Monday, December 30, 2019

Travel hacking - 2019 results

I've been trying to do a better job of tracking my travel hacking results, so I used a spreadsheet this year. Here are the results of our 2019 travel hacking. Note that the United rewards I earn are from work travel...

  • Paid for flights from my parents, to come & watch the kids over spring break. Used $100 discount code for a delayed flight, plus a credit. Amount saved - $329.72
  • Used remaining wallet credit for a flight to Hawaii in June. Amount saved - $55.86
  • I paid for my sister's flight to Hawaii for a girls trip. I used a companion fare. Amount saved - $550.20
  • I used a discount due to another flight delay for Christmas flights. Amount saved - $100
  • I also used a wallet credit from a changed flight, for our Christmas flights. Amount saved - $332.40
  • Used miles for my parents to come hang out with the kids, when we had an unexpected trip to Hawaii for M's work trip. Amount saved - $548.20
  • Used United miles for trip to Whistler x4 -  $3,000 

Total saved from travel hacking = $4,916.38

I'm happy with the results. The Whistler trip gave us a big boost. I'll also add that I haven't been using miles to book flights for myself, because I'm trying to achieve status on my preferred local airline, and flights booked with miles aren't eligible. Instead, I'm using miles for when my parents visits, vs my own flights. I'm hoping to cross over into the $5k mark in 2020!

What about you? Do you track travel hacking? How much did you earn in 2019?

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Frugal Friday/Sunday

I'm late getting up my frugal Friday post, but better late than never. Here are the frugal wins for the week:

Saving on things we buy

  • We stumbled on a huge sale on ski clothes, so we picked up a few things we needed. We were also able to get hiking shoes for both kids (they need for a camp they are attending, and Sam is going to a school field trip at Yosemite). They were 1/3 of the price I'd been expecting to pay. 
  • I also used a $5 Uber reward (mostly earned from work travel) towards our trip to the airport on Saturday
Earning money

  • I found a quarter on the ground, but that's pretty much all I can think of. 

Avoiding spending

  • Packed sandwiches for lunch on the flight to Portland. No matter how much I pack, it's never enough for the kids. ;-) They each ended up getting a piece of pizzas. The adults managed to avoid purchased food.
  • We've also avoided most eating out while on vacation. However, both kids had a "snack" at Costco (hot dog/pizza), even after eating lunch before we went. They are teen boys. *shrug*

We've had an absolutely fabulous time with my parents, my sister, etc. Tomorrow we'll head to Portland to briefly meet up with my nephews before we fly home. It's been such a lovely trip. What about you? Any frugal wins for the week?

Monday, December 23, 2019

Beach frisbee

The weather has been so perfect that there was no wind for kite flying. Unusual for December on the Oregon coast. Instead, we made do with the frisbee. The weather was nice enough that the kids were wearing just tshirts.

On to make happy hour for my ravenous teen boys! Enjoy your day.

Relaxing at the beach

I love this place. We had an easy flight to Portland on Saturday, then drove to the coast. We stopped at Costco & stocked up on groceries. We try to make all of our meals even though we are on vacation, because we have a kitchen to cook in. That said, we need more than a normal shopping week at home, because we have nothing in the fridge when we arrive. Still cheaper than eating out.

I went for a run to the beach yesterday. So beautiful & peaceful.

For today, we'll be getting ready for tomorrow (driving to my parents for Christmas). Nick is baking a cake, & we're packing. I'll also get a few chores done, & hopefully get back to the beach for kite flying. Perfect.

Hope you are all having a fabulous & relaxing week.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Frugal Friday

It was the last week of work before we take off for the holidays, & I'm more than ready for a vacation. Here are our frugal wins for the week:

Saving on things we buy:

  • Used $5 in Walgreens rewards (earned by having my FitBit connected to their Balance Rewards) to buy an item the kids needed
  • Used all of my Rite Aid rewards (I let them expire last year due to forgetting & travel schedule in December). Purchased a couple of face items for the kids (we're in the hormone phase!) + a travel face lotion for myself. I used the last of mine on my trip to London, so want to restock while it's top of mind.
  • Used grocery store rewards to buy an item Nick needed for a baking project. I'm encouraging his love of baking, but he does sometimes need random ingredients. I try to use the credits, so it doesn't actually hit our grocery budget, but keeps him going.

Earning money:

  • I made a few dollars selling clothes on ThredUp. Barely anything, but junk out of the house & money in. 

Avoiding spending:

  • Used part of the gift card Nick won in a soccer raffle to buy: futsal cleats (his old ones are too small), goalie gloves (same as the cleats) & a new soccer ball. He is thrilled, as I'd told him he needed to wear sneakers to futsal. It's allowed, but the cleats have slightly better grip. Given the gift card, it all worked out well. The store was also having a 20% off the entire inventory sale, which meant we bought all three for about half of the value of the gift card. 
  • The kids wanted hummus to go with some naan dippers I had in the freezer. I'm all about cleaning out the freezer these days, so I whipped up some hummus & they are enjoying the snack between soccer games. I just need to remember to use it all up before we leave for the coast. 
  • Used four free meal passes for a local restaurant. We earned these when stocking up on gift cards. So, about $35 or so for dinner, free. 
  • Eating up lots of leftovers & food in the fridge/freezer to avoid waste, before we take off for vacation.
In non-frugal news, we paid our nanny 4.5 hours of time to watch the kids while we were both at holiday dinners. It was a lot, but we know we made the right tradeoff for work, and my younger son doesn't love being home alone at night yet. We also haven't been needing our nanny for standard weekly stuff, so we took the opportunity to pay her (one night was a typical week's worth of spending) & added a bonus for the holidays. It was a good choice, but pricey.

What about you? Any frugal wins to report?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Menu planning, bonus, raise & other financial stuff.

It's that time of the year when I get my annual raise, bonus & stock awards. For this year, I received a raise earlier, due to my promotion, so this cycle was just about bonus & stock.

I feel very lucky, as my leadership team values my work, & has the flexibility to demonstrate that. This year I'll be receiving a 42% bonus, which is the highest percentage I've received to date. That said, the dollar value will be lower this year, as I took unpaid time off, which reduces the amount of bonus eligible days I have through the year. I also received a sizable stock award - I'm now about $5k short of having my stock match my salary, which is really crazy. As you get more senior in the company I work for, the salaries don't rise by much, but the stock grows as a bigger component of our overall pay.

What does all of this mean? First, I'll just say how much I appreciate the company & my managers. I know I work hard, but I also feel really blessed to work somewhere that rewards that effort.

My plans for the bonus & equity include the following:

  • Max out my 401k in January, when my bonus is paid out. My company allows us to forward load the 401k, through our bonuses, which is a great option.
  • All of the rest of the money from my bonus, & all of my monthly stock will go into our mortgage. As mentioned, one of our big goals for 2020 is to get our mortgage down to half of the amount we initially borrowed in 2017. Both of these components will help us get there.

While these are not sexy ways to use either the bonus or the stock, it will get us to our financial goals sooner, which is ALWAYS sexy. :-) As for the raise (6.3%), we opted to cover the cost of the gym we joined, and increase our tax withholdings. I know, again, such exciting options! :-) 

And, for the really exciting stuff, on to the menu plan for the week. I'm going to be honest & describe this as a "minimal effort" dinner plan week. Why? I'm jet lagged, tired, the kids have soccer all weekend, & M is out of town. As you might remember, I typically meal prep on Friday, Saturday & Sunday, & we eat leftovers for the rest of the week. Friday was totally out of the question, we went to In & Out after soccer last night, & that just leaves tonight. I'm flipping my perspective to consider this a "eat things out of the freezer" week. Win!

  • Saturday - In & Out (blush)
  • Sunday - chicken sausages (freezer) & ravioli
  • Monday - broccoli cheddar soup & chicken sausage
  • Tuesday - M & I have work dinners, so the kids will have burgers with the sitter
  • Wednesday - leftover soup & sausage
  • Thursday - eat any remaining leftovers. If none remaining, tacos.
  • Friday - pizza (freezer) or leftovers
  • Saturday - head to the beach, so I need to make a separate menu plan for the rest of December, as we will be traveling, skiing, etc. 
Now it's time to move on to all of my many chores for the day, plus multiple soccer games. Last tournament of the year! Hurrah! What is on your menu plan this week? Are you in a scramble mode like me, or a bit more organized?

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Frugal Saturday

I was traveling all week, and got home yesterday afternoon. I'm still pretty jet lagged, but now M is out of town, and the kids have a soccer tournament. Here's what we've been up to lately:

Saving on things we buy:

  • I was able to buy two new pair of high quality ski socks for $14, which is about 1/2 what we would normally pay. I combined sales with a lingering gift card. And, remembered to go through Rakuten & add my rewards account. I earned another $5 gift card for the purchase.
  • I finally received a full reimbursement for Sam's bike that was damaged in the accident. I'm very happy to be able to put that money back in savings, as we had covered the full cost on our own. 
  • I was able to buy the kids the ski base layers they need for $6.99 (both top & bottom), which is a good deal.

Earning money:

  • I donated $20 for the boys soccer club scholarships, and won a $250 gift card to a local soccer shop. Nick needs new futsal cleats, and we'll use the rest to offset the cost of a new uniform, when the time comes. Winner, winner

Avoiding spending:

  • Knowing the boys would be getting home late from a game on Saturday, I prepped their dinners before I left for the airport. They were tempted to stop on the way home to pick up food, but that temptation was avoided by already prepped dinner. 
That was it from our side. What about you? Any frugal wins to report? 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Financial priorities for 2020 & beyond

Each year we spend quite a bit of time thinking about our financial priorities, and ensuring our budget & yearly/monthly goals line up with those priorities. It's easier in some years than others, that's for sure!

Here's where we've landed with our financial priorities for 2020.

  • Pay off half of our mortgage. This will be a big stretch, as we've only been in the house since February of 2017. And, we're in the Bay Area, so real estate is. . . $$$$$$$$$$$$
  • Continue to max tax advantaged accounts. This includes our HSAs, as well as our 401Ks. We have also started doing a back door Roth, and will likely continue in 2020.
  • Set aside money for a few home projects. While our house is in need of a substantial remodel, we prefer to have half of the mortgage paid off first, and then save cash for house upgrades. We do still want to make progress in 2020 on the houses (primary residence & vacation home). Here are the current projects we've greenlit for getting bids & timing:
    •  Add trim to our house. This has been missing since we moved in, as we were waiting for new doors. Which, the doors were a giant saga of their own, so time to get the trim done.
    • Update our yard to make it easier to maintain & drought resistant. Our yard is an eye sore, and no amount of our time & effort will help. The previous owners paid an exorbitant fee to a yard service, and had a huge water bill. We're not interested in either, so would rather make an upfront investment to make the house easier to maintain. We would also like to turn our covered front area into a small patio/outdoor living space.
    • Paint our vacation house. The house is near the ocean, so a certain level of maintenance is required to keep things from rotting.
  • Buy a new (to us) electric car, when our lease expires. We've loved having an electric car, and have had no issues with maintenance. The range on our current car is ~300 miles on a full charge, and we can charge for free at work. We can also use the carpool lane, which is quite an advantage, given the traffic. 
  • Save for the kids college. We've been on the fence for a while about how much money we want to devote to the kids college accounts. We want to be somewhere between motivating for the kids to work hard & get good grades, while starting them off on the best financial foot. A few things have happened recently that increased our desire to save more in this area. Sam's recent diagnosis made it clear that grades will be a struggle, even with a significant amount of effort. There has also been a rise in teen pressure & suicide in our area, as it relates to grades, scholarships & parental expectations. We want our kids to be the absolute best they can be, but we also want them to know we will help support them with college. We will encourage them to shop around, choose the school that best fits their learning style, and California offers a variety of reasonably priced options that we will encourage them to pursue. This isn't a carte blanche offer for them to have four years of an Ivy paid on our dime. In all things with parenting, balance and reason. :-) 
  • Save for future financial flexibility. This is last on the list intentionally this year. In previous years, I was working hard to save for my glorious sabbatical, and for the flexibility to quit my job, should I decide I want to upon my return. The sabbatical really did help me reset my own stress levels, and find more balance. It's not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But, things are better. Way better. And, I've been promoted, so I'm also being paid more than before. What does this mean? I'm feeling a bit better about my current situation and the tradeoffs of working in order to achieve some of the above goals. Working a few extra years in a very lucrative job gives us a lot of flexibility in the future. I'm at my peak earning years right now. While I haven't given myself a definitive timeline on next steps, I'm hoping to have the financial flexibility to cover all of our expenses without my salary in a couple of years or so. It seems realistic, and reasonable from a work life balance perspective. Anything can change, of course. That's just where my head is at right now. 
What about you? I'd love to hear how you plan for the future (financially or otherwise) & how you update your priorities as things change in your life. 

Saturday, December 7, 2019

2020 Budget Changes

It's that time of year when we review how things went with our budget, and plan ahead for the upcoming year. As usual, there are changes afoot!

Here are the changes we're making in 2020:

  • Childcare. The cost of childcare will be dropping pretty dramatically. Our nanny has accepted another job starting in January, as our schedule was too erratic & unpredictable. The kids no longer need a nanny, just someone to help them get to & from activities. Moving forward, both kids will have soccer practice at a later time slot, so we should be able to drive with carpools. Their school sports still often have early games, so we'll need to plan for that. I can typically work this out with my schedule, so that just leaves weeks when I'm traveling. Net/net, we're expecting our monthly childcare to drop by $340/month. We did leave a small cushion in for times when we need help & can find an ad hoc person to help out. Savings for the year = $4080
  • Gym. We haven't belonged to a gym since we moved from Seattle. I do have access to a gym at work, but it's not convenient on weekends, holidays & the class schedule is incredibly limited. The kids would also like to have access to a gym, so we found a good deal at the local YMCA. We actually will save the cost of two months of membership, given the YMCA operates one of the summer camps the boys attend. Increase for the year = $1260
  • Auto. Our electric car lease will end in October. We ended up with a lease because we weren't sure if there would be major strides in the battery life technology, and how we would enjoy driving an electric car. We love the electric car, and plan to buy a used one when our lease expires. Increase for the year = $30,000 - an estimate for now. 
For the most part, the remaining budget categories all remain similar. We are doing our best to hold to our current grocery budget, but there are weeks when feeding two teenage boys gets very expensive! :-) We switched to a Costco rewards visa, and will be getting a sizable reward at the end of the year. We will funnel that money back into the grocery budget, in order to help stretch things further. 

What didn't work this year, financially? Well, I pre-bought discounted gift cards, which worked really well for the most part - when I was about to make a purchase. For example, right before we bought a piece of furniture, or a flight, or embarked on a large house projects. We were able to shave between 2-6% off of the purchase in almost real time. What is harder is pre-buying gift cards for some future state of savings. I am finding them too difficult to track, and the money could be put to better uses if we don't need the gift card in the immediate term. Moving forward, I'll be pulling back on this spending, because I want to ensure we're getting the max value out of any expense we're pre paying. 

What about you? Any budget changes? Anything that's working particularly well (or, not) for you? Have you decided on changes for 2020?

Friday, December 6, 2019

Frugal Friday

It's been a crazy week as I try to wrap up as much work as possible, and get ready for next week's trip to London. Here are a few frugal wins:

Saving on things we buy

  • Used flight credit for a trip to the beach I'm taking in April. My sister & BFF & I are going to run a half marathon. The flight credit covered the full cost, so no out of pocket spending for the flight. 
  • Figured out how to avoid a shipping charge for a gift that didn't meet the spend minimum, saving me from having to mail it myself. 

Earning money

  • Earned enough to cash out a $10 Amazon reward on Bing
  • Sold a jacket on eBay. I'd bought it for Sam this summer for an event, and by the time we noticed it was huge on him, it was out of the return window. I sold it for more than I paid for it, which means I've covered the eBay fees, and pretty much break even. Hurrah!
  • I also added a few other things to eBay. Fingers crossed.

Avoiding spending

  • We have been eating A TON of leftovers. Primarily because we had so many, but also to avoid food waste & the cost of eating out. Double win!
  • Returned a bunch of things I'd ordered, but didn't need. Going through the effort of returning was a good reminder to not frivolously buy for wants vs needs.

And, in Frugal Fails, we didn't get our DMV renewal notice until well after the deadline. I don't know if it was delivered to a neighbor, & they eventually dropped it off at our house, or something else. Nonetheless, we had to pay a $70 penalty for being late, and no amount of explaining helped the situation.

What about you? Any frugal wins to report?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Thinking ahead to 2020 goals

For as long as I've been blogging, I start thinking about my goals for the year ahead in December, & often earlier. I like having plenty of time to consider what I'd like to accomplish, what worked well in previous years, the big areas I need to stretch or grow in, etc.

For a fun spin through years past, here are all of the yearly goal posts:

And with that, on to 2020 goals! My macro goals remain largely the same. I want to make progress on our financial goals, lose weight & stay healthy, spend quality time as a family, & improve myself. It's good to see I'm consistent year over year. :-)

Here are the goals I'm thinking about for 2020:

1) Financial

  • Stick to our budget (more details in upcoming posts about budget changes we've made for 2020)
  • Pay off 1/2 of our mortgage. We bought in February of 2017. Our goal is to hit the half way point by June, 2020.
  • Spend $500 or less on clothing for myself
2) Family

  • One fun activity/month with the kids
  • Off the computer by 7:30 each evening
  • Two dates with M per month.
3) Fitness/health

  • Lose 15 lbs. Stop gaining & regaining. Slow & steady is fine, but keep it consistent.
  • Run 100 times. Run a half marathon in under 2:25.
  • Track calories, average 1400 cals/day
  • Complete 12,000 minutes of cardio, 100 strength & 50 stretching workouts
  • Meditate 100 times
4) Personal/creative

  • Make time for my friends. Do something social at least once per month.
  • Volunteer a minimum of 1x/month
  • Write & journal regularly
  • Adapt a more positive mindset (judge less)
  • Listen more often (vs talking)
  • Stop/greatly reduce swearing (I don't swear ever in front of most people. I have a friend/colleague who is a terrible curser, and it's rubbed off of on me.)

What about you? Have you started thinking about your 2020 goals? 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Goals for December

And with that, the last month of the year is upon us! I can't believe it. Here goes for December goals:

1) Financial 

  • Stick to the budget
  • Make $150 in side hustle
  • Sell three items
  • Use 8 freezer items
  • Use 5 irregular pantry/fridge items
  • Finalize our 2020 budget

2) Family - spend more time together as a family

  • Do one fun activity with the kids
  • Off the computer by 7:45 each evening
  • Have two dates with M
  • Continue with Sam's plan
  • Deep clean the entire house
  • Finish door project, and budget/plan for trim
3) Fitness/health
  • Run 10 times
  • Track calories - 1400/day
  • Work out 30 times
  • Meditate 10 times

4) Personal/creative
  • Do two social things
  • Volunteer 1x
  • Journal 15 times
  • Read one non-fiction book
  • Set 2020 goals

What about you? What are you hoping to accomplish in December? Have you set goals for the month?

Monday, December 2, 2019

November Goal Recap

November whizzed by, and we had a pretty great month. M &I took a trip to Hawaii, and then we all enjoyed our time together over the boys school break. Here's how we did for the month.

1) Financial:

  • Stick to the budget. - Definitely not. We were way over on groceries, eating out & we pre-purchased gift cards for place we will use throughout the year. 
  • Finalize tax update - sent back to the IRS, received a confirmation that they have our response. We will now wait for them. 
  • Come up with a new way to reduce what we need/spend on an ongoing basis - can't think of anything special we did this month. 
  • Make $300 in side hustle. - Killed it, made $632
  • Sell five items - sold 6 items
  • Use up five freezer items - Yes! Used up pizza dough, 3 packages of ground beef, & the rest of a package of tortillas
  • Use up 5 irregular pantry/fridge items - can't think of anything specific
  • Revisit our 2020 budget - mostly there. 

2) Family - spend more time together as a family

  • Do one fun activity/month with the kids. - The boys & I have been going to the gym a lot together
  • Off the computer by 7:45 each evening - I need to get back to this
  • Have two dates with M - we had a fabulous vacation in Hawaii
  • Continue with Sam's plan - yes
  • Deep clean the entire house - it got a pretty thorough cleaning in late October, but on hold until the rest of the doors are installed
  • Finish door project & budget/plan for trim - doors are coming at the end of the month
  • Finalize February ski week plans - done
  • Get the boys passports - applications sent off
  • Get Sam's paperwork for school trip finished - done
  • Finish 1/2 of my Christmas shopping/planning - done
  • Figure out plan for boys for Thanksgiving break - done

3) Fitness/health
  • Run 8 times - I ran 2x. I had stitches in my leg from a minor procedure, which impacted my working out in November
  • Track calories (1400/day) - I was at 1640, and definitely feel sluggish post-holidays
  • Work out 30 times - managed 26
  • Meditate 10 times - I only managed 1x

4) Personal/creative
  • Do two social things - working out with friends & dinner out with my mom
  • Volunteer a minimum of 1x - nope, but we did select gifts off of the giving tree, and spent some time shopping for & putting that together. I also have been working a lot on a community project, so I'm counting this as a win
  • Jounral 15 times - 4/15
  • Read one non-fiction book - nope

All told, it was a great month for family stuff, but less of a good month with working out & the budget. On to December! How did you do with your November goals?