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.