Graduated Learning: Life after College

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

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)?

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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!

 

 

 

The childcare decision revisited March 9, 2018

When we had our first child, it was pretty obvious that we’d both keep working.  I took the full 12 weeks of maternity leave allowed through FMLA, then headed back to work.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I came back to work part-time, with a flexible schedule that allowed me to work however much I could each week as long as I worked a minimum number of hours.  This definitely helped with my transition back to work, especially when I was still breastfeeding/pumping, and even now when trying to juggle the life of a working mom along with sharing the daycare pickup/dropoff responsibilities with my husband (especially when he has a business trip and I have to do both dropoff and pickup!)

We found our daycare with help from my Employee Assistance Program, who helped narrow down choices to nearby options that had openings.  The daycare center is very conveniently located relative to both our jobs, and we’re really happy with the care and education she’s gotten so far.  And she’s happy, too!

Of course, the one thing we’re less happy about?  The cost.  Daycare is EXPENSIVE.  And I know this cost often weighs on people when making the decision:  should a parent stay home?

As I mentioned in my last post, we’re expecting again (due late May/early June) and so the discussion came up again.  Should one of us stay home?  Or should we keep paying for childcare, now for two kids?

I have plenty of friends who have chosen to be stay at home parents, for both financial and personal reasons.  They’re awesome people, and I think they made the right choice for their family.

But for us, for now, we will follow the theory that childcare is an investment.  A quick calculation shows that childcare for two at our current daycare is about 25% of our combined full-time salaries (gross pay).  Of course, after taxes and healthcare, and acknowledging that I’m only currently working around 75% of full time (so I only get paid around 75% of my salary) the percentage of take-home pay (net pay) creeps much higher.  And of course, this year, with me going on maternity leave (which is not all paid, and when paid, is not at 100% pay), and probably dropping my hours back down a bit to accommodate my pumping schedule, we will probably be spending quite a lot of our income on childcare.

But we both see good futures in our jobs, and know that leaving the workforce entirely, even for a few years, could have significant impacts on our careers.  Being away from our careers for an extended amount of time will make it harder to “get back in”, if we haven’t been in the industry for a few years.  And once the kids are in school, we’d want to be back at work, anyway.  And as this great article points out, there’s more than just the lost wages when leaving a job for a few years.  You miss out on 401k contributions (yours and your employer’s, and any of the growth from those contributions), some of your potential social security benefits, and all the raises you would have gotten.  And, with our other big expense (mortgage) it also makes more sense to have two salaries, even if one (mine) is less for a little while from maternity leave and reduced hours (as mentioned above).

On top of all the financial reasons, it’s also a personal reason.  If I’m being honest, I don’t think staying home with my kid(s) is the best choice for any of us (parents or kids).  I’ve seen how exhausted I can get from just a single day taking care of my daughter (on a day she’s sick, or daycare is closed, or my husband is gone for a weekend day for work) and I can’t imagine being able to do this every single day, especially now with an infant set to enter our lives in less than 3 months.  And my daughter benefits greatly from being among her peers, and learning every day from people who are actually trained educators.  She gets variety every day in fun (and educational) indoor and outdoor activities.  I don’t think I could offer that level of education and fun every single day!

Yes, my husband could be the one to stay home instead, as he somehow manages to survive the day better than me when he’s home alone with our daughter all day, but as mentioned above, we see other benefits to having our children attend daycare.

And of course, we could seek out a less expensive option.  Either a nanny or finding a cheaper daycare center.  But most centers around here are around the same price, but less convenient to get to which means it would still mean less time one of us could spend at work to take care of pickup/dropoff on time (which at least for me, means less pay, so that defeats the purpose of finding a slightly cheaper location).

I know everyone’s situation is different, and I wouldn’t dare judge people on whatever decision they made for childcare.  I just wanted to share how we came to the decision to continue with daycare.

I’d love to hear from you on your childcare/work situation, and how you came to that decision!

 

 

 

 

I’m still here February 21, 2018

Filed under: baby,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 8:03 pm

Cue Elaine Stritch.  I’m still here.

I know my blogging has been pretty sparse, which I could blame on chasing around a toddler, but I’ve been pretty bad at maintaining this blog for years.  I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet, as I’ve got a lot of personal finance stuff still to think and talk about.  I just need to get back into the habit.

I have a pretty long/epic blog post in the works where I want to talk about how having a bunch of life changes all at once (we had a baby AND bought a house all in one year) can really throw money (and life) into chaos.  And to top it all of, we’re expecting again (yay!) which means that’s a whole new level of money (and life) chaos to consider.

So, I’m still here.  I’m usually tweeting rather than blogging, so that’s the better way to know what’s going on in my life.  But I really do want to get back into all these money (and life) discussions!

So, don’t worry. I’m still alive.

 

10 months later November 30, 2016

Filed under: baby,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:42 pm
Tags: , , , ,

It’s been 10 months since I gave birth to our daughter (I actually started writing this post at 9 months, to be all cute with the 9-months in, 9-months out thing…but then got too busy to finish!).  A lot has gone on since then.  As I mentioned the last time I posted (months ago) I went back after my 12-week maternity leave.  I was lucky enough to have a boss that is giving me a flexible work schedule which comes in handy when the baby doesn’t want to cooperate in the morning, or when my husband goes on a business trip and I have to cover drop off and pickup at daycare, and also to allow for my pumping sessions at work.  Hopefully once I stop breastfeeding (or at least stop pumping at work), I’ll have a little bit more time.  But again, SO grateful for my flexible schedule.  I know that not everyone has this sort of set up.

The baby, in a word, is AWESOME.  She’s babbling a lot, waving bye-bye to anyone and anything (which seems cruel when saying bye bye to her food right before she eats it).  She’s even been doing some walking!  I’m impressed with her developmental progress.  She’s still not huge (she was born pretty small) but I’m already sentimental for her tinier days!  She’s wearing mostly 6 and 9 month clothes, and can still fit into a few 3-month onesies if she needs to.  But she’s growing, and she’s STRONG!

Other updates for our life:  We bought a house!  You’ll recall, I finally got serious about buying a house at the beginning of last year.  We met our realtor in August 2015. I just checked the date, and we actually closed on our new house exactly one year later, in August 2016.  I should probably post more on our homebuying experience in a separate post, but it was quite the adventure.  Getting outbid on a lot of houses, going to countless open houses, and really trying to figure out what we wanted and needed in a house.  We’re happy with what we finally bought!

I’ve been pretty much NOT exercising since I stopped early on in the pregnancy.  Going back to work meant I wasn’t going on a lot of daytime walks anymore, and I haven’t done much running.  But I have gone on a few jogs with my husband in our new neighborhood, and I actually ran (or okay, jogged) a Turkey Trot/5k last week (the huge Feaster Five).  I didn’t even walk any of it (unless you count the almost-walk I did going up a hill).  I hope to get back into running again, but will really need to find ways to carve out that time.  How do you find the time for exercise?  The lucky(?) thing is that I haven’t “needed” the exercise to lose my pregnancy weight.  It turns out breastfeeding can be an excellent calorie burner.  I’m actually below my pre-pregnancy weight, and have been trying to figure out healthy ways to maintain a healthy weight (perhaps a bit more exercise and a lot more healthy food)?

Well, this is enough of an update for the time being.  Baby’s great, we bought a house and moved, and I’m trying to get back to running.  How have you all been?

 

 

 

This snow makes me want to move! February 25, 2015

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:18 pm
Tags: ,

I can’t believe we’re finally in a week where no major snow storms are predicted for our area.  You’d think after growing up in Buffalo, and then living in Boston for most of my adult life, I’d be used to all this snow.  NOPE.

I know I should count my blessings.  There are many people living in Boston who have been hit much harder by these storms.  Our public transit system is still not back to normal and may not be for days or weeks!

But it does get me thinking about wanting to move.

I actually don’t mean moving to Florida or California or Hawaii.  I just mean moving to our own house.

I love our current apartment.  The landlords are great, with adorable kids, and they’ve been really accommodating during this storm.  During the first Blizzard (Juno) they even helped me dig out my car, then moved my car into their driveway (where they’ve been letting us keep one of our cars overnight since the snow emergency went in place February 2nd) and that day they even invited me up for some tasty soup and a movie!  They’re good people.

And I love our location:  close enough to public transit and good restaurants but also pretty close to the highway so we can hop on the highway easily for our daily commutes or a trip up to Vermont.

But one of the issues that has made me a little bit crazy is the winter parking situation.  I’ve been dreaming of a place with a garage.  And even with a driveway, as long as we got a snowblower.  I know this makes me sound spoiled, but one of the things that makes me stress out beyond having to shovel out my car after a storm is worrying about if there will still be a spot available when I come back from work or the grocery store or visiting a friend.  There’s plenty of argument around whether or not space savers should be used (and in many cities, they’re technically illegal).  With a parking ban which was in effect for 3 weeks (which means we couldn’t actually park on the street in front of our house, or on the odd side of the side streets), there’s mathematically not enough space for every car that needs to park.  So any time I left, I worried I’ll come back and have nowhere to park my car.

Phew.  See, it’s this tiny issue that makes me go from calm and collected to raving mad.  Again, I realize how lucky I am otherwise (at least I have a car that I need to park!), but it just stresses me out!

So.  I’d love to buy a house somewhere, in part, so I can have a garage.  It’s not the only reason, of course.  After we got married, we’ve been thinking more about those “next steps” (having kids, buying a house, etc. etc.)  So, we’ve started scanning Zillow for potential houses.  Of course, within this search is trying to figure out WHERE to move to.  Like I said, we like our current location for convenience to all sorts of things.  But buying a house much closer to work (~20 miles from our current location) would be convenient, especially if we’re thinking ahead to kids (preschool, school, etc.).  But moving away from our current area means moving away from most of our friends, including quite a few who are car-less.  I have faith they’d manage the public transit or Zipcar option, but I worry we’d see a lot less of them.  Then again, they say when you have kids, you don’t see much of friends anyway, so maybe that’s where we’re headed?

Beyond location, my husband and I have to start thinking about what we want in a house.  We know we want a back yard (and of course, that coveted garage!) but how many rooms?  What style?  A move-in-ready house or one that requires lots of work and upgrades?

I think our next steps, if we decide we want to start seriously considering buying a house, is to get pre-approved for a mortgage.  We’ve both been saving up money for ages for a down payment, so hopefully we’ll have enough to buy something when we do start looking!

How has the winter storm impacted you?

p.s. special thanks to Anne and Alison for their tweets that got me started on this blog post!

 

Reviewing 2014: Looking ahead to 2015 January 4, 2015

Filed under: General Blogging,Personal Finance,Travel — Stephanie @ 1:56 pm
Tags: ,

Happy New Year!

As you may have noticed, I’ve been absent on the blog since September. Partially because after my post about our honeymoon, I realized I felt weird talking about all the places we went in Ireland on our honeymoon. If I ever feel un-weird about it in the future, I’ll try to post more about it. Sorry for that.

The other reason you haven’t seen a lot of me is because I felt like I’d run out of things to talk about. This blog started out as a way for me to research, share, and get help on all the big personal finance choices that happen early on in our adult lives. Well, I got through most of that, and had started talking more about fitness. But I feel like I know what I like doing for fitness, so I ran out of things to talk about there.

So, where does that leave things?

I still did some pretty great things this year. I even blogged about a few of them!
The big one, of course, was getting married! It was such a blast, and I’m so happy how everything went (and, you know, the whole “being married” part is pretty excellent).

Other side thoughts:
First trip to Europe under my belt
Finally got my (now) husband to sign up for a Roth IRA (and got advice from all of you on the best place to open a Roth)
Walked all 20 miles of the Walk for Hunger and raised over $3000 ($3,318.87 to be exact!)

Other things I did this year? A lot of them are related to the “married finances” thing.
-We opened up a joint checking account. Most of our accounts are still separate, but it’s a first step to figuring out shared finances
-We moved my husband onto my car insurance to lower our rates, and reviewed our coverage levels to make sure we had the right amount.
-We also moved my husband onto my health insurance plan, which also helps save money and make the whole insurance things just a tiny bit easier to manage
-We started checking out (term) life insurance to try to figure out how much we needed and how much it would cost us.
-We signed up for a legal plan through my work (for ~$100) that gives us free use of some local lawyers so we can draw up legal documents like Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Proxies (more stuff you don’t want to have to think about, but you have to think about).  It seemed like a more economical choice to use my company’s legal plan than paying a local lawyer for these documents.

Looking ahead to 2015, I hope to get back into blogging.  There are some more things on my to do list when it comes to money and health/fitness.  And so hopefully I will remain a part of this blogging community.  I’m much more active on twitter, so feel free to join me in discussions over there.  And let me know what you’d like to hear about from me.

How do you get over the slump of “I have nothing left to write about”?  How was your 2014?  What do you hope to hear from me in 2015?

Thanks for sticking with me!

 

 

 
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