“All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Wealth” – A Review

all the money

I stumbled across this book at the library a few weeks ago, and since I seem to have a problem whereas I can’t read enough financial books, I promptly checked it out and devoured it.

I wanted to talk about it a bit since I find the connection between money and happiness so interesting. Laura Vanderkam uses research on happiness to examine the question of, “can money buy happiness?” Quick answer – yes but only if you use it the right way.

The big take-a-way I had from this book was that money can indeed increase our happiness if we spend it on a lot of little pleasures rather than one time big ones. Which makes sense, right? If we are constantly indulging in little happy things then we are bound to be happier than if we spend a whole bunch of money once on a big thing. Sure, we will be happier for a bit but eventually that big thing just becomes something we are used to and ceases to bring us the same happiness as it did when we bought it.

This resonates with me deeply. Since I started to make my own coffee everyday at home, I feel deeply grateful and ridiculously happy when I indulge in a steaming cup of hazelnut latte. Not that I don’t love making my daily coffee myself, but it really isn’t the same as those $5 cups of deliciousness. There is a $3000 camera I have been eyeing that I will probably never buy. While that beautiful camera will make me extremely happy for a time (and probably happy – although less so – every time I use it) it won’t make me 600x happier than a latte. In other words, I could buy 600 lattes for price of that camera. I could have a latte every day for almost two years for the price of that camera.

As a rule, Adam and I don’t tend to spend a lot of money on things. Our “wedding” cost us all of $100 as we eloped to the beach with a few witnesses and ate pizza afterwards thus saving us $26000 (the average cost of a wedding is $26400)! That $26000 was used as a down payment on our first home. One day of happiness vs a roof over our head that we owned (kinda) for years. No contest! Plus, we didn’t even give up that one day of happiness. I LOVED my wedding day. It was perfect and low stress and I would do the same thing again in a heartbeat.

Which brings me to my personal philosophy of life. DO NOT GIVE UP WHAT YOU WANT – FIND IT FOR CHEAPER. Going back to my beautiful camera (because really I never stop thinking about it for too long), I can and certainly WILL buy that camera someday, but I will do so for a fraction of the cost of a new one. Craigslist, Ebay, Photography groups – all of these offer that very piece of equipment for less than half the retail cost. Now, being the frugal weirdo that I am, I will probably wait until I can get it for under $1000, but my point is that I will get it. If you are creative, you can get anything you want without paying full price.

How To Retire Early: Get Out of Debt

My kid getting to spend her time doing whatever she wants because she is not in debt

 

Not since the whole to “cry-it-out” or not debate that consumed my life for a short time when my child was around a year old, have I heard such passionate arguments from grown people around an issue that really boils down to personal preference: paying off your mortgage or investing that money instead.

Adam and I never had the misfortune of going into debt in our young adult life. I paid for school in full with help from my parents and drove around town in a very used Geo Metro that I purchased for a couple of thousand dollars. I inherently understood that buying things on my credit card meant that I needed to pay that amount back in full right away since I didn’t want to end up paying MORE for the things that I bought in the form of interest. I was lucky. I know that. Adam and I shared a house with friends so our living expenses were simple and within our means.

When Adam and I decided to buy our first house together, however, we had no problem going into debt. That is what people did when they buy a house, right? Who ever heard of someone buying a house with cash? That’s just crazy talk. The bank didn’t even blink when we put in our application (this was before the market collapse of 2008). With 20% down, no debt and good credit, we were golden. They didn’t even require us to show them proof of income!

The amount that we owed on the house was so huge a number, I really couldn’t even wrap my head around it. The thought of actually paying it off was ludicrous. When my daughter was born, we took out an equity line on our little house and purchased a bigger house (renting out the first house). Now we had two mortgages and that ludicrous number grew to an even more ludicrous number. I stopped thinking about the mortgage as debt and just looked at the monthly payment.

Five years later, we had acquired a virtual empire of property. Five properties (four of which we were renting) and so much debt that I couldn’t even make myself calculate exactly how much it was. We had done what many financial advisers thought was smart: borrowing against the equity in one property to purchase other properties.

Managing four properties and running my own business made our taxes extremely complicated – not to mention the work involved with maintaining the proprieties and finding renters. Even though we were very fortunate to have wonderful renters, the amount of things weighing on my mind continued to grow.

In 2013, we sold our primary residence and moved into one of our rental properties, and I was amazed at how much lighter I felt. An entire load of worries had just vanished off of my shoulders.

In researching the different potential growth of real estate vs investments in the stock market, I have become increasingly convinced that the stock market is a much better avenue for growing our money. Mostly because I don’t want to have to worry about repairs, maintenance, renters, property tax, insurance, and a host of other issues that come up with renting.

So, this summer we are putting two of our three remaining rentals on the market and are faced with a difficult choice. Because those properties have been rentals, we will owe quite a bit of taxes on them when we sell. We can avoid paying those taxes by reinvesting that money into another property. I’m not really loving this idea though since I think I am done with being a property manager. The second option is to put the money that we make (after taxes) toward our current mortgage. The third choice is the invest that money in the market.

This is when the fists come out.

Apparently, people have very strong opinions about whether or not you should pay off your mortgage early or invest that money. Very strong opinions. I understand both sides of the argument: the benefit of the tax deduction for the interest, the growth potential in the market beating the current low interest rate we have on our loan..however…

I remember those carefree days of being debt free. Having an entire paycheck that I could spend however I wished. No fear of a loan being called due. Not having to worry about dealing with whatever new bank bought our loan. Not paying interest on borrowed money…

So, we are going to make both sides happy. Our solution is to put 15% of our savings each month into the market while paying off the mortgage with the rest. Along with this is our goal of paying off this huge debt by December. Will it be tight? Absolutely. Can we do it? Bet on it.

Does Saving Money Really Matter?

I’ve been writing a lot about ways that my family is saving money for retirement, which begs the question: does saving money really matter?

The amount of money needed to retire seams so huge that saving a measly $5 on a latte can’t possibly make a difference. Better to enjoy life to its fullest and count on social security and whatever employee retirement fund your job offers, right? Sure – you can absolutely do this, although this didn’t work for me.

Yes, we have social security coming to us, several retirement accounts that we set up when we were in our twenties, 401k’s from our work, and even a pension from my husband’s work. Basically, our retirement is done. If we want to wait until we are 65. Which we don’t.

We want to retire now! Spend time together as a family while my daughter is young, and travel the world free from physical ailments that tend to creep up as you age.

Once we decided that retiring as soon as possible was the goal, the math was pretty simple. There are only two things that matter:

How much you spend each month

How much you save each month

Lets say, you don’t ever need to spend any money (pretty unlikely). Well, then the time to retirement is 0 years. If you only need to live off of $1 per year, you only need $25 invested to create that $1 per year in passive income.

Here is an early retirement calculator that I use when determine when we can retire.

You simply enter in your income and how much you save each year. It will magically tell you how long it will take to retire.

Notice that higher percentage of income that you are able to save each year, the sooner you are able to retire. This is because not only are you saving that money towards your retirement investments, but that is less passive income that you need to generate once you are retired.

Lets say you make $100,000 a year but you only spend $10,000 a year. You are saving 90% of your income and it will only take you 2.7 years to retire. In other words, it will only take 2.7 years worth of savings to generate $10,000 a year in passive income. For the rest of your life! I know, 90% savings is a pretty unrealistic number so not the best example, but you get the point.

Currently, my family has a savings goal of 65% of our income. Do we always achieve this goal. Hell no! In fact, December was abysmal. We only saved 15%, however, that was a 15% savings rate AFTER we took a trip to Disneyland, bought a bunch of holiday gifts for family and invested money in energy upgrades to our home. Not too bad.

The take-away point is that every dollar that we save DOES put up closer to retiring early. Saving is absolutely worth it as long as you can save from a place of abundance and not a place of deprivation – which I talked about in my last post.

Finally, since people have asked, here are our current stats:

Percentage of the way to our goal of early retirement: 23%

Percentage of the way to our goal of paying off our home: 31%

How To Retire Early: Throw Your Budget Away

How to Retire Early: Throw Your Budget Away

My husband and my daughter NOT worrying about a budget

If you are planing on retiring early, please completely ignore me. I obviously have no idea what I am talking about. I have not done studies or taken classes in finance. The advice I offer goes completely against all conventional wisdom, and I am clearly out of my mind (as is evidenced by the fact that I walk everywhere). All I offer is my own story and what is working for me and my family.

My husband and I love spreadsheets. It is ridiculously geeky, and I don’t care. I can stare at pages of numbers for hours content that we are moving towards our goals. So, it would make sense that we would love to budget, right? Wrong.

Budgeting is miserable. Buying a latte and then opening up an app to record that purchase takes a little bit of fun out of the whole experience. Plus, I have found that if I give myself a set amount of money to spend on something (say, coffee), I will not only spend that money (on coffee) but always a little more as well.

Budgeting puts me in a state of deprivation, and as I mentioned earlier, I have no desire to live that way. Instead of thinking about all the amazing things that I DO have in my life, I tend to focus on what I am not allowed to have because of my budget. Stupid budgets.

So, rather than budget, I spend my time thinking about all the joys that I have in my life. If I want to buy, say, a new camera (yes, I spend WAY too much money on those), I stop. I contemplate if I really NEED this new camera (or will one of my other two cameras work just fine). This is a crucial step. Given time, I find that I don’t actually need or even care about the coveted item any longer. If I decide after several weeks that, yes, I do in fact NEED this new camera, I will search and search until I can find it at a significant discount and buy it. Craigslist is my friend as is Goodwill (but not this month since I am committed to not spending any money this month at all).

It helps me to think about money as something that I want/need just as much if not more than my desired item. Money is freedom. Money gives me time to spend with my family. For every $25 that I put in investments, I get $1 a year for the rest of my life. That is huge! Passive income gets me the thing I want more than anything else – early retirement! Suddenly, that new camera isn’t so important.

WHY do I want to retire early? To spend time with my family, of course. That time is more valuable to than buying a flavored latte at Starbucks every morning. It doesn’t seam like purchasing a coffee every morning can really matter one way or another in the big scheme of things, but all those little purchases really add up. What they add up to is time. Time that you have to spend working to pay for that indulgence of a morning latte, and I have plans for that time. Big plans.

How To Retire Early: Drink Coffee

I MIGHT have a small problem with the consumption of caffeine. I love it. Every bit of it. It is the first thing I think about in the morning and my go to comfort drink when my energy is falling or the sky is grey (so pretty much all the time).

I used to know where every drive through coffee shop near my house was located and would hit them up on a daily basis.

Now, clearly this is not the healthiest of habits. Starbucks drinks are loaded with sugar and drinking a latte a day (or two or three) can apparently fund a child’s college education in 15 years. So, it does add up.

When my husband and I talked about cutting back on expenses, I knew that my beloved coffee was on the chopping block, and I had a real moment of panic. Then I realized that I didn’t have to give up coffee. I just needed to find a more meaningful way to meet that need. By making my coffee at home, I not only save money but the entire experience of preparing the drink has made me appreciate it that much more.

My morning coffee habit is one of my most treasured and beloved morning rituals. The thought of that dark warm goodness is what gets me out of bed. However, instead of spending $5 at Starbucks every morning, I buy my own beans, grind them up, froth my milk (in my fancy milk frother my mom gave me for my birthday) and top it off with a little bit of sweetness. Total cost per cup: $0.70. The smell of fresh ground beans on a cold morning is heavenly, and every time I pour the soy milk into my frother, I think of how much my mom loves me. These are experiences that I wouldn’t be able to get waiting in a drive through line breathing in exhaust fumes.

Early retirement is not about depriving myself of the things that I love. It is about discovering what really matters to me: the ritual of making my own coffee in the morning and drinking it while my daughter eats her eggs. Filling my body with warm, rich goodness while I fill my soul with presence of my family at breakfast.

Free Cookies and Other Scores

girl-scouts-24

My kid is in Girl Scouts and as such we are obligated/delighted to purchase a certain number of Girl Scout Cookie boxes each year. Now, I do no begrudge this $20 expense one bit. It helps her troop. It helps the Girl Scouts – an organization which I firmly believe in. It even helps my daughter in that it gets her a bit closer to her goal of 215 boxes which will result in a tiny stuffed animal. Yea…

However, being the frugal person that I am I wondered if there was a way to get the cookies for FREE. You see, I firmly believe that living a frugal life is NOT about giving up what you want. Rather it is about finding what you want cheaper than retail. Buying a used car instead of a new one. Buying clothes at a thrift shop instead of the mall. Searching through buy nothing groups for everyday items that someone else might be trying to get rid of. It helps the planet which clearly cannot support the level of consumerism we currently enjoy and it helps your wallet. A win-win!

It turns out that you CAN get Girl Scout Cookies for free. At least in Seattle. Every year there is a Girl Scout Cookie Recipe Contest. You simply sign up to create a Girl Scout Cookie Recipe and they GIVE you five free boxes of cookies.

Free is probably not the right word. You do have to spend time creating a unique recipe using the cookies and blog about that recipe so for people who measure cost by the time spent, they would actually be quite expensive cookies. I, however, enjoyed the process so much, I would have done it even if I hadn’t gotten free cookies so I’m not counting my time as money.

If you are vegan and love Thin Mints, take a look at my recipe. I’m rather proud of the way it turned out. I am not a food photographer so this whole process was new to me.

I love using creativity to figure out a cheaper or free way to get what you want. I’d love to hear about your most creative way to get something as less than retail.

How to Retire Early: Walk

Lets talk about cars. I love my car. Who doesn’t? Its comfortable, convenient, and opens up an entire world of possibilities: a world of go anywhere/do anything possibilities. Just last week, my family and I jumped in the car and drove up to the snow to go sledding. That experience was priceless and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I do, however, think that – perhaps – we as a culture depend too much on our cars (ducks to avoid the throwing of rotten fruit). Hear me out. Driving a car around is more than just the price of gas. It is the cost of wear and tear on your car and each little piece that keeps it together. These all have a finite life span and every mile you drive moves you closer to that end. Not to mention the cost to the environment with all the pollution in the air.

I came across this profound piece of advice from a blogger that I follow: Cars don’t cost you money per month, they cost you money per mile”

We are so trained to think, “well, I pay $xxx for my car loan so I might as well use it as much as I can.” Wrong! You pay $xxx for your car loan and THEN gas and deterioration PER MILE.

With this in mind, Adam and I made a deal to only drive the car if we were traveling further than 2 miles. (At some point we will increase this number once we get the little one more comfortable on a bike, but for now, its all on foot).

By keeping the car in the driveway and using our legs to transport us, we discovered something truly amazing:

  1. Our bodies are getting more fit. Instead of sitting, we are now moving more – yea for exercise!
  2. We are connecting more. In a car, there is music and traffic and cell phones and a million other things that distract you from the very simple joy of spending time together. When you are on foot, all of those distractions disappear and you find yourself marveling together around a leaf changing color or a caterpillar building a cocoon. We talk together. We laugh together. We may even sing and dance together (yes, we are that geeky).
  3. We save money. We didn’t buy our car on credit, but we are saving money on gas and repair.
  4. We connect with our neighbors. We happen to live in one of those magical neighborhoods where everyone knows each other so a walk down the street invariably results in an unexpected conversation with someone who lives nearby.
  5. We are more connected to nature. Now, I know this sounds a little woo woo, but being in touch with the changing seasons and sounds of the birds fills my soul in a way that listening to music in a car never will.
  6. We shop local which supports our local economy. Most of the businesses around us are local shops run by local people. So, by limiting ourselves to what is within walking distance, we inevitably support those local business.
  7. My daughter gets exposed to multiple opportunities to learn. Why do the ants walk in a straight line? Why do some trees lose their leaves while others don’t? What makes something a weed? There is so much wonder in the world around us and by simply being in it, my kid is asking all sorts of questions that we then build on later.
  8. We appreciate what we have more. When we have to physically move to go get something that we want, we end up seriously considering if we actually want this thing.
  9. We buy less wasted food. There are four grocery stores within two miles of our home. We carefully make a shopping list every time we go because we know that we will have to carry whatever we buy home. That box of crackers suddenly seams a lot less appealing when you have to carry it two miles on your back.
  10. We get to explore more. When we are driving, there is usually a pretty strong emphasis on getting from point A to point B. When we are walking, however, every new street becomes a chance to explore something new. We discovered that the beach is less than 2 miles from our house over Thanksgiving, as is a movie theatre and an amazing wooded park.

In my quest to retire early to spend more time with my family, I am discovering ways to do just that within my current life. There are so many conveniences – cars, restaurants…etc.. – which have actually disconnected me from the people and world around me. By simplifying my life, I am getting back in touch with the things that really matter to me.

Observations from a Buy Nothing Month

random pretty picture I took of a rare winter Seattle Sunset

 

Rather than one big new years resolution, my family decided to do 12 small monthly goals. Our hope being that we could follow through more easily if we only had to hang on for 30 days as opposed to 12 months and 30 days is enough time to turn something into a habit…I’ve been told.

January was BUY NOTHING month and it was so interesting! I wasn’t prepared for all the issues this one goal would bring up.

Lets face it – we live in a consumerist society. Constantly bombarded with “buy this” and “this will make you happy” messages To remove even the possibility of giving into those demands was liberating.

“No, Zulily, I do NOT care what amazing deals you have for me today on my favorite brand since I am not buying anything this month.”

“Why yes, I do need another plant for my front garden but this is not the month that I am going to get it.”

“I so don’t feel like cooking tonight, but since eating out is not an option, I guess its frozen pizza night!”

Those were the easy decisions.

Much more difficult were the invitations from friends to connect over drinks or food (I’m working on inviting them over to my place instead for a home cooked meal); the random must have items – like a pink shirt my husband needed for his roller derby game (he ended up trading some artwork for one); the middle of the month great appliance breakdown where the washing machine, dish washer, vacuum cleaner and furnace all busted at once (paid for the repair to the dishwasher and furnace. Googled how to fix the vacuum cleaner myself and put off the washing machine repair until later).

So, were we perfect? Hell no. We definitely made exceptions for things like heat and clean dishes, but what I did take away from this month was a sense of creativity. Rather than heading to the store every time we needed something, I went into the mindset of, “how else can I get this?” and like magic, I figured out a way.

My old community hosts meals once a week where everyone comes together to connect over food and everyone chips in $4 for the meal. Since that would technically qualify as eating out, I traded my friend in the community, family photos in exchange for meals for my family. She got a screamin’ deal on photos and I got to connect with people I care about without breaking my rule.

I decided that I needed a side table in my living room and a floor lamp to make a particular space more useable and cozy. No sooner had I set that intention when someone in my facebook feed offered up a side table that would work perfectly. I painted it the color I wanted (with leftover house paint) and like magic my space improved without spending a dime.

Throughout the month, Adam and I made a list on our white board of things we “needed” (electrical tape, floor lamp, baking pan…). I found I was able to get most of the stuff for free just by keeping my eyes open (it helps that I am part of a buy nothing group on facebook). For the items we can’t find free, we plan on going to goodwill early next month to see if we can score it used.

Those are just a few of the examples that pop into my head, but there were lots more. Ultimately, imposing this rule of buying nothing did so much more than save us some money. It helped us view our world through a lens of having enough. Enough clothing, enough gadgets, enough entertainment (we are regulars at our local library), enough in our life.

Next month we will be able to buy things we need again, but I am hopeful that this new mindset will stick around.

February will be all about no alcohol. I’m trying to figure out a positive way to word that goal since I don’t really believe in approaching goals from a place of deprivation. Maybe I’ll think of it as a month of exploring other satisfying delicious (non-alcoholic) drinks and ways of connecting.

January Buy Nothing Progress Report

We are now almost a week into January so I thought I’d post a progress report on our Buy Nothing Month.

Saying you are going to buy nothing and actually buying nothing are two very different things. There are so many things that are just beyond our control that we need to spend money on. Then there are those things that we really want to spend money on. Finally, there is everything else that we normally spend money on. Here is how we have handled each area:

First, the things we weren’t planning on: We knew we were going to spend money on groceries and we have. A lot. But, hopefully we won’t have to do much more grocery shopping for the rest of the month. We bought a tank of gas — again something we knew we were going to need and had allowed ourselves. An unplanned expense was the doctor. I had forgotten that I had an appointment today so ended up with a $20 copay. NBD but we weren’t expecting it.

Now for what I think of as the hardest part: The things that we really want to spend money on. One of my dearest friends is having a birthday celebration this month and invited us all out to celebrate at her favorite Mexican restaurant. This is the most generous friend, and I love her dearly. Telling her that I wasn’t going to be able to make it was by far the hardest part of this whole experiment. I’ll make it up to her next month, but in terms of sustainability, I might need to make an exception for things like this in the future.

Another challenge is eating at our old community. I love connecting with the people there and the meals are super cheap (we’re talking $4 for adults and $2 for kids). I mean, honestly, my meals at home aren’t usually that cheap, however, this month I’ve had to put those visits on hold (although, a friend of mine is helping me to figure a way around this by trading my meals for babysitting and photos).

The surprisingly easy part: the things we normally spend money on. We have not spent a single dollar on food out, clothes, stuff for the house, etc… and HAVE NOT EVEN MISSED IT. When I know we are not going to eat out, meals must be cooked at home. When we have time together, we don’t go shopping or even driving. We walk to the library or just around the neighborhood. So far, buying nothing has really simplified life and enriched it.

How to Retire Early: Buy Nothing Months

How to Retire Early: Buy Nothing Months

All the money that will be in my wallet at the end of the month

I have absolutely no desire to live in a feeling a deprivation. My goal is find the joy in what I have instead of seeking out more of what I don’t need.

One way that I achieve this goal is by giving myself challenges. Can I save an extra $100 this week? Can I eat at home for an entire week? Can I buy all my clothes for a month at a thrift shop? By challenging myself to see what I can save rather than focusing on what I can’t have, I find that n0t only am I excited to see my bank account number at the end of the month, but I enjoy the things that I do have so much more.

I am about to begin my biggest challenge ever: BUY NOTHING MONTH. That’s right. For an entire month, our family has committed to buy nothing…except for groceries…because we need to live…and gas for the car since I’m pretty sure that Ilya would be none too pleased if I left her at school. But, other than groceries and gas, we will find joy in what we already have. Only eating at home. Figuring out how to fix something if it breaks rather than buy a new thing. Enjoying the clothes we already have. etc.

I’m actually really excited about this challenge. December was not a great month for us. The gift giving economy of the holidays is really stressful for me. People end up spending a lot of money on useless crap that ultimately ends up at the landfill (this might be a bit of an exaggeration you get the idea). I’m always unsure if I should get someone a gift or not – because you don’t want to end up in a situation where you didn’t bring a gift when they brought you a gift or vise versa. I would so much rather eliminate all gifts and just enjoy spending time together sledding or cooking a delicious meal.

In addition to gifts, December was the month when we spent a ton of money on repairs and upgrades to our house. Some of that money will be made back (like the low flow toilet to replace our 7 gallon per flush original one – hello lower water bill), but most of it was repair – pipe leak, furnace repair. Blah. So, I am ready for January.

Buy nothing month is really not about deprivation, but a challenge to see how much we can save. We have a very secret (lofty) goal of paying off our mortgage by the end of the year, but there is no way that we can reach that goal if we continue the habits of spending money on stuff we don’t really need.

For example, I LOVE shopping at the thrift store. It almost feels like free stuff the prices are so cheap, and I get so much joy from finding a good deal on something amazing that I didn’t even know I needed. The problem is that I actually don’t need it. When I buy this amazing thing that I don’t need (no matter how cheap it is), I not only don’t have that money anymore, but now I have more stuff in my house cluttering it up. I want to simplify. Less stuff. More experiences.

That is what January is all about: less stuff – more experiences. Wish me luck!