Back in May, I was a guest on Maggie Germano’s Podcast, “The Money Circle.” I shared some of our background and how we started investing in real estate. We brushed on topics like establishing an LLC, tax advantages, and how you don’t need to start big to just get started. It was a brand new experience for me, but I’m passionate about our real estate experiences, and I loved being able to share. I hope you’ll check it out!
We’re continuing our spring/summer of travel and activity, which is why there are fewer posts and lots more spending.
The stock market has increased, which has been the main factor in our net worth change. We paid $2,000 towards the mortgage we’re paying down, leaving a balance of $3,300. This mortgage will be paid off once all our rent is collected for July; it was pushed back a little bit because of the flooring replacement that occurred in one of our rentals, which is why our credit card balance is much lower than last month. We’re also still waiting for half of one property’s rent, which is the norm these days.
- Utilities: $250. This includes internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant.
- Groceries: $518
- Gas: $268
- Restaurants: $165. Our credit card reimburses for many of these expenses; we received credits totaling $120.13 in the last month.
- Entertainment/Medical: $1,093
- Investment: $1,100
- Insurance Costs (personal and rentals): $845
VIGILANCE ON CREDIT CARD REWARDS
Mr. ODA discovered that our PNC credit card rewards balance was decreasing, despite earning new rewards this cycle. He investigated further and noticed that we had been losing rewards for a few months now. PNC has a policy that they don’t issue their rewards until you hit $100 worth of rewards. Once we hit $100, PNC sends us a check in the mail. Since they send a check, we still receive paper statements, even though we regularly check our financial accounts online. Over the past few months, both of us checked the balance to see “ok, we’re nearing $100,” but didn’t put any more effort into knowing the details of the balance. Mr. ODA happened to notice that the statement didn’t make sense.
$89+3 somehow equals $82. There isn’t a single section on our statement or via our online account that identifies the loss of rewards Mr. ODA called PNC to ask for more details and learned that our rewards expire after 2 years, despite their policy of not issuing a check until you hit $100. They basically said, it doesn’t matter that your account is over 10 years old, or that credit has been used less in the last year due to the pandemic, or that they don’t clearly identify the expiration of rewards and just identify a lower balance. As a comparison, and I keep going back to Chase, but Chase changed up their reward categories to allow the consumer to earn more rewards during the pandemic (e.g., in addition to giving rewards in the travel category, since consumers weren’t traveling, they added grocery and home improvement stores as major reward categories).
The PNC customer service representative reinstated 60 days worth of lost rewards and issued a statement credit. We don’t want a statement credit because we no longer want to use this credit card, earning rewards that we’ll never be able to capture. If we use this credit card to use up the statement credit, that’s rewards that could be earned on a different credit card. Now Mr. ODA is fighting for the credit to be applied to our checking account or to have a check sent to us (which is the preference on our profile) and fighting for the reinstatement of the rest of the rewards lost.
Without PNC, we’re down to 4 credit cards in our regular rotation. We have 3 cards that we use for categories (gas, grocery, restaurants, travel, home improvement stores), and then we have the Citi Double Cash card that is for “everyday purchases.”
We paid $2,850 in extra principal towards the main mortgage we’re paying down, leaving that mortgage with a balance of $5,500. We had a $4k flooring purchase on another house that has set our pay off timeline a few weeks back, but we’ll still have that mortgage paid off in the next couple of months. We have a rental property that we purchased in 2016 that has flooring that’s at least that old. The carpet has long passed its useful life, and the linoleum in the kitchen and laundry room has started to peel up at the seam. Typically, we wouldn’t want to replace flooring while a tenant still lives there, but they’ve lived with this for almost a year, and they’ve been our tenants since we purchased the house. As a means of keeping the tenant happy, we agreed to replace the flooring in all the rooms except the bathrooms.
We had two of our tenants not pay rent by the 5th, as required by the lease. They’re the two that are typically late, and they’re typically not up front with telling us about it. We’ve said several times that we’re really flexible landlords, but we can’t be flexible if we’re not told what is happening. With one tenant, who had just recently irked us with a plumbing issue and being incommunicado, we didn’t even reach out for information. We’ve had enough of their antics and having to chase them for rent. So I simply sent them their notice of default letter, outlining all their rights as tenants as now required under COVID-related procedures. I received an email letting me know that they’d pay on the 7th. I love their nonchalant response, like they hold the power and will pay whenever they feel like it (hmm). For the other tenant that was late, she texted to say she’d be late with the payment on the 7th, and then on the 7th only paid part of the rent due. She said she was in a car accident and there was an issue with her sick leave pay out, but she’d get it to us when it got fixed. She resolved it on the 12th, although still without the late fee.
We were able to get the invoice on the HVAC replacement for one property, which meant we paid our partner the $3,288 we owed him, on top of his usual $2,167 that we pay out for him to pay the mortgages and then his share of the profits (since I manage all the rent collections).
Our credit card balances are high for several reasons. The $4k flooring purchase; as well as the insurance for one of our properties that isn’t escrowed because we paid off that mortgage, which was $436; an expensive gift purchase that isn’t transparent in the cash and credit line items because that cost was split 3 ways (i.e., we received 2/3 of that cost back in cash, but it’s still reflect in the credit line); and our travel.
We booked a camp site for the end of the month that required payment up front. We just got back from a trip, which increased our spending. But I’ll note that when we travel, we’re not eating expensive meals. Our interest is in the experiences and activities, rather than exploring sit down local restaurants. Our food for 5 days cost us $161 as a family of 4. We also ended up only paying for 2 of the 4 nights in the hotel because the air conditioning was broken, even after they came to ‘fix’ it, and then, when I was checking under the bed to see if any toys or socks got left behind as we were leaving, I found a large, dead roach. We didn’t ask for any comps; one was automatically reflected in my final invoice without my prompting, and then when the manager was speaking to Mr. ODA about his stay, he volunteered removing another night.
We opened a new credit card to take advantage of the bonuses since we knew we’d have this travel and the flooring cost to meet the $4,000 spending threshold for their bonus. This credit card has an annual fee of $95 and no 0% interest period, which goes against our norm when looking to open a new credit card. However, the bonus can be transferred to our Chase Rewards Portal, where we can use it to book travel at 50% the cost. We also received a $50 grocery credit.
- My husband and I cashed in the last of his savings bonds that we got as children, so that was an extra $735 that we brought it that wasn’t planned.
- We paid about $6,074 for our regular mortgage payments. Several of our properties had mortgage increases due to escrow shortages. I haven’t figured out which I dislike more: planning for tax and insurance payments, or the large escrow increases that seem to happen year after year. I think it’s the escrow though.
- Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts. I should also note that I don’t speak to other investments because they happen before take-home pay, but my husband maxes out his TSP (401k) each year as well, which I had also done when I was employed.
- Our grocery shopping cost us $700. Honestly, I don’t even know how to explain that cost jump. I think it’s because my husband shopped some deals at Kroger and Costco, so we stocked up on some things that aren’t part of our routine purchasing.
- We spent $200 on gas. Two trips to Cincinnati, our trip to Atlanta, and then more-than-usual trips around town.
- $400 went towards utilities. It’s higher than last month because we paid 3 months of our cell phones, which gets us back on quarterly billing as a family. Utilities include internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. We still haven’t sought reimbursement from the builder on our electric bill, but this month’s bill was even less than the last month’s.
- Our entertainment costs included baseball game tickets for our trip as well as two games later this summer, parking for the games this past weekend, a new shirt for our son, activities for the kids, and the hotel. This past month, we spent $650 on things I’d classify as entertainment related. I also included boarding for our dog ($100) in this total.
- Speaking of our dog, he had his annual appointment (shots and the year’s worth of preventative medicines), and that cost us $500.
- We spent $292 eating at restaurants and ordering take out. We utilized a Door Dash credit on one of our Chase credit cards, which was about $30.
- But! I killed it with running errands this month and actually returning things that needed to be returned. I returned $150 worth of items one day!
- We paid our State taxes during this period too. Between two states, that was $954. Also, anecdotally, I’ll share that we spent $6.40 to mail our Virginia tax return. We processed our taxes through Credit Karma, as we had done last year. We got through the federal e-file and moved onto the state filing, only to find out that if you’re filing partial states, Credit Karma doesn’t support it. I had to print 70 pages of our federal return, sign it, and ship it off to Virginia.
Our net worth actually dipped this month. The stock market is the main factor in that, but the house valuation estimates are starting to level off and look more realistic as well.
Between our personal lives and our business life with these rental properties, we were sure kept busy. We expect the Spring months to be a busy time of year, and honestly it feels good to be active again. While we’ve loosened the purse strings for the summer months, especially after having done hardly anything for the last year, it was still a shock to see just how much we spent in these categories. But that’s the benefit of looking at your finances regularly. We can either choose to remain on course with our summer plans, or we can dial it back if we feel this was more than we expected.
Since we know we’re on top of our finances and have set up a healthy mentality when it comes to spending, we’re comfortable looking at this information once a month. If you’re currently developing these money habits, you may want to do these types of check-ins more frequently.
I left my career exactly two years ago (on the 8th). My son was 8 months old. Honestly, I could have left my job years prior thanks to what my husband set up for us, but without kids, there was nothing to fill my time. I enjoyed my work a lot, so every day worked was another day of money ‘saved.’ I now have two kids and haven’t looked back. I’ve ‘retired,’ but I haven’t stopped producing some income in addition to managing our finances (although I managed the finances while employed full time also).
First, some background of my career.
When I first started working, I was very driven. My goal was CFO by my early 30s. That seemed crazy, until our CFO stepped in shortly after I started working there, and she was 32. Goal marked. I was on the General Schedule pay for the Federal government. I started as an intern in 2007 (GS-4) and joined the training program (GS-7) that gave you a salary increase every year (with acceptable performance) until your position’s max (GS-12 by 2011). I needed to devise a plan that got me to a GS-15 as fast as possible because in 2011 I was 25 years old, which meant I had 5-7 years to climb 3 grades (which takes at least one year in each grade). Not a lot of wiggle room. Well, I soon realized that there was more to life than climbing the ladder as quickly as possible.
I met my husband at work, and we ended up moving to DC for personal reasons and took a GS-12/13 (this means that I started the position as a GS-12, and after 52 weeks ‘in grade’ with acceptable performance, I was promoted to the GS-13 – in theory, not practice). I was warned that it would be an uphill battle to go from the 12 to the 13, and it wouldn’t be as easy and automatic as it had been to get to the GS-12. Commence years of frustration and extremely poor communication from my leadership on expectations. Without getting the promotion within my position, I applied for another position within the same office, and I got it. This was a GS-13/14. I never got the 14.
My experience within the CFO’s office was so hard on my psyche, and I felt that being a young female, rather than my excellent experience, production, and reputation, were playing into the decision making by my leadership to not promote me. I left and went “back into the field” instead. That position was a GS-13 with no promotion potential within that role. By that time, it didn’t matter to me. I didn’t want any more responsibility than what I had; I enjoyed the work I was doing.
My experience in the CFO’s office taught me that I preferred to be at home with my family and experiencing those things. Before my relationship with my husband, I didn’t realize how much I wanted to spend time outside of work traveling, playing sports, and being with my family.
MY LAST DAYS
When my son was born, I took 14 weeks off work (using my own built up leave since at the time the government didn’t provide maternity leave). The typical 12 weeks got me to just before Thanksgiving, and then I worked one or two days per week until after Thanksgiving. The goal was to work and burn my leave to zero before quitting instead of being paid out on it. If you’re paid out on it, then the tax bill hits hard and all at once. Plus, by burning the leave while still employed, I gained even more time off to burn during those pay periods, more 401k (TSP) matches, and added a few months to my back end pension calculation.
Based on my leave balance, being responsive at work, and managing child care, we first set a goal of January. Then, my husband pointed out that January and February had holidays, and I should try to work through those holidays to get those ‘free’ days off. The goal became March because March is long and without any holiday time off! Well, the Federal government shut down that winter for several weeks. My husband’s job was affected by the furlough, but my type of position was funded through a different mechanism that meant my agency still worked (and if you want a lot of detail on that, I’m always happy to talk about it, but I won’t bore the majority here 🙂 ). So I worked full-time while he stayed home with our son. This meant I wasn’t using my leave, so I could work the part-time schedule longer once he went back to work. We then set my goal for May. I probably could have made it longer, but I was afraid that if I got near Memorial Day, he’d say “work through that holiday,” and then 4th of July wasn’t too far away, so I forced my last day to fit.
I had a such a good reputation for the work that I did, that I still get asked questions by friends I made in the position. Plus, I help my husband get through some work things here and there since his position is similar to one I used to hold. I miss the work, but I don’t miss the office politics and red tape, so I’ll take these random questions from friends!
WHAT AM I DOING IN RETIREMENT
There are days that I miss the work I did. I certainly appreciate the flexibility we have now.
FLEXIBILITIES & MOBILITY
We had the opportunity for my husband to work in KY for the summer after I quit. We were able to capitalize on the per diem given for living away from your duty station, and my son was able to spend time with his cousins. I also learned to be extra grateful for our normal-sized house and that I wasn’t trying to live in a one-bedroom apartment for very long.
Since my husband’s job required fairly frequent travel, my son and I were able to join him for those work trips. We went to Orlando and Glacier National Park together! We also took several trips just for fun, like to the Braves Spring Training games.
Pandemic life made us realize that we wanted to be closer to family earlier than we had intended. We loved our neighborhood, and the schools were going to be great, but having to isolate from people for so long was hard. It was also a logistical nightmare to get things done sometimes without family to help watch the kid(s) in a pinch. Since I’m not working, we decided to move to KY to be near Mr. ODA’s family – a lot earlier in life than we had intended. We discussed the possibility in May, discussed it more seriously in June, had our house listed in August, and closed on it in September. Nothing like a hasty decision with a newborn and no house lined up to move into on the other end of this decision! But had we both been working and both needing to be employed once we moved, we wouldn’t have been able to make such a move as quickly as we did. You can read more about these decisions in my ‘Moving States’ series posted recently.
It’s been nice to be able to do activities with the kids during the week when things are less crowded. Sure, a pandemic limited our options for the last year, but we still have more freedom. I enjoy seeing all the things they learn in a day. There are hard days where I crave more adult conversation or the ability to sit quietly and get something done without being asked for the 90th snack of the day, but I still wouldn’t go back to work.
I’m the type of person that wishes I knew the inner workings of so many things and have a strong desire for efficiency. When I took my first job in DC, I kept pushing that I wanted to bridge the ‘headquarters’ and ‘field’ communication gap. For instance, there was a process that the field would submit to headquarters for action. Headquarters had their own internal process of tracking and executing it, but the field didn’t know that process. Therefore, headquarters spent a lot of time answering “what’s the status of my request” type emails. I explained the process to the field, and then we were left to spend more time processing the actions than managing questions.
All this to say: I’m quick to jump at new opportunities where I’ll learn something. I like knowing the process for things and find these details help me better connect with other people. While not being employed full time, I’ve kept my eye open for short term and part time opportunities to do something different.
In February 2020, before the pandemic started, I applied to work for the US Census. We don’t “need” the money, but it gave me something to do that’s different. The application said Census field work was expected to be conducted in April and May. This was going to be hard since my daughter was due at the beginning of April, but I figured I wanted to be in the mix for information instead of assuming I wouldn’t be physically able to do work. Well, the pandemic delayed everything. I didn’t get any information until June, went to training, and then started work in July.
I was able to set my schedule in advance, which was nice. I learned at the beginning that it was hard for me to manage pumping and for my husband getting our daughter down for naps. So I changed my future schedules to be in 2-3 hour segments so that I could go home to feed her and put her down for her next nap. I was given a cell phone that had my work assignments (addresses to collect census data) and my day’s hours. I went door to door trying to gather census data from addresses that hadn’t responded. Most people didn’t answer their door, which meant that I probably had to knock on neighbors’ doors until I could identify at least the number of people who lived at the address in question. That was probably the hardest part because I would introduce myself and immediately be met with “I filled mine out!”
The work was in my geographic area. The furthest I had to travel for my assignments was 25 minutes. We ended up moving out of the area in September, so I missed several opportunities to work more, but most of the work was dwindling by then (the work started to send us further and further from our ‘home base’… even an ability to go to other states).
Honestly, I wanted to be the number crunchers in the office, but that position wasn’t available. I thought if I started with the field work, I could get my foot in the door. Our move hindered that a bit, but I’m glad I did it. I learned how the Census gets tracked. I made some money. I have some good stories (encountered several types of animals, including being surrounded by two large dogs that got my adrenaline running; left a few houses because my gut said it wasn’t safe). The application used to track information needed help, as it assumed we were all working in cities, whereas I was usually out in the country (e.g., no close neighbors). I boosted my confidence with glowing remarks from my supervisor since I put more than bare minimum effort in and was efficient in getting the work done.
SEASONAL CHANGE RUNNER
A local race track had thought that a limited number of patrons would require less staff. Unfortunately, once the race meet started, they were surprised at where their deficiencies were. Less patrons doesn’t necessarily mean less activity at concessions and bars, for example. Mr. ODA and I were approached about an opportunity to fill this gap. We’d have to be ok being on our feet for 6-8 hours, pass a background check, and pass a COVID test (interest fact: this is my only COVID test I’ve taken).
The race meet is only 15 days. We were approached after the races had started. We needed a COVID test, but didn’t want to pay out of pocket for it, so we had to wait until the next Wednesday to get that. Between all these factors, we were left with only a few days that they needed help. One of those days, we already had plans to attend the meet as patrons, so we didn’t want to lose that ticket. Mr. ODA worked one day of the meet, while I worked 3. I then also picked up a shift for their Derby celebration (although it’s not where the Derby was held).
We had a security guard escort and walked between all the bars and concession stands making change. Patrons tend to start their day with large bills, so the cashiers need smaller bills changed out. That’s where we came in. On the first day, I walked over 26k steps – while wearing ballet flats. My feet and calves weren’t happy about it.
It was an interesting experience. I enjoyed watching the transactions that took place, and the time passed quickly. We didn’t even know what our hourly rate was until our first pay checks, but we thought it was something new and different, so we jumped at the opportunity.
I’ve breastfed both my children. For my first, I worked while he was 3-8 months old, so I needed to pump to leave him with someone else. I learned that I produced a healthy amount of milk and looked into donation methods. A friend of mine had donated milk to a milk bank that works with NICU babies, so I explored that option. I went through their rigorous approval process and took their oath on health standards. I donated over 1200 ounces to the bank that first time. They weigh the milk upon arrival, and I was paid $1 per ounce weighed.
It was a lot of work, don’t get me wrong. I agreed up front to provide 350 ounces per month for 4 months. I didn’t hit that mark. It was mostly to my lack of knowledge on how to freeze the milk so that it took up the least amount of space when packing a cooler. They also had a requirement that not more than 6 ounces gets put in a single milk bag, so that added up. I struggled with their packing mechanism; no matter how many of their videos and attempts I made, I couldn’t seem to get 350 ounces in one cooler. It’s nerve wracking when you’re trying to get frozen milk from a freezer to a cooler while it’s 80 degrees outside (garage freezer), and you feel like you only have one shot to do it right or you jeopardize your entire stash from arriving frozen and being worth all that time and effort. I digress.
My second child didn’t latch for the first 4 weeks of her life, so I was exclusively pumping. That meant that she wasn’t regulating how much I made, and so I was making a whole lot more milk than she needed. I knew the rules associated with this milk bank from last time, so I was on my A-game from the start. Lesson learned – double check their rules before any future donation attempts because they changed a couple of their rules. They now wanted 400 ounces per month for 4 months, and they allowed (and encouraged) as much milk in one bag as possible. I wish I had known that on the days where I was trying to figure out how to get 7 ounces into two bags and whether I wanted to hold off on mixing later pumping sessions. I did better with the packing this time around, but it still wasn’t great. I nailed it on my last cooler, but it was too little too late. After my last cooler went off, I only had about 150 ounces left over. We were about to be ‘homeless’ (remember when we sold our house but didn’t have a new one to go to yet!) for 7 weeks, and I couldn’t keep up with pumping and moving around to all different places, so again I didn’t meet their quota. They’re always so gracious for whatever they receive though. I ended up donating just over 1,100 ounces this time around at $1 per ounce.
Mr. ODA could retire today. But again: what would we do with all that free time, what would he do about his leave balances that we don’t want to cash out, what do we do about health care? Our monthly expenses are more than covered by our rental property cash flow, but we don’t want to be stuck at home not being able to spend any extra money because we don’t want to raise our expenses. Since Mr. ODA is going to keep his job for now, we’re planning a more extensive summer travel calendar and trying to shift the mindset away from super frugality since we’ve already met many of our financial independence goals. Our savings now will create lifestyle in the future once we’ve both taken the “retire early” plunge.
The biggest change since I was working is that the Federal government now pays paternity/maternity leave. As I shared, I had to use my own leave balance. The Family Medical Leave Act just holds your job – it allows you to use your own time off, but it doesn’t guarantee payment. So I was granted 12 weeks of unpaid leave that I was then “allowed” to substitute my own leave for. I had planned for babies, so I had a great leave balance to get me through my maternity leave. Now, my husband will get paid for 12 weeks without having to touch his leave balance! Since we’re talking about having another kid, he’s going to stick around to utilize that benefit.
I’ve done things here and there to keep me sane because talking to other adults is a big need for me. But I wouldn’t trade all the time I’ve had with my two kids thanks to Mr. ODA’s extensive research and aggressive saving/investing to get us set up for success and early retirement. I’ll continue to keep my eye out for these part time opportunities where I get to learn something new.
This month had a lot of money movement – tax payment out, stimulus check in. As I’ve shared before, we don’t budget. But you can start seeing how we’re pretty consistent on where we spend out money. This is because we have a spending mentality that we use to make each decision, rather than giving ourselves a ceiling in each category. I believe some may see a ceiling as a definitive amount to spend (e.g., if I’ve allocated $100 for restaurants this month, and by the last week I still have $75 in that budget pot, then I’m going to go spend it). If you know your long term goals and take responsibility for your decision-making, then you don’t need to pay close attention to each dollar.
With that said, my family came to visit for a week. It was our second’s first birthday, and my dad is helping us finish our basement. With 3 more adults in the house, we spent more than typical feeding them and eating at restaurants versus cooking after spending the day working in the basement. Mr. ODA and I share the same birthday, so we splurged for a nice meal that night. We actually spent about $300 at restaurants over this last month, but thanks to our Chase credit card, we received statement credits for $188 worth of these purchases!
We have also spent more on entertainment. We went to a winery and a brewery, purchased tickets for the local horse race season, and have done other activities now that the weather is nice. The pandemic and winter had our spending lower than our usual amounts, but I expect our spending to be more than it had been in these coming months. We’ve already put together our summer bucket list for travel.
We had all the tenants pay their rent on time, except one who eventually paid. Our rental income is $12,353, and we pay our business partner about $2,100 (we collect the rent and then pay him to cover the mortgages he holds and his half of the ‘profit’ after the mortgages are deducted from rent). We had to replace the HVAC in a rental. Luckily, this rental is owned with a partner, so only half the cost will affect us. We haven’t paid the bill yet, so that will hit next month.
- We paid about $5,972 for our regular mortgage payments. We put an additional $5,000 towards an investment property mortgage, which now has a balance of $8,665. We also put $5,000 towards one of the properties that we have with a partner, which he matched, leaving that balance at $42k.
- Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts. Our stimulus checks that we received for the kids went directly into the kids’ UTMAs.
- Our grocery shopping cost us $539.
- We spent $91 on gas.
- $290 went towards utilities. This includes internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. We still haven’t sought reimbursement from the builder on our electric bill, but this month’s bill was significantly less than the previous months.
- About $1300 was spent on supplies for the basement bathroom work. We registered the kids for swim lessons, registered our son for pre-school in the Fall, did more activities with the nice weather, and I made several gift purchases (current birthdays, baby shower, next Christmas (I like buying when I find something that makes me think of a person rather than a mad dash in the Fall to buy gifts)), so that was about $400.
Our net worth has increased over $123k since last month due to our investment accounts and property values increasing. Our cash balance is starting to dwindle down to what we typically carry as ‘cash.’ And our mortgage balance is decreasing more than average due to our goal of paying off two of the mortgages that we’re carrying.
There are many teachings out there that talk about a safe, sustainable, and efficient way to wealth being many streams of income. This diversifies and provides multiple avenues for growth, but also mitigates risk and protects your larger portfolio against any one stream failing.
Our financial portfolio meets those goals. Instead of having an emergency fund sitting in a savings account earning 0.03% interest (that’s literally our savings account interest rate, and that’s the ‘special’ relationship rate), our money is put to “work,” earning more money for us.
Probably the simplest and most common example of multiple streams is index fund investing. A quick read of JL Collins’ “The Simple Path To Wealth” will teach you that through index fund investing, you have an ownership share of every company the index fund covers. Some are matched to S&P 500 companies, some to International, some to the DJIA, and most to the “Total Market.” Mr. and Mrs. ODA invest in the “Total Market Index Fund,” through Fidelity, in our IRAs and taxable investment portfolio. By owning a small part of every publicly traded company, we own that many streams of income. Any one company going belly up will only be a blip on the radar of that index fund, and, over enough time, it will go up, and up a lot. This is as risk free of a true investment as you can get.
Being Federal Employees (Mrs. ODA no more, though), we both have access to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for our 401k’s. The TSP provides a group of 5 index funds to choose from: Government Securities, Fixed Income Index, Common Stock Index, Small Cap Stock Index, and International Stock Index.
In times of market upheaval, we can ‘escape’ to the Government Securities fund, and pending a nuclear winter or alien attack, is guaranteed to be paid (TSP.gov). However, with this little risk also comes little reward, so it won’t grow fast. With index funds and a safety spot, our TSPs are about as low risk a retirement investment as you can have. Note that Index Funds through Fidelity or Vanguard (for example) and the TSP have the industry’s lowest fees on their funds, so we won’t lose our nest egg to management costs either.
Outside of anything related to the stock market, we have 12 single family rental properties. Each of these houses operate as their own small business, with long term tenants in most of them (that have thankfully all been able to maintain rent payments through the pandemic). If one or two houses did lose their tenant, or have an AC break, or a roof needing replaced all at the same time, the other houses (businesses) can pick up the financial slack. A few of the properties are owned outright, so the lack of a mortgage certainly helps the whole portfolio’s cash flow. And actually, we did have to replace/repair multiple roofs and HVAC units at the same time in the summer of 2020! On top of the individual homeowners insurance we have on each house, we have a Commercial Liability Umbrella Policy covering anything above and beyond the individual policies.
We also have some money tied up in more actively managed mutual funds – investments we owned before we discovered index fund investing – and individual stocks. However, I can’t bare the capital gains taxes required if I were to sell them and shift that money over to an index fund. But – they’re there in case of an emergency.
That Federal job I mentioned – I’m lucky to have about as much job security as any W2 employee can have in this great nation. Through the shutdown a couple years ago, I had 2 paychecks delayed, but my rental properties made it so that I didn’t have to worry about our finances. Otherwise, a safe, consistent paycheck is something I can count on – with health insurance for our whole family that comes with an annual out of pocket maximum of only $10,000.
So we have a W2 income, 12 rental property small businesses providing monthly cash flow, and a slew of stock investments diversified across all markets. We have diversity that mitigates risk and shields us from small “emergencies” manifesting themselves as such.
We view “medium” emergencies as something that can be solved with a new credit card deferring needing to truly “pay” for our expenses until life gets back to normal. You’ve seen a past post discussing our perspective on strategic credit card usage (and the Chase cards specifically). Twelve to fifteen months of no interest on a credit card can get anyone out of a financial bind when emergencies hit. We haven’t found a reason to NEED this option, but know that it’s always out there if the perfect storm of bad luck were to ever hit.
For these “small” and “medium” emergencies, stocks could be sold before we would need to be faced with something like not being able to pay utilities, buy food, or get foreclosed on. We simply don’t view a “large” EMERGENCY cropping up with any higher than a near non-zero probability given the shielding and structure we have built out of our total financial portfolio.
I can’t fathom what that perfect storm would look like. Six months of expenses can easily be found in selling our stocks if all of our tenants suddenly stopped paying rent, for example. But if a pandemic isn’t going to make that happen, what would?
All this to say – Mrs. ODA and I keep very little cash liquid to cover our “emergency” fund. Outside of a couple thousand in our checking account to cover regular monthly/cyclical financial obligation fluctuations, we don’t have any dollars NOT “working for us.” Whether it be investing in index funds, contributing to IRA/401k, or paying down mortgages to eventually achieve more cash flow, we put all our money to work. We see the rewards of this strategy far outweighing the risk of encountering a debilitating financial emergency, and therefore don’t follow the traditional personal finance advice of keeping X months’ living expenses in cash handy at a moment’s notice.
I realize that some of the items that I share each month will be repetitive, but I’m catering to new readers that may not have seen the previous month’s details. As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions about this information.
SPECIFIC LARGE CHANGES FROM LAST MONTH’S UPDATE
Paid $8,000 towards an investment property mortgage. This property’s mortgage balance is just under $14k, and we expect to have it paid off in the next 6 months. It would be earlier, but we’re also paying off another mortgage at this time, so we’re putting money towards that one next.
Mr. ODA cashed a few savings bonds that were mature, so we brought in $622 that wasn’t planned.
Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts.
We had all the tenants except two pay their rent on time, and the other two houses paid on the 12th (typically when a tenant is late, the balance is paid on the next Friday of the month – pay day). Our rental income is $12,353, and we pay our business partner about $2,100 (we collect the rent and then pay him to cover the mortgages he holds and his half of the ‘profit’ after the mortgages are deducted from rent). We made it through the month with no investment property costs! We did have a tenant power wash our house out of the kindness of their heart though.
- We paid about $5,900 for our regular mortgage payments.
- Our grocery shopping cost us $500. We did the trial period for Walmart+. Unfortunately, the first two weeks of that trial period were destroyed by back-to-back ice and snow storms, so we couldn’t ever get deliveries scheduled within a couple of days. Once life went back to normal, there were plenty of delivery times available, even same day. While it was convenient, it wasn’t worth the annual fee and tipping the driver each time, so we cancelled it.
- We spent $57 on gas, and $83 eating take-out.
- We made some purchases that aren’t typical: ski season pass for next year ($119), medical bill ($70), and some furniture and odds and ends for the house (~$1,500).
- $464 went towards utilities. This includes internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. Last month I shared that our electric bill was very high. We learned through the course of 6 HVAC company visits that our unit was not running properly, and that meant our heat strips were essentially on since we moved in ($$$). We will seek financial compensation from the builder once our next electric bill comes in.
Our net worth increased by $45k from last month’s update. This change is mostly due to the value of our houses increasing and our mortgage balances decreasing.
On the surface, a jump of $1.1 million in just over 2 years seems impossible, but here’s the break down of how things changed in our finances during our child-rearing hiatus.
– Mrs. ODA left her job;
– We purchased three new properties;
– We sold one property;
– We paid off two mortgages and significantly paid down two others;
– Our investments grew based on market fluctuation, as well as our continued investment; and
– The value of the properties we own appreciated.
Since I met Mr. ODA, I maxed out my Thrift Savings Plan (TSP, the Federal government’s 401k) contributions each year. Before that, I had been putting money into the TSP, but hadn’t maxed it out. I left my career position in May 2019, at which point I stopped contributions to my TSP. However, we put in as much as we could for the year before I quit (if Mr. ODA has his way, we’d have maxed out my contributions); I contributed $13,070 over the first 4 months of 2019. My balance on June 30, 2019 (it’s a quarterly report) was $300k. I have gained $127k over 19.5 months based on my investment strategy for the account with no new contributions. Mr. ODA continues to max out his contributions of $19,500 per year. His account balance has increased due to annual contributions, a loan repayment, and market fluctuations.
IRA AND TAXABLE
A Roth IRA has maximum contribution limitations per year. For 2019, 2020, and 2021, that amount is $6000. We each put $500 per month into the Roth IRA to max out the contributions. We have maxed out the contribution limitation every year we’ve known each other (10 years), and Mr. ODA had done so before Mrs. ODA knew such a thing. We don’t time our contributions throughout the year because we don’t want to stress about when the perfect time is and then possibly end up throwing five grand in when December rolls around. We have taken the ‘set it and forget it’ (essentially dollar cost averaging) approach to the Roth IRA investment.
Dollar Cost Averaging – Since we know we want to put $6,000 in for the year, we break it down into $500 a month and contribute on the 30th of every month regardless of individual pricing. This eliminates the need to pay attention to, and the effect of, volatility in the market. Some may say that dollar cost averaging is not a prudent idea because the market always goes up over time (essentially you’re setting yourself to pay higher and higher per share as the year progresses, on average), but I just can’t handle the psychology of dropping $6k on January 1 and not having anxiety for the rest of the year that it was the right decision.
As for the taxable accounts, this includes accounts we have set up for our children – UTMAs (however, the growth of these funds are not taxable to us because they are taxed at the minor’s rate – 0% for us). An UTMA is the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act. It allows an account to be set up in the child’s name without the child carrying the tax burden of the money. The IRS allows an exclusion from the gift tax up to $15,000. We put $50 per month, per child, into the account. This is also ‘set it and forget it’ with automatic deductions from our checking account.
Our cash balance really has no meaning. We bring in income and we pay our bills. We don’t purposely keep a savings account balance (as I shared in the Leveraging Money post, we’re not interested in maintaining 3x our monthly income in a savings account at 0.01% interest rate). We don’t purposely project how much to put towards mortgage principal.
We currently have a larger-than-normal cash balance, which is left over from selling our primary residence in September. It hasn’t been dwindled lower yet because we have a fence install that needs cash and we were paying down the last of our large credit card. Now that most of these things have happened, we’ll put more of our cash balance towards the investment property mortgage we’re currently paying down.
In October 2018, we had been living in our previous house for just under 3 years. In January 2021, we had only made 1 mortgage payment on our new home. While our current home cost slightly less than our last home and we put 20% down for each house, we had more years of principal pay down in October 2018 than we currently have.
PERSONAL RESIDENCE AND VEHICLES
We sold our Virginia home for $400k in September 2020. The valuation of that home rose significantly over the 2019-2020 years due to lower inventory with high demand in the Central Virginia area (probably all over the country, but I don’t know those details).
Also in September 2020, I traded my vehicle in for a van (and I couldn’t be happier :)!). That increased our vehicle valuation since the van is 3 years newer and a higher cost than my previous vehicle.
Even though my vehicle value rose slightly, Mr. ODA’s vehicle’s value continued to decline, and we purchased a home in a lower cost of living area, therefore having a lower value.
INVESTMENT PROPERTY VALUES
Since October 2018, we’ve purchased 3 properties, increasing the total property value of our portfolio. Additionally, all of our properties continue to increase in value. The Virginia homes have increased significantly over the last two years. In the table below, I’ve provided each property’s change in value from January 2020 (oldest snapshot per property I have) to February 2021.
Note that this is a projection based on the internet’s valuation and not an exact science. The only house that we have a recent appraisal on is the one that we refinanced in January 2020. That house’s appraisal was $168,000; we paid $112,500 in July 2017.
Of the three most recent purchases, one was purchased with a partner, split 50/50, and the other two were the last two KY houses purchased. These three added $215k of new debt. However, you see that our mortgages on investment properties have only increased by $27k, which doesn’t exactly say “we bought 3 new houses.” That’s because we’ve paid down (and sold) about $150k of mortgages in addition to 2+ years worth of mortgage payments going towards these loans.
In May 2020 and January 2021, we refinanced two properties. Quick tidbit – we signed the refinance papers in May under a tent in a parking lot, and we signed the January refinance at our kitchen table with a traveling notary. While the interest rate and monthly payment decreased, the loan balances increased because we rolled closing costs into the principal and took $2,000 cash out (the maximum allowed) in each case.
We sold one property that we had been paying down the mortgage on; in October 2018 it had a balance of $11,142, and we sold it in January 2019. We had been paying down the mortgage because it was our lowest balance. When we made that decision, selling the house wasn’t in the immediate future. An opportunity presented itself, and we sold it.
We’ve paid off two mortgages during this period. One was in January 2019 with a balance of about $44k, and another was in April 2020, which also had a balance of about $44k in the October 2018 calculation. Our intent to paying off mortgages was two-fold. It increases our monthly cash flow that helps Mrs. ODA stay home with the kids, and it gets Mr. ODA closer to being able to leave his job. Plus, due to Fannie/Freddie requirements of having no more than 10 conventional loans, it creates the opening for us to get a new mortgage if the opportunity arose. The downside is that it de-leverages the house’s financials and creates a smaller cash-on-cash return for the property.
We have also paid down 2 mortgages over the last two years that aren’t completely paid off.
– One of those properties is the one that we purchased after October 2018 with a partner. It has our highest mortgage rate. The affect on the numbers here just shows that the principal balance of that mortgage is smaller than it was originally, thereby not increasing the mortgage total ‘fully,’ if you will. The principal pay down on that mortgage has been $44k total, but we’re only responsible for half of that.
– On the other mortgage, we’ve paid almost $28k towards principal between October 2018 and now.
We open new credit cards with 0% interest for an introductory period when we have large purchases looming. Not only is the 0% interest beneficial to us for an introductory period of 12-15 months, but we strategically choose new cards that come with a welcome bonus (points or cash) when you reach a moderate spend level in the first several months. Given the strategic timing of a new card before a large purchase, this bonus is easy to achieve. When we have large balances on credit cards, it’s because we’re purposely carrying a balance month-to-month at 0% interest. We have never paid interest on a credit card balance.
Despite Mrs. ODA leaving the workforce, our net worth increased for all the reasons listed above. The one unmentioned piece, because its not directly tied to any accounts, is lifestyle. While our net worth, rents, and investments have increased, our lifestyle has not creeped. We still make strategic decisions, spend money mainly on needs, look for wants that provide our happiness without breaking the bank, and generally keep our financial future at the forefront of our daily lives. We live like no one else does so eventually we can live like no one else can.
Living intentionally allows us to get to where we want to be.
I had so many things to share, and now it’s time for another net worth update, but I hadn’t gone into the details of our 2019-to-2021 changes! I promise, it’ll come.
SPECIFIC LARGE CHANGES FROM LAST MONTH’S UPDATE
We paid off $5,000 left on one of our credit cards. This credit card was opened for a large purchase, and the 0% introductory rate expires at the beginning of March, so I wanted to make sure it was fully paid off so we don’t pay any interest on the balance.
We put $2,000 towards an investment property’s mortgage, and we received $2,000 cash out from another investment property’s refinance.
Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts.
Between our personal home and the investment properties, except for the one that we refinanced so we skip February’s payment, we paid about $5,500 in mortgages. To put this in perspective, we brought in over $8800 from those properties, which doesn’t count $900 worth of rent at this time that the tenant is late on. This doesn’t include the properties that we own with a partner through an LLC, which nets us $400 each month (although one of those properties hasn’t paid rent this month yet either).
- Our grocery shopping cost us $409.
- We spent $76 on gas, and $72 eating take-out. We typically visit family once a week (45 miles round trip), go to the grocery (10 miles round trip) once or twice a week, and get take out once a week (10 miles round trip).
- I made two Amazon purchases for non-grocery items we needed (e.g., activities for our 2 year old, vitamins, items for our daughter’s 1st birthday, and – really important – potty training seat), which totaled $125.
- We owed personal property taxes from last year’s time in Virginia, so I paid the $94 for that. I also paid the balance of our personal home’s HOA, which was $85 for the rest of the year.
- As for the investment properties, we had to purchase a new washing machine, which was $528 (although that cost is split with our partner for this particular house). We also paid for the insurance on a property that isn’t escrowed, which was $203.
$430 went towards utilities. This includes internet, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. Our electric bill was insane this month. We moved into our new home in November and had previously been living with gas heat so didn’t know what to expect. Mr. ODA called the HVAC company to have them run a diagnostic check on our units, and we found that the downstairs condenser isn’t working. It isn’t resolved yet due to an ice storm here, but hopefully it’ll be fixed today, and we hope to see some sort of compensation for our high electric bills due to this not working properly.
Our net worth increased by $102k from last month’s update. This change is due to fluctuations in the stock market and the value of the houses. Our 401k balances increased over $35k, our taxable investments rose over $10k, and home values increased over $42k all together. A difference of over $5k in our credit card balances also contributed to the change in net worth.
Working for the Federal government, our 401k is called the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). We max out our contributions each year. As a means of bridging down payment gaps, we utilized a little-known option – the TSP loan.
Per TSP.gov, “When you take a loan, you borrow from your contributions to your TSP account. Your loan amount can’t exceed the amount of your own contributions and earnings from those contributions. Also, you cannot borrow from contributions or earnings you get from your agency or service.” There are two loan options: general purpose and real estate. There are different requirements to meet for each type of loan.
First, here are some items to consider in the decision-making. While these rules pertain specifically to the 401k program provided to Federal employees, TSP, your employer’s 401k service provider should have a similar program for taking a loan from your account and rules associated with paying that loan back.
- You have to begin making loan payments immediately after your draw down. A general purpose loan must be repaid within 5 years, and a primary residence real estate loan must be repaid within 30 years but you have control over the amount of each payment, as long as the amortization keeps the repayment within the required period.
- You pay interest on the loan, which is set at the ‘G Fund’ rate. According to the TSP website, the interest rate is 0.875% as of 1/17/2021. This interest payment is paid into your TSP account.
- There is a loan fee of $50.
- You must be currently employed by the government to take the loan, since repayment is processed through payroll deductions, and if separating from the government you must repay the loan in full within 60 days of separation.
The common talking point working against using a 401k loan is that you need to weigh the loss of compound growth on the balance of your TSP against what the loan will gain you. Many financial talking heads will warn you of using your retirement account for immediate, frivolous purchases. But, used appropriately and strategically, Mr. and Mrs. ODA fully believe that 401k loans can open up financial doors much earlier than through more “traditional” means.
Our first loan was for our primary residence. While Mr. ODA was an excellent saver through college, he expected to buy a house for about half the cost of what a very basic house goes for in Northern Virginia. Our opportunity cost was private mortgage insurance (PMI); did we want to pay PMI (an added cost that a bank adds to your monthly loan payment to mitigate the risk if you don’t bring a 20% down payment to the house purchase) or take out TSP loans to make up the difference for our down payment? Taking out a loan was ‘out of the box’ and seemed controversial. However, paying PMI indefinitely and being subject to the bank’s decision on when PMI could be removed was more concerning. PMI is building the bank’s “pockets,” while the interest on a TSP loan is going back to your TSP account.
We decided to each take a residential loan from our accounts. I took a $15,000 loan and Mr. ODA took a $25,000 loan. By taking a TSP loan, we were losing out on the earnings of the accrued balance, but the repayment to ourselves of the G-fund rate was a reasonable trade off. Plus, we could put any extra money towards the loan at any time, thereby increasing our TSP balances faster.
My loan draw was 7/2/2012, and I had it paid off by 3/17/2015. We could have stretched the payment over the full 30 years to fully leverage our money, but at the time, owning rental properties wasn’t on our immediate radar. However, two incentives to pay a TSP loan off faster than a allowed amortization are 1) that you can only have one loan of each kind at a time, and 2) you can’t request a new loan within 60 days after you paid off a TSP loan. Then there’s that opportunity cost; we wanted to get our money back into our tax incentivized account as quickly as possible to get it working for us again.
Since our experience was positive for these two loans, we kept this option on the table for future transactions. In 2016 and 2017, we purchased 9 rental properties using regular savings from our high savings rate lifestyle and the equity we were able to cash in from the sale of our first primary home. To cover the down payment of the last few purchases, Mr. ODA and I each took a general purpose loan of $50,000, which is the maximum amount for such type of loan. The loan rate at that time was 2.25%, which was a great lending rate back in 2017. We paid my loan off first, fairly aggressively using the cash flow from the rental properties we purchased, knowing that since I would be separating from the government once we had kids it had to be paid sooner than later. Mr. ODA has adjusted the repayment amount per pay check several times since 2017 to meet our cash flow needs. The loan was issued on 9/1/2017 and currently has a balance of $12,370.
When looking at the opportunity cost comparison for the rental property purchases, we determined that the 4 ways we make money in real estate investing outweighed the likely (and what actually turned out to be very lucrative) gains of the stock market.
- Cash Flow – Profit from rent after all expenses are paid.
- Principal Pay Down – The amount the tenant essentially pays out of your mortgage payment that goes directly to the equity of the house.
- Appreciation – The increasing of property value based on the market.
- Tax Advantages – Being able to utilize the tax code in an advantageous fashion as a business owner.
By carefully evaluating each property to ensure we had near-guarantees of all 4 of these methods working, we thought that the benefits of owning more rentals outweighed the loss of share ownership in our TSP accounts.