Monday, November 26, 2018

40 Thousand to Freedom

There's a question that gets thrown around in the FIRE community: is achieving financial independence and early retirement possible for everyone? And I keep getting surprised that the correct answer is hardly ever uttered. I'm not sure I've heard it more than once. Which is crazy. It's such a softball question.

But no, achieving financial independence and enjoying an early retirement is clearly not possible for everyone.

Why is this even a question? Do people not understand what a lot of people make in the US?  Have they not read my excellent posts on the middle class and income quintiles? Do they feel appropriately guilty for not having read them?

I have a feeling things are really going to change for a lot of people in the FIRE community when they discover the interesting and diverse group of people sometimes described as "not us".

So let's take some time today to introduce some of these new and exciting people, using the wonder of publicly available income statistics.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Progressive Take on Regressive Taxes

Election Day is nearly here, and buried deep down on our Tempe ballot is Proposition 417, which would increase sales tax by a tenth of a percent to fund the arts in our city. Even deeper on page two of our ballot is Prop 126, which aims to prohibit levying any future sales tax on services. (Currently, our local government can only tax goods.)

I don't know if this makes me a closet conservative, but these particular taxes rile me up. Not because I hate paying taxes: a part of me kind of likes the idea that some of my money is baked into every new sidewalk and folded into every library book. And a tenth of a percent sales tax, or applying sales tax to services, isn't going to make a dent in our high-income budget.

Still, I hate these sort of tax proposals because they are regressive: they hit people with lower incomes harder than they hit people like me. They ask someone earning minimum wage to pay a bigger percentage of her income for these taxes. Which is a really fucked up way to raise the revenue you need to run a city or a state: by going after the poorest people in your community.

So let's talk about that a bit today: why local governments get so much of their revenue by taxing the citizens who can least afford it.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Whoops, We Almost Bought a New Car for No Good Reason

Whoops. We Almost Bought a New Car for No Good Reason.
As long-time readers know, we have been battling car lust for a while. Well, at least I have. Our current car, our trusty 2006 Toyota Matrix, has never let us down. Okay, maybe the paint job has let us down a bit. And maybe my DIY clear coat job... definitely looks like a DIY clear coat job. And sure, maybe I have never gotten around to opening up the passenger side door and installing a new window motor.

But as far as things that actually matter on a twelve year old car, everything is tip top. The clutch is still springy. The engine still purrs. And most importantly here in the desert, the AC blows really, really cold.

Monday, September 17, 2018

My FIRE Journey & Inequality

A few weeks ago I was on my way to Culver's for the first time, because even a single dollar donated to the 2018 version of the GOP is one too many. So I decided to donate my burger dollars to a different joint, and Culver's seemed like it would be worth a shot.

And friends, I do not miss In and Out at all. Because, cheese curds.

But before I got to the drive-through, I heard Kai Risdall interviewing the American Enterprise Institute's outgoing president, Arthur Brooks. And, it was so good, I just had to pull over into an empty parking space. Tasty burgers could wait. [A transcript and audio of the interview can be found here.]

Monday, August 27, 2018

Three Years Out: Are We on Track for FI?

Earlier this month, I turned thirty eight. We skipped all the birthday stuff this year, no cake or parties or singing, opting instead to have a quiet day with just the family, as Mrs. Done by Forty mercilessly beat me at Kingdom Builder and Viticulture.

Birthdays be damned: her victory would not be denied. I love this woman.

"But wait," some of you might be asking. "If you turned 38, aren't you just two years away from 40? What's up with that title?"

What's up is that I'm worried that I won't be financially independent by the start of my fortieth year, so I'm cheating and giving myself until the last day I'm still forty.

That's cool, right? 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Food Deserts, Restrictive Covenants, & Market Failures

Food Deserts, Restrictive Covenants, & Market Failures
My least favorite refrain from judgy frugality bloggers is telling people to stop eating fast food & junk food, and to just cook all their meals at home.

Which is weird, right? What could possibly be wrong with that advice? Thousands saved every year, and healthier living, too. And all this abundance for only $11.

But the high horse advice reeks of a privilege that most of us are totally blind to: the fact that most of us have a dozen grocery stores we can easily drive to, in the car we just happen to own.

Or, heck, maybe we can bike there, since we apparently have all this free time and, you know, it's important to keep it tight.

But not having a car is a thing. Cities without great public transportation are a thing. And for thirty nine million Americans, food deserts are a thing.

Let's tackle the last one a bit today.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Another Mortgage Pivot

Another Mortgage Pivot
Every New Year's Day, Mrs. Done by Forty and I go to an uninspiring chain restaurant and plan out our upcoming year. We bring a little notebook, enjoy some some average-but-carb-heavy meal over bottomless sodas, and talk about everything. The trips we want to take. Babies we might want to make. Do we want more or fewer rental properties? Do we feel the same way about early retirement? What sort of fun stuff should we do if we do retire?

The Olive Garden, which is lovely, had been our usual spot for years. But it only took one meal with that dumb tablet on the table to ruin the place forever. Apparently I'm a luddite, since I don't think punching in my own order into an Amazon Fire is the best way to experience all the flavors of Tuscany.

So this year we went to Mimi's Cafe (the site of our very first date: I was also cheap way back then) to plan out all of June of that year. And I'm just now writing about it in July.

Can we blame the baby?

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Hot, Wet Tragedy of the Commons

Baby AF, briefly and formerly known on this blog as Baby by Forty, aka BabyDB40, has been going through a six week growth spurt and denying us sleep, even on the weekends. As such, the blog's writing will experience lows not previously thought possible. Your patience is appreciated.

But before this site morphs into a dad blog, I thought we'd get back to basics: a preachy, left-leaning diatribe that lazily links something I found in the newspaper or NPR to economics and personal finance. Enjoy.

I know it's cool to dunk on the New York Times these days, and the paper has certainly given its critics plenty to be angry about. But it's still the site I go to for news (if not for op-eds) in the early morning and the way-too-late-at-night. I'll forever love the paper, flaws and all, because the writing is always so good.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Back Too Soon

Tomorrow is my first day back to work, and the end of my too-short four week paternity leave. Between the diaper changes, visits to the doctor and lactation consultant, and the regular torture of post-tongue-tie-revision exercises we have to do every four hours, I sometimes have a chance to think about financial independence and how I sure wish it were here already, so I could spend more time with the little guy.

Work is going to be hard on Monday, and not just because I'll be tired. I'm going to miss having all day, every day, to spend with the fam -- even if it is just to change diapers and practice tummy time, or trying to get the little fucker to sleep.

As always, I have no room to complain. I get to work from home, so the baby is literally just in the next room. I can open the door and see him as often as I like, which is a situation many new parents would kill for.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Baby Baby

It's four in the morning, and I find myself singing Amy Grant's "Baby, Baby" over a changing table, though it's clear I don't really know the words.

Baby, baby. 
Your poop is an explosion. 
But if you get a rash, we'll use the lotion.

I've become the kind of grown up that my teenage self always feared I would: a dorky homebody, embracing the dulcet soft pop of Amy Grant, without irony or shame. 

But with a perfect baby boy in your arms, who cares?

Monday, June 4, 2018

Making Our Own Fun

Making Our Own Fun
The Bachelorette is back, friends. It's trash, sure, but it is also my favorite guilty pleasure. The sheer absurdity of the show, that a woman will find her soulmate among thirty square-chinned bros, and that two of them will propose to her, and all in the scope of three months, seems surely to have been dreamed up by a sadist. Who would subject themselves to such a contrived and painful experience? And who would watch?

People who don't have the most discerning taste in television: people like me. Still, I find it captivating. Like a lot of reality t.v., there a weird self esteem boost baked into the programming. I feel good about myself because I don't have to jump through these particular hoops to find love. And when I was single, I empathized: if these successful, beautiful people have such a hard time finding their soulmates, then there's an excuse in there for all of us. It really must be hard to find love.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Mental Accounting, Equality, and Motivation

When I first found Mr. Money Mustache's blog, we leaned in to frugality. Hard. Take a look at some of the early posts from the blog's first year. Why we rented out a room in our house, even after we were married and had paid off the mortgage. Why we rode a scooter around town to save on gas. Why, for a very short time, we took fucking navy showers (like, getting wet, turning off the faucet, then soaping up, then rinsing off) just to save a little money on water.

Then we relaxed. We realized we were happier when we weren't viewing every single activity as something to optimize: when we realized our life wasn't just a series of cost-saving targets.

Monday, April 30, 2018

A Funk in April's Budget Porn

I'm in a weird spot, readers. The past few weeks I've found it hard to get to bed and to wake up on time, which is usually the first sign for me that I'm getting into a bit of depression. Gaining weight is usually sign number two, and I've been tipping the scales north of 180 these days. Then I looked up and noticed I haven't written in a few weeks.

Something's up.

Stress is usually the trigger, as it's something I'm still not that great at dealing with. With the baby related activities, costs, and general uncertainty of how to raise a human piling up, and work projects somehow needing to all be finished prior to the baby arriving, there is plenty of stress in my life right now.

Luckily for me, there's enough of a pattern with this stuff that I'm not totally unprepared when depression rears its head.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Want Riches? Get Money.

How's my thumb taste, Ben?
This blog has never been very good at dispensing actionable advice, or even many helpful tips. We like to keep things at the conceptual level around here.

For one, theories that can be debated are what I find most interesting. Plus, so many great ideas get shot down by others when they point out that they do not actually work, as if practicality were such a big friggin deal.

On the downside, this blog doesn't do much to actually "teach others about personal finance" or "help people" or "do anything useful". But that's where other writers come in.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Budget Porn, March 2018

Budget Porn, March 2018
We are entering the home stretch of baby mania, 2018, dear readers. I owe you an apology for missing last week's post but we were hosting friends and family for a baby shower. I underestimated how little time we'd have to ourselves that weekend, as well as the stress level involved.

Am I the only one who finds it crazy stressful to have guests in town? I love people, and as an extrovert I even feel like I'm happiest when I'm around a lot of people. But when those people are staying in my home, something changes. It's no longer fun: everything's a chore. Literally, as I work through our chore list, cleaning our house far beyond what is normal for us. 

I'm actually making up excuses to keep these lovely people out of our home after the baby arrives.

Monday, March 19, 2018

KFC & the Middle Class

KFC & the Middle Class
As so many other children of Asian mothers, I was punished for any grade other than an "A". After the divorce, when my mom was raising us on her own and she had free reign when establishing academic consequences, I was grounded a full nine weeks for earning a "B".

If the next report card showed the straight A's as it was supposed to, I would not only be free to hang out with the other kids in our apartment complex after school again, but we got a treat: a whole bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, complete with a styrofoam side of coleslaw and another full of mashed potatoes and a container of gravy.

This, friends, was the good life.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Dual Income Dilemma, Daycare, & the Wage Gap

The Dual Income Dilemma, Daycare, & the Wage Gap
Disclaimer: I should start by saying that I have a penis. As such, I'm pretty unqualified to talk specifically about issues that impact women. I'm going to be wandering into those areas a bit today. I just want to note that I'm really just talking about our household, and about the things that Mrs. Done by Forty and I think and talk about when it comes to our family, and how we personally feel about things like time away from work, options like dual incomes, daycare, and the fucked up wage gap.

With that out of the way, let's dive in.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Budget Porn, February 2018

Sometimes I wonder what google searches bring readers to this post series. What kind of weird, low-budget (or should I say, "affordable") porn is someone looking for when they stumble upon this blog?

But we don't judge here, friends. If you're here to satisfy your financial voyeurism by looking at what someone else spends on groceries or restaurants, that's just fine. And if you are here by accident, and were instead looking for actual pornography, that's fine, too.

I hope you'll stick around.

Monday, February 26, 2018

PF Chat: Financial Independence & Early Retirement

PF Chat: Financial Independence & Early Retirement
Good morning, good readers. This month we have another edition of our personal finance chat, and we again got very lucky with our guests.

Today we are hosting a conversation on Financial Independence and Early Retirement with JL Collins, Liz from the Frugalwoods, Brandon from Mad Fientist, Tanja from Our Next Life, as well as Kristy and Bryce from Millennial Revolution.

Let's get right to it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Would We Already be Financially Independent Abroad?

An interesting possibility has presented itself in the Done by Forty household. We could potentially be financially independent immediately, if we changed our plan a bit, and sold our home.

If we sold our house, and maybe our one remaining rental property while we were at it, we could blatantly steal the plan that Kristy and Bryce at Millennial Revolution and Jeremy and Winnie at Go Curry Cracker have used to enjoy a financially independent, and somewhat location-independent, life.

Assuming we could similarly find affordable housing to rent abroad, and that we could leverage traveler's health insurance, we might be able to rock an inflation-adjusting $40,000 annual budget...indefinitely.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Haters Gonna Say It's Fake

Haters Gonna Say It's Fake
Sometimes I wonder how the Financial Independence, Retire Early movement (what the cool kids call FIRE) has spread as far as it has. The details for reaching financial independence sound so ridiculous, that typing them out makes me feel like a scam artist.

People saving fifty, sixty, or seventy percent of their incomes? Retiring in their mid-thirties or late twenties? Living on twenty or thirty grand, total, a year, without having to eat plain rice for dinner each night?

That sounds like a hustle, friend.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Budget Porn, a Look at 2017, and a Free, Simple Path to Wealth

We're told never to bury the lede, so here it is. We are giving away two audio copies of Jim Collins' excellent book, The Simple Path to Wealth. This is my favorite personal finance book, by far, and you can read why here

But if you haven't read Jim's book, let me tell you, friend: you are tempting fate. I know people who haven't read The Simple Path to Wealth, and they are universally unhappy people: unlucky in board games and in love, terrible dressers with ill-fitting clothes hanging off their slumped shoulders, and while I do not have any firm proof, I'm fairly certain that they are all underwhelming in the sack.

But with a little luck, by next week they could be listening to Jim's book, fixing both their finances and their bedroom shortcomings in one fell swoop.

Plus, you don't have to follow me on Twitter or Facebook to win a copy, either. All you have to do is make me laugh.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Las Vegas, the Gambler's Ruin, and Index Funds

Las Vegas, the Gambler's Ruin, and Index Funds
Earlier this month, I went to Vegas for my buddy's bachelor party. I had a great time, even if that city was a lot more appealing to 20-something me than it is to 30-something me. Still, I love gambling. It combines two of my favorite things: games, and stakes. Things matter when you have skin in the game.

Don't believe me? Try playing poker without money sometime.

I came home with more money than I left with, somehow. And the bachelor was the big winner: I has a seat next to him Saturday night (well, Sunday morning) as he went on a fantastic run at a blackjack table. As we stumbled home, he was up over five hundred bucks.

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Peek at the Future

A Peek at the Future
I had surgery on Friday. As a sign that I'm getting older, I somehow gave myself a hernia picking up my backpack on the first day of our last trip to Europe.

Mrs. Done by Forty and our friends were kind enough to carry my pack for me the rest of the trip. And my doctor said it wasn't serious. As long as I didn't lift heavy stuff, I could postpone the surgery until January in order to pick different insurance during open enrollment. 

Waiting saved us over a thousand dollars, but came with the cost of not being able to play kickball in the fall.

Monday, January 15, 2018

PF Chat: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

PF Chat: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
You're in for a treat today, dear readers. Instead of being subjected to my "thoughts" and "expertise" all on their own, they will thankfully be hidden among those of some actually intelligent and accomplished experts in the personal finance community.

We have Jamila from Journey to Launch, Piggy from Bitches Get Riches, as well as Kara from Bravely and Tanja from Our Next Life. The latter pair also are the creators of The Fairer Cents podcast. 

This week the PF Chat focused on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and, friends, we did not pull any punches. As always, there is some NSFW language. Enjoy.