Saturday, June 21, 2014

How many millionaires does it take to change a light fixture?

It's funny the way that math turns into real life.  I spend so much of my working days teaching students about exponential functions, blathering on about things like the amazingness of compound interest, and then sort of surprisingly, my life becomes one of those real-world examples.

A few weeks ago one of the little counters clicked over from '0' to '1' in our financial net worth tally, and so my husband and I are now millionaires.  Well, at least we are on paper (or perhaps more accurately, in a spreadsheet).

We didn't get to our million by being brilliant investors (in fact, my first dozen years at my job, I had mistakenly allocated my retirement mix to something like 40% or 50% bonds).  We didn't get here by extreme saving (for most of our working lives, I put aside a pretty standard 15% of my salary; my husband put aside much much less).  If we'd been brilliant or extreme or both, we'd have arrived here long before.  Maybe it ought to be a little embarrassing even that it took us this long.

But at any rate, ours is a story about how a married couple can bumble along, largely ignorant of financial markets, making the occasional investment mistake, but as long as they get the general idea right (set aside money regularly in their retirement account, and aim for mostly stocks), eventually they start to get rich.

Our home is paid off (we paid off the mortgage last year), and that counts for a good chunk of our net worth.  The stock market recently has been going gang-busters, and that explains why we are (perhaps temporarily) rolling in around in the big bucks.

Not surprisingly, this paper-wealth has made very little difference in our day-to-day activities.  My guy will be dropping down to part-time, but what makes that possible is not that we're living off our investments; it's that we've paid off the house and the tuition bills.  Even more so, it's because the process of paying off home and school has given us ample practice at living off of what is essentially one salary.

So how many millionaires does it take to change a light fixture?  Just one, although it helps to have a kid who can yell down the stairs to tell you when you've switched the right circuit breaker off.

I've spent much of the week pulling out these much-hated incandescent ceiling fixtures in our basement and bike-room.  In theory, they're great and energy saving.  In practice, they flicker and hum, and replacing the bulbs has been a [curse words omitted].

This past week I have mumbled words of thanks to my dear old dad, who taught me basic wiring long ago.  In fact, the several reasons I waited so long to get around to this job had little to do with the fixtures themselves:

  • I needed to be able to get to my tools (so cleaning out our hardware shelves helped a lot).  
  • I needed to find a time when turning off the power in the house wouldn't wig out my family (so this past week, while my guy was at army camp and J-son was visiting his former foster mom, was ideal).  
  • And I needed to get new fixtures that would work well and not be expensive, so I had to make a trip or two to our not-so-nearby Habitat Re-store.  

Twenty-five-dollars worth of supplies, eight hours of cleaning/organizing, and 1 hour of actual electrical work later, we now have five new light fixtures, ready for the LED light bulbs.  Come to think of it, the LED bulbs are going to be by far the biggest up-front expense, although they'll save us money and frustration down the road.

But we can afford the expense now.  After all, we're millionaires!


  1. congrats! I can't imagine getting that far. On paper, we're getting close to $100k net worth, and that's really exciting for me. Color me impressed :-)

    1. Ah, the advantages of age! Sustained breathing makes a big difference, really. -MM

    2. I will keep plugging along. I'm rather keen on breathing and hope to be doing it for a good bit longer.

  2. Very neat! Both on the $$ front and on the redoing your lighting!

    The last time DH redid the wiring (he installed a ceiling fan with lights in the dining room) he screwed something up that we had to call in an electrician to fix. This is ironic because he's an electrical engineer. He's told me that one of his undergrad professors once said that the number one cause of death among electrical engineers is home wiring, but I'm not sure if that's true or not.

    1. Thanks much!

      Your electrical story reminds me of something I heard in grad school -- cooking is an incredibly dangerous activity, but because it's common (and because it's a "woman's thing"), it's seen as fairly prosaic. Whereas home wiring is actually usually easy and relatively safe to do . . . but partly because it's uncommon/hidden (and partly because it's a "guy thing") people shy away from it.

      If you make a mistake in the kitchen, you can burn yourself really badly or catch the house on fire; I've known lots of people who have done that. Most of the time, if you make a mistake with wiring, you merely trip a circuit breaker.