Learning how to save, seventeen years later

Though I’m still internalizing the fact that I was self-employed last year, the IRS needs no convincing. If I had net earnings from self-employment over $400, which I very much did, then they consider me very much self-employed, and those earnings need to be reported. To be honest, this is something I’ve been chomping at the bit to do for some time, because it unlocks a brand new savings achievement: the Individual 401(k)! Also known as a Solo 401(k), it will allow me to contribute far more of my self-employment income than I could with just an IRA, plus I’ll have the potential to “match” my contributions as the plan’s employer.

To figure out how much I’d be able to contribute, I needed to do a dry run of our taxes. So back in November, I dusted off the spreadsheet I built to simulate Form 1040 and added the following in order to capture my self-employment income: Schedule 1 (Additional Income and Adjustments to Income), Schedule 2 (Additional Taxes), Schedule C (Profit or Loss From Business), and Schedule SE (Self-Employment Tax). Across all 4 schedules I only needed to input 3 values, highlighted in yellow below. The rest in gray are just references or simple calculations.

Screenshot of my spreadsheet simulating IRS Form 1040 Schedules 1, 2, C, and SE for 2023
Screenshot of my spreadsheet simulating IRS Form 1040 Schedules 1, 2, C, and SE for 2023

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Accidentally Unretired

Telling people “I accidentally retired” usually gets a chuckle, but it’s actually pretty spot-on. I fully expected to go back to work once Stephanie started grad school (because what else was I gonna do?), but I never did, and now here I am, five years later. I may need to retire that quip however, because 2023 sure seemed like the year I accidentally unretired. It all started with a humble Craigslist ad that I posted just over a year ago, offering to help people with their DIY projects—for free…

My offer didn’t exactly receive a groundswell of attention. In fact I only ended up working one gig for free, and just before taking off the guy slipped me $25 “for gas”. Meanwhile I kept an eye open for ads from people looking for help. After responding to one that seemed up my alley (the title read: Need helper in Pacific Grove yard clean up some digging [sic]), and hearing nothing back for several weeks, I got a text on Christmas asking if I was available the next day. Stephanie was scheduled to work the 26th, so yes, yes I was! He offered to pay me…and I kept mum about my ad. Turns out earning someone’s gratitude by doing work that directly helps them while also earning a little scratch in the process is a pretty intoxicating cocktail. Thus the “I’m not looking to be paid” line in my original ad eventually fell by the wayside.

Here’s a screenshot of its latest incarnation, circa December 2023:

Screenshot of my 'Need help with your landscaping or renovation project?' Craigslist ad, circa December 2023

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What To Do Next?

Judging by the cottage industry of books and videos hawking strategies for “Getting Things Done”, most people seem to be overwhelmed by how much they have to do. My challenge is the opposite; I have a hard time coming up with what to do next. Even when I get into something (like so many of my landscaping projects in Fresno), no matter how exacting I am with each step, no matter how much of my seemingly limitless time that I expend, ultimately I reach the end, and then once again I have to wrack my brain to invent another project, often more elaborate, sometimes more fringe, to occupy my time.

The start of a wave in Monterey Bay in black and white
The subtle start of a wave

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Learning how to save, sixteen years later

I like to reflect on the financial decisions I’ve made over the past year because trying to explain them, in writing, ultimately forces me to better understand the machinery involved, and often suggests additional actions I might consider taking, now or in the future.

“I’m sure you know the quote ‘Writing is nature’s way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is’, and knowing how sloppy your thinking is allows you to sharpen it, test your arguments, and test different explanations. I find, more often than not, that I understand something much less well when I sit down to write about it than when I’m thinking about it in the shower. In fact, I find that I change my own mind on things a lot when I try to write them down. It really is a powerful tool for finding clarity in your own mind.” —Marc Brooker in Writing Is Magic

So what happened in 2022?

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Time to Make the Eggnog

This is a reminder, as much to myself as anyone else, that if you’re reading this in early November, it’s time to make the eggnog—specifically aged eggnog—so it’ll be ready in time for the holidays.

Ingredients for a batch of aged eggnog (Maker's Mark bourbon, half-and-half, eggs) sitting on Jeep fender
Picking up the ingredients for our 2022 batch (already had sugar and vanilla)

I first learned about aged eggnog from Michael Ruhlman, after an extinct blog post he wrote in 2008, but it wasn’t until last November (4,700 days later to be precise—note to self: set a recurring calendar reminder) that I finally had the foresight to make some in time. And it was awesome! The idea occurred to me again yesterday, and along with it came this faint recollection that I had wanted to tweak the recipe, but I couldn’t recall how. Luckily I dug up an email from last year which helped me reconstruct the memory.

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