5 money mistakes you are probably making

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I know you. You probably clicked on this article just to prove me wrong. “I’m not making any money mistakes!” And that’s fine. You should totally be writing this blog instead of me, but humor me.

There are a million and one different ways to be financially literate, and I am not saying that one way is better than another, but my way is clearly the best.

Mistake #1: You don’t COMPLETELY understand how you are going to retire someday.

From what I see, people fall into one of these categories:

  • Person A: They have no f-ing clue how they are ever going to retire. Their debt is higher than the national debt and they figure they will just work the rest of their lives. (don’t be this person)
  • Person B: Person B brings in a steady paycheck and has minimal debt. She even contributes to her workplace 401K or XYZB but generally hopes that when she is 65, she will simply stop working and there will be enough money for her to retire. (don’t be this person either)
  • Person C: Person C works hard. Has no debt (other than her mortgage), contributes the max to her 401K and XYZB (note: this is not a real thing). She thinks that when she is 65 she will be just fine.

NONE of these people actually know how they are going to retire. There is a vague understanding that you work until 65 and then everything magically falls into place. That’s what social security is for after all, right?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan on staking my future happiness on a government program that is constantly on the chopping block. Not to mention, I have already received letters reassuring me that I will be getting up to 75% of my social security earnings when I retire. 75% wow! When I first started working, it was 100%…. That’s not how numbers are supposed to work.

NOTE TO THE GOVERNMENT: a letter stating that I am not going to get the FULL amount of money that I have paid is NOT reassuring. In fact, it is the opposite of reassuring. It is UN-reassuring. That’s so not a word, but it should be.

Back to my point.

You need to know exactly how you are going to retire when you are ready to retire. This means you need to know the following:

a. how much money you will spend in retirement

b. where that money is going to come from

c. how you going to account for inflation and other life events

This brings us to mistake number 2.

Mistake #2: You don’t know how much you spend every month.

This is a scary one. I know. The logic is sound: if we don’t know how much we are spending every month than we can’t feel bad about it. Just like eating while standing up means that we are eating less calories.

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: the money is still gone wether or not you know exactly where it went.

I know – that’s brutal. Many a time have I opened my credit card bill and righteously declared, “What is this $58 purchase! I never spent that!” Only to have my kill joy of a husband respond, “Isn’t that the camera thing you just had to have?” (side note – yes, I have a problem when it comes to buying camera things. I admit it. It is real. I’m working on it.)

So, I don’t care if you make a budget (personally, I hate budgets. The surest way for me to overspend is to make a budget, but if it works for you great) or simply track your spending. YOU MUST KNOW EXACTLY HOW MUCH YOU SPEND.

Every dollar.

Every quarter.

Every penny.

Mistake #3: You hold a balance on your credit card.

You’re credit card is like a game. If you hold a balance on it, you lose. If you pay it off every month, you win.

The way I explain it to my daughter is this: you know that stuffie you just can’t live without? The one that looks exactly like all the other stuffies in your room and costs $40? $40 that you don’t have. If you buy that on a credit card and don’t pay off your balance, that $40 stuffie now costs you $60! That’s right, $60. (yes, I know that is probably not entirely accurate, but she’s 9 so simpler is better).

Lets say, though, that you have that $40 sitting in your money jar in your room. If you buy that $40 stuffie using a credit card that has some sort of reward system (either cash back or miles), and then pay off that credit card entirely as soon as the bill comes in, that $40 stuffie now costs less (if you think about the reward negating some of the costs). OK, that’s a little complicated for a 9 year old, but you adults out there should get my drift.

The point is – don’t buy something on a credit card unless you have the money to pay for it in cash so you can pay off your card in full at the end of the month. If it is too tempting, then chop up that card. I’m serious. You lose if you don’t pay off your card. You know who you are losing to? Those multi-millionaires who run the credit card companies! Do NOT give them your money. They don’t need it. Take their money by never carrying a balance.

Its a fun game. Promise.

Mistake #4: Hiding your money under your mattress

Mom, I’m looking at you. Yes, I know that the stock market can be scary. It seems super risky to take your hard earned money and invest it in something that can (and will at times) lose value.

But guess what? Money hiding under your mattress is also losing value. Its a thing called inflation which means that every year your money will buy you less and less. Its like when your grandma tells you those stories about how in her days she would walk to the store 5 miles in the snow, uphill, to buy bread for a dime. That’s right. A dime for a loaf of break. I just spend $6 on a loaf yesterday.

The average inflation rate is 3.22%. This means that if your money is not growing by 3.22% each year, YOU ARE LOSING MONEY.

The stock market grows on average 7% per year (this is a conservative number and takes into account all those pesky downturns).

Here’s the math: 7% (growth) – 3% (inflation) = 4% growth per year

Now, I really don’t recommend getting all fancy and investing in different stocks. That IS risky. Just open up a Vanguard account and invest in the total stock market. Easy. Put your money in there and forget about it.

Mistake #5: Buying All Of The Things

Oh, retail therapy – you fickle vixen! You make us feel so good and then leave us wanting more.

Here is the big secret: buying things won’t make you happy.

The amount that you spend each month matters so much more for your retirement number than the amount that you save each month.

For example, lets say you only need to make $10 per year to live a happy life (Ha! I know, but I find it is easier to wrap my head around smaller numbers so bear with me).  If your money is growing at a rate of 4% a year (see mistake #4) then you only need to have  $250 invested in the total stock market to live happily ever after for the rest of your life!

$10 is 4% of $250

An easier way to calculate that big number that you need to retire is to multiply the money that you spend each year by 25.

10 x 25 = 250

If you spend less, you NEED less to retire. Every extra dollar that you spend each year means you need to save 25 more dollars.

If you need to buy a new pair of shoes every year for $100, you need to save an additional $2500 to maintain that habit.

This is a fun game to play every time you buy something. That latte just cost me $125. A new computer every year costs me $25000 in savings.

Buy less things – need less money – retire sooner 🙂

That’s it, folks. That’s all there is to it.

I’ve totally made all of these mistakes at some point or another so there is no shame in it. If you are making any of these mistakes, it’s not too late to fix it! Take an afternoon, sit down with your family, and figure this money thing out. The great irony is that once you do have a plan and are in control of your spending, you will feel so much happier. I promise.

Setting Stretch Goals

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A little over a year ago, Adam and I set a very ambitious goal of paying off our mortgage in 1 year. At the time we owed a little less than 300K so this was no small feat, however, we knew we were going to sell two of our rental properties so we figured it was doable.

It was.

We paid our mortgage off in October of 2016 using a combination of savings and proceeds from the sales of our rental properties. Woo Hoo! Big celebrations!

Then I noticed something interesting. Without the ambitious goal leading us like a carrot in front of a donkey, our spending slowly crept up. An extra meal out here, a thoughtless purchase of some new fancy thing there and before we knew it, we were spending way more than we were at the beginning of the year when we had a clear, specific measurable goal.

I guess there is something to that goal setting, hu?

Since we are no longer paying off any debt, our new stretch goal is all about accumulation. We ended 2016 with about $235,000 in investments. If we save at the rate that we intend to, we should reach $375,000 by the end of next year (this includes a lot of random extra income from various sources that we are counting on over the year and the fact that we have no mortgage to pay!).

So, because I’m completely nuts, I’ve decided our stretch goal will be $400,000 by the end of the December 2017. In order for this to happen, the market will have to continue its amazing growth, I will need to bring in more money with my business, and we will have to save even more than we currently do.

But…its is doable.

I’m not sure that we are going to make this goal, but here is to trying!

How did we do – Year 1

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Its the end of the year! Woo Hoo! Time for parties and celebrations and watching the year of 2016 die with a thankful breath….

Or…

Its time to calculate the end of the year numbers!!!! Woo Hoo!!! Who’s with me??? Anyone??? *crickets*

Alright, so I may have slacked off a bit at the end of this year. One purchase led to another and before I knew it, we had spend more money than I wanted to think about. It wasn’t really on STUFF (although, if I am being honest, I spent way more this year on Holiday gifts than I did last year). Nope – what really killed us this year were two decisions we made in December:

  1. We took our child out of public school and put her in a private school (for the record, this is the best use of our money ever. She was having anxiety attacks at school and developing trauma around learning. Not a good thing).
  2. We decided to transform our garage into a useable space. This is something we had been talking about for years and we finally found a guy who does amazing construction work for super cheap (he’s moonlighting for us – for his day job, he works for a construction company). We couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

I was tempted to just not count these expenses in my annual report. Say to myself, “this was just a one time thing and I shouldn’t worry about it,” but ultimately decided I would only be cheating myself.

So, enough stalling. The number that I really care about; the number that matters more to our goal of FI than any other is our savings rate. While we had some excellent months, our average percentage of savings ended up being:

33% – not great. Especially since our goal is 75%.

What contributed so such a lousy savings rate, you ask? A lot of it was the school and garage, but it was also things like repairing appliances and travel. The good news is, I am confident we can improve upon that number next year.

That’s the bad news. Now for the fun part: We started this year at 28% of the way towards our goal of financial independence and we ended the year at … drumroll please …

57%!!!

This number may be a little skewed since I wasn’t including our rental properties in the beginning of the year numbers and we used the proceeds from those properties to make significant progress in our end of the year numbers, but I’m going to go with it since it makes me feel better.

We are over halfway to our goal of financial independence!!!

If my calculations are correct (ha! I’ve always wanted to say that), we should reach our goal in April of 2020 – three months before my husband turns 40.

I will continue to keep you updated on our progress. Our little family wishes you a big happy new year!

September Wrap Up

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leafIts my favorite time of the month! The time when I get to check in with our investments and see how much we’ve made over the month. It is the time when I also calculate all of our expenditures to see exactly where our money went so we can make any changes if needed.

The market has definitely slowed down, but I will leave it up to those who delight in analyzing market trends to explain why. The part that I care about is how it affected us. Over the course of September, our investments grew 1.39%. That is nothing to shake your hat at (is that really a saying? I feel like I’ve used it before but as I write it, it just looks ridiculous). To put it in perspective: if we were to always have that kind of growth, we’d be making 16.68% interest for the year. Considering our retirement calculations are based on making 7% per year, that kind of growth is amazingballs (wow – I am full of the totally dated sayings today. I can just feel Tiny Eivy rolling her eyes at me).

Unfortunately, not all of our accounts realized that kind of growth. Oh, this is going to hurt to talk about but I preach celebrating mistakes so here goes.

Before I knew anything about investing or savings or the difference between a 401k and a regular taxable investment account, I knew that I wanted to reach financial independence early. So, I did what everyone else does and met with a financial advisor. Now, I wasn’t totally clueless. I did my research on this woman and she was good. Not only did she know her stuff but she was kind and fun – the kind of person I wanted to hang out with and still do! I love this woman. Which is part of the problem.

Overall, it is almost impossible to beat simple passive investing in the total stock market through Vanguard. I’m going to say this one more time because it is super important: Overall, it is almost impossible to beat simple passive investing in the total stock market through Vanguard. My expense ratio for the total stock market is .05%. That is amazing. That is essentially the fee that I pay to Vanguard so that I can invest. Any financial advisor is going to have to charge quite a bit more than that. Usually in the realm of 2% which means that my investments with an advisor need to make 1.95% more than my investments in the total stock market just so that I could make the same return. On top of that challenge, studies have found that most investors (the financial advisors who create mutual funds and invest your money for you) fail to get a return higher than simply investing in the total stock market. Ouch.

Which brings me back to this amazing investment advisor who I have been working with for the past 5 years. Partly because she is my friend and partly because I was curious if all of these statistics were true, I’ve kept my initial investments with her. I started tracking the return I was getting on my investments in the total stock market vs her investments.

Over the course of 10 months, my return has beat her return every month. September was the most striking. While my investments returned 1.3%, hers returned -0.1%. Ack!

Now, believe me, I understand that the market is based on general trends and even looking at the data on a monthly basis is such a small slice of information that it is almost meaningless. But, ouch! I think I’m going to have to get my money out and invest it myself, but it is so hard for me to do this!

So, how did we do in September? We did alright. We had several large medical expenses – including a bill for a service that happened over a year ago. Gotta love that medical system! We also booked a trip to Disneyland which sounds much more extravagant than it actually was. A couple of times a year, Adam’s work (Disney) pays for his airfare and hotel to travel to Disneyland to talk about all that tech stuff he does here with the team there. Couple that with super cheap flights ($250 for BOTH Tiny Eivy and me to fly round trip) and free passes to the park (thank you Disney benefits), and you have a recipe for a super fun super frugal vacation.

We also didn’t have to pay a mortgage this month for the first time ever! Hooray! So, overall, we managed a savings rate of 70%. Not too shabby.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how we do next month. Our biggest spending category is always groceries. For the month of October we are trying something new: cook for a month. I went grocery shopping yesterday and spent about $100 on food which I then used to prepare 12 meals that we put in our freezer. I’m hoping that with leftovers and just buying veggies to go with the meals, our food budget will be drastically reduced. Although, we will be spending a week in Disneyland so who knows how it will all turn out. I’ll keep you posted.

How did you do in September?

How are finances and fad diets related?

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Lets be honest: anyone can do anything for a short enough time period.

  • sprint for five seconds
  • don’t eat sugar for one hour
  • don’t spend any money for one day

No problem. These are easy to do because it is such a short period of time. Start tacking on minutes, hours, days and it becomes more and more challenging.

When I was part of a popular weight management program, they used to tell me that to make something a habit you have to do it for 21 days. Sure, if you do something for 21 days, it becomes easier, but I question if it is actually a habit. Its definitely not a lifestyle change after 21 days which is ultimately what you need to succeed at both diets and the frugal lifestyle.

**Wow – I don’t like that phrase at all: frugal lifestyle. It sounds like living a life a deprivation. I’m going to change it to: financially independent lifestyle.  A little wordy but much better.**

Back to my original analogy. Buy nothing months are a great way to kickstart your financially independent lifestyle just like starting a new fad diet is a great way to lose a few pounds; however, neither of these options are great for making a lifestyle change.

Why do I bring this up now? Because, hard as you may find it to believe, even we Eivy’s struggle with maintaining a financially independent lifestyle. We paid off our mortgage (yea!) and then started slipping. One little meal out here, an amazon purchase there and pretty soon you have a recipe for working in an office for the rest of your life.

However, it is also important to figure out a balance that is sustainable for  your lifestyle. The hardest thing for me about being frugal is eating out. I LOVE to eat out. Its convenient, its fun, its connecting and it is oh so delicious. Am I going to do it everyday? No! But I’m not going to worry too much about it I do eat out a couple times a week. Especially, if I can find a place to do it relatively on the cheap.

**Side note: I found the most amazing burger place next to my skating rink where, we discovered last night, we could all eat for under $20 total. Pretty good.**

Some people can live quite happily never eating out, but for my lifestyle and my sanity, it really is a must. I could deny this and continue to cook every meal at home every night, but that is not sustainable and sustainable is the name of the game! To really make a LIFESTYLE change you have to figure out what is sustainable for your family.

Don’t get me wrong, compared to most people we are still quite frugal. My clothing budge is about $10 a month, and aside from Derby dues we don’t pay anything for entertainment (bonus- Derby doubles as our gym so that’s covered as well). We don’t have cable – just Netflix. We don’t buy new things for our house – just used and only if we absolutely need it. And you know what? I feel so rich. Seriously. I want for nothing. I pinch myself because I can’t believe how lucky I feel.

This is what is sustainable for us. I’m curious what is sustainable for you?

 

Save

One Step Closer!

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california-34We did it! I just sent in my very last mortgage payment ever! What a rush. I can’t even tell you how amazing this feels.

When we set a goal of paying off our mortgage in one year, I thought we were nuts. I looked at the enormous number of dollars we had left to pay and silently wept. I thought it was impossible. I thought I would be paying a mortgage for the rest of my life. I thought it was a pipe dream. But no more! We are free!!!!!

This really feels like a tipping point. Not only do we not have to pay a mortgage any longer, but we can put the money that we would have spent on the mortgage into our investments which will help us get to our magical FI number all the sooner.

Is this the smartest use of our money? Should we have invested that money in the market instead of our mortgage? Who knows. Only time will tell, but what I do know is that in the crazy housing market of Seattle, I don’t have to worry about a landlord raising my rent by hundreds of dollars a month. I don’t have to worry about buying a home with multiple offers. I get to simply enjoy the peace of living rent and mortgage free in a home I love.

So, I encourage everyone to set crazy high goals – to strive for what is impossible and celebrate your success! I know I will 🙂

Ack! Is it September already?

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africa-3So, its September…not quite sure how that happened.

I left for Africa on August 21st in the middle of the summer and when I got back September 1st it was solidly fall – with crisp air and turning leaves. I am not one of those people who lives for fall. Don’t get me wrong. I like it – pumpkins, apple cider and cooler air. What’s not to like? But its no summer. Fall is like the consolation prize you get when you have to say good bye to summer.

Ah well – I digress (or rather, I didn’t mean to start talking about the changing seasons when what i really want to talk about is…): our financial update!

August was, without a doubt, the busiest month financially for us. We sold two of our rental houses (woo hoo!!!!) and used that money to pay off the mortgage on our current house (again, I say, woo hoo!!!). As of tomorrow, we will officially be debt free…unless you are counting our vacation rental property…which I don’t count because it is like its own self contained business. I leave that property alone – let the vacation rental managers take care of everything – and collect a check every month. Easy peasy. Eventually, we will pay off the mortgage on that account too and then the checks we collect each month will be bigger 🙂

We changed our spending habits a bit in August as well. Rather than keep ourselves on a strict “no eating out” plan, we ate out four of five times and surprisingly, our food spending actually went down! I think the reason was that when I know we are not eating out, I plan these elaborate meals every night and we end up spending quite a bit on groceries. When we kinda play it by ear, we end up eating a lot of leftovers mixed with a few meals out. It works for us.

I also signed up for one of those meal delivery in a box things again. While definitely NOT a frugal option, it keeps us in the habit of eating at home which ultimately does save us money – especially if I bulk up the recipes so we have leftovers. Plus, it removes the worst part of my day: 4pm when I am trying to wrangle my child and I suddenly realize that I have no idea what is for dinner and all we have in the house is peanut butter crackers. Come one, we’ve all been there…right?…right?….

In other news, I went to Africa. NBD. Africa! I stepped up my photography skills, learned a ton, cried a lot (don’t feel sorry for me – I cry at everything), made some amazing friends and changed my life. Like I said, NBD.

August Financial Recap:

(Everything got very messy because we were putting money into selling the houses and then getting money back from selling the houses so I’ve only got one number for you):

Percentage of the way towards our goal of financial independence: 46%

I’m going to try to update this blog more regularly for you three people who actually read my ramblings (hi mom!). You’re welcome.

July Wrap-Up

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beach-3July is a month for going to the beach. A month for eating Slurpees and swimming. It is not a month that I want to spend in front of my computer counting pennies. Add to that the stress of selling not one but two houses and all of the time, energy, and money that goes into that particular endeavor, and you get the perfect storm of, “I just don’t care about anything anymore! I’m eating out!”

First, we’ll start with the challenges:

While our first house was happily pending a sale (woo hoo), we began July with the arduous task of fixing up our second house to get it on the market. This included a day of fix-up, hiring a painter, hiring carpet cleaners and freaking out when the first day on the market, the house reeked from the smell of the still wet carpets! Despite this setback, we got an offer and are happily pending the sale of the second house. Gotta love the Seattle housing market.

Maybe it was because of the stress of selling two houses, or maybe it was the sun and the call of the beach, but whatever the reason, we found it hard to be in our home at dinnertime and consequentially ate out a lot. What a luxury! A very expensive luxury.

To get back on track, I decided to restart a meal delivery service. Not the most frugal option – especially since the one we chose uses only organic ingredients and caters to our GF/DF lifestyle – but it reminded me how much I love cooking with fresh beautiful ingredients in the kitchen. It was like a jump start to my home cooking skills. After two weeks, I cancelled the delivery – ready to tackle cooking once again.

Now, onto the successes!

While I sat calculating my end of the month expenses, I realized that even though I felt like we went crazy with our spending, we actually didn’t do that bad. If you eliminate the spending on the houses, our savings rate was 64%.

64%

That is an amazing savings rate. Our goal is 72%, but 64% is noting to scoff at. That means that we saved 64% of our income this month!

Along with this amazing savings rate, the market did exceptionally well this month which puts us at 50% of the way towards our goal of financial independence. Keep in mind, the 50% does not take into account the money we will get from selling our houses. I am so so so excited to pay off our current mortgage with the money we make from the sales, and I’m even more excited to see what that does to our goal of financial independence. How should we celebrate? I need ideas people!

Kitchen Remodel on the Cheap

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july-4Yep – this is an actual picture of my actual kitchen when we moved into our house. One person could fit comfortably and two people could fit as long as one person was holding his breath.

It was completely enclosed except for that teeny tiny window above the sink. It was dark. And closed in. And generally not a place that I wanted to spend much time – which sucked since we end up spending a lot of time in our kitchen.

So, being the impulsive – “I can do this remodel on the cheap” – person that I am, I decided to start pulling down cabinets and walls. My husband just shook his head. He’s a planner. He wanted a plan, but that’s not how I roll. I just jump right in with both feet, armed only with a general vision and my completely unfounded faith that I can do anything I set my mind to.

july-7As I began the demolition, I was amazed by all the hidden treasures in my kitchen – like this random fan hidden above the cabinets over the fridge. The most frustrating find though, was when I realized that that lip above the cabinets was not just a lip – it was the ACTUAL CEILING! Which meant that I quickly learned how to tear out the ceiling…and clean up all the insulation and random bird’s nest that fell down with it.

The best hidden treasure was the window. Whomever put in the cabinets had basically boarded up that teeny tiny window which meant that when I took the cabinets out, I now had a HUGE window already there! Woo Hoo! It almost made tearing out the ceiling worth it.

The next step was taking out the drywall. I NEVER want to even look at drywall again. I hate that stuff. Its heavy and awkward and despite its simplicity, it makes a mess.

july-8Here is my sexy sexy husband ripping into the ceiling while the drywall crumbled everywhere!

Once I got the new drywall up and mudded, I stopped. My energy for this project ran out completely.

My brother was horrified that our outlets were just dangling there (he probably had a point) and my husband and daughter were annoyed that all of our dishes were in the living room.

Don’t get me wrong. I was desperate to finish this thing, but I could not force myself to do one more thing to it. I was totally spent. So, I hired a handyman and I don’t regret that decision at all. It took him three days to finish my hack job and that included the time he spent politely fixing the parts I had already completed.

I put in the counters and the back splash (don’t be too impressed – the counters are contact paper and the back splash is just peel and stick. Totally ghetto but NOBODY WOULD KNOW…until now. Now I guess everyone knows. The point being: you cannot tell unless you look really closely).

I painted the bottom cabinets and replaced the hardware with some fancy hardware my mom gave me. Bought and put in the shelves. Replaced the big fridge with two little ones (one for food and one for drinks which we keep in a different room).

Ready for the reveal?

july-11It feels like its 10 times bigger! I love the light that comes in through the bigger window and the range hood (which we bought but had our handyman install). I also replaced the lighting with track lighting to light the corners.

july-9july-12july-10Now for the fun part! The cost breakdown. Forgive me – I was really diligent about recording expenses at the beginning and got less and less so as the project progressed.

crowbar: $20

counter tops: $40 – white marble never looked so good…just don’t look too close

drywall: $120 – included the mud, sanding and all the other things needed

truck: $20 – to drive the drywall home

electrical stuff: $12 – new outlet covers and boxes

haul away: $275 – I could have rented a truck and taken the stuff to the dump myself, but I wouldn’t have saved very much and the extra money was totally worth the hassle I saved.

shelves: $50

new plates: $20 – if you are going to do open shelves, you have to have nice dishes

handyman and all the supplies he bought: $1300

backs splash: $88

fridge: $50

hood: $200

paint: $30

hardware: free – thanks mom

light fixture: free – thanks buy nothing group

TOTAL: $2225

Not too bad for a complete kitchen remodel.

Should You Rent Or Buy?

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downloadMy husband and I bought our first house when we were 25. “How smart we are!” We thought. “How cleaver and good with money we are!” We’d basically made it, right? Here we were: young, with our own house. We had basically succeeded at life and were most likely going to be millionaires. Our parents praised us. Our friends were in awe. Life was good.

Our first house had made us feel so successful, why not buy a second? So, we did. Instead of selling our first house, we bought a second house and rented out our first. Unfortunately, we bought this second house in 2007 (right before that giant housing crash that happened). “Oh well,” we thought. “We are still ridiculously cleaver. As long as we don’t sell until the market recovers, we’ll be fine.” Again, our parents and friends were impressed. Now, we not only owned our own home, but we were landlords! Winning at life again!

The market crashed, and being ever on the lookout for a good deal on real estate, we bought three homes between the years of 2008 – 2011. Now, there was no denying it (not that we were): we were the most clever people on the planet. We were going to be rich any day. As soon as the market recovered, we’d sell and bring in bank!

Fast forward to the recovery of the market. We sold one property at a profit of 55k! Woo Hoo! Our plan was working. We just put two of our other properties on the market for a substantial profit – patting ourselves on the back and doing the happy dance.

UNTIL…..

Until I sat down with the numbers and calculated exactly how much we stood to make. After all the repairs, maintenance, taxes, dues, fees etc… our actual profit was really small…and it got even smaller once I calculated capital gains tax. But, hey, we were still going to make a profit so that’s good, right?

I then calculated how much we would have made had we invested that money in the market rather than in real estate and I was floored.

Assumptions about this comparison:

  • The money I’m comparing is the down payment, taxes, dues, insurance and repairs. NOT the mortgage or interest since I figured that money would be spent regardless on having a roof over our head.
  • Being extremely conservative, I took an extra 10K a year off of our “investment” money to account for having to pay a higher rent than just the amount we payed for our mortgage and interest.

After taxes, our Shoreline property will provide us with: $45,000

Had we invested that money instead, we would have: $114,000

OUCH.

After taxes, our Pinehurst property will provide us with: $80,000

Had we invested that money instead, we would have: $208,000

Yes – I calculated paying taxes on the invested money as well. What I did not take into account was the following:

  • The stress involved in buying/selling a house
  • The time spent driving to the rental homes
  • The time spent managing the rental properties
  • The inconvenience of having to deal with renters and their problems (and we had great renters) at all hours.

I can hear you now: “Well, you obviously didn’t wait until the market was high enough. You must not have sold for that much higher than you bought.”

Wrong.

Each property is selling for around 90K more than we bought it. The problem is that that money gets eaten up in fees and taxes and repairs.

“Well, you must have put too much into repairs.”

Nope.

We purposely bought newer houses so that we wouldn’t have to fix them too much.

Please don’t get me wrong, there are many reasons to own your own home that have nothing to do with finances. It is for these reasons that I do NOT regret owning my own home now.

  1. You can do whatever you want to your house and garden. No one can dictate what color the walls have to be or how the garden looks (unless you live with a strict HOA in which case, I do not envy you at all).
  2. You are secure…ish. As I’ve watched the housing prices soar in Seattle, the rental prices are keeping up. I have many friends who were forced to move because their landlord raised the price of their rent by hundreds of dollars a month. I can’t imagine having to leave my neighborhood, my daughter’s school and my friends because my landlord wanted to make more rent.
  3. When something goes wrong, you fix it. This may not seam like a positive, but when I was renting, I really hated having to call and wait on my landlord to fix things that were broken. Sometimes they wouldn’t fix it, and if they did, who knows how long it would take. I much prefer to be in control of how my home works.
  4. You don’t have to worry every time you spill something or scratch the wall. When I was renting, I lived in constant fear that I wouldn’t get my security deposit back which meant that I would get really nervous every time a glass of wine spilled or a wall got dinged. Owning my own home has allowed me to chill out a bit and not stress the occasional sharpie on the wall masterpiece.

In short, if I could go back in time and do things differently, I absolutely would. I would have rented until buying the house that we currently live in. If I wasn’t that smart, I would have at least sold my houses instead of turning them into rentals. Do I regret my decisions? Not at all. I learned so much by going through this process of buying, renting and selling. More information is always better. I just wish I had thought to collect this information before buying five houses!