Graduated Learning: Life after College

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

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)?


Welcoming Baby Number Two! May 25, 2018

Filed under: baby,Pregnancy — Stephanie @ 2:35 pm
Tags: , ,

As I mentioned in some previous posts, we were expecting our second child at the end of May/beginning of June (estimated due date of June 3rd). Well, apparently our little boy had alternate plans, as my water broke very early in the morning during the 37th week of my pregnancy.  We had only partially packed our hospital bags when we had to rush to the hospital!

So now we’re a family of 4!

It’s definitely been tricky getting used to navigating the needs of our toddler daughter with our newborn son, while also making sure I’m taking the time to recover!

Luckily we’ve got some help: a really good friend of ours was able to come to the hospital to watch our daughter when I went into labor, then my mother-in-law came to watch our daughter during my recovery at the hospital. And now my parents are up to help out for a week. And my husband was able to save up a lot of PTO so he will still stay home with the baby and me for a month before he has to go back to work.

I’ll be taking the 12 weeks allowed for me from FMLA, with some portion of it paid.  Then I’ll be heading back to work, with both kids going to daycare.

I still plan on breastfeeding (and later pumping/breastfeeding) this baby like I did with his big sister, but we’ll see how it goes.

We didn’t bother with cloth diapers this time around. We tried it last time, it definitely cut down on our trash output, but was not a long term solution for us.  We’re currently using up the stash of newborn diapers that the hospital gave us, as well as the extras my sister gave us after her baby outgrew the newborn size.  Our toddler is still in diapers, so we are dealing with quite a lot of diapers these days!

I’m going to try to find balance in maternity leave.  There’s some things we need to take care of, but for the most part, especially early on, I need to focus on recovery and, of course, caring for and bonding with my new baby

I was going to write a blog post about how to help out new parents (and I still might) but for now I’d recommend the YouTube video from Bridget (from Money after Graduation).  Parents of new babies definitely appreciate the help! Just be prepared to show up to a messy home and offer up some help and/or food!

Back to resting up and nursing!


What you need (and don’t need) in your hospital bag April 25, 2018

Filed under: baby — Stephanie @ 9:58 pm
Tags: , ,

I’ve been thinking about packing up my hospital bag for baby #2 and thought I’d share what we packed last time (and plan on packing this time).

One thing I kept looking for advice on last time was what to pack for my hospital bag.  I saw plenty of blog posts, articles, and even a youtube video about what to pack, but I still wasn’t quite sure what I really needed.

I’m not an expert in packing for a trip to the hospital (we’ve only done this childbirth thing once) but I thought I’d review what we needed (and didn’t need) to bring to the hospital.


  • Sleeping mask:  A friend recommended this for me, and I’ve made sure to recommend it to every mother-to-be.  Both before and after you have the baby, there are going to be times you want to sleep when the hospital room is not going to be dim enough.
  • Hairclips/hairties/hairbands: For keeping your hair out of your face before, during, and after labor.
  • Tech: pack your various phones/chargers/etc.  If your support person isn’t packing the camera/charger, then you pack it, then make sure he/she has it.
  • Toiletries:  Keeping in mind that you may be restricted to your bed for some time and/or you wont be at the hospital for very long (depending on your situation), you don’t need much when it comes to toiletries.  I packed my usual “weekend trip” supplies:  toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash/soap, deodorant (all travel size).  Because I had a c-section, I was at the hospital recovering for 4 days, so I was actually ready to take a shower after a day or so.  But I’m pretty sure I wasn’t doing much on the personal hygiene front for the first day… I’d also check with your doctor if there are medications you take daily on whether you should bring those along or not (in case they don’t want you taking medication at certain parts of labor/delivery/recovery).
  • Going home clothes (optional):  If you’re planning on taking a photo of yourself leaving the hospital, you might want to pack something nice.  But I just went home in the clothes that I went to the hospital in, since they were still relatively clean.  But I guess if your water breaks while you’re wearing those clothes on the way in, you wont want to wear them, so pack an extra pair of your comfiest maternity pants.  Or a loose maternity dress.  Basically dress like you’re still pregnant (because you’ll still have a belly and you will probably be in some pain and not want anything restricting). Underwear-wise you might be leaving in the “special” ones the hospital gives you. Bring a nursing bra if you have one.
  • Reading materials (kindle/book/magazine):  Depending on your situation, you may want to bring reading materials (if your labor is slow) but I don’t think I ended up packing anything extra.  I had my phone, so I could read stuff on there if I needed it.
  • Stress balls/tennis balls/other labor “aids”:  When we went to a childbirth class, they suggested a few items to bring along to help you deal with your aches and pains in early labor.  The tennis ball was meant to rub on your aches, and the stress ball was good to squeeze during contractions (if you didn’t want to break your support person’s hand!)
  • Other items to make you feel comfortable: lip balm (if it’s too dry), extra socks (my feet were FREEZING during early labor).

Support person (spouse/partner/parent/friend/etc.)

  • Snacks.  Yes, I’m a big proponent of snacks at all times, but this will be key.  You may or may not be allowed to eat, but your support people will be able to.  And depending on when you deliver, the hospital kitchen/cafeteria may or may not be open.
  • Clothes:  pack what you’d usually bring for a night or two away:  PJs, change of clothes, underwear, socks, etc.  Also slippers or slipper socks.  Pack a few extra pairs of underwear/socks in case you end up having to stay at the hospital longer than expected (and are unable to make it back home)
  • Toiletries:  Again, pack what you’d usually bring for a brief visit away.  Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razor, medications, etc.
  • Tech:  Pack your camera (fully charged), charger, and any other tech you want to bring, keeping in mind you may or may not have time/energy to use your laptop/kindle/iPad.  Include your phone charger and phone!


  • “Going Home” clothes:  while your hospital should provide clothes for your baby to wear while in the hospital, many won’t let you take home the clothes or other linens (blankets, hats, etc.).  Plus, you probably want to take some photos in one of the outfits you brought!  So you’ll have to provide your own:  at least a onesie or two (in various sizes, if possible, so you can accomodate whatever size your baby is) and especially depending on weather, a hat and blanket.  Our pediatrician recommended baby wears an extra layer over whatever we’re wearing.
  • Car Seat:  If you’re driving the baby home, you will have to have a car seat.  I’m almost certain they won’t let you leave the hospital without a car seat.  Plus they’ll check it for you to make sure your baby’s secure.  Our nurse even walked us to the car to help us put the seat in.

One thing I’d recommend is that you get a tour of the hospital you plan on delivering at.  It will help you get an idea for what to expect when you show up to deliver, including getting familiar with the various monitoring equipment and other hospital technology you might not know about.  Plus you can ask questions about what they will and wont provide.  I was glad they had slipper socks to keep my feet warm and keep me from slipping around on the hospital floor.  Some hospitals will have toiletries, and they should have all the “post labor” special toiletries that moms will need (i.e. special underwear, pads, breast pads, etc.).  They should also provide all the diapers/wipes/ointments your baby might need for those first few days  (and don’t be afraid to take whatever items they give you!  We left the hospital with at least a package of diapers for the baby and plenty of stuff that I needed, too).

Things I didn’t need, even though it was recommended by various websites:

  • Makeup: Just. No.  Sure, you might feel like you look like crap after you have the baby.  You probably do.  I know I did.  But I rarely wear makeup as it is, and I wasn’t about to start just to have fancy pictures.  We all look like that after giving birth.  EMBRACE IT.
  • Nice pajamas:  Another no.  I wore the hospital gowns the entire time.  It provides the best access for doctors and nurses, can easily be removed, and can just be replaced by another one if/when your current one gets covered in blood, poop, pee, breastmilk, vomit, spitup, etc.  I’ll admit, I did bring a scrubby old robe that I did end up using after a day or two.  Like I mentioned, I was in the hospital recovering for 4 days, so I lounged around in the robe for a bit.

An interesting note:  Talking to my Canadian friends, hospital amenities are very different.  Since you’re getting “free” healthcare, they don’t tend to provide many of the extras. So definitely find out ahead of time what they will (and won’t) provide.

Anything else you found you needed or didn’t need in your hospital bag? Share your advice/experiences in the comments!


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