Happy Holidays from My Money Blog!

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I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for reading My Money Blog. I am grateful for your time and attention and hope that I provided something of value in exchange. I hope that your year has been bountiful and that you have enjoyed both success in your finances and the other critical components of wellness – healthy mind, healthy body, and healthy relationships. I hope that you find time this holiday period to appreciate all the hard work you and your family put forth this year. I forgot to budget for a fancy Christmas card graphic, so here are some artfully-decorated cookies from my kids:

(I might have eaten a jelly bean. Shhh.)

The Best Baby Gear Guide: This Stuff Survived 3 Kids in 6 Years

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Some close friends of ours are having their first baby at the same time that our third (and last!) kid is turning 2. That means we’ll be passing along a bunch of stuff and also recommendations. Sometimes I read these buying guides and wonder if the author actually tried it past a 5-minute trial run. We got a lot of items that sounded cool but ended up collecting dust. Other stuff we didn’t think would be useful but quickly became daily essentials through 3 babies over 6 years.

I am not a UL-listed lab and nobody sends me free stuff. These are the real things that we bought or got from our own baby registry that I would buy them again if I had to do it all over again. (I’ve even thrown in some Amazon screenshots which show our actual purchase dates.)

If you create an Amazon Baby Registry, they will offer you an extended 90-day return period as well as a 15% Completion Discount on eligible items for Prime members (Otherwise 10%). It’s a one-time coupon worth up to $300 (15% of $2,000) and valid up to 60 days after your expected arrival date, so use it wisely.

Out & About

Carriers – Beco Gemini Baby Carrier

We picked this carrier out after trying on several different types. We liked that it was convertible with snaps to accommodate both front and back facing positions. If this thing could talk, it would say “I’ve seen some stuff, man…” Poop, vomit, food, the floor of our minivan, and probably a hundred washing machine cycles. It has survived it all with a thick, beefy construction.

Strollers – ZOE XL1 (Single) and XL2 (Double) Lightweight Strollers

We’ve gone through a lot of strollers. New strollers, hand-me-down strollers, consignment store strollers. Once we started traveling with two kids, we did a ton of research trying to find something light yet useful. My pet peeve is “lightweight” single strollers that weigh 20+ pounds! The XL1 weighs 11 pounds. The XL2 is a double stroller that still weighs only 17 pounds. Not only that, but it retains important features that you won’t find on a barebones umbrella stroller – quick-fold, extended shade canopies, 135 degree recline, lower basket, and snack/cup holders. Add some saddle side bags and a handlebar organizer and you’ve got tons of on-demand storage.

If you click on the Amazon link, you can buy direct from ZOE as a third-party seller. The shipping breakdown is expensive, but it works out the about the same price as buying direct from their website. You might also find some open box returned items on their website.

Playards – Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard

The “Pack N Play” has reached the status of Kleenex and Band-Aid where the brand names are used instead of the official term. Once you figure these things out, they are both sturdy and able to be setup/taken down in seconds. They just work, and can be found in hotels everywhere. If you add a custom-sized mattress, you could realistically use this as a permanent crib replacement (or at the grandparents house, etc). We just bought the most basic best-selling version, but there are tons of add-ons.

Car Seats – Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat

The Chicco Keyfit 30 has housed all three children in comfort and safety. It has been rated #1 by Consumer Reports for who knows how many years. It’s lightweight, ergonomic, durable, and the cover washes easily. It’s been in airplanes, taxis, Ubers, rental cars. Our “Kee-koh” has finally earned a retirement full of leisure, while we have handed down the convenient car seat bases to someone else. We definitely maxed out the value on this one.

Travel Systems – Chicco KeyFit Caddy Frame Stroller

We don’t like all-in-one “travel systems”. They tend to be too bulky and heavy, I’ve seen some weigh over 40 pounds! Why push around parts that you’ll only need a year later? If your child is still small enough for the car seat, buy a bare frame and use that as your stroller. It’s lighter and you can still make easy transitions between car and stroller (especially if napping). When your child is older, just buy an independent lightweight stroller (see above).

Nursery

Cribs – Delta Children Emery 4-in-1 Convertible Baby Crib

We bought this crib because it has no moving parts (safe) and it had pictures of it being used as both a toddler bed and eventually a headboard. However, we keep having kids so it’s always been just a crib. It is simple, sturdy, and has lasted through all three kids (and is being slept in as I type this).

Gliders – Dutailier Sleigh Glider and Ottoman Combo

We didn’t buy a Dutalier for the first baby because we thought it was too expensive. However, those all-nighters with a colicky baby means you’re spending a lot of hours sitting on something. If that something makes both you more comfortable and the baby more likely to go back to bed, well… take my money!! When we found out we were having a second child, one of the first things we bought was this glider. We did not regret it. The good news is that it is high quality and still glides quietly and smoothly after 4 years of constant use. The bad news is that they are still pricey. *Cough* Put it on the baby registry and hope someone really likes you *Cough*

Mattresses – Colgate Classica III Crib Mattress

We picked this mattress because it had dual firmness and did not have any funny plastics or smells (supposedly certified by so and so, etc). Infants are supposed to have very firm mattresses for safety, and then you can switch it over to the softer side when they are older. It is of quality construction and well-sealed so that you can wipe off… whatever needs to be wiped off when the time comes.

Here is our favorite mattress sheet. No fancy design but it is super-soft cotton even after lots of washes.

Bathtime

Bath Tubs – PRIMO EuroBath

It’s simple, durable, and made of thick plastic. Would probably last for 100 babies. I didn’t want anything cloth or stretchy. You can just wash or even bleach this thing as needed. I hung it up to dry each night over the tub (use 3M bathtub hook or two).

Diapering

Diaper Bags – We got multiple diaper bags as gifts, but we never used them. Too heavy. We just used whatever bag felt right, often a smaller purse/messenger bag thing for her and a backpack for me. Once they are old enough, I use a reusable grocery bag. Mainly you need to remember snacks and the…

Changing Mats – Skip Hop Baby Pronto Portable Changing Station

Diapers, butt cream, wipes, poop bags. Check. Mat for really gross places. Check. Okay, I usually leave the mat at home now (it zips off). Have I mentioned I don’t like carrying extra weight?

Diapers – I know I should use cloth diapers, but we got a million diapers as gifts with the first kid and… that was that. We were so overwhelmed with everything else that the idea of dealing with cloth diapers was too much. Sorry. Although for some reason, kid #3 goes through about 1/3rd of the diapers that kid #1 did…

We like Huggies. and Pampers. and Luvs. I only look at the cost per diaper. If you wait for a sale + Amazon Family 20% off, you can get close to or at 10 cents a diaper.

Diaper Pails – We received and have used a Diaper Genie for all three kids, and it has worked for the most part, although I’m always appalled at how much the refills cost. I’ve tried the generics and also just using a trash bag, but somehow the smell gets out. Our main attempt at economizing is that we only put #2s in the diaper genie and the #1s go in the normal trash. This is more so we don’t have to keep emptying the darn thing than the cost. Otherwise we just buy the name brand refills.

Bottles – We used Medela bottles, primarily because we got a Medela breast pump from our health insurance. They worked fine and were of good quality in my opinion. The bottles lasted for multiple kids.

Bottle Sterilizers – We don’t use any bottle sterilizer gadgets. We just follow the CDC directions and use warm soap and water, clean hands, and the dishwasher.

Breast Pumps – We got a Medela breast pump from our health insurance. It kept working despite some pretty heavy usage. The battery life does start to go after a year or so.

Feeding Pillows – Mrs. MMB was not a fan of the Boppy. It moved around too much and was uncomfortable. She much preferred the questionably-named My Brest Friend, which is ergonomically better and has a strap for security. We even bought the inflatable travel version which also worked well. The cover is easy to remove, wash, and put back on.

One Last Random Thing – Little Martin’s Baby Nail Trimmer

I know, you’re worried about what the baby is going to eat, how it’s going to sleep, and keeping it safe in the car. But one of the more stressful things for me was trimming the nails. If you don’t trim, their little claws can scratch their own face and even eyes. But using a traditional nail clipper is tough on a tiny wriggly hand, and I have drawn blood before. One of my favorite purchases was this little Dremel-like nail trimmer. No more blood, no more fighting, and I can still use it on my older kids.

Five Wishes: A Living Will That Goes Beyond Just Prolong / Do Not Prolong Life

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People don’t like talking about money. That’s why I started this site. You know what people like talking about even less? Death.

My wife and I have already filled out a generic advanced health directive, but I recently ran across something that seems better. Five Wishes helps you document how exactly you wish to be treated if you get seriously ill in an approachable, holistic manner. In addition to choosing a healthcare proxy and filling out an advanced healthcare directive, it also guides you beyond that. Do you want people to pray for you? Do you want people to talk to you, even if you are unconscious? Do you want to die at home if possible? How do you envision your funeral?

  • Wish 1: The Person I Want to Make Care Decisions for Me When I Can’t.
  • Wish 2: The Kind of Medical Treatment I Want or Don’t Want.
  • Wish 3: How Comfortable I Want to Be.
  • Wish 4: How I Want People to Treat Me.
  • Wish 5: What I Want My Loved Ones to Know.

You can easily find “free” advanced healthcare directives online, but a lot of them pretty much come down to a checkbox of “prolong life no matter what” or “do not prolong life”. The best way to understand how Five Wishes is different is to read through this sample document [PDF].

In 42 states, Five Wishes meets the legal requirements for an advance directive. In the remaining 8 states (Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Utah), you will need to fill out some specific additional forms or mandatory notices to make it legal. Often it’s just an official form you have to attach.

There is a nominal fee of $5 for both the paper and online versions. Five Wishes was created by someone who worked in a hospice and realized that there are a lot of common questions to which your loved ones must often guess the answer. Why not answer them now? It is an enormous gift to both yourself and to them.

Motivation: Take Advantage Of Being 29, 39, 49, or 59 Years Old

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40greatI’m turning 40 years old this summer. This number has always been a psychological marker for me. I’ve always wanted to be financially secure and have started a family by age 40. According to this Atlantic article by Daniel Pink*, I’m far from the only one. Consider marathons:

Four people in four different professions living in four different parts of the world, all united by the common quest to run 26.2 miles. But something else links these runners and legions of other first-time marathoners. Red Hong Yi ran her first marathon when she was 29 years old. Jeremy Medding ran his when he was 39. Cindy Bishop ran her first marathon at age 49, Andy Morozovsky at age 59.

All four of them were what the social psychologists Adam Alter and Hal Hershfield call “nine-enders,” people in the last year of a life decade. They each pushed themselves to do something at ages 29, 39, 49, and 59 that they didn’t do, didn’t even consider, at ages 28, 38, 48, and 58—and didn’t do again when they turned 30, 40, 50, or 60.

The article contains several other insights that definitely applied to me. According to Alter and Hershfield:

“People are more apt to evaluate their lives as a chronological decade ends than they are at other times,” Alter and Hershfield explain. “Nine-enders are particularly preoccupied with aging and meaningfulness, which is linked to a rise in behaviors that suggest a search for or crisis of meaning.”

According to psychologist Clark Hull:

At the beginning of a pursuit, we’re generally more motivated by how far we’ve progressed; at the end, we’re generally more energized by trying to close the small gap that remains.

You could tell yourself that being 29 is no different than being 28 or 30, or you can just use this behavioral quirk to reach your goals. I’ve been working on “closing the gap” in terms of getting all my financial affairs in order. Here are all the things that I’ve been working on as a 39-year-old:

  • Created a system to simulate a monthly “paycheck” so that things run smoothly and the bill gets paid even if I am not around to micromanage things (like I usually do). Dividends and interest flow to the emergency fund/cash buffer (savings account), which then automatically transfers a set amount each month to our day-to-day checking account.
  • Beefed up our cash buffer. As part of the above-mentioned system, I increased our cash hoard to two years of expenses in FDIC-insured savings accounts and CDs. The idea is that this buffer “bucket” feeds the checking account, but also gets replenished by income and interest from our portfolio. As larger upfront expenses like a home repair or used car purchase comes up, the buffer can take a hit. The dividends come in quarterly spurts. The buffer allows us to handle shocks without disruption.
  • Re-examined term life insurance. We are currently 10 years into a 30-year term policy with a level premium. We technically don’t need to replace any lost income anymore, so we considered canceling this policy. However, we decided that if something were to happen to one of us, we would still need to pay someone to replace childcare duties for three children. I don’t know how other single parents do it, but I know that I’d need help!
  • Moved some missing assets into revocable living trusts for estate planning purposes. When we created this trust, we were mostly concerned about having a plan in place to take care of the children in case something happened to both of us. After you create a trust, you must manually move/retitle all your various brokerage accounts into it, and the paperwork can be a pain.
  • Consolidated accounts. I still have a penchant for collecting new financial accounts, but I’ve also closed a bunch this year. Our grandparents used to hide money in jars around the house. I like to buy shares of Berkshire (BRK) and put them in brokerage accounts (often involving a bonus, and BRK gives off no dividends to worry about at tax time). I started over a decade ago with Sharebuilder (now Capital One Investing) and most recently got $5 worth from Stash.
  • Bought a used 2015 Toyota minivan so that we have a reliable family vehicle for the next 10 years. I love sliding doors. I hate the inconvenience of a car breakdown.
  • Started and put some money into a 529 plan for each kid. The amount isn’t enough to cover four years of college, we’ll just have to see how much it can grow as compared to tuition. I read somewhere that you should plan to save 1/3rd, fund 1/3rd from annual income, and leave the last 1/3rd for scholarships, grants, or student loans.

Everything on this list was being putting off because it was unpleasant. Most either dealt with the prospect of early death/severe disability, or annoying paperwork. The prospect of turning 40 got me over the hump. Next decade: Marathon at age 49?

* The article is actually an excerpt from his new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

Dinnertime: Which Meals Offers The Most Nutrition Per Dollar?

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wellio1

Here’s another interesting Priceonomics study, this time analyzing the cost and nutritional content of common American meals.

For each meal, we then derived a health score based on domain experts and the the nutrient-rich foods index (NRF9.3), which encapsulates a food’s nutritional density (i.e., the extent to which it provides a balance of essential nutrients like protein, fiber, and vitamins).

As you might expect, on average the more nutrition, the more it costs. A corn dog is cheap but unhealthy. A chicken salad costs more, but is also healthier. However, there were outliers in the nutrition per dollar metric, as shown in the chart above.

Meals above the line, like Falafel and Chinese Chicken Salad, are healthier than one would predict given their cost. Nutritionally speaking, they’re bargains: you get more nutrients per dollar when you choose these options. Conversely, meals below the line, like Cheeseburgers and Shrimp & Grits, have lower health scores than expected based on cost; they’re nutritional rip-offs.

This analysis was done for a new food prep company called Wellio. An important missing factor is the time and energy needed to prepare these meals. Even if a kale salad is a good nutritional value, I’m less likely to make it if it takes a lot of effort to prep and the ingredients will spoil within a couple days.

Previous related posts:

Updated “About Me” and “My Money” Pages

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

beachy200We’re in the midst of an extended Spring Break vacation, so posting will be light for the next two weeks. I have some pre-written content scheduled, but the comment moderation may be delayed.

I also updated the “About Me” and “My Money” pages, as part of a greater overall plan to clean up the site and make it easier to navigate past content. I think the last time I did this was 2013. Thanks to those that cared enough to ask about it, and thank you even more for your patience. I have grand plans, but recently other priorities have won out.

Modern Newspaper Delivery Boy = Kid’s YouTube Channel?

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

paperboyWhile reading the intriguing autobiography of successful investor and mathematician Edward Thorp, it was mentioned that he was a newspaper delivery boy. Warren Buffett was famously a newspaper delivery boy, and still conducts a newspaper-throwing contest at annual Berkshire shareholder meetings. Coincidence?

Newspaper delivery boys and girls had to develop responsibility, dependability, self-motivated, and people skills (they often had to do the bill collecting). I don’t know if there are any such paperboys/papergirl positions left in the country. Here’s a nostalgic write-up about what it was like: Whatever Happened to the Newspaper Delivery Boy?

According to various sources, these famous business leaders, actors, activists, scientists, and even presidents were also paperboys. (I guess gender stereotypes applied? Kathy Ireland is the only girl on the list.)

  • Walt Disney
  • H. Ross Perot
  • Bob Hope
  • Ed Sullivan
  • Danny Thomas
  • John Wayne
  • Bing Crosby
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Herbert Hoover
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Harry S. Truman
  • Ed Sullivan
  • Isaac Asimov
  • Tom Brokaw
  • Wayne Gretzky
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Kathy Ireland
  • Tom Cruise

I wasn’t a paperboy, or especially entrepreneurial when I grew up. Sometimes I would hoard my lunch money and just go hungry until I got home in the afternoon, but that was about it. I suppose I didn’t have a lot of wants, so I didn’t need a lot of money. I do remember being impressed by the kid in our class who bought candy in bulk from Sam’s Club and sold it individually to students.

What is the modern equivalent of a paperboy? I propose the YouTube video channel. If you are an entrepreneurial kid who wants to develop the skills that will help you navigate the business world in the way that newspaper carriers did in the 1970s, these days you probably have a YouTube channel. A lot of them seem to review toys, but others act out skits, cover travel destinations, or discuss current events. Here are the applicable skills:

  • Responsibility and dependability. You may not have to show up every day at 5am, but if you don’t create content regularly, you won’t grow an audience.
  • Self-motivation. There are probably some pushy parents out there, but I think your passion for the subject will show through in the videos.
  • Media creation skills. You will learn the technical skills required to set up equipment, edit audio/video, and all that behind-the-scenes stuff.
  • Talking in front on a camera. You must communicate clearly with your audience. This is similar to talking in front of a group of people.
  • Advertising negotiations? Some of the bigger channels have brand sponsors beyond just the pre-roll YouTube ads. The kids may have to get involved with these discussions.

There is a lot of inconsistent information about YouTube revenue. From the shocking This 6-year-old makes $11 million a year reviewing toys on YouTube to the more balanced Can Vloggers Really Make a Fortune? to the buzzkill ‘Success’ on YouTube Still Means a Life of Poverty. I’m sure a small percentage are doing awesome, but most are not. Isn’t that how it always works for creative pursuits? JK Rowling is rich, but most fantasy authors are not. But hey, if you’re a kid and making $100 a month and having fun creating something (all while learning useful skills shhhhh), isn’t that a pretty nice accomplishment?

Any readers out there with children who have earned money from YouTube?

Thanksgiving Reader: The Power of Gratitude

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thanksreaderIt’s kind of sad when you hear the term “Black Friday Week” more often than Thanksgiving. I would like to interrupt the flow of deals to briefly connect personal finance and Thanksgiving in a different way. Seth Godin has put together something called the Thanksgiving Reader, which is a collection of quotes and stories dealing with gratitude that is meant to lift everyone up with hope and possibility.

The idea is simple: At your Thanksgiving celebration (and yes, it’s okay to use it outside the US!), consider going around the table and having each person read a section aloud.

You could also enjoy the quotes on your own, or use it as good source material for a Thanksgiving grace or prayer.

There is so much to be thankful for each day.
Today we take the time to pause and acknowledge this special season of harvest and its traditions of sharing with those less fortunate.
We take time to notice the labor of others, from farm to table, that culminates in this feast.
Today we pause to recognize how fortunate we are and to be grateful for the bounty we share with friends, family and loved ones, be they with us or far away.
– Rebecca Hale

The pursuit of financial freedom is really part of the pursuit of happiness. Research has found that expressing gratitude improves both your mental and physical well-being. In other words, it makes you happier. Here’s another good quote (emphasis mine):

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.

It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.
It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
– Melody Beattie

Realizing that so much of what you have is enough (often more than enough) makes you content and happier. Store catalogs, TV commercials, and Instagram celebrities like to present you with visions of perfection, making you see flaws and gaps where are none. This makes you unhappy. Guess which one makes you want to buy stuff? Gratitude is an antidote to consumerism.

I always appreciate this annual reminder to truly appreciate all that the many blessings that I have. Happy Thanksgiving Week!

ZOE XL2: Our Favorite Lightweight Double Stroller for Travel

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zoexl2

If you have young children and like to travel, you likely appreciate a lightweight stroller that still retains those small-but-important features.* After trying out several different brands, our family favorite is the ZOE XL2 double stroller (see 600+ reviews, buy direct from ZOE as a third-party seller). They aren’t a big name brand and you won’t find them in any major big box retailer.

This double stroller weighs only 16 pounds and the single stroller only weighs 10 pounds. That means this double stroller is lighter than many single strollers. How? They made it from aluminum as opposed to steel. Meanwhile, it still has quick-folding capability, extended shade canopies, 135 degree recline, lower basket, and snack/cup holders.

We’ve taken the ZOE XL2 on multiple extended international trips and the weight savings makes a big difference. It can be hard to explain until you compare it side-by-side with strollers that call themselves “lightweight” yet are twice as heavy. Weigh your current stroller and compare! Both of us can carry the XL2 with one hand.

There are also cheap “umbrella” double strollers, but they lack the extended shade canopies and/or deeper recline that allows for easier naps in the stroller.

Our only warning is to keep the removable cupholders in your carry-on bags if you don’t use a gate check bag. (We also recommend a gate check bag for protection. Yes, it’ll get beaten up and probably torn after about 10 flights. I think of it as paying less than $2 per flight. Besides, would you rather have the abuse be inflicted directly upon your stroller?)

Right now ZOE is liquidating their stock of returned and open-box strollers. The prices and discounts vary, but as of this writing you can get the XL1 for $100 and XL2 for $190. They promise it to be “like new” and never taken outside. This is not a sponsored or paid post, we are simply happy customers and they announced this sale to their mailing list members.

* I’m not saying this stroller is only for travelers as it is our “daily driver” as well, but it does cost more than some other value brands. A few more pounds matters less when you’re not carrying it through airports and pushing it 10 miles a day up and down hills.

Tomorrow App: Free Will & Trust, Optional Term Life Insurance

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

tmrwapp0The newly-launched Tomorrow app brings estate planning to your smartphone. The app includes software that will guide you through the creation of a legal will and trust for your family, and it makes money by also selling term life insurance (which you can use to fund your trust). You can use the free will and trust feature on its own and buy life insurance elsewhere. More press at TechCrunch.

The ready-to-sign wills are legal in 47 states (AK, LA, NC coming later). Here’s a diagram from their website:

tmrwapp

Is this an adequate replacement for an estate lawyer? Estate planning is strange because it is so important, but people always procrastinate about it. Nobody wants to think about death. Meeting a lawyer can be intimidating and potentially expensive. So while you could argue about what is best, most people have nothing. Is it a positive to have free will & trust software that fits many situations, making it more readily available for the public? Can it provide a positive start to a conversation with family? I think so. Are there cases where an estate lawyer would create a better product customized to your personal situation? Certainly.

Here’s what The Consumerist (owned by Consumer Reports) had to say about other DIY will-making software back in 2011:

Our wallet-watching cousins at the Consumer Reports Money Adviser newsletter took a look at three DIY options for will-making — LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and Quicken WillMaker Plus — and found that while all three are better than not having a will, none of them is likely to meet the needs of anything more than the most basic of estates.

I’ve always been a little disappointed with legal software products when they say “we are not a law firm and this is not legal advice”. Okay, they probably have to say that. But really, if they are explicitly providing you with a ready-to-sign will and trust (and historically charging a fee for this service), then aren’t they… kinda… providing you legal advice? I certainly don’t understand it all on my own.

I did download the app and poke around for a bit. I liked the mobile-friendly Q&A format (similar to tax prep software), but as I’m not a lawyer I don’t know about quality or whether it covers the proper scenarios.

Competition. There are many established legal software websites that will guide you through the creation of a will and trust for a fee. For example, the LegalZoom Living Trust package includes a living trust, will, financial power of attorney, advanced medial directive, free revisions, and review from an independent attorney for $299. Willing.com currently offers a basic will for free (no minor children), but their cheapest package that includes a revocable trust also runs $299. A traditional local lawyer will certainly cost more than that, closer to $1,000 and up.

It appears that Tomorrow hopes to subsidize this cost by encouraging you to buy optional term life insurance from them. I think this is a reasonable idea (assuming its not too hard of a sell) as term life insurance is also one of those things people regret not buying until it’s too late. Comparison sites like PolicyGenius life insurance quotes are helpful because premiums are the same no matter which broker or website you buy it from. That means Tomorrow can’t mark up the price.

Our family already has a will & trust set up in-person with traditional lawyers. We bought term life insurance years earlier. On the other hand, I did use a software service to form my business (S-Corporation vs. LLC). Motivating myself to finish our estate plan was hard but I’m definitely glad we did it. I recommend getting something down in writing and starting the conversation, no matter which way you choose to do it.

A Semi-Retirement Update, Father’s Day 2017

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okaydadI’ve been told that my blog isn’t personal enough. Father’s Day seemed like an appropriate time to share how our efforts towards financial freedom have altered our day-to-day lives.

Guiding principle. When I first started chasing the idea of “early retirement”, it was mostly about escaping the chains of a 9-5 corporate job for the next 40 years. These days, I am driven primarily to avoid the most common deathbed regret:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This is beautifully phrased, as it will mean something different to everyone. You have to push away the expectations and noise coming from society, your co-workers, even your friends and family. Some people call it mindfulness or meditation, I just call it that quiet voice inside you. Another good take on this from Anthony Bourdain:

It’s a quality-of-life issue with me. Am I having fun? Am I surrounded by people I like? Are we proud of what we’re doing? Do we have anything to regret when we look in the mirror tomorrow? Those things are huge to me.

Choosing semi-retirement over daycare. Up until 2012, my wife and I were dual, full-time earners with a healthy savings rate used to steadily accumulate assets. We spent our free time eating at new restaurants, traveling, hiking, skiing, and playing with our two dogs.

When our first child arrived, we weren’t quite ready to live off our investments but we still wanted to spend a lot of time raising our kids. We decided that we would both work roughly 20 hours a week (“half-time”) and share the stay-at-home parenting duties between us. Technically, we both semi-retired at age 33. At the same time, it was nothing to brag about because many families have a single income parent and a stay-at-home parent. We just happen to split it up. Today, we continue as 50/50 parents and somehow accumulated three kids: a 6-month old, a 2-year-old, and a 4-year-old.

For a many couples, it is simply financially efficient to keep working full-time and pay for daycare. For others, both individuals want to maintain their career trajectory. Both are a valid options and we don’t pass judgment. For us, giving up essentially one full income was also a big decision. We were concerned that we would be giving up current income now and likely stall our future career growth.

Ever since growing up as kid with a dad working long hours, I made a promise to be different when I had children of my own. I never want to utter the words “I wish I spent more time with my kids”. As a direct result of our aggressive savings rate in our 20s and early 30s, we felt comfortable taking an unconventional path. We are thankful every day that we don’t have to drop off our baby at 7am, work all day, come home, and only see them for an hour before bedtime.

Snapshot of our daily lives. We are not the most frugal family, but again we try to live aligned to our values. Our home is not overly big – two girls already share a bedroom and eventually all three will share one bathroom. We cook dinner at home more often than not. We rarely eat out. Our frequent flyer points are mostly idle nowadays, but we did take our 1-year-old and 3-year-old to visit the UK and France last summer. One of the highlights was feeding free-ranging reindeer in Scotland.

reindeer

Is semi-retirement all sunshine and rainbows? Yes, we’ve never had to deal with daycare or hire a nanny. Either my wife or I have been there for every single bathtime and bedtime. One of us has been present for all the first laughs, first words, first crawls, and first steps. But we also feel physically exhausted at the end of every day. I’m definitely more worn out now than our time as DINKs (dual income, no kids).

You really start to appreciate working with adults again after wrestling with three little tyrants children under the age of 5. Yesterday, my oldest child decided to stick her finger down the youngest’s throat. Guess who got to clean up projectile vomit off a shockingly-high blast radius? I’m pretty sure the comic Fowl Language installed a hidden camera inside my house (check out the book as well):

used

There is a huge difference between doing something difficult and aligned with your personal values, and doing something difficult and not aligned with your personal values. Sure, we could spend our free time doing a million other easier things. But perhaps happiness is being able to choose your hard thing and then spend your time working on it. For now, parenting young children is my hard thing. I’m not terribly good at it, but I try… This is a precious time and I want to savor it before it ends.

You may think I’m crazy. That’s okay. Remember, the point is to live a life true to yourself and ignore what other people think. Now excuse me while I clean the vomit stain off my shorts.

Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry, Gratitude, and Relationship Advice

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freakradio

Freakonomics Radio has a podcast called Why Is My Life So Hard? where they talked with Tom Gilovich of Cornell and Shai Davidai of the New School for Social Research about the concept of headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry:

Most of us feel we face more headwinds and obstacles than everyone else — which breeds resentment. We also undervalue the tailwinds that help us — which leaves us ungrateful and unhappy. How can we avoid this trap?

Here’s a more specific example:

GILOVICH: The idea should be familiar to anyone who cycles or runs for exercise. Sometimes you’re running or cycling into the wind, and it’s not pleasant. You’re aware of it the whole time. It’s retarding your progress and you can’t wait until the course changes so that you get the wind at your back. And when that happens you’re grateful for about a minute. And very quickly, you no longer notice the wind at your back that’s helping push you along. And what’s true when it comes to running or cycling is true of life generally.

This psychological bias relates to all kinds of things in life, including why you think your parents were easier on your siblings than you or why everyone thinks their sports team is always treated unfairly.

Personally, this reminded me of some relationship advice that I was given years ago. Here’s are the basic observations:

  • You are accurately aware of every single good thing you do for your spouse or partner.
  • You are not going to notice every single good thing your spouse/partner does for you.

Simple logic leaves you with the following conclusion:

Your goal should be to feel like you are giving more than you receive. Even if in reality both of you are doing equal numbers of good things for each other, you should still feel like you are doing a bit more because you missed things. Alternatively, if you don’t feel like you are giving at least a bit more than you are receiving, then you probably aren’t doing enough. This concept could also be applied somewhat to professional work relationships.

A similar idea is that when you visit a or national park or campground, try to leave it cleaner than you arrived. You might have left some bit of garbage that you didn’t even notice.