Serious Savings Without the Sacrifice – Part 1

in Blog

*** I wrote this post on Sep 26, 2014. Shortly afterwards, the roommate I talk about in this article (who was actually my childhood best friend) was killed in a horrible car accident. I hadn’t seen her in 14 years, something I now deeply regret. While this article is probably a rehash of many things you already know, I thought I would publish today. I haven’t written in a long time as I had a very difficult time with my friend’s death and I also started working on an Etsy shop, which I will write about another day. ***

In 1993, as a new University student, I made plenty of money sacrifices. I had $800 per month to spend. The first $354 went to my portion of rent, the rest went to school supplies, utilities, clothing, and food. My bank account was often down to $1 by the end of the month. The only strategic money move I made was to get an account with the bank whose bank machines could disburse $5 bills.

My roommate, who was the Queen of Bargains, would buy Tomato Soup in bulk. We would sprinkle on a little dried basil, toast up some bread, and have this fabulous feast for dinner in our fancy 2-bedroom apartment. On Friday nights, we’d trade clothes and get ourselves prettied up in our tiny bathroom for a night on the town. With $20, our IDs, and a bus pass in our jeans pocket, we’d take the 30 minute bus ride downtown arriving early to cash in on the $2 bottles of Molson Golden. Three drinks later, we’d be dancing the night away, making sure to keep an eye on our watches so we didn’t miss the last bus home at midnight. Later I’d crash into bed with at least $10 still tucked safely away in my back pocket.

I’m sure you have similar stories from your youth. Fun times with very little money. But you wouldn’t want to keep living this way with a $40,000 per year income, would you? Now that you’re an adult, you deserve more. Much more. You deserve a life with zero sacrifices.

The first question everyone asks me when I meet them is: “Who instigated this lifestyle, was it you or your husband?” When I respond with “My husband”, the next question is: “How hard was it to make all those sacrifices?” My answer is: “Not hard at all”. And here’s why.

These sacrifices are not sacrifices at all. They are in fact Life Enhancers. I went from doing what everyone else was doing and thinking it was making me happy, to having real experiences that were making me much happier.

Let’s start with two easy, often talked about, examples:

Your Daily Latte Fix

Everyone talks about the latte. Some say it’s too expensive and you should cut it out. Others say: “You should spend money on what you love!” I say, you can do both. I’m not about to give up my latte unless I have to, but there’s more to a latte than just a quick coffee fix. There’s more to it than idling in a lineup of car clowns, dishing out $4 a pop (I had to look this up), taking sips from you paper cup while driving to the office, and then finishing up your cold cup of coffee while sitting at your desk in front of the computer. Your experience can be much richer.

A latte (or any kind of coffee or tea) is best enjoyed in a ceramic mug while sitting undisturbed in a quiet room with the sun beaming down on you. Or, it is best enjoyed (still in a ceramic mug) while sitting and chatting with a good friend. This is a sit down and enjoy slowly kind of event. This is how I have my latte every morning. After the hustle and bustle of getting our son ready for school, I sit quietly on the couch in a sunbeam and think about my day. Sometimes I pick up a pen and write a few things down. I also occasionally enjoy a second (gasp!) afternoon latte with MMM – we sip and nibble on a cheese and veggie platter while talking about fun stuff.

Now, would it make any sense to interrupt all this by having to get into a car and drive to a latte making factory to purchase said latte? NO! In fact, it would be absolutely ridiculous.

That’s why we make our lattes at home. You can do it too. It’s much cheaper. Or, you can try your employer’s free coffee, if it’s available. You might even be able to talk your employer into getting an inexpensive espresso machine for the office. “Think of the morale boost!”, you might say.

MMM recently calculated that each big mug of fancy latte that we make at home costs $0.34 (our machine is a $50 Mr. Coffee espresso machine, similar to this one, which has worked just fine for many years).

Coffee Calculation:

One gallon (128 oz) of  local natural whole milk costs us $3.75. We use 6 oz for 1 latte, so that $0.18 for the milk.

We use 26 grams of coffee per batch, but that’s for 2 of us, so 13 grams each. A  2.5 lb bag of fair trade, organic, dark roast coffee beans at Costco runs $14.  That works out to $0.0124 per gram of coffee, so the coffee costs $0.16.

While I will occasionally go out for coffee with a friend, when I do, I make sure that the experience is worthwhile. The place I go to is locally owned and the shop owner is usually around chatting to people. I often bump into folks I know from my community, and I have a really nice experience. The coffee place is also just around the corner from the library, which brings me to the next easy way to save…

Before: driving to the coffee shop, sitting in line, paying $4.00, hurriedly sipping coffee in cardboard cup, finishing cold coffee at your desk, throwing out your empty cup and wishing for more.

After: making coffee at home, silently cradling your warm ceramic latte bowl while sitting in a sunbeam, enjoying every sip of your coffee while reflecting on your day, start your day rested and invigorated, have an afternoon latte as well… why not? It’s only $0.34.

Cost benefit: assuming you buy 5 days a week, that’s $1040 vs $88.40 per year without even counting interest on savings or other coffee shop purchases like the occasional chocolate croissant. Also see MMM’s article The Coffee Machine that can pay for a University Education.

Reading Your Way Broke

Besides good coffee, my other weakness is books. Looking at my Amazon order history (which is really fun to do, by the way), I can see that I bought $280 worth of books in 2001, over $500 in 2002, $180 in 2003, and $136 in 2004 (ironically, one of the books was “Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic”). That’s just on Amazon. I have no idea what my spending was at bookstores those years. Sometime in 2004, MMM and I sat down and had “The Talk” about accelerating our savings rate to reach Retirement faster and it shows in my Amazon Order History. My book spending went down to $0 in 2005. In fact, I only bought 2 things on Amazon that entire year.

How was I able to cut my book spending down to zero and not make any sacrifices? The answer is obvious: The Library, a magical place where you can get all the books you want for free! While the answer is obvious, it wasn’t to me. The library was a place of my youth where I peered over books to look at boys, passed notes to my friends, and tried to write my research papers without copying anything from all those books.

In fact, it turns out that the answers to spending problems are often found by looking back to our youth. For MMM, going to the library was an obvious thing, but I had never even thought of it. So, we got a library card and started going and I was hooked right from the beginning.

Libraries are fantastic places, often full of history, beautiful architecture, and neverending rows of books to browse. Even if your library is small, there is usually plenty of fun stuff around: areas for kids, community events, CDs, DVDs, free e-books, magazines, etc. While some might feel libraries are a thing of the past, I think they are our future. Just as some congregate on Sundays for various religious events to feel part of a community, I congregate at the library and get the same result. I see people I know, check out the latest in historical fiction, and watch my son meticulously pick out books. It’s not unusual for me to practically fall off my bike on the way home from the library due to the excessive number of books I’ve checked out. At our library you can check out 40 books at a time. Imagine picking up 40 random books for free and keeping them for 6 weeks. Six weeks is a long time, friends. One time we wrapped up library books for Christmas just for fun and after 6 weeks we would have been done with them anyway. Then you return them and you can take out 40 more! It’s a kind of abundance that is anything but sacrifice.

On top of all this, our library has an excess of books, so they often have books for sale. At $0.50 per paperback and $1.00 per hardcover, it’s close to the cheapest used bookstore you will find.

You’ll never look at those glossy bookstores the same way again. It’s like a fake paradise with a coffee shop attached. You want the real thing, the history, the community, the abundance of free books. You want to hang out for hours and talk to people, librarians that have a passion for books, organizers of community events, let your kid try out the educational computer games. There’s no comparison. You will be a convert for life.

Before: driving to the bookstore full of frantic shoppers you don’t know, being upsold on things like journals, pens, and coffee, finally choosing a hardcover for $20 + tax, going home and reading the whole thing in one sitting, putting the book on your shelf to collect dust forever.

After: biking to the local library, read the notice board and find out about a street party this weekend, pick up your book on hold, check out the kids section and grab 5 promising titles, browse the do-it-yourself section and pick up a few books on home renovations, pick up a few new science fiction novels for yourself, self check-out, browse the used books for sale and pick up a $0.50 classic for a friend’s upcoming birthday, bike home feeling like you hit the jackpot.

Cost Benefit: depending on how much of a bookaholic you are, this single much more pleasant experience, can save you thousands of dollars per year. I do pay the occasional small late fee at my library (due to my own negligence, as they automatically e-mail me when my books are due), but I think of it as a donation to my library.

We’re just getting started here. Stay tuned for more.

{ 9 comments }

Dada Math in the Park (working with Palindromes)

Dada Math in the Park (working with Palindromes)

In my last post, I talked about how my perspective had changed regarding my son’s education. How I was convinced that homeschooling would be great for our family, but that my son wasn’t convinced. I got the feeling that having been given a choice to homeschool, he felt more in control of his situation. We decided to wait until the end of the second trimester and see how he felt. In the meantime, I resolved to become more of an advocate within the school, and therefore help many more kids than just my own.

That’s how MMM and I found ourselves in the principal’s office, discussing our son and his feelings about school, as well as many larger questions like:

  • As a school, should we be allowing recess to be taken away as punishment?
  • Does the school have a homework policy? What happens if homework is not done?
  • Is there a way to promote positive discipline techniques among teachers? (I learned that our school is a Positive Behavior Support School, which I wasn’t even aware of!)
  • Are teachers being evaluated in any way?
  • Is there a way to improve the math curriculum so that it is not so intensely dependent on worksheets? 

These are hard questions that may not necessarily have one right answer. However, I found that our thinking was in line with our principal’s, which I was pleased to hear. We have a really good feeling about the direction the school is taking, and we are aware that it can take a long time to turn a school around. As I’ve said before, we believe in our neighborhood school and want to help, rather than abandoning the school.

Next, we asked the principal about the option of homeschooling for the remainder of this year and having our son attend school part time. Surprisingly, the principal was very agreeable, and said that our son could continue to attend school on a part-time basis while homeschooling.

The laws vary from state to state on whether a public school must allow children to attend on a part-time basis. These states are called Equal Access States. According to this document, in Colorado, “Children participating in a nonpublic, home-based education program are allowed equal access to the public schools’ extracurricular and interscholastic activities.” This document is provided by the HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association), who we can probably thank for paving the way for our generation of homeschoolers. Their arguments may have been originally based on religious freedoms, but the laws that were enacted are obviously beneficial for secular homeschooling families as well.

Meanwhile, our son continued to be disgruntled with school and things seemed to be getting worse. He complained more and more every morning and kept telling me that he felt like he was in jail. He said it was a place where he couldn’t be free to pursue his interests, where he was always being told what to do, where he couldn’t even talk to his friends, and had to ask to go to the bathroom. He even said he was losing his creativity and was having trouble thinking of things to draw (he’s always been an avid artist). I kept reminding him that we could homeschool for the last trimester of school, and he started warming up to the idea.

The day of our meeting with the principal was right around the end of second trimester, so I had a talk with my son about what he wanted to do. I told him that he could continue to go to school part-time and he really liked this idea. We discussed which classes he wanted to continue attending and together we formulated a plan and a schedule. I cleared it with the principal, his teacher, and other teachers involved. We handed in our Notice of Intent to Homeschool form, per the instructions on the Colorado Department of Education website, which means letting everyone know that we will start homeschooling in 14 days.

Given my last post, many have asked me why we’ve suddenly turned around and decided to homeschool. Ultimately, I think our son just needed a break and he needed to re-establish a positive relationship with his school. We think of this as a homeschooling experiment, to see what is possible.

We’re really lucky to have so much support from our local school. Our son can attend any class he wants. He attends school on Monday and Tuesday from 10:30 am until 2:05 pm for GT class (gifted & talented class), recess, lunch, and specials (phys ed, art, and music). MMM makes an appearance for an hour during the time that our son would normally have math class. We call this time “Dada Math” and they go to the park on nice days or hang out in the school hallway and have their own little math class. On one additional day per week, he goes to Art class with his classmates. In total, he’s in public school for 6 hours per week.

This schedule works out really well. He told me the first week: “This is great! I get to attend all the interesting classes, see my friends, and skip all the super boring stuff.” The first time he returned to school after officially leaving, all his friends came running up to hug him at recess. We still get to bike to school together three times a week. The streets are usually pretty quiet, which makes the bike rides much more enjoyable.

What’s important to me is that he’s starting to develop a healthy relationship with the school again. For the first week, he said he didn’t even want to bike past the school, but now he feels very comfortable going in and attending the classes he enjoys and seeing his friends. I can tell he is much happier and feels like his time at school is more balanced and productive.

There’s much more to report on: awesome days and projects, as well as some challenges. But, so far, things are working out surprisingly well in homeschool land. We still have our foot in the public school and our son has plenty of opportunities to hang out with his friends, so the social aspect is not an issue. MMM and I are still actively involved with the school and we continue to spend time with families that attend the school. In August, the plan is to have him return to school for the first trimester of third grade and see how it goes. We’re open to whatever ends up happening.

{ 28 comments }

Education On My Mind

in Blog, Community, Homeschooling, Kids, Life

Ever since MMM wrote his article “My Son is Ready for Early Retirement“, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of Homeschooling or Unschooling our son.

When I get like this, I go into full on research mode. I read every single comment on the article (which I rarely do these days) and contemplated every idea presented. I was pleasantly surprised to read all the pro-homeschooling comments. I looked up Waldorf schools and Sudbury Schools (this was really interesting – look it up if you’re curious). I figured out that in Colorado, you can homeschool and even participate in programs run by the public schools for an option to do a bit of both.

Then, I did some research online and looked at homeschooling studies. I checked out a bunch of books from the library with titles like “The Good School” and “Radical Unschooling”. I read some of these books in a single sitting. The general consensus for me was that homeschooling is a very effective way of educating a child. I was convinced that with the right attitude and resources on my part, my child would do very well and even thrive.

So, I told my son that if he wanted to be homeschooled, I was all for it. Guess what? He didn’t want to talk about it. Somehow the idea upset him and for a full week, every time I brought it up, he was upset and wanted me to stop talking. So I stopped, but I was sad that as soon as I had convinced myself, he suddenly wanted to keep going to school. I had become so excited about the possibility and my role in it. I had been ready for action and was brought to a complete stop. It was a very odd reaction on his part considering his feelings on school and his repeated insistence that he wanted to stay home.

I mentioned this on Penelope Trunk’s blog in her article “What does genius risk-taking look like in the context of school?“. She had mentioned MMMs article on her Homeschooling blog and I chimed in asking: “What do you do if your kid doesn’t want to be homeschooled?” Penelope kindly replied with: “My younger son wants to go to school. I don’t let him.

I found this to be a really interesting answer, as many homeschooling parents have said that if their kids ever decide they want to go to school, they let them attend. She obviously feels so passionately that traditional schooling is terrible and possibly detrimental to a child that she won’t allow her kids to attend. This threw me for a loop, as I feel that my child’s opinion in the matter is of extreme importance. Was I really subjecting him to something so awful that I should take charge and just take him out? Her comment had me thinking for days.

Meanwhile, as this was going on for a couple of weeks, I continued to volunteer in the classroom. I volunteer every Monday morning for about 3 hours, so I get to see what is going on at school. I also volunteer for other events, so I’m at the school a lot. All my reading did not go to waste, as I realized that my perception of education had shifted quite a bit after doing so much research. I started acting differently with the kids and seeing their discussions and free-play in a more positive way. I also saw things I didn’t like – with the curriculum and how certain situations were handled by the teacher and by the school.

I was also perfectly comfortable letting the teacher know that my son would not be coming into school on his birthday. We stayed home and built a gigantic snow fort instead.

On those volunteer days, I watched my little boy and his interaction with others and realized that school provides him with a lot of fun times. For example, he enjoys being a leader in groups, he likes to make people laugh, and he’s very comfortable with his group of friends at school. He’s well liked and not shy at all with his peers. His personality and his comfort in his school environment have really blossomed since he was in kindergarten. And, while I think his reading and math skills would have been equally well developed (and perhaps more advanced) as a homeschooled kid, I do feel like his writing ability and his story telling have really benefited from the more structured school environment. Is this stuff important? I don’t know the answer, but my instincts say yes.

I also see how his day starts outside every morning as he rides his bike to school. We have very relaxed school mornings with dad making breakfast and lunch, while I sit with our son and read. He has recess twice a day and he has a gifted and talented class twice a week that he absolutely loves. He has an outstanding Art teacher and our son is always so excited to go to art class. There are a lot of good things. The teachers, for the most part, are wonderful and very excited about teaching. Their enthusiasm and experience really make the school special. He is always happy after school and bikes home excitedly telling us about his day. We know all the kids and their parents – we all hang out together for fun. We often bring a kid or two home with us after school. The community just can’t be beat.

So what is it then that he dislikes about school? Waking up early, being away from his parents, math worksheets, and many of the rules. The same stuff MMM hated about school, actually. Our kid is a homebody. He hates being away from us. Is the forced time away good for him? I’m not sure about that either, but I think it is, to some extent (I am really starting to think that a three or four hour school day would be ideal… 6.5 hours is a long time).

Since I volunteer, I also see all his classmates regularly (there are only about 17 kids in his class, which is nice). These kids, some struggling and some thriving, but all with so much personality and spirit… I love these kids. I want to see each and every one of them succeed. Some don’t have great support at home and I feel like I am able to help so many of them. They all yell out my name when I come into class and say goodbye when I leave. I have seen them struggle and make breakthroughs. I see them laugh and cry. One child told me she was sad because her father was in jail. These kids are incredible and I feel like I would be abandoning them. The school is incredible and has so much potential. It is a school I really believe in. In many ways, it is how a neighborhood school should be. They definitely have the right idea. There is community, diversity, incredible parents, fabulous teachers (again, not all, but most), they focus on things I care about: the environment, a world view, walking/biking to school. This school is trying to do amazing things and I want to help them. It is a school in transition, but they are on the cusp of something incredible.

One of the books I read encourages being an activist in your school. For now, I’ve decided that instead of taking my child out of school, I’m going to integrate myself more into the school. I’m going to be an advocate for the kids. I’m going to help bring the school up to its full potential. I’ll be more outspoken about things I think should change. That way, I help my own kid, but I also simultaneously help many more kids. Because every kid deserves a good education. I also get to be a role model for my child – he will see that when things aren’t the way you like them, you can change them. That one person can make an impact.

I’m not saying that homeschooling is not a good answer for families. I think it is a wonderful thing and I will homeschool my child if he wants me to. We might do it for a bit and then go back to his neighborhood public school. But, I also feel really empowered knowing that I can help a lot more kids than just my own.

{ 14 comments }

Tim Ferriss Experiments and So Should You

in Blog, Life

Last night, our family watched the first episode of the Tim Ferriss Experiment on YouTube. I rarely watch TV, particularly reality TV, as I usually find it supremely repetitive. Do I really need to know “what’s coming up next” when the show is only 20 minutes long? But, I was curious about this show as Tim was telling me all about it on my Twitter Feed (yeah, we’re good buddies, Tim and I). It turns out it was really fun to watch – and with very little repetitiveness, which I appreciated.

One thing I like about Tim (and really, I know next to nothing about the guy) is that he is constantly smiling. He seems like a friendly guy. I liked him in the show and the other characters were really interesting.

In this episode, Tim is trying to learn to play the drums in one week’s time culminating with him playing “Hot Blooded” live at a Foreigner concert on the last day. I love this idea. I’m hooked already. Not only do we get to meet some neat famous people in the show (the smiling Tim, the entire crew of Foreigner who seem really fun, and my favorite: Stewart Copeland, the drummer of The Police), you also get to learn a bit about all these new skills yourself. What’s not to love?

When I see stuff like this, I’m inspired. That’s really what this show is about. You can just sit there and idly watch or you can bring some of that energy into your every day life. Like “The Biggest Loser” (one of the few other reality shows I’ve seen), you can watch or you can participate. I hope you always choose to participate.

What did I do? Well, not much, but I decided to write down some five year goals. Yeah, I know – a ridiculously cheesy and cliché exercise, but I haven’t done this in years and had no clue how it would turn out. I sat next to my son, who was doing his homework, and wrote down whatever came to mind with a purple pen on a lovely piece of pink paper, trying not to think too much about my answers in advance. I quickly scribbled together this list:

In five years I’d like to…

  • be super healthy and fit (this is foremost in my mind right now because I have been sick on and off for nearly a month)
  • have a very close relationship with my then 13 year old son
  • continue to have a close and happy marriage
  • have a great, lush garden that I can visit every morning with a coffee in hand
  • spend more time seeing close and extended family
  • enjoy more travels with family and friends – camping, multi-day hikes and bike rides
  • have a kick-ass crossfit garage gym that is visited by friends in the neighborhood (for free, of course!) to form a fantastic fitness community
  • many dinner parties with friends
  • close relationships, laughter, love, ongoing fun and rewarding projects
  • be more patient and calm through meditation, yoga, morning walks or runs, garden work, quiet hiking
  • be working hard on at least one project that I’m interested in, such as writing a book, volunteering, or somehow helping my community and others

The nice thing about writing things down is that you can go back and analyze what you’ve written from an outside perspective. I’ve kept a journal almost my entire life and it has been extremely helpful during harder times. Your writing often has secret messages hiding inside of it and after a few days, you can go back and find those messages and give yourself valuable advice.

After putting together this list, I looked over it and realized a few things. I can accomplish all of these things right now! In fact, I have accomplished quite a few of them already, but I probably don’t feel like I have because they are not part of my daily routine. Maybe in five years everything on there will have become second nature to me. More likely, I’ll still be “working” on these exact same goals.

Another thought that pops into my mind, related to the Tim Ferriss Experiment, is that I prefer to be immersed in a few things that are important to me, instead of experimenting with many different things. I’d rather dive deeper and become an expert. That’s good to know.

So, how can we experiment in our own lives? I was wondering about this and I began to think through all the life experiments I’ve conducted so far – things that I’ve done that maybe others haven’t, things that stand out, or things I’m proud of.

Here’s my list:

  • was a pretty good recreational gymnast in my day
  • graduated college with a useful degree that immediately got me a job that I was good at and enjoyed (after a few minor hurdles, like flunking out of BioTechnology – but of course, this hurdle was necessary to get where I wanted to go)
  • backpacking through Australia and New Zealand for 3 months with a friend with what turned out to be a pretty small backpack (one girl I met had an entire backpack just for her shoes!)
  • moving to another country (from Canada to the United States)
  • regularly biking to work in all kinds of weather
  • going on a month long trip by myself (I could write a whole book about this experience)
  • becoming a project manager and turning out to be really good at it
  • retiring from work when passive income surpassed expenses
  • becoming a mother, the greatest experiment of all
  • starting a business or two
  • becoming a real estate broker and being awarded Rookie of the Year in 2009
  • becoming a dedicated crossfitter and being in the best shape of my life

When I look at this list, I realize that I’ve actually done a lot more than I thought. Most of the accomplishments I’m proud of are those where I’m doing something physically or mentally challenging, doing something completely new or scary, or being recognized by others for my achievements. I’m sure that’s pretty typical and we all have lists that look like this. But, until you write it down, you might not realize that you’ve already been conducting experiments your entire life. Seeing what this list looks like allows me to understand what kinds of things I should focus on in the future.

There’s always something to work on. As one of my favorite bloggers reminded me today, you find your balance over your years, not your days.

Here’s the episode by the way (I put it at the end, so you wouldn’t ignore me and run into Tim’s smiley arms):

{ 7 comments }

Frugality as a Value

in Blog, Retirement

I attended my first big MMM meetup in my hometown of Ottawa in July. It was a lot of fun to gather together with so many like minded individuals. Many folks didn’t recognize me and would later see my name tag and say: “Oh! You’re Mrs. Money Mustache!” Yes, I suppose I am.

I spoke with a lot of men and women that night and had some really interesting conversations. Many women wanted to know how I dealt with urges to buy clothing. Everyone wanted to know if I ever felt deprived.

The clothing question is an interesting one – I’ll come back to that another time, but ultimately, it’s similar to the question about deprivation. Did I ever feel deprived? Do I feel deprived now? Surprisingly, the answer is no.

At first, I wasn’t sure why that was… It’s not something I had thought about much. But, as I sit here and ponder this question, I can come up with a few different reasons as to why I felt perfectly happy saving money.

There were two of us saving

Having two adults in one household brings down many costs, most notably housing costs. We shared a mortgage on a $240,000 house and we shared a lot of other things too, like all kinds of household goods. Since MMM and I met early (we were only 19!) we didn’t have much stuff when we moved in together.

We had a common (albeit lofty) goal

Our goals and dreams were big. We wanted kids and we wanted to stay home with them – we wanted BOTH of us to stay home with them. We didn’t know much about retirement at the time, but we had done the math and knew that it was possible. That, in itself, was super exciting. Once we had a common goal, there was no stopping us.

Our income averaged $61,700 each over a 9-year period

This is a pretty high salary. I realize that now, although at the time, it did seem “normal” to us since we were surrounded by people making the same amount of money as us, often more.

We were optimistic

MMM and I were very confident about Retirement. We just did it and somehow knew it would work out. Now that I can see what we did through other people’s eyes, it may seem like we didn’t think of every possible problem that might come up. It’s true – we didn’t. We were just optimistic. I felt the same way when we decided to have a child. I wasn’t ready. You can never be ready to become a parent. You just do it and know that things will work out and that you have the confidence to take care of issues as they arise. If you consider all the “what ifs”, you become paralyzed with indecision.

We were young*

We started saving at a young age, which meant we didn’t have time to get used to all the trappings of a high consumption lifestyle. My “normal” will never include having a housekeeper or flying first class.

I had a frugality and lifestyle coach at my disposal 24/7

MMM was always there, reminding me of the goal. He inspired me to bike to work in the mornings (and I was always glad I did), he made everyday things fun, he made me feel special without buying me stuff, he showed me how to do it and still be happy. He was always excited and optimistic about his plans and that excitement was infectious.

We weren’t missing out on anything

We still went out with our friends, mostly did the same stuff they did, and had just as much fun. We just made slightly different choices when we were out and also in private. We started spending more time with people that enjoyed the same things we did.

Our goals and our values matched

Ultimately, this was the biggest reason that saving became easy and continues to be easy. Our savings goals match our core values. Even without trying to save too much, we were probably spending $40,000 per year. That included our mortgage. Essentially, we were spending my salary (which averaged $40,400 per year over nine years) and saving MMM’s salary (averaging $83,000 per year).

We felt like we were spending a lot. We were spending a lot by some people’s standards. But all those little decisions were adding up to be a lot less than our peers. Why is that? How were we able to make those decisions more easily than others?

We valued our freedom, our health, and the environment above all else. Saving money naturally follows. I’m not talking about buying gym memberships and purchasing environmentally friendly products. When you value your health, you go outside more, ride your bike to work, cook food at home, and you take care of your body by not abusing it. When you value the environment, you don’t buy stuff unless you really need it, you drive as little as possible, you think about how your decisions affect the earth and affect others, you become more interested in donating money and time to causes you care about.

In retrospect, I see this relationship between our values and our savings so clearly. I was on board with my health and the environment from the beginning. The freedom part was hard to grasp at first. What does it mean to buy my freedom? Will that future life really be better? For me, it took visualizing having the freedom to care for our children together to really get on board. For you, it might be something else: time with family, traveling, doing work that you love that doesn’t pay very much, or helping others.

What are your values? Are they in line with your spending or do they often derail your savings?

 

* Pat Benatar will be in my head all day

{ 11 comments }

Parent Sex Education Workshop

in Blog, Community, Kids, Life

Last night I attended an absolutely fantastic workshop for parents about teaching kids about sex and sexuality. My expectations were not very high – or, more specifically, I didn’t have any expectations. But I left feeling educated and empowered.

The woman running the workshop has a lot of experience and background on this topic and clearly did a ton of research. We were all there to help review the workshop, provide feedback on the content, and have a general discussion on the topic. We probably helped her out a little, but we all left feeling like we got so much valuable insight and education.

It’s a topic that is pretty taboo in our culture. As the presenter mentioned, using the words “kids” and “sex” in the same sentence makes many of us cringe. It’s not a workshop I would have signed up for myself — after all my kid is only seven! But this is a workshop that is going to be offered to parents of preschoolers (among many other parents as well). After listening to what this woman had to say, starting early makes complete sense.

The idea that we sit with our kids on one big day to talk about the “birds and the bees” is an intimidating and antiquated idea. In reality, these conversations start very early and are short discussions that happen constantly throughout a child’s life. Being able to start these conversations at an early age sets a precedent that it’s okay to ask your parents these questions.

The other point that resonated with me is: we need to know what we ourselves believe about sex. When she put this question forward, I was unsure. Nothing really came to mind as it’s not something I think about very often. Once she started asking questions, I realized I do have some pretty strong beliefs in this area.

In order to teach our children about sex (or about anything), we need to understand what our beliefs are, remind ourselves of our own history and how it has affected our beliefs, and provide information that is age-appropriate and also appropriate for a particular child’s disposition and emotional capabilities. We can think back to our own childhood and determine what our parents did to help us – what things we want to continue and what we want to do differently.

We discussed so many topics, that it would be hard to cover here, but they varied from young kids discovering their body parts, naming body parts appropriately, masturbation, the extremely important idea of consent, puberty, gender roles, different types of families, and sex in the media (by the way, once I know where and when this workshop is offered, I will let you know – I highly recommend it for any parent).

Consent is something that I am really interested in teaching my son. One thing the presenter mentioned that really stuck with me is that children need to be able to say no to adults in certain situations and that is okay. Whether it is giving grandma a kiss, having their picture taken, or hugging an uncle good night. To make children feel like they have to provide these kinds of affection because otherwise it might “make someone feel bad” may give a child the message that they cannot say no to adults or to their peers. I’ve always allowed my child to choose whether he wants his picture taken or hug or even say hi to an adult, but I always felt a bit of guilt due to social pressure. This piece of advice reminded me that there are other reasons for allowing kids to choose. The idea of consent becomes so important in relationships down the road.

Another aspect of the talk that resonated with me was the idea of secrets vs surprises. Secrets are something you keep from someone forever and surprises are eventually revealed. This helps me explain to my son why secrets are not a good thing for adults and children to have (which is how sexual predators often operate).

Finally, an important question was asked. What are your goals for your kids? By considering this end goal, conversations about sex and sexuality become more positive and focused.

What struck me most about this workshop (besides the fact that this very important topic is rarely discussed) is how gathering together as a community and having these difficult, yet important conversations, makes us feel united and empowered. It allows us to discuss particular scenarios in a comfortable setting, it gives us people to continue conversations with in the future, and it brings about varying types of people with different kinds of families points of view. It was a lot of fun – we ate good food, laughed a lot, and taught each other so many things.

No matter what the subject matter, whether it is money or sex or even the most mundane of topics, having conversations in a small group setting (perhaps with a leader to help focus and provide guidance) is something I want to try and do more often. It was sort of like my own mini 4-hour Chautauqua.

I’d love to see a similar workshop on discussing finances with kids. This is another topic that is confusing for parents to navigate. Perhaps I’ll even feel motivated enough to create one myself.

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Using Your Addictions for Good

in Blog, Life, Retirement

Oh hi there… I had kind of forgotten I had a blog. I was considering not posting anymore, but now I see that people have actually been visiting. Sadly, there hasn’t been much for them to read.

You see, I am a starter. I get excited, I start things, and then they die. Everything is always so fantastic in my own head. I’m sure it’s a pretty common occurrence among humans. I also have a bit of an addictive personality. I need focus and outside influence.

I’m learning this about myself in my so-called Retirement. I’m learning about my habits. I’m learning that my addictive personality is most likely just the fact that I’m a creature of habit. I can ignore most everything around me and just keep doing what I’m doing. This makes me fairly adaptable, which can be a good thing, but it can also make me lazy.

In a way, these simple habits turn into addictions: I have a hard time walking past my office without stopping at my computer. I have a hard time not checking my e-mail on my phone every morning. I have difficulty keeping my office clean. I could get used to something (like a broken toilet, for example) and never bother to get it fixed. When I clean, which is rare, I do it compulsively. I sometimes do the same things over and over.

MMM is the exact opposite. Not working is easy for him. He has goals, dreams, things to do, places to go, people to see! Yeah, he gets in a funk sometimes like we all do, but he does something about it right away. I would happily sit around all day not getting anything accomplished. I like being alone. It makes me happy. Or does it?

Nope. It turns out it doesn’t make me happy at all.

If you’re the same way as me, the solution is simple: use your addictions for good. It takes a little while to figure out, but it works. I quickly became addicted to Crossfit. I now have a lifetime of fitness ahead of me. I can learn things quickly, because I become so engrossed in them – using my addictive personality for good, I can get through a ton of Spanish duolingo courses or obsessively learn the guitar. I can learn to make a Thesis theme or learn Sketch Up from scratch. I can get engrossed in the most minute details of learning until I perfect something. I can become a master of anything if I apply the right focus over time.

I can also shed my addictions very quickly. Two weeks away from my computer and I’m cured – I never need to look at another screen again. On the flipside, two weeks away from Crossfit and I never need to do another deadlift again.

Because of my addictions (ie. electronic devices), I’ve learned that I need to start my day off with an outdoor activity in order to have a productive day. That resets my rhythm away from technology and towards nature and exercise.

I need a daily schedule. I know exactly what it should look like. I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I follow it, but some good things are happening:

– I exercise regularly
– I eat healthy, even though I am still a lazy cook
– I make my bed every morning
– I never use my phone when I’m out (thanks Airvoice! lack of data plan is just what I needed)

It’s a work in progress… our lives are a work in progress. But taking the time to figure this stuff out is important. I may never figure it out completely, but knowing myself is important to me and to my relationships with others.

Don’t know what to do when you retire? Can’t imagine life without a 9-5 job? You may need to go through this exercise too. Give yourself some time off and see what happens – you may learn that you’re more interesting and complex than you think.

{ 18 comments }

Investors Using Mint

in Blog

I got an e-mail from Mint this morning. They like to let me know what I spent in the last seven days.

This is what it looks like when you’re an investor using Mint:

mint_investor

We recently put another $10,000 into Lending Club (see MMM article).  Our shared internet was $64.95, half of which is paid by our partner in sharing.  I went to Crossfit twice, which has a $15 drop in fee.

And yes, I did pay $3.98 for gas. I recently went on a last minute trip to Chicago to meet up with some friends. One of my friends rented a car, which was a Prius – sweet! I paid for gas before returning the car to the rental company. It turns out a Prius does not use much gas.

Do you use Mint? Where did your money go the past seven days?

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How To Justify Your Spending

in Blog

Crossfit

Crossfit – Turkish Getup

These days, the urge to Spend on Stuff is rare. In fact, I find that I have trouble justifying most purchases.

The latest example was in the form of Crossfit equipment to use at home.  I really wanted to buy a few key pieces of equipment so I could work out more at home, but the cost of my gym membership (at $120/mo) made the idea seem ridiculous. As time went on, my desire to purchase equipment remained.

I started by making sure that I could actually work out at home. For one month, I used the equipment we already had and got into a good home workout routine. At that point, I knew my purchases could enhance my home workout experience, and I also had a better idea of what equipment I needed. I decided to forge ahead.

I priced out what I hoped to buy. I wanted to get some bumper plates, a wall ball, a jump rope, and a kettlebell. The high end version of all this equipment was pretty pricey, but I managed to find alternatives that totaled $185 for everything. This happens to equal about 1.5 my monthly membership fee. In theory, if I take a month and a half off and work out at home, then I would “get my money back”. So that’s what I decided to do and I finally clicked “Buy”.

As I looked into it further, I discovered that I was working out an average of 6 times per month (in addition to our free Saturday classes). The drop in rate is $15 per class, so at 6 times per month, this equals $90 per month which was cheaper than my monthly membership fee.  As a compromise (and because I love going to my gym), I decided to work out at the gym once a week and exercise at home the rest of the time. This cuts my membership fee in half to $60 per month. I only have to do this for 3 months to pay for my new home equipment.  Not bad!  This plan may even work indefinitely, therefore saving me a lot more money in the future.

When you’re ready to buy something, see if you can figure out a way to justify your purchase. It may mean selling some things you have or cutting back on something else for a short period of time. In Retirement and in Life, you may find this to be a useful tool that allows you to keep your monthly spending the same, while still being able to make thoughtful purchases.

How do you justify your spending?

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Today’s Trek to the Grocery Store

in Blog

Quote from Reddit:

I never said anything is impossible. I said sacrifices are being made that limit happiness and enjoyment. I would say a grocery budget of $230/mo for a family is a perfect example of that. To have lean meats and greens as a major parts of your diet alone would easily push you over that amount when dealing with a family.

MMM lives in a craphole town with nothing to do–he essentially admits this himself. Let’s be up front about that.

Last year, we actually averaged $477.75 per month for groceries for a family of three.  I’m not sure where this commenter got the $230 from, although that is approximately what we pay for our health insurance per month.

Today I biked to the grocery store.  When I got back, I read the Reddit quote above.  The stars aligned and I decided to share our grocery bill.  Note that this is a HUGE grocery trip for us – we were totally out of food, it seems.

Produce

  • 1 Orange Bell Pepper – $1.25
  • 2 Red Bell Peppers – $2.50
  • 2 Yellow Bell Peppers – $2.50
  • 4 Avocados – $5.00
  • 3 Cucumbers – $2.97
  • 1 Bunch Green Onion – $0.50
  • 2 Red Skin Yams – $2.58
  • 1 Bunch Asparagus – $4.47
  • 3 Sweet Onions – $2.95
  • 2 Broccoli Crowns – $2.57
  • 1 Garlic – $0.50
  • 7 Tomatoes on the Vine – $5.15
  • 1 Spaghetti Squash – $3.33
  • 1 Bunch Cilantro – $0.50
  • 2 Big Bunches Organic Bananas – $4.17
  • 1 five pound bag of Carrots – $2.99
  • 2 bags Organic Gala Apples – $9.98
  • 1 mini Watermelon – $3.99

Total: $56.81

Meat & Seafood (this will last us a while)

  • 1 Bag Frozen Tilapia – $7.99
  • 1 package of 8 Pork Chops – $14.36
  • 1 package of Organic Chicken – $9.53

Total: $31.88

Refrigerated

  • 18-pack of Eggs – $3.99
  • 1 Organic Whole Milk – $5.39

Total: $9.38

Grocery (restock pantry)

  • 1 big package Earl Grey Tea – $6.49
  • 2 cans Coconut Milk – $5.78
  • 3 cans Rotel – $2.97
  • 2 cans Corn – $1.90
  • 2 boxes Organic Chicken Broth – $5.00
  • 1 package Corn Tortillas – $1.89

Total: $24.03

Total Number of items: 43
Total Price : $127.22 (tax of $4.03)

Our groceries in May have totaled $352 so far, including this big trip.

We don’t buy everything organic all the time, as you can see.  Our son eats mostly organic food though.  We also purchase food (like almonds and coffee) in bulk at Costco.  Finally, we have friends that purchase large amount of organic grass fed beef as well as organic eggs from local farmers, so we buy from them when they have things in stock.

As for calling Longmont, CO a “craphole town”?  For now I’ll just say that this is the most real and the most community oriented place I have ever lived. I never knew a place could be this awesome. It’s not for everyone, but it suits me perfectly.

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