T-I-P Update: June/July 2015

Day 104 | $18,454.65 paid | $272,713.36 to independence!

Summer is officially upon us – our gloriously sunny SoCal days are longer, the beaches are warmer, and the streets are definitely busier.

These days, we are readying our home for sale – upgrading the kitchen, completing a honey-do list of small repairs, and cleaning up the landscaping. We are scouting new neighborhoods by Hubs workplace and refining our game plan. Our daughter continues to monopolize our focus and attention throughout this endeavor, leaving no time for personal interests… like blogging. Nonetheless, it feels really great to do things that directly impact our goals towards maximum freedom and joy.

We are spending a significant amount on upgrades for the home sale and routing additional cash towards debt repayment. It’s pushed us out of our comfort zone by depleting our cash cushion, which makes for a wonderful life lesson. Although cash balances may be low, we have multiple credit options to float us until we can liquidate other assets if we find ourselves in a pickle. Discomfort does not indicate danger or insecurity! That cold sweat and accompanying high blood pressure that arises with each view of our savings account balance is not necessary. In fact, I now view it is a blessed reminder to refocus my energies towards joy and our T-I-P goals!

Enough small talk, here’s our (still embarrassingly awful) debt picture this month:

  • Credit Cards: $3361.94 (used as monthly charge account)
  • Inherited Debt: $72,000 remaining @ 0%
  • School Loans – Hubs: $61,814.80 remaining @ 3.065%
  • School Loans – Wifey: $68,898.56 remaining @ mixture of 6.55% and 1.625%
  • Home Equity Line of Credit: $70,000 remaining at 4.12%
  • Real Estate Application: Still waiting

“financial independence”

We enjoyed another lovely weekend! Time was spent celebrating birthdays, which provided an added bonus of spending time with dear friends. This time is always precious – our daughter makes new friends and receives endless cuddles. We get to converse with other adults using adult words sans baby coos and other non-sensical noises.

Currently, our favorite topics of conversation is T-I-P. We love opening up about our life and goals, inviting feedback and questions as we continue to work lay the groundwork for the project.

The idea we keep turning around in our heads is our recent re-definition of “financial independence.” The wording is key and we try not to confuse “independence” with “retirement.” Previously, financial independence was an unattainable goal reserved for the creme de la creme of the Forbes 50 Wealthiest Individuals in the world: people who have so much money, they couldn’t spend it all despite their best efforts. By some miracle, we stumbled upon a new perspective. It suggests that financial independence means we have accumulated enough assets that a paycheck is no longer necessary to meet our needs. The best part is that we get to define what our needs actually are, thereby setting a budget, in today’s dollars, to cover related expenses.

For us, financial independence means we can provide for our basic needs (for shelter, food, clothing, transportation) plus educational/extracurricular expense for each family member and the opportunity to travel and/or live in new locations. A review of our finances suggests this will not require as much money as we first imagined – probably cash flow of ~$65K/year.

At first, financial independence may look very similar to retirement, mainly because we plan to take this opportunity to give Hubs a well-deserved and indefinite break from the daily grind. We may move about various locales within and without the U.S. and spend our days at a leisurely pace, enjoying each other’s company and refreshing forgotten hobbies as we rediscover ourselves and our interests. As mental and emotional well-being optimizes and stabilizes, we will feel recharged and open to newly cultivated ideas, projects, and even business ideas, for our benefit and society’s. From there? The sky’s the limit and our only constraints will be self-imposed.

Admittedly, these musings are pretty vague and that is by design. Currently, we are still working ourselves out of the fog of society’s predetermined plan for everyone. We might have a fairly good idea of who we think we are, based on unrealized interests and passions, projects started (and maybe even finished) but not continued, and the ever-progressing nature of our wants and dreams. Honestly, we barely know who we are, and much less, what we want, on a detailed level. So, instead of planning out our entire future now, we are focusing on the journey there.

We’ll create our future when we get there.

Sofi Refi – APPROVED!

Just as we began tackling our T-I-P goals, a timely, pre-approved offer from Sofi fluttered into our mailbox. It promised significantly lower interest rates for refinancing our student loans. In the past, such offers immediately found their way to the recycle bin. For absolutely no reason, I always assumed a scam lurked in between the lines.

Casting cynicism aside, I figured a little research wouldn’t hurt. Very quickly, I found helpful reviews (here and here) with links promising even better bonuses than my mailed offer!

It turns out that Sofi is not a scam at all. It is a pretty solid (albeit new) company founded by Stanford grads (Go Cardinal!) who connected fellow alum (and their surplus investment dollars) with current students while offering affordable financing for their educations.  With such a small and carefully selected subset of borrowers, investors were almost guaranteed a safe return on their investments. According to the White Coat Investor, they have a default total of 2 loans, both the result of premature deaths, which the company graciously wrote off.  As the company grew and the pool of borrowers widened, Sofi upheld stringent approval criteria, lending to only super prime borrowers. They flat out reject ~40% of their applicants!

Feeling pretty good about the quality of the company, we applied to refinance of Hubs MBA loans. It was a quick and fairly painless experience.

The whole application process included 15 minutes online, chatting with a customer service rep about a few questions on the adjustable rate loans (which are significantly cheaper than their fixed rate loans), while simultaneously completing a 30-minute application which included scanning in a few required documents verifying identification, income, and loan amounts. Immediately prior to submittal, I called in to ensure the application of a signing bonus since I (stupidly) forgot to use the provided link. Since I was filling out the application on Hubs’ behalf, this required a quick phone call from Hubs to the company to authorize me as a decision maker for the account. The company was extremely responsive throughout this process and I never felt the presence of red tape or other hoops to jump through.

Upon submittal, I received an email requesting final documentation. I called in again to walk through the process with a rep – another 10 minutes tops. After that, just one additional email requesting the same information, which I cleared up with a 2 minute phone call. Easy breezy.

20 days later, we received notification that the loan is funded! Hubs is a super prime borrower! Hooray!

A few days after that, we received all the paperwork with the nitty-gritty for an adjustable rate, 10 year loan.  This took Hubs’ school loans from 6.55% APR to an interest rate on a monthly float at 2.875% above 1-mo LIBOR. This month, the rate’s at 3.065%.  Double hooray! (An adjustable rate seemed optimal in light of our intention to repay the loans in full by year end.)

As the loan processes and a new account profile is established, payments are halted for about 2 months, which accounts for the increase in Hubs’ school loans balance at the last T-I-P update.

The ease of this experience is bringing to light the various options available for affordable financing. I’m kicking myself for not looking into this earlier! Somehow, I have a feeling this will be recurring theme as we progress with our Independence Project: the real and immediate benefits of deviating from mainstream protocol and solutions.


This past month is a blur – the very real consequence of extreme fatigue and sleep deprivation paired with my destructive habit towards idle thinking.

A little over a month ago, our precious daughter’s night time sleep took a dive. Suddenly, she was waking every 1-2 hours for the better part of the night, finishing with a 2-4 hour stretch that ruined the quality of her daytime naps before repeating the vicious cycle the following evening.

Each day nibbles away at our focus… then our mood… then our motor skills… The decrease in well-being is astounding. Mental clarity gives way to a cloud of idle thoughts that provide little or no benefit. Just like an idling car – the engine’s running but I am going nowhere. Emotions naturally heighten and the bickering begins, eventually followed by laughter and jokes about how courts should prohibit divorce during a couple’s first year as parents.

With the help of raptitude.com’s insightful guidance, I am making this an opportunity to practice mindfulness – observing my reality and environment, along with my thoughts and the emotional ride that ensues.

My first observation was that I am totally bat-shit crazy half the time and not even present most of the time. Instead of enjoying my daughter’s warm embrace and the softness of her tiny hands on my arm as I soothe her to sleep (for the 4th time in 90 minutes), I would take a mental inventory of tasks I needed to complete the moment I set her down. Other times, a dark cloud of squiggles would form above my head as I remembered that Hubs did not complete a chore he promised to 3 weeks ago.

What a waste of this gift of a life I’ve been granted!

Two weeks in and I haven’t even attempted a single meditation session. However, my conscious efforts are producing a marked improvement to my well-being. While idling continues to occur, I am now more aware of it, which allows me to refocus on the moment. It improves my enjoyment considerably and minimizes suffering.

Sleep continues to allude me, but this is improving as well thanks to Hubs’ brave efforts to sleep-educate our daughter. (Heart wrenching) Crying continues but after just 3 nights, she is sleeping 10-11.5 hours with 0-2 wakings. At this rate, an actual mediation session is just around the corner!

T-I-P Update: May 2015

Day 57 | $12,988.79 paid | $280,996.51 to independence!

Another month has blurred right past us! Here’s the nitty-gritty:

  • Credit Cards: $994.76 (used as monthly charge account)
  • Inherited Debt: $80,000 remaining @ 0%
  • School Loans – Hubs: $62,043.24 remaining @ 3.065%
  • School Loans – Wifey: $68,953.27 remaining @ mixture of 6.55% and 1.625%
  • Home Equity Line of Credit: $70,000 remaining at 4.12%
  • Real Estate: Courses Complete! License and Exam Applications Mailed!

Guest Post: “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

Today marks 7 magical years of marriage for Hubs and I. In keeping with our T-I-P goals, we promised not to spend money on gifts for each other this year as we addressed our debt emergency. He surprised me with this  present instead – an amazing guest post for the blog. His commitment and support for our life together steeps each word of this post and I have never felt more love and personal devotion from a gift. I am undeniably in love with this man and thank my lucky stars to be married to him – he is my best friend and the love of my life all rolled into one perfect mate.  

“Never mistake activity for achievement” – John Wooden

I use that quote often at work. I try to make sure my team understands it is never how busy you are that is important but rather your overall contribution. Since my wife and I have been discussing financial independence, I have been applying this thought to our lives more and more. There is a great article entitled Where Self-Esteem Comes From that explains this better than I ever could but my take-away was simple. Instead of asking myself, “Do I like doing this?,” I ask “Do I like who I am when I’m doing this?” The list of things I like doing is long and includes such things as watching TV, playing video games, interacting on social media, and putting together a kick-ass Excel spreadsheet (don’t judge). The list of things in the latter category is much shorter:

  • Laughing and loving with my family
  • Feeling a sense of personal growth through experiencing new and different cultures and locations
  • The feeling of freedom, closeness with nature, and detachment from being in the ocean
  • Capturing a moment and its beauty through photography
  • Feeling like I am maximizing my body & energy through exercise, sport, and eating good food
  • Accomplishing a goal through analytics (don’t judge)

I grew up in front of a TV, I am glued to my phone, and I spend 9 hours per work day in front of dual wide screen computer monitors. It will take a massive adjustment for me to change this behavior even though these things in their current incarnation didn’t even exist in my childhood. The articles New Year’s Resolution: Getting Your Brain Back & Why is it so hard to downshift explain perfectly how to rid oneself of entertainment addiction, deal with the onset of boredom, and re-focus on myself to create better actions. I took the first step in the right direction by cutting our cable (Cutting The Cord) and have not noticed much of a difference at all… yet.

My wife and I have chosen to target independence to re-allocate our resources and “mind-share” towards our best selves. Another article, Freedom Comes From How You Live, articulates this well. It explains how the common approach to life is to seek out things that are appealing and to avoid things that are not appealing. The problem with this common approach is that the most common result is time and energy on easy but unrewarding habits at the expense of the things I always dreamed of doing because there is discomfort between my current state and my dreams. In order to realize our dreams, we created T-I-P (The Independence Project).

I think the discomfort will be much greater for me than my wife. I like working and have been fairly successful in my career thus far. Part of the reason, I believe, is because I am pre-disposed to being a good employee. I do well with routine, deadlines, and external forces providing the motivation. It is going to be a big transition for me to figure out how to fill up my days and create a new direction. Luckily I am not alone in this type of transition and articles like Routine Will Oil the Machine lay out some pretty great ways personalities like mine can use our tendencies to adjust and flourish.

I actually don’t know what I will do with my time once driving and working aren’t part of the routine. That thought was a scary one but I have started to develop thoughts that center around a common theme. This excerpt from Great News – Early Retirement Doesn’t Mean You’ll Stop Working explains it well:

“My best days are the ones where I accomplish something truly difficult, preferably in both mental and physical realms. And my worst days are those that I just spend sitting around. So I’ve learned that work is an incredibly powerful source of happiness. The key is that it must be creative, social and engaging work that brings you towards a purpose you believe in… When you take money out of the question, it is much easier to make decisions that really bring you a better life.”

I very much believe that with freedom from the constraint of a job, my work will be more productive, creative, and satisfying. I now have daydreams of developing my photography skills, of consulting on projects I truly care about, and taking on ventures with my whole heart. It is invigorating and motivating and I am more determined than ever to achieve great things rather than simply being active.

[delayed] cutting the cord

We are so blessed to live in a time defined by quick access to a wealth of information, literally at our fingertips, through smart phones, laptops, and the internet in general.

This is especially true for new parents. There are so many options for the details surrounding pregnancy, child delivery, and preparation in general. One of the more notable options involves cutting the umbilical cord – who’s going to do it? when? After researching routine hospital procedure, we requested a delayed cut. This turned out to be a boon for our little girl – our OB/GYN waited it out like a queen, not even glancing at the cord until the placenta was delivered and there was absolutely nothing left, supplying our daughter with ~30% more life giving blood than standard procedure and timing would have allowed. When the cord no longer served our baby, it was clamped and cut. I believe this choice was instrumental in giving her the best start in this world.

Last week, memories of that fateful day resurfaced as we cut the cord again, in a different area of our life.

We disconnected our cable service.

For some people (like myself), this has negligible impact to daily life. To others (like Hubs), cable TV provides an ever-present background that gracefully emerges to life’s forefront at his beckoning. Its constant stream of entertainment, pop culture, and current events, seems to breathe life into the monotony of the work week, allowing the body to “rest” while the mind and heart vicariously experience any emotion of his choosing: Want a thrill? NBA playoffs are delivering game clinching baskets at the buzzer! Self-esteem boost? A slew of ‘reality’ train wrecks are ripe for the picking! How about heartwarming goodness that overflows until it streams from your eyes? Extreme Home Makeover to the rescue!

If you are lucky enough to call my husband a friend, you know this is a big deal.

More than a week later, we can hardly tell it’s gone. The truth is, we don’t have time to watch a show from beginning to end anyways. What’s more, the little we watch is also available through a plethora of entertainment apps, so we’re keeping MLB TV at $135/season and our Netflix subscription at $7.99/month. Our Amazon Prime membership also includes a video library. What’s going away is the $83/month cable fee, so we will be ~$1000 closer to our T-I-P goals a year from now.

The main point is that we’ve gained what we could from television but it does not serve us any longer. Just like our birth experience, I believe cutting the cord now will give our T-I-P project the best start. I hope evenings are spent engaged in each other’s company without glaringly stylized images marketing unnatural and unattainable perfection. I hope doing away with the option to flip on the TV and watch whatever is given will minimize zoning out in front of a screen during down time. I hope we enjoy other activities, at home or outside in nature, to restore our bodies and mind. I hope this choice frees us further from the shackles of our consumer culture and optimizes our daughter’s introduction to it. I hope, mostly, that the absence of television (and its nonstop advertising) frees up our minds to rediscover ourselves: our own interests, our own definition of beauty, our own priorities.