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One More Year Syndrome is Legit

I used to think that One More Year syndrome was due to people not really wanting to retire or not having anything to retire to. Lately, I totally understand why people would get caught in the One More Year cycle. It’s not about having enough money, it’s more about the psychological traps that come along with leaving a comfortable work environment and lifestyle, to venture into the unknown. A situation that’s new, possibly uncomfortable, possibly more stressful, and definitely more challenging than the known present situation. It makes it hard to envision the potentially stressful or uncomfortable retirement scenario as a “good” scenario. Especially when you’re like me and you really like your job and corporation (minus the rare bizarro meeting).

“Give me one good reason why I should never make a change?”
George Ezra

Well, I have lots of reasons why I should make changes, but it’s the big 3 that I keep reminding myself about and that’s the wife and kids.

There are a lot of things I can focus on that could go wrong with our plan and I have. Working on solutions and getting comfortable with the level of risk associated with those uncertainties is what I have to come to accept. I think Abe Lincoln said it better than I can.

“Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.”
Abraham Lincoln

We determined that our Fully Funded Lifestyle Change (FFLC) can be done, and now we’re just convincing ourselves that we’ve found the way to make it work.

According to “Retirement Calculators” I’ll Never Retire…

Last week I was on some random PF site and I saw a retirement calculator at the bottom of their site. Just for grins I threw in some numbers similar to our projections and OMG was I surprised at the outcome. According to this calculator I won’t be able to retire – ever… I mean, this particular calculator said that I’d need $10 million to retire based on my inputs. Really, $10 million?! Because of course I can’t live off of less than $500k per year, I mean, seriously, who does that? Well for starters, we don’t and according to the Census Bureau the median household income was only ~$54k which is only $450k short of our “recommended” retirement goal. While these inputs weren’t specific to our numbers, they’re close enough that we can ground truth them with our personal retirement spreadsheet.
For these calculators to get those kinds of numbers, the assumptions they make have to be pretty ridiculous, but it makes me think that these calculators can be misleading for the uninitiated. The biggest discrepancy I see is that they don’t ask what your expected income level will be. I only found one calculator that let you put that in, and nope, it wasn’t at Vanguard. I know, I expected them to have a better version of a retirement calculator, but with the screenshots I snagged, we can see why it falls short.

Holy Crazy Assumptions Batman!

Let’s start with the calculator that sparked this whole post. Again, I don’t want to say where I found this or what company is running it, but just google “retirement calculator” and have fun playing with the different versions that are out there. This calculator basically took my assumed income (not really my income, but that would be nice) and the current savings input number (not our actual number but close enough to where we’d like to be at retirement to know if the calculator is telling the truth) and spit out a freaking ridiculous number. How ridiculous you ask? Well, let’s look at it. My assumed income is $200k/yr and evidently I need to save enough to spend $500k/yr because in 25 yrs (assuming I retire at 65) I’ll have more than doubled my spending rate, and hopefully income to support that lifestyle. How it thinks I will spend $42k/month, yes, $42k PER MONTH is mind boggling. Remember that according to the Census Bureau the median US household income is only $53k per year. PER YEAR… And this calculator is telling me that I’ll need to save enough to spend $42k per month?! Holy shit….

retirement calculator - crazy
Wow! Just, wow….
I’ll Never Retire…

No wonder people get dismayed when looking at retirement needs and savings levels. I’d be really discouraged if I thought this calculator was for real. I mean, to save $10.7 million I’d have to work another 110 yrs at our current savings levels. Actually to put it in real terms if I exclude compounding growth, I only need to save $376000 per year between now and when I turn 65. Oh yeah, you read that right. This calculator assumes I will magically gain a 53% increase in salary and be able to save ALL of it towards retirement. Wow, just wow… Who the F created this thing?!

Surely Vanguard Can Save Me?

So, I thought surely all calculators can’t be this bad, what about Vanguard, the crème de la crème of institutions that us FIRE folks love. Well, they don’t love early retirees that’s for sure. Evidently in their world you can’t retire before 50, yep, that’s the lowest age that their calculator goes. Boo… I can’t save more than 30% of my salary, because really, who does that? Oh yeah, us and probably most of the PF community. If you don’t save that much, don’t feel badly about it, that’s why it’s called “personal finance”. I’m just pointing out some flaws with their assumptions. I mean building a retirement calculator can’t be much different from building a house right? You start from nothing and design a blueprint, layout, and add all the bells and whistles. So why not make the age for retirement anything before 50 or savings rate anything over 30%? I’m no software engineer, but if you can cut it off at a certain point, why not set that point at a crazy range so people can estimate things outside the box of “early retiree is 50” and we can only save 30% of my income. At least they only assume I’ll spend 60% of my current income in retirement, which we don’t. Maybe closer to 25% of our income would be realistic, but not 60% otherwise, I’d have to work until I’m 65.

Close but no cigar!
Close but no cigar!
Bankrate’s Calculator – A Nice Way to View Retirement Projections

This fairly simple calculator from Bankrate had a different take on it. Basically, you put in your inputs and then it shows you waht your portfolio could generate in monthly income. So, again if you know your monthly needs, you can figure out what you may need to start with to get there.

bankrate calc
Not bad, Bankrate!
Really, MarketWatch has a nice Calculator? I’m Pleasantly Surprised

Then I found a nice calculator at Market Watch that didn’t set variables on anything. PLUS, it lets you calculate what you need for retirement income totally removed from assumptions based on what you make now. You can input your yearly retirement income needed based on your assumptions, not any random made up assumptions. Brilliant! PLUS, like the Bankrate calculator, it allows you to set inflation, tax rate, retirement tax rate, rate of return before and after retirement, I mean, it has it all. If you want a quick look at how doable your situation might be. Our spreadsheet also does this, but it gets so complicated explaining it, that um, yeah, this works great for me to play around with. You can see in this scenario we run out of “pre-60” money at 56 yrs old. Yipe! Granted, I could add more tweaks, and get really specific with our numbers and get a more realistic outcome, but the main point is that this is actually a good calculator.

Nice inputs!
Nice inputs!
Good detail and control.
Good detail and control.
What to do about that spending gap...
What to do about that spending gap…
Good income output, except for that darn gap...
Good income output, except for that darn gap…

If you want to play around with your numbers, I’d recommend using this one. Cfiresim also has a good calculating system, but it runs your data against all the historical data. So, if you hone in on a situation that you like using this Market Watch calculator, then you can plug the same data into Cfiresim and see how that plays out for you. It also lets you add in additional costs like estimating healthcare costs in the future, additional income and more.

Summary

We found that creating our own spreadsheet worked best for us. It’s grown and changed over the years, as we find different things we want to track, but it’s essentially our version of these 2 calculators. I rarely use it, but Mrs. SSC runs different scenarios on it about every other week. I just plug our data into one or both of these calculators and let it run and then discuss specifics with Mrs. SSC. I do use the spreadsheet but I often break it, so it’s good I’m only working with a copy, lol.

What about you? Do you use your own spreadsheet or a different retirement forecasting tool? How comfortable are you with the assumptions these online calculators make? Are they realistic for you or totally off base like I found? Let me know!

Road Less Traveled – SSC Style

Last week, the folks over at Our Next Life proposed a challenge called The Road Less Traveled. They laid out what seem to be the “Commandments of FIRE” and they’re hilarious and pretty spot on, you should go read them if you haven’t already. Some of my fav’s are “Thou shalt make thy choosing between Vanguard index funds or dividend-yielding stocks” and “Thou shalt be frugal in all things, and shall not partake of worldly temptations like cable television. Bigger riches await those who partake only of self-powered travel.” Outside of these sort of Personal Finance community commandments, the challenge is what do you do that is different than these sort of “rules” everyone seems to profess and follow. I don’t know that we have much that is different from “The Commandments”, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Vacation SSC Style!

Soon we’ll be enjoying a week away from everything and go on vacation, and I realized that my brain is already there. Since vacationing is on my mind this week, I thought I would discuss vacations – SSC style. Taking vacations used to be no big deal, we would pick a place to visit, get everything lined up and then go. Yeah, easy!! Add 2 kids in the mix and everything gets a lot harder to manage, and WAY more expensive. Plus, get kids out of their routine and schedule, and OMG things can get crazy pretty quickly. So how do we deal with this and what do we do to keep the costs down so we can vacation more, let me tell you.

Filling our Bucket – List

Maggie from Northern Expenditure put out a post about a “Filling your Bucket” List a little while back, and we’ve compiled some things that have “Filled our Bucket” so far in our lives. The thought is that instead of obsessing about ticking off things on a Bucket List, you’ve probably already done some pretty cool things in your life, so take a moment to reflect on all those things that have already “Filled your Bucket”. Below are some things we’ve done that have been really fun and Filled our Buckets. Enjoy the pics, I tried to put in more than usual!

Mr. SSC: Hike most of the Appalachian Trail – While trying to figure out what I wanted to do in college or if I even wanted to remain in college, I decided hiking would be the best way to figure that out. So, I researched, planned, and then hiked from Maine down to Lower VA which was about 1700 miles. The hike worked and I figured out that I wanted to study Environmental Science which ultimately led me to my career in Geology.

Grandad and a much, much younger Mr. SSC. He got me started hiking though.
Grandad and a much, much younger Mr. SSC. He got me started hiking though.

Mrs. SSC: I got to go hiking in a jungle in Belize. We hiked in for a few miles and then we got on tubes and floated back down a creek, and we went through a bunch of limestone caves. It was pretty awesome floating in darkness through a cave, and then you see the light and come back out in a jungle!

Back into the light!
Back into the light!

Mr. SSC: Sky dive! I was writing an article for a magazine in Denver – a sort of advertorial but it was a paying free-lance writing gig and I covered reviews for mountain biking trails, white water rafting, etc… Sky diving was one topic I was supposed to cover, and when interviewing one of the schools, he asked, “How can you write about it if you’ve never done it?” I told him I didn’t know, so he asked if I could be there at 7am the next day. I went and got my first jump in by stepping out onto the wing strut of a small Cessna! It was awesome!

Mrs. SSC: I’ve gotten to throw beads from the Royal Sonesta balcony on Bourbon Street during Mardis Gras. If you live in or near New Orleans, Mardis Gras is a weeks’ long event culminating into revelry on Bourbon St. when Mardis Gras finally gets here. Most of the balconies on Bourbon St. are booked years in advance, and are not necessarily open to the public. You need passes and they even have security at the doors checking invites. BUT, I was able to get passes one year and it was a pretty awesome vantage point! No parades come down Bourbon St., but the people watching was some of the best I’ve ever seen.

The view from above - early on Mardis Gras
The view from above – early on Mardis Gras

Mr. SSC: Visit the “Goonies” house in Astoria, OR! Yep, the first real vacation Mrs. SSC and I took together we decided we’d visit the Portland, OR area. She asked, “What do you want to do around there?” I said, “OH!! We’re only a few hrs from the house where they filmed Goonies!! We could go see that!” And so we did, and I never got much more input on vacation itineraries after that, lol. I’ve seen that movie over 300 times easily and so it was really cool getting to see “the house”, even though I didn’t get to do the Truffle Shuffle on the stump.

Once a Goonie, always a Goonie...
Once a Goonie, always a Goonie…

Mr. SSC: Ride on a Mardis Gras Float – While we lived in LA I got a chance to join a Krewe and ride on a float. I did this for 3 years, and it was pretty awesome, but word of warning, it’s also expensive! You have to pay to join the Krewe, which covers float maintenance and all the costs associated with putting one of these things on. Plus, you buy everything you throw, so in essence, you are literally throwing money away. The first year was the worst, but following years, I stocked up on a lot of it through yard sales, where local kids would repackage beads and animals and trinkets caught, for $1/bag or less.

Mrs. SSC: I’ve met Steve Young, and even got a signed football from him. I had volunteered for some extra work stuff, and as a thank-you they treated a group of us volunteers to a Monday Night Football Game at the company’s Superdome suite. We also ended up getting a meet and greet with the commentators, and Steve Young was one of them.

Mr. SSC: Climb 23 Colorado 14’ers, which are peaks at or over 14,000′ high. To be honest most of these were glorified hikes. Well, long hikes with some tough sections but still, I loved it! There were a few where we took some radical routes (like below) and probably should have had ropes, but it all ended well thank goodness!

Our rout to the peak on the right
Our route to the peak on the far right
The view from the Top!
The view from the Top!

Mrs. SSC: I’ve been to all of the contiguous 48 states so far in my life. I want to eventually visit them all, and so far, I’ve gotten to all of them except for Hawaii and Alaska.

Mr. SSC: Being a father. This might be cheesy, but there was a time when I was younger I didn’t want kids or see me ever having kids. As tiring, trying, challenging, and frustrating as they can be at times, there isn’t anything I’d do differently or trade to not spend time with them.

My favorite pics of the kids from their respective 1 yr old "cake smash".
My favorite pics of the kids from their respective 1 yr old “cake smash”.

Mr. SSC: Go to France! I’ve always had a fascination with France, even studying French for 5 years from middle school to high school. I didn’t get to go on that class trip, but I did get to go on my grad school field trip to Le Mont St. Michel. I got to see some rare silicilastic reefs (most are carbonate), the Eiffel Tower, and even visit Normandy Beach, along with the memorials and cemeteries associated with that invasion. That was the saddest, and most inspiring part of that whole trip.

Normandy Beach, U.S. Cemetery, Eiffel tower, Le Mont St. Michel day and night, Siliciclastic reef - size 11.5 flip flop for scale.
Clockwise from top left: Normandy Beach, U.S. Cemetery, Eiffel tower, Le Mont St. Michel day and night, Siliciclastic reef – size 11.5 flip flop for scale.

Those are some of the things we’ve gotten to do that have filled our buckets. Thanks again to Maggie for putting that out there, this was fun getting to relive a lot of these memories!

Small Decisions, Big Outcomes; How I met Mrs. SSC

Have you ever read any of those choose your own adventure books? I’m probably dating myself, but when I was a kid there were books that let you make a choice at some point in the story. For instance, your character comes to a door in a castle and then you’re offered a choice. If you choose to go through the door, turn to page 109. If you choose to keep going down the hallway, turn to page 95. This would go on until you get to a resolution, typically I died a lot… However, I would usually go back and read all the different choices to see what various outcomes I had missed out on. Too bad you can’t do that in life, but it’s moving ever forward and ever onward. A favorite blog of mine Our Next Life wrote about this referring to it as “Sliding Doors”, while other folks may think of it as a butterfly effect.

Like those choose your own adventure books, have you ever looked back and identified key points in your life where a decision you made seemed to greatly affect your life’s trajectory from that point forward? I have a couple pretty significant ones, but I was reminded of one recently that put me where I am today in SO many ways. This one began on a Monday night, but not just any Monday night; a Monday Night Football (MNF) night.

I love watching football, especially at the beginning of the season, when you’ve been starved of football action for months, so I was excited there was a double header that night for MNF. I was in grad school and still working full-time as well, so I was pretty beat, because I’d been at work from 6am until 2, then school from 2-6 pm. As I was heading out of the building a friend asked if I was sticking around for a talk by a recruiter from one of the major oil companies. I told him, “Nope, I’m going to watch some MNF, have some beers, and relax.” He asked if I could help get it set up at least, since I was also a fellow officer in our American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) student chapter. Reluctantly I agreed, and set everything up and then ultimately decided to stick around for the talk. Little did I know how much that seemingly small decision would affect my life.

Afterwards, I noticed some people talking with him and another company rep about setting up interviews for the next day. I had looked at their online interview schedule previously, and it had been full, so I considered it “taken care of”. However, I went to stand in line to ask if I could get an interview spot, when I heard 3 different people in front of me mention the online scheduling system wasn’t working right for them and didn’t allow them to block out an empty spot. The recruiter said she would open some more interview spots to accommodate that, no big deal, so when I got to her, I also mentioned I couldn’t get a spot booked either. Of course, I didn’t mention it was because they were full, but I got an interview slot just the same.

Maybe I could work here?
Maybe I could work here?

The rest of the night was spent watching MNF in the background and totally reworking my resume. It was a nightmare because I hadn’t updated it in what seemed like years… Years! Plus I needed to get it in a good state to highlight how I could be an asset for this company even though I had zero Oil and Gas experience. I highlighted all my work experience with managing projects, drilling crews, reports, new bid proposals, and more to get it into decent shape for my “early” interview at 10am. The interview went well, and a few months later I got an internship offer for that summer which I accepted. Woohoo!!

We wandered around here a lot on the weekends.
We wandered around here a lot on the weekends.

My internship was in New Orleans, and they put us up in a hotel near the office since the company figured this was easier than having a bunch of interns in sketchy housing they found themselves. There were only 3 Geologists in the whole group of ~30 interns, and we were the oldest of the group by far. When we heard another geologist would be joining us in a few weeks, it was exciting to have the prospect of someone else older than 25 that we could hang out with. I remember the first time I saw this geologist, she walked into the lobby to meet us all for lunch, and I remember thinking, “Why can’t I be with someone like that?” Little did I know this was the future Mrs. SSC.

We hit it off that summer, and spent most of our free time together; at work, outside of work, duruing lunch at work, and we realized we wanted to be together. Then the internship was over and I returned to Denver and she returned to Chicago to finish up school. Booo, long-distance. We talked daily, and traveled as much as our schedules would allow, and I proposed to her that following Spring when she came to visit. She said yes, and we started our lives together that Fall. It was a pretty short engagement, and yes, we ultimately married within about 15 months of meeting each other – long distance no less, but I wouldn’t change anything for the world.

Us a few years later in Tahoe, with our oldest.
Us a few years later in Tahoe, with our oldest.

Just that small decision to not go watch MNF changed the whole trajectory of my life. Had I gone home, I wouldn’t have gotten that interview slot, nor would I have gotten that internship with that company and never met Mrs. SSC. All stemming from a decision of “Fine… I’ll stick around and listen to the talk.” I would’ve accepted a different intern offer, and I’m sure my life would be pretty different. Mrs. SSC helped me realize how to not spend all the money you have. She’s showed me how to be more financially responsible and the power of investing. She’s done a lot for me on the financial side of life that helped get us where we are today, but even more she’s showed me a lot about how to be a better person for her, for myself, and now for our kids as well. She’s been a great friend, supporter and confidant, and added so much positivity into my life, and it all started because I decided not to be lazy and go watch MNF. Amazing…

Looking back I had no idea of the power of that decision, even though now it reads like a choose your own adventure book type of decision point. I chose something atypical for me, and my life literally changed paths from what typical Mr. SSC would do. I can imagine had I not made that choice, I’d still have credit card debt, school loan debt, car loans, probably a boat loan, home loan, and wondering why I am still struggling with money even though my salary had more than doubled. I’d complain about how it’s tough to make ends meet, and be oblivious to the fact it starts with me and my spending habits, and has less to do with how much you make than how you allocate it in your life.

Wait, I need those dollars!
Wait, I need those dollars!

I learned that if you keep doing things the same way you’ve always done them, they will stay the same they’ve always been. I made another decision that night and that was to do something I typically don’t do. It’s like the Seinfeld episode where George decides his inner voice has been wrong his whole life, so he does the exact opposite of his inner voice. He becomes wildly successful, gets a hot girl, everything changes for the best starting from that decision. I made a similar choice, and that was if I wanted things to change, I needed to start making different decisions than I would normally do, and for me it all started on that night.

Have you had any seemingly small decision affect your life in a big way? I’d love to hear your stories!

2015 Wrap-up and 2016 Goals

2015 was a pretty good year in a lot of ways for our household. Here’s a brief summary of the year’s financial picture, as well as our December numbers. Let’s begin with a quick over all summary.

In 2015 our savings/investments went up $155,976. Not too bad, but not great since most of that was just us putting in new money.  You can see from the graph that there was a big dip, followed by a recovery, then a flat to downward trend that helped keep that growth slow.  However, I still think we are on track to hit our FI number in mid-2017, if stocks can manage to grow just a little bit.

Instead of doing a full budget breakdown for December, I’ll note that we did well. Our finance picture was pretty boring, which I’ll take any time. Some anomalies not seen in previous months are noted below.

Yearly HOA = $815 Yep, HOA dues. But I think they do a great job with their festivals that they host for Spring, Easter, 4th of July, Fall, Halloween, and Winter. We also get a lot of use out of the pools during the summer.

Extra gift/entertainment = $450 – Miscellaneous gifts, and costs associated with holiday hosting of family.

Car registration = $79.50 – Yep, cars cost more than gas each month. Shocker…

Groceries = $509 – Some extra was put in the ‘entertainment’ category to account for Christmas and New Year’s feasts. Most of the alcohol for those events was covered in November.

Overall we spent $7148.11.  Without daycare and mortgage that is $3419.77.

To wrap up our 2015 expenses for our first full year of tracking – we are looking at a FIRE estimate of  $58,800/year – which comes out to about 8 grand more than we expected at the beginning of the year… What caused this jump? Well, we replaced the AC for $7k, a broken shower door for $1.3k, garage door for $440, AC drain repair $440, and I think that might have been it. That is roughly $9k in home repairs, and yes, some we could have gone the DIY route, but not the big hitter of the AC.  We do have some buffers built in to account for these repairs in the future but it does have us thinking about renting, or even possibly building so we could get a good 7-10 years “problem free”. Gah!! There will be more to come on these choices later.

How does this break down as to where the money goes? On average we spend $644/month on groceries and $173/month on pets.  Pet costs will likely go down, as we had expensive medical bills for Harley, and adoption costs for our lovely greyhound, Lola. Although, Quinn, our second dog is 15, so it could be pricey this year depending on her health.  Miscellaneous shopping was $204/month, and House miscellaneous was $1120 – definitely bad due to the AC.  In total, we spent $113,025 this year (includes 12,000) for allowances.

Lola - resting
Lola – resting
More resting. Greyhounds "rest" a lot...
More resting. Greyhounds “rest” a lot…

We did not reach our goal of saving $150k this year, but we did save $135k or 90% of our goal in 401ks, 529s and personal investment accounts. Not too shabby.  This is actually the first year I didn’t max out my 401k. I got close, but since those accounts are already “big enough” for what we need in “real” retirement, we focused on our pre-retirement gap savings. We both took full advantage of the employer match and again got close to maxing out those accounts, but at this point, that’s not where our savings is focused.  That gives us a savings rate from our take-home portion of 47.8% and that’s pretty darn close to the 50% we aimed for.  This is just $4000 shy of savings Mrs SSC’s entire take home salary, so overall, I’m pretty excited about that.  This year, we will try again for the elusive $150,000 savings goal!!!

For kicks, I thought I would look at where we are in terms of FI goals.  Taking after Eat the Financial Elephant I’ve plotted our savings in terms of the 25-times rule.  So you can see that now we are at about 17.5 times our yearly needs, and by early 2018 we should be at 25 times.  This projection assumes investment growth of 4% and that we save at the same rate we did in 2015. As you may know, we may enact our Lifestyle Change prior to reaching the 25x number, due to an increase in quality of life.

Progress Chart
Progress Chart

How could our quality of life increase you ask? Time, lots more time… Currently, between the commute and 9/80 work hours, I get to see the kids briefly in the morning as I get them ready for daycare and then for about an hr in the evening when I get home. That sucks. With Mrs. SSC being unhappy in her current position for a myriad of reasons, we’re actively pursuing other opportunities for her. While it would make sense for me to stay at my job until mid-2017 when my work/pension 401k vests, I realized that I’m fully vested in the larger of those accounts, so the amount left on the table would be pretty minimal in exchange for an increase in happiness. The Frugalwoods just had a great guest post on that exact subject, which I’d recommend clicking over and reading. It provides great perspective on achieving happiness on your way to your FI number, but I don’t want to spoil it.

That was our year and December wrap up along with our 2016 goal. Our plan isn’t too exciting other than stay the course and keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve analyzed what the effect would be on reaching FI if we went ultra frugal and cut more stuff out of the budget, and we’ve decided the increase would be so minimal, that it wouldn’t be worth it currently. So, until something dramatic happens, we’ll just keep plugging away at saving, and trying to find something more fulfilling for Mrs. SSC.

So much background noise…

Offshore rig
Offshore rig

Recently, I’ve been a little out of sorts and it’s manifested itself everywhere in my life. Most recently I had a pseudo-sleepless night, where I couldn’t get my brain to turn off until well past 1am, and I get up at 5:20am everyday… From the blog, to home life, and even at work I’ve noticed a general heightened anxiety. It just occurred to me today that it is stress caused by background noise of everything going on in my industry. I work in Oil and Gas, and well, unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard about all of the job cuts, layoffs, and restructuring due to the low oil prices. Today oil is around $37/bbl which is ridiculously low, and low enough that most companies can’t make a profit with those prices. They are stuck in the model we all rally against, “spending more than you earn”.

Most companies realize this and are working to reign it in, but with prices staying this low, it seems like a chasing the tail exercise. We meet the criteria to profit at $60/bbl and then it drops to $50. We are close to profiting at $50/bbl and the price drops to $40. We restructure and cut even more chasing profitability at $40/bbl and the price keeps dropping. It’s been this kind of background noise that has caused a lot of anxiety in me, because most companies are still spending more than they are earning. When you hear your VP talking about negative profit on some assets, you can’t help but wonder when the breaking point will be reached. Until then, I’ve been trying to find a way to quiet the background noise and give myself a break.

While most companies have been restructuring and reducing man-power, my company has been fairly light on staff reductions but heavy on reorganization of assets. This alone keeps me on edge a little because unlike Mrs. SSC’s layoff situation, mine would go much quicker which would be less stressful and that’s fine with me. But lately, the stress is starting to build.  Now, I get daily oil price updates from almost all of my co-workers, which reflects their anxiety with this whole situation. There is so much anxiety being built up around the office, it almost feels palpable.

You all have read how Mrs. SSC’s company went through a large round of layoffs recently, but that was with $60/bbl oil, not $40/bbl oil, so now they’ve announced there will be more “tweaking of the manpower”. Rumors of layoffs are rampant around my office, and while I avoid gossiping, it’s all but impossible when someone shows up in your office and starts blabbing about the most recent rumor of layoffs, staff reductions, re-orgs, or the new low oil price. A lot of my co-workers are a lot younger than me, single income earners, and heavy on debt from school loans and/or lifestyle inflation and therefore are rightly worried about job stability. The running joke for 6 months now has been, “Well…. I wouldn’t go buying a new house/truck/car/vacation house/etc… just yet.” It’s just more background noise.  But, as you can tell – all that noise is creating a stress monster.

 

Ultimately I have to figure out how best to settle this anxiety for me, so this is what I did about it.

First, I admitted that the anxiety is there. Yep, it’s that easy of a start, even if it’s not easy to admit. By admitting I was anxious, nervous or whatever, it gave a face to the nebulous low level stress and anxiety that had crept into my life.

Secondly, I avoid most news sources that are not contributing positively to my anxiety level. Which means, I just quit going to news sites in general, lol. Not for a “bury the head in the sand” approach, but again, it just doesn’t add anything positive to my life currently, so why keep that habit around?

Third, I reminded myself how we’d be affected if either or both of us got let go. Actually, it was Mrs. SSC that reminded me of this, but tomato, tomahto. This was good in that it reminded me that the sky isn’t falling, we’re not living paycheck to paycheck, and things will be OK if we both got chopped. In fact they could get better.

Finally, I just accepted it and let it go. I accepted there are a lot of things I can’t control, and this is one of them. Worrying about it isn’t helping anything, and it’s now causing me to lose sleep. Ridiculous! So like Elsa from Frozen, Just, Let it go! (Can you tell we have toddlers in the house?)

This says it all
This says it all – courtesy of www.memeforge.net

For me this strategy will help, but it will be some time before the stressful background noise is totally gone. It is a lot lower though, and I immediately felt a lot better. In fact, I’ve slept like a rock most of this week so far. I’d added a big burden to myself that was unnecessary and not beneficial to anyone. After I addressed it and then let it go, it floated away like 99 red luftballoons and I felt that much lighter. (Link to the video if you’re feeling nostalgic)

Now, Mrs SSC would like me to wrap up with something about the awesome power of mindfulness and how knowing what makes you truly happy can help in these situations, but it can be even simpler than that. Just taking a step backward for a few minutes and doing a quick examination is much easier than continuing to burrow into the ground trying to avoid the problem.  I’m kind of bummed I’ve wasted so much time worrying about this situation that I can’t control, when honestly, even if there is a change, there is a high chance that it will ultimately make life better… Maybe it won’t be as easy as it is now, but I’m always up for a challenge, and we’ve positioned ourselves well for unexpected situations. Heck, we even have plans in place if those situations do occur.

 

Have you got anything going on in your life causing background stress? What steps do you take to deal with it?

Is an $8 tomato worth it?

Recently the topic of a fall garden has come up around the SSC household. With the high temps starting to stay at/below 90 during the day, and night temps around 75 (time for a fire!) it got me thinking we should plant some stuff for the cooler weather. We keep talking about wanting to garden and grow more stuff as part of our Lifestyle Change, but we don’t do too much of that now. I figure now is the best time to get with it so we can iron out any bumps and what not before we go big with a garden. However, our success rate with getting anything edible from any plant isn’t exactly stellar. Is it due to our ungodly hot climate, our lack of green thumb, or possibly lack of diligence with taking care of the garden due to our schedule? I’m all for the fall garden, and have even agreed to scale it back a bit, but I’m having trouble getting Mrs. SSC on board due to our usual gardening adventures fails.

Our first “big garden” attempt down here was nothing short of a disaster. We’d decided to do a raised bed, with a garden system that made a 6’x6’ box separated into 4 squares. We then put our usual peppers in 2 squares, some squash in another square, and something else in the 4th square. The fact I can’t remember what it was should be a clue as to how successful it turned out. We were doing well with the garden even though it was as far away from the house as it could possibly be in our backyard. Then we went on vacation. Ever mindful, I set up a timer and watering system so it would get water while we were gone. I hooked up the sprinkler, ran it out to the garden, and even adjusted the flow and coverage of the sprinkler so as to be efficient. I was SO proud of myself.

When we returned home the scene looked like it was out of a plant horror movie. Some plants were dead – straight up dead, while the other plants looked droopy, wilted, and brown. Not dried up lack of water brown, but a weird brown, like a “death” brown. I thought I may have overwatered, but that couldn’t be the case. I checked the sprinkler and timer and they looked good too. Then I stepped into the spray of water and was scalded from my knee down to my flip flop covered foot!

Gah!!! Idiotic me didn’t think about how hot the water would get while it was sitting in ~50’ of garden hose stretched out across the yard, in the sun, ALL DAY, in the middle of Houston summer. Yep, I had managed to kill the garden with repeated scaldings over the course of a week. Side note – if you want to get rid of a certain patch of grass or weeds and don’t want to use chemicals this seems to be an effective method, as even the weeds were dead… We haven’t tried keeping anything alive since beyond our two pepper plants and the occasional tomato plants or herbs.

This guy's about 6' tall and flowering again!
This guy’s about 6′ tall and flowering again!

This year I got one tomato before the heat cranked up and I calculated it cost me around $8. I’ve kept that plant alive and I’m hoping for a fall crop now that it’s cooler and it’s starting to flower again.

She's a sad tomato...
She’s a sad tomato…

However, the other one got decimated by some kind of bug. I went to water it and all of its leaves were gone. There were just little leafless nubs all over it. I brought it inside to try and resuscitate it, to no avail. Our pepper plants are still cranking out peppers though, and we do have a pineapple we started from a cutting earlier this summer that’s looking quite nice.

 

 

This guy seems happy as can be!
This guy seems happy as can be!

Now that it’s cooler, I proposed the Fall Garden! However, I want to only put up 2 squares, so it’s half the size. Also, I would put it on our back porch so it’s right next to the hose and in our daily view so we won’t forget about it. Plus, the kids seem like they could get excited about it. Our oldest transplanted a bean plant he started in daycare, and it got over 6’ tall and made a decent amount of beans. He really enjoyed that.

I was thinking of planting some cauliflower, but maybe they get too big for that small of an area. Maybe plant some root vegetables like turnips, carrots, or something along those lines, and maybe something leafy like Collard Greens or Bok Choy. I even proposed to fund it from the allowance, but was reminded my allowance is a bit tight currently, Oops…

I think our gardening fails are mainly due to our busy schedule, not being diligent with the garden, and having the plants out of sight. The high summer heat doesn’t help either, but I don’t want to make too many excuses. With the weather getting nicer, we’ve been spending more time out back, so we should be able to manage it way better. I really think the kids would like gardening too since our oldest liked seeing the bean plant get big and make beans he could eat. I think it’s worth giving it a shot and hoping they want to get more involved.

What are your thoughts? Should we start a fall garden? Thoughts on what we should try to grow – any advice is welcomed. Do you want to hear about more gardening fails? I have plenty!

Layoffs – 3 weeks and counting…

Storm on the horizon...
Storm on the horizon…

Well, we’re drawing closer to the date, and the outlook is getting grim. We will find out what the verdict is by Oct 5th, but morale has dropped significantly around Mrs. SSC’s office, and our house. Initially, the spin from management had been that there would be available jobs to apply for in Business Units, and therefore some hope was instilled in the troops. When job postings came out last week, and everyone began combing them for positions that they could apply for, it became very evident that the amount of actual jobs posted, versus the amount everyone was led to believe would be available was dramatically different. There were about 8 Houston jobs available, and 12 or so overseas jobs, if you want to move to the armpit of “enter country name here”. For those jobs, the compound life, horrid commute (an hour plus each way, but at least you’d have a driver) and longer work schedule make Houston seem like Shangri La! Also, most of those positions are already spoken for and aren’t an option for our family for many reasons.

On the positive side – yes there are lots of positives, we are in a better position than most of our friends who are in the same situation, and may or may not have a spouse with a second income. We’re also not leveraged heavily in our house, cars, credit cards, or lifestyle, so we can continue on and figure out what the heck to do from here, fairly unscathed. I can switch my work schedule to a 6:30 am – 4 pm sort of schedule and get home in time to have dinner with the kids. Plus, I get to see them for an extra hour each day. That also means I will probably have an easier commute in the morning, and well, my afternoon commute will probably stay the same, as a LOT of people leave the office around 3:30pm and later in our fair metropolis. I’ve actually found that my commute is lighter and quicker leaving at 5:30 pm on the rare days that has happened.

The biggest toll here is more emotional than anything. Mrs. SSC has been having a hard time getting okay with the fact she will most likely be let go. She understands it’s not her or her performance as a worker, it’s just a wrong place, wrong time scenario. She’s the newest and least senior person on her team, and when compared to her peer groups in the same job, they have more seniority in that position. Coming to accept that has been trying. Also, losing the sense of worth that is innately tied into working. She has been struggling with the fact she will feel like she’s not contributing if she gets laid off. We talk about these things and I tell her that I’m perfectly fine with her getting laid off. I understand the emotional toll, but she’ll be contributing in way more ways than a paycheck. Plus, it’s not as if this job is really making her feel happy, or giving her any satisfaction right now anyway. It’s like a catch 22 – losing the paycheck will hurt a little, but keeping the paycheck for a job that’s not very satisfying is almost like a lose too, especially when we discuss the positives for our family life that will change.

How will this all relate to our Fully Funded Lifestyle Change date? Well, we’re not too sure at the moment. We had recently changed it dramatically, even if it meant it was a Mostly Funded Lifestyle Change, but there’s no point in putting all that out there until after Oct.’s layoff deadline. So stay tuned for that, haha! We did decide that this life event has us re-evaluating what is important to us and what our priorities are. We’ve realized that we’re not driven by material items, but rather how we can spend more quality time with the kids and ourselves as a family. Not that we haven’t realized that before, but it sure has driven that point home. The sooner we can make our Lifestyle change, the better.

Until then, everyone have a Happy Monday and a good week ahead!