Working Again: Yes or No?

A couple of weeks ago, when I was checking out at our local Trader Joe’s, I was asked if I might be interested in filling out an application – the young crew member scanning my items said she thought I might be a good fit. Employees at our TJ’s run the gamut from young to old, and all work part time. For example, one employee I met this past summer lives in California, but comes to Tennessee every summer to visit family, and works a few days a week at TJ’s while he’s here. The woman I chatted with said I could pretty much set my own schedule; that is, how many days per week I wanted to work and she asked me to think about it. I thanked her and said I would, thinking in fact though I would walk out of the store and never consider it for another moment.

The funny thing is that over the past couple of weeks I have found myself actually weighing the pros and cons of working there.

Neither Brett nor I have ever needed to work or supplement our income since we retired – careful budgeting, saving, and living within our means has seen us through even when our daughters were still at home or going to college. We will be able to put all of next year’s Social Security and Brett’s military retirement pension increases into savings. I enjoy our current relaxed lifestyle; it’s what I always hoped for when I thought about retirement. However, the idea of having something to fill a couple of days a week while we’re in Tennessee has got me thinking, maybe it might be a good idea to work for a couple of days of week? Trader Joe’s treats their employees well and many consider it a great place to work and fun as well. There’s no dress code other than wearing a store t-shirt. I am a big fan of their products and would have no trouble promoting them. I have retail experience and mostly enjoyed it.

Plus, our Family Big Event in early 2024 is going to cost a bit, and some extra income would be a nice way to cover those costs so we don’t have to dip into other savings. I’d also be able to save extra for potential relocation costs when our time in Tennessee is over.

But, I also wonder whether I want to be on my feet for eight hours, even if it’s only twice a week? Do I still have the energy to put in a full day’s work (and it would be actual physical work)? I already dislike appointments – do I want to have to be somewhere on someone else’s schedule twice a week? Do we really want to pay any more federal tax than we already do (Tennessee fortunately has no state income tax)? Those are some of the negatives that constantly come to mind. And, is Trader Joe’s really be interested in hiring an older person like me, especially after all the current holiday hubbub dies off?

The idea of working a couple of days a week at Trader Joe’s is tempting, if they want me. I have no desire in starting until after the new year because of our holiday plans, but I can see advantages in waiting until the first of the year anyway. I can also clearly see the negatives, especially getting hired and discovering I can’t cut it after only a few days or weeks.

I don’t have to work, but part-time at Trader Joe’s might be fun as well as rewarding beyond earning a small amount. It could also be a non-starter or pure misery. I am fortunate to have a choice, and the time to think about whether the choice would be a good one or not.

What do you think?

Sticker Shock?

This past week we ran into one of our SMA neighbors at City Market, and shared a taxi with her to come home. She had just gotten back from a trip to Texas and told us to be prepared for some real sticker shock when we returned to the U.S. A Clif Bar, she said, was $3.00!

I guess in comparison to what things cost here in Mexico prices in Texas probably did seem quite high to our neighbor. However, after our years in Hawaii we’ve been suffering from reverse sticker shock as prices here have seemed almost artificially low. We have no idea what things are going to cost in Nashville in comparison but we feel confident they’ll still be less than they were on Kaua’i.

We’ve been working on our monthly budget for Tennessee, but currently there are still too many unknowns to nail things down. For example, we know how much rent we’ll be paying, but have no idea what utilities will cost, and we haven’t paid a utility bill for nearly four years (and Kaua’i utility costs were high). We don’t know how much Internet service will be but we’re guessing it will be close to what it was on Kaua’i, maybe a little less if we’re lucky. We were paying over $5 per gallon for gas when we left Kaua’i in May, but prices in the area we’ll be living in Tennessee are currently under $4 per gallon so I think we may initially feel some slight reverse sticker shock there. Car insurance for our new car will most likely be more than what we were paying for our older Honda Civic.

We’ll have an abundance of food shopping options near to us in Tennessee including Trader Joe’s, Costco, Aldi, and many other stores, and I know we’re going to find prices to be lower than what we were paying on Kaua’i along with an increased selection of things available. However, at the same time those prices will most likely seem high after Mexico, so I’m guessing we’ll fall somewhere into the neutral zone with sticker shock, but we’ll again be bringing all our frugal shopping skills to bear to get the most for our money. We’ve determined an initial budget amount for food each month, but as always the goal will be to spend less, if possible, and put the difference into savings. Dining out will once again become the rare exception it was in the past rather than the norm it’s become here in San Miguel de Allende.

It’s been a few years since I purchased a Clif Bar, but I wanted to tell our neighbor that $3 would have seemed like bargain after Kaua’i, where it would have probably cost somewhere between $4-$5. We’ve prepared ourselves for higher prices than we’ve been paying in Mexico, but hopefully we’ll get to enjoy some of the benefits of reverse sticker shock as we compare Tennessee prices to those we were paying in Hawaii. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

Traveling Full Time: Financial Matters

(photo credit: Jeremy Dorrough/Unsplash)

This will not be a post about how much money is required to travel full time. People of all different income levels travel full time, and create their own way of doing it that works for them. You definitely don’t have to be rich to become full-time nomads, but there are things you need to account for financially to travel full-time successfully.

The main thing to be figured out before starting is how will you support yourself while you travel. Do you have a steady income? Will you or can you work while you travel? Can you live off of savings, and if so, for how long and how much should you give yourself every month? How big an emergency fund do you need? What expenses will you have? All of these questions require research and deep thought. But, once you know the numbers you can create a travel budget that fits your needs.

Regular recurring expenses (in our case: my student loan payment, our phone plan, and some insurance for automobile non-owners, so we are covered if we rent) are taken care of first, and are automatically withdrawn each month. After those, the big three items that need to be accounted four out of our net income are lodging; transportation (between locations); and an emergency fund. Once those are subtracted, how the rest of your net income is divided is up to you. We came up with a limit for how much we’re willing to spend each month on lodging, future transportation, and for our emergency fund, and then divided the rest of our net income into four sections that work no matter where we are: 1) food (i.e. local grocery shopping); 2) local transportation; 3) dining out; and 4) miscellaneous expenses.

Because everyone’s income sources and amounts, along with their needs and wants, will be different, no two budgets are ever going to look the same. Our budget works for us, but it’s just one way of doing things. In many ways though our travel budget is similar to our non-travel budget, but with some slight differences.

Because we stay in Airbnbs, and will be staying for at least two months in each place we visit, the first thing we have to decide is the maximum amount we are willing to spend each month on lodging. For us, this is 50% of our net income. Do we actually spend that much each month? NO WAY!! We made this amount quite large because the first month’s payment for any Airbnb rental always includes a service fee (which has increased) and a cleaning fee. These two extras can make the initial reservation payment unexpectedly large. Later payments are typically much, much less than the initial payment, but we put the difference between that 50% we’ve budgeted and what we actually pay each month into a separate lodgings savings account. These savings are then available for making future Airbnb reservation payments (if staying more than a month in a rental, Airbnb divides the total amount owed into monthly payments minus the fees). As I’ve noted before, Brett and I try to reserve a rental around six months ahead if possible because there are usually more available rentals in our price range to choose from, but others wait to reserve six week in advance or less. Basically, we are swapping out our current rental payment for lodging during our travels, and by saving and paying upfront for the first month of our first three rentals we have given ourselves some wiggle room to settle into the new payment schedule. By the way, one of the benefits of staying for longer than a month is many Airbnb hosts offer significant discounts for long-term stays, sometimes in the thousands of dollars (weekly discounts are also often given). There are also no utility payments or Internet fees with an Airbnb rental.

The second budget item set up is an amount to go into another separate savings account each month to cover transportation costs from location to location. This money is only used when buying airline or train tickets to a new location – sometimes that’s a lot, other times thankfully not so much. Once again, using some of our pre-departure savings to purchase tickets will allow us to ease into paying for other transportation later.

We also put a set amount into an emergency fund each month. Part of what we have been saving pre-departure has been used to create this fund but we will continue to add to it every month.

The rest of our net monthly income covers the costs of daily living no matter where we are in the world. After some trial and error on our last adventure, we figured out that an envelope system works best for us. That is, at the beginning of each month we withdraw our total monthly allotment in cash, and then divide that into four envelopes: 1) food (local grocery shopping); 2) local transportation; 3) dining out; and 4) miscellaneous (admission tickets, clothing if necessary, souvenirs, and other miscellaneous shopping). If there is money left over in any of the envelopes at the end of each month, we withdraw less the following month to bring things up to the same starting point. We found that the envelope system made a huge difference in our spending versus using debit and credit cards; that is, we spent less. We always had money left over at the end of each month in each envelope versus being over or right at our budget limit.

I cannot stress the importance of tracking every expense every day when you’re traveling. We get a receipt for absolutely everything we purchase, and Brett meticulously tracks our spending in a journal (along with notes about what we did that day, how far we walked, how many steps, etc.). At the beginning of each month he divides our income after lodging and transportation are removed by the number of days in the month to give us a daily spending average to maintain, and then figures out each day whether we’re below or above it (a weekly grocery shop usually puts us over our spending average for a few days, for example, but it drops again in a couple of days). Between what’s in the envelopes and our daily average, we know every day how we’re doing for the month or whether we need to slow down our spending for a while.

Budgeting for full time travel is about figuring out how to get the biggest bang for your bucks. You may choose to spend your income on better lodging or great experiences or first class transportation, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In the end though it’s about living well, albeit carefully and realistically, on what you earn, with what you have, and in a way that suits you and allows you to make the most of what you have wherever you go.

Traveling Frugally: Travel Hacking

The best definition I’ve found of travel hacking comes from a post I found on Mom and Dad Money:

Travel hacking is essentially the process of signing up for a new credit card, spending enough to earn the sign-up bonus, using the points you earn to book free travel, and basically repeating that process over and over again.

Using credit cards benefits to earn free flights, free hotel stays, and other travel benefits is a popular way to save big on travel expenses. Travel hacking has been around for a while, but these days it typically involves using multiple cards at the same time to reap the most benefits. Most major airlines offer big rewards when you sign up for one of their credit cards and reach a certain spending goal during a specific period (usually within three months of signing up). Bank cards also offer similar big travel rewards: every iteration of the Chase Sapphire card, Capital One’s Venture, and American Express Gold Card, among others, all offer substantial travel rewards after signing up and charging a certain amount within a set period of time. Hotel chain credit cards rewards include free stays, discounts, and other perks for signing up and charging a pre-set amount within time limits.

These deals are especially easy to acquire when signing up for the first time. We know of people who set out on their travels with over 500,000 airline miles banked, all acquired from sign-up bonuses they received. Of course, they had to spend quite a bit to get those bonuses, and they also risked damaging their credit score because of all the new card sign-ups (multiple hard credit inquiries in a short period of time, and greater credit risk because of multiple credit lines). If they use the cards responsibly though, neither of those should be a problem. Experienced travel hackers however recommend signing up for different cards over a long period of time versus all at once or within a few months.

There is no “perfect” travel card – each one offers something different and the goal in getting started should be to find ones that work best to achieve whatever travel goals have been set. There are some important things to look for though when applying for a travel card:

  • No fee or low annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • A large (i.e. huge) initial bonus
  • Low required spending minimum
  • Special perks for travel-related items
  • Added points for special spending categories (i.e. groceries, gas, restaurants)
  • The bonus is something that can actually be attained.

Travel hacking is a great way to acquire some significant travel benefits but only if you already use credit cards responsibly and pay off your balances every month. If you don’t, they’re an easy way to quickly descend deeply into debt. Tracking all open cards and their accompanying expiration dates and spending limits also requires real effort, although a newer app, Award Wallet, helps track all awards in one place, including deadlines, and notifies the user when deadlines are approaching.

Besides free travel benefits, the big pro of travel hacking is that it’s easy to get started and find good deals; lots of points to cover flights and other travel costs can be acquired quickly.

A big reason against travel hacking however is that after acquiring the good upfront deals, finding new ones gets harder and harder. Points earned can become more difficult to use and the money spent to acquire all the upfront points may be more than expected or afforded. If too many sign-ups are done too quickly, one’s credit rating can be damaged, and credit card companies have been known to cancel accounts for those using too many cards of the same brand.

Our primary credit card when we travel is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. We took advantage of its sign-up bonus years ago, but we still use it to rack up generous reward points (which we usually redeem for a cash deposit to our bank account). It also provides some serious benefits that match those that come with travel insurance (car rental insurance, missed or cancelled flights, lost luggage, and a few others). Every month since we’ve been back on Kaua’i we’ve received a sign up offer for the Delta American Express card, with a bonus of 75,000 miles if we spend $2000 within three months after receiving the card. Delta is our preferred airline but we haven’t bitten. All Delta flights only go to and from the U.S.; we can’t use them to fly between international destinations. Also, we’ve had American Express cards in the past, but rarely used them, and honestly don’t think we need another card to track while we travel. Still, we think from time to time that it would be nice to have those miles banked if we need them.

Noho’ana Hau’ole: Life Is Good

(photo credit:Dustin Belt/Unsplash)

Some of you reading this may recognize the title of this post! It was the name of an old blog that I segued into as we moved from paying off our debt to getting ready to move to Hawaii in 2014. It rolled over to another blog, The View From the Treehouse, which eventually became The Occasional Nomads in 2015.

You know what though? Life is still very good. It’s definitely not perfect, nor do we expect it to be, and things go wrong from time to time, but mostly things go right or we’re able to figure out another path to reach our goals. I have always been a “glass half full” kind of girl, and these days we look at life through a lens of positivity, and try to find joy every day.

Over the past few years, Brett and I have been able to pare down many of the things we thought we needed to live a quality life. We are living more simply these days, with fewer needs and a lot less stuff. Doing so has not only helped us reach our travel goals, but left us happier and with more time to pursue the things we enjoy. We consider ourselves a work in progress – we still have a ways to go to reach true minimalism.

Below are a few more reasons life is good these days:

We’re in good health and in good shape for our ages. Brett is 71; I’m 69, and all things considered we’re doing very well, health wise. Neither of us is without aches and pains and other issues of aging, but in the grand scheme of things these things are minor. We have been blessed with good health insurance (Tricare and Medicare), dental insurance, and vision insurance that will go with us anywhere in the world. We are vaccinated against COVID which opens up most of the world to us, and between mask wearing and social distancing we have avoided getting sick (with our fingers are crossed for the future). The (mostly) good weather in Hawaii allows us to exercise almost daily, and we can afford to eat a healthy diet.

Our income is sufficient. We have never made much money. When I look back and remember how little we had when we were raising our kids I’m frankly stumped by how we did it. Life is financially easier now because it’s just the two of us, but we are still not what anyone would call rich or wealthy by any means. We’re . . . comfortable. We’ve developed strategies for coping with high prices over the years, and those strategies have meant we haven’t felt inflation’s effects too much. We’re still able to put money away into savings each month, and help out with college expenses, and between our savings and income we can afford to travel and cover our Christmas expenses this year.

We live in an amazing place. The beauty of Kaua’i inspires us every day, even if we’re only walking at the park, looking out into the yard, or watching the sun set from our living room. We experience the beauty and grace of aloha every day as well in a myriad of ways. The experience of living here has been life-changing, and moving here one of the best choices we ever made.

Our children are doing well. We finally are on the cusp of having a truly empty nest. We always felt our goal as parents was to help our children develop the skills to fly and succeed with their own wings while still feeling grounded and rooted in our family, and as our youngest gets ready to graduate from college in a few months we feel as if we have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations.

We have something to look forward to every day. We are excited and full of anticipation over our upcoming travel schedule, but we always look forward to each day, and even the small things we do each day. We still have much to do to get ready for next year’s adventure, but every day we do at least one thing that brings us closer to our goal.

We have everything we need. We have what we need and more, actually, something we’re discovering almost daily as we downsize and get ready to go. Choices we have made along the way, the things we have bought, have served us well and brought us happiness, but it’s time for most of them to be passed on to others. We don’t want for anything.

A long time ago, when I became pregnant, a wise friend, a psychologist, told me I could experience my pregnancy in one of two ways: I could decide to be miserable, or I could decide it was the most wonderful experience ever no matter what happened. I chose wonderful, and in spite of being separated from Brett for most of the time (we were stationed in different places), plus having a physically difficult pregnancy followed by a difficult delivery, it still remains a completely wonderful experience to this day. Brett and I decided would enjoy retirement in the same way, that no matter what came our way we would enjoy this time of our lives to the fullest. Our lives and situation are not perfect nor will they ever be, but for now we are not only surviving but thriving, and looking forward to getting to do what we love most in the near future: travel! We are living the good life in a way that fits us perfectly, and each day is a blessing. Noho’ana hau’ole!

Some Things We Did Right

I’m still somewhat amazed at times at what Brett and I have accomplished on a not very big income, and the life we enjoy now. It wasn’t that long ago we thought Brett would be working into his 80s, and worrying about how we’d get the girls through college. We certainly never thought we’d be enjoying the good life in Hawaii or that we’d be able to travel and see the world (and never thought we’d be affected by anything like COVID either).

Looking back, it’s easy to see all of the things we did wrong. We spent when we should have saved. We almost always carried some debt, whether that was a car payment or a mortgage or consumer debt. We should have saved more, although there were times when that was impossible even when both of us were working. In retrospect we can see we did make the right choices in four critical areas and at four critical times, sometimes inadvertently, all of which have helped lead to the life we have now. We have more than most and less than many, but we are enjoying the comfortable retirement we once thought we’d never have.

Although it wasn’t obvious at the time, below are the four things in our lives that made a difference:

Senior Chief Petty Officer Brett, about a year before retirement from the navy at age 42.
  • Staying in the navy. Brett ended up serving 22 years in the navy, but while he was in, retiring from the service was never a sure thing. It was a good life, but a hard life too, with lots of moves and deployments, and lots of time spent away and apart from each other and family. We used to joke that the first thing he had to do at each new duty station was turn in a list of all family birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates so they could make sure he would be deployed at those times. Brett did his service enlistment by enlistment. However, because we eventually made the choice to stay for retirement, we have had a guaranteed income every month for as long as Brett’s alive, and equally good, outstanding health insurance for life as well (that will continue even if I outlive Brett). That monthly income has made sure our rent or mortgage has been covered ever since he left the navy, and we’ve never had to worry about health care. We never thought about what it would be like not to have those things while he was on active duty, but we are grateful every day now that we stuck with it to retire.
  • Sticking it out at a miserable job. Brett spent his last 14 years before retirement working for a great company, at a job he mostly loved. He worked with and for people he enjoyed. However, he went through a really bad stretch of two years when he worked under the Manager from Hell. Miserable can’t begin to describe that period of time. The manager was the one who abruptly ended Brett”s overtime, causing his income to drop by a third and sending us spiraling into debt (the work never away either; it just kept piling up because he couldn’t keep up with it). Things got to the point where I begged him to quit because the girls and I couldn’t take his misery any more. He did look for, interview for, and was offered other employment during this time, but none of these employers offered anywhere near the benefits he received from the company, so he stayed while other co-workers, equally miserable under the awful manager, headed for other employment. The manager was eventually demoted, and Brett was subsequently offered his dream position within the company with a boost in pay for his final two years before retirement. Because he stayed, Brett was able to beef up his 401K before retirement and he also receives a small but steady pension, a benefit I will continue to receive if I outlive Brett.
The cheap house
  • Buying a cheap house. When we bought our second home in Portland over 16 years ago, we decided to buy the nicest but cheapest house we could find that was convenient to the girls’ schools. The house we ended up purchasing fit the bill perfectly. It was new construction with simple, inexpensive finishes but a fantastic floor plan that was walking distance from the girls’ elementary school. However, it was located in a neighborhood that had friends and family wondering whether we had lost our minds because the neighborhood’s nickname was “Felony Flats.”. Almost to a person we were asked, “Why did you buy here?” and told we “could have done so much better.” But guess what? Our low mortgage payment helped us pay off our debt when times got tough. The house not only held its value, but increased enough that even following the burst of housing bubble we ended up making a small profit. In the nine years we lived in that house the neighborhood became a desirable location within Portland with the elementary school located across the street earning awards and developing a waiting list to get in. We could have afforded a much larger mortgage in a different neighborhood at the time we bought our house, but seven years after its sale I am still so thankful we bought that cheap house, and shudder to think about how things might have turned out if we hadn’t.
The girls
  • Adopting our daughters. One of the biggest reason we carried debt into our 50s and beyond is because we adopted not once but three times, beginning in our mid-40s. We knew with each adoption that we were spending or taking away from our retirement and future financial security, but we also knew it was the right thing for us to do, no matter the cost. Neither Brett nor I have ever regretted for a moment what we spent to bring our girls home and raise them, but we knew there was a chance we would maybe have to work nearly into our 80s because of our choices. However, unbeknownst to us, because we turned out to have dependents under the age of 18, Brett was eligible to receive extra Social Security benefits for the girls which along with our debt elimination made it possible for him to retire at age 63. By the time YaYu finally aged out, I was eligible for my Social Security and a lump-sum pension payment from Oregon. While we would most likely be enjoying an even more comfortable retirement if we had not adopted, we can’t imagine our lives without our daughters, and adding them to our family when we did surprisingly ended up providing us the opportunity to retire earlier than expected rather than face long-term financial hardship.

Brett and I made many bad financial choices and mistakes along the way to retirement. A few times it seemed we had done nothing but the wrong thing, and would pay dearly for it later. Now we can see we actually did the important things right, even though we usually couldn’t see it or imagine it at the time, things that are now providing us financial security, allowing us to make dreams come true, and providing a comfortable life as we age.

The More Things Change . . . or Don’t

This ShopRite ad from 1976 is a little difficult to read, but it’s still not impossible to see that prices were much, much lower than they are today. But so were incomes, although those today haven’t really kept up with the price increases.

I think just about everyone has been feeling the pinch from this latest round of inflation, and how the price of everything seems to be going up and up and up these days. However, prices have been going up . . . forever. I remember my mother getting very excited about whole chickens going on sale for 29¢ per pound back in the early 1970s because that’s what she had paid back in the 1950s (so she went out and bought 10 chickens to cut up and freeze). The average price per pound for chicken then was around 79¢/pound, so 29¢ was a huge savings. Cut up chickens or boneless, skinless breasts weren’t available anywhere let alone any other boneless, skinless chicken pieces – you brought whole chickens at 79¢ per pound and brought them home and cut them up yourself (or paid more and had a butcher do it).

Just because things were cheaper before didn’t mean they were better, either. Gasoline in 1970 averaged 36¢/gallon, up from 28¢/gallon in 1952. In 1952 that price got you unleaded gas that burned in cars without pollution devices. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and remember going months without ever seeing the mountains that were less than 20 miles away, and days when I could barely breathe for all the smog in the air. Cigarettes cost 25¢ per pack, and anyone could get them right out of a vending machine. Many of the convenience or speciality foods we take for granted were unavailable, let alone the variety of foods we routinely find today. Brie cheese or a baguette? Organic? Good luck finding those at any price.

Anyway, for fun I looked up some prices for 1952:

  • Bacon: 39¢/pound
  • Apples: 39¢/2 pounds
  • Coffee: 37¢/pound
  • Medium eggs: 79¢/dozen
  • White bread: 12¢/loaf
  • Ground beef: 89¢/3 pounds (no wonder our family ate so much of this!)
  • Iceberg lettuce: 25¢/2 heads
  • Turkey: 49¢/pound

A hamburger at McDonalds cost 15¢ compared to 30¢ at most other diners or restaurants. A slice of pie in a restaurant was 15¢ and a prime rib dinner could be had for $2.75.

By 1970, prices had gone up some (or down in some cases thanks to advantages in modern farming and the rise of factory farms):

  • Apples: 59¢/4 pounds
  • Coffee: $1.90/pound
  • Medium eggs: 25¢/dozen
  • Bread: 25¢/loaf (that was for white bread. Other choices were pretty much limited to wheat or “brown,” rye, and sliced “French” or “Italian”)
  • Jif peanut butter: 59¢
  • Pot roast: 79¢/pound
  • Lettuce: 10¢/head
  • Bacon: 86¢/pound

Two lobster dinners could be enjoyed for $7.25, and a speciality salad (without meat) at a good restaurant could cost $3.95.

I can remember the same complaints I hear now about rising prices from my parents back in the day, and how my mother struggled to keep our family’s food costs and other budget items in line even though both my parents had good, white-collar jobs. Their first home in 1951 cost $15,000, a price my grandparents considered to be far too expensive for a first home. But in today’s prices that house should be $157,000, an incredible bargain in the community where it’s located. Instead, it’s current valuation is $1.5 million! Inflation in the early 1970s was high, and gas and food prices prices soared during the oil embargo in the early part of the decade. Steak, gas, and other consumer items might have been cheaper in the past than what they are now, but that still didn’t mean they were affordable for many. It’s fun to be nostalgic about prices in the past, but in reality some things weren’t often that much easier than they are today.

This is all not to say that I don’t get ticked off about prices and the cost of living these days, and that people aren’t struggling to put food on the table or with other expenses. The average car payment in the U.S. these days is $577/month for a new car for 70 months ($413 for used for 48 months). Things really are more expensive now than they were in the past in a big way, and salaries and incomes have not kept pace for too many. Housing costs or the price of a college education is enough to give anyone palpitations, and low income families now compete with the middle class and higher for financial aid. The only thing I can think of that gets less expensive every year is technology, although prices for the newest thing or next iteration always still seem to be in the stratosphere. There are bargains to be had, but you have to know where to look, and work for them now.

The more things change, the more they stay the same . . . or don’t.

On the Same Page

When Brett and I talk about things like travel plans or our finances, we approach the task from very different places. Brett has a very right-brain, visual way of seeing things. That is, he learns, understands and/or retains thing when he can see them, and does even better when they’re not just words or numbers on a page but arranged in a meaningful and engaging way. He’s also a vertical thinker, and deals best with one task at a time. These traits were a good match for his professional duties of writer and illustrator, but not so good when we need to talk about financial stuff or we’re planning something.

On the other hand, I am a very left-brain, analytical thinker and do best when I hear things laid out or see items written succinctly on a page. I am also a horizontal thinker, meaning I can be working on and/or juggling many duties at the same time and keep everything up in the air, which is the reason I take care of tasks like budgeting, travel planning, shopping lists and menu planning. Brett says that whenever I try to talk about these things with him I am “talking in spreadsheets,” and that he quickly loses where I’m at or what I’m talking about because he’s not able to visualize it.

One year, when the amount of a bonus he would receive was revealed, and after I realized there would be enough for both Christmas presents, debt repayment, and savings, I sat down and went over our current financial plan and thought about whether there was a better or faster way we could pay down our debt and save for a future vacation. After crunching the numbers for a couple of days I came up with what I thought might be the best way to accomplish both goals. I tried to talk about my idea with Brett but all I got back was “you’re talking in spreadsheets again.”

So, I made a coffee date and put together a sheet for him outlining the debt repayment path we were currently on along with a second way I thought might work better and help us accomplish our financial goals more quickly. I used colors, an interesting font, and different sizes of print to hopefully make the information more interesting for him to look at and easier to remember. I purposely didn’t mention that I was doing this until we were at the coffee shop and had time to sit together and go over everything.

It’s always been a boost for both of us to find out we’re on the same page, whether that’s our finances, our dreams, or things we need to accomplish, even if we do approach those things differently. As we went over the information I had put together on that sheet in more detail Brett took notes and offered ideas or asked for more explanation. As usual, we eventually came together on what we wanted to accomplish even if we approached the process for getting there in different ways.

Creating a visually appealing and easy-to-follow outline still helps me explain my thinking more clearly to Brett, as well as keeps us on the same page with our finances and goals and how we plan to get there. I still tend toward “talking in spreadsheets” when I get excited about an idea, but am better these days about getting things written down for Brett to let him know what I’m thinking about, and to get feedback and input from him.

Once a plan gets put into action though, it’s passed over to Brett. He’s our logistical wizard. He loves keeping daily figures and tracking how we’re doing, something that’s can be excruciatingly boring for me, and he makes sure we meet our deadlines. We make a good team, and we’re glad to have figured out a great way to stay on the same page to reach our goals.