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By determinedmom
July 13, 2009

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As I near 3 years posting on this board (I plan to post an overall update as I get closer to the exact date -- the 23rd), I went back and read some of the threads from the first couple of years -- even the 256 post original thread! It was interesting to see the things that were endlessly discussed, criticized, questioned, defended, etc. and to think about how those decisions worked out 2 or 3 years later. So I thought I would rate them on a 5 star scale:

Selling our house and using the proceeds to pay off about $100k in consumer debt - 5 stars - we had just done this when I first posted here. It was a great decision. Until we did that we could get no traction at all on debt payment since over $3000 a month was going to credit card interest. We had no snowball and were just treading water. Selling let us pay off a lot of debt and ultimately let us get better balance transfers so the interest rates became manageable (currently our debt has a blended rate of about 2%).

Keeping and increasing our dogs - 3 stars - This was a subject of a lot of the 256 posts in the original thread. When I arrived here 2 dogs and 3 cats, one dog a show Afghan being boarded while we were in a rental. Many pointed out that showing is a money pit, etc. This one sort of ended up different than I intended. We kept the Afghan but his show potential did not sufficiently materialize for us to feel it was worth the economic cost to show him (he was marginal and perhaps could have become a Champion but it would likely have been difficult and costly). So...3 years later, he is a shaved down, neutered pet and is not particularly costly to maintain. Having said that our other dog had puppies (intentionally - this was an expensive breeding) and we kept 3 of the puppies to show. For economic reasons -- not the merits of the dogs who are all good show material -- we haven't shown them much. So it hasn't hurt us that much economically. At the same time, dog showing is my DH's hobby not mine and I would be fine with never showing a dog and having a couple of dogs less than we have.

Not building a house- 5 stars - When I arrived here we had bought land and planned to build our dream house. It became clear we could build no house then (for 6 people living in it) that would make us happy later with just the 2 of us. So we abandoned the plan of building. I have never questioned that decision in the slightest and I still believe it was 100% the best decision.

Selling our land - 5 stars - We had bought and owed money on 3 acres of land. When we decided not to build, we sold it for $25k more than we had paid for it the year before. The proceeds from the sale paid for the loan to buy the land plus enables us to pay off our car loan.

Therapeutic school - 4 stars - A lot of people questioned this. It certainly was expensive for us and necessitated us having an au pair for transportation reasons. However, I can see how it benefited our son who is now in a less expensive private school and is on track to graduate high school at the end of the year. Having said that, in retrospect, we should have switched schools probably a year sooner than we did and had we done so it would have saved us maybe $30k to $50k. Still I prioritized this expense and I'm not sorry.

Car - 3 1/2 stars - We paid off our car loan early, even before lower rate credit card debt. With DH's bonus last year we sold our Excursion and bought a Prius. The Prius is a great car and certainly helps with gas mileage and I was glad to get rid of the Excursion which had almost 200k miles on it. At the same time, had we not bought the Prius we would be out of consumer debt now rather than still owing about $20k. But, buying the Prius put us in a situation where our car situation is stable. I think it was overall the right decision.

Maxing retirement contributions in 2008 - 2 stars We made this decision for good reason. Had we not done it we would have been out of debt last year. It is perhaps typical of my good luck that we decided to max out retirement contributions in the year that our 401ks had 40% loss. So despite the good reason for the maxing of contributions I truly wish now that we hadn't done it last year. FWIW, we did reduce contributions this year in order to accelerate debt payment and plan to go back to max contributions next year.

Computers - 3 stars I still recall the firestorm over the computers I bought. In early 2009, I bought a rather expensive Alienware gaming computer and followed it with replacing my notebook with one that wasn't the highest end but wasn't cheap either. I got a lot of criticism for this. On the negative side, we had power outage at home that ended up resulting in some very expensive repairs of the Alienware. On the other hand, 2 1/2 years later it is still powerful and meets all my needs and I have no need/desire to replace it any time soon. It should easily last another 2 or 3 years. The notebook still works although is more likely to need replacing although I may replace it with one of the mini notebook. And I confess that I used a bonus to buy an inexpensive back up desktop. I've come to terms with the fact that computers are important to me and I will likely always want to have a powerful computer and I need to factor this into the budget.

food - 2 1/2 stars Lots of people thought our food spending of $900 a month was outrageous. Truthfully, we were never able to even keep it at that. At times it was as high as $1500 to $1700 a month. I've constantly worked on this, tried all kinds of things. The best solution has been DH and I grocery shopping together and we have food, dining out and sundries down to about $1000 a month now (with 6 people in the house, the youngest is 12). I did do research on average food costs and this really isn't outrageous although I still look for ways to cut it.

Retirement planning - 3 1/2 stars Many voiced concern about our retirement planning. I've spent a lot of time on this. Of course, having our 401K go down over 40% hurt. At the same time we found out that DH's pension will give him a lump sum option of somewhere around $650,000 to $700,000 depending on when taken, maybe a little more. When you add up the lump sum, the 401(k)s, and social security we would be OK if we never saved another penny. If you add in 5 more years of retirement savings things look good.

Of course, the variables are the killer. What if social security vanishes? If that happened then we would have to work another 10 years saving huge amounts of money. OTOH, how likely is it that it would vanish entirely given that DH turns 62 this year and I'm mid-50s? My working assumption is to use half of estimated Social Security in projections. What happens if DH's pension somehow goes away? It is fully vested and his company is doing well but you never totally know. There is the pension guaranty program which would pay him a pension but he wouldn't be able to do the lump sum. So this is something of a risk but not a huge one. And, what if inflation is high and investments don't recover? So, there is some uncertainty. However, if the pension (or lump sum) is there and at least half of social security and we have only 5 more years of savings for retirement then we are fine at our projected spending level. And, no I don't project anything close to our current income. Right now huge amounts of our income go to child related expenses and our current house. Eliminate those or greatly reduce them and our needs are not that huge.

Buying our current house - 1 1/2 stars - In retrospect, I wish we had made a different decision. I suggested to DH at the time that we rent until we were out of debt. He resisted this...partly because he and everyone else hated the small house we rented for 6 months. I didn't fight too hard to talk him into renting.

The current house in many ways is not that awful. Our house payments are about 13% of our gross income so they are by no means outrageous. And, we needed a house for 6 people. The house is beautiful and I enjoy living in it. But, I absolutely hate the lack of flexibility that we have. And, the house has been far more expensive to maintain than I thought it would be. Electric bills are high (the house is energy inefficient). The over 60 trees have been a huge upkeep ($8000 to clean up after the hurricane last year!). While we don't live in an area with huge declines in value I don't think we could sell this house and clear enough to pay a real estate agent and then have a 20% down payment for a smaller house. I really really really want to downsize. Our oldest son will graduate next year and go away to college. Our youngest is not in the therapeutic school any more so we don't need the au pair. He will live at home for at least a few years while in community college (he will be graduating high school at a young age). So a little over a year from now there will be only 4 of us and we could theoretically downsize. But, it will likely take a year to sell this house and I think to have enough cash we realistically can't sell for another 2 years or so. If we could sell this house a year from now I would be more happy with it. But more likely we can list it 2 years from now and it could easily take over a year to sell.