Miss Mazuma – Vampire Slayer!!

We have all heard of the Energy Vampires living among us…And, no, I’m not talking about the Debbie Downer that you sit near at work (though, they are THE worst!!).  I am talking about those everyday items we leave plugged in that suck your wallet dry at such a gradual pace that you don’t even realize it is happening.  You get your monthly electric bill and just assume that that is what you used so you pay it.  But wait!  You didn’t even get the benefit of using it!  Those nasty vampires are stealing from you…

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Well, I have taken matters into my own hands.  I’ve pulled out my sword and am cutting costs – its gradual, but it’s working!!  I started by unplugging my wifi and cable modems at night.  To make it easier, I put everything on the same power strip with my TV, DVD player, and cable box.  One quick flick of the switch and they all go off together.

Weather is a huge factor for energy use in Chicago.  In the long dreary winter, I lower the heat drastically when I am out of town and even this year I even concealed some ugly plastic insulation behind my blinds for some added winter protection.  You couldn’t even tell it was there!  My condo is practically ALL windows so every bit helps.  Now that it is summer, the air is off until my thermostat says 78.  I could keep it off longer with just the use fans but with Bubba wearing a fur coat all day long (she’s very fancy), I try to spare her the sweltering humidity.  I unplug my chargers and computer before leaving the house or after charging is finished.  Nothing is getting by me now – all phantom energy suckers are being slayed ruthlessly.

My boyfriend, John, thinks I’m insane…but the following chart is proof!

So based on my numbers, I have lowered my energy costs almost every month.  If I was a little more nerdy I would calculate the percentage saved each month (and I’m kinda wanting to!), but for now this is good enough.  Now, I’m not sure what happened with my gas the past two months.  The weather has been warmer and we haven’t been using the heat…was I really cooking that much?  Perhaps it is a fluke, but if it happens again next month I will have to do an audit.

Looking at the electric, there is one factor to be noted – in January I bought a new smaller fridge.  I will share pics of the old beast and my kitchen before and after but I don’t think that fridge alone could have caused such a huge drop in my electric costs.  Both the old and the new fridge are energy star rated.

From this:

To this:

Though the fridge cost me some bucks, it was well worth it to open up the space.  I also added an island and got rid of the open storage shelves to the right.  It looks so much better now!!  I plan to write about my teeny tiny kitchen later but I think we can all agree that a full-size fridge for myself was a waste of space and energy, not to mention my food costs have gone down.  When you have a small fridge you learn to shop accordingly.  🙂

Along with the obvious energy vampires that were lurking in my home, I dealt with one that had been hiding.  My old computer.  I use it one or two days a month for work then leave it to collect dust the other 28 days…but I have been leaving it PLUGGED IN!!  For years!  That all ended this year.  Now the old computer is attached to a power strip with the printer.  I turn it on for the 2 days I use it and completely powered off and unplugged the rest of the month.  I can totally hear pennies falling from the sky!!

Looking back over the past 6 months I am quite pleased with myself and my savings!  Now go out there, don your cloaks and swords, and slay some vampires!!

** What changes have you made this year to save some dough?  Have you noticed any difference?  Shoot an email or post a comment – we can all use some money saving tips!! **

What Does the Word RETIRE Mean to You and When Will it Happen?

noun: retirement; plural noun: retirements
  1. 1.
    the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.
    “a man woman nearing retirement”


Boring.  How about fresh salty beach air blowing through your hair while you yell to the cabana boy to bring you another Mai Tai?  Or is it spending more time with your grandkids – taking them to baseball games and roasting marshmallows by the side of the lake?  Does it mean paring down your belongings and packing whats left in an RV to tour the National Parks and see each oceans coastline?  Why do all of these mental images have me landing at some body of water???  🙂  The point is – retirement means something different to each person.

illinois retirement pension
image via

For many Americans, retirement is the bright white light at the end of a long dark and damp tunnel.  The end to the means.  The fat gleaming orange carrot and the end of a long shabby thin string.  Two vacation weeks a year to look forward to until you can reach the end of that long long tunnel.  We arrive at the age of 65, or in the case of my generation, 67, to a land of new opportunity that many are too tired or sick from the past 40 years to even enjoy.  I hope dearly for myself, AND FOR YOU, that this won’t be the case for us…

When I began my career as a flight attendant, I had no idea it would be just that, a career.  I thought I was interviewing for a job I would keep a couple of years but, instead, I stumbled into a career I am now celebrating my 15th year at.  Who knew?  What I hoped for my future at the age of 23 is vastly different from what I hope for now.  The morning my training class found out we were hired was followed by an afternoon of quick-fire decisions about our future.  Which roller bag to order?  Which uniform pieces look most flattering (Answer? None.  Seriously.  They were high waisted, pleated, and tapered beige pants.  Awful.).  And sandwiched between all of those questions was the most important one of our future – Do you want to join the 401K and, if so, how do you want to invest your hard-earned peanut slinging cash?  What?!  Can you ask me about the pants again?  We were young, dumb, and completely unaware that the decisions we made that day would last for years to come…including the pants.  😦

Thankfully, I had the foresight to join our 401K plan.  I also joined the Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP) which allows us to purchase shares of our company stock at a 10% discount.  Sweet!  I have no idea what my 401K was initially invested in but several years later I had a financial adviser boyfriend look at it and reallocate everything…I’m guessing that means I hadn’t done so great on my own.

Years later, when the market crashed in 2008, my then fiance (a Bosnian war refugee) was afraid of the banks melting down (he’d seen it happen in his own country) and advised me to move it all of my 401k assets to low-risk investments – essentially cash.  By that time the damage was already done and I joined millions in losing a great deal of money…I then further escalated the issue by selling my shares and following his advice, putting it all in cash.  Not smart.  Who is to blame for my investments??  ME!  I left my financial future up to someone else on multiple occasions without doing any research of my own.  I had no idea that when the market goes down you don’t sell.  I had no idea that buying was a better bet.  I was clueless.

clueless animated GIF

In the past few years I, thankfully, have gotten wise.  I am happy to have learned that our company offers a wide array of investment options, including some Vanguard funds to which I am somewhat biased.  I contribute 20% of each paycheck and enjoy a healthy company match of 9.6% of my income.  My company has both a traditional and Roth 401k.  I used to split my contributions between the two but recently switched to investing completely in my traditional 401k.  I am enjoying the benefits of a lower adjusted gross income at the end of the year but am also diversifying by having opened a Roth IRA as well (update – fully funded s of 10/21!).  I figure I can do a conversion later but in the meantime, I am enjoying the best of both worlds!  Oh, and I also fully fund my HSA which is known by some to be the Ultimate Retirement Account…just ask the Mad Fientist.

So, now that everything is on the right track – what does my retirement look like?  Well – I want to retire EARLY!!  I have no interest in waiting until 67 years of age to bask in the glow of a healthy financial future.  And though I don’t remember much about that half day in November almost 15 years ago, I did manage to capture one moment of clarity among 4 hours of static…

 As a flight attendant, you can retire with full flight benefits when: Your Age + Years of Service = 65

Well, yippy ki-yay, motherf#&^*%#!  By my calculations, I have a little under 7 more years on the dirty bird to launch myself into retirement bliss…Kinda.  This calculation only works for flight attendant benefits – I still can not take money from my retirement accounts until the age of 59.5 and won’t receive social security benefits until 67.  I can, however, quit my day job and still travel at a highly discounted rate!!  Yeah!!  So, November 2022 is considered Phase 1 of my retirement plan and is entirely accomplished by my years of service.

Phase 2 of my plan has more to do with how much I work and how much I can save between now and 2022.  According to the simple chart below from Mr. Money Mustache’s very popular post, The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement,  if I can continue to save at my current rate of 75% then I can potentially retire in 6 years (I’ve already started saving so I’m taking liberties and giving myself a year head start!)…oddly, the same time I can retire from my air hostess ways with full flight bennies!!

Borrowed from THIS amazing post by Mr. Money Mustache

Now, there are some ins and outs of this type of math and I find it to be a loose assessment of some unforeseen variables, most importantly your health.  Along with that, the market will go up and down, as will your investments.  A 4% withdraw rate assumes a 7% appreciation minus 3% for inflation.  That part I can’t control – but others, I can.  Cost of living is a huge factor as I currently own my condo with no mortgage.  Should that change (and it shortly will – more on that here) my cost of living no doubt will go up.  Hopefully, my income and overall lifestyle will remain the same so my savings rate can continue to thrive. In the meantime, I will throw all caution to the wind and run with these numbers…

Phase 1 + Phase 2 = Financial Independence in 2022 at the age of 44!!
Notice I didn’t say “Retire in 2022 at the age of 44″?  Yeah, I have no plans to retire.  My job is easy, pays well, and has great benefits including super health insurance at low rates.  As of now, my airline has no minimum hours that we have to work which is a rarity for the airline industry.  With no minimums, it means I can work as little or as much as I want…and I do.  I once took 2.5 years off a and didn’t fly a single trip!  Of course, no minimums could change with our next contract at which point I would have to reevaluate staying on.
But back to the business at hand.  For me, the word “RETIRE” is equal to the phrase FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE”.  Together, they mean having the ability to choose.  To choose to go to work or to choose to go on a trip.  To be able to work in my garden one day and head off on a work trip the next.  Perhaps I could take a volunteer position at an animal shelter and work only on the weekends.  Heck, I might take a year off and drive that aforementioned RV trip from coast to coast.  Who knows?!  For now, the future seems bright.  I realize a lot can happen in the next 6 years but the thought of being able to retire some 20 years before my peers feels insanely agreeable to me at the moment.  🙂
** Have you done the math?  When are you aiming to retire?  What are the biggest factors in your way?  Drop a comment or shoot me an email!  We are all in this together!!  🙂 **

We’re Going Streaking!!!

Will Ferrell GIF
Well, not that kind of streaking.  You see, habits are as big a part of my life as frugal living is.  Creating good habits is what keeps me on track of my goals. But I don’t do this only for spending. I also do it for health, social, and familial responsibilities as outlined in my 2016 Goals Half Year Review post.   Healthwise, I set a few goals this year that I have more or less slid on many occasions – find a workout plan I can stick to, daily stretching (still scratching my head on that one), and getting Bubba out more which in turn gets me out more.  These health goals are important because good health leads to lower medical costs which is equal to more money saved.  Voilá. So, after reviewing said goals, I figured it is time to revise them to be more concrete and specific.  So, without further ado…


They say it takes 3 weeks to build a habit. Walking has always been something that I love to do so I  didn’t imagine this would be a hard habit to build.  Have you ever heard of the Camino De Santago?  If not, it is a 500-mile trek across Spain to Santiago De Compostela.  And I’ve done it – multiple times.  And it is AWESOME…because I LOVE to walk!  Or so I thought…  After dismal numbers at the start of the year (which I blamed on the frigid cold temps) and the equally dismal numbers in the spring (which I blamed on the rainy weather), I had to come to terms with the fact that my long distance walks were not part of my habits so much as they were a vacation choice.  Moving into summer, I realized what I loved even more than walking in this godforsaken Chicago heat is sitting on my couch with my equally unmotivated dog at my feet, in the AC, watching SVU marathons on ION.  🙂  Now that is a habit I need to break!!

So, I made a decision.  Get out and do it.  Be the walker you say you are.  And, as it happens when you finally motivate, last week I checked my phones handy dandy log and found that as of June 1 I have been on track every single day.  10k or more a day!!  Do you know what we call that??  A streak!!  Now, some like to call it a chain, and that’s fine.  I prefer streaking because, let’s face it, the word insights a more exciting approach to my goals. 🙂  In any case, the end result is the same.  You don’t want to break a chain/streak.  You want it to keep building.  There is actual science (and apps) behind this idea.  

Last week I was taken ill with a nasty cold but that did little to deter me from hopping on the treadmill one night to finish up the 3500 steps I hadn’t walked that day. The next day, day 3 of the cold, I found it more difficult to continue but I didn’t want to break the 11-day streak and so I forged on!!  A few days later I was completely healed and many more thousands of steps were behind me.  I was proud I didn’t quit when the going got tough.  This week, sans cold, I have a new obstacle to overcome.  Its 95 degrees and as humid as it can be without rain.  Ugh.  I’ve been going out early with Bubs and finishing my walking late at night when the sun is down.  But they (whoever “they” is) are right – you will never regret a workout you finished, only the ones you never started.  This may not be a workout, but it is heading in the right direction.  

You see, maybe it isn’t that we can’t succeed with our resolutions – maybe we put too much pressure on ourselves at the start of each shiny brand new year. Why not eaaaasseee into these things and develop the new habits about 6 months in. 😉  So here we are. Day 20. 245,314 steps and counting.  I intend to up my 10K goal to 12k at the beginning of next month in addition to adding a whole new habit to my repertoire.  Wish me luck!!

**What habits are you trying to make or break?  Are any a product of your New Years resolutions?  Let me know what you’ve been up to!  We are all in this together.  ;)**

Borrowing from your 401K?!?!

STOPPPPPP!!!!  Dont do it!!!  Those are the words that were screaming in my head when She asked me that question.  The question that made me realize my help was needed on a broader scale than what I had imagined.  The question that made me realize that not everyone has the time or desire to read Money magazine, the financial sections of newspapers, read all about early retirement on countless FI blogs, and listen to Motley Fool podcasts, .  WHAT A DRAG!  😉

SO, here we were cruising at altitude and chatting about 401K options.  A nice conversation between two people who met 30 minutes prior.  That’s how it is in my world.  We get on a plane, strap into our seats, and peoples deepest darkest secrets come spilling out.  It’s like 2:30 am at a bar – the night isn’t ending as planned and so it takes a devastating turn towards Disasterville with a round of shots followed by a 1 hour binge cry on the last man in your life who so obviously ruined everything.  No, I haven’t been that girl but I have coaxed quite a few of my friends into cabs at 3 am.  In my profession,  I think we do this to ignore the subconscious thought to the back of our heads flight after flight – what if this is the one?  The flight that goes awry?  These therapy sessions are needed like a last minute confessional.  Rid your body and mind of what has been bothering you so we can go into the next phase unencumbered.  This girl, She, was encumbered with the thought of taking a 401k loan…seriously, deep and dark shit!

Once the screaming reflex quieted in my head, I was able to calmly relay why the thought of a 401k loan is a terrible idea.  Besides the obvious fact that a retirement fund is for RETIREMENT, there are other factors that seem to get lost in the idea that” it’s your money and you can spend it how you please”.  While that may be true, in some part, there are other factors to consider.

First off, do you have a traditional 401k or Roth 401k.  Different strokes for different folks 401k’s.  Let’s stick with the traditional 401k for this conversation.

The second issue is how much are you looking to borrow?  The IRS sets some limits as to what you can take from “your” money.  Here it is, straight from the horses mouth…

The maximum amount that the plan can permit as a loan is (1) the greater of $10,000 or 50% of your vested account balance, or (2) $50,000, whichever is less.”

For example, if you have $153,627.25 (just a random possibly personal number) and want to take out the max loan, you may only take out $50k.  If you have 40k in your plan, the max you can take out is 20k.  Not all companies allow 401k loans (ours unfortunately does) and the funds you are taking out must be vested (our vesting period is 5 years).  We can go on and on about more ins and outs but it is best to contact your companies benefits department directly and/or the IRS for more exact terms and information.  

Now before you get excited, remember that this is only a LOAN!!  It must be paid back in a specific amount of time and loan payments are not contributions…which brings me to the most important part of this equations – compound interest, or lack thereof.  

The 3rd reason and MY #1 reason to sway a doe eyed flight attendant away from this easy to reach bag of cash, is what they would be losing as apposed to gaining.  Sure, 20k seems like a quick paycheck for whatever nonsense you’re looking to purchase, but is losing $$131,000 worth it???  Let’s look at some quick math done by the fine folks at Money magazine circa August 2014 (sourcing Wealth Management Systems).  

There was a reason I cut this out and added it to my folder of grand financial ideas – you cant argue with the numbers!!  If you can keep yourself from “needing” this 20k now, in 20 years (assuming a beginning balance of 250k) you will have $1,528,000!!  On the other hand, if you decide to take the easy route of borrowing the 20k AND no longer adding extra contributions to your account in favor of paying back your loan, you will only have $1397000 at the end of the 20 years.  :((  Major saddy face.  That means that your 20k, with the magical help of compound interest, was able to grow and snowball simply because it was still accounted for.  Your little money soldiers were out doing their job and recruiting more bucks!!

Now, I am not saying there is never a good reason to tap into your 401k.  There are.  Health issues being a major one or perhaps loss of a job without an emergency fund.  For all other reasons, make sure you have done your due diligence and exhausted all other options before doing so.  Equity lines of credit, personal loans from family and friends, another job to add income… and, in the end, ask yourself if this purchase is really necessary.  If it is for a shiny new car, a bigger grander house, or a new set of boobs (we see that a lot in my industry! ;)) then it is possible you may want to reevaluate the difference between wants and needs.  Is keeping up with the Kardashians really worth $131,000??  After my spelling it out, She did’t think so.

** SOOOO, have you ever taken a 401k loan?  No judgement!!  Feel free to leave a comment and let us know how it turned out for you.  The more real life experience we hear the better for anyone to make a qualified decision should they be tempted.  🙂 **