food costs challenge – june 2019 report

It’s time for the first full month report for our Food Costs Challenge! June was just about spot on for our target restaurant/fast food spend!

Our goal was $350, and so at $352.40, we were right there! You can also see that our frequency was one of the lowest of the previous year.

So how did it feel? With the exception of being tired a couple nights when we cooked (where we would have previously gone out to eat at a restaurant), it felt pretty okay. We had just a couple of additional conversations where we were deciding when to go out to eat and when to stay home. It didn’t feel hard to me really, probably because…

…we spent significantly more on groceries. We spent $906.48 on groceries, which is so absolutely insane for 3 adults and a child! Our total food costs for the month of June was $1,298.88. So. Much.

I know that we are going to need to address our food costs as a whole. We tent to buy bulk, so I’m hoping that our monthly average goes down over time. We have also had some conversations about making larger quantity, lower cost meals. With an Instant Pot, crockpot, and someone here in the day to start something if we need it, we really shouldn’t have any problems making 2-3 large meals (with 8-10 servings) throughout the week.

I’d love to be between $750-$850 per month for food costs for our family. I think that is a really reasonable goal to aim for. And wow, that’s $500 less than this month. Imagine what we could be doing with the additional $500/month! It’s time to reign it in!

So tell me reader, how was your June? What amazing meal did you eat? What do you think of our June report?

Cheers!
Mel

small garden update

Hello summer! Look at the progress on our garden!

Actual food is growing! Amazing, right? We’re dealing with some wild rabbits and birds trying to get some snacks, but Bear will chase them out (if we tell him to). I’m pretty sure that I saw dog paw prints in there too, but he’s yet to be caught in the act.

Cheers!
Mel

a few steps to increase happiness

Hi readers,

So many FIRE writers, bloggers, and podcasters talk about taking steps they to find out what truly makes them happy and fulfilled. We hear about people doing various exercises to determine true life priorities, and then people putting their effort (and money) into the things that are important to them.

Inspired by others I’m trying to align the time and money that I spend with what makes me happy. In this blog, I’d like to touch on the steps that we take that get us closer to our ultimate goal of personal fulfillment. When we DO get to retirement, we will not have wasted our working years, but instead spent our precious little free time on things that bring us happiness and fulfillment, while setting a solid foundation for the next chapter.

Here’s some intentional changes that I’ve made lately:

  • Deleted the Facebook app off my phone: Inspired by so many others who have completely deleted Facebook, I deleted it from my phone about a week ago. I don’t miss it. I do check once per day and look at things like events that I’ve been invited to, but the endless scrolling and pure crap content is no longer in my face all day. I couldn’t be happier with this decision. And, if I continue to decline my use of the site, I can absolutely see myself deleting it completely in the future.
  • Started Couch to 5k (C25K) again: For me, exercise is crucial in maintaining happiness, but I also struggle with injury. I spent the first few months of 2019 in physical therapy for knee and shoulder injuries, but I feel ready to push myself a little. I know I need to start slow, along with stretching and icing, so I am using the C25K app to steadily increase my endurance
  • Canceled plans to focus on our family: Every weekend (and a lot of weeknights), we have been socializing. As a natural introvert (but learned extrovert, when I need it), I got really burned out. We canceled plans to spend the day going to the swimming pool with Bo, taking a long walk (me), mowing the lawn (Al), playing video games, watching movies, and eating brownies. I felt bad about canceling plans, and in the future I plan to keep a day free and not schedule in the first place. But this time, I just hit some sort of social exhaustion level and couldn’t do it. I know I needed that day to feel replenished.
The circus out for a short run. Bear is more “couch” than “5k”.

While I don’t feel unhappy by any means (in fact, quite the opposite!), making intentional choices in how we spend our time is crucial, especially given the fact that we have so little free time. Though it’s not uncommon for both parents to work, it does mean that all of our non-work obligations fall into our free time, and I do feel the lack of free time affecting me. There are many days that I don’t do anything for myself, aside from my lunch time walk at work, until after 7:00pm. By the time I’m prepared for the following day’s activities, I’m completely exhausted. I always feel the drive for some sort of creative pursuits (blogging seems to be the easiest!), but I’m a morning person and it’s extremely difficult for me to time-box creativity and pull it out on demand.

I’m curious how others find time to pursue what makes them happy. Reader, if you can’t “do it all”, how do you prioritize? Into what activities do you put your time and energy, and does that align with what makes you happy?

Cheers,
Mel

food costs challenge – june 2019 check in

Hi reader!

Welcome to our June 2019 check in! One of our main goals right now is to reduce our restaurant (including fast food) costs. Over the course of the past year, we averaged approximately $520 per month on restaurant costs. Insane. Our first food challenge goal (of hopefully many) is to keep our restaurant costs to $350 or less per month.

For the first half of the month, we are at $166.16! Just under half, so not bad! We had some family in town from out-of-state that bought a big meal for us, and we bought some additional food to accommodate them as well. What we have found this first month, is that we’re spending a lot more on expensive groceries. I know we’ll tackle the general grocery costs at some point, because those are exorbitant as well.

Reader, let’s hear about your food goals! Do you have any expenses that you are following closely? Or maybe it’s all of your expenses… drop me a line in the comments and let me know!

Cheers!
Mel

smashing FIRE goals

Hey reader, we achieved big FIRE goals this week!

Al and I both found out what our salaries are going to be for the new biennium at the GovJobs, and we maxed out our 457b deferred compensation contributions! We had been talking about doing slower increases for the contributions, but ultimately we decided to do it now. Short term pain, long term gain, right?

When we started with the GovJobs, neither of us knew the details of the 457’s and what they could do for us in the long-run. Let’s look at some numbers about the contributions:

  • We are contributing $791/paycheck, which is $3,166 (pre-tax) for our household.
  • Although we won’t hit the limit for 2019, we will hit the $38k limit for the following year and plan to continue those contributions.
  • The software application says that I am contributing 215% toward my goal and would make $105k/year in retirement if I retire at 65. Little does it know…
  • It also says that for my age range (30-39), gender (female), and salary range ($75-$100k), my average peer is contributing 6%, the “Top Peers” (whatever that means) are at 15%, and I am at 28%.

It’s going to be a little painful this summer, because we have some big expenses coming up. Since our whole HVAC system needed to be replaced, we’ll be financing the replacement with a 0% 12-month loan, which I’m estimating will cost us over $1k/month (estimating around $15k for total replacement).

And now our paychecks will be smaller. But I’m pretty sure we can swing it because we don’t have any other major plans in the works for things like major trips/vacations, large expenses, etc. Honestly, we just need to start living within our (new) means.

What FIRE goals are you working on, reader?

Cheers!
Mel

personal finance structuring

Hi again reader,

Before Al and I got married, our accounts were totally separate. We had a number of conversations about whether or not to combine our finances, and to what extent. At the time, we ultimately decided to keep one or more accounts in our individual names, and then open joint accounts from which we would pay bills.

Since we’ve recently started digging into our finances, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the way that we’ve been managing our accounts, so we decided to make some changes, and things are now structured like this (some of this has changed, and other parts have remained the same over a long period of time):

  • Joint credit card: This is the card we use the most, where we get our cash back, etc. We pay off all of our credit cards every month. We also have a Lowe’s card (only ever used at Lowe’s) and will soon be closing another credit card.
  • Joint checking: This is where we pay our bills from, including the joint credit card. Auto-payments for recurring expenses come out of this account. We both contribute to it from our personal checking/savings (see below).
  • Joint emergency savings: This is for true emergencies. We are establishing a goal that’ll allow us to pay at least 3 months of our mortgage plus a bit more. We may up it in the future to include more expenses, but for the short term (and because we have the next account), we’re not going to include all monthly expenses.
  • Joint house savings: This account allows us to save for house projects. In the past, we’ve just waited to do larger projects until our joint checking filled up enough, but we wanted to be much more intentional about the way that we do these projects. We will contribute to this account regularly, and when we have a project that we want to tackle, we’ll deplete it (by using our joint credit card and paying it off with this account so that we get the cash back) and then rebuild it.
  • Personal/individual checking and savings accounts: My paycheck gets deposited into my personal checking account, and then I divvy up the money for the above-listed accounts. After each paycheck, I keep a few hundred dollars in both my personal checking account and also my savings. If I use my Target debit card to save 5%, it comes out of my checking, and I use my personal savings for things like buying gifts for my husband. I honestly don’t keep track of the intention of his personal accounts, because he’s very diligent about transferring the money and never misses paying bills; however, I can see these on Mint if I need to.

We can see everything on Mint.com, with the exception of Bo’s 529, since that’s not money for us. All of our accounts (checking, savings, credit cards), debts (just our mortgage right now), investments (our 457b deferred compensation), property/assets, etc. can be seen by both of us. I think it works really well for us.

Do you manage your own finances, share responsibilities, or split the responsibilities? I am always curious as to how others manage their personal finances! Do you have questions or suggestions for us? Drop a comment below, reader!

Cheers,
Mel

the non-FIRE-friendly car

Hi reader,

This has proven to be a painful post to write, because it’s very authentic to the internal struggles I’ve had about a recent purchase. Until recently, Al and I each had a compact car (two of basically the same car in different brands). My husband had his car since 2009, and I had mine since early 2011. They were both paid off in or before 2012. We also inherited a somewhat unreliable work truck from Al’s dad when he passed away.

Initially, I wanted to buy a new car before Bo was born. We had Bear dog already, and our cars were so small. We started the conversations, but held off. Then Al’s mom moved in with her own compact car. We then had 3 compact cars and a truck. Al is 6’6″ and his mom is 6’1″. I am 5’8″, the car seat is… huge, and the dog is a chunk.

The breaking point was when we all decided to go our favorite trail spot, about 10 minutes from our house, and my MIL’s knees were in the dash, my knees were digging into the back of the seat, and the dog was on my lap. It was officially time to car shop, so I sold my low-mileage 2008 car for a price I was happy with: $4,500. We also made the plan to sell the truck toward the end of the summer, when we’re done using it for some backyard projects.

The week that we went car shopping was the week that I first heard about FIRE.

But, sometimes these things take time to sink in, time to wrap my head around. We had saved enough to buy a 3rd row SUV, and that’s what we did. We purchased a brand new Subaru Ascent for the whopping total of around $45k (including registration and taxes), in cash.

Thar she is. Or he. The car’s gender is still up in the air.

I have such mixed feelings about this car. On one hand, we could clearly afford it, at least on some level. We had the money in cash! On the other, there’s so much else we could have done with the money. With three (tall) adults, a dog, and a massive car seat, the space is not taken for granted. This car is 100% not FIRE-approved, and I definitely have some buyer’s remorse about the price. Just kidding, it’s a lot of buyer’s remorse. But only about the price, the car is frickin’ awesome. I do realize that we could have gotten something a lot more modest, for a much lower price. There’s no justifying that price when you think about the path to FIRE.

Prior to the FIRE discovery, our motto was (more or less): Buy less stuff, but the stuff we buy and that’s important to us can be really nice. We usually hold out for a long time for new things, and then get really quality (and sometimes indulgent) items. This can be a good and bad philosophy: on one hand, we buy fewer items than our peers, and the items tend to last a long time. On the other hand, we tend to spend too much on the things we do buy. This car is case in point.

This car could (literally) last us 20 years, as we carpool to work and only had a combined total of ~130,000 miles on both of our old cars, prior to me selling mine. And we also know that this will likely be the most expensive car we ever own. It will be the car Bo grows up in, we go camping in, etc. When Al’s car dies, we intend to replace it with a moderately inexpensive electric car, and probably commute in that car. Hopefully we have a few more years before that happens. We’ve also talked about only sharing a single car between the two of us, since we carpool (and could use my MIL’s car in a pinch).

However, if this car no longer serves a solid purpose in our lives, we will sell it. I can’t fathom doing that right now, since we’ve fully utilized it multiple times per week since we’ve gotten it. However, my (new) FIRE mindset is starting to allow me to be open to alternatives in my life that I wouldn’t have considered before. And so, reader, I will be more open with this purchase, and future purchases, to make better decisions when the opportunity arises. And this has been a big, giant, expensive, luxurious lesson in life and on the path to FIRE.

What do you think about our future car plans? Go electric? Share a car? How have you handled a large purchase for which you have buyer’s remorse?

Cheers,
Mel