Monday, July 21, 2014

Solar Power

Now that we are settled in our new house, we are starting to make long-term investments and upgrades that we expect to serve us well into the future.

A recent example is the installation of a PV (solar) array on our roof.  We expect this will provide us with most if not all of our energy needs for years to come.  However it required a significant initial cash expenditure, so we will not realize the savings from this investment for a number of years.

A few days ago we received our first electricity bill since having the new PV system installed.  It was the lowest electricity bill we've ever seen.  We have a grid-tied system with a net meter, which means that when we are producing more electricity that we are able to consume, the electricity feeds into the grid and our electricity meter spins backwards.  When we need to draw from the grid (for example at night or when it is really cloudy outside) the meter runs forward.  Therefore we are not an "off grid" system, so we still have to pay a minimum monthly bill to our electric utility company so that we can use the grid as a storage facility for our surplus electricity.  (To truly go off-grid, we would have needed to buy an expensive bank of batteries which need replacing every 8-10 years and which are tricky to dispose properly.)

As it stands now, we will see our original purchase price returned to us in the form of electricity consumption savings over many years.  However I expect to accelerate the payback by making another change to our house.  We currently have a radiant heating system which is fueled by an oil boiler.  I would like to swap this out in favor of electric equipment which could heat the water to be circulated in the radiant system.  (We also have a domestic hot water supply which is heated by oil as well.)  Once this is done, we can eliminate purchases of heating oil in the future.  Of course cost of the work on the heating equipment will need to be added to the price of the PV equipment to get the most accurate idea of when the return on investment will occur.

In addition to eliminating the future requirement to pay for energy, this investment serves a secondary function as a form of insurance against rising prices.  The PV equipment installation was a one-time known cost, but the future cost of electricity or oil is an unknown.  Although I am not an expert in forecasting energy prices, I can see a steady upward trend in both the cost of electricity and oil over he recent past.  It is nice knowing that some variability has been removed from our future expenses.  As long as the sun continues to shine, we have an energy source for the next 25-30 years (expected life of the PV equipment).

Friday, May 30, 2014

May 2014 Update

2014 is a year of big changes for us.

As you saw from my wife's previous entry, we bought a house.  This was not part of our original plan.  For at least the past 5 years now (if not longer) we had talked about how nice it would be to have a house that more closely aligned with the long-term lifestyle we envisioned for ourselves.  However it was always a "someday" sort of conversation, something to do after we had reached financial independence (or at least made some significant progress down the road towards it).  But early in 2013 we saw a good opportunity and made an offer on a house (which was eventually rejected), which got us looking more closely for other opportunities.

The house we bought was the fourth one we had a serious interest in (and the third on which we made an offer).  I feel this one is most aligned with our vision of the "perfect home" we had in mind.  It is off the beaten path (in a tiny town in the middle of a sparsely populated area of New Hampshire), which means there is a lot of nature and not a lot of interference from human activity.  It is extremely quiet here -- the most common sounds are made by birds and other animals, and by the weather (wind and rain).  We have a lot of land -- nearly 100 acres, most of it forested -- tucked in among many other large parcels (many of them in conservation), which means our view in nearly any direction consists primarily of green landscapes.  And we have plenty of views, including one from our back deck, and others from some high points nearby that are within easy walking distance from our front door.

We are taking steps to benefit from our newfound richness in land.  We'll set up a garden, we'll harvest fallen timber to use for heating, and we'll add solar panels to drive down the cost of our energy consumption for years to come.  We'll also use it for recreation (hiking and snowshoeing), reflection, and renewal.

For the first time in three years, we have a mortgage again.  We'll be working to rid ourselves of it as soon as possible, but not quite with the aggressiveness that we did during 2008-2011 when we destroyed our prior mortgage.  This is because our new house is our "forever home", the place we plan to remain until old age, until our bodies or our minds no longer allow us to live here any longer.  Because we can take a much longer-term view of our housing, we can recognize the trade-off that comes with delaying pre-payment on the mortgage in exchange for payment on other improvements which will benefit us in the long run (solar panels being a prime example).  However, we are still adding extra principal to each mortgage payment as it comes due.

We still own our older house, which remains mortgage-free.  We're renting it out, using our equity to produce an income.  We are currently netting between 500 and 600 free cash flow each month from the rental house, which is not enough to make us rich, but enough to help us throw additional money at our new mortgage.  So far it has been a good experience, likely because we are renting to someone we know and trust.  If and when we grow tired of renting it, or when our tenant decides to move on, we'll probably sell that house, and use the proceeds to pay off our current home.  By doing that we'd eliminate about 2/3 of our current mortgage debt in one fell swoop.  So although our mortgage balance is higher than I'd like, it does not seem like an insurmountable obstacle.  We'll be rid of it in the next 5-10 years, at which point we should be well-positioned financially to take a step away from permanent employment.

We sold many of our stocks from our taxable account to use for the down payment on the new house.  Overall we had a net modest capital gain which was nice to see but nothing to brag about.   We still have a few stocks left in the portfolio which we collectively agreed were our best long-term investments at this time.  They will still bring in some dividends, maybe $1000 per year at current rates.  I am not opposed to selling them in the future if needed, to pay off the mortgage or make further improvements to the house (such as a high-efficiency electric heating system to complement our solar electricity generation capabilities).  Once the mortgage is gone we'll start adding to these taxable investments again.

Our long-term goals remain the same, but the order in which we expect to achieve them has shifted.  Obviously we bought our new house before achieving financial independence.  We've likely pushed our Appalachian Trail through-hike to a later date.  We still want to achieve financial independence, but it will likely be in a different form than I once envisioned.  Instead of having a huge collection of income-producing securities in a taxable account (capable of paying for all of our spending needs), we will benefit from reduced expenses that come from being in our "dream home" -- lower grocery bills, lower or near-nonexistent utility bills, lower vacation/travel expenses.  I also expect we will tap our retirement assets early, by using a strategy such as the Roth Conversion Ladder (described on PF sites including MadFientist and JLCollinsNH).  Our financial independence will probably be made possible by moderate contributions from a number of sources -- some income from taxable assets, some income in the form of reduced expenses (supplemented by our own labor), the future absence of significant expenses such as a mortgage, perhaps some rental income, and some income from retirement accounts which has been cleverly liberated (penalty-free of course).  By living a modest, enjoyable lifestyle, it is not hard for me to see us making the transition to a sustainable employment-free phase of our lives in the not-too-distant future.

Monday, April 21, 2014

We're Back...

Hi!

I bet you're all, 'Wow!  Spicy Princess, way to fail at your New Year's Resolution!' and you'd be right... I am still slacking at posting.  BUT (yes, this is all-caps important) it is because The Executioner and I have been busy.  What have we been doing?!?  Oh, you know... attacking one of our goals.  Goal #3 - MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!  What is said goal? 
  • Relocate to a property in the woods with large acreage and a modest house.
That's right.  We moved into the woods at the end of March and have been busy, busy, busy in doing so.  My hope (hint hint) is that The Executioner will appear any day now and write more to tell you all the this-es and thats.  

So you can get a picture of our definition of 'property in the woods' - I went for a 5 mile run today and passed: 8 - 10 driveways, 1 (yes one) car (that was in motion that is), 1 happy dog that came out to greet me, and was able to run in the middle of the dirt road for most of the journey.  I'm so excited to grow food and enjoy the serenity that our forever home brings.  

That's the update for now.  I hope your goals are coming along too!

~ Spicy Princess


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Worth the Price/Greatest Gifts Ever...

Happy March!

This weekend we helped a friend move.  This friend is in his early 20's and as I was lifting some of his stuff, I had a recurring thought.  That thought was 'wow - I'm glad I paid $XX for our _____.  The quality is so much better!'  This got me thinking to a few other things that I have either paid a decent price for, or, as is more likely the case in my situation, have asked for it as a present and my very generous parents have bought it for me.  A few things that fall into this category:
  • My Vitamix!!!  I got this for my 30th birthday and we use it several times a week.  I drink a smoothie everyday and am able to make 4 at a time with this powerful blender.  I didn't have to pay for it - but if I had, it would be worth every penny.
  • My food processor - I have a Cuisinart 14 cup, too many functions :) food processor and love it.  Once again - shout out to my mom for getting this for me for my birthday (something that was on my list).  I have a ton of food allergies and make almost everything homemade - bread, hummus, getting into even making my own vegan milk.  Anyways - this bad boy can make 14 cups of hummus at one time.  Hello awesome.  
  • Good outdoor winter gear - it is winter (you're welcome for sharing the obvious) and it is really cold.  It has been a cold winter.  This winter (if you remember back to my splurge) I bought some boots and a winter coat.  Well let me tell you - I have spent probably close to 500 on outdoor stuff this year and have never been happier with it.  I am sure I have gotten that much use out of it already - and the best part is that I will use it for all my future winters until it wears out.  
  • The final thing I would put on this list, which is what triggered my thinking, is that I now own "real" furniture - it is not the particleboard junk our friend had - we have a dining set, dressers, and coffee tables that are made from real sturdy wood.  I bought our dining set and living room entertainment pieces from Pottery Barn before I ever knew The Executioner and my sister was moving in with someone and they decided to get rid of their 6 piece Pier One bedroom set (not the bed - night stands, TV stand, huge Armoire, 2 dressers).  Present day Spicy Princess wouldn't buy that, but young SP was all about buying the Pottery Barn stuff.  It all worked out in the end - the stuff is decent and has held up 8 years with little to show (err - maybe there is a scratch from a certain small dog who decided he should run across the coffee table once...) in the wear-and-tear department.  And, being the miser that I am, I still look at the pieces and feel like they are too high quality for me - so would never think of getting new stuff just for the sake of getting new stuff.  
I am sure I have other items that will go on this list, but those are what I am thinking about right now.  What items have you purchased or been gifted that you feel are totally worth the price for a higher-end quality?  

Final thought - I know when I was growing up it was always poo-pooed for people to give/get things like irons or other important basic necessities for gifts for holidays.  I, as you can see from above, feel that getting something like a really nice blender, or (if I was going to need to iron frequently) a nice iron and ironing board that would make my life easier and I would enjoy using regularly is a MUCH better gift than a fancy bracelet or purse that I am going to use once and never again.  

Have a great March - I'll try to get back soon and give you more updates!

SP

Monday, February 24, 2014

A new good habit

I'm back - and in a new color yet again.  Hopefully you are not singing "You got so many colours make a blind man so confused" by Scissor Sisters now.  

I stumbled across an article last fall/winter about how employees using (a newer version) Outlook on their smart phones are susceptible to having all of their data erased by their employers.  Apparently it is a theft protection process where employers can go in and wipe out a phone remotely through Outlook if the phone has been compromised so that private information is not revealed.  This was a NPR story, however I hadn't heard much more about since then.  However, in late winter, my employer decided to update our systems, including Outlook.  It had to then be erased and reloaded onto your smartphone.  When I started to do that, some warnings came up, asking to give my employers permission for different things.  I didn't have a chance to read it, so decided against loading it onto my phone.  Plus, it was right before the holidays - I figured it was a good time to take a technology break.  

Fast forward to present day - I still have not loaded it on my phone.  I can access my email through a website if need be.  And, if I am "on" for work - I don't have access to email (in theory).  If I am "off", I am sitting in front of my computer, where I can access email via desktop.  

My new good habit is this: I am checking email a lot less frequently.  It started as I was "off" and trying to design something new for the company. At first, I had my email open and wasn't getting much work done as an email would pop up and I would dutifully reply in .025 seconds upon receipt.  And then I noticed how unfocused on my project I was.  So I shut email down for the day, only checking it a couple of times a day. That was good.  But, then it got better.  

See, I was still in this awful state of feeling like I always had to know what emails were there, and so was checking email right before going to bed.  Well if that isn't a great way to ruin a good night's sleep, I don't know what is.  I would get myself all fired up about how I needed to reply to a recent email and wasn't fully relaxing and stepping away from work.  I have now been a full two months without having checked my email before bed.  In fact, I am pretty good about shutting it down at the end of the day. If, like tonight, I need to go in to get some other data, I acknowledge that I received some new emails and that they are dark bold and waiting to be read, and get my material I need and leave.  I have discovered something mind-altering - the emails will still be dark and bold and wanting to be read in the morning!  

This, for me, is one more small step towards breaking away from the mentality that I am my work, my work is me.  It's a small step - but it is a step in the right direction!


~Spicy Princess

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Death to the Job is Like...

Lately I've been doing a significant amount of thinking about death to my full-time job (as in stopping work, not this blog).  Not because I am really unhappy there.  Presently, I am in the middle of a LOT of activity, and I have volunteered myself for a few additional things as I can see in the long-haul how these decisions will help position me for being an essential member to the company I work for. However, since this is not always the feeling I have around my job, it has led me to think more often about the end of my full-time job.  

I like analogies.  So I will explain through one of those.  This analogy works for me in thinking about where I am now and where I am going to be in a few years with my job.  Today's analogy might not be popular with some of you out there due to personal experiences/situations - please know that my intention here is not to offend/hurt anyone with it.  

To me, death to the full-time job is like (a really good version of) cancer.  

For starters, it is believed that there are cancer cells in everyone's bodies, however some bodies create a more conducive environment for the cells to thrive, while others don't and so the cells remain dormant.  I agree - I think that everyone has some death-to-the-full-time-job cells in their bodies - the difference from cancer cells, obviously, is that some people TRY to help these cells flourish.  Like The Executioner (TE) and me.   

A few months ago work was really stressful.  I was feeling pressure, unappreciated, overworked, and not happy.  I went for a consult (a conversation with TE) who listened to my symptoms and made a diagnosis.  He broke the news to me gently, I am in the early stages of death-to-the-full-time-job.  At that point, the death-to-the-full-time-job was concentrated to a few select areas and might or might not spread throughout my body.  TE continued to talk to me about this.  Death-to-the-full-time-job could be removed from my body and I could be remedied of it.  On the other hand, he also pointed out that I don't have to work - I could give into death-to-the-full-time-job.  I wasn't ready to hear that news though - and so I denied, denied, denied.  I'm only in my early 30's - how could it strike me so soon?  No, I have to keep working so we can retire comfortably and early.  We need my income, we will perish without it.  Blah, blah, blah. 

As I sat with that diagnosis, and rethought about what TE said, I felt the death-to-the-full-time-job taking root throughout my body - it was spreading quickly and penetrating deeper.  I realized that although the news was surprising, it shouldn't be.  I mean, I always kind of knew this (hasn't it been our goal since death to the mortgage started?!?), but it wasn't something that I considered on a daily basis.  It always seemed like a future thing - not a now thing.  Hearing it from him made me face my reality though.  I have death-to-the-full-time-job and I don't have to work.  After contemplating this information for a few days I did what most people would do - I started working differently.  I decided I would let the death-to-the-full-time-job cells grow and I would encourage them to do so.  Since that initial consult, I have said no to 2 projects (first time in this job that I have said no to anything), I have delegated a lot more to others instead of doing it all myself, and I have focused on the work I like to do. 

I would say I am now at stage II or stage III of death-to-the-full-time-job.  I now accept the fact that the end of the full-time job is inevitable.  I know that it is in me everyday, I feel it like a dull ache.  Sure, work is not always my favorite past-time.  But, I am part of some interesting and inspiring projects and am looking forward to where they will take me.  I am enjoying it more often than not right now.  And so, I fight the death-to-the-full-time-job for right now.  I know this will not always be the case - there will come a time where I am not enjoying work anymore and am ready to stop fighting.   

I am living with death-to-the-full-time-job and,to the outside viewer, nothing looks different from Spicy Princess four months ago.  However, I know things are different.  I make decisions thinking about my death-to-the-full-time-job and the impact these decisions have on my future.  I selectively take on work tasks that provide me with skills I could use in alternative jobs and also highlight my value to the company.  That way, when death-to-the-full-time-job metastasizes and has control of all of my body (and mind), I feel prepared to succumb and work part-time somewhere.  And, the company feels I am so valuable that having me part of the time will be better than having no Spicy Princess at all - alleviating the stress of me trying to find a job somewhere.

For now, it is not a hard fight to stave off death-to-the-full-time-job.  However, there are still times that I like to daydream about the time when I will blissfully hand myself over to death-to-the-full-time-job.