Financial Update Nov 2017

Summary of this months finances.

2012 minivan travelling 75mph vs deer. Family is safe. Radiator + oil pan done for. Rest of car in okay shape (above pic is during teardown inspection of car). $6.5k repair estimate. $2.5k insurance deductible. Grateful it wasn’t worse.

Item #91 on repair estimate. 1 man hour for removing all animal product from undercarriage.

Our rear winshield (taken from outside) by my 10 year old daughter. I don’t understand the physics of this.

Waiting for grandpa to save us during 3-4 hour ordeal. That’s our luggage by the store. Me wearing canvas Crocs (more on these blessed shoes later).

Playing cards (Love Letter) on the floor of the convenience store for several hours.

Favorite quote from my wife over Thanksgiving: That’s what financial freedom buys you; you can piss away money without feeling stressed.

“no stress”


Another month, another update. A few random comments.

Good Reads/Listens/Watches

  • I listened to a new GoCurryCracker podcast the other day and really enjoyed it:
    • The audio quality isn’t fantastic, but it’s worth the listen anyway.
    • I’ll eventually stop with the GCC love fest, but the man is brilliant.
    • I find it fascinating that most people who pursue FI are former engineers; I guess our minds are wired differently…we solve problems and trust the math.
  • The term “aggregation of marginal gains” was discussed briefly in a ChooseFi podcast.
    •  Good article to highlight the idea:
    • Our financial life can be summarized by the cumulative summation of marginal gains. The most important gains come early on in life when our brains are least developed, yet they are the most impactful.
      • Choose right major ($$,$$$/year)
      • Marry right person ($$,$$$/year)
      • Choose right career ($$,$$$/year)
      • Choose index funds and simple DIY investing without help ($$,$$$/year)
      • Live in low cost of living area ($$,$$$/year)
      • Live in modest home ($$,$$$/year)
      • Max out tax advantaged accounts (HSA/401k/IRA/529) to minimize taxes ($$,$$$/year)
      • Drive crappy cars ($,$$$/year)
      • Buy in bulk ($,$$$/year)
      • PB&J for lunch ($,$$$/year)
      • Choose right healthcare plan ($,$$$/year)
      • Avoid cell phone plans ($,$$$/year)
      • Maximize credit card rewards ($$$/year)
      • Board games ($$$/year)
      • Utilize library ($$$/year)
      • Wear sweatshirt before turning on heat ($$$/year)
      • Make own yogurt ($$$/year)
    • The most impactful bullets to our financial well being are the first few bullets. Yet over the years I continually try to optimize, resulting in gains that are increasingly trivial in magnitude. But when you aggregate all of the decisions we’ve made in life, they amount to a massive difference. Perhaps our greatest characteristic is the continued pursuit of optimality.
    • That’s the beauty of thinking logically through long term savings. If you can get the important items solved early in life, the rest of your life is set. If you’re not where you want to be, don’t panic. So long as you right the ship and change your behavior today, you can still accomplish your goals.
    • Bringing a PB&J to work won’t make us millionaires, but doing it alongside every other marginal gain we’ve incorporated will.
  • It’s all about the recurring expenditures:
    • A family with low fixed costs is one that is on track to generate huge amounts of wealth.
    • A family with high fixed costs is one that is on track to generate low amounts of wealth.
      • The nice thing is that it’s pretty easy to turn from a high fixed cost family to a low fixed cost family by trimming down recurring expenditures.
  • National Park tour:
  • Improv Everywhere:


  • I had the time of my life creating a few eBay listings for the Costco golf balls with my 10 year old daughter. We spent some time observing the prevailing market price for the balls, calculating profits at given price points, deciding what the optimal quantity of balls would be to sell to maximize profits, the difference between fixed and variable selling expenses, etc. My daughter was jumping up and down for joy like a possessed soul. My brother was even on the phone who had interned at eBay so we were picking his brain. It was an experience I won’t soon forget. I hope it gives my daughter a sense of empowerment knowing that she has the power to use her brain to think of ways of providing value to others and monetizing it.
    • Speaking of making money with her brain, we signed our oldest two daughters up for a brain scan study at the university. They were shoved in a huge MRI machine, shown math videos, then scanned (they learned binary counting). I got to see pictures of their brains. They were rewarded with $45 Target gift cards and were giddy about it. A lesson we hope to teach our daughters is that they can sell their bodies for money. This came out wrong. We hope to teach them that they can sell their bodies to medical research for money.
  • We hit a deer while travelling at 75mph at night en route to see the inlaws over Thanksgiving. The car 1 mile in front of us (and out of sight at the time) had hit the deer initially, leaving it on the ground in the middle of the lane, dark fur on back facing us. By the time I saw it, I only had a split second to center the vehicle over the animal and hope to clear it. There was a large thud and immediately the check engine light went on. We almost immediately lost all engine oil and all coolant. We were fortunate to be 1 mile from the nearest exit which had a tiny gas station. We were 175 miles away from our destination and 175 miles away from any major city. After talking on the phone for Geico for an hour they told me I was out of luck since I was too far away. I was disappointed and I called back to get another agent who arranged a tow to our inlaws town. My father in law came to rescue us. The 7 of us waited for hours on the floor of the convenience store. I’m grateful to the owners of the gas station who approved the worker to keep the store open for 1 extra hour while my FIL drove to get us. Car needs new radiator, radiator support structure, and new oil pan, with repairs spanning 3-4 weeks. I didn’t have rental car coverage so we’re self insuring. We found a $500 minivan rental for 3 weeks (which turned into a $850 rental after failing to read fine print of rental car contract and incurring $350 additional driver charge…..stay away from Fox Rent A Car!!!!!!). We will also blow through our $2.5k deductible, for a total expense of $3,350. Geico says that my premiums won’t increase since it wasn’t my fault.
    • Self insurance always sounds good in theory until #*@^ hits the fan. I still stand by my philosophy of insuring only those things that I can’t afford to replace (home, health, life, our minivan), but months like this are painful to swallow. It’s certainly the price I pay for a lifetime of low premiums.
      • This reminds me of a William Bernstein investments quote that goes something like “it is the duty of every investor to lose money periodically; it’s the price you pay for achieving positive long term equity returns.”
        • Losing money in investments isn’t a sign that you’re doing something wrong. Rather, it’s the price for playing the game.
      • Borrowing from the above, “it is the duty of every self insured individual to lose money periodically; it’s the price you pay for enjoying a lifetime of low premiums.”
        • Losing money in self insurance isn’t a sign that you’re doing something wrong. Rather, it’s the price for playing the game.
    • Surprisingly, neither the repair shop nor the car rental store accepted Costco golf balls as a valid form of payment. Their loss, I guess.
    • Our prepaid cell phone plans (link) performed flawlessly through this ordeal thanks to great Sprint coverage where we broke down. We were on the phone for perhaps 2 hours, costing us $3.60 through the ordeal. I don’t understand why people pay $100/month for cell phone plans. It’s irrational.
    • I don’t really understand the point of emergency funds. We hold close to $0 cash (typically around $1k through the month) and seldom need to use it. I get paid on 1st of month, then auto pay credit cards in full, then dump into index funds on 2nd of month. Most emergencies I can think of can be financed with credit cards, which are a form of 0% borrowing for 45-75 days. During this time period we can easily sell stocks to produce cash. If the probability of hitting a deer is positively correlated with stock market declines, I guess my strategy would result in me systematically liquidating stocks at low prices. I find this correlation to be unlikely, though some argue that the correlation of job loss and market declines is positively correlated. The higher the correlation with market declines, the more rational it is to sit on cash for emergencies and bear the opportunity cost of not having money invested. A week into the ordeal and I have zero need for cash.
  • I played a round of golf with my folks over Thanksgiving. The Costco ball is as good as advertised, yet I still hate that sport as much as ever. It makes no logical sense to participate in the sport. Too frustrating, too much time, too much money.
    • My favorite memory of my visit with my parents was starting the Inaugural (and impromptu) Family Decathlon with my father and brother, both great athletes. Events included mile (won; 6:30), pullups (won; 18), pushups (lost; 45), plank (won; 5min), ping pong (lost handily), standing long jump (won; 8 shoe lengths), 50 yard dash (won, just barely), and 50 yard speed walk (lost handily). I was overall victor but just barely. It was a blast and will continue to be a blast going forward as we all train for it. The decathlon was totally unplanned. Next year I am nixing speed walking, which I thought was a joke but my brother insisted was not. All of my track and field events were performed in canvas Crocs, the best shoe ever made. Formal enough to wear to work, yet versatile enough to beat younger brother (by 5.5 years) in all track events except speed walking.
    • A friend of mine, who knows I’m a Croc connoisseur, sent me this article the other day of a family who runs marathons in the original Crocs. Brilliant:
  • About once per month I get an email from a friend asking for advice that I’ve already given them via email. Protip: learn how to use your email’s query capabilities. For example, if you are my friend and I’ve emailed you about good life insurance companies, enter the following in your gmail search bar: “from:frugalprofessor life insurance”. Done. Instant answers. And another protip: don’t delete emails. I’m amazed that otherwise really smart people don’t think to perform this simple query in their emails before emailing me the same question again.
    • Other helpful gmail queries:
      • from:frugalprofessor has:attachment
      • to:frugalprofessor from:mrsfrugalprofessor
      • from:frugalprofessor “life insurance”
      • label:unread label:inbox
      • size:10MB (this one queries for emails > 10MB which you can delete to free up space)
  • It was open enrollment for health insurance at work. Naturally, I solved for the optimal plan a year ago using Excel when I was a new hire. This year I decided to share my sheet with my colleagues, many of whom were shocked to learn that they had been making sub-optimal decisions for decades because they had never done the math themselves. It took me 5 minutes to model in Excel, yet this will pay dividends for years to come. Y intercept is annual premiums (incurred regardless of healthcare consumption). Slope of first portion of line is 1 until deductible is hit, after which coinsurance kicks in. Slope of line to right of first kink is equal to the employee portion of the coinsurance (either 20% or 30% depending on plan). Last kink is the annual stop loss. As shown, high deductible + HSA dominates all plans due to HSA tax savings. Without HSA, high deductible plan wins for low spending, followed by medium deductible plan for moderate to high spending. Several of my colleagues admitted to having participated in the low deductible plan for years, a plan which is vastly inferior to the others. And I work with brilliant people. Brilliant people who hadn’t spent 5 minutes in Excel modeling a simple life choice. Extrapolating a bit, I’m positive that the general public systematically makes very large mistakes in many aspects of their every day lives. Here’s the XLSX file to the curious (link).


  • We drove 8 hours round trip in early November to camp in 30°F weather to take the family rock climbing. It was a blast. Yes, 4 hours away is the closest rock climbing we have access to. Yes, rock climbing in 30°F weather in November is cold, particularly on the hands. Yes, my wife is a saint for putting up with me. But it was a blast. Suffice it to say that I’m easy to please. Give me a rock, a tent, and a climbing partner and I have entertainment for years. It turns out that our 5 kids are surprisingly easy to please as well. They are content hopping around rocks, playing in dirt, playing with sticks, roasting marshmallows. Go figure, the great outdoors is great cheap entertainment. Who would have thought?

blankThat was awesome. Only way out was up; no bailing out.

blankMy third child with a nasty mullet billowing out of his helmet. I have since buzzed it off.

blankMy timid fourth child giving it a go.

blankChild #1 helping child #5.


This month’s finances

  • The good:
    • Mrs. Frugal Professor: “That’s what financial freedom buys you; you can piss away money without feeling stressed”
  • The bad:
    • Deer on Apple iOS 11.1Deer on Google Android 8.0Deer on Samsung Galaxy S8 (April 2017)Deer on Emojipedia 5.2Deer on Facebook 2.2
      • $2.5k deductible will show up next month. $850 rental fee shows up this month.
    • Spent $,$$$ on golf balls. A hilarious percentage of our net worth is now in golf balls, something like 0.5%. Perhaps it belongs on the balance sheet now.
    • Spent $$$ on bouldering mats for our basement climbing wall. Despite the expense, I’m considering this a wise investment (saved brain damage, trips to ER, etc).
      • Once again, CamelCamelCamel saves the day. I placed a watch on these items months ago and they popped on sale this month.
    • Spent $380 on foosball table at Costco plus $$$ on other random Christmas presents.
      • I don’t feel bad for spending money on durable items which will serve as entertainment for decades to come yet still have a non trivial resale value years from now. Our ping pong table purchased from Amazon about a year ago for $300 is among my favorite recent purchases. Even our 3 year old loves playing ping pong and is freakishly coordinated at it.

Full version is downloadable here (link).




  1. Don’t lend money to friends/family.
  2. I lazily approximate home value as my historical purchase price.
  3. I have a 15Y mortgage; which results in a faster rate of repayment. The true cost of the mortgage should exclude repayment of principal, which I show above.
  4. $15 internet and $0 cell phones as described here.
  5. All expenditures at Costco & Walmart are classified as “Food at home” for simplicity (even if it’s laundry detergent, clothing, etc).
  6. I prefer Vanguard funds but my employer offers Fidelity instead.
  7. Nobody knows the perfect asset allocation. Just pick one and run with it. Use a target date retirement fund as a benchmark if you want some guidance (link).
  8. My low portfolio expense ratio is the primary reason why I don’t hold target-date funds, which have expense ratios anywhere from 0.16% to 1%. I can achieve a much lower expense ratio on my own due to Admiral shares, etc. And it’s not hard. Plus, a DIY portfolio allows one to tax-loss-harvest more easily.
  9. ETF’s are a pain to own relative to holding index funds directly. You have to deal with bid-ask spreads as well as the inability to buy partial shares. With a simple index fund, you don’t have to deal with either of these issues. I am currently invested in VTI b/c it’s $10/year cheaper than VTSAX in my Saturna HSA.
  10. The one blight in my expense ratio analysis is my 529 plan. The underlying Vanguard fund is almost free to hold (0.02%), but the high administrative fees bring the total cost of holding the fund to 0.32%. I abhor fees and would likely avoid 529 plans if I didn’t get to deduct up to $10k of contributions per year on my state return, saving myself $700/year in state income taxes.
  11. The only other administrative cost not captured by my expense ratios is a $19/year administrative fee for my HSA at Saturna Capital ($15 per transaction + 4*$1/dividend reinvestment).

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7 thoughts on “Financial Update Nov 2017”

  1. Another great post with some good links. Would love to see a post of a one week typical menu for a family this size(with a few recipes) with such a small grocery bill (breakfast, lunch, and dinners). I know rice/beans and PB&J make up a large part, but I’m sure there is more variety than this. Do you believe/buy into the organic movement? We are constantly attempting to optimize our grocery bill for a family of 4, but struggle to get it under $800-900/month.

    • It was a fun post to write and reflect on the good month we’ve had. I’m happy to share useful information as I get it.

      As far as how to keep our food budget low, I think this deserves its own blog post. But here’s my daily menu:
      Breakfast: Quaker oats from costco. Loaded with almonds + flax seed + chia seed + milk + banana.
      Lunch: Leftovers. If none, then mix of carrots, peanut butter, black beans, apple, bananna, lettuce, hard boiled eggs.
      Dinner: Mix of lentils, beans, brown rice, Costco rotissery chicken, lettuce, corn, fruit. Once a month we do salmon.

      I’ll take note over the coming weeks and do a full blog post on this. I love our lentil recipes.

      I’m trying to convince my family to eat less exotic fruits and more bananas. Seems like a losing battle with the Mrs who isn’t a fan of bananas. The way I see it, eggs and bananas are of the most nutritious and cheap calories you’ll ever encounter. I recently purchased a hard boiled egg cooker from Amazon and try to have an inventory of a dozen hard boiled eggs for the family. Perfect snack for the kids as well when they get the evening munchies.

  2. Great post! Could you share the ping pong table you bought? I’m in the market and I’m sure you did research and found a great value.

        • Awesome, thanks! Just curious, do you typically try to get stuff from Craigslist first? Any reason why you went new w/ the ping pong table?

          • Good question. I bought my bike on Craigslist 4 years ago. I used to buy a bunch of kids clothes on there when our oldest child was a toddler. We still do thrift shops a bit for clothes, but we do a lot of our shopping at Costco these days. I guess the older I get the more I try to simplify my life. The consequence of that is that I occasionally pay $100-150 more for a new ping pong table delivered to my door rather than a used ping pong table that I have to schlep across town in a minivan. Another way of saying the same thing is that I value my time more now than I used to (higher wages now than before), so I’m more interested in minimizing time hassle these days.

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