The Old Farm House Renovation

This is the second post about our home renovation project. The first one detailed the nitty gritty, excitement, and challenges we faced during the renovation. This one is much more of the fake-HGTV-Rennovation-Show post with the glamor shots .

We don’t really live in a Farm House (although we are utilizing some of the ‘farm house’ styling). I suppose the post title is a little bit of a misnomer- our house is really just a basic suburban brick house located on a street named “Old Farm Rd”. Hence the nickname I’ve been using to describe our home: Old Farm House. It certainly has an ironic ring to it that I like.

The primary living space of our home is a standard 3/2 ranch. We have a partially finished (at the moment) basement that will be some combination of airbnb, home gym, kids playhouse, hangout, and guest space. We have yet to do anything major with the exterior or the yard. It’s all a bit of a mess- Anything outside the primary living space is second priority. Maybe someday the basement and exterior will get their own post. For now, we’ll share what we’ve been up to over the last few months. So, without out further ado- the before and after shots of the renovation: Continue reading The Old Farm House Renovation

Our Fixer Upper Project

This is post one of our fixer upper project. This contains the details and nitty gritty behind the project. Next week’s post contains all the before and after glamour shots.

So, we bought ourselves a little fixer upper. Although we’ve tackled a small home renovation before, the home we purchased earlier this year has been quite a project! The house ended up being much more complicated and larger than what we experienced in the past. We had a pretty tight budget and decided to do almost all of the renovations ourselves. It was a pretty intense time commitment and we learned a lot throughout the process. We moved in a few weeks ago and we are now in the slow process of completing the remaining 10%. Although we finished about 80% of the projects before we moved in, the house is still only mostly complete and almost every room has some minor project left.

The ole HGTV shows tend to glamorize the process of a home renovation. The timing, cost, and mental expense are often undercalculated and the final product is almost always a series of compromises. Self renovations are certainly not for everyone. However, like most worthwhile activities, renovating a house is a solid combination of difficulty, stress, learning, and satisfaction. A lot went into our renovation project. There were tons of different thoughts and many lessons learned throughout the process. I’ll share some pictures of the kitchen renovation process in this post and next week’s post will have the complete collection of the glamour shots. (Before and After Preview of Kitchen)

Continue reading Our Fixer Upper Project

An Efficient Life (In the Suburbs)

Yeah, I know- It’s an oxymoron. There is very little that is efficient about living in a suburban environment. In fact, it is pretty much the poster child of excess and competing with the Joneses. However, its also important to remember that every housing situation has its set of trade-offs. For some cities, living just outside the urban center can provide a set of trade-offs “worth it” for many families. In addition, there are many different lifestyle choices you can make to create an efficient (as possible) lifestyle somewhere between the city center and an isolated hut in the woods. 

If you’ve followed MMM (or the FI community in general) wiring for any length of time, you will understand the general resentment for the excess of suburban life. And it is well deserved. The generalities associated with the car-centric, overbuilt mcmansion lifestyle are easy to see in the western suburban world. The waste, transportation, isolation, and expense are also easily observed. The lifestyle cost can be subtlety expensive for the inefficient. However, for those that make the choice (myself included) it is worth the mental exercise to think though making any lifestyle as efficient as possible.

Not All Burbs Are Created Equal
A few years ago Ms. SE did a rotation at a hospital in downtown Atlanta. We have a lot of family and friends in the area and actually spent four weeks there, each in a different location throughout the city. The final two weeks were spent in a suburban enclave about 15 miles north of the city center. The second day of our stay, there was a traffic jam that caused the 15 mile commute to take about an 1.75 hours to get home. I realized that, for me personally, it would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) for me to be content with a traffic-filled suburban commute. There is not enough money to get me to do that. It was a wonderful learning experience. Continue reading An Efficient Life (In the Suburbs)

Shaving Off My Money Mustache

I’ve been reading, researching, and writing about personal finance for a little over ten years now.  But even before I started formally sharing my financial thoughts, I spent the earliest years of my life thinking through the implications and trade-offs of how I structured my financial and economic decisions. I’ve always had a knack for finding (and utilizing for my advantage) market inefficiencies. I enjoyed saving, accumulating, and investing even early in my middle school years. I’ve certainly noticed my life and consumption have continually evolved over the last thirty years.

I started this crazy process of learning as much as I could about personal finance somewhere around 2000. I spent several years plowing through every single personal finance book at our local library and followed the research and pop-press through my entire doctoral program in financial planning. Although I read Your Money or Your Life and all of Jacob’s ERE stuff, it wasn’t until Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) came along that the movement in my brain had a coherent structure. MMM is a master at putting a ‘why’ behind the choices it takes to peruse an optimal life and efficient spending. I’ve even had Pete, the Mr. Money Mustache himself, sit with me and discuss many of the topics on this blog. Continue reading Shaving Off My Money Mustache

Selling Out To The Suburbs

I can’t believe it. We actually did it. We just bought a house in the suburbs. And, after a few more weeks of renovations, we will be moving in full time. We’ll be moving to the land of SUVs, non-walkable, car-centric, single family wastefulness that embodies urban sprawl. We even bought a new (to us) 2nd car to support our new life of excess to accompany a home with more bedrooms than we have people. This may seem normal to you, but if you’ve read my work about efficiency, lifestyle design, and riding a bike, you understand that this (on the surface) appears like a complete lifestyle paradigm shift. And in many ways it is. But, ironically, in some ways it will actually be more in line with the priorities we espouse for this stage of life.

Living the City Life Dream?
I love our old little house but I’m not sure we were really living the city life dream. At first glance our current home met the correct efficiency metrics- in-town, small, efficient, walkable (ish), paid-for. Just a few blocks from some really great trails, parks, and restaurants. Less than a mile to an incredible downtown and less than two from my office and entertainment. However, just beneath the surface were a few missing components to an ideal in-town experience. We live off a nice little street but the traffic moves quickly and almost all of our neighbors are elderly or college students. The elementary school we were zoned for is one of the weakest 5% in the state. Although we can walk around, many of our friends (and other areas we spend lots of time) are actually just out of walking/biking distance. While our home was awesome before we had kids, it has changed a bit with the two newest editions. Part of the changes are really a function of the evolution of our life over the last five years. Five years ago schools didn’t matter, going out downtown was an exciting activity, work was twice as close, and we were the college students next door. The biggest takeaway for us is that our needs in a home change as our lives evolve. (picture is the new house in the burbs’) Continue reading Selling Out To The Suburbs

The Free Digital Envelope System

I think it is about time your grandmother, Larry Burkett and Dave Ramsey migrate into the twenty-first century. Ah, the old tried and true envelope system. The simple idea of budgeting by putting your cash into actual envelopes and, gasp, when the money runs out the spending stops (SNL) . With the introduction of connected smart phones and instant access to online banking, the concepts of envelope style cash flow planning are now conveniently available for free to all Americans.

So, with all the ways to keep up with transaction and financial systems, why would anyone use envelopes? I believe the beauty of the envelope system lies in its simplicity and transparency. The system allows you to make one set of decisions at the beginning of the month and then you don’t have to keep receipts or track of anything; simply spend the money you have in your envelope. If you run out, too bad, plan better for next month. Or at least have a conversation with yourself or spouse and figure out where the money you need will come from. The second most useful idea of using envelopes is the fact that, especially if you share a budget with others, it is quite easy to see if there is money left for something. You don’t have to keep track of every dime you spend, but you can quickly open up an envelope and see if you have money to go out for dinner at the end of the month. As long as you can agree on the amount that goes into the envelopes, you don’t have to worry about overspending. Continue reading The Free Digital Envelope System

2017 Challenges

I don’t really feel passionate about making change* this year. I know that doesn’t really roll off the tongue for a wannabe self improvement blogger. Maybe I’m getting a little soft, or maybe I do not have quite as much discontent that needs to be addressed. But for some reason, I don’t have the strong internal desire to make drastic life change this year. Similarly to how I felt the previous six months, I’m prepping for a lot of new commitment and life change as-is. I certainly have plenty of minor goals and things I want to accomplish, but I’m not really looking to make a ton of personal lifestyle changes. The upcoming activities of life will be sufficient for me to scratch the itch of progress.

I enjoy thinking through personal goals while trying to design the next few months and years of my life. I also enjoy the end of a year and prospecting of a new one. I often think through five to six key areas of life and brainstorm where I want to make progress. However, this year, I’m moving to a less complex set of goals, challenges, and resolutions. This year will be conceptually much simpler than many before it. I won’t be making lots of different major changes- I’ll only be working toward one or two big ones. I prefer to think of it as focused. Instead of doing lots of different life experiments and making incremental change, we will simply be working through a few major goals with focus. I think an apt example would be someone working five different jobs to make ends meet. While possibly commendable, sometimes it may make more sense to work a single job and concentrate one’s efforts there. With that in mind, the focus of this year will simply be renovating our home and making our family relationships stronger. Continue reading 2017 Challenges

It’s Finished

I remember thinking six months ago about how simple my life would be right now. I was about to enter one of the most exciting and challenging six month stretches of my life. I was switching jobs into a new industry after working with my previous employer for 10 years. I was finishing my my doctoral program. We were getting our house ready to sell and searching for a new one. We even bought a new (to us) car and traveled for several weeks.

The anticipation and stress was intriguing but I enjoyed the challenge. I remember thinking, “Oh, how simple life will be when this phase of life finishes.” Well, it’s finished. But, life doesn’t really feel like it has slowed down very much. I seem to have a pretty consistent level of stress despite the excitement in and around my life. My brain likes to think ahead and anticipate changes or challenges if the current set of stressors are not enough. I finished my 12th and final year of college. We sold our house and bought a fancy (*soon to be) new one. I moved into the field of financial planning full time and have learned a lot! We returned our electric car and reverted back to gasoline. I’ve even switched from coffee to espresso. I’ve settled in after traveling quite a bit and kids are a few months older than they were before. 2016 was a fun year. (Picture: My awesome parents at my graduation) Continue reading It’s Finished

Turning My Hobby Into My Job

When I was a kid I told people I wanted to be an architect. I think it was mainly because I played with lots of Legos and people told me I should build or design stuff for a living. As I approached the end of high school, I leaned more toward engineering and medicine mostly just following in the footsteps of my family. At some point after my first year in college, I realized I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I stepped back to get a generalized degree in business. After graduation, I spent a little time overseas working and traveling eventually settling into grad school learning about economics.

Ifinancen high school I remember thinking economics was the most boring subject on Earth. I equated it with graphs, charts, and equilibriums that had little bearing on my day to day life. When it came to graduate school I couldn’t decide between an MBA program or Law school. Looking back, I think I was really just buying time to figure out what I wanted to do in life. Ironically, I chose to go with economics based primarily on the fact that they offered the best assistantship and stipend. It wasn’t until I really studied microeconomics and behavioral economics that I realized that learning how incentives work and how decisions are made is extremely valuable. Continue reading Turning My Hobby Into My Job

Justifying the Choices We Make

Do you ever make decisions outside the norm that you have to justify? Have you ever tried to explain a life choice you’ve made but failed to convey the “Why” behind the choice in the time frame given to explain? We are constantly making decisions about the way we choose to live our life. There are times when we make choices we know are correct for certain situations but have a hard time articulating why they are so. Often, we’re unclear the exact reasons why we make choices but we clearly know in our gut that they are right for our life. It can be hard to verbally (or internally) justify the choices we make. 

debateUndoubtedly, when you take a position outside the status quo, you will be forced to explain your set of choices on a irregular (or regular depending on how divergent the choice) basis to those following the crowd. If you choose to live debt free, retire early, or live a simple life you will be asked about why. If you choose to follow a religion (or not to follow one), live by specific philosophical principles, or make any unique life choices- you will certainly be asked to justify your position. Especially if you regularly interact with people that share different views than you do. Even if you just eat a little differently than your peers you will be asked to defend your reasoning. Continue reading Justifying the Choices We Make