Hello Again, Four Years Later

It’s been four years since I posted on this blog, and an amazing amount of life has happened in that time—with the attendant financial changes! In this post, I’m going to catch you up on the highlights.

A New Addition to the Family

In 2018, we had another baby, DPR2. 90%+ of people who met her remarked that she was an incredibly “chill” baby. Even so, two under 2 (and above 2) require a lot of labor, which is one of the big reasons this blog fell by the wayside. Now that DPR2 is 3, she’s not so chill, but she is very affectionate and imaginative. She and DPR1 are the best of friends.

Two Moves

When the pandemic set in, Kyle and I were both working out of our apartment in Seattle and our kids’ preschools closed for the remainder of the academic year. The children were 3 and 1 at the time. Managing all the work and childcare with no outside help was… a lot. I know that struggle wasn’t unique for us, but our solution was a bit out of the ordinary.

In August 2020, Kyle negotiated for permanent remote work with his employer, and we moved in with Kyle’s parents in Orange County, CA. That wasn’t plan A—in advance of our move, we were searching for rentals—but I’m so glad it worked out that way. Our family of four lived with them for eight months, and I look at it as a time of incredible respite. Not only was it simply nice to have two more adults around, but Kyle’s parents provided part-time childcare so that we could both keep up with our work. Also, we saved a boatload of money since we no longer paid housing or childcare expenses.

In May 2021, we moved to our own place in north San Diego County!

Home Ownership!

We bought our first home!!! In San Diego County, no less, which was our long-term dream!

Our search started in earnest in January 2021 and we closed in April 2021—at the PEAK of the real estate madness! It was definitely not the ideal experience for a first-time home purchase, but we’re happy with how it turned out. I shared alllllll the gory details in an episode of my podcast. (Oh, have I not mentioned my podcast??)

What I like about home ownership is my sense of permanence. We searched for not just a first home but a “forever” home (or 20+ years). Of course, we don’t know the future, but unlike every other place we’ve ever lived, we have no designs on leaving. I feel like I can really put down roots.

What I don’t like about home ownership is… just about anything else. I don’t like the responsibility for upkeep, the yard work (no that there is much), researching future improvements, and furnishing the house. (It’s about double the square footage of our last apartment.)

No, there are a couple more things that I like: I like our mortgage interest rate (just over 3%). And our mortgage was well under the max we could have been approved for, so our mortgage payment is quite manageable and we are not at all house poor.

Also: San Diego is awesome! We have been playing tourist in our new county for the last eight months, and we’ve just scratched the surface. There is so much fun stuff to do! And the weather is incredible!

Business Growth

It’s strange to say, but my business, Personal Finance for PhDs, grew quite a lot during the pandemic in particular. My 2021 revenue and profit were more than double those of 2020. A lot of that has to do with the relative abundance of childcare we’ve had, as well as the years of reputation growth.

When the pandemic hit, I wasn’t sure what would happen with the business, because the great majority of my revenue came from in-person speaking engagements. But my university clients were happy to book remote engagements (especially since I discounted my speaking fee—that brought in a lot of new clients), and I redoubled my efforts on serving individuals as well through a membership site and digital products.

I think I’m looking at a great 2022 as well, and I have ambitious revenue goals that I’m considering documenting on EPF.

It’s worth mentioning that even with the growth, the business is still a good lifestyle business, which I want to maintain. DPR1 and DPR2 are in school now, (kindergarten and full-time preschool, respectively), but that’s really only about 6 hours per weekday, and I’m able to be with them in the afternoons until Kyle finishes work. Not traveling for work also enhances the lifestyle aspect of the business.

Financial Advisor

In mid-2021, Kyle and I started working with a financial advisor, mostly to help with our new tax complications due to buying the home and my business growth. Oh, and Kyle received a large raise in early 2021 as well. We committed to working with the advisor for a year, and we’ve made a couple of big changes so far at her urging (with more on the horizon), such as opening and starting to fund a 529.

One of our big goals for 2021 was to keep our AGI under $150,000 (or as close as possible) so that we could receive the maximum benefits related to the 2021 Child Tax Credit and other stimulus. To that end, we contributed to Kyle’s 401(k) for the first time.

Retirement Investing

From 2015 through 2020, we kept our retirement investing rate to 20% because we were also saving up cash for our house down payment. During that time, we only ever used our Roth IRAs and the employee side of my solo 401(k). We avoided using Kyle’s 401(k) because 1) there was no match offered and 2) it is with Edward Jones (read: very high-fee).

However, once the house purchase went through, we lifted that self-imposed cap on our investment rate, and instead switched our goal to maxing out all retirement accounts available to us to minimize our AGI.

By the 12/31/2021 deadline, Kyle maxed our his 401(k) (did it over about 5 months—quite a bite to the paycheck!) and I contributed as much as I thought was reasonable to the employer side of my solo 401(k). Between now and 4/15/2022, we need to finish maxing out the employee side of my solo 401(k). We also want to finish maxing out our Roth IRAs (not that they will help with the AGI). All while Kyle is contributing to his 2022 401(k) already! We have the cash and cash flow to do all of this—it’s more about feeling comfortable letting go of the cash given our other financial goals like installing solar panels on our house and buying a new-to-us car.


I’ve become a closer observer of the FIRE movement since the start of the pandemic, primarily through listening to ChooseFI (the whole catalog and all new episodes), Afford Anything (new episodes as they strike my fancy), and BiggerPockets Money (all new episodes).

When I first encountered the concept of ER, I didn’t find it appealing. I feel differently now, at least with respect to FI, and I think it’s due to aging. In a way, our youth/being fresh out of PhD training was a competitive advantage that we are losing year by year. (Yes, we are gaining advantages in other ways, but it’s still a little unnerving.) Being FI (even CoastFI or LeanFI) would take the pressure off of having to work/maintain an income if the market shifted.

Plus, we have a limited amount of time with our kids at home, and I want to make wonderful memories with them while we are all living together, and that might mean downshifting at work at some point.

I guess I’m thinking of FIRE as a way of tracking progress and feeling secure rather than a timeline on changing anything. But I haven’t calculated any numbers yet!

Room for Improvement

The pandemic intensified the problem we already had with taking intentional time away from work. We don’t rest enough, we don’t vacation enough. Pre-pandemic, we thought it was because our kids were too little and we had higher priorities for our money. During the pandemic, we thought it was because there was nowhere to go. Now, I see it’s a personality trait that I’d like to change. The various waves of COVID-19 are helping me realize that you have to seize opportunities when you have them. We aren’t guaranteed good health, we aren’t guaranteed conditions that facilitate rest/vacation/travel.

So I’m considering one or more vacations in summer 2022, when I hope we’ll feel comfortable about traveling. Not that you have to spend $$ to vacation, but I think I would like to make it a bigger part of our budget than it has been. We’ve done so much obligation travel over the last 15 years… it’s time for us to pick some destinations. To help with the cost, I am pursuing the Southwest companion pass in 2022 (+2023). I opened a personal Southwest card in December 2021 and will meet the minimum spend in January 2022. I will open a business Southwest card ASAP in 2022.

I think that about sums it up! I won’t make any promises about posting frequency going forward, but I hope to resume using this blog to share my personal personal finance updates and thoughts.

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4 Responses to "Hello Again, Four Years Later"

  1. Angela says:

    So great to see a new post! I have to say, one of your older posts really put me on a path of thinking about budgeting and investing as a grad student back then!

    1. Emily says:

      Hey, what do you know, someone’s still following!

      Thanks for letting me know the blog influenced you! Have we been in touch before? You sound like a great candidate for an interview on the Personal Finance for PhDs Podcast – please consider volunteering (http://pfforphds.com/podcastvolunteer/)!

      1. Angela says:

        I was a stealth reader 🙂 I’ve started blogging about personal finance targeted towards the PhD crowd recently. I’ll think about volunteering, I don’t feel like I have a lot of interesting things to say!

        1. Emily says:

          If you’re blogging on the subject, you can definitely give a podcast interview! Hope to hear from you. 🙂

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