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This article is by staff writer Kristin Wong.

It’s both fascinating and useful to calculate the value of your time. Financial freedom gives you options and flexibility. But without time, that means nothing. Time is a precious resource that we should spend wisely. But you already know this – we’ve written about it quite a bit.

Knowing the value of your time is helpful for a variety of reasons:

  • If you’re a freelancer, it can help you decide on gigs.

  • It can help you decide whether a frugal habit is worth it.

  • It might convince you to pay someone to help you with tasks.

There’s a pretty standard method for calculating the value of your time. Simply figure out your hourly wage by dividing your income by the number of hours you work. That’s easy enough, but there are a few problems with that approach:

  • You don’t get paid for your free time. You’re only paid for the time you spend working. So the better question might be: What is your free time worth?

  • You might not enjoy your job. I hated the low-paying job I had during my first year of college, and I didn’t want to work any more than I had to. So while I wouldn’t give up an hour of my free time to earn an extra $5.75 at that job, I would have spent an hour on some frugal task that saved me $5.75 — maybe even less.

  • It doesn’t consider how busy you are. The value of your free time should also depend on how much of it you have available.

  • Not all time is valued the same. As a freelancer, when I take a vacation, I lose money. So the value of my time is actually in the negative. And I’m okay with that because, dammit, sometimes you need a vacation. At the same time, I would not wait in line for an hour to save $30 on something because I hate to wait in line.

Because of these reasons, the idea that you’re worth a certain amount per hour has always rubbed me the wrong way.

Ever heard that fun fact that Bill Gates is so rich, if he found a $100 bill in the street, it wouldn’t be worth his time to pick it up? I’ve always thought that was silly. First, it takes a quarter of a second to bend over and pick up that bill. Even if he’s “on the clock,” he’s not trading in that time for anything — he’ll be paid whether he picks it up or not. Plus, at this point Bill Gates’ income is passive. He earns money in his sleep. So picking up that bill would still be an extra $100 on top of whatever he makes. It’d still be a drop in the bucket to him, but you get the idea.

Calculate a better value of your time

When I came across Clearer Thinking’s “time worth” tool, I figured it was another standard hourly wage calculator. But once I started reading, I found out that it’s actually a pretty detailed and personalized survey on how you value your free time.

Here’s how they describe it:

“This tool will ask a series of questions to help you estimate how much money each hour is worth to you, so that you can make wiser decisions about how to spend that time. It’ll also provide you with a customized report based on your results that highlights any inconsistencies in your answers and makes concrete suggestions for applying your newfound knowledge in your daily life.”

Basically, it’s designed to estimate how much you value an additional hour of your time (your “free time,” in so many words, or the time you spend on top of your current schedule).

“So if you currently work 35 hours a week, for instance, this tool will estimate how much money you’d need to put in a 36th hour of work. Here’s another way to think of the same idea: the additional hour value of your time is the amount of money you’d pay to free up an hour of time.”

Who should use it

They write that the tool was designed “with employed individuals in mind.”

So if you’re unemployed or retired, you might not find the tool very accurate. After all, your free time is measured by different considerations. They add another caveat:

“If you have very low savings or an unstable income, the calculator may overestimate the value of your time and underestimate your need for funds. If you fit this description and this tool recommends that you spend more money or reduce the number of hours you work, please be very careful about acting on its advice.”

With that disclaimer, let’s jump in and see how it works.

How it works

First, the survey asks you some basic questions about your current work. How much are you paid per hour? How much do you enjoy your job? This survey serves as a point of reference for all of your decisions.

From there, you are presented with four scenarios. In answering these questions, you should consider the numbers, yes. But you should also consider how busy you are, how much you enjoy your job, and how much you like or dislike the task presented in each hypothetical. It’ll make more sense when we look at each scenario.

Scenario 1: The wage you’d accept for 1 hour of work

In their first hypothetical, they want to know how much you’re willing to work per hour if you lose your job so they ask you to determine the minimum hourly wage you’d accept for a similar job that you like just as much and that would require the same number of hours per week. (You should also suppose that you can easily find another similar job even if you passed up this new opportunity.)

Of course, in answering this, you want to consider how much you’re earning now. So basically, how much lower would you be willing to go for the same workload and type of work? Your answer helps determine how much you value your work time.

Scenario 2: How much you’d spend on a time-saver

If there was a tool that could save you time, how much would you be willing to spend on it? This helps them gauge how much you’re willing to pay for your free time.

Scenario 3: How long you’d wait for a gift

In the third scenario, they want to know how long you would spend waiting in line for a gift card. For me, this value varied considerably from the first two, because I don’t enjoy waiting in line, even if I am being mildly entertained. So I’d rather skip out on the gift and work in that time, or just do nothing. Still, it’s a good hypothetical because it helps round out your value.

Scenario 4: Your rate for a longer work week

If you had to take on a longer work week, how much extra would you charge for your time? Say, for example, that your company wants you to transfer to a similar job that you would enjoy just as much but that would require an extra 10 percent of your time than you currently work. You could ask for a raise to take on the new position, so they ask about the minimum total amount of money you’d accept to agree to the new job. Again, this answer helps determine how much you value your free time.

My results

After averaging out the numbers you enter for those four scenarios, Clearer Thinking gives you a dollar figure for your time. Mine was $31.25, pretty close to the standard method that I criticized earlier in this post.

But using the quiz rather than the standard method actually gave me insight into how I value my time, not how my employer values it. The customized rate for my time was only about a dollar more than my current work rate, and that’s good. I enjoy my work and I’m not overwhelmingly busy, so this makes sense.

You can get some really personalized advice based on your own numbers. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “If you’re considering waiting in line for 20 minutes to get something free, ask yourself whether you’d be willing to pay $10.42 for that thing. If not, you probably shouldn’t wait.”

  • “If you’re thinking of buying a time-saving device (e.g. a dishwasher or garlic press), estimate how many total hours it will save you. If it costs less than the number of hours it’ll save you multiplied by $31.25, it’s probably a good purchase. So for example, if it will save you 10 hours, pay no more than $312.5.”

  • “If you’re debating whether to purchase an item worth $20, you should spend much less than 38.4 minutes making up your mind. If you spend longer, the value of the time you’ve devoted to deciding whether to buy the item will exceed the value of the item itself!”

The survey isn’t absolute. But then again, it can’t be. It can’t take every scenario and preference into consideration. The value of your time varies depending on how you feel about all the different ways you spend it. And sometimes your time is just priceless — it doesn’t always translate to dollars.

But if we’re going to calculate our time-value, this tool does offer insight beyond simply knowing how much your boss pays you per hour. Check it out yourself, and tell me what you think.

[Editor's note: The "Time and Money Calculator" at www.clearerthinking.org appears to use cookies in order to recognize where you left off in their questions.]

This article is about Career, Choices, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Frugality, Hints and Tips, Money Hacks, Planning, Tools

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This article is by staff writer Kristin Wong.

Earlier this year, I started volunteering at my local library for a couple of hours a week. I’m a big fan of libraries, and I wanted to find a way to give back. And for some odd reason, I felt compelled to do something good. I couldn’t really pinpoint why, so I chalked it up to getting older.

At the library, one of my duties is to make sure one of the weekly programs doesn’t go over capacity. Most buildings have occupancy regulations, and the library is no different. I politely tell people, “Sorry, we’re full for this program. But we have another one starting soon.”

You’d think people would be understanding, and for the most part, they are. But each week, at least one person throws a fit, says awful things, and then proceeds to tell me they’ll report me, a volunteer, for suggesting they wait 15 minutes for the next program.

I’m not going to lie. It feels good to publicly vent about this. But more than just annoying me, their behavior has me thinking a lot about entitlement lately. While my entitlement doesn’t manifest itself in temper tantrums, I’m still guilty of it. I get wildly impatient over stupid, first-world problems — waiting in line more than five minutes for my groceries, for example. Having to take off my shoes for airport security.

Entitlement annoys the hell out of me. It makes people rude, unpleasant and unhappy. Take anyone off the street and ask them, “Hey, what do you think of entitlement?” and they’ll tell you, “It’s terrible. I hate it.”

Yet everywhere I go, I see people yelling at cashiers, barking orders to wait staff and leaning on their car horns for silly, unjustifiable reasons. If everyone hates entitlement, why is everyone so entitled?

Our environment and background

Sharing his own thoughts on entitlement, J.D. speculated that where you grow up has a lot to do with it.

“If you’ve never been hungry, never wondered where you would sleep, never had to go without shoes, then your sense of what is by rights your due may be askew.

“If every winter your family went on vacation to a warmer clime, if every summer you went to camp, if each fall you started the new school year with a fresh wardrobe and all the school supplies you could imagine, why would you think you were entitled to any less as an adult? Even if you haven’t got the income to support it, you have no idea why you can’t have everything you want when you want it. And if you’ve been handed a pile of credit, no doubt you’ll satisfy your sense of entitlement, damn the long-term costs.”

To put it bluntly, this has to do with being spoiled — growing up with luxuries you don’t even realize are luxuries. And, yeah, I’m spoiled. I never had a fresh wardrobe or went to camp. But I did grow up with plenty of food, lots of modern conveniences and few worries.

On the other hand, I can’t imagine my mother ever throwing a huff about having to wait 15 minutes for a free program or even standing in line for her groceries. In fact, she doesn’t complain about much. When your childhood memories consist of hunger pangs, you tend to be a little more grateful for an abundance of food and shelter later in life.

Our consumer culture

But it’s our consumer culture, I think, that makes us more entitled than anything. We want Stuff. We convince ourselves we need Stuff. And we work hard, so we must deserve it. But there’s a difference between feeling you deserve something and feeling you’re owed something. The problem is that the line is really, really fine.

Sue L.T. McGregor, an economist, researcher and Full Professor in the Faculty of Education at Mount Saint Vincent University, discussed this topic in a paper titled, “Consumer Entitlement, Narcissism, and Immoral Consumption.” In the paper, McGregor points out how easy it is for consumerism to take over our behavior.

Entitlement makes us rude. All of you can probably think of a negative experience you’ve had in dealing with someone’s entitled rudeness. MGregor writes:

“Remember that, in a consumer society, people have very high expectations for personal gratification.”

Well, what’s wrong with that, right? Except that:

“People feel that they are entitled to have all their expectations met. Life should be easy…. Not surprisingly then, a sense of entitlement can lead to destructive, as well as aggressive, consumption behaviors. An entitlement mentality holds that the world is theirs for the taking, regardless of possible harm to others.”

And this isn’t such a big deal when the patron who wants to get into the library program yells at me. But this mindset can be a little more destructive when you consider that most of us consume despite the moral conflicts. We read about a company doing something terribly corrupt, and we’re briefly appalled. Hell, we might even tweet about it with a convenient little hashtag. But then, we go right back to being consumers — or, worse than that, we turn a blind eye to it altogether and chalk it up to capitalism. Not to sound too judgmental — in my life, I’ve done both.

We become so engrossed in what we’re owed, we become disconnected with where our goods and services come from. As McGregor explains, our “consumption decisions are adversely affecting the next generation, those not yet born, those living elsewhere, and the environment.”

I do think this is changing a little. Consumers are starting to become more interested in shopping responsibly. Whether or not we’re acting on it is an entirely different question, but we’re at least interested in it, and some companies are beginning to take notice.

The Other Extreme

It’s hard to talk about entitlement and consumerism without sounding like you’re on a high horse. So let’s look at both sides of the coin. There’s another side to this argument.

For example, my mom is probably the least entitled person I know. That is one of her best qualities. She once told me a story about how, when she was a child, she worked for a candy company, packaging the candy. She didn’t describe it as sweatshop labor, but considering what she was paid for what she did, that’s pretty much what it was.

“That’s awful,” I said, appalled.

“No!” she barked. “You kidding? We were starving. I was lucky to have that job!”

It makes me sad to think that, as a child growing up in severely impoverished conditions, my mom saw sweatshop work as being lucky. And even to this day, I feel like she doesn’t truly understand her value. She shortchanges herself a lot. My aunt is the same way. You tell these women how amazing they are; they scoff and say, “What amazing? I’m lucky to be alive!”

Which is kind of endearing and inspiring, but it can also work against you when it comes to things like asking for a raise. So we go from one extreme, entitlement, to the other, a lack of self-worth.

Consumerism isn’t all bad, right?

And I’ll take another step down from my anti-entitlement high horse.

We’ve had a few readers speak up in the comments about consumerism. What’s so bad about earning money, finding financial independence, and then spending that money on things you enjoy, they ask. Even if it’s a car or a boat or a fancy suit?

Nothing. Not everyone agrees 100 percent with this, but I buy the argument that, at its core, there’s nothing wrong with consumerism. The problem is, most people don’t do it in a responsible way. For most people, it leads to negative things — not just the emotional issue of entitlement, but practical problems, too — like lifestyle inflation and debt. Maybe the problem is less about consumption and more about overconsumption. There’s nothing wrong with buying stuff; but when your whole life becomes Stuff, that’s when things seem to get a little nuts.

A solution

In her paper, McGregor talks about narcissism and consumerism. That’s the lack of connection she mentions — when we’re so engrossed in ourselves and our consumption that we don’t consider others.

We don’t consider that the waitress might be going through a devastating time in her life, making her vulnerable to simple mistakes, like forgetting your side of beans. We just yell at her, make her feel stupid, and take it out of her tip.

Maybe she’s not going through a tough time. But narcissists don’t consider it either way. All they see is their lack of beans. A lot of people are guilty of this. You see it every day.

But there’s another side to narcissism McGregor brings up when she talks about the solution to entitlement.

“If people crave attention by being a consumer, change the focus of their attention to being a global citizen first and a consumer second. Then, create a situation where they crave that sort of attention. If they need to focus on rights and entitlements to gain power, shift their attention to being morally powerful…”

With this solution, narcissists still get their egos fed. They still get their “narcissistic supply,” as McGregor calls it. Only they’re contributing to something positive now and not being jerks to everyone around them. It seems like a big shift; but as she points out, “narcissists will transform themselves into anything to get and keep attention.”

She suggests narcissists make this shift by focusing on conscious spending. Volunteering at a library will probably also work. (Ahem.)

Am I calling myself a narcissistic consumer? Kind of, yeah. Just one who has shifted her focus.

Really, I’m not much different from the people who come in, yell at me, and expect to have things their way. They’re demanding something they feel entitled to. But I’ve realized that, so am I. As much as I really do love the library and really do want to give back, there is a slightly more selfish motive: I want to feel good about what I’m doing.

It’s not an attractive thing to admit, but there’s a part of me that wants to pat myself on the back and feed my ego a bit. There’s a part of me, semi-deep down, that volunteers because I want to be appreciated and respected and important. I feel I deserve those feelings.

Ugly, right? Like the entitled consumer who craves control and power, I, too, have a “narcissistic supply.” I’m not immune to entitlement and ego.

But I have to say, there is an important difference: My entitlement happens to be a little more productive.


This article is by staff writer William Cowie.

Several readers responded to our “Big Question” post by saying they’d like to see something about investing, and some elaborated that they’d like to see some advice for investing on a small scale. Small in scale obviously means different things to different people — but I’ll relate my experiences, for what it’s worth.

My background is in finance and accounting. You’d think having 10 years of college, focusing on business and money, I, sooner or later, would know what I was doing with my money. You would be wrong. Coming out of college, I joined the rat race in the fast lane and zoomed past most of my peers, landing a top executive job in a fast-growing computer company at a young age, and ending up with a small minority stake in it. When it was sold to a major conglomerate, all the stockholders received generous payouts. I was 30 at the time and decided to retire. For my retirement, I wanted to come to America and study some more — isn’t that just the geeky “investment” to make?

Not wanting to become a professor, I rejoined the rat race, only this time taking care to stay away from the fast lane. It may look attractive to those getting passed, but staying in it requires too much time and dedication, and you have no life beyond it. I wanted to visit, smell and photograph some roses along the way.

I never gave retirement another thought. I just figured that I’ve done it once, I can do it again anytime I like. Well, that’s not quite as easy when you don’t make fast-lane money anymore. It took me a few years to realize this. I know, I know: I may have degrees up the ying-yang, but that doesn’t mean I’m smart. I was now in my 40s, and starting all over with close to nothing.

The smart people (like J.D. Roth) say you have to invest and start early. Sounds good, of course … but I couldn’t get myself to actually do it. Looking back, I can see several things which held me back.

Roadblocks

1. I didn’t make enough money. At least that’s what I told myself. If you want to invest, you need to have some “over and above” money, right? I had myself convinced I couldn’t check that box.

2. I didn’t want to make sacrifices. In graduate school, we had a Polish couple living next to us in student housing, Wojcek and Kinga. He was an out-of-state student and had to pay high tuition fees. Yet, when he graduated, they had a down payment for a house. Amazed, I asked him how he did it. His answer boiled down to living close to the poverty line and squirreling away every penny they could. In five years, they saved up $18,000 and they bought a $180,000 house. My earlier life, on the other hand, had accustomed me to an inflated lifestyle. It doesn’t take many years for that to turn into a sense of entitlement. “Hey, I’m entitled to eat out so many times, drive such-and-such a car, and live in a house with so many square feet.”

3. I failed once. I tried to open a brokerage account with Charles Schwab, back when they were the only discount brokerage around, to invest in stocks. I didn’t have the minimum required to open an account. It was humiliating to be told I don’t have enough money and, for some weird reason, that just stuck in my mind, reinforcing the first point I made up above. Worse, it made me not want to try again.

4. What’s the point? Even if I had the minimum (as I recall, it was something like $1,000 back in those days) it was so little, there was no way it could ever be enough to give me a comfortable retirement. Besides, even back then everyone was talking about the market being rigged against the little guy. So why bother? I may end up losing it all, anyway.

5. I didn’t know enough. Talking to friends, coworkers and acquaintances, it sounded to me like you needed a lot of luck to make good investments. At the time, I remember Microsoft and Walmart were the hot, high-growth stocks. But were they going to mature right when I bought? When a growth stock matures, its stock price crashes as the P/E (price-to-earnings) multiple gets deflated (like happened to Apple last year and Whole Foods this year). Because I didn’t know enough about the stock market, I figured I had better stay out of it.

Other people told me they don’t have time to invest, but I knew that didn’t apply to me (or to anyone else, for that matter). If someone told you you’ll win a million dollars if you set aside an hour every Saturday, we’d all do it. We all make time for something we truly value. I knew that I would make time for investing if I truly believed in it. Trouble was I didn’t.

What changed?

Three things:

1. Our 401(k) plans. We both got jobs which offered what was still a fairly new thing back then — 401(k) retirement plans. These things are not perfect, and they’ve generated a lot of criticism; but at the time, I thought it was a great thing for only one reason: I got to take it with me.

Until the early ’80s, the default retirement option at most employers was a pension. The problem with a pension, though, was you often lost it all when you changed jobs — and that was by design. Back in the day, employers used their pensions as a golden handcuff, an incentive/reward for staying there. A 401(k) was different because you could take it with you when you moved on, or if you were “asked” to move on.

So, we embraced our 401(k) plans and contributed to the level our employers matched. It wasn’t much, but at least there was some “free money” (the matching) to give us the motivation to do it.

And then we forgot about them. In hindsight, that was probably a good thing because they grew quietly and undisturbed. You avoid using any 401(k) plan at your own future peril.

2. Our savings. My wife and I grew up in frugal households and we tend to live below our means. So, we opened a savings account to serve as an emergency fund. We lived on a strict budget — not overly tight, but it was a high priority never to exceed it. And, every month, we’d transfer everything left over to the savings account and start fresh for the next month. The emergency fund slowly grew, and we never paid it much attention. There were a few times a car needed repairs and so on, and it was nice to have enough for that. But, other than that, we never really thought of it.

Then, one year, we got a bigger income tax refund than we expected. The natural thing was to put it into the savings account, which we did. But then, suddenly, we looked and saw that we had “real money” in that account.

It dawned on me that we had enough to risk opening a brokerage account without the fear of being told we’re insignificant cockroaches.

3. Old age suddenly drew closer. After we turned 50, and the over-the-hill parties faded in the rear view mirror, we looked through the windshield of time and gulped. What’ll we do when, like the Beatles song, we turn 64? Funny how you never think of this when you’re young. But, as they say in the sports world, Father Time is undefeated. Sooner or later he’ll beat you.

My (and your) only defense against that old fart is our investments.

Decisions

So, all of a sudden, I was confronted with the question: What am I going to invest in? I had no clue. That’s when, as my wife put it, I went to “night school.” Every night, for months, I’d hit the Internet after dinner till past midnight and learn everything I could about investing in general and stocks in particular.

Why stocks? If I were a different person, I’d probably go for rental real estate, because you can (literally) buy the house next door and keep a watchful eye as other people pay down your mortgage and inflation builds you a lovely nest egg. However, to make that work, you need a modicum of handyman skills and you should be somewhat of a people person, engaging enough to attract tenants, and tough enough to kick them out when they don’t pay on time. I’m neither. I am enough of a geek, though, with enough education to understand companies and stocks. So that’s why I became like the little robot in the movie “Short Circuit,” muttering “input, input” night after night.

What I learned

1. Investing matters. I can kick myself for the years I avoided it, and the overcome-able reasons I used to justify that. As time passes, we’ll be less and less able to rely on Social Security or pensions. Therefore, you will be the master of your fate, and there’s no way other than investing to master your fate when you’re older.

2. You get nothing for nothing. To get something in the future, you have to forgo something now. It is what it is.

3. Time is everything. Even if the amounts you work with are small — and they can be — they will add up the longer you give them.

4. Patience is essential. As Warren Buffett puts it: Investing is like planting a tree — nothing happens overnight.

5. Perfection is not required. Nobody, not even Warren Buffett, has a flawless track record in their investments. That’s the bad news. The good news is investing is robust enough that, as long as you are patient and diligent, the good will far, far outweigh the mistakes and misfortunes. My perfectionist tendencies kept me from investing for too long. (“If I can’t do it right, why do it?”) Imperfect investing, started earlier, will always beat perfectionist investing delayed.

6. You can learn. There are plenty of resources, free and paid, to learn everything you need to know to succeed at investing. The good news is it’s not rocket science, so anyone can learn it. The bad news is it’s not all obvious, so you do need to put in time (nothing for nothing, again).

But…

7. It’s never too late. We got serious after reaching 50, so we had to sacrifice more than we would have needed to if we started earlier, but that’s the price of folly. The good news is you can learn from my mistake. And if you think you’re too old, stop. Just stop. You can always catch up; it’s never too late.

The key to success, though, is the old Nike slogan: “Just do it.”


This post is by staff writer Honey Smith.

In May, Jake and I bought a house and moved in. We’ve been loving it so far! People who have always lived in a place with decent structural integrity may not appreciate it, but considering the many problems with our previous rental, it feels like we live in a palace now.

At the time of my last post on homeownership, we had about $10,000 in liquid savings. Beefing up our emergency fund even more was on our list of priorities. I was hoping to start saving for that in earnest in 2015. However, a situation arose this weekend that will cause us to reprioritize our financial goals.

Air conditioner repair

On Saturday afternoon, I noticed it seemed a bit warm in the house. When I looked at the thermostat, it said 82. Since it was set at 77, something was obviously wrong. I went outside and looked at the drip spout that comes off of the roof, and there was no water dripping. I assumed this meant that our air conditioner had frozen.

Jake concurred that was a possibility. You’re supposed to change the air filter every 3 months and we hadn’t done it since moving in, so we were slightly past the date. In ordinary climates that’s probably not that big a deal, but it was 108 that day. We turned the A/C to “off,” turned the fan on, and left the house to grocery shop and run errands so we didn’t have to be home while we waited for the unit to defrost. Unfortunately, when we got home and turned everything on again, it wouldn’t start up at all! So we called in a repair company to check it out.

The repair person got us up and running again sometime around 11 p.m., but we ended up paying about $1,000. However, it wasn’t due to our lack of routine maintenance. The repair person recommended that, based on the unit’s age, we should think about saving up for a replacement. The ballpark estimate, which was based purely on his look at our existing unit and the square footage of our home, was $7,000. Wowza! This was something that was already on our radar after our home inspection. Now “on our radar” has morphed into “our most important priority.”

The hope is to get the new unit during the winter, before next year’s A/C season cranks up again. We are also hoping that a new unit will drive our electricity costs down in the future. We have double-paned windows and a brand new roof, but I can only imagine how inefficient our HVAC unit is at its age. And while a new air conditioner may not be one of the 10 easy ways to lower your electric bill, the part of me that loves spreadsheets can’t wait to start crunching numbers after we get our new unit. In the short-term, however, this means that I will be cutting back on my aggressive student loan payments for the next few months as we set aside money for our new goal.

Other house projects

Now that we’ve lived in our house for awhile, we’re starting to get a sense of other projects that need to be completed and how to prioritize all our goals. We can’t afford to do everything at once! Here is a prioritized list for tasks that we either can’t or don’t want to DIY.

  1. Replacing the A/C. First priority, anticipated timeline six months. Amount: $7,000 (just in case our midnight estimate was a little off).

  2. Demolishing the shed. Second priority, anticipated timeline six months. There’s a corroded metal shed in the backyard that isn’t safe to use or really even be near, and we don’t need it because everything fits in our garage. Amount: unknown, but this shouldn’t be too expensive.

  3. Resurfacing the back deck. Third priority, anticipated timeline between six months and one year. Amount: $3,500.

  4. Installing solar panels. Fourth priority, anticipated timeline 18 months to two years. Amount: $10,000 out of pocket, according to other folks we know who’ve had this done.

There are also some rooms that won’t be fully furnished for awhile, but we’re in no hurry for a few reasons. First, it takes time to get a sense of what we really like and what will actually fit in the space. We also want to save up and buy nice things that we love. I think new furniture will probably end up between “resurfacing the back deck” and “installing solar panels” in terms of our prioritized list above.

Coming to terms with adjusting my goals

In the early part of the year, I was making extra payments of $300 per month toward my student loans. It was important to me to make extra payments, but I also wanted to save up to buy our house. Since moving into our new house, I’ve been making extra student loan payments of $500 per month. Additionally, I’ve also been making the regular payments. In all, I’ve been paying close to $1,000 a month!

I’m on a graduated repayment plan where the amount of the regular monthly payment goes up every two years. However, apparently the resets are not based on calendar years, but on payment years. What does this mean? Let’s say the regular payment on the smaller balance is $100. (It’s actually more; this is an example.) Two years’ worth of payments at that rate is $2,400, so my rate would reset after two years or after paying $2,400, whichever comes first.

So not only have I been making larger extra payments recently, the amount of my regular payments has gone up as well. Additionally, more of my regular payments goes toward the balance as opposed to accumulated interest. So even though I plan to cut back on the extra payments for the time being, I’ll still be making progress. And the sooner I reach my larger house-related goals, the sooner I can start making those satisfying big payments again.

One of the most challenging adjustments in all of this is allocating savings toward something I’m not all that excited about. I mean, by the time we got the A/C working again, I was pretty darn excited to start cooling our 97-degree house down. And of course having a crane putting things on our roof is just plain cool! But outside of that, it just seems like a lot of money.

How do you prioritize when you have several larger financial goals that take time to save for?


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