Mother’s Day 2018: Coding Boot Camp Day 1

mac book and coding

Four weeks ago I began a new journey.

I entered into the world of computer programming, beginning with the pre-work phase of a coding boot camp. At any given time feelings of excitement, motivation and even apprehension popped through my brain like hot popcorn kernels. What will I learn? How will my before-self be different than my after-self? Can I do this (I am a “tech dud”, not a “tech nerd”)?

I found comfort in the mental process of accepting the challenge. From past experience, I knew the importance of moving through the Rolodex of feelings, acknowledging and accepting each one. Eventually, though, I would need to jump in and take action in order to quiet the inner dialogue. My growth mindset is, ironically, pretty fixed-I knew I could find success no matter how difficult. So, I jumped in!

The pre-work phased passed with lightening speed. I know this because I took a moment on the morning of the live boot camp to actually stop my racing mind, and look back over the 4 weeks. I searched all the way back to day one of the online pre- work, and I could see myself logged in and smiling. “Wow, I’ve learned so much so far”…and yet I can sense that I’ve only touched the surface tension of this huge sea of coding knowledge. There was and is so much more to dive into.

So, on Mother’s Day 2018, I gave 8 hours to coding. Eight hours to a cohort of brave learners. Eight hours to an instructor that obviously loves coding (and gaming, and teaching, and science). Eight hours to a fun TA who’s been to Coachella and is eager to help us succeed over the next three months. On this Mother’s Day, I began to learn my computer — to really, truly learn it. And while I wasn’t with my kids and husband for much of the day, I know that our lost time was not for nothing. Because what I learn, they learn. Everyday I reach for my goal to teach them everything I know. This Mother’s Day began the gift of coding, a gift to me as well as a gift to them.

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How We Crushed Student Loan Debt in Record Time

Where the Debt Originated

When I graduated college with my third degree I owed over $85,000.  A few things about this debt:  The $85,000 represented an undergraduate degree amount of $24,000, a graduate degree amount of $35,000 and a second undergraduate degree (career change) amount of $30,000.  This $94,000 in total student loan debt accumulated by attending three difference schools (two public and one private) over an 11 year period.  Many of the initial student loans were subsidized, but many of the graduate student loans were not subsidized.

When I came out of grad school with a degree in accountancy, I worked for a big 4 accounting firm for a couple of years.  While working there I lived at home with my parents, in the attic.  This awesome gift of having no housing expenses allowed me to pay down that initial undergraduate balance from $24,000 down to $18,000, while paying towards the newly added $35,000 from grad school.  I still don’t know how I left grad school with so much debt.  I worked full time and I had a partial (and by the end, full) scholarship.   I distantly remember using the excess money to pad expenses over the 2 year period, but $35,000!?!

Life marched on.  I kept paying, and eventually, I decided to go back to school for yet another degree.

High Interest Woes

After my third degree, which took me into the medical field, I remember calling the student loan provider (it went from Sallie, to some others, to Nelnet, etc). I wanted to get a clear sense of what I owed, what my interests rates were.  I also needed to know my repayment options.   I remember trying to sign up for the 10 year student loan forgiveness program, because I thought I qualified.  I was an RN working in a rural setting.  When they worked through the numbers they denied me access to the program.  They let me know that because my husband at the time made around $75,000, our combined income was high enough to pay the loans off within 10 years.  Mind you they took his income into account, but not his student loan balance, nor our house payment of $1700/mo.

I remember getting so angry.  I was angry that I was being penalized for being recently married.  My husband made way more than me, and we kept money somewhat separate. I worked part time for about $23/hr in a rural setting. I couldn’t just access his money the way they made it seem I should.

I was angry that my house’s interest rate (5%) at the time, was lower than education rates (6.5%).  I was extremely upset that I could buy a depreciating asset (a new car) at an even lower 0%.  Yet, there was nothing I could do to decrease these interest rates for my education.  Compared to my undergrad loan rates (2%) these graduate loan rates were unbelievable to me.

The Money Plan

It became clear to me that I needed a plan.  I began at work.  I picked up more hours as they became available.  I covered people’s shifts when they needed it.  I worked the overnight shift for the differential (more pay).  I applied for increased hours, and let the nurse manager know (often) that I wanted to be 36 hours if possible.  Eventually, I got the hours and began making higher payments.

I also joined the military-the Army Reserves Medical Corp.  This provided me with extra work experience, more nursing training, combat training and rifle skills.  I learned so much, and I also received assistance in paying down my student loans after the first three years of service.  They paid $50,000, but the total was subject to tax.  In the end, the disbursements totaled around $38,000.

After the disbursements, which the student loan company conveniently put towards my lowest interest loans, I still owed over $35,000.  The interest accumulated so quickly, that the loan seemed never ending. Along the way, Suze Orman retired (I used to watch her show), and I somehow found Dave Ramsey.  I binged on his podcast every single day.

The Power of the Snow Ball

Finally, I found a way to be intentional with my money.  I cleaned up my finances for the first time.  I put the numbers into an excel spread sheet, and I created a budget.  My car was sold, but I went into a lease for a lower payment instead of a used vehicle.  That was a last minute change in plans-I went into the dealership for a USED CAR!  UGH!  Anyway, it freed up my monthly cash flow by $200/month. I cut the cable, I reigned in the food budget, I cut the kid’s activities, I stopped buying tons of clothes.  We paid $1500 to that b*tch of a student loan until all of the 6.5% expensive debt was demolished.  We stopped at the 2% amount, for which I still pay $100/mo- and we went back to putting that excess money away into the stock market.

I think it’s time to snowball again in 2018, because my current (new) husband has $30,000 in student loan debt at the high 6.5% rate.  Spurts of snowballing (10-12 months) are all I can handle before I start to feel overly deprived.  That said, we plan to adjust our retirement contributions down and I can track the balances monthly, so you can see how it’s done!

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Steps to Opening Roth Accounts for Kids

Kids trinket toy cars - saving for kids

Did you know that as soon as a child or teenager earns income they can contribute to an after tax Roth account?  Did you know that with after tax Roth accounts the money you invest grows tax free until retirement and can be pulled out tax free?  Did you know that, assuming certain factors, the earlier you begin to invest your money, the more influential the effects of the compounding interest on your level of net worth? These truths influenced us to open Roth accounts (retirement money) for our children instead of investing more money into their 529 plans (education money).

Current Savings

My youngest son is 3 years old, and my daughter is 9.  They both have varying amounts saved for college.  My daughter has approximately $26,000 set aside in a 529 account, and my son has much less, $1250.  In addition, when I worked for a hospital up North in Maine, they offered payroll deductions towards savings bonds.  I used to purchase $50 per pay period through the program and my daughter is the beneficiary of those.  Between bonds from grandparents and gift money for holidays and birthdays, she has about $5,000 in additional money.  There is a huge difference in the amount saved for each, and much of it comes down to lifestyle inflation and changing priorities. Maybe I will get into that topic later, but for now, this difference in savings amounts is something I feel slightly guilty about-but plan to correct in the future.

Earned Income

This year, when my children completed modeling work for my side business, I paid them W-2 wages for their precious time. They didn’t make a ton of money, approximately $1250 between the two of them, but it was quite a memorable moment when they both received their first ever checks!  I took pictures and I made my daughter sign hers -luckily she knows cursive!! It was so awesome.  I know that next year I will look at other ways to find them income from other sources.  Even small amounts of W-2 income can make a world of difference when you are figuring 60 years of growth!

The choice to pay them was easy, and the process to open their accounts was seamless.    The steps I took were as followed.

Opening the Roth Account

  1. I didn’t give them a choice.  The money was going into savings.  Luckily, my daughter agreed and my son was uninterested in my explanation.
  2. I called Vanguard, told them what I wanted to do, asked them if there were any minimum contribution limits, and proceeded to have them snail mail me the applications.
  3. Vanguard pre-filled the information, but I was confused by the way they did it, so I called them to have them walk me through the process.  Turns out, they filled it out incorrectly by putting my name where the custodial minor’s name should be.  They quickly emailed me a clean version in fill-able pdf form!
  4. I needed their social security numbers, date of births, and beneficiary information (I named them as each other’s beneficiaries).
  5. I attached a quick letter to the printed application.  The letter stated that I was attaching two checks for both of my minor children, and that I wanted the money placed in settlement accounts for them.  Settlement accounts, from my understanding during the call, are kind of like holding or money market accounts.  Because the kids didn’t make much money, purchasing index funds such as VTSAX is not possible.  I will need to go in and tell the money where to go.
  6. Vanguard sent the confirmation via mail that both accounts were set up, funds deposited appropriately.  My next step (preferably before the end of the year), is to log in and transfer their money to ETFs (which track the index fund VTSAX or total stock market exchange).  ETFs are lower cost, and because the kids have low starting amounts, they seem just right for our situation.  Alternatively, the kids could buy single stocks, but I am an index fund sort of investor, so that’s where they will start!
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Earliest Money Memories

saving dollars five dollar bill

A Trip to the Bank

When I was a young child, my father gave me and my sister sound advice about money.  He actually created an entire day around the lesson.  We left our low income apartment in the now gentrified South End of Boston, and took the bus to his credit union.  My father was an MBTA bus driver, so we always rode the bus for free when he showed his work badge. When we arrived at the credit union, the teller welcomed him by name.

My dad explained what a savings account was and told us that banks are used to hold your money for safe keeping.  As he explained it, banks actually paid you interest if you left your money in for a certain amount of time (later I learned he used CDs with double digit interest for his savings).  Anyway, at the very end of our outing my father told us when you start working, or when you get money as gifts, “YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO SAVE”.

Always Saving

You always have to save became a mantra of sorts for me-before mantras were popular.  However, because of the general nature of the advice, I was left to figure out all of the tiny details needed to making saving possible.  Along the way I convinced myself into making many mistakes – often against better judgment.  For example, I pulled money from my 401k as a loan to purchase a home.  Oh, and I went three years at my job without putting in extra retirement savings because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay long term and I didn’t want the hassle of rolling everything over (again) if I left!  Currently, I spent (spend?) too much (just enough?) on my children.

Always Learning

I don’t know all of the answers about money, but I do know that I have experienced ALL of the EMOTIONS related to money-both the highs and the lows.  It wasn’t until very recently that I felt as though it all finally clicked.  How?  Well, I talk more about it in other blog posts, but I did everything from aggressively pay off student loan debt, and increased my savings rate to a 5 figure amount per year.  While I wish the intentional decision making happened 14 years ago when I graduated from college-or better yet, 22 years ago when I had my first job, I am glad I am where I am today.  I guess when I look back, I always worked to reach for an above average level of respect for my money, I just never looked at my money as a tool to be actively controlled. I was more passive than I am now-even though I made (mostly) positive decisions.

I hope you enjoy learning more about my money journey, as I have a few more stops to go before I reach true success.  And most important, I hope I inspire you to improve your money situation as well.  This is something we can all do together.

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Why (and how) We Opened Custodial Accounts for Our Children

family with kids roth accounts money savings

We have three children, and two of them have new Roth IRAs.

Yes, the existence of even one child seems to be a rarity in the Financial Independence world, but we are over achievers.  Daily, we attempt to keep some semblance of a low key but engaged family life while pursuing our FI path.  I definitely plan to discuss the pros and cons of having children while on an intense FI journey in a future post, but for now, I’ll share that our children bring us immense happiness on a daily basis.  I’d give my last dollar and my last breath for them. They are a reflection of the family life we attempt to create.  Each day that they grow, each pencil mark on the wall representing their rising heights, each pair of shoes needing replacement due to growth -all of it represents the passage of time.

And it’s that acknowledgment of the passage of time that often strikes a sentimental chord with those in the FI community, whether they have children or not.  For those of us that came into the FI path later than we like to admit, the realization that we wasted some of this precious commodity of time burns.  It literally stings.  And it is this stinging that we’d like to help our children avoid.  So…we teach them all about money, saving, investing and hard work.

Growing money for our kids

The powerful impact of the time value of money can not be denied.  Many FI bloggers have posted calculators that show exactly how money compounds, repeatedly doubling over time, on their sites.  Here is one such calculator created by Rob Berger of The Dough Roller site.  Basically, what this compound interest calculator shows is that the earlier a person begins to invest their money, and the longer they keep the savings invested, the more impact the compounding effect grows the money.

It may be too late for me to go back to my teens to invest my small dollars, though I began working at 14 years old, but it is not too late for my children.  This year, through a modeling job, two of my children were paid for work.  With checks in hand, I placed a call to Vanguard and began the process for setting up  Roth IRAs for them.  Yes, a low interest savings account would teach them the process of walking into a bank, speaking to a teller and handing over their money for an institution to hold. Nostalgia aside, we must teach our kids to make the best decisions with money, and time  for compounding is critical.

In the end, I went through a number of steps to get the accounts set up.  Please read here for a detailed outline of each step I took, so that you can recreate my results.

Now that we have started this savings and investing journey, we are looking for more ways for the kids to earn at least small sums of w-2 money on a regular annual bases.  Maybe I can write an annual update on the investment amounts and the annual growth as time passes.  Is that something you would like to follow?

Let me know.


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It’s The Beginning

Financial Freedom Peaceful Beach Scene

Analysis Paralysis Overcome

I was a consumer of financial information since before the days of Suzie Orman. Back when I was a financial novice, I made my fair share of mistakes, and scored many financial wins as well.  Since then, I graduated to more advanced levels of personal finance knowledge by reading books, listening to podcasts, obtaining a Master’s degree in Accountancy, and perusing tons of financial blogs.  Yet, with all of the knowledge accumulated over time, and all of the undying interest in the topics of money and finances, I hesitated for months before starting my own FI blog.

Today, instead of hunting Black Friday deals, I decided to overcome my analysis paralysis and put myself out there.  Once I press publish, my blogging journey as The Reluctant Frugalist will officially begin, so here is a little bit about my situation as it stands today.

Our Current Financial Independence Journey

Unlike many others in the F.I. (Financial Independence), F.I.R.E (Financial Independence Retire Early), or F.I.O.R (Financial Independence, Optional Retirement) space, I am not a young millennial, I am not single, I am not childless, and I am not naturally extremely frugal.  I am 36.  I am married.  I have 3 children.  I enjoy spending on things that I see value in.  In fact, purchasing joyful experiences or items often makes me feel just as happy as growing my savings accounts!

We live in HCOL area in New England.  We don’t plan to move because we value the education that my children are acquiring (language immersion), and the community we are involved in.  My kids are currently participating in music lessons, sports and weekend activities.  Honestly, one thing I will explore through this blog is my spending on activities and education for my family and self. It is one area of weakness for me, and is a topic that isn’t covered in the FI world often.

Why This Blog and Why Now

Through blogging I would like to grow my circle of like minded people.  It is really difficult to speak to others about money.  I often find that people respond the same way they do when you bring up subjects like math-they just freeze or avoid the topic.

Additional reasons for this blog include integrating more accountability into my financial life,  creating an outlet for all of my FI thoughts, and sharing FI information that I found to be life changing for me.

My hope is that you read this blog, find information that helps you make financial changes for the better, and that you return often to keep moving forward with me! That’s it.

So, what are your financial goals?


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