Category: Money

2019 Spending Recap for Our Family of 4

2019 Spending Recap for Our Family of 4

After tracking our spending down the penny in 2018, I gave myself a break so we could focus on paying off my student debts, getting our business debt well under control, and finishing our first investment build.

(We still rely on the magic of the the non-budget when it comes to managing our spending.)

However, it’s still very important to me that we’re honest with ourselves about where our money’s going.

With December widely regarded as the most expensive month on the calendar, tracking our spending in detail this month seemed like a good call. With these numbers, we can do some quick comparisons to 2018 to get an idea what we spent in all of 2019 as well as solidify our financial goals for 2020.

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Final Numbers for Our Sedona Building Experiment

Final Numbers for Our Sedona Building Experiment

Our building experiment in Sedona, Arizona has finally resulted in a livable house, and it has a scheduled closing date where it will change over from being under a construction loan to being under a regular mortgage.


In case we have not already bored you to tears with details on this: the build is a 3-bed, 2-bath main house with a separate “mother in law quarters” that is 2-bed, 1 bath. Both units have a kitchen and washer/dryer.

The Construction Loan

You can read about the early numbers (lot cost, down payment on the build, etc) in this post from December of last year.

We ended up borrowing $456k for the build itself, which was about what we planned on. The biggest surprise was that despite this being one of the last vacant lots in the middle of uptown Sedona, there was no gas line to the property. Getting one there cost $13k.

That $456k did include the excavation costs, which can be one of the higher-ticket items when building in the very rocky, cliff-covered landscape of Sedona.

Out of Pocket Expenses

We paid cash (via credit card) for our cabinets and and appliances, totaling around $20k.

Entryway and kitchen of the main house.

These purchases resulted in thousands upon thousands of American Air miles, British Air miles, and the BA Travel Together Ticket. We have already gained back about $11k from said miles, and there are over 190k miles (and the Travel Together Ticket) left to use. So we’re feeling good about that particular building/travel hack.

But back to the subject at hand…

Landscaping Costs

The internet tells me the rule of thumb on landscaping is to spend about 10% of the value of your home on landscaping.

The last time this project was appraised, the value was $706k. So $70k on landscaping would be acceptable, I suppose?

We are not spending anywhere near that that much on landscaping, although we are paying good money to have a well-reputed landscaper handle it for us. We’ll get you our final numbers (and pictures) as soon as it’s done.

The landscaping plan currently includes retaining walls all around the property (very necessary in our minds), six new trees (required by the City of Sedona despite the fact that this was a dirt lot full of weeds), gravel and flagstone work, two paver patios (in addition to the covered patio that is part of the house), and fancy sitting boulders, a built-in waterfall, and a built-in gas fire pit. There will be plenty of smaller foliage as well. All the plants will be native so no irrigation system will be needed.

We’re going to leave landscaping costs out of the grand total for now, not because we want to mislead anyone but because landscaping preferences are very individual and costs are so wildly variable depending on what you need and want done on your property.

Grand Totals

Some quick math with the above numbers tells you we have spent around $476k on this thing after the lot cost ($89k) and the down payment ($60k).

It’s probably most useful to say it this way: we’ve put in ~$170k of our own money into this (not including landscaping) and taken on a ~$460k loan (rounded up to account to for closing costs when it morphs into a regular mortgage and whatever else we may have missed).

Cost per Square Foot

Cost to build was $185/sq foot if you include the garage and covered patio (which has lighting, a ceiling fan, etc). It was $255/sq ft if you include only interior space.

I just read an article about building in Sedona that said to expect $300 – $350 per square foot on your new build. Some new homes are currently going up in the $800 – $1200 per square foot range.

It’s very possible that we’re building a peasant house in the middle of a town zoned exclusively for castles.

The reason Sedona is pricey.

Regardless, the median list price of new-ish homes in our area is well over what we spent. This is what we were aiming for in order to play it safe should we need or want to sell quickly.

The Mortgage

We’ll have $460k in debt on this thing as of January 2020; monthly payment with taxes and insurance will be $2.6k.

Our interest rate is 4.1%, because it’s a “second home” and our third mortgage (we have a rental in another state as well as our primary home).

We’ll let you know how it appraises in a couple weeks.

Happy New Year, everyone! See you in 2020!

All You Need is… Dreams?

All You Need is… Dreams?

The ever-popular topic of “How much does travel cost?” is back!

An acquaintance of mine was just asked about how she and her husband paid for their family’s 5-star, multi-month, international vacation. Fair question, I think, since they’ve been pretty public about how long and fancy the trip was. Her response was: “It’s not about money! It’s about our dreams! It’s about having faith!”

*Insert sound of me choking on coffee.*

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Living a Fancypants Life Without a Doctor’s Income

Living a Fancypants Life Without a Doctor’s Income

As you may already know, we got a quite a few awesome questions after sharing some details on the oh-so-taboo topics of our personal finances. You can click here for all the “money” posts (haha).

If you don’t want to read any of that but need a quick re-hash: we spent less than $80k in 2018 including all those fancy trips, we hit the milestone of repaying $500k in business loans in February, and in April I paid off the last of my gargantuan student loans. Yipee!

Anyway, several of the questions/ comments we’ve had about money things have been related to cost of living, which I did my best to address in my last post.

More From the Peanut Gallery

Before we get to the main topic of this post (fancypants lifestyles without a doctor’s income), let me address three comments that keep coming up in various forms:

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The “Cost of Living” Conundrum

The “Cost of Living” Conundrum

Wow, those last couple posts about money brought a few haters out of the woodwork!

In case you missed them, I’m talking about the post sharing our family’s spending in 2018 and the post about paying off my student loans.

I got a bunch of readers who were super supportive and enthusiastic, which was unexpected and very much appreciated. I got many a “Congratulations!!!” message about the student loans, as well as a lot of great questions about the details of our lifestyle and debt repayment.

It was overall really fun to share all that information with the internet world.

Bad News: Apparently I Lied. A Lot.

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Goodbye, Student Loans!

Goodbye, Student Loans!

In February of this year, I made some calls to the lovely folks at the Department of Education and Student Aid and confirmed that from 2005 to 2013 I took out almost $350,000 IN STUDENT LOANS!

A Brief History of My Loans

The exact total amount of money I borrowed for school – including tuition, fees, supplies, and “cost of living” funds – was $347,634.

That total is principal only and includes none of the interest accumulation, which was quite significant over the course of all those years.

The loans were dispersed between 2005, when I started dental school, and 2013, when I finished my specialty residency.

I had no debt coming out of undergrad, which I finished in 3 years at an in-state university. I got an academic scholarship and worked two jobs during college. And before that I went to a public high school and worked at a bakery, in case anyone is keeping score.

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Our Death-Defying Feat of Driving Old 2WD Cars (and How it Saved us $66k in 5 Years)

Our Death-Defying Feat of Driving Old 2WD Cars (and How it Saved us $66k in 5 Years)

My husband and I are now on our 18th winter of driving non-fancy 2WD cars in snowy climates. Locations we’ve driven said cars during winter include most of Colorado, Chicago and other “lake effect snow” parts of the Midwest, and our current mountainous hometown, which averages 100 inches of snow per year in town (double that on the higher mountains around us).

This past winter brought us one storm with over 35 inches of snow in 24 hours.

Our current vehicles are both 2WD. They were made in 2004 and 2007, were bought with cash, and cost us less than $100/mo total to insure. The costs for gas and regular maintenance (oil changes, etc) are negligible.

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Paying Taxes with a Credit Card

Paying Taxes with a Credit Card

Yes, I took that picture of the shark. No, I was not in the water with it (aquariums for the win), although I am proud to say I have snorkeled with sharks a couple of times. A shark picture seemed appropriate for a post about taxes and credit cards; they all are potentially scary, and they are frequently misunderstood.

So last month I put $24,130 of our personal taxes on a credit card. You read that right. The same person who tracked her family’s spending down to the penny last year, bought her kids second-hand toys for Christmas, and advocates super aggressive debt repayment just put tens of thousands of dollars of money she owed to the government onto a credit card!

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$500k of Business Debt Bites the Dust

$500k of Business Debt Bites the Dust

Honestly, it’s mind blowing for me to write this post. I have major imposter syndrome anytime I even think about numbers this high.

And before we go any farther: please don’t send me messages telling me I’m limiting myself by “not thinking big” or some such nonsense. These are freaking huge numbers. And not only on a global scale (where the median household income is under 10k) but in the USA as well (where the median household income is about $61k) and even in the shiny bubble of doctor salaries that I live in, where the average individual income is anywhere from $100k to $300k depending on your specialty and time in practice and blah blah blah.

So, yes, it feels crazy to write this post. It’s also really fun for me to write this post, because I’ve been waiting impatiently for this day ever since I realized it was within my grasp this calendar year.

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