Budget Basement Reno Rundown!

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Woohoo! I am proud to report that my basement renovation is finally, totally, completely, almost done. There are just a couple of minor repairs (shaving off a door that can’t clear the new, plushy, cushy, awesome carpet and repairing a leaky toilet) and then hanging some pictures on the walls when my photo prints arrive in the mail.

I am even prouder to report that it came in … over time and over budget! Not a surprise, but thankfully the overruns were not too extreme. Continue reading Budget Basement Reno Rundown!

Investing 102: I am a Robot

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I’ve been distracted recently and haven’t given this blog the attention I’d like, with several other creative projects (more to come on this!) taking priority, plus the taking-longer-than-wanted-but-not-unexpected basement refurb. Thankfully, though, my finances are robotocized (that’s a word, I swear) and I don’t have to worry about making sure I’m on track.

So how do I robotocize my financial life?

  1. Direct deposit. Did you know you can set up a direct deposit to multiple accounts? I only figured that out recently. I get paid every two weeks and set up direct deposit with my employer. The general amount I need for living expenses (or at least what I budget) is deposited to my checking account and the rest goes to my savings/brokerage account at Schwab.
  2. Automatic bill pay. Many banks and credit cards offer options to set up automatic bill pay through your accounts directly. I’ve taken a more piecemeal approach and set up automatic payments through each billing account, but now I don’t ever have to worry about making sure my bills are paid on time, including everything from my mortgage and car insurance to electricity and gas to state and federal taxes to full payment of my credit card balances every month.
  3. Automatic investing. Once my paycheck gets deposited in my Schwab brokerage account, a few days later I have a semi-monthly automatic purchase of $300 of a total stock market index fund. This means I invest $600/month without even thinking about it. Through my employer, I also have my 401(k) withdrawal with every paycheck — I front load it with a whopping 50% of my paycheck at the beginning of the year.
  4. Automatic dividend reinvestment. Whenever I buy a stock or fund, I select the option to automatically reinvest dividends — free money to invest before I even know I have it.
  5. Automatic rebalancing. I have my 401(k) account set to automatically rebalance once a year. This ensures that the asset allocation I’ve selected will stay generally the same from year to year — in a nutshell, if I have a great year in stocks, I’ll shift some of the gains over to bonds, and vice versa, ensuring maximum diversity for maximum growth over the long haul (there’s an important life metaphor in there somewhere!).

Easy peasy, nice and breezy! Now if only I can find a way to robotocize the rest of my responsibilities …

Basement-in-Progress Update

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I have been working my butt off recently on my mini basement renovation. So far, so good, but like many projects there are more moving pieces than I had included in my initial budget-and-agenda list. I suspect I may end up over my budgetary goal of $4,000, but I’m feeling confident that everything (so far, at least!) is worth it and that I’m making the most of my pennies.

The biggest ticket item is much-needed new carpet. I went the high end route from Home Depot — just under $2,000 including installation and removal of the old narsty stuff — and it should be here next week. What the duck, you can’t schedule installation until the carpet arrives at the installer warehouse, even when you know there’s a scheduled date, so who knows when it will actually be in, but hopefully soon.

I have to move out all furniture and wall decorations for the installation, so it’s a bit like a giant game of tetris. I’m trying to buy furnishings on Craigslist as I find good deals (and I’ve got some good ones!), but I can’t acquire too much because it all has to fit in the non-carpeted kitchen while the work gets done. I’m trying to balance that with the goal of getting it totally done as soon as possible after the carpet install, with a hoped-for-but-unlikely move-in date of October 1. Last-minute moving is going to be a physical and intellectual challenge!

In terms of the heavy-lifting work, I’ve been doing a lot of painting. A LOT of painting. So much I’m starting to think the t is superfluous and it should just be called paining. . . . Even the walls and ceilings I thought were OK start to look dingier the more time I spend staring at them (a lot, apparently) and I’ve created various blemishes of my own as I do things like removing ugly-butt track lighting from 1996, or buying $5 chairs on Craigslist that need 14 coats of spray paint. (Also, turns out I don’t know how to spray paint — hooray for learning new skills the hard way?) I keep reassuring my back, neck, and wrists that it’s going to be OK. It’s going to be OK, right?

Next up is some minor electrical work (repairing a loose outlet box, replacing the one hard-wired light fixture in an awkward “window” between the kitchen and living room), prayers for no major plumbing needs, making art for the walls, and almost-final furnishing acquisitions.

I’ve also put out some short-term lease feelers on Craigslist, but since I don’t know a certain ready date or budget, I’m wary to commit to too much. I’ve gotten several responses to my first ad a couple of weeks ago, so I’m thinking I’ll start again soon with a new posting, but it’s hard to motivate without final pictures . . .  it turns out I seem to be most excited about final pictures! Here are some in-progress gems:


icky things, like carpet
sexy things, like carpet
safety things, like electricity
safety things, like electricity
minimal-skillzy things, like peel and stick flooring
minimal-skillzy things, like peel and stick flooring
and adorbsy things, like these finds from Goodwill
and adorbsy things, like these finds from Goodwill



A Short-Term Rental Experiment

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Three years ago I moved to Seattle and bought a house. For someone accustomed to tiny New York City studios and one-bedroom apartments, it’s HUGE — three bedrooms plus a separate two-bedroom basement apartment. (By normal standards, it’s normal — your typical Seattle 1902 pre-craftsman.)

I immediately rented one of the bedrooms upstairs to a dear friend of mine from grad school, Roomie Pie, and the basement apartment to two 30-something students at a nearby university. Roomie Pie is still around (yay!) and the students just decided to move out after graduating at the end of August.

I appreciate having the extra income, but I also love having more people around — an entire house of any size is way too much for just one person! But, feeling like I could never be so lucky to find as great tenants again, I’ve decided to take a risk and try a new experiment: update the apartment, furnish it, and try renting it out as a short-term rental. I live near several hospitals so I’m hoping to appeal to travel nurses, residents, or other professionals who might be in town for a few months at a time. I might also try AirBnB, though I’m reluctant to take on the work involved in weekly laundry and cleaning … need to make sure I can keep my lazy habits lazy!

I’m in the process of fixing it up, including new paint, lighting, and carpet (which I had hoped to avoid but was unquestionably necessary, thanks to an initial poor quality install and various rips, snags, and stains). My budget for everything is $4,000 and I’m hoping I’ll be able to make that up in a year — worst case scenario, if it doesn’t work, I’ll go back to a long-term tenant and hope for the best. In the meantime, I’m scouring Craigslist and Goodwill to see what gems I might find, and nurturing my back that’s already sore from too much painting.

There are some serious design challenges — low ceilings and poor lighting are the most obvious — as well as some great aspects, like several closets and a huge kitchen. I’m excited to see how it turns out — stay tuned!

Some “before” pics:

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P1070258 (2)


Summer Garden Bounty Super Delicious Fresh Time

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After my blueberries prematurely came and went in early July (!), I neglected my garden, unable to make the oh, twenty or so steps outside in this ridiculous 80+ degree heat we’ve been having here in the PNW. (I know; I’m a Southerner and former East Coaster. I’ve gone soft.) As we got a bit of a cool wave this weekend, I finally ventured outside and WOWZA!

The cukes are through the roof! And super crazy carrot party time!

I feel so blessed to live in a place where I can walk outside and pick my dinner. And today, I’m pickling my dinner.

With a nod to my Swedish grandmother, I’m making a batch of the pickled cucumbers we usually serve on Christmas Eve. Christmas in July, everybody! It doesn’t get much better than this.

Easy peasy recipe, for those interested:

  • Peel cucumbers then run a fork down the edges to give them some texture (for her pleasure, of course). Slice thin.
  • Salt, stack in a pan, and put some heavy things on top for a couple of hours. This will squeeze out excess water.
  • Mix in a jar with an appropriate amount of 1/4 c. white vinegar, 2 T. water, 1 T. sugar, and a dash of pepper.
  • Refrigerate.
  • Eat all at once as needed.

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