Get Married For The Insurance?

Little known quirk about the ACA: you can only sign up for the exchange in the calendar month after your health plan terminates. For instance, if you quit your job January 1st and your employer ends your insurance the same day, you won’t be eligible to sign up for an ACA plan until February 1st (and, no, you cannot backdate). Bonus: If you try to sign up for COBRA to cover the gap, that will invalidate your qualifying event. Which means you’re either stuck with your employer’s $900+/month unsubsidized insurance plan through COBRA or have a gap in insurance for up to 30 days.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for health exchange. Without it, it would be very difficult to get Fiancé health insurance at all due to his preexisting conditions. But this seems like a big policy oversight.

For now, our plan is to let him have a coverage gap and pay his recurring medical expenses in the gap out-of-pocket. If any emergency comes up, we can enroll him in COBRA which, unlike the ACA plan, can be backdated to his last day of work.

When I brought the issue up with my friend, she suggested to me, jokingly, “Well, you guys could just get married earlier so he can be on your work insurance!”

Which, no. But also maybe yes?

Fiancé and I have been together almost five years, living with each other around three. It’s not like getting married a few months earlier would make much of a difference to our relationship. It’d save us money, not just in health insurance premiums, but also in taxes. People get married all the time for administrative reasons: for health insurance, green cards, lower taxes, etc. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad an idea?

At the same time, there are some due diligence items I want us to go through as a couple before we get married. Getting a pre-nup in order, for one. Discussing how we’d set up our estate if one of dies, for another. Plus, all the little things from the thousand and two listicles about “What you should ask before you marry your partner?” You know, just in case we’ve missed anything. I’d rather not rush through those steps. Plus, my out-of-state family would probably be a bit dismayed if we got married and they weren’t present, even if there ends up being a wedding later.

After seeing his new health premiums, though, it sure is tempting…

Have you ever made a big relationship decision for financial reasons?

 

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Week In The Wallet #1: Spend ALL THE MONEY Edition

To preface this week’s money diary, you should know: this isn’t how I typically spend money.

I like to think myself a generally moderate, responsible person. This week, at least as spending goes, was a little bit nuts. I decided to stop putting off some of the items that had been on my wish list for a long while, e.g. cleaning, yoga pants, nude hosiery, window shade. And on top of that, this week I incurred expenses that usually happen only once or twice a month, like spending time with Little Sis, meat CSA delivery, treating my friends to dinner during game night. So while this week was excessive, keep in mind that it is not typical.

Saturday

It used to be a quick fifteen-minute bus ride to my Little Sis’s house. But alas, those times are gone. Since I moved, those fifteen minutes have turned to forty on good days, and an hour or more in traffic. Even though I don’t have to get into the city until late morning, I’m running behind and decide to take a Lyft instead of dealing with the transit shuffle. ($15.85)

Little Sis wants to bake cream cheese roll ups, so we stop by the crunchy food coop on the way home to pick up ingredients. I also grab some coconut yogurt for me and watermelon juice for her. ($13.87) While we wait for the roll ups to bake, I boil her some spaghetti to go with the bolognese sauce I prepped Friday evening. In spite of all the veggies and greens I mixed in, she actually likes it! We eat lunch while playing Mysterium. She likes playing the ghost.

After taking Little Sis home, I rush back to my place to grab gym clothes and high tail it over to the YMCA before closing time. I manage to sneak in about half an hour on the elliptical and ten minutes of arm and chest presses.

In the evening, I unwind on my computer, looking up educational materials to help Little Sis along with math. There’s one kid-oriented textbook series that catches my eye, so I put a hold on the decimals guide at my library’s online portal. ($0.00) I durdle around on Amazon for a while and order vermiculite for a gardening project. ($14.99) Since my stomach can only handle so much real-pasta, I cook some lentil-quinoa pasta to go with my bolognese, which I munch on while watching Lemon online. ($6.99)

Saturday total: $51.70

Sunday

After eating the last of my lentil-quinoa spaghetti, I make my way to the city for a shopping day. On the way, I come upon the last yard sales of the summer. Neighbors swarm around a small collection of houses on the hill selling oil paintings, books, compact disks, lemonade and the occasional churro. I poke around but don’t end up buying anything.

I head to the commercial district, which is closed off to cars for the day and shoppers roam free. On the bus ride across the river, I browse Amazon and buy a replacement pair of Gillette Venus Swirl razors. ($12.15) While walking the street, I notice employees at Madewell are handing out caramel popcorn to lure people into listening about their recycled denim program. I grab a bag for fiancé and I to snack on later.

The consignment shop has some nice sheath dresses from J. McLaughlin and Max Mara, both around $50-75, but the patterns are a bit luxe-eighties and I’m not sure how often I’d get to wear them. Pass, for now.

After doing a full walk down to the park, I make my way over to the Wolford store in the boutique mall nearby. Unfortunately they don’t have samples for me try on any of the hosiery, but they have a 30 day refund window and I’m told they’re basically indestructible. I buy a pair of individual 10 tights in Gobi. ($49) When I get home, I realize they’re a bit too sheer for what I need, so I resolve to go back next weekend to upgrade to a denier 30 pair.

Fiancé gets home from his last weekend on the job. We snuggle up and watch Carol, which I’ve been wanting to see for ages. ($7.99) I eat eggplant and corn salsa over sliced potato and hard boiled egg. We both snack on the caramel popcorn.

Sunday total: $69.14

Monday

I come in Monday morning, ready to beast. My mug full of vanilla, cloves, and cinnamon white tea gives me just enough caffeine to focus on my big project for the week.

Most days I try to bring my lunch. Today is eggplant and corn salsa over sliced potato and a hard-boiled egg. By dinner time, though, I am feeling a hankering for something sweet. I stop by the local pie shop on the way home and get a slice of bacon, leek, and gruyere quiche and a 5″ blueberry pie for Fiancé and I to share. ($13.09) I supplement the quiche with beets and fennel because vegetables are important, I’m told.

After dinner, I try to freeze my credit. Experian is a breeze but TransUnion and Equifax are giving me issues. ($5) Whatever. I work the annoyance out of my system with a Jillian Michaels’ ab workout, streamed from my library’s Hoopla account. ($0)

Monday total: $18.09

Tuesday

In the morning, I finally manage to call into TransUnion’s automated system and freeze my credit report. ($5) In the morning phone-commute time, I also cave in and buy lululemon Agile Pants II in midnight teal. ($95) This is probably the most I’ve spent on a piece of non-shoes clothing possibly ever. Also one of the few times I’ve bought clothes new. I try to put a bid on a athletic jacket on Poshmark to replace my four-year-old one with a broken zipper. The seller doesn’t end up getting back to me.

I continue chugging along at work. The early evening is spent in long meandering conversations with my friend and my fiancé, both in the midst of career changes.

My meals are all stuff I already have. Tea for breakfast; sliced potato and hardboiled egg covered in bolognese with beets and fennel on the side for lunch; leftover wonton soup and roasted Italian eggplant from last week for dinner; and the remnants of my blueberry pie for dessert.

Tuesday total: $100.00

Wednesday

I manage to successfully bid for a replacement jacket on Poshmark. ($51.49) Now, while I still need some business clothes for upcoming work trips, my casual off-time shopping is complete. I also finalize an order for a roller shade to cover the small stained-glass window in our living room. ($73.50) The window itself is pretty but also the stained glass doesn’t prevent sunlight from shining directly in my eyes.

Work continues as usual. Lunch is a hearty steak burrito from around the corner. ($9.00) The evening is spent hauling our new-to-us Ikea Kallax birch bookcase, which fiancé picked up and paid for, to the living room and playing Edritch Horror into the wee hours with a couple friends. We usually take turns paying for dinner, and I haven’t tanked for a while, so I order the four of us delivery from a local vegan taco shop. ($58.75) The vegetarians are happy and the sunflower seed cheese hits the spot.

Wednesday total: $192.74

Thursday

Work, work, work. I am running low on prepped meals so I get a chicken sandwich and jalapeno potatoes at a food truck near my office. ($15) In the afternoon I snack on some pears from the office fruit bowl. Dinner finishes off the last of my veggies: beets with fennel and tomato eggplant with a poached eggs on top. Nom.

After work, one of my coworkers who lives near me is taking an Uber home and I’m able to catch a ride, just missing a torrential downpour. ($0)

Prepping for house cleaners, Fiancé has managed to make the house downright tidy! I still have too much clutter in my bedroom, which I organize as much as possible. There’s a stack of paperwork that’s been sitting on my desk for months. While I know I should digitize them, they end up, unsorted, in my bed stand instead.

After failing, yet again, to get Equifax to freeze my credit, I need to get out some excess frustration. I do the Jillian Michaels ab workout again and cap the night off with a little blogging and some suitably snarky Evelyn Waugh.

Thursday total: $15.00

Friday

Friday is my favorite day. Not only is it the start of the weekend, but it’s also when I get my CSA delivery! Note: I get really excited about vegetables.

End of summer marks the best season for produce. My crate is full of beets, chard, eggplant, garlic, kohlrabi, dandelion greens, oyster mushrooms, acorn squash, tomatillo, and carrot. ($32) I also get my monthly meat CSA delivery, which contains ground beef, ground lamb, farm seasoned sausage, beef roast, fermented black garlic, and grass fed BBQ beef sticks. ($65) I eat a couple of the beef sticks for lunch.

I’ve scheduled a deep cleaning of the condo and decide to work from home to let in the cleaners. I pay them $250 for the service and give each woman $20 tip. ($290) They do an okay job but I realize I really don’t like having strangers in my house and fiancé and I decide, in spite of my earlier intentions for lifestyle inflation, that monthly cleanings probably wouldn’t be worth it after all. We plan to instead outline a bimonthly cleaning plan so we can keep the place tidy and nice ourselves.

I like to cook my vegetables as soon as I get them so Friday evenings are dedicated to bulk meal prep. I make Asian eggplant with ground lamb and mushrooms, rice, sautéed mixed greens, tomatillo salsa, sweet root salad, and roasted acorn squash with cinnamon. It takes me about four hours to make everything. I take a bite here and there while cooking which fills me up for dinner.

Friday total: $397.00

Summary

  • Food: $206.71
  • Shopping: $296.13
  • Entertainment: $14.98
  • Transportation: $15.85
  • Other: $300.00

Total: $833.67

Frugal Faves #1: The Magic Of Public Libraries

Guys. Guys! GUYS!

Ok I have your attention.

I have a public service announcement. This one’s important: You should go visit your library. Like, yesterday. And if not yesterday, at least make a point to take a stroll there tomorrow. Because the library is a wonderful place. It took me until I was twenty-five to realize it, but I have to make up for lost time.

You know what I used to do when I wanted a book? Spend $10-15 on each. I lumbered hundreds if not thousands of dollars of printed paper the 1.5 miles from the bookstore to my house. Uphill. And then, if after a couple chapters I didn’t like the book, it’d sit there on my nightstand. Taunting me. Like my copy of Ulysses. That sucker will be there for years.

Now what do I do? I put a hold for the book at my local library. It’ll get shipped a half mile from my house from anywhere in the entire state. And then, if it’s not to my taste? I bring it back. Just like that– poof, it’s gone! Even if I do like the book, I could buy a copy later. And, really, how many of my books have I read more than once? Less than 20%, that’s for sure.

This frees up two valuable resources: money and space. And what do I have to pay in return for this privilege? Literally nothing. I mean, my property and income taxes, sure, but I was paying those anyway.

In addition to physical books, the library grants me access to a lot of cool digital content. Newspaper access, ebooks, movies, audiobooks. And I don’t have to leave the comfort of my home for it either, just type in my library card number and have a world of DRM’d information right at my fingertips.

Plus, my library gives out free museum passes which, out here, is like giving out free gold. It costs a family of four (two parents, two kids) $90 to visit the science museum on a Saturday. With a free pass from the library? $0. Four for the aquarium goes from $94 retail down to $40. So on and so forth for the fine arts, contemporary arts, natural history, local history, and children’s museums. And the zoo too!

How often do you visit your local library?

Scaling Lifestyle Inflation With Income

For a few weeks now, I’ve been ruminating on whether it makes sense to inflate my lifestyle and hire a house cleaner to visit my home once a month. I finally got around to shopping for quotes. Everything was in the $120-140/month range (ouch!), so I decided to go with the company that did the thorough and professional post-renovation clean for my house, which charges $130/month.

Justifying spending money can be difficult for me. On the path to early retirement, every expense, especially luxuries, can seem like the enemy. It is hard not to get caught up in uber-frugal mindset and forget that the path to early retirement is about minimizing stress, not just front-loading it.

And so, I’ve come up with a framework that will both allow me to inflate my lifestyle a bit, but also keep me in check. In this schema, I will allow myself 1 unit of lifestyle inflation (roughly $100/month recurring expense) for each $X I increase my income. Note that the value of X is the same as the value of a single unit in my net worth tracking posts. That is, each time I increase my income by roughly 1/8th the value of my mortgage, I’ll allow myself a little extra spending now in return. Times when I surpass my budget do not figure into this framework (they’ll still happen, regardless of income level). Rather, this is where I feel comfortable defining my baseline monthly expenses.

Here is a chart summarizing what my lifestyle looks like at each income level:

Income Level Description
1X  Frugal mode: Time to cut back. This means I need to get a roommate to live with Fiancé and me, no eating out, and a major spending moratorium on non-essential items
2X  Baseline: The minimum amount I need to spend roughly according to my typical not-so “bare bones budget”, with a few spending exceptions as needed, and still hit reasonable financial goals (e.g. saving at least 20% of income, etc.)
3X  Expensive fitness membership: $95/month
4X  Monthly cleaning: $130/month
5X  ???

Right now, my income level is at roughly 4.5X. So while my monthly cleaning bill is slightly higher than the allocated $100/month for the 4X lifestyle boost, I feel okay with a slight monthly overrun.

I’m not entirely sure what kind of lifestyle increase I would want if I do reach 5X. I expect by then, I may have kids. They’ll certainly be an increase to my monthly budget. In general, I want each boost to be something that simplifies my life or promotes my other personal values– health, relationships, creativity, food. Maybe a family chef? (Haha, no.) In any case, best not to count my chickens before they hatch.

How do you deal with and plan for lifestyle inflation?

Is My CSA Saving Me Money?

For a couple months now, I’ve signed up for a local CSA. I mean, I call it a “CSA” but it is really a delivery service that sources organic produce from multiple farms, mostly local, and highly seasonal for a flat weekly rate. CSA-lite, so to speak.

For $32 a week, I get a crate full of organic vegetables delivered right to my front porch. I’ve gotten everything from carrots and cabbage to garlic scapes and hakurei turnips. Since most of the produce is sourced locally, everything is super fresh. They let me indicate preferences if I decide I’m not in the mood for, say, kale. And if I need to skip a week or add one or two items, I can ask them to pack me extra item they stock extras like grains, beans, and dairy.

It’s a great service but I’ve wondered, from a purely financial perspective, am I paying more or less than I would at the grocery store for the same items?

The Comparison

To satisfy my curiosity, I did a cost comparison between the CSA items in my most recent box versus the cost at my local Whole Foods (using Instacart prices, which uses the exact pricing in Whole Foods stores).  I chose Whole Foods for my comparison grocery store– over, say, the discount supermarket a ten-minute walk from my house– because: (1) it’s the most likely to have comparable, organic produce and (2) it’s more convenient than prowling the farmer’s market stands.

There were a couple items that Whole Foods did not have, namely: Hungarian hot peppers and bull’s horn peppers. For those, I chose what may or may not be suitable substitutes.

CSA Item CSA Quantity WF Item WF Quantity WF Cost
Organic Beets 1 bunch Organic Beets 1 bunch $2.99
Organic Fennel Bulb 1 bulb Organic Fennel Bulb 1 bulb $2.90
Organic Eggplant 1 eggplant Organic Eggplant 1 eggplant $3.82
Organic Green Beans 0.75 lb Organic Green Beans 0.75 lb $2.47
Organic Tomatoes 0.5 lb Heirloom Tomatoes 0.5 lb $4.04
Organic Carrots 1 lb Organic Carrots 1 lb $1.54
Organic Dandelion Greens 1 bunch Organic Dandelion Greens 1 bunch $2.50
Organic Garlic 1 bulb Organic Garlic 1 bulb $1.48
Organic Thyme 3/4 oz Organic Thyme 3/4 oz $2.69
Organic Red Leaf Lettuce 1 head Organic Red Leaf Lettuce 1 head $2.49
Organic Hungarian Hot Pepper 0.5 lb Poblano pepper 2 peppers $2.42
Organic Bulls Horn Pepper 1 pepper Cubanelle pepper 1 pepper $1.19
CSA Total $32.00   Whole Foods Total $30.53

We see that the CSA and Whole Foods prices are more or less even, with the CSA costing a little more for a fully organic haul.

Why I’m Sticking With My CSA (Even Though It’s More Expensive)

Even though my CSA is slightly more expensive than Whole Foods organic (let alone discount supermarket non-organic produce), there are a few reason I want to stick with the service.

For one, my CSA forces me to incorporate lots of vegetables into my rotation, whereas otherwise I have a tendency to eat meat and carbo-load. It also pushes me to eat seasonally and try out new recipes with vegetables that I might otherwise choose myself. Lastly, and this is the big one for me, they deliver groceries right to my door. Do you understand how lazy I am!? So very, very.

And so, pseudo-CSA, you are here to stay.

Have you ever signed up for a CSA? What was your experience?

 

Our Plan For Joint Finances

One of the things I’ve been thinking as Fiancé and I get slowly closer to our wedding date is how we’re going to handle finances as a couple. So far, we’ve kept everything separate. But once we get married, especially as we plan to have kids, it would be difficult for us to keep that sort of structure going.

And so after toying around with different models, we’ve settled on a his-hers-ours system for financial management.

Joint Money Map

The following diagram summarizes how we plan to structure our joint finances once we’re married.

Joint Finances - 2018

In this plan we max out all the retirement space available to us, including both our 401k’s and Roth IRA’s. We will each get $600/month as an “allowance” for our personal expenses. All our joint bills will be paid either via our joint checking or credit card. At the end of the month, any remainder we have will be dumped into our joint brokerage account.

Joint Versus Individual Expenses

This structure relies on differentiation between “joint” expenses and “individual” expenses.

Joint expenses are all necessary expenses that are important for us as a family unit. This includes our mortgage, insurance, taxes, car expenses, utilities, insurance, medical, phones, groceries, necessary family travel, and fitness plans. This also includes 10% of our post-tax income going toward charitable contributions like I’ve been doing solo (but instead we get to pick charities together as a family).

Individual expenses are all expenses that are for our individual benefit and fun that are not as high of priorities for us as a family unit. This includes eating out, hobbies, shopping, personal care, and solo vacation travel.

What if we get divorced?

If we get divorced, we’d each get to keep our own his/hers retirement and checking accounts. We would each then “repay” ourselves for the other assets we brought into the marriage and then split the remainder 50/50.

How would/did you structure finances with a domestic partner/spouse?

Lifestyle Inflation? Yes, Please.

Guys, I want to hire a maid.

Someone who can vacuum the stray hairs and rice grains out of the rug in the living room. Someone to wipe down our shower and mop our kitchen floors. Bonus points if they can rub out the thin but impossible to remove film of grease that coats the outside of our stove, protecting it from the other kitchen elements.

The expense would be relatively minimal, I think, though I haven’t gotten quotes. Once a month, maybe $100 a visit? And in exchange, a clean home that smells vaguely like lemon-scented Lysol and wood floors that get dusted not just when I do the cha-cha slide in my footie socks.

Why not get hire a cleaner, then? Well, I’m afraid that I’m inflating my lifestyle too quickly. I’ve spent more on renovations for my condo than I did for three years’ rent in our dilapidated former apartment. That plus my recent upgrades in terms of food and fitness makes me worried I’m getting too big for my britches.

On the other hand, we can certainly afford the expense. Our retirement and college funds are in a good place. I’m earning good money and my savings rate is over 50%. There is certainly a little room for more fun money. And fewer chores.

Do you want to inflate your lifestyle? Do you think hiring a cleaner is worth it?