Graduated Learning: Life after College

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

A Happier Perspective on Our Current Finances December 30, 2018

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 8:33 pm

As always, Penny has written another amazing post that I was so grateful to read. I highly recommend you read it, but to summarize, she came to the realization that her finances were good enough that she doesn’t need to worry all the time about an extra expense. She realized this all when she splurged on some fancy chocolate at the grocery store.

This was an excellent post to read after I shared my own thoughts on our current financial state in my most recent blog post. Like Penny, we are not officially FI (Financially Independent), but we’re doing well with good salaries and lots of savings. However, my post took on a more negative tone, focusing on what I might be doing wrong rather than what I’m doing right. I felt bad for not being on a real aggressive FIRE path, since these days every article I see seems to be about FIRE.

I also had a similar epiphany to Penny the other day. I shared it in a tweet:

I had started doing some Christmas shopping and hadn’t been really paying attention to what I’d been spending. I usually have a budget in my head for spending on my parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, and my nephew (though it’s just a ballpark figure). But when it came to spending on my husband and kids, I just kept adding things to my cart (both online and in stores). Granted, part of it was me getting lured in by the sales (I’ve written before about my inability to resist Kohl’s sales). And I couldn’t help but grab small gifts for my daughter at the dollar store (she loves stickers!) So I had not thought about how much I was spending, I was more focused on what things I wanted to get for people. And this “not paying attention” happens and is feasible when you’re fortunate enough to have this kind of wiggle room in your budget. Yes, our expenses are still huge (mortgage and childcare) but since we’ve been saving aggressively for at least a decade, and we have good jobs, if we spend some savings once in a while, we’re going to still be okay.

I came to another realization the other day: our aggressive saving (and keeping expenses low) for a decade is what enabled us to feel comfortable right now. We’re like the FIRE folks, except instead of early retirement, our saving habits allowed us to be okay with the huge childcare expenses we’re dealing with early on.  Childcare is temporary, and we know we can get back to a higher savings rate after they start school.

Have you ever read something that helped you gain a better perspective on your life?  I’m so glad there are folks out there writing such insightful posts so I can think about things in a different way.


Aimless personal finance November 30, 2018

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 8:26 pm

I’ve been seeing a lot of talk these days about FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early). I’d followed folks like Our Next Life for awhile. Then there was the controversial interview from Afford Anything with Suze Orman. And most recently some other personal finance pals Liz and Stephonee were featured in a story about FIRE. And reading that last article made me realize something: I’ve never actually considered FIRE as something I would do. I always assumed I’d follow the “standard” path of working my whole life and then retiring in my 60s.

To be honest, I haven’t really thought about any money related goals in a while. Ten years ago, I talked about how I felt like I just save for the sake of saving. We used savings for our big life changes (getting married, buying a house) and, for now, that savings is sitting there as a big emergency fund. And we did start 529 accounts for our kids, and have been putting a little bit in there.

But right now, I feel like I don’t really have any financial goals or plans besides “keep growing net worth”. And even then, I’m not being super aggressive or focused on it. Just putting money in our retirement accounts, paying our bills.  I haven’t been trying to do anything different or save or pay off a certain amount.

As I mentioned in my review of The Index Card, I feel like I got all of the early personal finance tasks figured out (start automating savings, pay off debts, etc) but now that those initial things are figured out, I feel a little lost.  I feel like I don’t know what I’m supposed to with our money to make sure it’s growing “enough”.

It doesn’t help that our net worth is stagnating now that we have two kids in full time childcare. I know that in a few years we’re going to feel so much richer when the kids start going to public school. But for now, even with good incomes, our monthly expenses are pretty high when you combine our mortgage and childcare payments.

I guess when I started on my personal finance path the unspoken goal was financial independence but I didn’t really realize it. My first step was getting a handle on what debts and assets I had. Then I had to figure out what to do with it. All I cared about initially was a positive net worth. Then I hit that goal and kept going. I read an article that lists the many steps to true Financial Independence. According to that article, we’re only at Stage 2, Stability, since we still have debts (our mortgage). So, it looks like we still have a long way to go before we reach financial independence. We make good money but like I said before, our high monthly expenses mean we’re not saving nearly as much of our income as we used to before becoming parents and homeowners.

So where am I going from here? I’m trying to figure out what we need to do to grow our wealth and limit expenses where possible. Trying to do #1GoodMoneyThing to improve my finances. My main need is to learn what to do with the money we already have saved: what’s the best way to invest without too much risk? That emergency fund I mentioned earlier? It’s all in cash (in a savings account). Even as I’ve heard countless people saying most of it should go into low cost index funds. But my fear was that it would lose money right when we might need it for a big repair or other emergency (yes I know, we’re “losing money to inflation” but I still feel better knowing the amount isn’t dropping).

I don’t think we are going to be part of the FIRE community. We enjoy our work, and still don’t have the amount of money to “live off of”. But we do like the idea of Financial Independence (the FI of FIRE). Knowing we’re secure financially is good for peace of mind.

So: help me! What resources have you looked to to get a better understanding of moving beyond the original personal finance steps? How did you learn about investing? How do you get past the mental hurdles standing in your way of making the right financial decisions for your family?

What goals did you set for your financial life? And how are you reaching those goals?


Announcing The Middletons! October 22, 2018

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 8:50 pm

Logo for The Middletons

I was excited to hear about the new website, The Middletons. It’s a go-to site for personal finance content for folks with mild-to-moderate incomes!  You’ll find the best articles, podcasts, and other resources for the middle class.

But one big question being asked: what makes someone “middle class”? Everyone seems to have their own definition. I listened to @stephonee from Poorer Than You (and one of the creators of The Middletons) in her interview on a recent podcast from His and Her FI and she said that one definition that they’re going by as a “middleton” is 2/3rds to 2x of median income.

This got me thinking: am I middle class? Are the Money Middletons for me?

I think when I first got out of college in 2006, I sat nicely in their key demographic. I was a SINK (Single Income No Kids). My starting salary at the startup was $55k. I was starting out with debt (student loans) and no real savings and needed to find out how to pay off those debts and start saving.

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you know that I started exploring all the things one “should” do when trying to balance a middle class income with daily financial needs/wants and obligations while also planning for the future.

12+ years later, I’m fortunate enough to be in a much different place. I’m married with two kids and my husband and I have both increased our salary through hard work. And over the years we’ve managed to save a lot of money and pay off a lot of debt (my student loans are gone, and my husband just has a tiny bit left). Our expenses are much higher now (mortgage and childcare) compared to the super cheap rent we had when we lived with a bunch of roommates.

But weirdly, I feel like my mindset is still a lot like what it was back when I started out.  I still worry about having enough money, I still look for ways to save money on my day-to-day expenses and bigger purchases.  And I want to make sure I’m making the right financial choices.  But I acknowledge that I’m lucky enough to have a higher income (and more savings) than a lot of other folks.  Plus I still feel a bit lost about what I’m supposed to be doing NEXT.

I’m looking forward to seeing all the content that The Middletons will be sharing!  I hope you’ll check it out, too!

What would you consider to be middle class?  Do you think you’re in that group?


Reading Books: The Index Card October 8, 2018

Filed under: Books,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:57 pm
Tags: ,

(Disclosure:  The Amazon links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links.  You can read more about this on my Disclosures page)

I’d been meaning to check out The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated for quite some time. I’d heard about it awhile back from a bunch of different sources (most likely a Marketplace podcast). I really enjoyed Helaine Olen’s book, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry, about the personal finance industry, so I wanted to check out this book she co-wrote with Harold Pollack.

I really liked the way the book walked you through steps to get your finances in order and on the right track.  The book was inspired by the realization that most money advice could fit all on one index card.  You can see the original photo of the index card here.

If the entire premise is that all you need to do is follow everything on the index card, how is there an entire book?

Each chapter goes into detail about each piece of advice. There are anecdotes from the authors about why each step is so important (or what happens if you don’t follow the advice!) Each new chapter builds on what you (hopefully) started in your own life from the previous chapter.

They cite lots of references and provide some good resources where you can find even more information.

I read this as an ebook I got from the library. Which made me realize that ebooks should have a way to share updates alongside the original text. Besides urls that might change or disappear, there are facts and recommendations that change. For example, they mention the myRA as an option for saving for retirement. But the government decided to phase out this option.

I highly recommend reading this book! Whether you’re just starting out and trying to figure out how to get a handle on your personal finances, or if you have been focusing on your finances for a while and just want a refresher (and to make sure you’re not forgetting something!), you should check out this book!  As someone who has been thinking about personal finance for over a decade, I found this book really helpful for reminding me why I started on this path in the first place.

Now I’m looking for a good follow-up book to read: what do you do after you’ve gotten your finances started on the right track? Share your suggestions in the comments!

This book is one of many personal finance books that were recommended recently on Marketplace.  Definitely check those out, too!


My Maternity Leave, second time around September 15, 2018

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:57 am

I wrote about what maternity leave was like for me last time. I had big plans, and then most of them didn’t happen.

Well, for some reason, I ignored how last maternity leave went and assumed I’d get a lot more done this time.


I had big plans this time around to sort through paperwork and get rid of lots of stuff. I figured I’d read a lot and bake a lot.

But my first month of maternity leave had me pretty much always in pain. I had to have a repeat c section due to regulations at my hospital, and recovery from my second c section was just so much slower than my first. I’m not sure if that’s typical, or maybe it’s because even though I tried to take it easy, it’s hard to when you also have a toddler running around.

Luckily we had family come out to help, and my husband had stored up a bunch of PTO so he was able to take off for the first 4 weeks to help me out.  This was way better than for the first baby, where he only was able to take about a week and a half off before going back.  We also had some friends come by to visit and bring meals.

Once my pain lessened enough, I did start going for some walks around the block. At some point I pushed myself too far and tried to do too much (ran too many errands) and ended up getting mastitis. But rest, extra nursing, and an antibiotic cleared it up.

I did use my maternity leave as an opportunity to fit in all my doctor’s appointments. It’s so hard to find the time when I’m working! So, besides my follow-up appointment with my Obgyn, I scheduled my yearly physical, met up with my GI doctor, and checked in with my ENT. And it worked out well that my ENT was able to schedule my long overdue sinus surgery. After years of sinus infections and other breathing issues, it was time to deal with my nose. And so one week before going back to work, I had the surgery. Luckily my parents came back out that week to help out! I wouldn’t have been able to properly recover or even take good care of my baby if they hadn’t come. One other bonus to scheduling surgery then (besides still being off and getting a chance to recover) is I took advantage of my health insurance plan: I already hit the deductible from having the baby, so everything else after was a reasonably low deductible (plus at this point I’m pretty close to my out-of-pocket maximum, so anything else I need this year won’t cost us much more!)

Those 12 weeks of maternity leave went by so fast. Now both kids are at daycare all day, and I’m back at work trying to make pumping work again this time around. So far the pumping is going all right. I hope I can keep up with pumping as long as I did last time (past my first child’s first birthday).

How do your ideas of parental leave compare to reality?


We skipped past the starter home June 27, 2018

Filed under: Boston,Personal Finance,Uncategorized — Stephanie @ 9:53 pm
Tags: ,

2016 was a big year for us.  We had our first child!  And then later that year, we bought our first house!  We’d been “seriously” house hunting for about a year. At the beginning of our search, we had a vague idea of what we wanted: something closer to work, in a good school district, with a garage, a yard, and enough rooms for a growing family. As we went to more and more open houses, we got a better idea of what we wanted. A family room right off the kitchen so we could entertain guests or have kids play nearby while we were in the kitchen. We also wanted a big enough kitchen to host my famous fondue parties 🙂 After an inspection of one house we almost bought that showed high levels of lead all over the place, we realized we also were only going to look at houses built in or after 1978 to avoid any lead paint issues.

Of course cost was a big factor as well. We were originally pre-qualified for a mortgage WAY more than we ever wanted to spend, just based on credit scores, income, etc. So we pared down choices to a more comfortable price range far below that amount. We had to keep in mind that our monthly payments would include the actual mortgage payment as well as money for escrow to cover property taxes and homeowners insurance.

We did consider first buying a “starter home” or a “fixer upper” but realized a few things: we are not super handy, and aren’t good at picturing a hypothetical home based on the current condition of a “fixer upper”. Plus we were already expecting our baby when we started seriously looking for a house, so trying to deal with renovations while pregnant/with a newborn was not something we wanted to do.  And most of the fixer uppers were still quite expensive as-is!  Also, we knew that if we went with a small home to start, we’d probably want to or need to move to a bigger house within a few years. And so a few factors related to buying a new house a few years down the line became clear:

1. The housing market in the Greater Boston Area is so hot that it’s hard to buy a house if you have any sort of contingencies. That could include getting a mortgage, wanting an inspection, or having to sell a house first. We were still renting, and so we were in a much better position than anyone else who might have to sell their house first. So the next time we’d buy a house would be while also already owning a house, which would make us less desirable to sellers.

2. Costs associated with selling/buying/moving are not negligible. And with every move, you inevitably have more stuff you’ll need to move, so it’s more expensive. Closing costs when we bought this house ended up being significant, so trying to sell a house only a few years later means you might lose money even if you sold it for more than you bought it for.

3.  Even with the recent boom in house prices, we had no guarantee that our house would go up in value enough that we’d make money on the sale.  And keeping in mind point #2, it’s possible we’d lose money on the whole deal.  Regardless of if you think a house is an investment or not, this would make a starter home for us a risky short-term investment.

So, we bought this house.  We like it a lot!  We plan on sticking around in this house for a while.  Sure, there are some small fixes our home inspector found that we’ve been working on, and we have plans this summer to upgrade our heat/hot water system (they’re at the end of their useful lives) and add a generator (after dealing with multiple power outages since we’ve moved in, due to various rain/wind/snow storms).  But we don’t have plans to do any major renovations any time soon.

I would have loved to have started with a smaller, cheaper house, but our needs and the housing market meant it didn’t make emotional or financial sense.

How did you decide if/when/what to buy? Or are you still renting (out of choice or necessity)?


I finally opened a 529 account! April 13, 2018

Filed under: baby,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:12 am
Tags: , ,

I’ve been thinking about how I’ve slacked off on various money related things these days.  I’ve set so much on autopilot (which is good, for savings, paying bills, etc.) but then I sort of forgot to check in on or change anything.  Which meant that, when my daughter was born, I didn’t bother opening up any savings accounts for her.  This seems sacrilege for someone who had been obsessed with being so on top of thing with personal finance for so many years!  I think I let my confusion about the process get in my way of just doing it.

So, one day, I tweeted about how I still hadn’t opened any savings accounts (specifically a college savings account) for my 2+ year old daughter, seeking out advice and pointers.  A few recommendations came in that we should go with Vanguard, and Chief Mom Officer sent me a link explaining the Massachusetts-specific 529 option (part of a bigger site that gives explanations of all the 529 options).  I even came across this great introduction for college savings options from the SEC.

But the one thing that really kicked me into high gear was the pledges from @LazyManAndMoney,  Evan (@MJTM), and Stephanie Kibler (@stephonee) each for $25 if I opened up a 529 within 3 days.  FREE MONEY?  I’m in!

I checked out the Vanguard site for what options were available.  Turns out you can technically open a 529 from any state, but you’ll only get extra tax benefits (like deducting your contribution amount from your state taxes) if it’s YOUR state. (You still get the regular tax benefits of tax-free growth of your investment and tax-free withdrawal for qualified education expenses).  The main option from Vanguard appeared to be The Vanguard 529 Plan (sponsored by Nevada).  I’ve always heard good things about Vanguard, and I liked the looks of their low-cost fund options, but I was a little taken aback by the initial $3000 investment requirement.  Though they point out that if you want to still invest with Vanguard but start with a lower initial investment ($25) you can open an account with College Savings Iowa 529 Plan.

So, after looking over the options from Vanguard, we ended up going with the option from Fidelity for Massachusetts (our state of residence).  It allowed us to start with a low initial investment of $50 (just to get things started), and we can do automatic investments of $15 per month or $45 per quarter.  My husband and I are still talking about how much we want to set up for automatic investments, but it’s good to know we don’t have to start with a ton of money right at the beginning.  Plus, we get to deduct the contribution amount from our state taxes (which doesn’t amount to much, but, hey, every little bit counts!)

So, we opened an account!  And funded it with the initial $50.  And will sit down this weekend to discuss exactly how much to contribute each month.  AND!  My twitter friends stuck by their pledges and sent $25 each!  Now I have to figure out how to transfer money from PayPal into the 529…

Have you started saving for your kids for college?  Why or why not?  What did you end up doing?  I look forward to hearing your feedback!




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