Married Finances: The Agreement

Note: I’m not a lawyer. This post describes our process of developing our nuptial agreement and not the actual legal agreement itself.

Separate or combined bank accounts don’t make a marriage. Communication and shared values do far more than your decision to keep your money legally separate or combined.

I’ve been startled as I’ve talked about our post-nuptial agreement to people in person by the number of people who keep their finances separate from their spouse’s and don’t have a nuptial agreement. I very firmly believe that if you don’t have a nuptial agreement, you are essentially accepting your state’s laws by getting married, no matter how you title your bank accounts. One friend keeps their finances separate from their spouse and bought a house post-marriage with their separate money, but hasn’t protected their asset at all.

My husband and I don’t have combined finances, nor do we have a plan at the moment to ever have them.

We do, however, have a notarized and legally binding post-nuptial agreement. It describes my pre-marriage property and liabilities, my husband’s pre-marriage property and liabilities, and our joint pre-marriage property and liabilities. It also spells out exactly what we plan to do with our money in our marriage, while also leaving us the flexibility to change our minds on some pieces later, which is great because so far, we’ve learned that the first way you come up with to run your shared finances isn’t necessarily the way that will stick.

It took us about three and a half months after our wedding before our post-nuptial agreement was signed and executed. It wasn’t a time full of arguing – it was a time full of discussions and then trying to convey our ideas to the lawyer drafting the agreement. Some of those discussions were emotional, though those ones especially were important to have. Talking about money doesn’t stop there either – we continue to talk about it and those discussions form the base of our married money plans.

Goals

There were three key pieces for us in drafting this agreement:

  1. We want to own our primary residence together, while protecting my separate interest in the property.
  2. We want to keep all separately titled assets to be separate and all jointly titled assets to be joint.
  3. We want to allow ourselves the flexibility to change our minds later on whether income is separate or joint by default, without having to re-draft the agreement as it did have a reasonable cost to it ($2,000).
  4. Later added: we want to be able to leave our separate estates not necessarily to each other.

Condo

The first piece would be really easy if my husband had half of the condo value liquid at the time of the marriage AND was willing to part with it in order to buy into the condo. (We had originally planned to get married once my husband reached that point, which we estimated would have happened sometime in 2018.) That was not the case, so we needed to come up with a new creative solution. Furthermore, based on the mortgage balance and the valuation at the time we got married I owned 75% of the condo, meaning that I already owned more than I needed to of the condo. We agreed that all appreciation up until our marriage date was my separate property, which gives me a pretty decent amount of equity in the condo. My husband will buy into the condo until he owns half by paying the existing bank mortgage and paying me back for my “extra” equity.

Having a plan to own the condo together is such a relief. We have some projects that we were procrastinating until we owned the condo together and it also helps out a lot with the (current) income differential. When we first started dating, I was making more money than my husband and I had more assets. He’s made more than me the last couple of years to the point that my income only made up one third of our household income in 2016, which is a pretty big difference, even at my also six-figure income level. I was starting to feel a bit of a pinch in continuing our 50/50 share of the shared expenses, especially considering that I was paying for all of the housing expenses for a condo where I already owned more of it than I needed to! Assigning the remainder of the small mortgage to my husband frees up just over $12,000 from my budget, which is a huge boost to my current no-income budget.

Separate Income

We ended up declaring all income separate to the earning party, for two reasons:

#1: It seems like a “normal” nuptial agreement declares pre-marriage assets separate and post-marriage assets joint. We decided that wasn’t a fair option since that would keep my pre-marriage assets separate while sharing my husband’s larger post-marriage income while I’m in a phase of no income. That didn’t feel right to either of us. I wasn’t comfortable sharing my pre-marriage assets (yet).

#2: The catch to having my husband buy into the condo instead of simply making all contributions to the condo equity post-marriage joint is that we need to keep our incomes separate in order for this to work.

This means that all of his income is his to keep and my income is mine to keep.

If we change our minds on this later, then we can simply deposit our incomes to joint accounts in order to make the income joint rather than its current separate form. We definitely plan to re-evaluate this plan when a big life change happens, such as having kids, selling this condo, buying a new property, retiring, or if we need to provide support to any family members. As my husband says, it’s not worth worrying about something until it happens because we don’t really know how we will feel until it does.

  1. If we choose to have kids in the future, we would most likely update our post-nuptial agreement with a new financial disclosure and then make future income from then joint.
  2. If we sold this condo, then we would distribute the proceeds according to the equity as described in our agreement to our separate accounts. We would then buy any new property in a 50/50 ratio from our separate property or share rent in a 50/50 ratio.
  3. If we retired early, we would consider whether with our then-current distribution of retirement and non-retirement accounts we could support our then-current lifestyle out of our separate accounts or whether it would be more jointly advantageous to re-adjust our agreement somehow while still maintaining its spirit.
  4. If we in the future own this condo in a 50/50 ratio, then we could make all future income from there joint.

Taxes

Keeping our incomes separate will create for an annoying situation when we file our taxes each year, however, as the overall tax bill has to be split somehow. If we choose to make income not separate in the future, we will likely do it on a calendar year basis to help make the taxes clearer.

One of our lawyers suggested running Married Filing Separately returns and then using the ratio of incomes from that to determine who was responsible for what ratio of the joint tax bill. We didn’t like that because it would result in the higher earner seeing the entirety of the marriage tax bonus or penalty, which didn’t feel fair when it was a joint decision to get married. At first, I tried to suggest that we should split the penalty based on the ratio of incomes until I realized that that wouldn’t work so well in the years where there could be a bonus.

Our conclusion on taxes after hours discussing it is to treat the marriage tax bonus/penalty jointly. That means that I will have to run through two Single returns and a Married Filing Jointly return in TurboTax in order to calculate the split. That doesn’t seem so bad with our current tax situations.

We’ve already run through our 2016 taxes and it wasn’t that much more time to do the extra tax return.

Implementation: Hers, His, and Ours

The “default” for accounts in a nuptial agreement seems to be that the valuation at the time of marriage is considered separate and then any new growth or contributions is considered joint. Considering that I had about $250,000 in retirement accounts at the time we got married, that seemed to take away the value of compounding from starting to save for retirement at age 19. We ended up in the end agreeing that any growth in the condo value was joint and all other asset growth on separate assets is separate.

In practice, this looks like having hers, his, and ours accounts:

  • Hers: Roth IRA, 401(k)s, HSAs, Series I Savings Bonds, checking and savings accounts, taxable Vanguard index funds, and some portion of the condo equity
  • His: Roth IRA, 401(k), checking and savings accounts, taxable Vanguard index funds, some portion of the condo equity, and the mortgage
  • Ours: Checking and savings accounts, some portion of the condo equity, and in the future, taxable Vanguard index funds

Each year, we’ll create a year spending plan for the year and each of us will contribute 50% of the monthly agreed upon amount to our joint checking account. We funnel all joint purchases through specific credit cards that are not used for personal expenses and vice versa. There’s no owing each other money. If we have unbudgeted expenses (i.e. how we’re paying for our wedding reception later this year), then at the end of the month, we add up how much those were and we each put half of that amount into a joint account to cover those costs.

Our system isn’t that different from a couple who does allowances for discretionary spending except that rather than depositing everything to a joint account and transferring the discretionary spending to separate accounts, we deposit everything to separate accounts and transfer an agreed upon amount to the joint accounts. We’re both pretty open with how we spend our money and we have compared spending over the last few years that we’ve been dating. We’re both relatively frugal compared to our incomes (we both have saved over 50% of our incomes the last few years), so we aren’t doing this to avoid disagreements about money.

We don’t want to inflate our lifestyles based on the other’s income. If we can’t contribute 50/50 to our primary residence, for example, then that property is too expensive to buy. If we were to re-buy this condo together, we could each contribute half of the 20+% down payment and we could pretty comfortably afford the carrying costs with a 15 year fixed rate mortgage.

Both of our parents are still married, 30+ years later, and have had the one-pot approach from the beginning of their marriages. We certainly didn’t get this example from our parents on either side! Our parents, however, got married when they didn’t have much in the way of assets or incomes and I agree that it is pretty silly to have a prenup or keep things separate in that case. We didn’t screen for each other based on our financial status, though we did originally meet in undergrad, which probably was somewhat of screening for financial status, and we knew that we had similar financial values, which matters far more than if our assets were at similar levels.

Preparation for Marriage

I’ve talked to a few people who are healthy savers in their twenties and worry about what their prenup will look like when they do eventually get married. I worried about this plenty back before it was pretty clear to me that my husband and I would get married. I wish I’d worried about it a bit less and just concentrated on building my wealth as a single woman because that’s really all I could do.

One of my reasons for aggressively paying down the mortgage on my condo was to pay it off before getting married so that I would own it 100% as my separate property. In hindsight, that is really against the spirit of being married and living in a place together! If my husband had significantly less income and assets than me OR we planned to rent out the condo and buy a different place together, only then would leaving the condo as my separate property make sense. While we’re both living in the condo, having it just be my separate property is binding. It leaves the questions of how to handle paying for replacing appliances, painting, buying new furniture, any remodeling, etc. that we’ve been managing for the last two years without a strong solution.

The particulars of the nuptial agreement that we ended up settling on are really quite specific to the asset levels and locations that my husband and I both have, as well as our recent incomes and income potential. If the person with fewer assets also had very little income or if most of the wealth had been generated while the two of you were a couple, it’s much harder to see a way to come to a fair nuptial agreement at all. We ended up at the point of marriage in the case where both of us had healthy assets (in the multiple hundred thousand dollar range on both sides) that were not equal and both of us had six figure earning potential, which made a nuptial agreement a pretty reasonable plan.

Marriage and money is such a complicated topic! How we manage our money is pretty specific to our situation and won’t necessarily apply to other couples. I really do believe that the one-pot style is the best for the vast majority of people simply because most people don’t come into marriage already as millionaires.

January 2017 update

It took until the end of January for me to really sit down and figure out a plan for 2017. I now have a plan in place for: graduating with my Masters, a timeline for a honeymoon, and a strong cost estimate of the wedding reception. What I plan to do after my Masters is still TBD, though I do plan to figure that out by the end of 2017.

My January net worth was up 0.4%, which is mostly notable because my total income was $180 and the last positive net worth change I saw was in August 2016. I anticipate my net worth going down 1.4% from December 2016 to December 2017. I did make my 2017 Backdoor Roth IRA contribution on January 1st.

Goals

I set monthly goals in my planner and then check in on them at the end of the month. I started doing this in 2016 and it has been great! They’re a mix of action items and routines I want to cultivate.

  1. Done! Max Roth IRA – done 1/1
  2. Pass! Drink 64 oz of water per day. I drank 59.3 oz/day on average, which is 93% of the way there.
  3. Ehhh. Walk 10,000 steps per day. I averaged 7,246 per day, which is on par for most Januarys so I reduced my February goal to 8,000 steps.
  4. Partway. 2 barre classes per week (5/8) This means I made it once a week every week which isn’t nearly as bad! I made my February goal once per week and hopefully I’ll find the scheduling to get there twice. It’s getting a little tight on some punch cards I bought in the fall so hopefully they don’t end up getting wasted.
  5. Success! Clothing whitelist only.
  6. Success! Early February trip booked.
  7. Success! Discretionary spending under $1,000. I’m trying to make sure that my limited budget still has room for some personal luxuries. It helps that I stocked up on barre punch cards in the fall when there was a sale so I won’t need to buy any for a bit and there are definitely luxuries built into the joint budget.
  8. Fail! One personal finance blog post per week. (1/4)
  9. Success! Donor Advised Fund plan. We agreed that each person got to have the final vote on where their portion of the donation money went, but we were to make the plan and do the grants together. We made donations to a neighborhood food bank, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Wikipedia, the Electronic Frontier Fund, a local women’s homeless shelter and some other local charities that my husband supports. I am further donating my time by volunteering to prepare tax returns through VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), which is really fun!

Cash flow

I’m managing my personal cash flow right now by keeping three savings accounts: one for grad school tuition, one for living expenses covering the remainder of 2017 and then one for living expenses in 2018 which will simply turn into cash reserves if I end up with a paying full-time job again. I have an automatic transfer of $1,500 on the 1st of every month to the joint checking account to cover my half of the expenses. I then take any extra money out I need to cover expenses as needed rather than transferring out a fixed amount. The grad school savings account is on track and the 2018 living expenses account is currently empty. The 2017 living expenses account had $26,952.93 in it at the end of January, when it should have $33,000.00 in it to get through the year. I’m anticipating deferred compensation income from my former employer in Q1 and a small personal income tax refund that will cover this difference with a small bit leftover to go into the 2018 savings account. I do have another $20,548 in Series I Savings Bonds that I could cash in and another $16,000 in Vanguard taxable index funds.

My goal is to pay for my half of the wedding reception out of my $36,000 budget for the year. $18,000 of that is the joint spending plan, which leaves $18,000 for personal spending. With $12,000 allotted for the wedding reception, I have $6,000 to work with for personal spending in 2017, which means I need to make it count! I estimated that my personal spending was about $20,000 in 2016, so this is going to be a huge experiment.

Personal spending

2017 January Personal Spending.png

I’m setting a monthly budget for my personal spending and then checking in on it throughout the month. January was a really good start!

Transportation: This should hopefully be the last time I have to pay for the car insurance out of personal spending! Transit is paid per academic period and is a reasonable price for how much I use it.

Shopping: For clothing, I replaced some underwear, which was on my whitelist. I also bought two pens and a notebook. I’m otherwise working on shopping my closet this year ;)

Entertainment: I renewed my personal domain, switching registrars to a cheaper one and had one dinner out with a friend.

Food is mostly the occasional lunch out on class days due to awkward timing of the class.

Cell phone: I switched to a cheaper data plan by reducing my data usage and in the process, reducing the time I spend on my phone per day to under two hours! My budget here was completely off because I’d changed plans after I’d already paid for the previous month. We didn’t make our cell phone bills joint because my husband pays for way more data than I do and his employer reimburses him for part of his plan.

Medical: This was paying for the remaining December medical costs. Despite my husband’s work having great health insurance, the premiums to add me were really expensive (as in about 5x what he was paying for himself). We’ll sort that all out at tax time in 2018 though, so month-to-month it will look like I’m spending very little on medical for most of 2017. I also have about $3,800 in an HSA that is helpful here.

Toiletries is low because I returned some products that I had bought in November/December that weren’t working.

If you take out the transportation, cell phone, and medical expenses, that leaves me with $380.26 in discretionary spending in January, which isn’t that bad! That’s basically my February budget ($300: $100 food, $100 entertainment, $30 cell phone, $20 eyebrows, and $50 toiletries).

Joint spending

2017 January Joint Spending.png

We also were pretty on budget with the joint spending! We were only $15.89 over our monthly cash in if you take out the two unbudgeted expenses. We each transferred in funds to cover the negative portion of the cashflow.

I hid the HOA dues from this view. We paid two months in January based on how things fell.

Entertainment is just a cash refund from a merchant that overcharged us and then couldn’t refund our credit card. I keep meaning to use it towards groceries because I hate carrying cash but I never have it on me when I’m at the grocery store…

Spotify is Spotify family. We have an account each, an account for our home stereo system (so there is no conflicting), and each of our dads have an account. We should really cancel Pandora since we mostly use Spotify but we’re grandfathered into the old rate plan and I’m having a hard time giving it up…

There is a Groceries budget listed here but we don’t follow it – it’s the average of our 2016 spending. We don’t meal plan other than that we usually eat chicken two nights, pasta two nights, beef one night, and repeat one of those the other two nights or be lazy. Restaurants is one lazy night in and otherwise food around meeting up with wedding reception vendors, as was the one Uber (which I should rename Lyft because we’ve switched loyalties to Lyft based on their current public stance).

Furnishings is the remaining item for the living room remodel. We are so close to being done with that at last!

Gifts is a wedding gift, two baby gifts, and cards for them.

I prepaid Comcast in December, so we didn’t pay them in January.

One tank of gas in January, which was near the end so we might not fill up in February.

Travel was flights and hotel for our early February weekend trip. The hotel nights were technically paid with points, which I count as spending in the approximate cost of the nights had we paid for them ourselves and as income to balance it out to zero.

Miscellaneous was jewelry insurance on my rings, picture hangers, a popcorn popper, and a measuring cup.

Wedding was the remainder of our postnuptial agreement costs, cake tasting fees, photographer deposit, and tickets to a show.

Readers, how was your January?

2017 Joint Spending Plan

I’ll go into more detail in later posts about how and why exactly my husband and I plan to keep parts of our finances separate, including how we’re handling the condo. For now, let’s look at what our joint spending plan looks like for 2017. We spent about an hour one weekend in mid-December looking at the categories we counted as shared expenses in 2016 and estimating what we would spending 2017 on those categories.

Note that this plan does not cover our personal spending – that is separately tracked for both of us. We’re following a his/hers/ours formula to our assets and spending, based on what we drew out in our postnuptial agreement. My husband plans to follow his non-budgeting formula which works out great for him and I plan to use Cait Flanders’ Mindful Budgeting Planner to track my personal spending in 2017.

Spending Plan

2017-joint-spending-plan

Housing ($16,293.07)

  • $9,559.88 HOA monthly and special assessments (known amounts), property taxes (I estimated based on the assessed value of the condo and the 2016 tax amount)
  • $2,230 Maintenance – this is the average amount I’ve spent annually since buying the condo. If it doesn’t all get spent, it’ll roll forward as float to cover future maintenance or condo assessments. My husband tried to say that we don’t need to budget for condo maintenance each year because everything this year was a one-off expense. I showed him my data for 2012-2016 that showed that 2016 was exactly in line with average and he agreed to put this in.
  • $925.91 Electricity – This is the 2016 spending plus the expected per kWh increase for 2017. Our usage has stayed relatively flat or decreasing over the years and the utility company keeps increasing the cost per kWh each year… I’m not really sure how to budget for heating since I’m home more than I used to be and the heaters are on more instead of being off all day, so I guess we’ll see how this goes!
  • $17.88 VoIP line
  • $2,750 House cleaning – $110 biweekly, assuming 25 visits
  • $809.40 Internet

An astute reader might notice that there is no mortgage payment listed here, which costs about $12,000/year. Did we pay off the mortgage or is it a separate expense? And whose separate expense is it? I’ll answer those questions in a future post.

Food ($8,980)

We generally toss household toiletries like paper towels and toothpaste into here for simplicity.

  • $450/month Groceries – our average spending in 2016
  • $255/month Restaurants – one nice dinner out and 3 takeouts
  • $520/year Costco – we make one trip quarterly

Taxes (unknown)

That glorious marriage tax penalty will hit us for the 2016 tax year. We won’t know exactly how much it’ll be until I’ve collected all of our tax forms and can do our taxes in our beloved TurboTax. I have an estimate though that it will be somewhere between our travel budget for the year ($5,000) and our food budget for the year ($8,980). On the other hand, with our income projections for 2017, I expect getting married to save us a larger sum than our penalty in 2016 and that will be a joint bonus. Thanks to my husband’s income increasing by 33% over his 2015 income, we don’t expect to get hit with any underpayment penalties.

Travel ($5,000)

This covers (for both of us) one trip for a friend’s milestone birthday, a Christmas trip, a relative’s milestone birthday trip, and one weekend getaway. Some of this might get paid for with credit card points, but we still count it as spending and then the credit card points as income, resulting in $0 coming out of our checking account.

Entertainment ($1,512.16)

  • $1,000 theatre tickets and such
  • $10.95/month Adobe Lightroom
  • $10.95/month Netflix
  • $16.41/month Spotify Family, shared with two other family members
  • $4.37/month Pandora

Transportation ($1,570)

  • $25/month: there’s usually reason to take a few Ubers a month
  • $30/month: one gas tank fill-up per month
  • $500: the January car insurance payment will be my separate expense. We plan on paying for it as a family expense in July, though that’s still uncertain at this moment. This is related to the fact that it’s my car and I’m the primary driver of it.
  • $210: annual car registration
  • $200: car maintenance is usually pretty low

Gifts ($880)

We’ll donate out of our Donor Advised Fund balance throughout 2017. We also estimated four wedding presents for a total of $880. We’re still sorting out what we’re doing about combining Christmas present spending as one of us likes to be far more generous than the other person.

Wedding (unknown)

We’re throwing a wedding reception in 2017 at a local restaurant for our friends and family who couldn’t make it to the wedding. Our estimate at the moment is that this will cost somewhere around $10,000-$15,000. It’s really hard to know how much it’ll cost until we know how many people are coming since the largest cost is the reception venue and that is based on consumption, which depends on how many people come. We are really excited to share this joy with our friends and family! We’ve received some wedding gifts already, totaling about $8,500 so far, which will cover most of this cost, which is why I’m not expecting this to be a huge part of our budget in 2017. Any costs of this which can’t be covered with cash wedding gifts will be taken out of our separate accounts in a 50/50 ratio.

Miscellaneous ($1,764.77)

Since we decided to round up the amount we deposit per month to the nearest thousand dollars, I added that extra amount as a Miscellaneous category to cover stuff we haven’t thought of, like when we decide we need a new alarm clock or a new kitchen tool.

Implementation

This plan adds up to $34,235.23 total for 2017 or an average of $2,942.30 per month. We rounded that up to $3,000 and will each deposit $1,500 per month to the joint checking account to cover these costs.

Currently, we are using two credit cards to pay for joint expenses:

  1. American Express Blue Cash Preferred ($95 annual fee, though we only paid $75 at our most recent renewal) for 6% cashback on groceries, 3% cashback on gas stations, and 1% cashback elsewhere. This one is in my husband’s name. This will earn us $239.80 per year in cash back rewards versus $169.20 with the no annual fee version of the card.
  2. Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee with a 100,000 point bonus) with 3 points per dollar spent on travel and restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere, with the ability to redeem the points at 1.5x on travel with Chase’s portal. This is our primary everything else card at the moment and has a pretty high limit. It has a $75 additional annual fee per authorized user though so this card is just in my name. With the wedding reception counting as a Restaurant in Visa’s books, this card should earn us about $630.08 in rewards in 2017 while keeping things simple.

We will keep a one month buffer in the joint checking account, so the two credit cards are on auto pay and I don’t have to make sure to pay them each month, which is a welcome change from the last few months during the transition.

If we have any future large expenses that come up during the year that our joint accounts can’t cover (like the living room remodel in 2016), then we’ll come up with a budget for the expense and transfer that amount from our separate accounts into a joint account. For example, when we found out the designer’s cost (~$3,000), we each put half of it in a joint account. We didn’t do that with the living room furniture parts since it was going to be spread out over a longer period of time, but had we been married when we decided to take on the expenditure, we would have each put half of the $12,000 budget into a joint account once we had the budget in hand.

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2016 In Review

2016 was a year full of huge highs and lows! I started the year with a pretty solidly ambitious plan and despite the various life changes that happened, the year actually turned out pretty well financially, all things considered. You should note while reading this post that my husband and I have separate finances and that everything described in this post is only about my finances or my half of the shared finances.

Goals

First, let’s review the measurable goals I set out for the year.

4) Contribute the maximum to all tax-advantaged accounts available to me.

Success! I maxed out my pre-tax 401(k), got the full employer matching, maxed out my after-tax 401(k), maxed out my Roth IRA, and my HSA. I also contributed the maximum I could to the Employee Stock Purchase Plan and sold it all right away.

5) 7,000 steps per day.

Success! I averaged about 9,100 steps per day, which means I blew this goal out of the water. I got more steps as the year went on (as we got out of winter), so 7,000 steps seemed like a stretch goal last December and it was – I didn’t reach it in January or December, but I did every other month this year. My goal going forward is to average 10,000 steps a day each month. My FitBit One is really helpful at measuring this and then every few months or so, I put the month summary data into a spreadsheet so I can compare by month.

Over the course of 2013-2016, I increased my weight up about 20% to my heaviest-ever weight in mid-2016. With a lot of the job stress, I had stopped prioritizing exercise without changing my diet and it was starting to show. I saw a nutritionist partway through the year who helped me make some small diet changes, started drinking almost entirely water (I probably drink 1-2 sodas per year, have maybe 12 drinks of alcohol throughout the year, though I did keep my one small glass of juice with breakfast) and really significantly re-prioritizing exercise. Combined with reduced work stress after the layoff, those changes all made a huge difference and I’m now only up about 10% from what I weighed four years ago, which is much more reasonable.

6) Spend no more than in 2015 ($48,000).

Fail! Hah, this goal was a complete fail, with all the life that happened. I’ll go into more detail below.

7) Save 70% of my net income before tuition savings account withdrawals. (This is achievable if I spend no more than $48,000.)

Fail! This goal was also a complete fail, since I spent way more than $48,000. My savings rate, before tuition withdrawals was 47% for the year or 38% after tuition withdrawals.

8) Increase my liquid funds (including my stock index funds outside of retirement accounts and my Series I Savings Bonds, but ignoring the grad school savings accounts) to two years of living expenses. This means adding $40,000 to my general savings account in 2016, some of which will probably be put into Series I Savings Bonds and/or CDs.

Success! At its maximum, I got this figure up to 2x expected annual living expenses, ignoring the mortgage payment, so I’m going to call this goal a success! Of course, I hadn’t planned on getting married and thus being in a tax bracket higher than 10-15% at most while on my planned break (which I will go into more detail on later), so I’m still trying to figure out what my exact plan for covering living expenses is here.

9) Pay down the mortgage with what’s left. I anticipate having about $0 left after all of the other goals in 2016. (I don’t anticipate being able to meet the liquid savings goal in 2016 – my current figures show me coming up about $5,000 short.)

Pass! I’m going to call this goal a pass. I didn’t make any extra mortgage payments, but that is perfectly fine based on how my husband and I plan to handle the condo going forward (which I will talk about soon!)

10) Turn my “taxable assets – debts” figure around so that taxable assets are > debts. (This is my “golden” goal for 2016.)

Success! I did achieve this goal, though not in the way I had originally planned. In fact, I only improved the figure by $8,600 from -$41,700 at the end of 2015 to -$33,100 at the end of 2016. I’ll explain exactly how I mean I achieved this goal later.

Spending

2016 was the most expensive year that I’ve had. I spent a whopping $68,000! For some of these categories, it represents solely my spending and for other categories, it represents my half of the joint spending. I may switch up how I report on this next year as I have two separate budgets for 2017: one for joint spending and one for personal spending.

2016 Spending.png

Surprisingly, if you take out the wedding and the living room remodel (my half was $8,000 combined for those two), then I was within 10% of my original budget. Or if you look at it another way, I spent exactly 50% of my budget for the year in the first half and then another 100% of my budget in the second half, resulting in spending about 150% of my original budget. I didn’t write a Q2 wrap up post because I thought it was so boring being exactly on point with 50% of my savings goals done and 50% of my budget spent. Who knew the second half of the year would turn so exciting…

I spent a pretty tidy sum amount on medical care this year (just under $3,000) and on rebuilding my closet ($7,000). My husband and I spent very little on travel compared to what we usually do ($4,400 for my portion and $8,500 total) this year to compensate for the living room remodel. Transportation was more expensive than usual due to my car commuting, which is thankfully behind me now. Our grocery spending was pretty reasonable for the cost of living in our area, coming in at an average of $450/month.

Some awesome things that this spending saw are:

  1. $16,000 (joint amount) Living room remodel including designer fee (totally worth it!) and painting. We went from worrying we might need more space and should move to loving our place again. We absolutely love our new couch, new furniture arrangement, and wall colors. I’m also really glad we paid a designer because it reduced the process of buying one item at a time and spending ages trying to figure out what it would go with. We’re almost done with the remodel – just waiting on one more piece of furniture to come and then we can hang the gallery wall which is full of travel and wedding photos. I still can’t believe we bought a $5,000 couch, though it is incredibly amazing to sit and lounge on.
  2. $500 Deposit on a reception venue to celebrate our marriage with our friends and family next year!
  3. A trip to Banff for an extended long weekend! Such a gorgeous place and absolutely on our list of places to return to with more time to wander. (That’s the featured photo on this post!)
  4. Our wedding, including our postnuptial agreement and my rings that we ended up splurging on after the wedding.
  5. Grad school tuition! I’m so thankful to not need to rely on the tuition reimbursement program through my former employer in order to keep pursuing my degree, despite the opportunity cost.
  6. $299+tax Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones – My husband has the over the ear ones and these are the in-ear ones. They are absolutely amazing for working in a crowded office!
  7. $3.99+tax Stylebook app
  8. $1,300 Improving my desktop computer set up and ergonomics at home
  9. $75+tax A wristlet wallet for my iPhone that is so useful. I had one for my previous phone and I procrastinated for a year with this phone before spending the money to buy a new one and I really shouldn’t have.
  10. $40+tax A new case for my iPhone 6S. I originally bought the silicone case that Apple makes. It does fine at keeping the phone free of scratches, but it was a huge pain to get in and out of my pocket/purse, so I finally replaced it and it was definitely the best money I spent that week.

Savings

2016 Savings.png

Despite having my lowest savings rate since graduating college, I still didn’t do too badly for savings this year. I maxed out my pre-tax and after-tax 401(k) accounts, saw the full employer 401(k) match, made the regular mortgage payments which unlocked a reasonable amount of equity, maxed out my Health Savings Account and got the full employer contribution, maxed out my Roth IRA, and put $1,100 into my general savings account. That all added up to about $55,000, before accounting for taking grad school tuition out of a savings account.

By The Numbers

2016 Net Worth Increase.pngDespite my highest year of spending yet and a relatively low year of income, I saw my second highest net worth increase since college, due mostly to adjusting the condo value up about 17%, which accounts for over half of my net worth increase.

My investments (~30% fixed income, 35% US stocks, 35% international stocks) were up about $16,700 for the year, which was a return of +6.72according to XIRR. My average return since I started investing in stocks back in early 2010 is +5.45%

Thanks to the timing of the layoff, my gross income only dropped 4% in 2016 from 2015. My gross income was 204% of my spending in 2016, so I did spend less than half of my gross income. Of the remaining half, about half went to savings and half went to taxes.

$ to FI vs net worth over time EOY 2016.png

In early 2016, I surpassed the halfway marker to financial independence – my net worth became higher than the remaining amount required to reach financial independence. Unfortunately the year got expensive quickly and I went further away from financial independence, but that trend reversed in the last few months of the year. Hopefully in 2017 the trend will improve again.

I surpassed six figures in my Roth IRA at some point in 2016, though it didn’t stick. I also surpassed one year’s base salary (at my pre-layoff salary) in my pre-tax 401(k). Unfortunately due to the increased spending, my investments are worth the same number of years as they were at the end of 2015, which means that my investments grew by the same rate as my spending (40%). Had my spending not increased, my investments would have gone from 4.20 years to 5.81 years.

4% SWR versus expenses over time EOY 2016.png

I came really close to the 4% SWR on my investments being four figures in 2016! I need my investments to grow by 5% more than where they were at the end of 2016 to hit that figure. It’s possible that I will hit it in 2017, depending on how things go. My portion of the fixed shared expenses is covered with this current figure! That doesn’t leave much in the way of discretionary spending yet, though it is still exciting progress!

Conclusion

I felt really guilty about how expensive the last few months of 2016 were, especially with my then lack of income. One (offline) friend commented that it sucked that life was expensive while I also had a drop in income. Doing this annual review though showed me that 2016 wasn’t all bad and that it’s important to look at the big picture. It showed me that I didn’t really see a drop in income and if you look at household income, we actually had an increase thanks to my husband being well appreciated at his job. If you just looked at my net worth growth, you would have no idea how expensive the year was. If you looked at just my spending without looking at my income, it would look pretty bad. When you consider that this is only my portion of the spending – I’m guessing more than either of our separate base salaries before taxes. Oops!

Here’s to a less spendy 2017!

The evolution of managing shared spending in a dating relationship

I started working on this post after my husband and I had been dating for about a year. I’m publishing it now as a snapshot of how our financial management evolved during our dating relationship. I’ll have plenty more to say about how we will manage money going forward in our marriage, don’t worry!

Friends and Early Dating

My husband and I have been friends since college. We occasionally went out for food together prior to beginning to date and we just split the bill by what food we ordered. That’s what most friends do, right? When we were first casually dating, we continued to do the same. I remember one occasion when we were trying to figure out how to split the bill, he put his card down, and poof the server took off with it! I turned out to have some cash and gave him some for my share. Since that instance, we’ve always made sure to figure out what we’re doing before either of us put our cards down on the bill. I still remember the first time we went out for dinner after we had The Relationship Talk and we looked at the bill and went “What do we do?”, realizing that maybe there was a new process to this paying for eating out madness. He also asked me how much I was going to tip, which I found quite amusing at the time. (He later explained that he didn’t want to tip vastly different amounts on similar bills.) Until we moved in together, we had several approaches:

  1. If the amounts were way off, sometimes the person who ordered more $ of food pays the whole bill
  2. Sometimes one person randomly pays for both of us
  3. If we split all the food or ordered within $1 of the same amount of food, we split the bill 50/50
  4. If the amounts we each ordered are off by less than the amount we would tip, then we adjust the amount with the tip

For any costs in cash, usually whoever has the most convenient denomination of cash pays.

For expenses that we couldn’t split at the source, we set up our checking accounts so we could transfer money to each other without seeing the other’s balances after we’d been dating for about six months, which made random things so easy to split. It did drive me a bit nuts with the number of transfers going back and forth, but it was a great system. (Square Cash made this pretty easy when I moved my money to a different bank.)

Travel

In 2014, we took a few trips and they were relatively easy to share the costs:

  1. In March, we went on a trip to an all-inclusive resort. Pretty much everything was paid for upfront, so one of us paid with a credit card and the other transferred half the cost. Super easy. If you’re ever traveling with friends, these are great trips to take! One of us took out some $ from an ATM to have some spending cash and the other transferred them half of that. We ended up spending none of it though so we both had enough cash to last us several months of normal cash spending.
  2. In June, we went on a trip to another city, a short-ish flight away. One person booked the flights on a credit card, the other booked and paid upfront for the hotel, and the person who paid less for those two transferred the other the difference. We did one activity that one person paid for in advance and the other transferred them half. Once we were there, we followed our normal pattern for splitting costs.
  3. In July, we went on a driving weekend away. One person booked the hotel and activities and the other paid them back once we had the final amounts. My husband filled up the gas tank. We followed our normal restaurant pattern.

As of early 2015, our trip to New Zealand was our biggest shared cost so far, the first one being our shared checking account for groceries. At home, we split every expense except groceries at the source. This sounds tedious to everyone else, but it works for us. When we go out to eat, we either pay for what we ordered or we split the bill evenly if our separate amounts are within a dollar of each other’s. We agreed as we were booking this trip on about how much it would cost, how long we wanted to go for, where we wanted to go, and the type of trip that we wanted to have: hotels not hostels, renting a car instead of tour buses, not a big group experience. We also decided to put most of the expenses on one credit card (and agreed to use a recent card that my husband got) and then deal with things when we got back. We both had separate credit cards that we used for non-shared expenses. This system worked out pretty well!

Living Together

It took us a few months of living together before we found a good routine with our financial management systems. The system I described in that post isn’t exactly what we ended up doing over the last two years. We did, however, stick to our plan of splitting the outgoing shared expenses other than the mortgage payment 50/50. Our incomes when he moved in were pretty similar and so that seemed like a fair system. Our incomes eventually diverged quite a bit, but we’ve still kept to the 50/50 system as we don’t want to create a financial dependence on the other person’s income.

We determined who would pay what with the question “If we were renting, would the landlord or the renter pay for X?” In order to keep my condo equity safe and clearly separate, I paid for everything related to the condo. I paid the mortgage payments, monthly HOA dues and special assessments, property taxes, and any maintenance or improvements. He paid for most everything else: groceries, travel, restaurants, utilities, new towels, etc.

To keep things simple, all of the shared expenses that he paid for were put on one credit card and I have an Authorized User card on the account. We also set up a financial aggregator account with it so that I could see the data without him sharing the online banking password. Every few months, I would enter my part of the data and his part of the data into a spreadsheet and make sure that things were relatively even since we weren’t splitting at the source.

When we did a living room furniture remodel this year, we agreed to split every item purchased at the source so that we fully owned all of the items together. I ended up getting a couple of credit cards (including the Chase Sapphire Reserve!) for credit card bonus points with the large purchases and then he paid me back for his half of the furniture pieces.

After we got married, we moved to a slightly different system (which I will talk more about next year), though I continued to pay for everything related to the condo until the postnuptial agreement was signed. I am so excited to retire the haphazardly updated spreadsheet of shared spending!! I’m really glad I kept that spreadsheet though as it made creating our 2017 joint budget much, much easier.

Happy holidays, everyone! This is my last post for 2016.

Living My Values in 2017

This is normally the point in the year where I contemplate the upcoming year and what financial goals I want to accomplish. This year, I’m switching it up a bit. Instead of writing SMART goals, I’m going to talk about my values.

Financial

No debt. I am pretty strongly against debt. I’ve never had student loans or credit card debt. I aggressively paid down my mortgage. One of my strongest financial values is to maintain this status with the only debt in the household being the mortgage on the condo. My husband is absolutely on board with this plan. His student loans are long gone at this point and neither of us have ever maintained a balance on a credit card nor do we plan to start doing so.

Save for retirement. Other than my first year out of college, I have contributed the maximum I can to all retirement vehicles available to me. I plan to continue that going forward, though it does look different from year to year and from job to job.

Spend consciously. I don’t practice extreme frugality, nor does my husband. Instead, we consider purchases for a reasonable duration of time before committing to them. We buy reduced stress. We buy a non-financial lifestyle that brings us joy. We naturally don’t spend our entire incomes, which results in a large gap between our spending and our incomes and thus results in a high savings rate.

Security. I value financial security above so many other pieces in life. I plan to keep one year’s expenses in cash at all times. Any funds available beyond eliminating debt, saving for retirement, and one year’s expenses will be invested in a taxable investment account, per my Investment Policy Statement.

Home

Home. Loving my home is so key to my mental health. Living in a home that brings me joy, that I want to go home to, that I want to hang out in, is so important to me. More important than travel.

Possessions. Thanks to Stylebook, I’ve been buying clothes more strategically. We’ve also been working on drastically reducing the amount of stuff we have in the condo, which has been a continual work in progress and I’m sure will be for a while. Trying to be more conscious of what comes into the apartment is also helpful here. Both my husband and I have parents that are minor hoarders and so living with less has been a point of growth and learning. I had no idea it wasn’t normal to keep everything you had ever owned in your life…

Style. I like having clothes that fit my body, no matter how much my body shifts around. This seems to go against the grain of the personal finance blogosphere, but I get enjoyment out of a closet that I like and that’s worth something.

Mental

Learn. It’s really important to never stop learning and to push myself to stretch my mind. Having a career as a tech professional is not the only answer to this. My Master’s program has been great for this. What does learning and pushing myself mentally look like after my Master’s program? If I’m not learning or not enjoying my job, then what’s the point? I have enough savings now that it’s becoming more and more difficult to put up with a job that gives me minimal fulfillment.

Health

Keep moving. I have a monthly average steps goal of 10,000 steps per day. I find that the closer I get to that figure, the happier I am overall. Getting outside is such a stress reducing factor, no matter the weather, even if certain types of weather make it less enticing to spend time outside.

Practice joy. I’ve always been a naturally critical person. In 2016, I started to practice contentedness with where I was in life and to find the positives in situations where really there didn’t seem to be any. I have an exercise where I write in a joy journal all of the pieces in my life that currently bring me joy. I’m always surprised at how many there are, even while I’m incredibly stressed out over something else. Practicing joy has helped me in so many ways.

Water. One of my projects this year was to start drinking more water. I have not always been the best at staying hydrated, but I’m finally making progress. I set my goal to drink 64 oz per day and I well exceeded that in the summer and since then, have been getting pretty close most days. My husband and I have noticed that we don’t drink water nearly as well when we’re traveling and my body definitely feels different as a result, so that’s something we plan to be more conscious of on our next trip. I’ve also made some minor diet shifts that made a huge difference.

Community

Support. In a way, this comes back to spending consciously. I have a variety of charities that I strongly believe in and love supporting their causes, as does my husband. It also means supporting other people in their learning and growth.

Relationships. In addition to movement keeping me happier, so does a certain level of social activity. There’s a careful balance between too little and too much and it’s so easy to fall on the side of too little when we are busy with our own lives, families, and careers. My relationship with my husband is central to my well-being, as well.

 

Reflections on Homeownership: 4.5 Years In

 

Life was so busy this summer that I forgot to write my annual reflections on homeownership post, so here I am at 4.5 years in instead. I cannot believe that I am coming up on my five year anniversary of buying this wonderful condo come this spring! This fall marks 5 years since I started looking for a piece of real estate to buy.

There have been many discussions lately over the fact that in today’s hot real estate markets, you need to decide pretty quickly whether you are committed to spending several hundred thousand dollars on a particular piece of real estate. Yet, every week it seems we discover something new and fascinating about this condo in which we live.

Lately, one question has been “How much did I really think through this neighborhood selection?” Within a mile radius, we have what I thought was pretty much everything one needed: a post office, courier services, multiple grocery stores, a library, a drug store or two, a hair salon, barber shop(s), a gas station, park(s), and multiple restaurants. Yet, whenever we want to go to a restaurant, our first choices are never the local ones, which results in Uber’ing to another neighborhood. There is no takeout in the area that I like. (Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Probably not so bad for the wallet.) Our friend in the nearest proximity is a full mile away. It is pretty easy to get downtown and it’s easy for friends to park near us if they drive to visit. The commute to my job at the time was pretty good, as it is to my husband’s job, but my commute to campus is a bit inconvenient, as was my commute to my last job.

We finally finished the furniture tetris game I mentioned last time we talked about my ideas on homeownership. We now have furniture that we both love and that we chose together. We repainted many rooms. We’ve decorated together. It really solidly feels like our place. It is wonderful. Our home brings us joy again.

A realtor told me that they would list this condo of mine for ~45% more than what I paid for it. Two more years or so and that would run up against the $250,000 single capital gains exemption for home value increases, though we may not need to worry about that as we got married and that increases the exemption to a ludicrous $500,000. (I’m unsure what exactly the requirements are to qualify for the married exemption over the single one, however.)

In 2016, this condo cost a whopping $14,000 in housing expenses (mortgage interest, HOA dues, property taxes, condo insurance, electricity, repairs, interest lost from having the equity locked up, and tax savings).

I was pretty conservative in my calculations when I bought this place, which has now put my husband and I in the situation where our housing costs (including the full required mortgage payment of which only the interest is included in the $14,000 figure) are around 6% of our combined gross income in 2016. If you take out the principal portion of the regular payment, it’s even lower.

Perhaps I skipped the 4 year post back in the summer because we were super busy going to open houses every weekend. We were frustrated with our furniture tetris and unsure that we would ever figure it out, so we became convinced that we might need a larger place. This condo has two bedrooms and is relatively spacious in the lower 1000 sqft range, but we were not utilizing the space particularly well. With our then-existing furnishings, there wasn’t enough room for each of us to feel like we had personal space to pursue our home-based hobbies. The increasing market ranges mean that we would need to spend about 40-50% more than the value of this condo to get a three bedroom townhouse. We developed the mantra “Is this cheaper than moving?” (which is pretty much true for everything when your alternative is to spend several hundred thousand dollars) and we started trying new hypotheses. We hired an interior designer to help us refurnish the living room, who came up with ideas that we never would have. It was expensive, yes, but it sure was cheaper than moving. The designer asked us early in the process “How long do you plan on staying here?” and our answer was “So long as we stay in this city and don’t have children, quite possibly decades.”

Homeownership means that our lives revolve around our central home, rather than our home moving as our lives shift.