Reader Case Study: Loving Life in DC; Should I Buy a Co-op?

Taylor loves living in Washington, DC and enjoys her job in global public health. She likes to travel, spend time with her family and friends and has a stellar roommate/friend. The only trouble? She’s tired of renting and would like to buy a condo to start building equity and planning for her future. Can she afford a condo in our nation’s capital? Or would she be wise to consider a cheaper–but potentially less valuable–co-op condo?

What’s a Reader Case Study?

Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send in requesting advice. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, dear reader) read through their situation and provide advice, encouragement, insight and feedback in the comments section.

For an example, check out the last case study. Case Studies are updated by participants (at the end of the post) several months after the Case is featured. Visit this page for links to all updated Case Studies.

The Goal Of Reader Case Studies

Reader Case Studies intend to highlight a diverse range of financial situations, ages, ethnicities, locations, goals, careers, incomes, family compositions and more!

The Case Study series began in 2016 and, to date, there’ve been 79 Case Studies. I’ve featured folks with annual incomes ranging from $17k to $200k+ and net worths ranging from -$300k to $2.9M+.

I’ve featured single, married, partnered, divorced, child-filled and child-free households. I’ve featured gay, straight, queer, bisexual and polyamorous people. I’ve featured women, non-binary folks and men. I’ve featured transgender and cisgender people. I’ve had cat people and dog people. I’ve featured folks from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain, Finland, Germany and France. I’ve featured people with PhDs and people with high school diplomas. I’ve featured people in their early 20’s and people in their late 60’s. I’ve featured folks who live on farms and folks who live in New York City.

The goal is diversity and only YOU can help me achieve that by emailing me your story! If you haven’t seen your circumstances reflected in a Case Study, I encourage you to apply to be a Case Study participant by emailing your brief story to me at mrs@frugalwoods.com.

Reader Case Study Guidelines

I probably don’t need to say the following because you folks are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not condemn.

There’s no room for rudeness here. The goal is to create a supportive environment where we all acknowledge we’re human, we’re flawed, but we choose to be here together, workshopping our money and our lives with positive, proactive suggestions and ideas.

A disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. 

I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.

With that I’ll let Taylor, today’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Taylor’s Story

On Taylor’s afternoon walks in DC

Hi Frugalwoods, I’m Taylor! I’m single, 34, and living with a long-term roommate/friend on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. I grew up on the West Coast but moved to the East Coast for college and then DC for grad school.

In 2017 I moved back to the West Coast to be closer to family, especially aging grandparents and my two younger sisters who are my best friends. However, a series of difficult changes in my family, including the passing of my grandmothers, along with my lack of community/friends in my hometown helped me make the decision to move back to DC. I did that in May 2021 and I’m so happy. DC is where I spent all my 20s, really became the person I am today, and I have such a strong community of incredible girl friends here. I miss my family but talk to them frequently and visit several times a year.

Taylor’s Career

I work in the global health nonprofit sector and really enjoy my job. In the pre-pandemic days, I traveled internationally quite often to some off-the-beaten path places like Tbilisi, Georgia and Karachi, Pakistan. I was always able to add days on to my work trips for sightseeing, which was a real perk. I take points/miles earning for travel very seriously (this will become clear when you look at my credit cards) and have rarely paid cash for personal travel…though my points are running low after two years of no work travel. It’s been really odd being a public health professional during the pandemic. It’s so nice to have people understand what I do and its importance (and there is a lot more public funding for my work available too!) but it’s also been difficult to deal with all the misinformation, even among my own family members.

Taylor’s Upbringing

Airport Lounge Life

In terms of finances, my mother always said we lived a champagne life on a beer budget. My parents both worked blue collar jobs and didn’t have a lot of money for most of my life, which I was very aware of.

Additionally, my dad has chronic health issues that sometimes disallowed work for long periods of time, which was really stressful, financially and otherwise. However, both sets of grandparents were very well off and together they paid for all the “extras” in my sisters’ and my lives: private school (K-12), ballet lessons, piano lessons, yearly vacations.

They even paid for private tuition in college for me and gave me an interest-free loan for graduate school. This dichotomy really influences the way I approach my finances. I feel like I am good with my money and save a good amount, but I am certainly not frugal and I enjoy nice things.

When I’m not working, I enjoy reading, cooking/baking (I’ve made several wedding cakes for friends) and doing yoga. My weekends are usually (COVID permitting) fully booked with seeing friends and I’m dating a lot as well.

What feels most pressing right now? What brings you to submit a Case Study?

Tiles in Portugal, an add-on to a work trip

I wanted to submit a Case Study because I’m considering home ownership. I recently learned that DC has a number of cooperative housing communities (“co-ops”) and because of the variable rules imposed by the co-op boards (examples: no pets, no subletting, new buyers require board approval, renovations subject to board approval) they are significantly less expensive than regular condos.

Sadly, single family homes within the city are entirely outside the realm of possibility for me as a single lady. I’ve done some “window shopping” on RedFin/Zillow and talked to some lenders and learned that I could easily afford a 1-bedroom co-op (~$350K). But because of the rules specific to co-ops, they’re not quite the investment you would expect to get when buying real estate in a large urban center. Basically, it’s unlikely that something like this would allow me to build enough equity to level up into a house down the line. The other options are to stretch the budget to include condos and their associated equity building potential (~$500K), or continue renting a shared 2-bedroom plus den. Currently it is less expensive for me to rent, but this month my rent increased to almost $2,000/month and I could pay a mortgage and HOA (home owner’s association) fees for the same amount.

I’m also trying to balance the desire for home ownership and the accompanying stability with a strong desire for marriage and children. I am concerned about being heavily invested in something that might be difficult to offload if I need to move somewhere larger. But I’ve been dating for 10+ years without long-term success and I don’t want to put off something that would enhance my life because I’m not partnered (and don’t know when/if I will be).

What’s the best part of your current lifestyle/routine?

Taylor in Iceland

I absolutely love living in the city! I walk everywhere, my favorite route is around the Capitol building and down the National Mall. I also love how close all my friends are and I see several each week, including my goddaughter and her family. I also love living with my roommate. We met through a Craigslist roommate situation in 2013 and have been together ever since. We joke about growing old together. I also enjoy my job, the work is fulfilling and challenging, my schedule is flexible, the benefits are amazing and the ability to travel is a huge perk.

What’s the worst part of your current lifestyle/routine?

The global nature of my job makes having a routine difficult. Before the pandemic, traveling on a monthly basis and now having endless Zoom meetings from 7-9AM or 7-9PM to meet with colleagues on the other side of the world. And while my work is fulfilling I spend a lot of time on business development, which is my least favorite task.

Where Taylor Wants to be in Ten Years:

Paris Brest made by Taylor

Finances:

  • On track to have the option to be partially retired by 55.
  • In my field, there are a lot of short-term consulting opportunities, which really appeals to me. The ability to take on certain projects and then have extended periods of free time would be ideal.

Lifestyle:

  • I would love to be in DC (or the metro area) still and hopefully a homeowner, married with 1-2 kids.
  • I plan to remain close with my friends and family, making an effort to see them regularly.
  • And I hope to continue to regularly travel internationally for pleasure.

Career:

  • I’d like to stay in my field and ideally work for the government because I wouldn’t have to do business development anymore and it would be really stable (except during government shutdowns ha!).
  • I also think a lot about doing a PhD because I’d like to be more of a technical expert (see Finance goal). But I’ve watched a lot of friends struggle through PhD programs, so it is not super appealing. Plus I really enjoy making a normal salary.

Taylor’s Finances

Income

Item Amount Notes
Taylor’s Net Income $6,249 Minus 401k contribution (maxed out at ~$789/paycheck) and taxes; I do not pay any premiums on health/dental/other insurance. I am paid every two weeks, a couple months of the year have 3 pay periods, most have 2. This is my annual net salary divided by 12 months.
Monthly subtotal: $6,249
Annual total: $74,989.20

Debts: $0

Assets

Item Amount Notes Interest/type of securities held/Stock ticker Name of bank/brokerage Expense Ratio (applies to investment accounts)
401k $78,621 10% contribution from my employer, no match required. FXAIX Empower Retirement 0.015%
Rollover IRA $72,132 From prior employers SNXFX (56%), SCHH (3.5%), SCHF (9%), SCHO (1%), SCHB (24%), SCHA (6%) Charles Schwab SNXFX (0.05%), SCHH (0.07%), SCHF (0.06%), SCHO (0.04%), SCHB (0.03%), SCHA (0.04%)
Roth IRA $50,404 Typically max this out, haven’t done so this year while trying to increase my cash in case of home purchase. SWISX (14%), SWSSX (13%), SWTSX (67%), SWRSX (6%) Charles Schwab SWISX (0.06%), SWSSX (0.04%), SWTSX (0.03%), SWRSX (0.05%)
Savings account $27,000 Emergency Fund Cash Ally Bank N/A
Savings account $23,000 Big Purchase Fund Cash Ally Bank N/A
SEP IRA $5,045 Did some work on the side for my boss in 2019-2020 and put 25% of my earnings here. SWPPX Charles Schwab 0.02%
Checking account $2,784 I do not keep much here, I like to have about $3K here at all times and will transfer to/from Ally as needed. Cash Charles Schwab 0.03%
Individual stocks $2,730 Bought Netflix for fun NFLX (17%), FDIS (11%), FTEC (8%), SWPPX (64%) Charles Schwab FDIS (0.084%), FTEC (0.084%), SWPPX (0.02%)
Total: $261,715

Vehicles: none

Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Rent $1,918 2 Bed + Den / 2 Bath; split with roommate, this is my half.
Travel $388 Flights, Hotels, and Meals while on personal travel. Includes credits noted in CC section.
Groceries $367 Includes household items (toilet paper, cleaning products, laundry detergent, etc.) and some beer and wine.
Home Furnishings/Improvement $322 Furniture and Décor
Clothing & Shoes $320 Includes a monthly Rent the Runway subscription ($140).
Restaurants $285
Other Shopping $264 Includes $2,600 I spent getting jewelry I inherited from my grandma reset.
Rideshare/Taxi $246 I don’t have a car so it’s this plus public transit.
Alcohol & Bars $211 Includes an every other month wine (6 bottle) subscription
Gifts $127 I’m in the wedding/baby season of my life and contribute to my goddaughter’s college fund.
Personal Care $110 Includes massages, pedicures, skin/beauty products
Medical Expenses $84 I have a couple chronic conditions that require maintenance.
Credit Card Annual Member Fees $82 See breakdown below. It’s been difficult to justify having all of these during the pandemic, but I’ve been loathe to cancel them with all the uncertainty about returning to travel when they’ve given me so much value in the past.
Charity $78 Monthly donations to two organizations doing work I’m passionate about.
Utilities $77 Water, Electric, Trash
Term Life and Disability Insurance $72 My company offers me disability but I took out personal policies years ago because my dad has had health issues that have caused long periods where he couldn’t work and it was difficult on our family finances. I took out term life when I still had student loans to pay, but figure at this point I’ll keep it.
Arts and Entertainment $52 I attend the symphony, ballet, and some comedy shows.
Cell Phone $42 Still on the Family Plan
Pharmacy $37 Includes various personal care items like deodorant, face wash, or vitamins.
News(letter) Subscriptions $36 NYTimes and 2 newsletters from favorite creators
Coffee Shops $32 Usually travel related
Hair $31 I get cut 2x per year and highlights 1x
Movies and TV $30 Includes Netflix and Apple TV, my roommate pays for Hulu and HBO Max, we don’t have cable.
Fast Food $25 Includes infrequent delivery
Books $24 Purchased from local bookseller
Dentist $21 I had some preventative work done recently, otherwise this category is usually $0
Internet $20 Shared with my roommate, Comcast is our only option in the building
Gym $20 Recently returned to in-studio yoga classes, I expect this to increase if we continue to have low COVID case counts.
Eye care $12 Includes contacts
Monthly subtotal: $5,333
Annual total: $63,996

Credit Card Strategy

Card Name Rewards Type? Bank/card company Annual Fee Relevant Benefits
Chase Sapphire Reserve®  Travel Chase Bank $550.00 3x points on travel and dining, 10x on Lyft, no foreign transaction fees, $300 travel credit, primary rental car insurance waiver, trip insurance, lost/delayed luggage insurance.
Chase Freedom Flex℠ Cash Back/Travel Chase Bank $0.00 5x on rotating categories, points can be transferred to Sapphire Reserve and are worth more
Barclay Arrival Plus Card Travel Barclays Bank $89.00 2x points on everything; Not many, got for sign-up bonus and should probably cancel before next year’s fee is levied.
United℠ Explorer Card Travel Chase Bank $95.00 2x points on United, Free checked bags (2), priority boarding, 2 lounge passes
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Travel Capital One $95.00
American Express Green Card Travel American Express $150.00 3x pts on travel and dining, no transaction fees, $100 Clear credit (I get discounted price due to airline status, so only out $9)
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express Cash Back American Express $0.00 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations, on up to $6,000 per year, then 1%.
Total annual fees: $979.00

Taylor’s Questions For You:

Chesapeake Bay on a Girls Trip

1) Should I seriously consider buying a co-op even though it might not be an investment and would potentially be difficult to sell?

2) Should I take into account my hoped-for-family when considering buying a place? For example, stretch the budget to get a 2-bedroom so that there’s more flexibility?

3) If I continue to save as I have, am I on track to partially retire (Coast FIRE?) by age 50 or 55?

4) Are there any points/miles aficionados out there that can advise on whether I should cancel any of my credit cards (I’m already thinking the Barclay Arrival+ and/or CapitalOne)?

Liz Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Taylor’s doing a fantastic job! Most of what we’ll discuss today are small tweaks to her already A+ financial management system. I love a good check-in, even when there’s nothing disastrously wrong. Never hurts to ensure you’re on the right track! The thing about money is that small decisions can have pretty major ramifications over the years, so it’s always wise to test your assumptions and double check the decisions you’ve made. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to do that today, Taylor!

Taylor’s Question #1: Should I seriously consider buying a co-op even though it might not be an investment and would potentially be difficult to sell?

I think that whatever decision Taylor makes, now is not the time to buy a house. The issue is that interest rates have increased (and are likely to continue to do so), but housing prices haven’t yet moderated. So, we’re in a situation where housing prices are high and interest rates are high. Ideally, Taylor waits until one (or both) of those things cool off. If we head into a recession, that could be exactly what happens, which might give Taylor the perfect opportunity to pounce on a property. All that to say, if it were me, I wouldn’t buy a house right now. But all is not lost! Taylor now has a lovely opportunity to do housing research!

Seeing the Nutcracker in Tbilisi, Georgia during a work trip

She can:

  • Go to open houses
  • Start tracking what homes actually sell for (this information is available online after a home closes)
  • Discern the neighborhoods she prefers
  • Get a real sense of what’s available on the market in her price range so that when the time comes to buy, she’ll be confident in her choice
  • Continue saving up for her down payment

Co-op vs. Condo

Condos and co-ops both have a lot of restrictions, but it really depends on the specific association (in the case of a condo) or board (in the case of a co-op) because it varies a lot. In both instances, you’re dealing with a governing body, HOA fees, rules and restrictions. But it’s ultimately a question of whether or not those rules/restrictions matter to you personally.

For example: when my husband and I were house-hunting in the city, condos and co-ops were off the table for the simple reason that most don’t allow owners to rent out their unit. Since we knew we eventually wanted to turn our city home into a rental property, that wasn’t going to work for us. But if you don’t ever want to rent your place out, that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for you. I think the specific co-op or condo association will be much more important to research than the blanket distinction of co-op versus condo. Particularly in a perennially hot market like DC!

Things to research about a co-op or condo association you’re considering joining:

  1. Ferry to Orcas Island in Washington State

    What’s the monthly HOA (home owners association) fee and what does this cover?

  2. What are the association’s reserves?
    • This is probably the MOST important thing to understand since an under-resourced association is likely to increase HOA rates or levy a special assessment at some point, which there’s nothing “special” about, it’s when you have to pay the association a lump sum for something like a new roof for the building. Conversely, if the association has a healthy reserve, they may not need to do a special assessment for the roof.
    • This is something to take special note of because, while an association with low HOA fees may seem attractive, it could be that the association hasn’t been building up their reserves properly and will be forced to levy a special assessment to the tune of, say, $50k per resident to fix the leaking roof.
  3. Relatedly, are there major capital projects on the horizon likely to necessitate a special assessment?
  4. What’s the governance structure of the board? Who is on the board and how long have they been serving?
  5. What are the specific rules and restrictions of the association?
  6. How many units are part of the association?
  7. How many units are owner occupied vs. rented? (Sometimes associations will allow short-term or sporadic rentals, but not long-term rentals, which could make for interesting neighbors).
  8. What common areas/amenities are you allowed to access and how are they maintained?
    • While things like a pool are awesome, they also require more $$$ to maintain.
  9. When it comes time to be interviewed by the board, make sure that you’re interviewing them too! Come prepared with your questions and don’t be afraid to ask.

There are certainly differences between condos and co-ops and I really like this article from BankRate, which gives the full rundown:

Geeko in Hawaii, Taylor has family there and visits often

Price Differences:

A co-op is often cheaper than buying a condo… However, the down payment for a co-op can be high. While condo owners can take advantage of lower-down payment mortgages, such as a 3 percent conventional loan, most co-ops require a down payment of 10 percent to 20 percent… Closing costs for a co-op are likely to be lower than the final expenses on a condo, as you won’t need to pay for some fees, like title insurance.

…mortgage lenders are more likely to issue loans for a condo than a co-op. That’s because if a borrower defaults on a condo loan, the lender has real property to deal with rather than shares, which can be harder to sell.

Fees:

Co-op fees tend to be higher than condo fees because co-ops roll all the monthly expenses into one bill, including gas, water and property tax.

Governance:

…Co-ops are notoriously more stringent in who’s allowed to buy, often requiring background checks, referrals and other personal information. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of a co-op, that governance arrangement can be a significant drawback if you want to sell your membership share. The co-op board can turn down your buyer for any number of reasons.

I would again say that now’s a great time to do extensive research into the specific condo associations and co-ops Taylor might be interested in joining.

Taylor’s Question #2: Should I take into account my hoped-for-family when considering buying? For example, stretch the budget to get a 2-bedroom so that there’s more flexibility?

Interesting art at the Renwick, a Smithsonian in DC

This is a tough one. In general, I’m a proponent of planning ahead, but in some cases, it doesn’t make sense to limit yourself in the present for a future that may or may not happen. I’m going to turn this question back to Taylor:

  1. Do you want to have children no matter what? Are you interested in becoming a SMC (single mom by choice)?

If the answer is yes, it probably does make sense to plan for children when buying a home. But if having children isn’t a priority, or you’re not interested in pursuing children without a partner, it probably makes a lot less sense. You can’t control other people–you can’t control whether or not you’ll find a partner–but you can control the choices you want to make. And if having children is a choice you’re going to make no matter what, then you can (and should) plan for their eventual presence in your life.

The other consideration is that you can’t know where your future partner will live or will want to live. I think it’s tough to buy a home for someone you haven’t met yet because there are a million reasons why that home might not work out in the context of your partnership. Kids, on the other hand, are happy to live wherever their parent is. Does that make sense?

It’s also important to remember that Washington, DC is a scorching hot real estate market and I really can’t imagine Taylor would have that much trouble selling her place in the future–even a co-op with restrictions on potential buyers. It’s ok to choose one thing now (a one-bedroom co-op, for example) and choose another thing for the next chapter of your life. Most people don’t stay in the same home for their entire lives and that is ok.

Taylor’s Question #3: If I continue to save as I have, am I on track to partially retire (Coast FIRE?) by age 50 or 55?

Peak Bloom in DC

This depends on Taylor’s income and living expenses at that time. At present, she’s living a sustainable lifestyle as long as she doesn’t plan to retire early. If she decides she wants to retire early, she’ll need to do the two-step: 1) increase income; 2) dramatically reduce spending. However, if she wants to continue working to a traditional retirement age, she can just keep on keeping on.

The technical definition of Coast FIRE, according to Business Insider:

Reaching Coast FIRE [financial independence retire early] means you no longer have to save money to reach retirement. The difference between Coast FIRE and regular FIRE is that with regular FIRE, you no longer need income to retire. With Coast FIRE, you still need income to cover expenses, you just don’t need to worry about saving money for retirement.

With Coast FIRE, you continue working your job in order to cover your expenses, but you don’t need to earn enough to also invest for retirement. You let your investments “coast” until you retire. In light of that, it is likely Taylor would be able to reduce her hours and let her investments coast–as long as she still earns enough to cover her annual expenses.

Asset Allocation

Let’s dive into Taylor’s assets to see how she’s situated at present!

Pistachio Cardamon Morning Buns baked by Taylor

1) Retirement: $206,202

Taylor has $206,202 between all of her retirement accounts, which doesn’t include Social Security. Let’s refer to Fidelity’s retirement guideline:

Aim to save at least 1x your salary by 30, 3x by 40, 6x by 50, 8x by 60, and 10x by 67.

Since Taylor’s 34, she should have somewhere between 1x and 3x her salary, which is $74,989 to $224,967. Given that, she’s in perfect shape! As long as she continues investing as she is, she’ll be on track for a great retirement. When she nears her desired Coast FIRE age, she can do these calculations again and also take into account her expected Social Security payments to determine if she can stop saving for retirement and reduce her hours at that point.

2) Cash: $52,784

Since Taylor’s expenses total $5,333 per month, she should have an emergency fund (cash held in a checking or savings account) totaling $15,999 (three months worth of expenses) to $31,998 (six months worth of expenses). In light of that, she’s actually a bit overbalanced on cash. However, since she’s planning on buying a home, I think it makes sense to have a cash cushion–she’ll need this and more for a downpayment, closing costs and moving expenses.

Taken during the White House Garden Tour

That being said, if Taylor decides against buying and wants to remain a renter (which there’s nothing wrong with), she’ll want to consider a more profitable deployment of her extra cash–such as investing in the stock market. Cash sitting in a savings/checking account isn’t a good long-term strategy since the interest rates on those accounts are typically super low and don’t even keep up with inflation. However, you should still make sure your cash accounts are earning something in interest–never settle for no interest!

For example, if Taylor moved her $52,784 into American Express’ High Yield Savings account, which earns 0.75% interest as of this writing, in one year her $52,784 would grow to $53,180 (affiliate link). She’d earn $396 per year just for having her money in this high interest account. So again, not a viable long-term investment strategy (since the average annual stock market return OVER TIME is 7% annually), but it’s WAY better than nothing! By the way, the interest rates on savings accounts are like the ONE good thing about the Feds raising interest rates.

3) Non-retirement Investments: $2,730

Taylor attends the National Symphony Orchestra playing at the Kennedy Center

While this isn’t a ton of money, I do question Taylor’s deployment of “buying Netflix for fun.” She is 100% correct that picking individual stocks should be seen as “fun” and not as a viable investment strategy. But, given how thoughtful she is with the rest of her money, why do this?

You do you; but, if it were me, I would move all of this into a low-fee total market index fund. But you know, I’m the “index and chill” gal. Plus, it seems that with the incredible competition in the streaming market right now, Netflix may not be the best investment. I like that Taylor selected a brokerage–Charles Schwab–known for low fees (see last month’s Case Study for a deep dive into the crucial, crucial, crucial importance of understanding investment fees and expense ratios).

While the fees Taylor listed are pretty low, they’re not the lowest. Here are the three brokerages and funds with the lowest fees (that I know of):

  • Fidelity’s Total Market Index Fund (FSKAX) has an expense ratio of 0.015%
  • Charles Schwab’s Total Market Index Fund (SWTSX) has an expense ratio of 0.03%
  • Vanguard’s Total Market Index Fund (VTSAX) has an expense ratio of 0.04%

5) Monthly Expenses: $5,333

Wood fired hot tub boating in Seattle

There’s no imperative, at present, for Taylor to reduce her spending. If/when she gets serious about buying a place, she may need to eliminate the extra/discretionary expenses for awhile in order to build up a greater cash reserve for her down payment, closing and moving costs.

But, she’s perfectly comfortable at this spending level. The fantastic thing about tracking your spending is that you know exactly where your money’s going and you know exactly which levers you can dial back when/if you need to save more. I love the free service from Personal Capital, which automates my expense tracking for me.

The two expenses I question:

  1. Term Life Insurance: with no dependents and no debts, there’s no reason for Taylor to have this.
  2. Cell phone bill: you know what I’m going to say here… Taylor can spend a good deal less by transferring to an MVNO. I always suggest this switch because it is THE easiest way to get the same thing for less money.

Here are a few MVNOs to consider (affiliate links):

For more, I have a full chart of providers and their prices here: How to Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill with an MVNO: I Pay $12 a Month

Taylor’s Question #4: Are there any points/miles aficionados out there that can advise on whether I should cancel any of my credit cards (I’m already thinking the Barclay Arrival+ and/or CapitalOne)?

The way I’d look at this is as follows:

Are you getting more than $979 (what you’re paying in annual fees) in benefits from the cards?

If yes, then the cards–and their annual fees–are worth it. If not, they’re not worth it.

I suggest doing a thorough accounting of how she’s using these points and the relative value of each card. And I would compare this to the value she’d derive from a cash-back credit card because cash is something you will always use, whereas travel rewards are sometimes used, sometimes not. Furthermore, there are lots of cash-back cards with no annual fee, such as the two she already has:

Lalibela in Ethiopia, another work trip add-on

1) Blue Cash Everyday® from American Express offers:

  • 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
  • 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations, on up to $6,000 per year, then 1%.
  • 1% cash back on other purchases.
  • Earn a $200 statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months.
  • No annual fee. Rates and fees details here.
  • Terms apply.

2) Chase Freedom Flex offers:

  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate.
  • New 5% categories each quarter.
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • No annual fee.

An art installation in Taylor’s neighborhood

It’s important to remember that your annual spending is finite and thus, so are the points you can accrue. I choose to use primarily one cash-back card since it doesn’t have an annual fee and I know I’ll use the cash back I earn. But there’s also nothing wrong with responsibly managing a stable of credit cards (as long as you pay them off every month). It’s just important to ensure you’re actually deriving enough value to make the annual fees worthwhile.

The credit card links are affiliate links.

Summary:

  1. Accept that now’s not the time to buy a house given the current white hot housing market and rising interest rates.
  2. Now’s the time to research specific co-ops and condo associations, gather information on prices, neighborhoods and HOAs.
  3. Determine if her future definitely includes children, or if children are contingent upon having a partner as that’ll inform the size of condo to pursue.
  4. Continue investing for retirement and saving up excess cash for an eventual down payment.
  5. If she decides against buying a house in the near future, she should consider a more profitable deployment of her excess cash (above the amount of her emergency fund).
  6. Consider canceling her term life insurance and switching to an MVNO cell phone service provider to save money.
  7. Re-evaluate the stock picking account and instead consider a more broad based, total market low fee index fund.
  8. Do a thorough analysis of credit card point utility and determine if she’s deriving a greater than $979 value from the cards.

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice do you have for Taylor? We’ll both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask questions!

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me (mrs@frugalwoods.com) your brief story and we’ll talk.

Never Miss A Story

Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.

We're not fans of spam, canned or not. None of that here. Powered by ConvertKit

You may also like...

61 Responses

  1. Chelsea says:

    I would also throw out the possibility of not moving at all. Yeah, rent is expensive, but Taylor seems to really like everything about her current living situation including a fantastic roommate. Even if it somehow works out better on paper to buy a condo or co-op, she may not actually enjoy either of those living situations as much as the one she has now. A good location and roommate are worth A LOT even if you can’t assign a dollar value to them. Plus, that gives her continued flexibility if she finds a partner and/or chooses to have children in the next several years.

  2. C. Hopwood says:

    Re: the credit cards, I personally am VERY averse to paying annual fees on my credit cards I find that I get the most bang for my buck by racking up the introductory bonuses, as opposed to the mileage accrued by regular spending. Thus, I typically apply for 4 or 5 cards a year, and usually the annual fee is waived for the first year. And then I downgrade the card (to avoid closing the account) after I’ve earned the bonus and before the annual fee comes due. So I would never pay money for a card regardless of the travel multiples, because I’d rather spend that money on a card getting a sign-up bonus.

    I know that some people will pay fees to get airport lounge access, but (for me) that is totally not worth it (and those cards tend to be quite expensive).

    The one exception (for me) is Southwest. Those cards don’t waive the annual fees, but if you stack a personal and a business card, you can basically qualify for the Companion Pass, which is a great value. At least, you could a couple of years ago — we recently moved to Canada so Southwest isn’t useful for us anymore.

  3. Sarah says:

    I went through a similar thought process (in DC!) last year. Ultimately I found many but not all condo buildings are pretty rental friendly so I focused on those. I ultimately picked a neighborhood where 2 bedrooms were still in my price range, then found a place I would enjoy but could ultimately rent out easily. As it happens work is taking me away from DC at least for a year or two, and within a few days of posting it as a rental I was deluged with requests for tours and got several serious applications to rent. I also know if I move back to DC it will always be there for me whether I’m single or partnered, parenting or not.
    Also while I did not rent out the second bedroom you might consider that to defray expenses

  4. Lizzie R. says:

    I bought a DC co-op in 1995 for $79k. Lived there until the summer of 2021. My place sold in two days for $315k. Each building is different. We had many rules, but the key to co-op living is the neighbors. You are essentially buying stock in a corporation and running a business with your neighbors. We had a healthy reserve account and kept up with the maintenance. We allowed some rentals — there were rules. (For example, if someone wanted to go to grad school in another state, etc.) Everyone was encouraged to participate in the building, and most did. If you live in a small building, you don’t want it to be full of renters. Owners tend to take better care of property. I’m now in a condo which I love. Co-op living was MUCH cheaper. Now I pay property taxes on my own and all utilities. For me, living in a co-op in my early years was a good decision.

  5. Christopher Johnson says:

    Hi, I think she’s doing great with lots of retirement savings. My suggestion is cutting back on discretionary spending between clothing, travel and online shopping she could save close to $1000 a month for that condo.

  6. Sam says:

    Could you buy a 2-bedroom and bring your roommate along as a renter? As someone who lived with a beloved roommate for 8+ years, it can be a huge change to live alone, and might help defray some of the costs.

    • Turia says:

      Sam, I wanted to leave a comment to ask exactly this question. Is the roommate wedded to the current apartment? Is the roommate thinking about moving? If Taylor bought a condo, what would the roommate’s plans be? Have they talked about this?

      If they love living together, Taylor really wants to buy a two bedroom, and her roommate wants to keep renting for the foreseeable future, this seems like a great set up!

    • Katharine says:

      This was my first thought too. Let the roomie help with the mortgage, if the roommate is amenable to that setup. It sounds like a great relationship and friendship and would help with flexibility with mortgage payments.

  7. Julia says:

    Could Taylor buy a two bedroom place even if she’s still single and rent one room to her current roommate? It seems like a very happy arrangement.

  8. Tim says:

    I think doing lots of research on condo’s vs. co-ops in DC is a really good suggestion. However, I would start researching neighborhoods first! If you are thinking about getting a place with a second bedroom for a future kid you might want to also think a bit about schools too. Sixteen years ago my family moved from Ward 1 to Ward 3 for the neighborhood schools and a little more space in a walk-able neighborhood. There are lots of nice neighborhoods all over the city that are just a little bit outside of downtown which are still metro accessible and maybe a bit easier on the budget. Its overall been great raising a family in DC!!

    Congrats on not having a car. I bet that is saving you $$$ and is also great for the environment!

  9. Mary says:

    I agree that right now is not a great time to buy. And I agree that Redfin is a great tool! But – I disagree with Taylor’s assessment of the current DC condo and co-op market. I’ve been following it closely on Redfin as a kind of hobby for about 5 years now ever since my kid went to college there . There are plenty of really nice 1 bedroom condos and co-ops well under $350,000 in popular neighborhoods in Northwest DC. This morning, I stopped counting at 15 the number of 1 BR units in NW DC under $300K, both condos and co-ops.The additional monthly charges vary, and both condos and co-ops charge them. Housing prices have gone up a bit following the bargain basement time of the pandemic, but they’ve not risen anything like they have in the New York City market.

  10. Laura A says:

    I think Taylor should seriously consider getting that second bedroom if she can swing it. That second bedroom can be a place for a roommate, if she needs to bring in more income. It can be a home office, and again, very useful if she wants to bring in more income – or if lockdown happens again and she needs to work from home. It can be a guest room, or a pantry and storage room. I don’t recommend breaking the bank to get that second room, but it will be infinitely useful if she can afford it.

  11. Cindy says:

    D.C. is such a cool town! If you are looking for co-ops outside of the city, Historic Greenbelt is awesome. & have several friends who live there in 3BR units. One recently bought theirs for 215k. Greenbelt was part of the New Deal so it is designed to be affordable, and they have good reserves for taking care of the community. It’s walkable with a library, pool, grocery store, community center, super friendly people … It’s also a stellar location. Worth adding to your research list!

    • Taylor says:

      Very cool, I’ll look into it!

      • Sophie says:

        I actually live here now and moved from NE DC/NOMA. I’m also 34 – bought it when I was dating (178k for a 2bd/1bath) – and L.O.V.E. it. I will say it’s a TON of retiree’s (although it’s getting younger) and the food options aren’t great and night life is non-existent, but if you are someone who likes having your little slice of green space, walking to the famers market, and lots of community while still being on a metro line, it’s amazing. I literally can’t speak highly enough of it. We’re moving soon for work and I will probably cry my eyes out.

  12. Deirdre says:

    I’m confused by this distinction between co-ops and condos in the DC area because from what I see on Redfin, there are many 1-bedroom condos available in the $350K-$400K range.

  13. Emily DeLuca says:

    My spouse bought a co-op in Massachusetts in the mid 1980s, which was cheaper than a condo. But when the time came for us to buy a house, we were lucky to be able to sell it to someone who converted all the co-ops into rental apartments. Otherwise, we might have been unable to unload it. I think the co-op option depends on location also. In NYC they are very common and popular, but in Massachusetts it never caught on. I don’t know how common they are in DC area.

  14. ColoradoFIRE says:

    When evaluating a condo or coop, investigate whether there is a history of “special assessments,” which is when owners must make a payment in addition to the HOA dues to fund a project or repair. These can cost thousands of dollars. I learned the hard way that this is often how associations that are chronically underfunded, and/or have a decision making structure that keep them from raising adequate funds, are forced to operate.
    In my family’s case, the HOA rules required that 60% of unit owners approve any increase in HOA dues or other major expenses. This wasn’t achievable so the HOA board was forced to make expensive compromises, most notably replacing the defunct heating system with one that was undersized, and using the cheapest contractor to do the work. In the 6 years we owned the condo, the heat failed to keep up and there were frozen pipes annually, as the new system was never insulated! This involved, on 3 different occasions, the HOA tearing up our kitchen floor to access the frozen pipes.
    The townhouse we bought after the condo, in contrast, had a board that was empowered to make the necessary decisions, a 20-year repair and maintenance plan created by an outside engineering firm, and has never had a special assessment. SUCH a different experience.
    Good luck!

  15. Liz says:

    Hi Taylor, thanks for submitting this case study! I have family in DC and it’s one of my favorite places in the world, too!

    I think another question you were asking is “when can I coast-FIRE and stop contributing to my retirement?” I ran some numbers. If we use the 4% rule, let’s multiply your annual expenses by 25 and we get: $1,600,000. That’s how much you might need to retire at 55 (I say might, because your expenses could change). Let’s use the numbers you have now: Starting with $206k, 7% inflation-adjusted return and a $1489 a month contribution (your amount plus 10% match from your company), in 21 years when you turn 55, you could have $1,680,000. Awesome! You’re on track to fully FIRE by 55.

    On the other hand, if you increase your retirement savings to $2000 / month, you could hit that Coast FIRE number at age 45 instead ($813k). It looks like you have approximately $10k a year to play around with right now and you’re saving cash for a home purchase, but once you have that figured out, you’ll know whether you can contribute more to your retirement. WalletBurst has a really cool simulation that I used to get some of these numbers.

  16. Anne says:

    To me, part of the question on real estate is would your current roommate move to the condo with you if you get a 2 bedroom? That could make a larger condo/coop make more sense financially and give more flexibility for the future. If/when you do get married and have children, you won’t really need a house for kids until they are at least 5.

    For credit cards, it depends on what kind of points you use. If you fly United a lot and book rewards travel through them, then the United card gives you more redemption flight options than without it.

    Once I had kids, flight redemptions became really difficult to use (multiple flights needs TONS of points to make sense, and airline points keep getting devalued). I switched my focus to hotel points, since the merger of Starwood and Marriott meant that half the hotels I might go to are all under the same ownership. I have a chase bonvoy for $95 a year (https://www.referyourchasecard.com/252f/LBEKNPNNI3) and an Amex bonvoy business for $125 a year (http://refer.amex.us/ANNEBdE3J?XL=MIACP). They each give a free night and 15 night credits (combinable), so for a small cost I get 2 free nights and enough credits to easily reach platinum status with room upgrades, lounge access, free breakfast etc. for me it has been a lot easier to use than airline points and more worth the cost than the premium cards.

  17. Anne says:

    Also, in terms of housing in DC, if you are willing to look outside of your neighbourhood you can find much better deals. I’m debating the same things as you are (smaller, cheaper place in DC that won’t appreciate as much vs. larger very expensive long term home). Housing is SO location dependent, even by a few blocks. If you look a bit north of Petworth, for example, you can find 2 bedroom coops for 200k. The fringe areas are also likely to increase more in value as they gentrify.

  18. Melissa says:

    Taylor – If you buy, would your current roommate be open to still living with you? It sounds like you two get along great and that your desire to buy doesn’t stem from wanting to live alone (although I could be misinterpreting). If you want to stretch your budget to a 2 bedroom (so you have more flexibility and space for whatever the future holds), then perhaps she could rent the second bedroom to help cover the increased mortgage. That would allow you to continue your current living experience while gaining equity. Just a thought. Anyways, best of luck to you! Whatever direction you go, it looks like you are in a great situation financially.

  19. JD says:

    This isn’t a given, but I can’t tell you how many people I know who gave up on marriage in their 30’s and bought their own place, then quickly found “the one” who also had bought his or her own place, so someone had to turn around and sell. That’s not a good reason to keep renting, of course, but it does sound like you have a great renting situation, and when figuring what you will pay for mortgage and HOA fees vs. rent, remember, homeownership costs amount to more than mortgage and HOA. And now is really not the time to buy, anyway. Fight that urge to buy while you bide your time, do the research, and talk it over with your roommate.

    I find those fees on those cards to be high, too. I agree with Mrs. FW – if you aren’t getting at least that much in benefits from the fee cards, ditch them.

    You are spending over $900 a month on decor, clothes, shoes and Other shopping, which doesn’t include gifts or entertainment. I think there is surely some cutting that can happen there. If you want to save up for a place, retire a little early, travel more, etc., keep an eye on that discretionary spending. The more you save, the closer your goals become.

    • Erin says:

      This happened to me. Bought my place and in less than 2 years met my husband. Who had also just bought a place…. I was unlucky to sell after the real estate crash, we tried renting but had several nightmare tenants. Took a loss to just be done with it all. But in the end we made a killing selling his place a few years ago and our our dream farm… so you never know how stuff will turn out. You just have make the best decision you can with the information you have and do your best!

  20. Courtney says:

    DC condo owner here. While the DC market is red hot, that is mostly in the single-family home submarket. The condo market is pretty soft, and it is likely as good a time as any to buy (notwithstanding the interest rate increases). You won’t see wild fluctuations in condo prices, but buying a condo will insulate you from the rising rents folks are experiencing all over the city.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I’m curious if you’ve considered the idea of stretching the budget a bit to get a two bedroom and then living there with your current roomate? It sounds like a good situation you have going and this would allow for some help with the mortgage for awhile until you know whether you may want the space for kids.

  22. Jennifer L says:

    Another thought on the term insurance. You mentioned getting it a while ago. As Mrs. F, says, you probably don’t need it with no dependents. But, if you choose to keep, look into the term length and what future terms will cost. You could get a longer (20- or 30-year) term with a low, fixed yearly rate that would probably be more affordable long-term.

  23. Fille Frugale says:

    One point I don’t see discussed so far is, how handy are you? Do you enjoy fixing things or are you willing to learn? Or do you plan to live with someone who is handy? Or do you have a reliable handyman/woman (something that’s vanishingly rare during covid)? Once you’re a homeowner, you’re 100% responsible for keeping up with maintenance. Some people enjoy, even love this, and some (like me) find out the hard way they hate it. If you’re the 2nd type, you’re MUCH better off renting! Also, the quality of your HOA and neighbors is crucial when it comes to repairs. Nothing like having a pissed off neighbor because one of your pipes is leaking into his/her property. Finally, if you have maintenance issues while away on travel, guess what: depending on the issue, travel’s over. Ask me how I know. Homeownership is a huge responsibility that’s hard to envision when you’ve only known renting, imho.

    • Taylor says:

      This is a really good point, I do love the convenience of just calling the maintenance person and not having to deal with it myself!

  24. Katharine says:

    I was in a very similar situation as you, but in Boston in my 30’s. I am *so glad* I bought, even though I eventually met someone and moved in with him- the sale of my condo was a huge nest egg towards our eventual FIRE. I said it above, but I personally went ahead and bought a bigger place, with the idea of having room to rent, put an eventual kid or husband, and just for my sanity, and it turned out perfect- I bought in an “up and coming” neighborhood at the time and sold for more than 2x what I bought for. I will never regret those early years of living a little frugally to have my own little condo. I ended up living there (off and on- also rented it to friends a couple times when I took off to see the world) for almost 9 years before selling it.

  25. Jacqueline Boston says:

    While there is not much to add to already good advice I just have a couple of footnotes to add.
    Re 1&2:Now’s not the time to buy & Now’s the time to research
    —Go out most weekends and look, (be careful about safety – bring a friend or consult a female agent).
    —The more condos and houses you see, the more you will understand what you like and don’t like, keep a journal or add to your vision board
    —By keeping good notes you will be able to compare neighborhoods and sizes of houses; a yard or closeby park is good for kids otherwise maybe too much work alone.
    —Bear in mind that your roommate would probably like to remain your roommate
    —I’ve had two girlfriends whose agents really helped them find good deals. One had been in almost every house on a block so when the agent called her first, she knew she wanted to live on that street, remembered the front of the house, knew the price was good for the neighborhood, and without touring the house could get in an offer before anyone else did.
    3. Your future is flexible at this point. As long as you live in one place 5 years you don’t lose out on the incidental costs of buying. So don’t necessarily plan the rest of your life, just the next 5 years. If no marriage then would you really want to have a baby 4 years from now? Is it you that wants a child or do you really want to raise a child?
    4. Continue investing & saving: Once you get a good idea of what price range you desire, research what down payment it would take to make the monthly payments doable and start seriously saving for down payment. See what you can delete from spending temporarily.

    One way to save money is to create a simple 3-5 color scheme for your wardrobe where all colors are compatible – alternatively plan around 2 colors that go together and can stand alone – and then think what your work ‘uniform’ will be. You won’t get bored with a few things if they are good and make you look good. Then quit spending so much on clothing and accessories; you probably have enough to coast for awhile until you get your down payment.

    Also consider that you could apply for better paying jobs which will make it easier to save. Since you have a job you like, what would it take to make you want to move? maybe 20-30% pay increase? (the top of your current tax bracket or enough over into the next one to make it worthwhile). Also ask at current spot for more responsibilities, more pay, promotion. Nobody knows you want more if you don’t mention it. After all, if kids are in the future, remember what you make right now is enough for you, not a couple of dependants. Think what that would take and aim for that in terms of salary.

    Otherwise not much to add, you have done well. Also read https://www.suzeorman.com/
    She has several articles and books aimed for women in general and young women with time to plan.

  26. Kirsty says:

    Is your roommate also looking to buy or is she happy to continue renting? If you can stretch to buying a 2 bed and rent out the other room that would be brilliant. If and when you have a baby for that room, at that point you will obviously want to stop renting it out!

  27. Jenny says:

    I lived in DC for many years. I went a different way than most of the posters here are suggesting, I bought a 466 square foot efficiency co-op. As soon as I moved in, my total housing costs were less than my former rent.

    I expected to find a partner and have kids, so I didn’t expect to live there as long as I did (11 years!). But I didn’t find a partner until after I moved away. I was so grateful not to be paying significantly higher recurring costs for all those years.

    I didn’t have trouble selling for a great price even though my timing was terrible (selling when literally all the similar units in the building were either also listed or had just sold).

    But for me, going small was a great choice. I maximized space super effectively with a great Murphy bed for example, which made the apartment feel much bigger than it’s square footage.

    And I saved so much money! I know it helped me retire early (which I did several years after selling that home).

    I loved my co-op! I really enjoyed the community there and still keep in touch with some of my neighbors.

    To address one of the comments about co-ops, I served on the board of directors for a while and I don’t think this particular co-op ever voted no to a new resident. The “approval” meeting was a formality and a chance to make sure the person understood the rules, and gave the board a chance to answer questions. So the idea that all co-ops are exclusive is not always true.

  28. Rosie says:

    A note on the credit cards — if you are spending money on travel annually (not including restaurants) then the Chase Sapphire Reserve net cost is really $250 (not $550), because you get $300 credited back for travel costs you would pay for anyway. And you get free global entry or similar once every 4 years. You might want to consider whether product changing from the Sapphire Reserve to the Sapphire Preferred makes sense for you — the Preferred annual fee is $95, you only get 2 points per dollar spent on travel instead of 3, and you cash out for travel at a rate of 1.25 per point instead of 1.5 per point but you can still transfer points to various frequent flier/hotel point programs – depends on how much travel you think you will be doing in the next year. You can downgrade the United card to a no fee card, and still get access to extra frequent flier awards. Similarly, you can downgrade the Barclay, Capital One and American Express Green cards to no fee versions — just make sure to use them periodically so they don’t get closed by the creditor. (You’re getting 3 points on travel and dining with the Chase Sapphire, same as the American Express Green card — and those points are worth 4.5 if you use them to pay for travel from the Chase Travel portal). The Frequent Miler blog is a really good resource for credit card point information.
    Also, if you are considering changing your mobile phone plan — you might want to see what impact this has on the others on your family plan — if you downgrade a line, everyone else’s costs might go up

  29. Linda says:

    The phrase that caught me was ” But I’ve been dating for 10+ years without long-term success and I don’t want to put off something that would enhance my life because I’m not partnered (and don’t know when/if I will be).”

    From experience, I would make the best decision that works for you as you stand today — whether you meet someone or not. No one knows what the future will bring.

    I was lucky — I had the opportunity in my 20s to buy a co-op in a great area on Long Island (NY) and even though I was “involved”, with someone. A good financial decision on a home/co-op/condo/townhouse will be a good financial decision regardless. My relationship ended up not continuing — but I had a home I liked at a good price — and it enabled me to trade-up to a larger townhome with significant equity 14 years later! A lot of luck does come into play. My original co-op offered entry-level pricing to live in a great area. It was a great location for both young people (single and married) starting out and for downsizing later in life. Location, location, location…!

    As Liz and many others have suggested, take the time now to research, narrow down your selection so that you can choose well and with confidence you’re making the best decision for you.

    I wish you the best.

  30. caryatis says:

    Isn’t the obvious solution here to look outside DC for a house? I’m not sure how much time you need to spend in a DC office, but single family houses are always going to appreciate more than a condo OR co-op.

    If your budget is 500-550k, you would be able to buy a nice 3-bedroom house in the DC suburbs. Then, you could continue with your current roommate and maybe add another roommate. That’s your mortgage paid for you as long as you’re happy with roommate living.

    Also, I know you said you’re not frugal, and that’s fine, but FOUR TV streaming services??? You can’t possibly find enough TV to watch with 1 or 2?

    • Rebecca says:

      If she moved out of the city, she would need to get a car and by far from her friends. It would be a huge lifestyle change.

  31. Maura_NotLaura says:

    You are doing great, obviously! One thing no one seems to have mentioned: Would you consider staying with your current roommate but adding a third in order to decrease your rent by a significant amount? This might require a move to a larger place, but it would allow you to save over $5000 a year. Stitch Dix, imho, is not worth the cost. When I had it, I’d look on ebay for the specific items I wanted to buy for 60-90% less than SF’s asking price. You can eliminate the pricey phone and decrease discretionary spending to save more for a condo. All the best to you!

  32. Ara Jansen says:

    With the suggestion of cancelling life insurance – as you have no dependents/ spouse to leave it to yet – I suggest considering the equivalent of what in Australia they call TPD – total / partial disablement as well as income protection insurance. If your employer doesn’t give you this (don’t know what the US does), then it’s a way to provide income if you become disabled or unable to work from sickness or accident.

    • Taylor says:

      Thanks for commenting, my employer does offer disability insurance and I have my own policy as well, so covered on that front. Now to make a decision on keeping the term or not!

      • Dianne says:

        Taylor, if for some reason you do happen to die, who will pay your funeral expenses? I don’t think you would want to leave that up to your parents or Go Fund Me. Keep the term. It might be a good idea to see what funeral expenses would cost you, It may not need as much as you have. Also, I realize you are in your 30’s, but with the wealth that you have already saved, I would get a Will and/or Power of Attorney if something should happen to you.

        • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

          I agree with having a will and power of attorney. However, in my opinion, Taylor has such significant assets that things such as her funeral costs would easily be covered by her assets, which negates the need for insurance. But, other commenters’ notes on Taylor’s future children could be an argument for keeping it.

      • Anonymous says:

        A counter argument to dropping your term life insurance—if the premium is very low and you plan to have kids, I would consider keeping it. While I deeply hope it’s not the case, it’s entirely possible to develop a medical condition in the next several years that would make it prohibitively expensive to get a new policy once you need it. Depending on the premium and the remaining term it may make sense to have locked in a policy while you’re young and healthy.

  33. J Copley says:

    Can you rentvest? This is where you invest in a place to rent out, and rent yourself. The rent of the investment property (ip) helps to cover the mortgage, and you still pay your own rent. Then you can sell it later on, if you need too, with the possibility of capital growth.

  34. Nora says:

    If she does decide to have children as a single parent or decides its very important to her, it may be useful to keep term life for now. If she has family or pre-existing conditions, it may be very expensive even in the near future.

    • Laura says:

      yes, I completely agree. I was going to say this is worth keeping at least until Taylor decides she is not going to pursue having children as a single parent

  35. Taylor says:

    Thank you Mrs. FW and all the commenters. This was a great check-in as Liz said. I’m particularly glad that I was encouraged not to buy right now, and I will definitely use this time to do my research. The comments about having my current roommate rent from me are helpful, it’s something we’ll have to discuss.

  36. Suzanne says:

    I want to challenge the assumption that now is not a good time to buy. I am a professional property investor and I have bought and made money in all types of markets for over 30 years. Every market has advantages and disadvantages, and some of them are inversely related. Meaning that if you have one upside it comes with a downside.

    First, regarding interest rates, we have been enjoying bizarrely low rates and are getting back to good rates. Rates may go down, but there is a lot more room for them to go up and that is more likely. (I was thrilled to get under 10% for my first house.) Interest rates and prices are a teeter totter. Because people buy based on how much payment they can afford, when rates go down then prices go up as we’ve seen for the past few years. But with rates going up then prices can’t rise as easily and you are in a better position to negotiate paying less. It takes a bit of time for sellers to realize that the market has changed, but they figure it out when other properties sell and their condo does not.

    On becoming an expert on housing, when I was a real estate agent I explained that each of my buyers would become an expert in the very targeted niche of the market that interested them. Go to all the open houses, check on the final sale prices, ask every agent about the financial health and management of various HOAs including others besides the HOA for the unit they are showing (every agent has favorite buildings), and talk to everyone you know including strangers you meet in the local cafe or wherever you go to let them know you are in the market. Focus first on learning everything about the buildings near where you live, plus add a couple of other neighborhoods for comparison – visit an ice cream shop, a boutique, any local business where you can chat up people and ask for their opinions on living and working there.

    As an agent I also had buyers who bought a property and then fell in love with their future spouses – so go ahead and buy! It’s a great way to show the universe you are ready for ownership and love. Don’t postpone ownership because of your single status.

    Finally, condo associations are run by volunteer homeowners. Which means potentially YOU. There seems to be an assumption that someone else will handle everything. If you are one of the people who steps up then you can make sure the property is well maintained, dues are raised regularly, studies are done that project how long until a roof needs to be replaced and how much needs to be saved each month to pay for that (plus for every other expense that can be easily predicted but often isn’t). Any well run condo association will have done one of these studies and have a budget to save for each big expense. If they don’t have one, then hello giant special assessments!

    One problem I’ve seen multiple times is that one of the board members is also the owner of the maintenance company that the association uses. This type of inside dealing often equals wasted money and inflated bills – watch for it. Another issue is an association that doesn’t pursue bad debt, i.e. condo owners who don’t pay their dues and the association doesn’t make them. This leads to more people not paying their dues. I once bought into an association and discovered that 25% of the owners were delinquent! Don’t make the same mistake (I promptly sold my unit at a small loss and got out of there).

    Watch out for dues that are too low. Boards consist of regular owners who may or may not have experience with big numbers. Used to their own household budgets they say, wow, we have $106,534 dollars in reserve, that’s a lot of money! So let’s not raise the dues. When in reality the boiler is about to lose its cookies and need to be replaced, or the water pipes are forty years old and starting to leak and all need to be replaced, or ……. The board makes or breaks an association. As someone else said, check the HOA rules. If there are restrictions on how much the dues can be raised any year, or no special assessments are allowed unless a huge percentage of people agree, then your building and the value and marketability of your unit could suffer. Or worst case, as in that Florida building, seriously bad stuff can happen due to neglected maintenance.

    IMO, go for a condo instead of a coop. Either way you are going into partnership with dozens or hundreds of strangers. Condos are the better version as long as the rules allow for a strong board. Stretching today to get a condo, and a 2 bedroom one at that, will pay off long term. Falling in love or moving into a house doesn’t mean you have to sell – you might start your little rental empire with your first condo. And at the least you’ll have the chance to build equity that can be invested in your next home.

  37. Christina says:

    I’m not expert, but I believe the Roth IRA can be used for a downpayment as long as you have had the account for 5+ years. Perhaps there is no reason to stop contributing to that account while you decide if you want to purchase a home.

  38. Ann says:

    On the mobile phone issue, if you plan to resume international travel, make sure any plan you get offers international calling/texting. We think our T-Mobile plan is great because when we travel to another country, service is part of our monthly cost and is indistinguishable from service at home.

  39. Rebecca says:

    Anscostia in DC has renovated 2br rowhouses in the low 400’s that are 0.4 miles from the metro. The neighborhood is is also very close to Capitol Hill and Navy Yard. You don’t need a car to live there.

    Houses are more work than condos, so I do think the other comments on that are worth keeping in mind.

  40. mary w says:

    Random thoughts on your credit card situation…
    I would cancel or downgrade the Barclay Arrival + and Capital 1 Venture once I’d used up/transferred the points and the annual fee posts. Or call to cancel and hope for a retention offer that works for you.
    If you travel enough I’d hold on to the CSR and downgrade at the 3.5 year mark since you can get another bonus 48 months after you’ve gotten the last bonus (bonus received, not card issued). Be aware, however, that if you have future trips booked with the card any travel insurance associated with the card goes away when you cancel the card. I *think* that if you downgrade mid-year (to Freedom Unlimited for example) they will credit you a pro-rated amount of the annual fee.
    United card pays for itself if you travel enough to use the free luggage and lounge passes. If you mostly travel for business then maybe someone else is paying for these things and you could cancel. (This is also churnable although I forget if there is a specific timeframe.)

    When you’re looking for a new card look at doctorofcredit.com for his list of “Best Credit Card Bonuses”. It’s the best place to start your research bc he doesn’t have affiliate links to credit cards. He makes no money off the credit card you select so can be impartial.

  41. Erin says:

    Just wanted to say that if having children is important to you, becoming an SMC has been the single greatest joy of my life. I’m a DC native and spent years searching for a partner to start a family with before ultimately deciding that I no longer wanted to wait to have kids. I am forever grateful of making the leap to solo parenting. DC has a vibrant SMBC community and is a common choice among women in our area. I’d be happy to share my experience if it’s something you are curious about. I’d recommend getting your fertility checked simply to have a better idea of your timeframe. Although I was fortunate to easily conceive at 36, fertility is often a mystery until you start trying and the more interventions you need, the more expensive it gets. Having a better idea of this could help prioritize what’s most important for you now, next, and later. Best of luck! You are doing a wonderful job!

  42. Michele says:

    I really enjoyed reading this case study! I’d encourage Taylor to keep maxing out her Roth IRA each year, even if it means decreasing 401k contributions slightly. Similarly, if her organization’s 401k offers a Roth option, she may want to make a portion of her contribution (even if it’s only 10-20% of whatever she’s contributing) Roth. She’s pretty heavily tilted toward pre-tax savings, in part because of her org’s generous 10% contribution, which I assume is pre-tax. All of that pre-tax money will grow to be a solid chunk of change by the time she’s 72 and has to start taking RMDs. If Taylor believes her income will decrease dramatically once she hits Coast FIRE, then that might be a good time to do some Roth conversions. But it wouldn’t hurt to have her retirement savings a little bit more tax diversified. Food for thought! Thanks again for doing this.

  43. RP says:

    One thing to consider as you get closer to having kids is the future cost of daycare. Daycare in a center in DC can cost between $2500-3000 per kid per month! Years before we had kids, we started adjusting our spending so we’d be in a better position to integrate that expense and then saved the extra to be able to pull from month by month to soften the blow.

  44. faithlessworld says:

    Consider (when it comes to it) buying a 2 bed place and renting the second to your roommate as your lodger? It’s a good way to cover some of your bills, you can give them a good deal and live with a friend rather than a rando. It also gives you more flexibility for the future

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *