, it was not one of the things I cared too much about, as I was ready to retire within the next 5 years (or less). After a long and hard weekend, the we decided on taking the longer commute job, mostly because to its better benefits. So that started the daily commute of 90 miles / 3 hours, AKA the Daily Punishment.

Mr Y had been doing that long commute for more than 6 years already, since we always lived closer to my work. There were no plans to move closer to work, as purchasing a new house would require a significantly large amount of funding. We believed that the capital should be better used in investing and helping us achieve our goal in life faster. 

To be able to ride the train together made the commute slightly better and much more bearable. I saw many of same people on the train, day after day, and wondered how long they had been doing the commute and how long they would continue to do it. Seeing people in their late 50s and 60s and still wasting 3 hours of their lives every day going into work and making money seemed absurd. We are commuting for now, but it will be for the short term. I do not plan on doing the crazy commute for more than 5 years. I did a little math in my head:

Morning commute - 1.5 hours from house to office.

Work 8 hours
Evening commute - 1.5 hours from office to house.

Sleep 8 hours

That totals to about 19 hours of my day. I only have about 5 hours left to spend on eating, showering, and cooking, among other things. That is really not a lot of time left. 

In the short term it might be ok. Doing this forever will not make any sense, eventually when we have kids. The purpose of having a job is to make your life better so you can spend the time not working with the ones you love, not on a train.

Most of us do not think about our time on earth being limited, but it really is. Let's hope our plan for that long commute won't last too long and the Daily Punishment ends within our target date.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Delivering Happiness

One of Mr. Y's friends gave us a copy of the book "Delivering Happiness" a few years ago and it has been sitting in our bookshelves, until I recently applied to Zappos.

I had not really read a physical book recently because of advancements in technology. It felt good to pick up the book and read it. To my surprise, it has been a great read and a real eye opener for me. The book not only talked about the great service Zappos provides, but how Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, shaped his company's culture and what contributed to his great success.

When I started reading the book, I was at a very vulnerable stage of my life. I was laid off and searching for work without too much success. I was at the same time considering what true happiness really meant to me and our family.

I thought about how easily we are all brainwashed by our society and culture to stop thinking and just assume by default that more money equals more success and more happiness, when ultimately happiness is really just about enjoying life. -----Tony Hsieh

That quote was directly taken early on from the book. Having money does not bring true happiness. Happiness is really about doing what you are passionate about and enjoying it. Many people become successful become they had the faith and passion of doing what they do. Money is just a great side effect that happened along to come with it. Chasing after money will not make you rich or bring you happiness. It is more of the experience while making it happen that will bring you the happiness you are searching for in life.

Your life goals will change throughout time. Early retirement has always been on our radar, but has never been as clear as it is now. It is never a good thing to be chained to our desks for the majority of the lives. If you think about it, it is kind of sad. The sooner we quit the crazy rat race, the happier we will be.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Saving money on trading fees

We recently read many blog posts on the ways of saving on brokerage fees, so we thought we would join the conversation and talk about what we use. We use Merrill Edge as our brokerage for our taxable investments. The reason why we decided picked Merrill was because they offer FREE equity and ETF trades, which we'll discuss more below.

Let's start with some history on our brokerages and how we ended up with Merrill Edge. We initially started investing with Fidelity, because Mr Y's former employer's 401k was through them. Fidelity charges you a $7.95 fee for each trade. This is fine if you don't trade frequently. We did a few trades a year, but we had to think very carefully before making each trade because it costs us $7.95, which was really not ideal but OK at the time.

Eventually, Mr. Y decided he wanted to trade futures. That didn't go too well or lasted too long before he quit after a year (we didn't lose or gain much money). The platform we used for doing that was Interactive Brokers, which is targeted for professional traders. We then realized they allowed you to trade stocks also, and had some really low fees. Their rates vary depending on the size and value of your trade, but for us, this came down to $1 per trade. We used this for a while, but realized they were charging us monthly fees due to our low activity level. Interactive Brokers caters towards active traders so we had to pay another $10 monthly fee for the months where we didn't do much trading.

When we were looking at switching/joining a bank and getting a new credit card, we found Bank of America. A long time ago, we used to bank with them, but switched due to their low interest rates. One of their credit card offers caught our eyes. It was the BankAmericard Privileges, offering $200 credit when you spend over a certain amount within 3 months. Better yet, if you cash out their rewards directly into a Bank of America account, there is a 50% bonus. That turns your $100 dollars rewards into $150 cash in either your checking or savings account. What can be better than cash, right?!! We also found out that their brokerage offered commission FREE trades! However, to qualify, you must be a Platinum Privileges member - which requires just a minimum of $50,000 combined in all of your Bank of America accounts.

A $50,000 combined balance in our checking and investments is no problem for us (I don't think it would be a difficult requirement for most of the soon-to-be financial independent/diligent savers in the world of personal finance blogs). We promptly opened a Bank of America account, transferred our assets over (this process took a while because their banking and brokerage systems are not integrated), and finally reached the Platinum Privileges level. We now get up to 30 commission free trades a month and it's more than enough since we don't trade that frequently. We don't have to spend as much time planning a trade since there are no fees anymore, and we can always buy more shares in the future or whenever we think it's time to invest some more.

The other bonus is that you can easily transfer funds between your investment and checking accounts, and with so many branches and ATMs, you have really easy access to your money. The Merrill Edge trading interface is also easy to use, with access to tons of research and investment information. We don't foresee changing brokerages anytime soon, and hopefully they'll keep offering free trades for their Platinum Privileges members.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Y Household March Spending

During the month of March, we spent significantly more on groceries. As the weather warms up, fruits and vegetables are more in season, so we ended up eating more fresh vegetables. We also spent more and stocked on food when they went on sale. We made multiple trips to Costco as well and stocked up on meat, and now our freezer is finally full and we won't need things for a while.

Mrs. Y started working again towards the end of March and started her very long commute. As part of the preparation for the new situation, we started to prepare and cook more on Sunday. This also led Mrs. Y to start experimenting with making her own frozen food. We did not like the high sodium content and other artificial ingredients in most store brought frozen foods and we wanted to keep our promise of consuming less processed food. Making our own frozen food has been an adventure so far, and it is very interesting that there is actually a whole new community out there for this type of thing. 

We also did not want to go out to eat or order take out all the time. So far for 2014, we ate out once so far - which has been good for our expenses.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I had never thought I would lose my job until four months ago. So it happened and I started staying at home, while trying to make the best of it. I was searching for jobs and catching up on household chores. I had the confidence I would soon be back working. I tried to see the best outcome of the current situation and treated it as an early experiment for testing out early retirement.

Unfortunately, the emotional stress did catch on after a series of rejections. The days became long. There was only so much you can do around the house during the day. Of course, with the weather being so miserable this winter, it did not help to cheer up my mood either. Eventually, I started doubting myself. I started to doubt my abilities and questioned whether I was asking too much from the companies I interviewed at. Some companies I received rejections, some just disappeared after the interviews, including some  fairly reputable, large sized companies. A year ago, I had two offers and one internal promotion in hand, and I chose to pick the one where I was later laid off from. I regretted the mistake I made, but it was the right thing to do at the time.

I fell from confident to almost desperate, wanting to be back at work again. Sure, money was a factor. Going from a dual income to a single income did not change things too much. But it made me more conscious on what I spent and made me think twice if a purchase was 100% necessary. It also delayed some  big purchases.

The thought of being unwanted in my career field was horrifying. I can't say I was the best performer, but I knew I was being valued and was somewhat in demand. Reality sometimes can be cruel. It is also through all the rejections I that I realized something. Many companies are not looking for the best people for the job, but instead prefer average people with lower pay. With economical pressure, being lean and mean in the short term became more important.

I struggled to go through phone screens, personality tests, and on site interviews for months. But no offer. None. Nothing at all. The holiday season is never the best time to look for a job. As the gap on my resume became longer and the winter continued to go through its deep freeze, I stayed at home and huddled by the space heater, waiting for something good to happen.

Because of one of the my interviews I had, I picked up a book called "Delivering Happiness". It helped me to not lose hope and gain back confidence. It also made me take some time to think about what happiness really means to me. We are experiencing an extra cold and long winter this year. As the days grew longer with more sunlight, my search went on and eventually the light at the end of the tunnel became closer.

After all, I have been very lucky. I have family and friends who have been supportive throughout the process. I also have great business associates who helped me eventually find the position where I will start shortly. The Y household will shortly become dual income again, and marching towards our goal of financial independence at a more steady pace.

The past four months were stressful but a great learning experience for me. Of course, I now understand how it feels like to be laid off. I also understand the pains of the long term unemployed, and how hard it can be for them.

I have to always remember that the rainbow will show after the devastating storm, and always remain hopeful for what might come next for me in life.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Y Household Feb Spending

I know it is almost the middle of March. But here it is - in the month of February, we spent less than $900, but on groceries alone, we spent $187.26. We were over our budget of $150.

Compared to our January grocery bill, that is $60 higher. The very first week of February, we spent around $100. Well, we replenished our meats from Costco and Whole Foods that week. We usually do our Costco run during the first or second week of the month depending on the start date of the coupon book.

For the first two months of 2014, we did not eat out at all. Mrs Y has been cooking all the meals and Mr Y has been bringing all his lunches to work. When examining our 2013 spending, we realized that we spent quite a bit eating out, but mostly when we were travelling. Our goal this year is to reduce that spending but that does not mean missing out great food while travelling. We will continue to explore local favorites when we travel.

Even though we are over the budget for the month of February, we were still able to control it under $200. We will see how we will do in the upcoming months.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Life is too Short to be Anything but Happy

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 10.16.27 PM

It is raining outside and it is dark inside the house. I got up as usual and started my day by searching for potential job openings in my area. I logged into my email account and found yet another rejection email. Life hasn't been that kind to me since the last holiday season. It has been taking me much longer than expected to locate my next job. It is a depressing thought from time to time.

On a cold, rainy day like today, the depressing thought of never finding something seems even worse. Then I read Mr 1500's newest blog post. Mr 1500 tells a story about a young mother with 3 children, who had been recently diagnosed with an advanced form of lymphoma. It is a form of cancer with a 50% chance of a 10 year survival rate. The young mother battling cancer shared the picture above.


I vaguely remembered seeing a picture like this on Facebook, but did not slow down to read the whole story. I had been trying to see the sliver lining under my current unemployment situation, but haven't been in a good mood from time to time because of it. The message from the young mother made me realize something I had been missing.

I still have a roof over my head. I don't really have to worry about where my next meal comes from. I have a loving and healthy husband who has been very supportive through my not too successful search process. My family and loved ones are mostly in good health. We are still working towards the goal of early retirement, even though it is slowed down.

I should not have anything to complain about, or have anything to be depressed about. The search process might not be going as well, but life is still going on smoothly.

I learned a great lesson today. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Thank you Mr 1500 for sharing that story. It is truly inspiring.

The rain will stop; the skies will clear, and the sun will be shining upon us in no time.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Valentine's Day Special

This past Friday was Valentine's Day. It seems like all the holidays have been commercialized. Retailers took full advantage of this very day to push sales, from stuffed animals to shaving cream. Holidays are turning into an excuse of buying things or expecting gifts.

Mr Y was never romantic. Throughout the years we have been together, he bought me flowers four times. Well, I never really cared. I have always been very practical. Unlike many other women, I was never really into shoes, flowers, or chocolates. Mr Y always asked if he should buy me flowers but I always told him that flowers die, please buy me something that doesn’t. So one year, he folded blue roses out of paper. Truly, those were flowers that would never die. It was really not the flowers, but the thought that counted. Priceless.

The experiences were always more important to us than what money could have bought us. We do occasionally still spend good money eating out. After all, good food is also priceless. However, for this past Valentine’s Day, I cooked a special meal.

As you know, I am still currently seeking the next right opportunity, meaning I have been spending lots of time at home. We were not planning on doing anything special as it was a weekday and the weather hasn’t been exactly nice. I thought about cooking a three course dinner the very last minute. Good thing I always fill up my fridge. A few hours later, as Mr Y entered the house after a day of hard work, there was a Valentine’s Day special dinner.

Could the food be better at a fancy restaurant? Probably. But it was the thought and effort that counted. As we enjoyed our dinner, we enjoyed more of each other’s company.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Saving Habits

Even though Mr. and Mrs. Y were raised 7,000 miles apart, it seemed like they were brought up with a very similar set of values. Thanks to their parents, they both grew up understanding the value of money at a very early age. 

Mrs. Y was given her own debit card/personal bank account when she was in middle school. Her parents gave her an allowance - not weekly, not monthly, but yearly. The entire amount was deposited into her bank account at the beginning of the year. How she handles it is all up to her. This was her very first money management experience. 

Mr. Y, on the other hand, had a joint bank account in high school through his parents. His parents deposited quite a bit of money in his account, and he never used a single penny until college for paying expenses.

As both of us grew up slowly into adulthood, we were used to saving most of our income rather than spending it. Leaving most of the money in the bank seemed to be a natural habit. As you can see, it is very important to start understanding the value of money and to start a good savings habit when you are young. So if you have kids, it might be good to teach them these values.

There are always two things in life, needs and wants. Needs are your true necessities, such as clothing, shelter, utilities. Wants are material things that can buy you short-term happiness, such as that $500 wallet or bag you have been thinking about for months. 

Many personal finance bloggers talk about living below your means and saving at least 50% of your total post tax income. The method helps with two things, avoiding debt and getting you on the fast track to financial independence. The less you spend, the less likely you will have debt.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

January 2014 Grocery Bill

This is the first month since we started tracking our weekly expenses. As of the end of January, we spent $151.49 which included a $40 Costco run. It has been very, very cold and driving conditions has been terrible, which prevented us from going out to eat. We spent $0 eating out in January. This will probably change when the weather warms up and we will have more opportunities to go outside.

Also, Mrs Y had her four wisdom teeth taken out a few weeks ago, resulting in less food consumption. Starting in the middle of 2013, we had reduced our trips to Costco. We are trying to limit the number of trips to once a month. With the increasing number of shopping apps on the phone and in addition to coupons, those helped a little in saving more money as well. With the help of savings/couponing blogs out there, we were even able to save money at Whole Foods (spent $4 on $30 worth of food).

Even though we had been doing this for years, we still continue to only buy sale items in stores every week. I know some people would argue that shopping at multiple stores wastes time and gas. However, all the stores we go are within a 5 miles radius, so gas and time is not really an issue.

Our $151 monthly spending resulted in an average of about $30 per week. Not too bad for the first month of the year. But then again, we did stock up on frozen meats (chicken breasts, pork, and chicken wings) in the month of December and are still eating through those. February will probably be higher in expenses as we replenish our food supplies. We will see how we do in the next month.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Grocery Budget 2014

It has been great that for the past few months, Mrs Y was able to get grocery shopping done during the weekdays (except when it is snowing and freezing cold). That means less waiting in line at the checkout, and way less crowded supermarkets. More time saved.

However, it has always been interesting to see what other people are buying when waiting in line at the checkouts. How people spend $$$ at a single grocery store always amazed me. Recently, we have made the decision to minimize processed/junk food consumption to keep our health in good shape. We try to control buying any kind of chips or canned items. About two years ago, we started looking at the food labels and realized many of the easy to make  microwavable dinners and frozen foods are really not good for us.  We have a budget of about $300 a month on groceries for two people.The budget used to be $200 until we got a much bigger fridge and a Costco membership.  We are trying to make a few changes to bring down our expenses. That will involve some number crunching for me in the next few weeks.

Now it is 2014. I have been tracking our spending more closely by category. I am hoping that we will spend less than $100 a month on groceries with a yearly budget of $1200. Based on the following chart I found online, the average cost of food for somebody in America is about $295 per person, meaning for a family of two, the monthly cost was roughly $600. I assumed the amount included eating out meals as well. We spent about $635 eating out in 2013. I am budgeting at $500. That will bring the total food cost to $1700 which is still much lower than $7200 shown below. We will see how we do and I will report back.

Monday, January 27, 2014

DIY Series: Kitchen Makeover Others

In the previous posts (cabinet and appliances), I shared our two large improvements to the kitchen: cabinets and appliances.

I will wrap up the kitchen makeover articles with a few other small projects.


Our faucet started leaking shortly after we moved in, but was still functional. Thus we did not change it right away until we found a Delta one on clearance at less than half price (around $70). It was an after dinner project for Mr Y.  The new faucet matched the color of the cabinets. Plumbing projects were never one of Mr. Y's favorites, so the installation process involved some frustration. But I had to say, for a beginner, Mr Y did a good job from just watching Youtube tutorials.

Faucet    $80-11% Mernards Rebate = $72
Plumbers Tape  $2
Supply lines      $6

Light Fixtures

All the light fixtures in the house were builder grade, meaning plastic and with a golden trim color. We were never too fond of gold colors. Luckily, we ran into some lighting deals at the hardware store, and were able to replace most of the lights at less than half the normal price:

Kitchen Light      $20
Eat-in Area Light  $30

Back Splash

This is still an ongoing project we yet to finish. We were able to score some nice big tiles at Costco. It just made me love Costco more. The only issue we did not anticipate was that the bigger and thicker the tiles were, the harder they were  to cut.

Tiles        $80
Ahichive   $35
Unsanded grout  $12
Tools    $80

So the rest of the projects costed about $337. Without all the appliance upgrades, we spent less than $500 for updating the kitchen, including a look for the cabinets, new lights, new faucet, and an added back splash. As always, Google/YouTube is always your best friend. There are always tons of do-it-yourself tutorials out there to help. Even though doing some of the projects were time-consuming and can get frustrating, the sense of achievement afterwards is really priceless.  

We, as first time home buyers, did not have much experience with DIY home projects. From our apartment days, it was at most changing the light bulbs. Now, we are on our path of learning to take care of and updating our lovely house that we call home. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

DIY Series: Kitchen Makeover - Appliances

As our house was a foreclosure, the appliances left behind were contractor grade. There was a white range, a greasy range hood fan, and a white dishwasher. We always preferred stainless appliances and electrics, but that did not mean we would run to the store and pay full price for those things. Y family's money rule #1: never pay full price for anything.

We did not replace everything at once. The fridge was needed as the previous owner took the old one with them. We were actually thankful for that. A fridge can be very hard to clean. We learned that through our renting days. You never know what people keep in their fridges. We started to search for deals on fridges. We researched and researched. We read reviews, read consumer reports, and asked friends. The process always involved going into stores, touching the display models, and opening them, and measuring them.

We knew we wanted a stainless steel side by side model. We decided on the brand and model based on research and a budget (of course). After that, it was a constant price waiting game.

We also knew right away that the range hood fan needed to be replaced, as it was so greasy and yellowish white. We decided to go with an over the range microwave/fan instead to save counter space. We wanted to have it vent outside, which meant drilling new holes into the outside wall and setting up the duct work.

We did the water hookup for the fridge ourselves since Mr Y insisted on doing that himself. It was super easy. We also tried to install the microwave with the help of Mr Y's father and brother. Even though we did a decent job, we were not able to run the new duct work through the cabinets. We did revisit that project a year later and hired a contractor to re-run the ducts for a reasonable price.

Both the fridge and microwave had a price drop after our purchase within 30 days. Luckily, Lowes has price adjustments and they honored it for both items, which saved us a lot more.

We did not replace the dishwasher and range until a year later to complete the entire stainless steel look in the kitchen. Both were functional but yellowish white from the grease built up from the previous homeowners. Both were purchased at reasonable price.

Here are the details on each of the appliances purchased:

Fridge: Samsung RS267TDRS             $1,300
OTR Microwave: Samsung                 $260
Range: 5 burner stainless steel         $675
Dishwasher: Sears Kenmore              $278

For our old appliances, we gave the dishwasher to a friend and donated the range to Restore. For the stainless steel look, it did cost a little more than the white/black ones, but it was all worth it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

DIY Series: Kitchen Makeover - Cabinets

We have been in our house for almost three years. I wanted to start this series of posts on the projects we have done to make the place our own.

One of the biggest projects we've done was for the kitchen. I thought we would kick the series off with the kitchen makeover.

The house was a bank owned foreclosure in fairly good condition. We were missing the fridge in the kitchen, but the rest of the kitchen was presentable. We did not like the maple color of the cabinets, but did not want to waste money to replace those perfectly fine cabinets. New cabinets means $$$. After days of researching on Google and browsing through many pictures of DIY kitchen projects blogs, we reached the decision of painting our cabinets to get the new look we wanted. 

Painting in Session
Picking the right color was difficult. After many trips to paint stores and many sample paints later, I finally made up my mind on the chocolate brown color. Before the paint could actually be applied, cleaning and priming needed to take place. Cleaning took a fairly long time. It took a few nights to finally finish cleaning all the doors and frames. Then we took down all the doors, taped and started priming. We primed, and then wait for them to dry overnight. Finally we reached the painting stage. We painted, waited for them to dry, sanded, painted and repeated. It was a very lengthy project that we did not expect to take so long. When it was finally done, Mr Y said he would never paint ever again. The kitchen had a completely new look after all the doors were hung back up.

The original cabinets did not have any hardware on them meaning it was hard to pull open the drawers and doors. We wanted a contemporary/modern look, but found certain pulls too expensive, more than $2 each. We made many trips to hardware stores, and brought home many pulls to try on the cabinets. We found some cheaper ones (the price dropped after our purchase, but we were able to request a price adjustment at the store afterwards). As the cabinets are fairly dark colored, the satin nickel on the pulls brightened up the space a little. 

The kitchen looked much nicer after the cabinets were painted in a different color. Instead of spending thousands, a bucket of paint and two paint brushes transformed all the cabinets. Here is what we spent on the entire project:

Paint              $50
Paint brushes  $10
Primer            $20
Sand Paper     $2
Pulls               $44
Total              $126

And of course many, many hours of labor after work. Getting a better looking kitchen: PRICELESS.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2014 New Year Resolution

2013 passed us by with a blink of an eye. It is 2014. Every year, we make some targets and resolutions for the new year. This year is not exception. However, we want to try hard to make sure those goals come true.

So here goes:

Move Cash into Investments

We have been keeping almost 140k in the bank saving/checking accounts throughout the year. That will have to change. With the minimal interest it is earning, it is not helping.  As P2P becomes more and more popular, the earnings are dropping. We will continue to invest in P2P, but at a much slower rate, while we search for other investment opportunities.

We might need to hold the cash until the JOBS ACT passes in the middle of 2014 to invest in real estate crowd funding. That is something yet to come.

We are also looking into more index funds. Those are diversified and move with the market. It might be good that we start to set aside a set an amount every month and invest in those.

The goal is that by the end of 2014, we should only have about 50k or less sitting in cash.

Home Improvement Projects

We started our kitchen backsplash project back in 2013. It is still not yet finished. It has to be finished in 2014. Cutting big tiles were not fun at all and turned out to be much harder than we thought, especially the ones for outlets and corners.

The house requires constant improvement and maintenance. A few areas of the bathroom needs new caulk. We are also thinking about painting the stairs to the basement.

We will see what we can get done in 2014.

Mrs Y Job Search

The title says it all. Hopefully it won't take too long. We will report back once there is some good news.

Food Budget

We have been spending a little more for the past years on groceries. We are planning to spend about $120 per month. I have been tracking our current spending and we will report back every month.

Those are a few items for now. Hopefully there will be more things that we can achieve this year. 2014, here we come.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Thoughts on Turning 30

Hi Mrs Y here. I turned 30 last December. I am now almost 30 years and one month old. 30 has been a very mystical age for me. I always believed that turning 30 would transition myself into true adulthood. I had a goal of retirement at 30 when I was very young, before I realized that certain career paths were not for me. Of course, that goal did not come true. I have a more realistic goal of retirement by the age of 45.

When I turned 20, I had a weird feeling of saying good-bye to my teenage years. But it was also a feeling of more responsibilities and growing up. With the blink of an eye, there goes another decade. 10 years went by without feeling like 10 years at all. I got many things done though.

I met Mr Y.
I graduated college.
I went to graduate school and graduated.
I got my first job.
And I married Mr Y.
We found our first house and bought it.
I left my first company and moved on to my second job.
We set our goals on early retirement.
I lost my job at the second company.

Now upon turning 30, here are some thoughts I would like to share.

1. Life is not always rainbows and butterflies. When bad things happens, don't just feel sorry for yourself and do nothing about it.

2. The Earth will turn, with or without you.

3. Life is too short to be working all the time.

4. Don't take anything too seriously.

5. Enjoy small miracles as they happen around you.

6. Spend wisely, invest diversely.

7. Travel. Embrace the local culture and food. Try to be a local, not a tourist.

8. Have short term goals and long term goals. Adjust your goals and your investments from time to time.

9.What doesn't kill you might make you stronger, but what kills you make you dead.

10. Be good to yourself and be kind to others.

11. Money is not everything. It is more like a tool to achieve what needs to be done.

12. Please, thank you, and sorry go a long way.

13. Be realistic about expectations.

14. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is the present.

15. Treasure your family and friends.

16. Tell your parents you love them and give them a hug whenever you can.

17. Sit down and slow down from time to time. Breath.

18. Take care of yourself. Go to the twice a year teeth cleaning and do your annual physicals.

19. Don't be too hard on yourself.

20. We all make mistakes, but it is important to learn from it.

As I age, I learn and I grow. Above is a few thoughts I have learned. The first 30 years have been interesting. Life is a journey and I am waiting for what my life will bring in the years to come.

Happy life!!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Three Day Rule - Avoid Impulsive Purchases

"How do you know if you really want that dress in the store? Wait three days. If you still remember, you might need to make the second trip and take it home." My third grade teacher told me that logic when it came to impulsive purchases. So, at a very young age, I started using the three-day-rule for any unplanned purchases.

Many times, we will walk into a store and fall in love with something. Then we will become unsure, as we may or may not need it. Impulsive buying is never a good idea. The three-day-rule always helps. It pushes the idea of owning the item right away to the side for a while. If it is truly something you want, it will not leave your head. By then, it will be easier to decide if the purchase should be made.

There are always two things in life: wants and needs. Living in such a materialistic society, there are many wants. The ability to control yourself towards those wants can set you on the fast track to financial independence. Of course, we should not deprive ourselves, either. From time to time, we should reward ourselves for small achievements, such as yearly vacations, for all our hard work.

We have been trying to avoid any unplanned purchases, even when grocery shopping. We always have a list of items for each store we go, and usually only buy the things on the list. The list helps us save time also. Our grocery shopping trip has almost become a grab and go. Many studies show that the longer you linger throughout the store, the more items you will purchase. Sticking to the list save both time and money.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Recap 2013

Time really does fly. It is 2014 already. 2013 had its goods and bads, ups and downs for the Y family. It has been overall positive. Before formally welcoming  2014, here is a brief recap of 2013.

We started this blog and formally started to track our goals for early retirement. As the birth of the blog, our goals became clearer and we became more focused. We started to looking into alternative investments besides traditional venues, such as P2P lending. We started to read many other personal finance blogs, which provided us with inspiration and reaffirmation of our goals. It is a great feeling knowing that we are not crazy and it is really possible.

We traveled. We took trips to Arizona and Wisconsin. We saw the red rocks and beautiful sunrises in the mountain. We enjoyed delicious food from food truck Fridays and bought fresh vegetables from America's largest producers-only farmer's market.

Mr Y landed his first freelancing job and did not complain the Christmas break was too boring. It might be a new beginning for his moonlighting career.

I turned 30. It was easier than I thought.

Not everything was that great in 2013 either. I lost my job and still in the process of finding a new one. That made us go from a DINK to a SINK. Not too pleasant sounding, I know.

Life can't be smooth all the time. We might be slowed down due to my jobless-ness for now, but we are still marching towards our goals with full confidence.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

End of Year Net Worth Update

There goes 2013. Happy 2014, and here is our end of December update.

The market has been going up again. Month over month, we see a total increase of about 4% including cash and all investments.

We started to track our net worth starting in March, so the table above is missing the first few months of 2013.

Overall, it has been a good year for investment growth.  As you can see, we still have a big pile of cash, but we are looking to find better investments in 2014. We are hoping to be part of the real estate crowdfunding as the JOBS Act comes through mid 2014.