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September 24th, 2022 at 02:20 pm

Did you see that Frugalwoods moved up from a $10K vehicle to a ~$35K+ vehicle?  😱

I am sure they could easily afford it, and didn't have much choice.  But I just couldn't even imagine wrapping my brain around that.  Yikes!

I am starting to feel like a genius for pulling the EV car trigger.  If it allows us to wait out this used car insanity.  We were so spoiled by the decades that most people turned up their nose at the idea of buying used. 

Oh yeah, so I looked it up out of curiosity a couple of weekends ago.  Our car (that we paid $17K for) is now going for $30K.  With the +20K miles we've added to it since we bought it.  That's crazy!  I probably had looked that up a few days before Frugalwoods posted about their new car purchase.

I am not sure what MM(19) will do.  Maybe both kids.  But the car they have has many years left in it.  & I am not as concerned about DL(17), who has a car that he can probably drive through college years.  

We actually had a discussion about it a few weeks ago because MM started expressing more interest in getting a car his last two years of college.  But he later clarified he was just thinking ahead to next summer and knows he won't just have a car to take to work, if DL(17) is using their shared car.  I had told him that honestly MIL would probably just let him borrow her car for the summer (if she doesn't just give it to him).  & then he said something like, "Why do they need two cars anyway?"  Good point.  & FIL might not be driving much longer anyway.

MIL had already voiced wanting to give her car to MM(19).  It's just when she said that before, it was completely ridiculous.  The car is now a few years older (I have no idea how old, I don't remember at all, but it's just a little less ridiculous at this point).  They came into some money last year and are thinking about going electric.  

If he needs/wants a car at college, just depends where he ends up living. **

I should probably get quotes for full coverage on the gas car and run through the math.  The whole point of the old beater is not having to get full coverage on a new driver ($$$$$).  But...  With this absurd used car market.  It might be extra peace of mind for the first 6-12 months that DL(17) is driving on his own.   I will ask for quotes when we get him coverage.  & I'll have to look up what that car is going for these days, to help guage if the extra insurance would be worth it.   Will see.  I'd still have DL(17) pay for the basic insurance, but we'd pay for the extra coverage if it made any financial sense.  Note:  The car was worth ~$4,000 pre-pandemic; we've put very little miles on the car.  $5K was always our cutoff for full coverage.  It's probably pretty borderline at this point. 

**Reminds me:  MM(19) has a lead on dirt cheap housing.  1/3 of what we are paying now.  !!  His girlfriend has some job on campus that comes with housing deal.  I told him to let her be the guniea pig this year, but I was intrigued.  So far...  I don't know.  I guess there's been a lot of problems but some of that is one person didn't work out and they have an opening.  I think this year is set and fine and paid for already.  But just thinking to future years.  I am intrugued but this is a situation where there are obviously trade offs.  It's not like my housing hack in college where I paid about as much for a *better* living situation.  She's putting up with a lot for the cheap housing.  We may be able to figure that out too (pay less for better housing options), but it's just harder being 300 miles away.  Unless he's just able to figure it out on his own.  Which is what I did. I am sure he can figure it out but he also doesn't have the financial motivation.  If his parents weren't paying, he'd already have the job with the cheap rent.   I am mostly intrigued because he will be stuck with off campus housing in the future and it sounds like a nightmare to figure out.  So if he can lock in some alternative/cheap housing, sounds good to me.

DL(17) College Plans

August 6th, 2022 at 04:20 pm

I was just putting this at the end of another post but it was getting too long and I figured I'd break out into the college category. 

Just noting where we are at with things as DL starts his senior year of high school.  Wouldn't be surprised if this is where we land, but expect minds to change over the next year...

DL(17) is starting to get all that 'senior year college apps' pressure and is starting to ask more questions.  I told him not to worry about it, since he doesn't have to deal with all the red tape and timelines (for community college).  But as he was asking questions, I recommended doing some homework re: colleges that are more in-person (his preference), looking up colleges where he wants to live, etc.

I am sure he will change his mind 10 more times.  Which is fine.  He has the time to do so.  Before this week, he's just been thinking about if he wants to stay home his first year of college, or live with relatives in the Bay Area (and has gone back and forth in recent years).  He is finding that the colleges are more abundant and higher quality in the Bay Area.  Which is probably why we never presumed he'd live at home (re: community college).  I mean, this was 1000% re: engineer child.  He clearly would have gone to community college in the Bay Area, if he went the community college route. But DL(17) seems to be leaning the same way (Bay Area), as he evaluates options.

He does want to live with SIL, so I asked him what college was around there.  He found a college I don't remember at all.  It's in a bougie zip code and has a good business program.  I can see why he is drawn to it.

So I spent the week asking people if they knew anything about this college.  No one's heard of it, but I am just talking to local people at this point, and not getting anywhere. I talked to my Dad last night and he said, "Heck yeah, I know that college.  They have a GREAT music program!"  Seriously!?  It might be *the one*.  After a long summer of just throwing himself into his music, DL(17) seems a little more open to a music minor or at least taking some music classes.  & it would be a great way to meet like-minded people in a city where he doesn't know anyone (his age).  

Our "we like backup plans for our backup plans" personalities want DL(17) to apply for State.  The application is simple.  He doesn't seem interested right now, but a lot can change in a year.

It will be interesting to see what he comes up with re: college and career counseling at his school.  Is supposed to be very good, so might come up with new options.  Also, sometimes things sound better when it doesn't come from your parents. 

College costs, for point of reference:

Community College:  FREE

This is a newer (CA) thing that mostly no one has heard of.  I am looking up this specific college (it seems to depend on college) and they have free tuition/fees/books.  Catch is you have to be a local resident.  (& a full-time student, right out of high school).  I don't know how moving factors but it sounds pretty moot.  The $1,500 annual sticker price (tuition/fees/books) would be free regardless with college tax credits.  I can see the value for struggling families and people ineligible for the tax credit.  But I don't see that it makes any difference for us personally.  No matter how you slice it, community college should be free for DL(17).  (First $2K college costs are eligible for a Federal tax credit to offset).

The 'free community college deal' does cover more than just tuition/books.  It does have that going for it.  It's just not enough to lose any sleep over if they won't count him as a resident.  

State College: $3K

Sticker price is $8K per year.  Minus Federal tax credit and middle class (CA) grant, we are looking at net $3K per year. 

I really don't care if DL(17) goes to State or community college.  Both options are well within our means, and clearly very inexpensive.  So we will encourage him to consider both of these options.  

Bigger picture, it's probably more wise to just go to State.  Odds are he'd just stay at State, if he started there.  $12,000 for the 4-year degree.  I'd push more for State, if it was just about finances.  But I think community college might be a better fit for him.  

He's not going to consider anything "expensive" or where he'd have to dorm.  Makes it much simpler.  These are just his personal deal breakers, but he might share some of our genetics.  πŸ˜‰  

Feb '22 Savings

March 5th, 2022 at 05:36 pm

Received $25 bank interest for the month of February.


Snowflakes to Investments:

--Redeemed $37 credit card rewards (cash back) from our grocery card 

--Redeemed $85 cash back on Citi card

--Redeemed $6 on dining out card


Other Snowflakes to Investments:

+ $4 Savings from Target Red Card (grocery purchases)


TOTAL: $132 Snowflakes to Investments


401k Contributions/Match:



Snowball to Savings:

+$600 MH Income


Savings (from my paycheck):

+$850 to cash (mid-term savings)


Pulled from mid-term savings:

-$5,719 College Expenses

- $500 More College Expenses

- $600 Mattress  (used MH's income towards a new mattress)


Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):

+$1,500 to cash

+$  175 Insurance Rebate**

-$1,380 Various Insurance

-$  260 Dentist

-$  266 Annual DMV Registration (Hybrid)

-$   80 Miscellaneous


TOTAL: -$4,723 Net Withdrawn from Cash and Investments


Hybrid Miles Driven February:  704

Fuel Costs: $20 Electricity 

Note:  I'd estimate my commute at 800 miles per month.  Short month and a couple of days off.

Electric (EV) Miles Driven February: 486

Fuel Costs: $14

Note:  I don't recall any free charging this month. 

We also didn't have an opportunity yet to test out the bigger battery on a longer drive.

All charging (both cars) was done at home or at free chargers.  

Note:  I haven't noticed any gas price changes in months.  Whenever it comes up online, I look at Gas Buddy.  I think as with many things, prices are already high here and so are slow to change.  I share because in the last day our gas prices went up 50-cents per gallon!  At the super cheapie gas stations we frequent(ed).  Last night I thought it was a typo or maybe premium gas, but the other gas station shot up 40-cents today.  So it's official, our gas prices are getting crazy now. 

Of course, I don't want to pay even $4/gallon (much less $5/gallon) for my commute, which is why we bought the hybrid in the first place.  


**Insurance rebate was for disability & life insurance through professional association.  The annual rebate was much lower than usual.  I presumed that is due to the pandemic.  I later got an email confirming this.  More life insurance claims last year.

Note:  I am always lagging a month behind because any bills charged in January will be paid off February 1 and reflected in my February numbers.  I charge in one month and the next month I figure out how to pay for everything (if I need to pull anything from savings). So this update reflects January spending & February savings. 

This is mostly how it goes but I have two exceptions for this month:

1 - DMV.  Ugh!  After many many years of accepting credit card payments with no charge, they switched to charging a fee for payments.  This was before the pandemic?  Keep hoping they switch back and surprised they have not yet.  This bill is not due for a couple of months but I don't want to keep track of it, I just want to get it paid.  So I had to move money for this cash expense.  Paid in February.  Couldn't just charge it and pay it off next month.

2 - College Expenses.  Have to pay cash.  Again, could have paid later but I prefer to pay a couple of weeks early and to just pay the quarter in full (versus dealing with more frequent payments).

College Expenses: Paid for final quarter of freshman year.  This is roughly $730 tuition (will be completely offset by college tax credit) + $3K rent + $2K food. 

After that was done, MM(18) pinned me down to pay a $500 deposit for housing sophomore year.  I knew that was due soon, but thought I might have a couple of weeks of breather.  This is the only deposit I have to pay for next year?  Nothing else should be due until September. 

College Big Picture: 

A - I have money set aside to cover rent next year. 

B - Gifted funds are set aside for tuition, if needed.  Worst case sticker price is $20K for remainder of 4-year degree (tuition/fees).  MM(18) has $27K gifted funds.

C - We do also have $20K set aside to cover rent for last two years.  & we are still working towards saving college money for the next 16 months (basically spending sophomore year saving up for MM's junior year).   This is just in a "prepare for the worst" vein and our final contribution before we shift focus to DL(16)'s college expenses.

D - Waiting for scholarships & MM's summer job to sort out for more financial clarity.   

Another Note:  MH had a lot of time off work this month (just slow at work, plus some seasonal time off).    

I did throw MH's one paycheck towards the mattress; his March paychecks will pay for (most of) the rest of the mattress.  That and my raise should do it.  (I've already paid off the credit card, so technically just paying ourselves back in March).

February ended up being a really good month and will be reflected by mega savings numbers in March.  Even with the purchase of a new mattress, March should go way the other way with more savings than spending.  It was nice to enjoy some rare breathing room we put in our budget this year, so it felt a little splurge-y while also being able to keep aggressive savings goals.  I am sure the short month helped, and also just nothing really came up (by some miracle!?).  


MM(18) Money Update

February 13th, 2022 at 03:42 pm

Getting through "started but not published" posts.  This is the last one.  I did a DL(16) money update about a month ago, but here is the MM(18) update.

MM(18) had a one-month job lined up that would net about $3,500.  This was last August.  It fell through but was probably for the best.  He likely would have quit with the fires and terrible outside working conditions.  He was able to make $1,500 doing temp work in my office.  An employee went on a long international vacation and he had been helping us out the prior two years.  He was the obvious go-to for a summer temp.

No one in our families had "gone away" to college, particularly for freshman year.  So we agreed that MM(18) should not work while he gets his bearings.  It was just a lot, even if he is very adaptable and I am sure he probably would have been fine. 

In the end, we have decided that working is penny wise and pound foolish.  Probably not in the ways that would be presumed.  MM(18) would have no problem working and getting all As.  But I heard it was feasible for freshman to get very high paying summer internships.  I wasn't going to hold my breath on that one.  But it's quickly becoming obvious this is true and the *why* of this is true.  MM(18) is spending his ample free time joining clubs.  He is building an electric car from scratch and also working on the engineering side of an art installation.  Those are his two major projects.   Not only is he getting very practical experience, but he's networking.  The first few weeks of college he had already met several juniors/seniors who are moving on from their internships, and attended networking events with big name companies.  So it seems pretty pointless to work during the school year for very few dollars, when he can make $15,000 over the summer (without balancing work/school).  

Current Job Situation:  ??????  Weird re: Pandemic

I copy and pasted what I wrote about DL(16).  Just because he *can* get an internship this summer, doesn't mean much.  MM(18) told us a while ago that he didn't expect he would want to get an internship this summer.  & I mean, he was presuming they would mostly be in LA or SF.  In addition to being more difficult to get as a freshman.  We are fine with that.  I honestly don't think he will ever move home again, and so it will be nice to have him home this last summer.  

This is just a completely random/new development, but MM got a lead on an internship here and has a job interview during spring break.  It's extra random because this company is right next door to mine (shares the same parking lot).  Talk about a small world. 

Anyway, with the job falling through last summer and the pandemic and everything, I expected things to be pretty tight for MM(18).  It's been made extra complicated because he's aged out of his 7%-interest account.  That was another $500 I thought he'd have access to this school year.  But though he's clearly aged out (it says so on his statements, that the interest rate is only something like 0.02%) they are still giving him 7%!  So of course he doesn't want to touch that $500 as long as he is getting mega interest.

In the end he only spent $200 his first school quarter, and the vast majority of that was finals week when he finished like on Monday and waited all week for a ride.  He gained a girlfriend and she had her car.  So they went out shopping and went out on a date (he paid for an expensive meal).  If not for that, he probably would have spent a whole whopping $100 for the quarter.

He is enjoying the all-inclusive lifestyle (and lives in paradise).  There is no lack of things to do.  He's been back for 6 weeks and the only thing he bought was books for the second quarter.  I am just checking his bank balances.  He has about $800 left.  So he roughly started the school year with $1,000 and is left with $800 to get through the next 4 months.  I think he will survive.  During school, he's just too busy to spend money.  & I am glad he splurged and enjoyed a bit when he did have some down time.  During winter break he was recovering from wisdom tooth surgery, and his high school friends seemed mostly interested in hanging at each other's houses (I expect due to several reasons.  If nothing else, never got in any habit of "going out" during the pandemic, in addition to maybe being enticed by parents who wanted more time with their kids.  MM was offered a lot of free meals).  Whatever the reasons, he didn't spend any money when he was home.  

MM(18) also has $5,500 in super high yield savings accounts.  I just know he doesn't want to touch any of that if he doesn't have to.

So the summer job thing is a big question mark at this point but he has some possibilities.

MIL usually gives the kids $1,000 per year for their college savings.  Because we are paying for tuition/room/board, I think I am probably going to give MM(18) this $1,000 to cover spending money his sophomore year.  Just some, "if you don't get a job this summer" insurance.  It seems the best use of this money at this point.   We already have funds set aside to cover his last 3 years of college (presuming worst case of no scholarships).  I'd rather utilize this $1K as "not having to work" money. 

2021 Goals Met

January 17th, 2022 at 03:49 am

I am memorializing goals in my sidebar.  Unfortunately, this site is not allowing me to just cut and paste my sidebar goals.  So whatever, will just put some in another format and type it out.  

Pay cash for college βœ”

In the end, MM(18) followed in his parents' footsteps and chose a public college that is impossible to beat from a cost/benefit standpoint.  I always say that about my alma mater but MM(18) has chosen a similar degree/route (at a different CA State college).

I suppose we didn't have any idea where he would end up last January, but we never considered any colleges that we'd have to go into debt over.  

$12K to Savings βœ”

Final tally was $16,000.  The plan was to use this money to pay cash for college.  At the end of 2021 we had -$0- cash plus emergency funds.  So that's about how it sorted out.  That we had just enough to cash flow college (without tapping any prior years' savings/investments). 

We probably would have fared better on this goal (with unexpected unemployment funds and stimulus, etc.) but it was a really expensive medical year.  We basically saved $25,000 but spent $9,000 on medical, which nets out to $16K saved.

I hope this makes this our worst college year.  For future years we have all of MM(18)'s college costs saved (already) and this was a really one-off medical year.  

$2K to Investments βœ”

Funded with snowflakes.

I had been feeling very "meh" about this goal.  Probably stopped throwing our snowflakes into investments once college started.  But I do count dividends and it was a really big dividend year.  That was enough to encourage me and I threw something like $250 of our windfall to top off this goal.

$1,200 to Mortgage βœ”

I hit this goal with a lump sum at the beginning of the year.  

We then threw an extra $12,615 with the cash gift we received end of December.  

Why $12,615?  It was an even $20K mortgage paydown for the year and left just enough windfall to cover college expenses for the next 18 months.  

The $12,615 extra payment shaved off 2 years of payments and $9,500 interest.

9% Income to Work Retirement Plans βœ”

MH and I both contribute the minimum for 401k match.  The 9% includes employer contributions.

$12,000 to IRAs 2021 βŒβ“

Not sure on this one.  We sent $12K to mortgage instead.

I was very happy to get a redo.  We ended up doing 33% of my income to retirement in 2020 due to a nasty tax cliff.  Then unemployment was made tax-free retroactively and we didn't need this tax break at all.  No way I ever would have tied up so much money in 401K if I had known!  So I appreciate the redo.  Will average 21% to retirement both years, which is what is important.  Anything more than that...  Meh.  We are way too retirement heavy.

We also don't need the tax break for 2021.  Taxes ended up going way the other way in 2021.

To be re-evaluated in April.  I left it as a question mark because I just don't know.  Will see how things shake out the next 3 months.  We have until April 15th to lock in this decision.   (We are saving a lot, but MH's job is also very iffy re: pandemic surge).

Edited to add:

Also hit two longer term goals this year.  What a year!

**$500K+ in retirement funds (by age 45) βœ”

**$1 Mil+ Net Worth βœ”

Note:  I didn't have a timeline for the net worth goal, it's just a nice milestone.  Retirement goal was extremely aggressive when made.  I swear that "thinking it" is 99% of the battle when it comes to goals.  Not to underscore the planning and hard work, but the aggressive goals seem to work in the subconscious background and find a way to work.

Oct 7

October 12th, 2021 at 03:58 am

October 7

$247 Hotel

$43 Lunch & Gelato

$11 Gas

$10 Electricity (Fuel)

Dinner:  Out


This is all vacation spending.  I am coming up with a grand total of about $450.  We had $9 left in our vacation budget for this year.  I was planning originally to just take DL(16) on this trip and to use MH's income to cover this.  It sounds like it will probably work out.  MH should be working next week.  (We have more than ample savings if MH's job falls through again).

We've stayed at this hotel a bajillion times over the years and have never had any problems.  But in this case, they didn't have our ocean view room.  They initially told us they downgraded us to a regular room and we were mostly *shrugs* about that.  Given the increased spending with bringing a third person on the trip.  But we stood around waiting for a long time, and they found us an ocean view after all.  Of course, this all seemed to come down to "lack of staff/new employee" issues, as with everything these days.  MH got the impression they were giving us a bigger discount but as far as I can tell they just dropped $10-$20 for the trouble.  But there were a few charges/credits on the credit card so I can see maybe we didn't receive the discount they were attempting to give us.  It's been a few days and it looks like $247 is what came through.  In addition, they gave us $50-off our next visit.  Which is really more than necessary for a little bit of standing around.

Of course, we had just had this whole talk on our beach walk in the morning.  It was never my intention to go back to this hotel after move-in.  It's just that DL(16) specifically wanted to stay here and it was going to a mom/son trip.  As we walked on the beach that morning MH said we should really just stay in Solvang the next time.  I told him, "Or the hotel right by the college."  Both of which would cost about half as much.  This beachfront hotel has free public parking and a lot of surfers park here.  I was telling MH, "We could always come over here for a beach walk, charge up the car, eat at our favorite resaturant."  Saves $100 for much of the same experience.  So of course, now we are tempted by that free $50.  We *may* use it during Thanksgiving break.  We've stayed there a couple of times after Thanksgiving because it was such a good deal.  & now we have the double reason of dropping MM(18) back off at school.  We don't have any firm plans on that though.  He has so many friends he can catch a ride from and the grandparents seem really keen on picking him up and doing most of the driving.  (They also want to keep him all week but clearly that is ridiculous.)  

We were able to charge our car overnight at the hotel.  Most these electricity providers just charge $10 at a time and then refill when you use your $10.  I just see a $10 charge.  I am looking it up and we spent $12 on electric charge ($6 x 2).  That was for 100 miles of range; 50 miles in Solvang and another 50 miles at the hotel. 

{We drove 800 miles total on this trip, about 150 miles on electric and 550 miles gas}.  

We did eat lunch and dessert at our favorite Pismo Beach place.  MM(18) was too busy with classes, so we didn't see him again or have to feed him.

We drove for 3 hours towards home and then took a break for MH's movie.  DL(16) and I spent some time with GMIL and then my parents.  We ate a late dinner with the in-laws and then got home around 10pm.  This became a more rushed trip when MH joined us.  I wasn't going to board my cat for this trip and we really needed to get home to take care of the cat.  Our original plan was to keep it looser and maybe stay another night.

We did stop for gas where we always used to stop, about half way home from the Bay Area.  We stopped to fill up at a 7-11.  We maybe haven't been there for a year?  I noticed some "7-Eleven" electric chargers.  They were comparable to gas prices, but I just thought that was incredibly smart.  I would 100% just stop and charge there.   

We were just cutting it close on gas (and had used up the electricity) so I asked MH to just put in two gallons.  Is what I like to keep in the car.  Electric vehicle recall aside, I never use gas any more.  2 gallons seems to be a sweet spot where I'd otherwise just get gas once per year.  (It will burn off a little gas in more extreme weather or during maintenance mode).  To explain why we only spent $11 on gas. 

This trip ended up being interesting in that I was feeling bad I just had no mental energy whatsoever to take DL(16) on any college tours.  Probably should have because it's his fall break this week.  But. So. Exhausted. with everything college.  Anyway, it worked out pretty well.  DL(16) viscerally hated absolutely everything about MM's college and dorm.  After about 5 minutes he just wanted to leave.  MH tells me this at some point.  MH and I never did the dorm thing, we somewhat understand.  We just aren't as moody and dramatic as DL(16) is. By itself, was probably a good experience to get him thinking more realistically about college.  He wants to go away (somewhere less urban and more rainy).  I highly doubt he will be up to that at 18, but also figure it's a bridge to cross in another couple of years.  A lot will change in 2 more years.

Anyway, MH's aunt was with GMIL (when we visited) and she used to work at a community college.  She goes on some community college spiel and DL(16) is intrigued.  She's also excited about the possibility of community college becoming free.  I guess that's being discussed politically.  I am just, "Um, it's already free."  Has been free in our state for a couple of years, and before that it cost pennies.  We have always been very pro community college but I can tell from this conversation that no one has ever really explained community college to DL.  He's kind of just, "I didn't know that, I didn't know that's how it worked."  Which I guess is where we failed, as clearly no other adult (in his life) is particularly pro community college.  Anyway, while MIL is like readying his room for him (he can live with her while he goes to college!) - she's a *lot* - I expect he may change his mind a few times during these next couple of years.  But I think it was a really fruitful trip in that I think he's getting more realistic about college options (re: what will actually work for him).  & he is intrigued by the middle ground of maybe going away to college in more of a "baby step" kind of way.  Up until this point, he's only been talking about going to college out-of-state. 

So I guess we got some serendipitous college exploration out of this trip.  

An Emptier Nest

September 26th, 2021 at 08:37 pm

We've got MM(18) all moved in at his college.  Phew!  The first week was pretty much a vacation for him.  Orientation week, with some practical orientation stuff but also a bajillion activities.  Some highlights were crawdad fishing and beach bonfires.  Classes started last week.  All my fingers and toes are crossed that the kids can stay on campus this year.  

MM(18) had never gone back to school after the pandemic started, so I can't even imagine the stimulation overload he is experiencing. 

I am personally very zen about the emptier nest.  Probably for many reasons.  MM(18) is very independent and will be just fine.  My bff attended this college and I spent many a weekend there during my college years.  So it helps that it's very familiar to me.  Also, my parents never really took us anywhere, *but* for this incredible deal of a beachfront hotel they found in the 1980s, that's about 10 minutes from this campus.  I think the whole thing would have been a lot harder if we didn't have such a familiar place to go to that first night.  We gave MM(18) about 24 hours to get settled, before we left.

I am planning a trip in a couple of weeks.  Ideally will be taking DL(16) with me.  He has never been to the college/town and would be good for him to see where his brother is living.  He asked to stay at the usual hotel and so I obliged.  But that necessitated a mid-week stay at $200+ per night versus a weekend stay at $400+ per night.  (Yeah, it's not the insane deal that it once was).  In the future we will be finding other places to stay.  In fact, MH wants to be cheap and not stay at a hotel at all (during move-in, when we visit, etc.)  I told him we were too old and well off to make that a day trip (10 hours round trip, just for the drive).  I said something like, "We aren't 18 any more."   πŸ˜‰  But we could probably stay with our parents for a night and make a day trip of it.  I basically set the college travel budget to -$0- once MM(18) accepted at this college.  The costs are very minimal (especially with the electric car) and can be absorbed in our regular vacation budget.  

I may be zen, but MH Is not zen at all.  He was the one home with kids, and both MM and MH have been home together mostly 24/7 the prior 18 months.  On top of that, MH just had a really rough week.  His coping clearly improved after a couple of days, even as things continued to go to heck.  *sigh*

Oh yeah, and MH was called back to work a couple of weeks ago but then that got postponed indefinitely.

I guess it's just a lot of limbo at this point.  Considering October a bit of a limbo month.  

One of the big things is figuring out the food situation in our household.  I would have guessed that MM(18) was about 50% of our household grocery spending.  I am not quite so sure now.  Besides DL(16) being picky and looking starved...  Any extra junky food I brought home has disappeared in a flash.  So I am thinking that DL(16) is just more of a stealthy eater.  Still, he is pickier with dinners.  We clearly no longer have to make dinner every night *and* double batch everything.  It's been more cooking every other night.  We are probably going to do some major revamping of our meals.  I mean if DL(16) seriously won't eat what we cook, then we will drastically change our cooking.  Feeding two middle aged people is entirely different from feeding "5,000 calories per day teenager athlete."  We don't need all the calories and so we just have a lot to figure out.  Maybe starting to mix in our future empty nest diet with "still have a very high calorie teenager" diet.  Alternating days. 

I am just waiting to see how October shakes out.  How MM's spending shakes out at college, how our grocery spending shakes out here.  If we notice any difference in our utilities, etc.  Once this starts to sort out then I can make sense of our budget going forward.

MM(18) is pretty much on his own, financially.  & I mean, we are covering tuition/room/board/medical.  I just mean anything above and beyond that.  But on the flip side, his job fell through last month and he ended the summer with about $3,000 less than we expected.  So that is why I am anxious to see how much spending he ends up doing and what he needs to cover.  Also, still trying to decide if we help him with groceries and stuff like that.  It just depends how much he is spending and how much we are saving.  If our grocery spending literally goes down by half, I could probably send him some grocery money.  It is our preference that he does not work this first quarter.  Something else to just re-evaluate mid-year.  

MM's first impressions are that he can remain uber frugal.  He's already told us he won't need a bike and that he doesn't see any reason to spend money.  It will be interesting if this still stands in another month or two.

MM has been okay with the food so far, but he also started up long distance running.  I honestly don't know if he will have enough food for that.  At home, he'd eat 5 large meals a day.  I guess that's the other thing we will have to figure out.  See if he has enough dining dollars (I already bought the biggest plan and am doubtful it will be enough).  There will be lots of tweaking everything "food" in the next few months.

& then of course, figuring out what the heck is going on with MH's job.  It is not surprising at all that is up in the air (with the pandemic) but the timing (and indecision of his employer) just sucked.  He was looking forward to going back to work and having the distraction.  

Will see how next week goes but if MH is still unemployed as of October 1, I guess we will also be going back to one-income mode.  & some of that might be shifting more financial responsibility to MM(18).  I don't know how it's all going to shake out. 

As always, the work situation is complicated.  I'd say that MH will be pretty picky until the pandemic eases and DL(16) gets his driver's license. The bottom of the barrel jobs are opening up yes, but then there's just more competition for better jobs.  His job is worth waiting out the month of October for.  If they are still delaying indefinitely or telling him nevermind, once October is ending, then it will be back to the drawing board.  Which may likely just be taking another year off.  I don't know.  I am probably more of the "screw this, just retire" mentality.  MH thinks the grass is greener and idealizes full-time work to help him deal with the emptier nest and the impending empty nest.  He is also extremely financially conservative and so wants to be working while we are paying for college.  Because of this I am sure my blog is confusing as we vacillate between these two extremes (retire or work full-time).  

College $$ Update

August 14th, 2021 at 02:35 pm

I finally got confirmation on the final piece of financial aid.  

I never expected any need-based financial aid whatsoever.  But our State has a middle class grant (if you attend a public college).  It just takes forever to process.  & the whole thing seemed very vague, but the dollar amount showed up in MM's 'financial aid' stuff this week.

This confirms free tuition for Year 1.  Woohoo!

I had actually just left it very "whatever" because I hadn't realized you had to pay tuition to get college tax credits.  So either he had free tuition or we had a college tax credit, it was going to all be the same in the end anyway.  I was guessing he'd get $2K-$4K for this State Grant. 

In the end it works out to: $6K scholarship + $2K Grant + $2K tax credit = Free Tuition Year 1.  

As to room/board...  The dining plan is a wash with what we already pay to feed that kid.  So I am not expecting to have any added expenses on this front.  

Dorms were a big question mark due to the pandemic.  They've gone back and forth if they will do full capacity and I didn't know where things landed.  Less roommates would equal more cost.  I personally would prefer less roommates and more cost.  (The dorms are far below market rent, and it's pennies more to get a solo room.  Not literally pennies, but when it comes to the market cost of housing it's just like nothing).  We were able to state that preference on the housing application.

The dorm ended up being much lower than I expected (probably went back to full capacity, after quoting us up front with 'half capacity' costs).  I had also completely forgotten about the deposit I paid with stimulus/unemployment money.  The total cost is $9,000.  He ended up with the cheapest option, and more roommates.   That does include utilities, laundry, everything.  For reference, is cheaper (substantially) than the rent I paid in San Francisco when I was 18. 

I decided to pay quarterly (this school is quarter system) because as much as I prefer to pre-pay things, there was no financial benefit to doing so.  Keeping track of a monthly bill would drive me crazy.  So quarterly will end up being the sweet spot.  First quarterly payments will be due September 1.

It works out to the following (after deposits already made):

Tuition $700 (will save this in taxes, but have to pay it up front)

Dorm $2750 

Dining $1050


Total $4,500 1st Quarter

So I will be draining $4,500 from the $12K I have set aside for College Year 1.  That looks more like $15,000 Total (for the year), but will be offsetting the $2K tuition with a tax credit.  & I expect to save $5K-ish in groceries over the next year.  So really I was estimating $12K for dorm when it only ended up being $8,500 (after funding deposit with other monies).  Which leaves a lot of cash to throw at food, if my grocery estimate is way off.  If we still have 'Year 1' money left over, that's a good start to 'Year 2'.  We will spend the next 12 months coming up with the money for Year 2. 

Our credit card bill is absurd, at $4,000 already for the month.  That's roughly $2K medical + $1,200 laptop + $500 auto insurance.  Plus regular spending.  I am going to pay off $4K-ish this week.  Was just waiting to nail down college costs before I start pulling money from savings (wanting to transfer just one lump sum).   I'd say on an average month we spend about $700 on this card.   So seeing that $4K balance like 5 days into the month...  I need to pay it down for my sanity. 

Edited to add:  Finally, I saw a tip where to figure out this CA financial aid stuff.  MM(18) had a login and so we just looked at it.  They are only rewarding him 3 years of the CA middle class grant, because he is starting technically as a sophmore.  (Which might be useful for other majors, but he can't apply any of his one bajillion credits to his engineering degree). I am writing this down here because I will never remember this.  Jotting it down for now, and will get more organized later.

MM Money Update

June 26th, 2021 at 03:26 pm

I will try to do a brief MM(17) money update.  I never got around to that.

MM(17) had about $30 left in his checking account.  I guess he estimated pretty darn well (he hasn't worked since last summer).  He also had a $200 IRS refund to deposit. 

{This does not account retirement & savings.  Probably $5K+ in his high yield savings accounts}.

In the end, we finally hired a more full-time admin assistant at my job, when MM(17) went back to school last fall.  MM had mostly been filling that role, during our busy summers.  But the admin assistant is a college student and ended up going out of the country for a few weeks.  So MM(17) has worked two weeks already and will fill in next week.  He will make about $1,500.  (He's working part-time hours, and we were also gone a few days on vacation).

The plan is otherwise for MM(17) to take the month of July off.  He has some college orientation stuff and is going to Florida with some of our family.  After that he will be 18 and we are desparate for construction site help, so he agreed to work full time on site during the month of August.  That still gives him 2 weeks (early September) to take off and prep for college.  Usually the kids start school early August, so he is really enjoying the long summer.  He will probably make $5,000, even with 6 weeks off.

The construction job will be terrible, but it will be an experience.  It sounds very likely he will have mega high paying internships in future summers (due to his college and degree choice).  

I joined a parent group for his college and is probably TMI at this point.  Information overload.  But some of the conversations have been really helpful.  The concensus seems to be that $200/month spending money is pretty average (mostly for food and transportation expense/uber).  MM(17) is far below average.  But I am fine with using the average as a starting point.  $200 x 9 months = $1,800 per year spending money.  I think he will end this summer with enough cash to cover all 4 years (and then some). 

MM(17) is a personality who likes work and independence, and can work with all A's.  That said, we all agreed he really needs to just take the first semester/year and get settled.  I wouldn't be surprised if he decides to get a job at some point, even if just a few hours per week.  But it also sounds like he is pretty well set up to not have to work at all during the school year.  

I did see that the summer job he had secured on his own last summer (that never came to be), that they had bumped their hourly rate and were offering free daily meals.  !!!  That's quite a benefit for a very hungry teenager, but I knew he wouldn't be too enthused by their junk food menu.  Anyway, I did bring it up but he told me he thought it was better to take the job with less exposure to mega amounts of people.  Fair enough. If he had chosen the other way, would have just told my boss, "Sorry, but they are feeding him every day!"  & my boss probably would have matched it anyway.  Given him an extra $30 per week or whatever.


College Set Up Funds

June 6th, 2021 at 03:48 pm

My last post was how I decided it was easier to utilize credit card rewards than scholarships (in particular, really ridiculous applications for small dollar amounts).

Then, the in-laws came up yesterday to celebrate MM's Graduation.  So I have some numbers in hand.  They had brought up cards/gifts from that side of the family.

MH's Family:  $670

(Mostly from Grandparents; some from Great-Grandparents and a Great-Aunt)

My Family: $0  

(I will be shocked if MM receives even $1 from my family.  I have by far the much bigger family, but they mostly don't seem to care that I exist.  My parents just are not cash gifters.).

Because of the state of my family, I really just didn't have any idea what to expect.  I thought MH's family was probably going to be generous, particularly his parents.  But...  I don't really have a frame of reference of what is "normal".

In fact, before this turn of events, I started to eyeball all my credit card rewards and thought I might just earmark them all (roughly another $2,000) for college expenses this year.  I don't expect to need all of it, but would raid what I need for college set up type expenses.

In the end, if I add the $300 Target gift cards I have and the $755 credit card reward that I just did (I should get that cash any day)...  

Grand Total:  $1,725

Most of that will go to a laptop, the rest to dorm expenditures.  I think this *should* cover everything.  Will see where we end up.  (Anything extra, we will let MM keep.  I suppose it's plausible that he will have more gifts than expenses). 

With the chip shortages and everything, we are leaning on MM(17) to pick out a laptop this weekend, so that it arrives in time for school.  I probably should also set a hard deadline to make dorm purchases this month.  It just keeps coming up over and over to plan ahead before popular items are sold out.  MH just happened to notice the long lag time in laptop delivery; he was pricing laptops last weekend.  I don't think we would have been this far ahead thinking about it except I was trying to decide if this credit card reward would cover a laptop purchase.  

This is just one more step in ensuring paying cash for college *and* not touching college funds.  At current, that is our goal for freshman year.  Future years, depends on grandparent gifts and MH's employment.  (100% will pay cash, no loans.  But not sure how realistic it is not to touch any college funds). We had decided to pull dorm costs from college funds, but then we had stimulus and unemployment monies to cover Freshman year, in addition to a free-tuition scholarship.  So we have gone back to Plan A, cash flowing everything.

College Updates

April 16th, 2021 at 02:58 am

It's still a coin flip between the two State colleges.  The schools themselves are pretty much the same in most ways (academics and job opportunities).  Both are impossible to beat from a cost/benefit standpoint. The decision at this point is purely how/where MM wants to live.  

MM told us he would decide this week.

He did get his last private school rejection last Wednesday.  (They pushed back decisions about 10 days due to huge increase in applications, so is why it's getting so late).  So yeah, the second he does decide, we need to scramble with housing applications and orientation signs ups (which opened up last week).

We dropped everything last Thursday and took him to tour both schools, to help his decision.  He toured both at some point but has been a while.  MM is so tactile, I knew it would be good for him to go see in person, as he makes his final decision.  It also gave us a chance to do our first longer trip in the electric car.  600 miles roundtrip.  Not the most practical with such a rushed trip.  But it looks like we can get away with paying -$0- for fuel if we can have more time on these trips.  (I will do another post later about the road trip/electric car). 

This is what I wrote in my first official college post in this blog (4 years ago):

Some of the ways that we expect to keep college costs down:

--Saving money ahead of time for college
--MH working more while kids are in college
--Possibly finding an employer who will chip in with college costs (re: Grad school)
--Kids working in high school/college, even if just during summers
--Thinking outside the box as to housing (which is important with the high housing costs here)
--Mostly considering public colleges
--Community college (this is really what all the regional public colleges prefer these days, getting first two years done at CC, so motivation is more than just saving money)

Certainly not meant to be an all inclusive list, but in general sums up how we stayed out of college debt.

All of these things will come into play.   A college student gave us a tour of the farther away college.  One thing she mentioned was that most students take at least one online GE class at the community college every semester, because it's cheap and easy.  (Community college is currently free in our state?  Before that it cost virually nothing).  I had kind of written off community college re: the specific colleges MM applied to (beyond anything more than maybe a summer class here and there).  But maybe we will utilize after all.   

MH has voiced wanting to go back to work full-time.  I had told him to put a pin in that with the more mushy gushy private schools (more income wouldn't help our bottom line).  But...  That's all moot anymore.  He can make as much money as he wants, we might actually be able to keep some of it!  Both sets of Grandparents have offered to help more, even with the cheap public colleges.  So...  Will see if any of this sticks.  Not sure what to do with all this.  If they do both help *and* MH gets a full-time job...  We may just tackle our mortgage??  MM(17) should also be getting mega high paying summer internships, with either of these colleges.   Will see what sticks and will figure it out.  

When MM picks a college, I will go through numbers in more detail.  Will just start with my current salary and current assets.  Anything else will be gravy; not counting any eggs before they hatch. 


Less Limbo, More Financial Freedom

March 24th, 2021 at 01:33 pm

Crazy Crazy Week(s)!

Things just went from 0 to 60.  Schools are opening back up (in person) this week.  We hosted guests for the first time in a year (St. Patty's Day dinner).  MH got jury duty.

& then College...

So far, we have ruled out the more expensive and more far away private colleges.  It's official that MM(17) will stay in state.  It's a super rough year on the college front, I already mentioned.  But the east coast college had 70% more applications that prior year(!) and dropped their acceptance rate from 8% to 4%.  Was a stretch anyway, but I think we are pretty shocked he didn't get into his #1 choice (LA college).  Have had some time to digest and move on.  Honestly?  We were supportive because MM was MM.  We were discussing *if* #1 college choice was $40K per year, we would make it work (with help from Grandparents).  He is extremely driven and he knows what he wants to study.  But...  Public school is so much better for *our* personalities.  Private school was so...  Complicated.  In the distance, in the cost of travel.  How MH couldn't work at all because it would just make it more expensive (he'd net nothing after increased college costs and taxes).  How we probably couldn't accept gifts, it would then be too prohibitively expensive.  I kept calling it "mushy gushy."  Public college is just so much more straightforward.  I literally wrote in my college comparison spreadsheet, "Unlimited Income and Assets!" for the public schools.  The cost won't drastically change if our personal circumstances change (for the better).

MM(17) is totally cool and fine.  He is not emotionally wrapped up in college choices.  Still has *no idea* which college he wants to go to and is a hard enough decision with just two college offers in hand. 

{Still waiting to hear back from one private college.  It's the least expensive and mushy gushy.}  

All remaining college options cost roughly the same.  One might be free tuition, the other might be free room and board.  But it all roughly comes out to comparable price (over 4 years) for all the options.  & the least expensive option has some other trade-offs.  Cost is removed as a deciding factor, for what's left.

This was my last post re: public college tuition.

Tuition and fees at our alma mater:  $31,000.  <---  That is total for 4 years (sticker price)

In addition, there is a state grant that I believe was $2K per year.  & MM is a kid who will get some scholarships.  I'd be surprised if we paid more than $15K?

In the end, the other State college is more expensive (full price is $40K; $10K x 4 years) but gave MM a substantial scholarship.  Our cost:  Probably $0.  It depends how the State Grant shakes out.  & he won't need a car there at all, which saves a lot of money.  So probably would be the most expensive school (of the schools he has been accepted to and we are waiting to hear back from), but they just leveled the playing field with a merit scholarship.  

It looks like college is probably going to be a small blip for us financially.  I am just going to enjoy that, for now.   πŸ˜ Am not going to bother worrying about any finer details until a college decision is actually made.  When the college decision is made, will work through all those finer details.  If MM needs a car, what we expect MM(17) to pay for, if we even touch his college funds (probably not), etc.  

Edited to add:  Don't have to buy MM a winter wardrobe, don't need to worry about travel/airfare costs, etc.  The cost savings are significant all around.



Stimulus & College

March 9th, 2021 at 02:40 pm

I feel like every time I look at the news, there's more money raining down on us.

{I am so glad I haven't contributed to 2020 IRAs yet, or filed our tax return.  We would have had to change/amend everything.}

It seems likely this is the first year (ever) that we will go on extension.  Our taxes are very simple.  But...  As much as I had come to abhor the ridiculousness and tradition of 12/31 retroactive tax changes (which made my life mostly impossible when I worked in tax).  Making tax changes March after the year is over, is just absurd.  😠 I hope it's a 'once in a lifetime' pandemic thing and doesn't become the new way of things. 

Mostly irritated because, we really really really could have used that extra $11,000 for college.  But I put it in my 401K to avoid a tax cliff (50% tax rate).  Nothing we can do about it.  That is something I can not change.  

{This commentary is in regards to retroactively making first $10K-ish of unemployment tax-free in 2020}.

I can revise this when new stimulus is finalized, but it looks like this is probably how things will shake out.

First $10,000-ish of unemployment will be tax free for 2020:  

Tax savings 2020:  +$1,700

Child Tax Credit changes:

Tax savings 2021: +$1,750?**

At the lease, $1,000 tax savings for DL (increased child tax credit)

**Oh boy, this one is going to get complicated.  If we don't file our 2020 tax return, we will get advanced child tax credits for MM that we won't have to pay back.  At this point, maybe we just file our tax return in September (final due date).  I will have to go through the math and figure this one out.  

Thankfully, they also made this credit more refundable.  I was already targeting -$0- Federal taxes in 2021.  This could mean that we literally pay -$0- in Federal taxes but the government pays us (negative tax rate).  We pulled this off during some of our early one-income/maternity no-income years.  Our tax rate hasn't been -0- or negative since our kids were babies.

Unemployment extension:


I did see the latest unemployment extension being thrown around is through Labor day, or when MH's job would most likely come back anyway.

I am not sure if MH will keep looking for work or will have the patience for unemployment red tape.  We will have to run through tax and college financial aid calculators to figure out if we are getting anything net net net (with extra income).  This will be better math once we have a college decision in hand.  Unemployment has already replaced two years of his income, for reference.  We may just be happy with that and done with this red tape mess.  



This is the amount we will probably receive.  I've never seen any AGI cutoff discussed that would affect us. Our AGI was same 2019 and 2020 (based on current tax law) and so it doesn't matter which year they pull to base this stimulus off of.  Potential new tax law just lowers our AGI even further for 2020 (which wouldn't change anything).

I actually was holding off tax filing because technically MM(17) was not eligible for the last two stimulus amounts.  It sounds like he will be this round.  I wasn't going to volunteer that he has turned 17 last year, in case he wasn't eligible for this round either.  <---This is the reason we haven't filed our tax return yet.

Phew! Thank goodness we held off.  Now, I am going to wait for unemployment taxes to sort out.  I don't want to have to amend a tax return.

I do hope they can figure this out before April 15th.  (I mean, between finalizing the bill, and getting everything programmed with tax software and IRS.  It takes time to implement tax law changes).  I don't want to go on extension, and it would be nice to know how much we could put into Traditional IRAs before the April 15th deadline.  πŸ™„  (Depends on our AGI).

Edited to add:  This was written before I read we could get some child tax credit for MM and not pay it back, if we do go on extension.  I guess extension it is.

Total unexpected monies:  $9,050

I guess that breaks down into $5,600 expected soon and $4,700 at the end of 2021.  Minus some advanced tax credits we may have to pay back in 2022. I can't adjust my withholding to pay negative tax (or even $0 tax), so I don't have any other way to advance these monies into 2021.  But I guess it works out nicely that the government wants to advance these tax credits, July through December of this year.

If MM goes the public school route (and lives in the dorms) then that is 1000% what I am going to do with this $9,050 basically falling from the sky.   We needed to roughly come up with $10K per year.  We are going to probably pay most of the dorm costs with his college fund and it sounds like the bajillion dollars in groceries we spend (for that kid) will equate to dorm food costs.  That leaves about $5,000 that I think is mostly hyper inflated expenses (that we would be more frugal about), things MM(17) covers already (like the cost of his car), and things we expect him to pay for (books, personal expenses).  <---- He also has very generous grandparents willing to help him fill up this $5,000 bucket.  

This is really rough, but is where our heads are at with public colleges:  We will get -0- financial aid**.  I never expected any financial aid for public in-state colleges, but it's official that the financial aid reward is: $0.  (I do not seriously consider student loans as a financial aid reward).

**We are technically eligible for some automatic State grants, which sound like they may be $2k per year (for public college).  Those will take forever to sort out, so I don't know.  We are putting this in the 'not counting our eggs, but will take more money falling from the sky' category.  I expect more details in October, if he chooses a public school.

No one in our family has ever lived in a dorm (and did not go away to college, for the most part).  Though MH and I both chose not to spend our 'college money' on college, and felt we needed that more for post college housing in the SF Bay Area.  We have kept that same mindset and never really expected to use this money for college.  It's extra complicated because MM's college money is gifted from grandparents.  Too many strings and weirdness, which is also some of why I just ignore it.  So... we discussed recently and agreed that pretty much his college fund would be spent on dorm costs.  If MM is going to live in the dorms, we won't be saving this chunk of change for him to use after college.  It will be up to him.  (We won't pay it forward, if he chooses a significantly more expensive college route).

I had a lightbulb moment.  I have to back up first though.  I've gotten a few well meaning comments (over the years, in this blog) that we need to be prepared to pay for college before college starts.  ??? (& to clarify, I mean like having to pay a semester ahead of make a down payment.  Though honestly, all I see is installment payment options, anyway. We are more "pre-pay as much as we can" personalities.  I think we'd pre-pay the semester rather than deal with the hassle of more frequent payments.  But I am also hyper aware that is not normal whatsoever).  Look, I entirely put myself through college.  I know how college works.  We also have never borrowed for anything (but our home).  You don't do that just flying by the seat of your pants.  I think people are confused.  We have never tied up a penny of our money 'specifically for college.'  This doesn't mean we have no money, no plan.   MM(17) can go to school pretty much anywhere he wants to go to school, and we intend to pay cash.

Hence my lightbulb moment.  As I think through how much these windfalls mean we pretty much will be spending $0 or our own income/savings this year.  It's... 1 year down and only 3 to go!?  It's kind of blowing my mind.

I just keep thinking, "6 more years..." and so it's kind of nice to realize that it may just be "5 more years..."  College is our last big mountain before financial independence.  


Starting to Feel Real

February 24th, 2021 at 02:47 pm

My baby is going away to college.  😭

Yeah, that was always the plan.  But this year is the *worst* to apply for college.  The colleges that MM has applied to have all had record numbers of applications this year (I read one college had 30% more applications than last year).  Also, they are holding spots for 'pandemic gap year'.

We were 99.99% sure he should be able to get into our alma mater.  It's an under-rated college that is impossible to beat from a cost/benefit standpoint.  It costs nothing, and is where all the Silicon Valley companies recruit from.  But this year is so weird, I have been thinking it's good we never looked down our nose at community college.

So yesterday morning when I woke up, MH told me, "Our baby is going away to college!"  I didn't know what that meant.  He told me he officially was accepted to our alma mater.  That he has somewhere to go.

It turns out he had also been accepted at the other State University that he applied for, just didn't realize until late the next day.  That is exciting because it has a much lower acceptance rate.  This was also the only school he applied for that is not in a high-cost region, so while their fees are a little higher than our alma mater, I expect that to be offset by their lower dorm costs and generally lower cost of housing in that region.

Yeah, when MM told me last night that he had more news, I couldn't even fathom what college he might have heard from.  Their official acceptance date was April 1, and everyone is pushing back their acceptance dates.  I was most definitely not expecting to hear back from two colleges this week!

This week is just notice of acceptance, with details to follow.  But I have enough information to share.

Tuition and fees at our alma mater:  $31,000.  <---  That is total for 4 years (sticker price)

In addition, there is a state grant that I believe was $2K per year.  & MM is a kid who will get some scholarships.  I'd be surprised if we paid more than $15K?

This is precisely why we have never set aside any large dollars specifically for college. 

Community college was very much on the table for the UC route (the more expensive public colleges in our state).   They *beg* their kids to go the community college route and mostly no one listens.  This would have kept the cost at about $30K for a UC degree, if MM did first two years at community college (and likely also would be reduced by grants and scholarships).  I share because MM did not end up applying to any UCs and so we are not seriously considering community college at this point. 

We've got about 6 weeks to see how the private colleges shake out.  Maybe 7 weeks for that and financial aid.


College Plans

December 20th, 2020 at 03:07 pm

At the last minute I did end up opening a 529 plan for MM(17).  I always presumed we might utilize if MH took on a full-time job or we had some other sort of windfall.  Otherwise, it's just a lot of red tape with absolutely no benefit to our personal tax situation.  In addition to that, want to keep things flexible.  Our public colleges cost pennies, so want to be able to use this money potentially after college.  

In the end, while in complete limbo with college and no idea which way it might go, I decided last minute to put MM's money into a 529 plan.  There's no downside.  It's all in cash, so even if he decided tomorrow to not go to college, we just take it all out without any penalties.  It's only the earnings that are penalized if not used for college.  So...  That's about $150 per year we have to make sure to spend on college.  I think we can live with that.  We just didn't want to commit a lot of dollars that could only be used for college.  But I guess waiting for so long also dodges that bullet.  Which is probably why the more I thought about it, the more it seemed obvious we should just bite the bullet.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.  This was what worked best for our personal situation.  It was easier to keep the investment growth tax-free when the money was in the kids' names.  & this kept these funds very flexible.  The 529 plan never made any sense until we started applying for colleges (529 plans are not factored as much for financial aid).  & like the plan was all along: it's easy to change your mind at any point along the way. 

{I don't know what I will do for DL.  If he only applies to in-state public colleges, then it's pointless to mess with his college money.  Will think about it in another 2 years.  I think he's much more likely to go the community college route}.

I've also been thinking more about Plan F, G & H, (versus Plan A, B, C) while applying for private colleges and with MH being unemployed, etc.  The end result?  *shrugs*  Feeling non-fussed about it all. 

I think the obvious is that we can slow down or stop retirement contributions, to pay cash for college.  More of a Plan H type scenario, after running through Plans A-G.  I wanted to share for a couple of reasons though.  Mostly, wanted to share as a heads up that this plan is on the table (so it's not a total shock if we go that route).

But...  I also figured out I had been re-inventing the wheel.  It seemed like the obvious and logical thing, as we are "put our oxygen masks on first" personalities who are far ahead on retirement savings.  In the end, I perused Bogleheads a bit and those are my people.  I realized I had been re-inventing the wheel re: what is a very common approach over there.  Amazingly smart people who know their tax stuff (which might be my yardstick, as a tax professional.  In general, free tax advice is worth about as much as you pay for it, so Bogleheads always stood out to me).  But...  Bogleheads is also very crowded and just "too much" for me so I don't spend much time there.  I just sometimes go over there to look up a specific question.

It wasn't just just this one point that was very Bogleheads.  It was our entire approach to college, which is why I feel like I have been re-inventing the wheel this whole time.  If nothing else, it's a lot of "put your own oxygen masks first" personalities over there, which becomes a very different approach than the average college advice.  (The only reason we have any money to put into a 529 is because it was gift money from grandparents).

I think for most things, I have exceptional real-life mentors.  But...  probably feeling a little out of my depth on this one.  Our parents and us just went to very affordable public colleges.  My parents did not help me whatsoever with college, so though they may be my biggest financial mentors, this is where we diverge.  My other biggest financial mentor did not have children.  

So...  We are just in limbo land for another 3-4 months until college acceptances and scholarships and financial aid sorts out.   

To clarify, in the past we have decided we are "done" with retirement savings.  Our money will compound to where it needs to be at 65, if we stop contributing entirely to retirement.  We keep contributing because we want to retire early and also for the "worst case" scenarios.  

More to the point though, the biggest reason given for not skipping retirement contribution years is to "not give up retirement space."  As someone who also likes things like food and shelter 😁, we give up tens of thousands of retirement space every year.  For us, this is a nonsense reason.  Our three biggest household expenses will literally disappear or decrease substantially when our kids are done with college and fly the nest (mortgage, health insurance, food spending).  We can literally just double up our retirement contributions for a few years after college and end up in the same place anyway.  I wanted to jot this down, because it's a point I may forget.

Edited to add:  The 30% we put to retirement in 2020 was nowhere near the max we could have contributed.  But like I said, I do also like things like food and shelter.  πŸ˜‰

Edited in Late March:  This is entirely moot at this point.  We've ruled out anything far from home (travel costs) or mega expensive.  So...  We will keep our 20%+ retirement savings rate while paying cash for college.  If we just go with Plan A, then...  Plan H is *way* off the table.


Opening a ROTH IRA

May 23rd, 2020 at 03:02 pm

My last post re: retirement savings for MM(16):

When he does his taxes, we will discuss funding a ROTH this year (2019). I don't really see the point and don't think that we will. But we left it to discuss at tax time, and that he has until April 15th to decide. He has a lot of very big expenses to in the near term horizon. If nothing else, he is saving up for a car. (The current car is only for his use until he turns 18, then it goes to his brother). After that, he will be saving up for a home. If not also saving to help pay for college. I couldn't have even fathomed saving for retirement before I graduated college (no parental support past age 17; no help with college). & I don't feel too much different at the moment (about him putting off retirement savings until after college), while his #1 college choice is a very expensive private college. If he ends up going to our alma mater (it costs pennies) then we can re-evaluate. I think this year is most likely, "Keep it in cash, see how things shake out next fall". We will discuss all the pros/cons, and he will be the one to make the decision. So while I am strongly leaning towards not starting to save for retirement yet, will see what he thinks.

It is personally not a priority of ours to help our kids fund their retirement. I have no plans to contribute whatsoever to that, so it's going to have to be his dollars if he does contribute.

In the end, MM(16) decided to go with the ROTH option. He is depositing 100% of his 2019 earnings into a ROTH. He made this decision back in January. I made a convincing argument for the, "have your cake and eat it too" plan. (ROTH money can always be used more short-term, no penalty for taking back the original contributions). I told him he could always abandon the ROTH contribution if he didn't have a summer job by April 15th. He was okay tying up all that cash if he would make more money this summer.

Then... Tax deadlines were extended. I think he was still going to go through with the plan.

Now that the cash is piling up from his summer job (at my office), we sat down last week and picked an investment. He was really limited at Vanguard with the $1k minimum funds. He decided on some balanced fund, maybe 60/40. (This money is mostly earmarked for a house down payment at this point. I'd maybe more heartily recommend 90/10 if this was actually for retirement).

In the end, I couldn't figure out how to open a minor ROTH account at Vanguard and added it to my chore list. Having to actually do this over the phone... UGH!

I had some time the other morning and revisited. Was googling a bit. Surely someone figured out the magic formula to just do online. While googling, Fidelity popped up with their online process to open an account for a minor. (Which is super easy apparently). They have so many $0-minimum mutual funds now, I didn't know. I had told MM (before) pretty much he couldn't park it in cash unless he just wanted to open a ROTH with one of our banks or credit unions and then just roll it over later when he has more than $3k. But... Now he could just park it in cash (at Fidelity) if that is what he wants to do. Which is may be what I do today just to get the ball rolling (he will be at work all day). I was just waiting for him to go over the Fidelity options and make a decision.

I share because it feels like we did about 90% of the work in our teens and 20s. Choosing to work and pay cash for everything. Investing in real estate very young. Etc. But opening a retirement/investment account when you are 16? That is next level. At 16/17, I was worried about paying for my wheels, paying for college, paying for the roof over my head in a very expensive city. It will be interesting to see what our kids can do without all of those financial burdens. Though we are kind of just, "Dude, you are going to need that money for housing." But they have so much support that they can afford to take a little more risk with that money and can view it as more long-term.

MM(16) is still saving up for a car, but that is also very nebulous and he has enough cash for that. Not sure if he will even want or need a car while in college? Saving it up just in case. That should be more clear when he decides how much of his 2020 income to park in his ROTH.

College Update (08/08/19)

October 4th, 2019 at 12:46 am

Where we have been at with the college thing is that my oldest son has all the tech genes that completely skipped us. So, not only is he interested in the shortest and most practical route from Point A to Point B (typical engineer), but he also lives exactly where he needs to be to go to college. Not exactly where we live, but it's all pretty much in our backyard.

So while I am open to just about anything (within reason), MM(16) has a gazillion A+ colleges to choose from that cost pennies.

So that's mostly where I am at with things (and where I have always been).

On the flip side... MM(16) has always been an extreme outlier. When he was younger, I thought it might mean he was cut out for Ivy League. I always felt very *shrugs* about this because no one in our family (parents/us/siblings) had ever spent any significant dollars on college. & our parents have done *very well* financially over the long term. So, if one out of every 10 of us is an outlier, we have the cash to help them. For us, MH could take on a full-time job to pay cash for college. & in addition to that, our parents would be willing to help. & there's scholarships. MM has nothing but options.

MM(16) went on a tour of several colleges, a couple of weeks ago. We were curiously waiting to see how that shook out. Before that time, he had only toured our alma mater (which has been his #1 choice).

There was one obscure private college that I was glad they were going to hit on the tour. I had a friend (very similar personality) who went there, and so was just curious. I then read it is the "most expensive college in the U.S." So, of course, MM came back with this school as top contender. *sigh*

Honestly and truly, I feel pretty zen about it. If it's meant to be, we have the means to make it work. I think this sums it up pretty well. MH was worried maybe everyone was getting a little too emotional about it. I said last night, "I have the feeling MM will end up at this school, he can get it in, and it will work out. But it's not like we are going to lose any sleep over it if he doesn't get accepted." I think we all feel pretty *shrugs* about it. I just have a very good feeling about it. But you know, *boohoo* if we get to save a billion dollars and he can go to school at any of the top engineering schools in the Bay Area? Pretty much, he can't go wrong. Nothing feels very much at stake here. In fact, I don't even know if MM will choose this private school over more affordable options, if he does get accepted. He's just too logical and practical. We've already discussed that the location isn't particularly ideal. Sure, everyone there gets Bay Area internships. How useful is that when you go to school 6 hours away?

So, that is where we are at with things. It's clear as mud. Flip a coin. Our alma mater is absolutely impossible to beat as far as cost/benefit. So, does he go to school at a school that cost pennies or does he choose one of the most expensive schools? Talk about black and white! Will see...

It's been kind of funny because my husband has accused me often of being close-minded when we talk about college. ??? I always tell him I am open to anything, but come on, there's a 90%+ chance MM just goes to our alma mater. Why would we consider anything else? I guess I know my kid, his talents are the same as many in our family, and I am familiar with most the relevant schools. Even so, I am surprised how much I called it. He's interested in the all of the colleges I would have expected him to be. Some of the other colleges I didn't know much about and he wasn't interested in. So pretty much nothing new came out of this trip, except him being particularly enamored with the one school. It doesn't surprise me at all, but I also wouldn't have been surprised if he decided that was a racket and impractical.

MH has never heard of this school before, and feels kind of like the train left the station without him. We left him in the dust. I finally said, "Do you believe me now? I've always said I am open to absolutely anything." Yeesh! He believes me now. & I admit if I had never heard of the school, I'd probably not be too thrilled with this turn of events. IT's funny how the tables have turned. But for such a small school, they sure have a lot of tours. So we are loosely planning to go tour the college in the spring. We need to get MH up to speed, and lord knows I know very little about the school. We need to see it for ourselves, and ask a lot of questions.

This leads me to revelation #2. So, I am looking into other school tours. We obviously have to hit Berkeley and Stanford. Close to home, easy to tour whenever. Anyway, I am truly open to anything. I am always thrown off when "being open to living at home" or "being open to community college" is taken as the polar opposite. I've gotten so many lectures about this stuff when I've actually never seriously considered that MM would live at home for college anyway. ??? I think that is because of his tech leanings and us being generally underwhelmed by college options in our lower cost haven. Meh. Honestly, I wouldn't even send him to community college here. I think the odds that he will live at home for college are at about 0%. So... I had to laugh at myself when thinking about college tours, I didn't even think of anything local?? & then we went on a drive to Yosemite last week and we passed a billion (so it felt like) colleges I didn't know much about. It's like, "Oh yeah, there's that college and that college and that college..." & then I got home and started thinking about all these other big name tech-y colleges (that I had forgotten about when making initial list). UGH! So, I asked MH if he wanted to tour a couple of the local schools. He did, so I will add them to the list. But I told him that other than that, I Was done. If he heard of some other college that really struck his fancy, to let me know. But I think we can officially check off that we did our job as parents, if we take him on an additional 2-4 tours.

I share, because I think this illustrates why we haven't seriously considered any out-of-state colleges. We are pretty much drowning in affordable/excellent public options. This has always been a very clear trade-off to higher housing costs. I had always planned to take advantage (and we certainly did so with our own degrees too).

I guess #1, this is where we are at currently with all things college. But #2, I have to throw it out there in case I do eventually announce that my son is going to some crazy expensive private college. Because if I don't share this post, it might seem like that is coming way out of nowhere. Like with my husband, I know I have always said I am open to absolutely anything (within reason). But he didn't *get it* until last weekend. I expect it's the same in my blog.

As a refresher, these are our parameters re: college, from prior blog post:

We both agree that we expect the kids to work significantly during high school and college, that our own financial health comes first, and that we don't want to borrow a penny for college. We don't want them to graduate with any student loan debt. We are willing to help our kids in any way we can as long as we are within these parameters.

It always strikes me kind of silly as people get really bogged down with the details. If I had a dollar for every person who told me just how their kid will go to college (where, how they will or won't work, if they will live at home or in the dorms, etc.) from like the day their child was born. This has always struck me as completely insane. Heck if I know! Depends depends depends. I've never focused on the details. It's the parameters I mentioned above that matter to me. Not mortgaging my future (or encouraging my kids to mortgage their future), and it has to make any sense whatsoever. But beyond that, I couldn't tell you any of the details. Even 2 years out, still feel very much, "It depends how it all shakes out". & of course, more opportunities always arise when you keep your options open. The second we start locking things down and being inflexible, the less options we will have. Which is why we are going to wait until it all shakes out.

In addition to that, it's been very important for us to have our kids work and save money now, because I don't know how college will shake out. It's very likely my "extreme outlier" child will not be able to work during college. Obscure private college heavily encourages summer work and internships. That would be very much in line with our values. But it's pretty clear that he probably couldn't work during the school year, at that college. I wanted to clarify because I did put "work" in there. I've never taken it for granted that our kids could work as much as we did during college. That was more, "Our kids aren't going to sit on their butts and do nothing during the summers," if nothing else. There will be always be some way to work and contribute.

Edited to add: To be clear, our "expected contribution" at private college is literally 10 times as much as sticker price at any public college. Unless he does very well on the academic/sports scholarship side of things, the cost of this private college will be ridiculous. It's a decision that is impossible to make until we have college acceptances and scholarships in hand. Until then, it's going to be clear as mud. Will plan for both extremes.

College Note

January 12th, 2018 at 02:26 pm

The PTA meeting we went to this week was for DL's school. Because his school is an art/academic focus, he's required to take 8 classes every semester (in order to squeeze in the crapload of electives). In contrast, MM(14) only takes 6 classes. So DL will graduate with a few extra credits. I don't see any reason why he'd supplement his high school education at all.

That said, they were mentioning AP classes and community college and so on. & apparently community college courses are free to high school students. I don't know the details, but wanted to take note.

That said, it costs pennies regardless, so I already considered it "free". But it's apparently really and truly FREE. (Off the top of my head, I think a regular college course would be $100, for reference).

I am taking note for my other child. I wouldn't be surprised if he graduated early. There is family precedent there. Right or wrong (I don't know) we've really leaned on him to just slow down. But he has such a light courseload (for him) that I can totally foresee him getting through several college classes before he graduates high school. It's more the norm these days anyway. In his case will just be more self motivated.

Checking In

January 1st, 2018 at 04:53 pm

Work has been crazed. The last week of the year is always the busiest/most stressful work-week of the year for me, but was compounded this year by many different factors. I am taking this long 3-day weekend off to recover and reset. Then it's diving head first into the busy season (for the next 4 months).

MH was asked to work the prior two weeks, and there was talk of maybe this week too? He usually has 6 weeks off during winter. In the end, Friday was his last day of the season and they said they will probably need him again in three weeks (normal start time). He missed having winter break home with the kids, but they are old enough I don't know that it mattered. If they were younger, he would not have worked so long. We are so present with our kids though, I will admit it felt weird for us to be so tied up with work. During tax season (and December usually), his work is REALLY slow, and so most of the time it works out to be more yin and yang.

In addition to all that, I've been running kids all over the place. They had infinite short days at school (prior 2 weeks ~ I think because two different schools so every day one of them had a short day for this or that reason, just happened to not be the SAME days), and DL's vocal performance ended up being a 4-night commitment. Their vocal concert was absolutely amazing though, and I didn't mind some forced breaks. On Friday I picked up DL from a sleepover at 11am. Just a lot of domestic stuff that MH generally would have been handling.



Ended the year with net worth up $95,000. !! I think that is the first time we've done that without the bulk of the gains being real estate gains. (We've done this many times before ~ six figure increases ~ with California real estate).

More details later...


**Was discussing timeshare with MIL. She is VERY tone deaf (her way or the highway) and her plan has always been to pass on her timeshare(s) to us though we are not interested in the slightest. Sure, free places to stay wherever is all good. But paying the annual fees and dealing with all the red tape, plus feeling obligated to use every year? No thanks!? Especially for two people who would be perfectly content to never get on an airplane.

Anyway, she is getting really disgruntled with her timeshare situation. & has made very clear she is not sticking us with that crap. I guess if you wait long enough (20 years!?) sometimes these things sort themselves out.

**MIL and FIL have decided to gift their car to MM(14) next Christmas as they are both VERY excited about this!

Again, this is one of those things that just needed time. There was talk of buying MM a car at some point, which just made me uncomfortable. They are totally the types to do that without consulting with us. I thought that might be a FUN bridge to cross eventually (NOT!). But they also have 4 grandkids very close in age and I am guessing they were getting ahead of themselves. Anyway, the latest is that they want to gift their vehicle to MM when he turns 15.5 (which is actually very helpful as it gives him a car to learn to drive on). They made clear to MH that this car is for BOTH kids. Again, is kind of what I was thinking anyway. So maybe this will resolve in a very helpful way.

{I don't remember the details, but it may be a 2005 with something like 150k miles? I think it sounds like a perfect first car for a teenager. I would happily pay for it, knowing it was well cared for. But I am not surprised they just want to give it to him}.

In my case, my parents weren't in any kind of financial situation to help me and neither were my grandparents. & I could just walk to school. I bought a car because I *wanted one* but that fell entirely on my shoulders. This situation is just very different. MM would prefer to ride his bike to school, but it's just way too dangerous. We don't have any public transport, and he knows he's not going to get any freedom on that front unless he has a car to drive. (Meanwhile, he would have preferred to just bike or take the bus for the past several years). BUT, he also has a brother that is only two years younger. MH would like to go back to work full-time, and we would put that responsibility on MM (taking his brother to school). I would rather provide a car in a situation where the car is more needed AND will make our lives easier. I was thinking that gives him two years to save up for a car and to come up with a more long-term plan. It only seems fair to offer the same to his brother. When he turns 18 and goes off to college, then his brother could use the "temp/learning" car.

I don't know how long it will last, but I will enjoy being on the same page with the in-laws. Will see how it shakes out in another year or so. I wouldn't hold my breath. But it's nice to have a plan and to be offered such a generous gift.

**On the flip side of the coin, MIL did not fund kids' college this year. No idea what that is about. MH won't ask her about it and I wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole.

Is out of character for her, so I thought she might realize eventually (nieces' birthdays or Christmas). Christmas came and went with no mention, so I guess it's official the kids' college money will not be added to (2017).

I honestly think she forgot.

This doesn't change anything for us. I just share because their "college" accounts will be stagnate unless MIL starts contributing again (was $1k per year, per child). Anything we save up, we would not put in our kids' names or tie up in education funds. & I don't see making the effort to save any more than we already are.

Edited to add: The college money was just forgotten. Received in early 2018.

Harvesting Tax Gains

July 20th, 2017 at 07:50 pm

Today I harvested some tax gains. Is a strategy to keep "taxable" investments tax-free.

In the process, I just converted to admiral shares and way lower expense ratios. In theory, I'd generally just immediately buy back what I sold; selling solely to lock in 0% tax rate on those gains. But in the end I decided to move funds over in the process and to be a little more efficient.

For myself, technically any long-term capital gains are tax-free for Federal. But... That's not entirely true because bumping up our AGI (even just a couple of thousand dollars) wreaks all sorts of havoc on the rest of our taxes. It decreases what we can put in tax-deductible IRAs and reduces our medical expense deduction, etc. But, whatever. It's not like it's going to get better than a 0% tax rate. (I mostly expect our income and taxes to be much higher in the future).

Since we've mostly been able to shelter our investments in retirement funds, this is the first time that I've had a tax-free gain to harvest. At about $3,000 for long-term gains and I figured I could live with that. (I probably wouldn't want to add much more to our tax return. We are already on track to maybe have 10% more wage income than last year).

For the kids, I have been selling off funds frequently to the same end, though I got a bit of a break the past two years. But for today, MM was at a good selling point. $1,000 investment income is tax-free for them. $1,500 is just some very minimal state tax. I might have timed it well enough that they are more in the $1k range and won't owe any state taxes.

Note to self:
$1,000 investment income is the sweet spot for kids. No requirement to file a tax return at this investment income level.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, here is a link that explains:

Text is and Link is

I guess this came to front of mind because my dad *finally* sold some mutual funds that he had wanted to sell a few years back. He's waited for tax reasons, and I guess given my tax perspective I have no idea what he has been waiting for. !! I mean, Obamacare was the reason the last two years, but now in 2017 I would have sold January 1. Not sure how long 0% investment tax rate will be around and am glad he finally took advantage.

As for the kids' "college" money, it's conservatively invested (balanced fund) and I have an equal amount in cash (our cash savings/emergency fund). So I feel that I Can shoulder any short-term market fluctuations. It seems way too premature to do anything with that. Kids start college in 4 & 6 years. Keeping in mind that we used our own "college money" for a home down payment instead of college. (College is still super cheap here and housing is only more insane now than it was then). This really could be money that remains untouched for 10+ years. So for now, we have no plans to cash out any college money or to shift to a more conservative allocation. We may set aside more new money in cash, as college becomes more imminent.