Frugality House Hacking Retirement

Life in the Times of COVID-19

To summarize, we’re a little over 5 weeks into self-isolation. The first case of COVID-19 in Oregon was identified on February 28th.

By the week of March 9, my boyfriend was starting to feel ill-at-ease about the situation unfolding; he was persistent in asking me to start working from home, but I still felt uncomfortable making that request. By mid-week, two of my coworkers informed me that they’d made the decision to work remote.

It was a Thursday when I decided I wasn’t going to return the next day. I didn’t speak to my boss about it outright — just grabbed all my food from the work fridge into my backpack, put what I couldn’t carry into the freezer, and left with the expectation that it would be a while before I’d be back.

That weekend, I privately messaged our office manager to ask if we were going to join other tech companies in closing our office; the response wasn’t definitive. But on Sunday night I got the email announcing mandatory work from home.

Except for a couple of errands in which we practiced extreme social distancing and precautionary measures, we’ve both been fully at home since March 13th.


My boyfriend got laid off when the retail store he works at was closed on the 17th or 18th. Rather than it being a blow, we were ridiculously grateful that he could stay safe and away from the general public.

Side note: a pandemic is not a time to be buying ukeleles, people.

His unemployment application has been filled out, but we’re still waiting for a status on the funds.

We’re highly fortunate that my job can be done remotely and that we can afford our necessary expenses on my income alone.

I was surprised to receive a raise during my performance review last week. Because I’ll now be salaried and the income will be less subject to my own personal whims, I’ll end up pulling in an extra ~12-15k per year. Despite my deep hesitation about being a salaried employee, I’m taking the offer to ensure our stability.

The gratitude I feel to have this job is accompanied by a deep survivor’s guilt. Why am I still employed, and safely able to work in my home, when so many people don’t have that luxury?

I need funnel some extra money to helping others; I’ll be trying to figure out where I can donate that will have the greatest impact on helping others.

Pausing the House Hunt

This doesn’t feel like the right time to continue with our house hunt, so we’re putting this goal on pause. We’re just keeping everything extra in the bank right now. If we need to use the house fund for an emergency, so be it.

We’ll resume the hunt next year (I’m assuming) if and when things return to a less-nightmarish state.


Groceries, where do I begin with you?

Groceries have been a huge inner battle for me. We started using Instacart when we began self-isolating because of their no-contact delivery.

However, I feel extremely guilty about passing off my chores to other people because of my fear of going to the grocery store. I’m making sure to tip well, and placing larger orders infrequently.

We also found a local restaurant food supplier that extended their services to supplying residential customers. Beans and rice are the base of many of our meals, so the fact that all of our bins were running low made me jump on the opportunity to get in a large order with this company. (I wasn’t able to find beans or rice on any other grocery website.)

Our order looked something like this:

  • 50 lb lentils
  • 50 lb white rice
  • 50 lb black beans
  • 25 lb rolled oats
  • 25 lb garbanzo beans
  • 50 lb flour
  • 2 gallons vinegar
  • 2 gallons bleach
  • A box of food prep gloves
  • 2 16 oz. tubs of our favorite local salsa
  • 5 lb each of macaroni and spaghetti
  • A variety of produce: frozen okra, frozen spinach, pink lady apples, bell peppers, avocados, and zucchini

The order was over $300, but having the food handy has brought us so much peace of mind.

Now we just need to worry about keeping it safe and well-preserved.

Retirement Investing

I’ve just stopped looking at my Fidelity dashboard for the most part. Every now and then I’ll log in, but I don’t have much anxiety on this front. I know the market falls and rises, and this too shall pass.

After a precipitous drop from its high of nearly $15,000, the value of my Roth IRA has been trying to make a comeback. As of today, it’s at a little over $12,000.

My balance history over the last two years, showing a steady rise from around $2,000 to nearly $15,000, with a steep drop to around $10,000 just before April 2020.

I do find it highly amusing that the developers at Fidelity moved the ‘Your Balance History’ section to the bottom of the dashboard multiple times over the last month — I’m assuming to keep people from panicking.

Frugality House Hacking

The House Hunt Begins + Checking My Privilege

Let me start this post off by saying — I wasn’t expecting any help from my family when I started saving for a down payment.

When I talked to my mom and dad on the phone (separately, as they’re divorced) about my wild rental real estate dreams, they’d say, “Wow, that sounds like a great idea!” But that was that.

I’d tell them I wasn’t ready to buy anytime soon, but that I wanted to start saving now.

I’d worry to my mom about my plan to stop contributing to my Roth IRA for the next year while saving for a multifamily property. She murmured her worry but said, “Well, if it’s only temporarily…”

My Family Privilege

I’ve been blessed all my life to have a financially stable family. I’ve never wanted for anything. And they supported me financially through college so that I could graduate debt-free.

I wasn’t good with managing money in college, so I still got myself into a mess with credit cards while trying to live the carefree, fun life in college. I collected tons of late payment and overdraft fees along the way.

But since college I’d been trying to make my way in the world without turning to them for help.

I continued to make idiotic decisions with credit cards, repeatedly got myself into deeper debt buying crap I didn’t need, and make a ton of other dumb money mistakes.

But I figured my shit out eventually and have been on solid financial footing for the last 2.5 years. 🙌🏽

Mamá to the Rescue

When he heard about my plans to save for a property, my coworker was kind enough to refer me to his realtor friend. I was kind of iffy about contacting him since we were at least a year away from being able to afford a down payment, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to take a meeting and ask some questions.

I told my mom I was thinking of giving him a call.

It must not have occurred to her that I was really serious about purchasing a rental property in the next few years, because she immediately said, “I had no idea you were thinking so soon! Well, I have a proposition for you…”

And then came her offer to contribute money for the down payment. 😭

I couldn’t even believe it — I was so blown away and immensely grateful for my mom’s generosity and support. Gracias, mamá. 💕

The Current Numbers

My mom said that she would most likely be able to contribute 25k toward a down payment. (Holy shit.)

Assuming I get pre-approved for a $325,000 home — which is what my realtor estimated — that would cover the 3.5% down payment (for an FHA loan) and closing costs.

$11,375 (down payment) + $9750 (closing costs of 3% purchase price) = $21,125

I’m not going to stop saving though. Since January, I’m at a little over $4,000 saved out of my own pocket. That’s 83% of my goal to reach $5000 by June!

Screenshot of YNAB savings goal showing $4163 saved of my goal to reach $5000 by June.

I’m just going to keep on going, since I’d rather have too much saved than not enough. Especially considering there are going to be other costs involved — inspections, possible repairs and renovations, vacancies, etc.

Plus, the more money that can stay in my mom’s pocket, the better. 💰👩🏽

Next Steps

I spent a whopping 3-4 hours yesterday filling out mortgage applications. It was brutal.

Never have I had greater regret about having 4 separate accounts at different banks and credit unions. Having to upload 2 months of statements for each account, and then having to enter separate savings and checking account balances for each institution — TIMES 3 APPLICATIONS.

I was a Grumpy McGrumperson. I straight up removed one lender from my list too, because I was over it and their application interface sucked. 🙅‍♀️

That was yesterday, so I expect I’ll receive the results sometime this week. I still have some documents to upload that I need to track down. (Crossing my fingers that I saved my W2’s from way back in 2018.)

For now I’m just bookmarking houses and twiddling my thumbs.

Frugality House Hacking

2020 Financial Goals

Our Current Housing Situation

This year our rent is due to go up by $100, bringing it to around $1460.

A few details about our living expenses:

We rent a 3-bedroom house on the outskirts of Portland with a fully-fenced front yard and backyard.

Call it hedonic adaptation, but we’re very attached to our 3-bedroom, no roommate situation. Due to our very different wages, my boyfriend and I split the rent about 36/64. That brings my rent payment to $864 per month.

Cheap for what I get, but also more than I want to be paying.

The two extra rooms we have function as:

  1. A guest bedroom/art studio/office (The Multipotentialite Room) We usually have 1-2 overnight guests per month. This room handy saves me from crawling over air mattresses in the living room when people stay over. (Also, it keeps me sane because I need my introverted quiet time in the mornings.)
    I also use this room to set up my folding craft table; I use it for sewing, watercoloring, calligraphy, etc. When I meet with freelance clients over video chat or work from home, this room is my go-to.
  2. A recording studio My boyfriend is a musician and has his recording equipment set up in this room. When we have more than one guest staying with us at a time, they are wedged on the floor between his guitar amps and desk.

The Goal

I want to figure out a way for us to lower — if not eliminate — our housing expense. My ultimate goal is for us to cash flow our house; i.e. our tenants or roommates would cover the mortgage, leaving us some cash left over as profit.

Having a monthly rent payment this high has been getting in the way of my other financial goals. One of those goals is to achieve a 50% savings rate, allowing me to retire in my 40s.

To this point, I’m able to put between $1000-1700 away per month out of my $3300-ish after-tax income. (I’m an hourly employee, so the figures can vary.)

The Plan: Save for a down payment

This year, I’m going to reduce my Roth IRA contribution to start saving for a down payment. I want to pursue either a house hacking situation, or purchase a duplex or triplex for ongoing rental income.

I’ve found multifamily homes in the area ranging from $235,000-375,000. With an FHA loan, I need at least $8,225 for a down payment.

I’m going to break that up into two rounds of saving:

  1. $5,000 from January-June.
  2. $5,000 from July-December

(Mini goals make the world go round.)

Screenshot from YNAB budgeting app. Shows that savings goal for $5000 by June 1 is 31% complete but underfunded by $88.68 for this month.
My savings goal set up in the YNAB app. I’m underfunded this month because I accidentally left my automatic transfer to my Roth IRA active. Ooops. 😬

My Holdups

I’m unsure of how to balance my retirement contributions right now. I want to max out my Roth IRA for the second year in a row. But continuing to do that while I save for a home will slow down my ability to save for a down payment. (Especially when we’re planning a Hawaii trip win June with some family members.)

My Dave Ramsey roots tell me to put retirement on hold while saving for a down payment. On the other hand, the math nerd side of me doesn’t want to pull entirely out of the market.

I’ll probably end up throwing a little bit into my IRA every month. I don’t want to miss out on the magic of compounding interest.

Then more questions arise:

Do I try to look for a higher paying job?

Do I do freelance work to bring in extra cash to throw at my house savings?

I’m a huge proponent of hobbies, free time, and the whole anti-work movement in general. Thinking about selling even more of my time for extra cash hurts my heart.

Then — where are we even wanting to live?

We’ve been talking about leaving Portland for years now, but we’re still here because of my boyfriend’s music career. So while he’s still in the band, we have no definite action plan.

While I don’t have any answers yet, I know that our housing payment is a problem that needs fixing. And the only solution that makes sense to me is to start saving for something cheaper and income-generating.


Five Frugal Things

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for certain products that I recommend. That means if you click through and purchase, I’ll receive a small commission on the sale at no extra cost to you.

I gave my mom a DIY Deva Cut

I’ve been practicing the art of hair cutting on myself for many years. As a Curly Girl fanatic, I’d shared pictures of the awesome curly cuts I’d gotten from Deva stylists in the pasts.

She was very interested in trying out a Deva Cut when she came into town. I told her we could make an appointment at my favorite salon, but if she wanted to save some money I could try my hand at it instead.

The eternal penny-pincher, she opted for the latter.

I didn’t take a picture, but it looks awesome. She’s got an even more glorious and shapely mane of curls now!

Most of our holiday gifts were thrifted or made with love

With the exceptions of consumables and some tech items, most of the gifts centered around books, picture frames, and albums.

I repurposed a hideous project planner for my boyfriend by making a new cover for it. I copied some of his own drawings and went to town with my watercolor set. Then I used a page protector, lots of washi tape, and Scotch tape to affix it to the old cover. Here’s the result:

Watercolor cover featuring a strange looking creature holding a sign that says: 'Productivity Planner'. A grandfather clock is in the background. Glittery rainbow washi tape frames the art.

We rethought some of our subscription streaming services

We’ve been talking about cancelling our Netflix for a long time. Most of the time, we use the Hulu account we share with friends to watch content.

I was holding onto Netflix for my mom’s sake, as I was sharing the account with her. When she came up to visit for the holidays, she agreed that she didn’t like much of the content on there either. It was only encouraging her to binge watch shows she didn’t really like.

We also discussed her use of Amazon Prime. She wasn’t using the streaming service anymore. And since she doesn’t order much online, she made the decision to cancel it before the next renewal date.

All in all, we cancelled Netflix and set a cancellation reminder 3 days before the Prime renewal. Savings all around!

We replaced my headlight and wipers at home

While we go to Jiffy Lube (with a coupon) for regular oil changes, we do most everything else at home. This last time, they offered to replace my newly-dead headlight and my shoddy wipers at the shop.

I declined and instead picked up a pack of headlights from Walmart and a set of wiper blades from Costco. My SO (aka my personal mechanic) swapped those out at home, saving us some change on installation costs.

Invested in another 5 gallon storage container

I’d been eyeballing that 25 lb bag of black turtle beans at Winco for months. But our 5 gallon bin was still halfway full of pinto beans.

I figured we’d finish off the pinto beans and then switch to black beans for a few months. Finally, I’d had enough. Our house should have room enough for both pinto beans and black beans.

We now have a 3 storage containers to hold and protect our favorite bulk buys: jasmine rice, pinto beans, and black beans.

(I can’t remember the last time we bought a can of beans. It feels so good.)

Your Turn

What five frugal things did you do this week?


Five Frugal Things

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for certain products that I recommend. That means if you click through and purchase, I’ll receive a small commission on the sale at no extra cost to you.

I made a double batch of pinto beans in the Instant Pot.

Bean tacos. Beanadillas. Bean soup. Beans and rice.

Since we got our Instant Pot, we’ve had a bean revival in this household. I don’t know why, but I just wasn’t much for cooking dried beans before my beloved Instant Pot.

Not on the stove top. Not in the slow cooker.

Before the Instant Pot, we were trying to finish off a gigantic bag of pinto beans from Costco that we’d had for a little over 2 years.

Now we’re going through these things like crazy.

Here’s my favorite Instant Pot pinto bean recipe.

We should have enough pinto beans to last us until the middle of next week, I think. (Did I tell you we like our beans in this household?)

I started using my gym membership again.

My gym key tag gathered a lot of dust this year. It hurts to think of how many months went by without me setting foot in that place.

Reminder: a $10/month membership fee is not frugal if you don’t use it.

My plan of going after work wasn’t working. A too-full parking lot and my own mental exhaustion were enough to tip the scales in favor of me skipping the gym.

Instead, I decided to try going on my way into work instead. I’ve gone about 5 times since the beginning of last week, and it’s been a game changer.

I have so much energy throughout the day again. Also, I’ve had better discipline when it comes to cooking dinners at home in the evenings. Which brings me to…

I packed all my breakfasts and lunches for work this week.

Green drinks and oatmeal and curry, oh my!

I usually give in to cravings and buy Taco Bell and/or vegan sandwiches during the work week.

But my desire to stay on-budget during the holidays has been beneficial for my (lack of) fast food discipline.

Here are some recipes I’ve made this week:

Here’s a pic of my killer overnight oats.

That’s frozen berries, walnuts, flax seed, chia seed, raisins, oat milk, and pumpkin pie spice. 🤤

I DIY-ed part of my Curly Girl routine.

I’m a hardcore follower of the Curly Girl hair routine. Like most things, it can become very expensive if you let it.

I’ve been trying to use up all my stockpiled and half-empty hair products. After running out about a month ago, I finally went out in search of deep conditioner.

I wasn’t able to find any vegan or budget-friendly CG products at the store (we’re talking $10+ for a tub of deep conditioner). So I decided to wing it with the bottle of extra virgin olive oil in my kitchen cupboard. No complaints here, and my curls came back to life. Kind of like a water bear.

I didn’t — and will never — buy Spotify Premium because of free library alternatives.

I listen to Spotify at work and I love it.

But the ads drive me bonkers. Absolutely insane. They’ve figured out the perfect combination and frequency of Odwalla and ChexMix ads to drive me mad.

(I have added a strike-through because these brands are now on my blacklist for having the worst ads.)

I found out that hoopla (offered through the library) lets you check out and stream up to 10 full albums (ad-free) at a time.

That’s plenty of music for me, as a serial playlist- and song-repeater.

I’m so excited to get my music queued up for the next work week. Finally, I can avoid the maddening nature of ad-infused streaming services.

Your Turn

What five frugal things did you do this week?