Today was the perfect trifecta of crazy grocery shopping.
Super Bowl Sunday is tomorrow.
A winter storm that threatens to drop a foot of snow is barreling down on us.
It is the weekend.
Since our refrigerator was nearly empty we used our 11 month old alarm clock to get to the store early and beat the crowds. You know it is going to be a busy day when they have boxes of shovels out in the aisles.
Grocery shopping tends to favor those that plan ahead. For instance, today Kroger had a buy 6 items save $3 special. In many cases that stacks on top of regular sale prices. If you go to the store to pick up one item, you’re not going to be able to take advantage of these sales. Doing one or two big stock ups in a month lets you really optimize your spending.
Growing up, I remember following my mom around the grocery store whenever she went. My memory isn’t that great but a few details still seem clear all these years later. I remember getting yelled at to stay out of the way. I remember being fascinated with a coffee grinder and subsequently getting ‘lost’ because while I was absorbed in looking at the machine my mother had moved to a different aisle. Lastly, I remember asking if we could buy something once and my mom looked at it, looked at me, and said, “no, we only buy things that are on sale”. To a five or six year old, or however old I was at the time, I interpreted that to mean that only a select few items in the store were classified as ‘on sale’ and those items never changed. Crushed that we were limited to only ever buying the 15-20 items that I had seen ‘on sale’ stickers for that day, I resigned myself to eating the same type of cereal for the rest of my life.
Yup, kids are dumb.
20ish years later and now I try to buy only on sale items. Today’s find was 88¢ veggie pasta.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or so the saying goes. Just take a look at this broken chair that Shae found for free.
This solid wood chair was missing its seat and on closer inspection carried the stamp of “Pennsylvania House”. After some digging around the internet, I found out that Pennsylvania House was a furniture company that specialized in mass market reproduction of Colonial style furniture. The company was bought up by LADD Furniture and turned into the mid to high end brand.
Enough history, let’s repair a chair.
The first step is to cut out a new blank. I measured the chair and left a half an inch on each side. Then I transferred those measurements to a sheet of 3/4″ birch plywood (leftover from our washer/dryer platform).
I gave it a quick test fit to see how it looked.
That’ll work! The next step was to stain the bottom of the blank so it matched the chair. I had some leftover walnut stain from our dry erase board project.
After two coats of stain, it was a pretty close match.
I only needed to stain one side because we were going to upholster the chair seat. After gathering some craft supplies we set to work.
The first step was to transfer the seat blank measurements to some high density foam. We added a 3/4″ margin give or take.
We also cut out three layers of polyfill.
Then Shae carefully measured the fabric and we cut that to size.
Here are all of the parts stacked together. At this point, it is upside down.
After carefully lining up the center of the fabric to the center of the plywood, we used a heavy duty hand staple gun to hold the fabric in place.
We did the front and back center’s first because the fabric is striped and we didn’t want wavy stripes.
Working our way out from the centers, we added a lot more staples.
The corners are a bit tricky.
Voila, a “new” chair!
Shae told me I had to be in some of these blog posts. I think she is trying to prevent history from repeating itself where her mother is in none of the family pictures (because she was the one taking the pictures).
Deflation, by Chris Farrell, covers a topic that is almost unheard of in present day America, what happens when prices fall? We are so accustomed to inflation, the opposite of deflation, where prices rise over time and a dollar is worth less tomorrow than it is today that we hardly even think about deflation.
In his book, Mr Farrell argues that the next century will be ruled by deflation. He pins the trend reversal on increasing globalization, the spread of capitalism, and the internet. I can attest to the internet’s deflationary power because I experience it first hand with my software business. Not only can I sell to customers around the world, I also have to compete with other companies around the world. Some of those companies reside in 2nd or 3rd world countries with lower costs of living and lower income needs. That means they can drag my prices down. To remain competitive, companies including my own lose pricing power and the customer gains it.
It sounds like deflation is a great thing for John and Jane Doe consumer right? Well, as companies lower prices to remain competitive, they bring in less revenue. Why should I buy a car today when it will be cheaper tomorrow? With less revenue due to slimmer margins and deferred sales, businesses cannot support their payroll expenses. Worker wages are often referred to as “sticky”, meaning that workers are resistant to lowering wages. Who *wants* to have their income cut?! When a business cannot lower wages across the board, they resort to laying off workers. Sure, a carton of eggs in deflationary times might only cost 50¢ but that doesn’t help the unemployed person very much.
The biggest losers in a prolonged deflation are debt holders. The “Buy it now, pay for it later” mentality of inflationary times does not transition well to a deflationary setting. Consider this scenario. John Doe buys a house with a $250,000 30 year mortgage at 4%. At the time he buys the house, he is making the median American income of $50,000. The monthly mortgage payment is around $1200. That would peg his yearly housing costs around 29%, a number that falls into the popular rule of thumb to keep housing costs below 30% of gross income. Fifteen years later amidst constant deflation and his income may have been reduced to $30,000, but his mortgage has not deflated. It now consumes 48% of his gross income. Everything else that John buys costs less due to deflation, but his mortgage payment has not decreased.
A deflationary threat will likely continue to hover over the world. In aggregate, reflationary monetary policies will continue to counteract the disinflationary drag of post-financial crisis global deleveraging. As suggested in Vanguard’s past outlooks, recent consumer price inflation remains near generational lows and, in several major economies, is below the targeted inflation rate.
Key drivers of U.S. consumer inflation generally point to price stability, with core inflation in the 1%–3% range over the next several years. Nascent wage pressures should build in the United States in 2015 and beyond, but low commodity prices and the prospects of a strong U.S. dollar should keep inflation expectations anchored. In Europe, deflation remains a significant risk that will not soon disappear
Some of those words might have stuck out to you, like “targeted inflation rate” and “price stability”. After learning hard lessons over the past century, central banks have agreed that a targeted inflation rate of about 2% is ideal. They try and control that by raising or lowering interest rates (this is what ultimately sets your mortgage rate) and adding or removing money from circulation (liquidity).
I wouldn’t recommend the book Deflation to anyone unless they were die hard monetary fans. The book reads a lot like a term paper or thesis and tends to take its time snaking around various historic examples and anecdotes to make its points. I had to check it out of the library twice and still gave up before finishing it. You can read more about macro economics (what inflation and deflation are categorized under) on this website.
Increasing your spending when your income goes up. Lifestyle inflation tends to continue each time someone gets a raise, making it perpetually difficult to get out of debt, save for retirement or meet other big-picture financial goals. Lifestyle inflation is what causes people to get stuck in the rat race of working just to pay the bills.
Not too long ago we were broke college students with hardly any income and student loan debt. The only places we could afford to live were dumps. Dumps with roommates to be more precise.
The first place that we lived outside of the college dormitories was a rented house with four other housemates. The rent was divided six ways for a five bedroom house (a love triangle of suicidal lesbians lived together in a very unpredictable fashion). The small arts and crafts bungalow was an improvement in many ways from the dorms in terms of both space, e.g. a full sized kitchen, and financially. We each paid $250/mo in rent and took a share in the $300-500/mo outrageous utility bill. Our housemates were very wasteful. Even so, it was a cheap place to live for the six months that I was there and the twelve that Shae resided.
Determined to keep my living expenses low and remain close to my sweetheart, I rented my first solo apartment a few blocks away until Shae could finish up her college degree.
This had to have been the worst place that I have ever lived. The single bedroom, garden level, apartment cost $300/mo plus utilities. Now that I was on my own, utilities were quite a bit cheaper as I could control the thermostat and the laundry was coin operated (aka not run constantly by housemates washing A pair of pants or A shirt).
I did not have cable, a landline, internet service, smart phone, or satellite tv. I walked to work and only drove to buy groceries. Shae and I only ate out when her parents visited. The lifestyle inflation was small if at all present. If homelessness was rock bottom, the months spent here were akin to resting on a pad of paper that sat on the rock.
That first apartment is the source of most of my horror stories. The entire place was infested with cockroaches and the landlord, a real scum ball, was too cheap to pay for an exterminator. On more than one occasion, I would wake up at night to feel one running across my bare torso. It took several years to undo that complex.
My bedroom had an “exterior” door that opened to the utility/laundry room communal area. It was not uncommon for other tenants to start laundry at 11pm.
The kitchen had cracks in the floor that seeped water when it rained (probably why the roaches loved the place so much). Yes, that is a typical lunch laid out on the stove (bologna, cheese, and mustard).
The living room had a window that was busted out and a piece of plywood had been wedged in. I plastic’d the window up in the winter time and it would bellow in and out as the wind whipped around outside.
As part of living on the ground floor in a locked building, strangers would often ring my doorbell or knock on my window to be let into the building. If I tried to ignore them, they would become belligerent and if I told them to ring the proper doorbell they would become belligerent. The police would often use me as the doorman whenever they came to check in on someone upstairs. I felt more inclined to helping them.
My office was only two blocks away and I would often walk out my backdoor and take the alley to get there. In the warmer months, a bum could often be spotted sleeping in the alley bushes in old army fatigues. Another example of the fine living establishments that I was enjoying was when the mailman joked to me that I was living in the terrorist apartment. It turned out it wasn’t a joke. The former tenant was a convicted terrorist and tried to blow up the state capitol building. I received a large box from a prison one day with random ratty possessions including some shower sandals, handwritten notes, and a grungy wife beater. I chucked it all in the dumpster.
So why in the world did I live in such a shitbox? Primarily for love, it kept me close to Shae, but also for money. The place was magnitudes cheaper than anywhere else that I could have rented.
Moving Up In the World
Shae eventually graduated and we hightailed it out of our respective housing situations to find greener pastures. Since my work could easily follow me around, we moved to a city that hosted employers looking for Shae’s talents and skill set. It was 2010 and the impact of the recession was still being felt by the cautious hiring of the time. Shae could not get into her dream job right away and had to start applying to 2nd and 3rd tier companies. As a result of being unemployed, landlords would not rent to her and she had to temporarily move back in with her folks.
With my still fledgling business and even smaller income I was able to rent a ‘nice’ two bedroom apartment. The neighborhood had several other rentals operated by the property management company, and when Shae secured a menial grunt job a couple of weeks later she was able to move into her own two bedroom apartment across the street.
I paid $525/mo plus electric and she paid $545 plus electric. Our apartments were close enough that we could share an internet connection with a powerful wireless router. Each of us rented out our second bedrooms to graduate students to cut our housing expenses to about $262.50 + 1/2 electric + 1/4 internet. The neighborhood provided plenty of characters with one that expanded our vocabulary and another that sat out all day in a lawn chair to break change for ‘friends’.
It didn’t take an overqualified Shae long to move on from her gruntling GED requirement job to an associates job. Along with the safer, non physical labor, job came a bump in pay. Uh oh, here comes the lifestyle inflation!
It’s true, as my business grew and Shae moved up the job ladder/pay scale we did experience lifestyle inflation. Those bologna, cheese, mustard lunches turned into turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mustard sandwiches. Dinners transformed from chicken to beef. Fruits and vegetables could be found in our pantries and going out to eat was not just when parents visited.
Triple Life Changes
For the next year, life continued on with both of us paying half rent and working our respective jobs. We even scrounged up enough spare money to take a cruise in the Bahamas.
The summer of 2011 was a perfect storm for lifestyle changes. Shae started a new job with her target company, I landed a lucrative contracting job, and we got married. Without looking at the numbers I would guess that our combined income doubled.
We decided that I would move into her place as it was slightly nicer and had coin laundry in the building, working AC, and a dishwasher. Gone were the days of roommates and being able to split our internet bill four ways. As a newly married couple we *needed* some nice pots and pans, those plastic cups *had* to be replaced with glass, and pyrex containers replaced leftover lunch meat containers to pack lunch in. Too tired to make dinner that night, let’s just order take out. We bought his and hers smartphones on contract and shelled out over $100 a month because that’s what well earning married people do! Right?
When the money keeps rolling out you don’t keep books
You can tell you’ve done well by the happy grateful looks
Accountants only slow things down, figures get in
The song describes wealth redistribution and corruption in 1950s Argentina but I think it can also apply to poor personal finance.
Part of the problem was that we were busy house searching at the time and held almost all of our wealth in negligible interest rate savings and checking accounts. What money we did have saved up was not working for us. It was lazy money.
First Time Homebuyers
In 2013, after two years or searching, we found a house and moved.
Our cheap rent was replaced with a mortgage, property tax, homeowners insurance, repairs, all utilities, and furnishings. Mortgage + PTax + Utilities + insurance run about $850/mo. An increase of approximately 50% from our renting days, but with the advantage that the principal of our mortgage payments come back to us as equity in the house.
2013 we also started to get serious about retirement, investing, and trimming expenditures. All three helped us get ahead of the rat race that is lifestyle inflation.
Pay Yourself First
One of the best actions we took and I wish we started doing it earlier was diverting 25% of gross pay to tax advantaged retirement accounts. After 401k contributions, tax withholding, health insurance, and automatic taxable investments our take home pay was/is only about half our gross income. From there we skim off quadruple mortgage payments (paying ourselves in house equity). That leaves about 25% of our income to cover all other expenses (groceries, auto insurance, childcare, eating out, utilities, property taxes, entertainment, etc.).
Paying yourself first, especially with a % 401k contribution helps directly fight lifestyle inflation. If we get a raise a chunk of that raise never makes the paycheck. It is hard to miss something that isn’t there.
A Look Back
In 2012 our net worth increased 16%.
In 2013 it went up by 24%
2014 saw a whopping 41% gain (thanks in large part to the stock market)
While a 16% increase in 2012 isn’t bad, it could have been much more if we had been more cautious about lifestyle inflation. Mobile phone contracts alone wasted over $1200 that year. Leaving money sit around in 0.01% interest accounts also hindered growth. While it was likely the most prudent way to keep our down payment safe, you can see how the following years benefitted from aggressive investments and keeping a bare minimum in anemic checking accounts.
Should we go back to eating plain bologna, cheese, and mustard sandwiches or living in a roach infested apartment to save money? No. Lifestyle inflation per the definition is when your net worth (the green line) remains flat. As long as your net worth is trending upwards, you are beating lifestyle inflation. How much it is trending up is probably a good indication of how much LI is in your life. With that said, it is far easier to go up the lifestyle ladder than go down. Starting in the dump gave us plenty of room to grow.
Remember, a dollar saved is a dollar earned. The next time you get a raise, consider paying yourself first. Your future self will thank you.
My photo library has a bunch of pictures that don’t warrant individual posts, so today is a potpourri day.
The weather here has finally gotten above freezing. Frugal Boy only had a brief encounter with snow this winter (fingers crossed we don’t get slugged with a giant blizzard in the last 1.5 months of winter).
Shae tried her hand at making and freezing breakfast sandwiches. It is nice to have a quick hot breakfast on cold mornings. Aldi is the cheapest grocer that we have found for pre-made sandwiches, 75¢/sandwich. Ours are about equal in price.
Shae also managed to sell Frugal Boy’s Bumbo chair for $14. We paid $5 for it at a garage sale.
The grandparents visited for a few days. It is always nice to have extra hands and eyes to corral youngins.
Yesterday we did some Spring cleaning. If I call it that, will it make it Spring? Living with 24 pounds of curiosity is a great motivator to declutter and clean.