Saturday, March 17, 2018

A paid off home

Two weeks ago I did something a little scary ... something some might consider crazy even. I paid off my house. Yep, 12.5 years after buying my home it's truly mine and I'm debt free once again. Yay!

After a couple years of debating it, I finally stopped messing around and paid off the house mostly because I was pissed off. Pissed off that the newly passed tax bill once again favors the wealthy and big business over those who actually need assistance. Pissed off after hearing some politician's comment about how they were giving the poor more money to go spend. Money which they think will come back to the wealthy as profits. I vowed to save that extra money and put it to work for me instead. And it firmed my resolve to stop paying interest to a bank.

So I finally did it, went to the bank, wrote the biggest personal check I've ever written and the house was mine. It was kind of anti-climatic actually, but on the drive home I started feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

How is paying off a huge debt crazy? Well most conventional finance and investing advice says not to pay off a low interest loan like mortgages and instead invest it where you can make more. But investing isn't a sure thing and there's no way I would have ever put that same amount into the market. Definitely not now and probably not ever.

Don't get me wrong, I do invest. I regularly invest my retirement savings because it's the only way I'll ever be able to retire. In fact I significantly increased that savings rate last year and bumped it up a little more this year. But I like to spread out the risk and keep some in safer savings vehicles as well.

Also, at 5.7%, my mortgage rate wasn't as low as some. I probably should have refinanced at some point. I did look into it two years ago, but at that time the payoff was so long that it seemed better to just pay it off instead.

Even after paying off the mortgage, I still have an emergency fund that can cover 2+ years of expenses. I'd definitely recommend building an emergency fund and retirement savings first before tackling the mortgage.

I planned to pay off the mortgage all along because I didn't want to have to pay the bank all of that interest. So I started paying extra early. According to my records, my first extra payment was four years after purchasing the house. The first year I paid the equivalent of one extra payment, as I did the year after that. Then two extra payments. Then it varied. Last year I really started getting serious culminating with the final payoff.

So what's next? Well, I want to build up my savings a bit because my car is 18 years old and at some point I'm going to want a newer one. Then, with a paid off house and comfortable emergency fund, I can start funneling even more towards retirement savings.

Do you prefer to pay off debts or invest instead?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Challenge Accepted: January Cure Week I

I decided to try Apartment Therapy's January Cure this month. I've done the full blown version before, which is quite the commitment. So far the one month version is much more my speed. Plus, what else is there to do when the high is 15F?

Day 1: Organize a drawer
The January Cure kicks off with an easy win: Pick a drawer and organize it. I picked one of several kitchen junk drawers and weeded and organized them. The one on the right wasn't in too bad of shape. For the "cat drawer" on the right I weeded out some expired treats and medical items and now things fit much more neatly. While on a roll, I also checked out our big junk drawer but it was in fairly good shape.

Lucy poses distractedly above the after.

Day 2: Make a project list

The task for the second day is to do a walk-through of your home and jot down areas of improvement. I stuck to the main floor for this and while there is less to do that there was in the past, I still have a big list. It's a combo of cleaning chores and projects. Then you narrow the list down to three to fives projects per room that you actually want to tackle this month. Several painting items and other jobs will have to wait until it's warmer, but I'm pasting the hole list below for future reference. I'm hoping to tackle the italicized items during the cure and am debating a few others. I'm trying to be somewhat realistic about my motivation!

1. Declutter cabinet under TV
2. Clean light fixtures
3. Add remaining cabinet hardware

4. Fix scuffs on cabinets over fridge
5. Clean kitchen roman blinds
6. Paint cabinet molding
7. Replace cabinet molding or patch cabinet by doorway
8. Repair third dining chair
9. Paint back door
10. Paint basement door

Living room
1. Fix fireplace wall & paint (weather dependent)
2. Clean cobwebs off ceiling
3. Paint fireplace floor
4. Clean curtains

5. Paint baseboard

1. Paint hallway side of door
2. Touch up backsplash paint
3. Sweep fan blades
4. Beadboard touch ups

5. Buy new hand towels

I'm not quite sure how far I want to go with this, hence the commitment to just one item so far.
1. Fix ceiling + paint touch ups
2. Redo over bed area
2. Paint doors
3. Paint moldings
4. New window treatments

1. Fill and paint closet
2. Clean light

3. Paint baseboards
4. Hang art

The bedroom, looking cozy after cleaning, but pre-projects.

Day 3: Set up an outbox

The outbox is a holding space for items you may want to part. The thought is that by leaving them there for a couple of weeks some of your attachment will lessen. I set up a bag in the spare room closet and filled it with several items.

Day 4: Floors & Flowers

I was dreading this weekend assignment which challenges curers to first do something sweet by buying flowers or a plant for your home, then vacuuming and mopping all of your floors. Since all of the main floor can technically be mopped, that's a big job!

I vacuumed everything and mopped the kitchen and bathroom -- two rooms that definitely needed it. The floors in the living room, two bedrooms and hallway are all wood, so they can be mopped too, but the finish is old and not waterproof so I use very little water and wash a small section then immediately dry it. It's a big hands-on-your-needs job and since we don't wear shoes in the house (or aren't supposed to at least) I only did the living room and bedroom. I did a lot of scrubbing! They do look better now and I'm happy I did more than the minimum. But I didn't move major pieces of furniture like the sofa and entertainment center because it just didn't seem worth it. Under my bed is already spic and span since I cleaned it in December when my new mattress was delivered. This project makes me wonder how often others clean their wood floors? I do it very, very infrequently. Ike embarrassingly infrequently.

I haven't bought flowers yet, maybe something will catch my eye when we grocery shop tomorrow. If not, I'll count the candles I bought last weekend because in this wicked winter weather they are certainly making the space feel cozy.

So week one ends on a positive note and I'm feeling quite accomplished! We're only one week in, so there's still plenty of time to join the January Cure!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What I bought: Clothing purchases in 2017

my tiny closet
Ever since reading that the average U.S. shopper spends $1,100 per year on clothing and purchases 68 items plus 8 pairs of shoes (Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline), I've been curious of how I measure up. Inspired once again by An Exacting Life, I've dug out my receipts to add it up for 2017.

This year I spent $528.26, up from $335.29 last year. I had suspected I would spend more this year due to needing to replace some staples, like jeans, and indeed I did.

Clothing purchased ($421.38):
  • Red sweater - $15.00
  • Red llama Christmas sweater - $16.00
  • White sweater - $9.49
  • White/gray sweater - $26.48
  • Black knit 3/4 sleeve shirt - $12.04
  • Black knit short sleeve shirt - $8.64
  • Black blouse - $20.99
  • Black knit sleeveless Elle top - $16.99
  • Black blouse - $16.99
  • White and black striped knit shirt - $11.39
  • White and black short sleeve knit shirt - $16.98
  • White and black knit tank - $9.13
  • White knit top - $8.04
  • Pink blouse - $16.99
  • Pink sweater - $20.99
  • Purple t-shirt - $5.70
  • Two pairs of jeans - $43.00
  • Jean shorts - $16.29
  • Gray workout shorts - $15.29
  • Swimsuit cover up - $12.98
  • Navy striped sleep shorts - $15.00
  • Undergarments (5)  - $86.98
Shoes ($54.11):
  • Nike sneakers - $54.11
Accessories ($52.77):
  • Blanket scarf - $11.58
  • Black gloves - $1.11 (I have a $15 off coupon)
  • Earrings - $7.24
  • Necklace - $15.28
  • Purse - $5.00 (from thrift store)
  • Sunglasses - $12.56
Total spent: $528.26
Total clothing items: 26

Lucy also has a very refined taste in pants; only recently worn men's khakis will do.

I remained true to a white, black and gray color scheme once again, which does make it easy to mix and match. I'm pretty happy with this year's purchases and have worn most things frequently, except for the pink blouse, silly llama holiday sweater, and black and white tank.

One thing I'm quite happy with is that instead of buying a bunch of stuff before we went to Cozumel, as I usually do for vacation, I made due with the clothing I already had. I did need a swimsuit cover up and sleep shorts (love them, and I had been looking for good sleep shorts for quite awhile), both of which I purchased via Amazon and wore frequently.

I continue to be amazed by how quickly I forget what I've bought over the year. I save receipts, but don't reconcile purchases until beginning this post. I wouldn't have been able to tell which item was which on the receipt for most of the purchases made in August, June and March, except that a unique ID number is listed for each that matches up to a number on the tag of the clothing. Not sure if this is true for all stores, but it is for Kohl's. Genius idea! Next year I resolve to write things down after each purchase to make this process easier. 

I expect to need to buy new work slacks and shoes next year, so I'm going to try something new and budget $64/month for clothing. I'm hoping this way I won't feel guilty buying what I need as long as it's within the budget, while still being able to maximize savings.

Were your clothing purchases in 2017 worth the investment or a work in progress?

What to take another peek into my wardrobe? You can also see what I bought in 2016 and 2013.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Review: Goodbye, things

It's been forever since I did a book review, in part because I've hardly read any nonfiction lately. But, I couldn't have picked a better book to revamp the reviews with because Goodbye, things by Fumio Sasaki is one of my favorite books about minimalism.

If you're looking for a step-by-step guide on how to declutter and simplify, you'll probably be disappointed because this book is more about philosophy than the nitty gritty process of minimalizing, though there's certainly some of both.

Goodbye, things starts off with pictures of Fumio's home and those of other minimalists, offering a firsthand glimpse into different simple homes. They're all much more minimal than I ever desire to be, but still interesting to look at. With a bedroom that has only a mattress on the floor and a small table, Fumio minimized his belongings far beyond what I'd ever want to, but I still found his book inspiring.

The book then moves into what minimalism is, why Fumio minimalized his life and why having too much stuff is a problem for so many of us. Then comes my favorite sections--55 tips (plus 12 more) to help you declutter. They include many you've probably heard before and some new-to-me tips:
  • Get rid of multiples
  • Get rid of anything you haven't used in a year
  • Get rid of anything you wouldn't replace if you lost it
  • If it's not a hell yes, it's a no (This one works for me in multiple scenarios: clothes shopping, invitations to do things)
Fumio ends with describing the benefits he's received from his new minimal life.

This was an enjoyable read, one that inspired me to start decluttering again after I'd not been motivated to do so for months. It's definitely a recommended read.

What's your favorite book on minimalism/simplifying?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Packing for Cozumel

Last week's post was all about our wonderful trip to Cozumel, but I wanted to share a second post about packing for a similar trip.

Our trip was all about spending time in the water and relaxing and my packing list reflects that. Our fellow vacationers in the resort and around town were also quite casual. Going almost anywhere in swimwear (with a cover up) is quite the norm and I wore my suit more than anything else.

I was packed fairly light for this trip as evidenced by the ample free space I had in my checked bag and the back pack I always carry on.

Here's what I packed:
  • Clothing: 6 t-shirts, 4 nicer knit shirts, 5 pair of shorts, 1 skirt, 1 pair of dressier capris, 1 pair jean capris, pajama shorts and shirt, 2 swimsuits, 1 cover-up.
  • Rain coat and hoodie (worn on plane)
  • Shoes: 1 pair of sandals for the beach, 1 pair of dressier sandals and I wore sneakers on the plane.
  • Hairbrush and straightening iron
  • Phone and ipad (loaded with books)
  • Snacks: protein bars, snack mix and beef jerky for the plane
All things considered,I did pretty well. And bonus, I only purchased two new thingsfor the trip: a cover up and new sleep shorts. The only things I didn't wear was one knit shirt and the rain coat. Most days we showered and changed before dinner since we spent the majority of our time in the ocean or pool. 

I didn't bring a hairdryer since they had one in the room and only ended up using it once on the night we went to the fancier restaurant at the resort. Same thing goes for my hair straightener and makeup. I only used them once and would definitely leave the hair straightener and most of the makeup at home next time. It so humid in Cozumel that any effort I spent on my hair didn't last long.

[photo: Christine und Hagen Graf]

There are a few things I would add to my list for future trips:
  • Reef-safe sunscreen: I bought regular sunscreen for the trip, but the boyfriend had read about the need to bring reef-safe sunscreen in order to protect the reefs and sea life from harmful chemicals. We managed to find some before our trip, but it was pricey so we decided to wait thinking it would be easy to find in Cozumel. Wrong! Sunscreen in general is surprisingly expensive in Cozumel and reef-safe sunscreen was even harder to find there than at home and what you could find was double the price. Luckily my aunt had some extra.
  • A swim-shirt: Despite my mooched sunscreen, I still got burnt, as I often do. This time it was my back and arms so next time I'd buy a sunblocking swim shirt or two to help block some rays during snorkeling.
  • A snorkel: My aunt and uncle brought extras, but I think it's worth investing in a snorkel that fits well if its something you intend to do a lot. The boyfriend insisted on buying his own snorkel to bring and was quite happy with it.
  • More cool, dressier tops: While many people at the resort were super casual all of the time, others dressed up a bit for dinner, which was fun the two times I did it. So next time I'd take a few more dressy-casual tops that were also cool because it ws pretty warm and humid.
  • Second swimsuit and cover up I love: I bought a cover up on Amazon to take on the trip, but next time I'd take a second, prettier one since I wore it so much. Also, while I took a second suit, I didn't love it and hardly wore it. It's been years since I bought a new suit so it's probably time to invest in another before a second beach vacation.
What about you, do you usually pack too light or too much for trips? Anything you'd add to the list?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Recharging in Mexico

Fall is here already, with winter rapidly approaching, but I'm in denial of the changing seasons since we just returned from our summer vacation in Cozumel, Mexico.

This was our first trip to Mexico (and the boyfriend's first time leaving the country) and first time staying in an all-inclusive resort. I was anxious before the trip about the U.S. Department of State's recent travel warning regarding increased crime and murder rates in the region, but by that time everything was booked and paid for so away we went.

Happily, I can report that our fears were unfounded. We had no issues whatsoever and thoroughly enjoyed our trip.

We stayed at the Melia Cozumel. My aunt and uncle have a timeshare there and due to a change in travel plans had an extra room that was going to go to waste, so not only did we get to stay in a great room, but it was an amazing deal for us. It was a lovely, roomy suite with an ocean view, marble tile and a canopy bed. Being an all-inclusive, meant that all food, drinks and most amenities were included. The resort had four restaurants, two pools, three bars including my fave--the swim up bar, and lots of beach front.

My favorite part of the trip was our visit to Chankanaab national park, where we swam with dolphins, met some manatees, watched a sea lion show and enjoyed the best snorkeling of the trip. Entrance to the park is $21 per person but includes park and beach access with free use of chairs and furniture.  Restaurants and swimming with the sea life are extra. It's amazing how many fish we saw so close to the shore at the reef there, such variety and so colorful!

The snorkeling area at Chankanaab [photo: jchessma]

We also took a snorkeling boat trip to a reef and sand bar area, but the crowds (people would literally swim over you) and lack of fish meant that wasn't my favorite.

A small glimpse of the shops in downtown Cozumel.
Downtown Cozumel, where the many cruise ship visitors are dropped off, is full of restaurants and shops that mainly cater to tourists. It also wasn't our favorite because the vendors are fairly aggressive about trying to get you to come in their shops or restaurants. But that's also where Mega, a large grocery store, is located. Think of a Walmart or super Target and you'll get the idea. I love going to grocery stores in different countries and seeing the different and similar foods available. This one had a large, very delicious looking bakery, plus anything else you might need. The exchange rate there for U.S. dollars was the best one I saw and prices were very reasonable for most foods. The only "souvenirs" we brought back were snacks.

We also drove around the island and saw the more wild Caribbean side, which is gorgeous but the water is much rougher since it doesn't have the island for protection like the opposite side where we stayed and swam.

Most of our time was spent in this area of the resort--ahh!
The rest of the time we spent at the resort, mainly in a cabana on the beach which was incredibly relaxing. There's also decent snorkeling in the beach right next to the hotel property and we saw a surprising amount of fish there and even a star fish. There's also the swim up bar, located in the adults-only pool, that we discovered on our last day. So fun!

That's our trip in a nutshell. We had a great time and came back refreshed. Stay tuned for next week's post about what I recommend (and don't) for your Cozumel trip packing list.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

House tweaking

Unlike many women I know, I'm not into redecorating the house just because it's been awhile since I last did so. First, I find decorating exhausting. There's all the shopping, decision making and spending money. Yuck! Plus, I'm still pretty happy with most of the choices I've made, even the paint colors I picked out 12 years ago. That said, there are a still corners here and there that could be improved.

Take the eat-in corner of the kitchen, for example.

It was functional, but I never loved those framed postcards that I picked up at IKEA a month after buying the house. And the silver frames didn't go with anything else. So I finally replaced them with a Marimekko tea towel that I bought years ago, in an IKEA Ribba frame.

I loved the new art. But while the kitchen table had sentimental value, it was never that comfortable to sit at. While looking for new chairs to replace our broken ones, I found a used small round table with two drop leaves and three chairs online for $75... a good deal. But I immediately regretted the purchase once I got them home because they looked rough in decent lighting. 

Then the boyfriend had the table sprayed white as a surprise and instantly it went from trash to treasure.

My giant 21lb. cat makes this small table look tiny.
I liked the style of the chairs, but they were covered in a faux wood laminate that was pretty hideous. The boyfriend voted for painting them white to match the table, but I wanted to do something different.

I eventually picked out a bright yellow (Benjamin Moore's bold yellow actually) that matches the tiny splash of yellow that in the tea towel and we had them sprayed recently. I love them so much. They bring a much needed bold pop of color in the kitchen.


So that's one more corner done. When it comes to home decor, are you a serial redecorator or a tweaker?


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