2017 Half-Year Update

Income

This year so far has been a relatively boring year for income, which has been surprisingly not that noticeable, probably thanks to my front loading my retirement accounts last year.

  • ($384) My portion of the extra income taxes due (marriage tax penalty)
  • $2,513 My portion of the value of the credit card points redeemed or rebates from cash back sites
  • $68 Last paycheck from my fall part-time gig for a professor in my program
  • ~1 month’s salary gross: deferred compensation from my former employer, from which they withheld way more taxes than they needed to with my low income this year, so I should receive all ~$3,000 of the unnecessary taxes withheld back in early 2018
  • Generous four figure sum: We received and deposited the generous wedding present from my parents this year. It went straight into the “Wedding Gifts” savings account where I’ve been putting any wedding presents until we use them for something specific, at which point I transfer the money into our checking account.

Net Worth and Cash Flow

Personal

As of June 30th, my net worth is up 1.1% for the year. I was originally projecting a 1.4% decrease for the year, but the stock market has had a mind of its own,
so I’m currently forecasting to be up 0.7% for the year, assuming no further income. That’s not too bad for taking a year off from full-time employment, during which I’m paying grad school tuition and for my portion of a wedding reception.

My June reconciling left $17,247 in my personal savings account, which should last me through the end of February at my current spending rate. I have a separate savings account from which I pay my grad school tuition, which is on track, ~$20,000 in Series I Savings Bonds, and ~$25,000 in my Vanguard money market fund. After covering my part of the wedding, all of those non-tuition cash accounts combined would last me for two years, through sometime in July 2019. Once I start a job again, I’ll experiment with how low I’m willing to let my cash reserves go, whether I’m comfortable going down to $10,000 and investing the rest. The most I can realistically see leaving in a savings account is $20,000.

Family

Our combined net worth, on the other hand, is up 13% since we got married, which is just incredible. The condo equity represents about a third of our combined net worth, which is a pretty reasonable figure.

On the household accounts side, we have a primary checking account which is used for cash flow, budgeting, and paying the credit card balances at the end of the month, a “Wedding Gifts” savings account, and a general savings account. We keep a one month ($3,000) buffer in the checking account and we have a second one month buffer in the general savings account. We also have a joint Schwab checking account that we use for international ATM withdrawals. (I closed my personal one when we made the joint one.) Lastly, our Donor Advised Fund doesn’t count in our net worth as it’s not legally ours anymore since it’s already been donated to Schwab Charitable.

Investments

My husband has started the process of buying into the condo. I used these funds to make my full 2017 Roth IRA contribution back in January and then in June, I transferred the entire amount that he gave me into my Vanguard taxable account. I added $10,000 into my international stock index holding, rebalanced between international and US stocks in my Roth IRA, and left the remainder in the money market fund. I set up a $500 automatic exchange from the money market fund into the international stock index for each of the remaining months in 2017 (one has already happened!) and left the rest alone.

Why didn’t I invest the entire amount? I wanted to wait until we have a firmer picture of how much the wedding reception will cost and until I’ve started a job before investing the entire amount. I left a generous eight months of expenses in the money market fund for now. I’m sleeping great at night, so this seems like a reasonable approach for now.

Why did I send all of the money to Vanguard if I wasn’t going to invest it all? I wanted to be really prudent with this money as it was previously locked up as condo equity and not spendable. Putting it all in Vanguard helped to see it as transferring the money from condo equity to more liquid investments, rather than as money available for spending. The Vanguard money market funds have pretty comparable returns to my Alliant Credit Union savings account, so they seemed like a reasonable parking spot for now.

As of June 30th, my investments are up an absurd $25,605 for the year so far solely on market returns. The last few years were not great for international stock returns and they seem to be making up for that this year, which with my staunch 50/50 US/International split has done wonders for my portfolio returns this year. My 401(k), which is relatively heavy in international stocks at the moment, is up $13,075 with the markets this year, which is about 70% of what one is allowed to contribute to such a plan each year.

In May, I tried an experiment of not checking my investment balances all month until it was time to update my net worth. I managed to make it with only peeking once, which I’m calling a success based on my behavior in the previous months of the year. I ran the experiment again in June and I barely peeked when I made my Vanguard contributions. It seems this habit has successfully mostly stuck for now!

Not paying the mortgage in 2017 has seen some months starting to get very visually closer to the passive income (credit card rewards and selling stuff) + 4% of investments line. It’s incredible and really motivating! It makes me want to find more money to add to my investments to get those lines closer together.

And then here’s a similar view with the percentage of expenses covered by 4% SWR + Passive Income, but dating back to January 2010:

4/6 of the months so far in 2017 have been over 50%, which is incredible to see! I’m forecasting that I’ll surpass 100% one month this year, which I’m really excited to see!

Spending

As the year has gone on, we’ve been continually discussing what should be personal or household spending. It’s been evolving over time and we’ve reimbursed each other from the joint account back dating to January 1st for anything we spent this year. The main changes are:

  • Any bags of coffee bought count as “Groceries” and are thus household, but takeout coffee is personal spending
  • If we’re out at a restaurant together, the entire meal is household, even if one of us drinks or eats more than the other (my husband used to pick up the entire tab if he spent much more or we would pay based on what we ate)
  • If I grab takeout for lunch because there isn’t food to eat for lunch in the house, that counts as household spending. (Realistically: all food except for food where one spouse is out without the other spouse counts as household spending.)
  • Any medical related expenses are household
  • At home exercise equipment is household, even if only one of us uses it (but outside of the house fitness is personal spending)
  • Most toiletries are now household (shampoo, conditioner, other hair products, deodorant, allergy medicine, dermatologist products, body wash, moisturizer, feminine hygiene products, etc.). If a product was bought at the grocery store or at Costco, it was previously considered household, but if it was bought somewhere else, it ended up being personal spending, which we’ve corrected. Eyebrow waxes and make-up are still considered personal spending.
  • My husband’s Amazon account should probably be double checked every month or so since he’s bad at remembering to use the right credit card and usually just lets the default payment method take care of things.

I’ve been marking these items, as well as anything else we forget to budget for (condo and umbrella insurance, ahem) out of the “Miscellaneous” category from our budget and then next year, we’ll add the items to the budget more accurately.

The below chart counts all household spending as being half mine and also includes my personal spending. Without the mortgage payment, only 17% of my spending for the first half of 2017 was on housing! My half of the household spending plus my personal spending came to $20,157.28 or an average of $3,359.55 per month. Considering that last year, I spent $3,868.10/month on average in the first half of the year which included a $1,027.32/month mortgage payment, I’ve spent about $518.77/month on average more in 2017 than I did in 2016, which is probably mostly explained by the frontloaded travel spending this year and that we didn’t buy any Christmas flights in 2016. I expect my H2 spending to come in about $1,000/month under my 2016 H2 spending, even accounting for the difference in mortgage payment and paying for the wedding.

Household spending

Note that all of the numbers below are the full household numbers, meaning that my portion is half of those numbers.

Category Budget Actual Avg. Monthly Description
Travel $5,000.00 $10,854.17 $1,809.03 All travel pre-booked for the year. This covers our Christmas flights and lodging, a trip for a friend’s milestone birthday, a weekend getaway, and airfare and lodging for our Italy honeymoon coming up in the fall. We went over-budget on all of the trips, but we skipped one, so we’re technically under the travel budget for the year by $1,277.
Housing $8,897.23 $8,235.96 $1,372.66 Very little condo maintenance so far this year ($285), which is why we’re under budget. Otherwise, we’ve been paying monthly HOA dues and paid this year’s special assessment, paid half of the year’s property taxes, paid for the winter electricity, paid Comcast every month, and our mostly-biweekly house cleaners. My husband is paying the mortgage out of his personal cash flow.
Food $4,490.00 $4,373.91 $727.44 This is mostly groceries ($3,188) and Costco ($420), with the rest being convenience food. We’ve been averaging about 20% above our grocery budget for the year ($450/month), but a lot of toiletries end up in here too as well as cards.
Wedding ~ $3,628.80 $604.80 This includes the last bills for the postnuptial agreement ($650), my wedding dress (under $400), some cake tasting fees, our cake deposit, and a cake topper ($622.50), DJ deposit ($1,100), hair and makeup deposit ($200), paper invitations, RSVP cards and address labels ($57.82), and photographer deposit ($500). I’ll write a post about this all more specifically once I have final numbers.
Entertainment $756.06 $2,013.01 $335.50 This budget is a bit fuzzy because the “Restaurants” budget is included in the “Food” budget, but “Date night” spending ($1,188) went here, same with meals with friends ($121). This also includes our annual theatre tickets ($510), Pandora and Spotify music subscriptions ($125), and Netflix ($66).
Shopping ~ $1,551.84 $258.64 The last piece of our new living room furniture ($637), a popcorn popper ($21), replenishing measuring cups ($36), picture hangers ($26), a blanket and five tablecloths ($160), Lightroom ($66), replacing our seven year old mattress cover ($33), replacing some old towels ($173), repairing our camera lens ($264), a sun alarm clock ($119), replacing a five year old soap dispenser ($15), some vacuum sealing clothing bags ($20), some pieces to attach some of the new furniture ($30), and annual Prime membership ($109).
Personal care ~ $447.59 $74.60 Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, cleanser, shower cap, allergy medicine, etc.
Gifts and Donations $440.00 $407.24 $67.87 This covers one wedding gift and three baby gifts, some cards, and some stamps because we keep losing them and we’ve mailed paper invitations to anyone who has asked for one. We used our Donor Advised Fund for another wedding gift, so that isn’t accounted for here.
Transportation $430.02 $376.16 $62.69 We are way under budget on gas (averaging $20 per month instead of $30) because we’ve bought most of it at Costco this year, which is unusual. Also included is a new battery for the car and jumper cables ($150), some Lyft rides ($83), and one time of parking ($0.58).
Life ~ $18.84 $3.14 Updated insurance on my ring set – most of the premium was paid in December.
Recreation ~ $11.76 $1.96 One, two and three pound weights
Medical bills ~ $6.00 $0.50 A resistance band for physical therapy. Not included here are the insurance premiums that are taken out of my husband’s paychecks pre-tax every month. We’ll reconcile that into being household spending come tax time. So far, we’ve paid nothing out of pocket for medical stuff this year.
Total $19,152.11 $31,925.28 $5,319.34 Only $2,013.60 over budget if you take out the wedding and honeymoon, which weren’t budgeted for, that isn’t too bad considering that we frontloaded much of our travel spending for the year.

We’ve decided to use my parents’ wedding gift for our honeymoon. We bought the flights with Chase Ultimate Rewards points from our Sapphire Reserve card and I transferred the amount we’ve prepaid so far for lodging from the “Wedding Gifts” savings account into the household checking account.

We are both really looking forward to hosting our wedding reception this fall! The numbers are still reasonably variable since we’re still waiting on most of the RSVPs, which is why I haven’t talked that much about the budget. The wedding costs have been covered so far by calculating how much off-budget expenses happened in a month, dividing that in half, and each of us transferring that into the household checking account. Now that we’re getting into the home stretch, we actually know the amounts that are due before we pay them (versus picking a vendor and then immediately needing to pay a deposit), so we transferred the anticipated amounts at the beginning of July for the costs that month and we’ll repeat that in August and September.

Other than Groceries and missing a ton of line items (oops), we have been doing reasonably okay with our first attempt at a budget! I’ve been pleased with how it’s going.

Personal spending

I’m really proud of how I’ve done with my personal spending this year. I’ve been significantly more conscious about it this year and reduced my personal spending (within the same scope) by more than half from what I spent last year, which is a huge part of how I’m covering my part of the wedding reception costs without spending down my savings too quickly.

I mentioned this in earlier posts, but the way I’m budgeting this year is that I took my savings account balance on 12/31/2016 and have added in all income I’ve brought in this year. That figure is now up to $37,500. On the first of every month, I transfer $1,500 to the household checking account to cover my part of the household budget. I add up how much I need to replenish my checking account for the prior month’s spending that and transfer that money. Once all that’s done, if I’ve spent less than N/12ths of the total annual budget (where N is the current month), I transfer the excess to my personal “Wedding” savings account. My husband just takes money out of somewhere when a bill needs to be paid, but I prefer doing it this way so it doesn’t feel like it’s withdrawn all at once from my savings account.

Category H1 Avg. Monthly Description
Clothing $2,044.90 $340.82 $837.56 of this was on replacing my underwear and my annual bras stock-up. This year, I splurged and bought six bras instead of my usual five, so that I don’t have to wash them quite as often.
Transportation $783.62 $130.60 $252 of this is bus passes that I’m required to pay for through grad school and are really useful. $522 was the six months of car insurance that I paid for in January and $10 was a Lyft home one time.
Recreation $378.77 $63.13 A pair of running shoes ($161) and two months of unlimited barre classes ($109 each) – yay for student rates!
Personal care $351.08 $58.51 Four eyebrow waxes ($80), mascara and eyeshadow replacement ($43), returning a product that didn’t work out ($3), and two facials ($223). I’ve since eliminated the facials from my budget as the eyebrow waxes provide just as much joy.
Entertainment $246.31 $41.05 I accidentally bought two books thinking I had some e-book credit left ($23). “The Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-Class Marriages” has been fascinating. I also renewed my personal domain ($9) and enjoyed several social outings with friends ($215).
Gifts and Donations $200.78 $33.46 My husband’s birthday present. I used some points to pay for part of it, but those count in income and the full amount of the present here.
Housing $159.33 $26.56 Monthly cell phone bill with Cricket Wireless. The plan gives me 1 GB of data and unlimited minutes and texts, which seems to be mostly working great.
Travel $27.50 $4.58 $7.50 was when my husband and I each bought the same snack while traveling and we paid for it separately and $20 was transferring some airline miles to my husband to keep both of our accounts active.
Medical bills $23.30 $3.88 Coinsurance from some 2016 medical usage.
Shopping ($20.95) ($3.49) My husband used some of a credit I had at a store and reimbursed me, hence the spending credit. I also replaced my sunglasses case that I seem to have misplaced.
Total $4,194.64 $699.11

If you take out the car insurance which is a household expense starting in July, I spent $612.14/month on average covering all of these categories for all of the items it covered.

I started a new spreadsheet this year which tracks my clothing spending. For each item purchased, I note the date (including month & quarter), category (necessities or wants), and subcategory (underwear, winter clothes, outerwear, athletic wear, bras, summer clothes, or shoes), price, and a description. I’m finding it really helpful to separate the necessities (underwear, bras, socks, sports bras, and having workout crops that fit so I actually go work out) from the wants.

I’ve been so consistent at working out this year that I sized my workout crops down yet again, of which I picked up two pairs in Q2. I like wearing the now-huge workout tops as it reminds me of how much my body has shifted in the last year. Last July, I hit my peak weight. A year later, I’m down 5-6 percentage points of body fat (it fluctuates a bit day to day) and I’ve lost about 8% of what I weighed last July. Those numbers matter way less than how incredible my body feels, how much stronger I’ve become, and how much more positive I am with the increased level of exercise. In June, I finally surpassed an average of 10,000 steps per day for the first time this year, which felt great. I had been increasing my monthly step goal a little bit each month until I finally got there. It’s a lot of work getting that many steps per day AND making it to as many barre classes as I have, which is part of how blogging has fallen by the way side. All around, I’ve just been feeling really great this year!

Readers, how is your 2017 going so far?

Managing my clothing spending with a whitelist

I’ll leave this tidbit for a more financial update: I own 68% of the condo, my husband 9%, and the bank 23%, or in another way: I own 59%, we own 18%, and the bank owns 23%. This is a huge change from December where I owned 76% and the bank 24%. I’m not ready to write a 5 year homeownership update (!!) as I prefer to write about things after they have settled and we haven’t yet figured out how to get approval to make the condo board less broke.

Over the years, I’ve spent the most time managing my clothing spending. I have tried many ways to reign it in, to limit myself, to plan for spending, to budget, etc. and nothing seems to work for very long until now. I’ve struggled with my clothing spending for a variety of reasons over the years. Primarily, I value having a wardrobe with pieces that I love and fit and suit me well. Yet I have donated and purged so much of my closet over the years and worn a really small portion of it.

I feel so, so guilty buying clothes. I feel guilty putting them in my cart. I feel guilty putting them on my credit card. I feel guilty taking them out of the bag they come in. I feel guilty seeing the pile of online shopping bags by our mailbox. I even feel guilty wearing new clothes, sometimes so I leave the tags on them without wearing them! I feel guilty spending down investments or cash savings or using my husband’s condo buy-in money to buy clothes or asking for clothes for my birthday.

I used to over-buy clothes in categories that were easier to buy (tops) and under-buy in categories that were harder (everything else). In May, I went into a store looking for a pair of shorts that fit, a pair of white pants that fit, and a cropped cardigan. What did I walk out with? A pair of shorts, a pair of yellow pants (I decided they were so awesome they were worth foregoing the white pants), a dress that fit splendidly (but was terrible quality and I later returned for a damaged material credit after one wear), and two non-cropped cardigans that were the same colors as cardigans I already had at home. I had reached decision fatigue and bought whatever cardigan I could find instead of the cropped style I was specifically looking for. On the one hand, my color selection at least proves I know my style and color preferences but I when got home with the cardigans, I realized my silliness pretty quickly and took them back to the store later.

Despite all this guilt, when I was filling in my mindful budgeting planner, my best purchases recently were: bras, underwear, workout crops, and a summer dress I bought recently. That tells me that underneath all the guilt, having more than one pair of workout crops encourages me to go to the gym more often, which in turn brings me joy. It also tells me that summer clothes bring me far more joy than winter ones do.

To reduce my guilt and to not stress as much about the necessary clothing spending, I’ve been keeping a “Clothing whitelist” and setting one of my monthly goals as “Clothing whitelist only” and it’s been working. (I use these soft cover daily planners – not an affiliate link. I love them because they are small and fit in my purse or backpack easily!) When I start contemplating a particular item of clothing, I add it to this list. Sometimes the items stay on the list for a few months and other times, I add things to the list and immediately buy them. As I review my spending throughout the month, I check in – is a piece of clothing I bought on the whitelist? If it isn’t, I either need to add it or return the item.)

A recurring theme on the list this year is “X that fits” which falls into the “one in one out” philosophy for wardrobe management: spring jacket that fits, hiking shorts that fit, 2 pairs of workout crops that fit, bras that fit, underwear that fits, shorts that fit, summer pants that fit. Other items have included: N* winter sweaters, N* pairs of underwear (finally swapped down to just black and beige colors which is life changing), a cropped cardigan, winter over-pants for walking to the gym, N* days of summer clothes, shoes for my wedding reception. With my huge exercise push this year, I’ve lost some of the weight I gained in my last couple years of jobs I hated and felt stuck in. It’s been huge for my general happiness levels and has given me the opportunity to shop the parts of my closet I didn’t purge from what fit back in 2014/2015, plus some pieces of last year’s closet.

Similarly, I picked which bra styles and colors to buy in what number by listing out the possibilities, along with which items I would wear with them in my wardrobe. I hate having a bra wardrobe that doesn’t match to my actual closet! (What you get when you take a CS nerd and get them to shop: spreadsheets, tables, and charts.)

So far, this method seems to be working really well this year, better even than assigning a dollar number to the clothing budget. If I gave myself a dollar figure budget, I probably would have kept those cardigans I didn’t need.

Readers, what is your trickiest category to budget for? How do you handle it?

N* is variable, depending on the category.

February 2017 update

My February net worth was only down about $1,000, which is notable because my total net income was $1,100 and I paid a large grad school tuition bill. I anticipate my net worth going down 1.4% from December 2016 to December 2017 and so far it is up 0.2%, which is on schedule.

It’s been really fun watching my investments so far this year while I’ve been with minimal income. So far, 2017 has seen a good run in the stock markets and that has catapulted my investments over $300,000, which is notable because that means a 4% SWR would allow me to withdraw $1,000/month, which is a lovely round number! My expenses in February were low enough that the current allowable 4% SWR would cover 53% of my expenses!! That’s the highest % I’ve seen yet, so I’m quite excited! The previous high was 28.3%.

2017-february-4-expense-coverage

Action items

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.

We prepared our tax return, figured out how much we owe, and calculated the split. We had one final bit to double check (which I’ve fixed as I write this), so we’ll file the return in March.

In January and February, I only went to 5 barre classes each month. This is bad because I have a bunch of punch cards that expire in May. I’ve made a personal challenge for March to go to 14 barre classes – 3 classes per week. We’ll see how this goes! If I can stick to a 3 day per week schedule, I should use up my already paid for classes  before they expire. (So far, as of writing this on March 6th, I’ve been to 3 classes, so I believe in myself!)

We picked a cake vendor for the wedding reception and paid that deposit in February, so it looks like we should have a few months of no wedding expenses, which will be nice. And now I’m looking forward to delicious cake!!!

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 when 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 $24,105.55 in it at the end of February, when it should have $31,115.85 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. I estimate there is $10,796.32 left for me to pay for the wedding reception, which leaves me with $3,616.55 remaining for personal spending with ten months remaining in 2017. That’s definitely going to be a bit tighter than I’m used to, so I’m going to keep an eye on things as the year goes on.

Personal spending

Totaled at $187.12! I’ve been following Cait’s Mindful Budgeting Program and the best money spent each week was:

  1. Dinner with a friend
  2. Coffee with a friend / A dress for our wedding reception (eee!) / A product I bought per the recommendation of my dermatologist that quickly made a difference!
  3. Getting my eyebrows waxed – I really love the person I’ve been seeing for years now.

Notice a pattern here? I do! I probably would have also written the tasting fee for the cake vendor we ended up picking because it was SO delicious!

I have to say, it is really lovely not having the mortgage payment each month!

Joint spending

Our spending was pretty simple this month! In reviewing this though, I realized I forgot to set up the auto bill pay for the HOA dues, so we didn’t pay those in February… We’ll just end up double paying in March to compensate. This is a huge part of why I am not a fan of monthly budgets and prefer annual ones – the months can be so variable.

  • Entertainment: $42.68 for Lightroom, Netflix, Spotify Family, and Pandora
  • Groceries: $503.70
  • Restaurants: $103.87 – this is two outings.
  • Electricity: $93.73 – this is super low because I had prepaid a bit in December.
  • Housecleaning: $220
  • Travel: $261.55 – miscellaneous costs for our weekend trip in February
  • Miscellaneous: $72.64 – a blanket and something else
  • Total without reception: $1,298.68
  • Reception: $2,127.72 – one cake tasting fee, DJ deposit, my wedding dress (under $400!), and cake deposit
  • Total with reception: $3,426.40

I prepaid Comcast in December, so we didn’t pay them in February. No gas fill-ups this month either.

Readers, how was your February? Do you track how much of your spending would be covered by your investments?

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.

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!