Graduated Learning: Life after College

I got my degree, I got a job…now what?

We Finally Got Our Heat Replaced November 5, 2019

Filed under: Environment,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:34 pm
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(FYI, this is NOT a sponsored post, but I do reference the Mass Save program and benefits a bunch of times, mostly to make sure folks are aware of programs like this that provide home energy audits for free or for a fee, depending on the state.  These programs also recommend upgrades and other options that may be highly discounted or come with great rebates)

As if spending money on a new car wasn’t enough, we also just got our heat replaced. When we bought our house, the home inspector pointed out that both the furnace for the forced hot water and the water heater were nearing the end of their useful life.  And then when we had our free energy audit through Mass Save a few months into home ownership, we were also told that we should try to get a new, more efficient system.

Well, time got away from us (which tends to happen with one, then two kids), so we kept putting it off.  But then the furnace sprang a leak and flooded our basement, which kicked us back on track.

So, we got a quote from the same company that did the last few minor repairs on our old heating system.  The quote was quite reasonable, and included a few of the rebates available through Mass Save. We probably should have gotten more quotes, but the price was just about what we expected based on estimates from our home inspector, and we did get them to install new programmable thermostats for free.

So, now we have a new, more efficient system for our heat and hot water. Plus with our new thermostats, we can actually program different temperatures for different times/days to save money. Before, only one of our thermostats actually was new enough to be programmed properly.

We’ve scheduled another free energy audit for a few weeks from now (we’re eligible every 2 years) since we want to find out what their newest recommendations are for saving energy.  The last time they came, they replaced our light bulbs with new, more efficient light bulbs, gave us a few free power strips to help us lower “standby” energy use, and gave us some recommendations (along with quotes for those upgrades).  We didn’t end up doing many of their recommendations since we wanted to figure out our heat system first, and some couldn’t be done until after some fixes were made to the heat anyway.  So hopefully they’ll provide us new quotes for adding insulation and sealing up drafts in the house, along with any other good ideas they have for us.

It will be interesting to see just how much we’ll save on our gas bill this winter!

Have you ever done a home energy audit?  Was it worth it for you?  What are the biggest changes you’ve made to save energy in your home?

 

We bought a new car! October 12, 2019

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 8:48 pm
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Car

My last post was about hoarding cash. I guess now we have a little less cash in that stash!

My husband’s car was getting pretty bad. He’d bought it used over a decade ago and had put at least 150k miles on it. The last time he brought it in for repairs and maintenance, the quote to fix everything was pretty much about what the car was worth. So we decided it was time to get something new.

My husband took the lead on shopping around for the best deal (mostly because I don’t like trying to negotiate with people). We knew what kind of car we wanted, so he sent emails to all the local car dealers who were selling that car. He collected the offers in a spreadsheet and continued to negotiate with the different dealers, sharing what the best offers were to see if they could beat it.

We finally made our way to the dealership that had the best offer. We took a test drive just to make sure we liked it. And while we were on the test drive my husband got an email from another dealer with a competitive offer. When we got back to the dealership from our test drive, my husband told them about the competing offer. He showed them the email, and they were able to match it!

We had to transfer money from our savings accounts to our checking account so we could pay for the car, but after that went through a few days later, we picked up the new car!

I know a lot of folks focused on personal finance suggest that you should only ever buy a used car, and even then, don’t spend a ton of money on it. Yes, we know a new car loses value immediately after buying. But we plan on having this car for a long time, and it fits our current and future needs, and we plan on getting our money’s worth from it. Like Tanja of Our Next Life wrote, “decide for yourself what spending you value, then spend without guilt“. We are frugal in a lot of ways, and have been saving for a long time. We wanted a car that was safe and reliable, and could accommodate our family’s needs now and for years to come. And we believe that’s what we got.

When’s the last time you bought a car? (It was over 11 years ago for me!)  What purchase have you made recently that goes against standard personal finance advice?

 

Adventures of home ownership: a flooded basement and dealing with insurance September 8, 2019

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 8:40 pm

Back in April, I woke up to hear what sounded like water running. Since I was still half asleep, it didn’t really occur to me what it was. My husband had gone out for a morning run and I must have rationalized he was back and showering or something.

All of a sudden, I heard him from the basement yelling for help (and lots of cursing). Our heater had sprung a leak, and water was gushing out! The basement utilities room had water everywhere and was starting to seep our into the rest of the basement. Luckily my husband ran to turn off the water to the whole house, which stopped the flow of water.

An emergency visit from our local HVAC company resolved the source of the leak (replaced the broken parts, tested the system). But the carpeted floors were SOAKED and our attempts to use a wet/dry vac and dehumidifier to deal with it was not enough. We suspected we would need to get our homeowners insurance involved. Between hiring professionals to do a thorough cleanup of the water and associated damage, and replacing ruined carpets (and possible walls), we were thinking the overall cost to get everything fixed would be enough to merit going through insurance. We knew we’d be on the hook for the deductible (in our case, $1,000) and it was possible our insurance company could raise our rates. But if the cost to fix our basement and ensure we wouldn’t end up with a huge mold problem down the line was going to be a lot more than the $1k + potential rate increase, it made sense to us to go through insurance.

So we did. We opened a claim with our insurance company. We spoke first with a desk adjuster who said we could go ahead and start getting the clean up company involved. She said a field adjuster would be in touch soon to schedule a visit to evaluated the damage and estimate what would need to be replaced/repaired.

The cleanup folks came by for a few days, vacuumed up as much water as possible, and set up fans and dehumidifiers. I don’t know how great a job these fans and dehumidifiers were doing, as it still seemed damp. They ripped up the carpet in the utility room. They cut away about a foot of the wall all along where the water had gone.

During the “clean up” step, the field adjuster came out and evaluated the damage. He agreed that the carpet should be replaced, and that section of wall removed and fixed up. Luckily he even reported the entire basement carpet be replaced, just in case (plus then we wouldn’t have two different carpets). He sent in his report. But then things stalled out for awhile.

There was a disconnect between what he sent in and what the other parts of the company said. It sounded like only part of his report got sent in. And when we got the contractors out to give us an estimate of what would need to be fixed, the insurance balked at the plans and total cost. We had to have the field adjuster come out again and meet with the contractors at the same time to hash out what insurance would cover.

Finally, everyone came to an agreement on what would be covered by the insurance…AT THE END OF JULY! Yeah, this process didn’t move too quickly.

Within a week of the approvals, the contractors came over and started the necessary repairs and painting, and removing the rest of the old carpet. But then it was a few more weeks before the replacement carpet arrived and they were able to put it all down. But finally, at the end of this past week, everything was DONE.

So, an incident in April, approval end of July, final repairs beginning of September. Not the quickest timeline, but luckily it all looks good.

As we feared, our homeowners insurance premium did go up, but overall the financial hit would have been much higher if we had tried doing it all without going through the insurance.

We now have plans to fully replace the furnace, since it’s probably as old as the house, and we wouldn’t want another leak ruining everything again! We have an appointment to talk options with an HVAC company this week. Here comes more spending! I guess this is what happens when you buy a house: the spending never really ends.

 

Paying someone to manage my finances June 15, 2019

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 3:29 pm
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I know what you’re thinking: Stephanie is wasting her money! Doesn’t she know you just put everything in low cost index funds and call it a day?

Well, here’s what I’m doing, and why.

Remember years ago when I tried out Financial Engines? I was given a free trial to have someone manage my 401k for 3 months.  It was beneficial for getting some of my portfolio re-balanced, but it wasn’t quite enough to make sure I had everything in order.

So, now, we’ve signed up with Financial Engines again (FYI, this isn’t a sponsored post, just sharing what we did).  Luckily, my employer still has a deal with them, so managing the 401k portion of our portfolios will be cheaper (only a fraction of a percent for managing this part of our money). They are also managing our IRAs for a higher fee.

Why did we do this? Honestly it’s because we were stuck in “analysis paralysis”, unsure if we should have everything in one index fund or many, how to balance between lower and higher risk options, and just needed to make a move. We had too much money sitting in the “cash” part of our accounts that we never invested, and we knew if we didn’t pay someone to take care of it for us, our accounts would continue to sit stagnant and poorly invested.

We discussed our risk threshold and retirement goals and they selected the funds that matched our needs. I confirmed with them that they’d be doing mostly low cost index funds and ETFs, and that they were a fiduciary (working in our best financial interests). They were!

Our intention (and we should make sure we set a calendar reminder for this) is to cancel the service after 6 months. This was basically our way of jumpstarting our retirement accounts and getting things in order. We don’t plan on staying with this service long term, as the fees definitely would add up over the long run.

Yes, it will cost us a little money for these 6 months, but compared to how much gains we could potentially lose out on having our accounts sitting mostly in money markets and a few target date funds (that were a little bit more expensive than standard index funds), I think (and hope) we’ll come out ahead. I liken this decision to signing up for a personal trainer: you might hope to get in shape, and you have a basic idea of what you need to do, but you need that extra push and guidance to get you going in the right direction and kick you into gear!

Have you ever paid someone to manage your finances? Was it worth it?

 

Our experience with a CSA from Smolak Farms May 25, 2019

Filed under: Boston,Food,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:03 pm
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Smolak Farms Crate

For years, I’ve heard about friends getting weekly fruits and vegetables from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It seemed pretty simple: you sign up with a local farm, and every week you get a crate full of fresh produce! We never signed up for one because we didn’t know of any ones that would be close enough to where we lived that had an easy pickup schedule.

Well, once we moved to our new house in the suburbs, we finally had an opportunity! Smolak Farms was just a few miles from our house. And we really needed to get more fruits and veggies in our diet.

We signed up for the “half share”, which is supposed to be enough for two people. But an additional add on available for this CSA was an ice cream CSA! If you followed me on twitter this summer, you probably heard me bragging about all the tasty flavors we picked up each week.

pumpkin-chip-ice-cream.jpg

One of many delicious ice cream flavors: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip

As is typical with these farm shares, we got a variety of fruits and vegetables each week depending on what was in season at the farm. Early on there was an overabundance of summer squash and zucchini. As we entered fall, we got some winter squash like butternut squash, a blue Hubbard squash, some sugar pumpkins, and then lots of potatoes. We also got herbs occasionally (especially earlier on) and at least one bouquet of flowers.

sunflowers

Some sunflowers we got from the CSA!

Overall, I enjoyed doing the CSA. We got fresh produce (and delicious locally made ice cream!) every week. Sometimes it was a little tricky figuring out what to do with all of our food, but luckily we got an email every week listing what we’d get in our share, and they’d include a few recipes to try, especially with unusual vegetables. Over the summer, I ended up collecting a few go to recipes to handle that week’s harvest.

It was a little pricey, but seeing as you’re getting lots of fresh produce, and supporting a local farm, it still felt worth it. Picking up our share was a little tricky; the CSA season started right after I had baby #2 so at least for the first few weeks my husband was off on parental leave and could pick up, and he actually was still able to do pickup once he went back. There were two days you could pick up, but only certain hours, so he ended up going on his lunch break (and the few times he couldn’t, I ended up going on my lunch break).

We were able to make good use of most of the produce; because I was on leave for a few months, once I was recovered enough to stand for longer amounts of time I could experiment with new recipes.

Speaking of recipes, I started compiling my go-to recipes:

For cucumbers:  Thai Cucumber Salad

For lots of the vegetables (summer squash, zucchini, carrots, etc):  Pasta Primavera

For even more zucchini:  Chocolate Zucchini Banana Bread (I usually made a double batch, and also had to bake it a bit longer than indicated)

Chocolate Zucchini Banana Bread

One of many chocolate zucchini banana breads we enjoyed that summer

We signed up again this year for the half share of produce and full share (two pints a week!) of ice cream. Like I said, we found value in participating in this program, even if it was sometimes a little tricky finding ways to use up all the food in time!

Have you ever done a CSA or farm share? Do you have any favorite recipes you’d like to share?

 

Pulling yourself up by your boobstraps: parallels between the “mommy wars” and poor shaming May 11, 2019

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:52 pm
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I was inspired to write this after seeing a recent article about the World Health Organization revising “screen time” guidelines for kids as part of an overall update to their “guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under
5 years of age“. As of 2019, the new guidelines are:  No screen time for kids under age 2, and just 1 hour maximum per day for 3 and 4-year-olds.

Okay. I try not to let my kids veg out in front of the TV all day, but sometimes I just need to keep my older child occupied while I make dinner or take care of her baby brother.  And I know I’m not alone in allowing my children to watch TV.

But apparently that’s a sign of failure. How do I know? I read the comments on that news article. I know, never read the comments. But the responses I saw were mostly of the “of course MY kids don’t watch TV, I’m raising them right” variety. As if to imply that any parent who lets their kids watch tv or use tablets is just not trying hard enough. That if you’re an actual “good parent” your kids will be disciplined enough to not need a video or game to keep themselves occupied.

This recent post from Chief Mom Officer also hit on a similar vein. There’s so much pressure for us to do everything exactly the “right” way all the time, whether it’s in parenting or personal finance.

Both of these got me thinking about how judgmental we can be of others in different situations. I see lots of people suggest that poor people should merely “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” (ignoring just how ridiculous that is). They point out “if I can succeed, then so can you”, that the only thing standing between you and massive success is if only you tried harder.

And of course this isn’t true. Everyone has different challenges and circumstances, and we can’t assume everyone will make it without extra help and support. And the same is true for parenting. These days we have “mommy wars” or “mom shaming”, pitting breastfeeding against formula feeding, stay at home moms against moms working full time, even comparing the “right way” to give birth!  Then every decision along the way, we are somehow expected to be perfect: clean house, elaborate parties, well behaved children.

And others judge with something like “I was able to do this while also doing that” (working full time while also preparing healthy meals and keeping a clean house; survive a weekend alone with the kids without letting them watch any TV).

I’m sick of this constant judging.  Just because something came easy for you, doesn’t mean it will be easy for everyone else.

Let’s stop the poor-shaming, the mom-shaming…let’s stop shaming people already!

 

 
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