Small Steps, Big Gains – Q3 Goals Recap

In September I set a personal goal to exercise at least 10 minutes every day.

How did I do?

28 out of 30 days last month, I met this goal!  And a strange thing happened along the way.

Because I spent part of the month battling knee and back pain (#thisis40), many of those days, my activity didn’t consist of running or other high impact activities.  Instead, I chose to walk.  And as a result, I logged more miles of walking than I have in any month in the past three years.  These small amounts of activity, done almost every day, resulted in more mileage logged than in other months where I’ve logged fewer, but longer activities.

This feels like an analogy for where our household is with our financial progress, too.  Since April, when my husband lost his job, we’ve slowed down on the savings and investments.  But those dollars trickling in to my 401(k) every paycheck are steadily increasing my balance over time.  Progress is progress, whether it happens $1 at a time or $1,000 at a time.

Here’s a look at how my 2018 goals are shaping up now that we’re three quarters of the way through the year.

Financial Goals

Max out 401(k).  On track!  I was a little unsure if I’d be able to keep contributing at the same level after Mr. FIREdup lost his job.  But we’ve rallied.  (More to come soon on Mr. FIREdup’s current work situation.)

Fund 25% of Financial Freedom goal for non-retirement funds.  At 26.5%.  YAY!  As long as the markets hold this goal will be met.

Capture3

Make 2017 IRA contribution/Finalize will.  Done!

Minimalism/Simplicity

12 Items in 2018.  My plan is to limit clothing related purchases to 12 or less items this year.  As of today, I’ve purchased nine items.  I’m right on track for the year.

Blogging

Average one post per week two posts per month.  There are days I think about scrapping this blog altogether, and then there are days where I love it.  I’ve posted at least twice a month every month this year, and while I’d like to do more, practically speaking this goal is sustainable.

Share quarterly updates on progress against the Financial Freedom goal.

Capture1

One year ago, we were at 67.3% of this goal; now we’re at 78.2%.  At this same clip, assuming no major market correction, we could meet this goal in two years.  Which is AMAZING, guys!

Stretch Goals

Get 2nd mortgage balance below $10,000.  Today this balance stands at $13,537.93.  While we’ve got the money to pay it down, I’m not sure I want to liquidate that much from our savings account.  Time will tell.  I could see myself getting annoyed and just paying it down out of spite before December 31 rolls around.

How are you doing against your goals for the year?  

Optimizing for Happiness

I recently listened to this episode of the ChooseFI podcast, where J from Millennial Boss talked about her career hacking.  She has made several moves to advance her salary and career, but now she is in a job she really enjoys and mentioned that she is working on optimizing for happiness.

This phrase struck a chord with me, especially since it aired shortly after I interviewed for another job.  Despite being sad when I initially declined the offer, it gave me a chance to reflect on my current situation – and it led me to a greater appreciation for all the things my current company and job have to offer.  I am optimizing for happiness right now and I didn’t even realize it.  Here are some of the factors contributing to that.

My job pays well.  It would be nice to make more, but since I’ve been in the workforce for a while, my pay is pretty good.   My pay looks even better when evaluated in relation to the number of hours I work and the stress level of my job.  I don’t work much overtime, and my job (generally) doesn’t keep me awake at night.  I’ve had jobs in the past, when I made less money, that required more hours of work and involved higher levels of stress.

My job has some great benefits.  I feel blessed that I could easily add Mr. FIREDup to my really good health insurance when he left his job this spring.  I was granted some stock options a couple of years ago and they will be partly vested this fall.  We have a gym at work; it’s free.  It has workout machines, fitness classes, a pool, and a locker room.  I recently found out that spouses can join our fitness center for free, too!  It’s amazing to have the opportunity to head out for a lunchtime run during the workweek when time allows.  Which leads to my next point…

My job has a fair amount of autonomy and flexibility.  I can work from home if I need to.  I can leave for a doctor’s appointment or take an early or late lunch break to get outside and enjoy a run on a sunny day.  My manager trusts me and my ability to get my work done and doesn’t micromanage me.  And in general, I work with intelligent, motivated, capable people.  This is something I likely take for granted as the average level of talent at this company is not typical of all workplaces.

I have amazing time off.  Since I’ve worked for my employer for a long time, I get a pretty good chunk of time off every year (at least by American standards).  My company also has a (paid) sabbatical program that I’ll be eligible for next year!

I don’t waste precious time commuting.  My commute is generally 30 minutes or less round-trip – plus I can work from home on occasion.  If I were to work in another part of the city, that would be 30-60 minutes a day of additional commuting time, which would directly eat into time with my family in the morning and evening.

At this point in my life, I don’t need to chase money, because we have enough to pay our bills; what is more precious to me is time, and I am maximizing that precious resource.  I’m optimizing for happiness.  What a lucky place to be.

The Importance of Having a Network (aka I Declined a Job Offer)

At the beginning of last month I had a bad week at work.  I was in a lull between projects and had time to overthink my career future (I’ve been overthinking my career future for a while now).  This overthinking resulted in me casually looking at jobs on LinkedIn.

And I found a job I was really interested in.  It was a fit with my skills and was with a really intriguing company.  I applied that weekend.

After two+ weeks with no word, I assumed they weren’t contacting me for an interview.  I was a little bit heartbroken, but work had picked up again and life was busy and I didn’t have much time to think about it.

Shortly thereafter, I got contacted for a phone screen.  Despite being sick that morning, I trudged through the quick screening call.  A few days later, I was called to come in for an interview with the hiring manager.  The interview went well and I had a good feeling that there was mutual interest.  It was time to do a little due diligence.

After discovering that an acquaintance from earlier in my life – one whose judgment I trust – knew the hiring manager, I reached out to to see if she had any feedback.

Let’s just say the feedback…wasn’t good.

It was sad to learn this, but I was thankful to get the intel.  Also, at the point where I reached out to my friend to get feedback, it didn’t really matter yet anyway.  I didn’t know if the interview would even lead anywhere.

But my intuition had told me my odds were good and I was right.  The recruiter contacted me with an offer.  After a brief phone call, she sent over an official offer letter along with benefits information.

After much deliberation, I concluded that the right choice was to decline the offer.  While there’s no guarantee that I would have a bad experience working for the hiring manager, I also know first-hand how challenging work can be when you work for a difficult manager.  Also, I’m not trying to escape a bad job situation; in fact, in many respects, I have a great work setup.  Combine that with the fact that Mr. FIREDup’s work situation is still in flux, and I just didn’t think I was at a point where taking this kind of risk made sense.

I still analyzed the offer details to get a feel for what an external company could offer in terms of pay, bonus, benefits, and time off.  The offer was comparable to my current package, but not better; the pay was slightly less (with some potential upside) and the PTO was a little less (which is probably going to be the same anywhere I go at this point).  Basic benefits were similar.  There are some amazing unique perks at my current company that I’d have to give up no matter where I would choose to work next.

There was quite a bit of anguish in deliberating over this opportunity.  The company is SUPER interesting and would offer an environment different from the one I work in now.  And the job sounded like such a good fit with my skills and the unique mix of work experience I’ve gathered over the last several years.

Declining Gracefully

I can’t even recall the last time I declined a job offer, it’s been so long ago.  Here are a few takeaways I’d offer:

  • Call with your decline rather than sending an email.  Email might be okay, and it’s kind of the easy way out, especially for someone like me who can get thoughts out better in writing than verbally.  But calling is a more genuine way to connect.
  • Have a script.  Have a quick one or two sentence summary to explain why you are declining.  I wrote out my response and then ran through it in my head before I made the call.  And give a reason for the decline.  I obviously couldn’t give the pure truth for my decline in this case, but the reason I gave was also true:  I thought I was ready to leave my current company, but upon further reflection, the timing isn’t right.
  • Give a sincere thank you.  It was not a stretch for me to tell the recruiter that I genuinely appreciated the opportunity to interview for the position.  There was a lot of time and effort put into the screening and interviewing process, and I wanted to recognize that effort.
  • Give a timely response.  I didn’t take much time to deliberate.  I didn’t want to delay their hiring process as they likely had another candidate or two waiting in the pipeline.
  • Don’t burn bridges.  You never know when you might run into someone again further down the road in your career or personal life.  I live in a large metro area with many employers, and was interviewing at a company where I didn’t know anyone, yet I still had someone in my network who could provide first-hand experience working with the hiring manager.  If this were the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, my Bacon number would be 1.

There was some dread in making the phone call, but I did it, kept it short and sweet, and it went as well as it possibly could.  It felt like the door was left open to potential future opportunities as the company grows.

Closing Thoughts

I have zero regrets in applying and interviewing for this job.  It helped me clarify a few things:

  • I thought I was ready to leave my current employer, but this experience made it clear that it’s not quite the right time.  But…
  • It also seems likely that if my current position doesn’t grow or change, that the time to move on from what I’m doing now will be sooner rather than later.
  • Yes, I have marketable skills…but they’re a unique set of skills and experiences, so it will take time to find my next thing, whatever that ends up being.
  • It’s REALLY valuable to stay attuned to the market and keep job search skills fresh.  I would argue this is important for everyone, because even if you are in a great job at a great company, circumstances can change rapidly.

I thought about the pursuit of financial freedom several times throughout this process.  If we were further along in our financial freedom journey, it’s more likely that I would have taken the job.  For me, that’s the point of financial freedom – I wouldn’t be dependent on making a high salary, so I could selectively choose to do work that I find meaningful or rewarding or exciting.  On the flip side, since we haven’t reached our financial freedom goals yet, my current employment situation is a little more lucrative and will help us make progress towards those goals more rapidly.

What would you have done in this situation?   Would you have taken the risk, or stayed put?

All the Things we Regret with Money

Last week I listened to this episode of Paula Pant’s Afford Anything podcast.  She was interviewing Emma Pattee, who became a self-made millionaire by age 26.  Emma and Paula have both built real estate portfolios that provide enough cash flow to sustain their living expenses (the elusive “FI” of financial independence).

In this conversation Paula and Emma started talking about the psychological aspects of money.   They each shared stories on their path to FI where they had decided to not spend money on something and later regretted the emotional loss that went along with making that decision.

Listen to this truth bomb from Paula (slightly paraphrased):

“Both of us were motivated by the same thing…and for both of us, that was largely anxiety – we did it not because we wanted a big house with a fancy car, we did it because we were just anxious people who wanted the psychological security of a safety net in order to relieve some of that anxiety we felt.  That was our motivation…It’s funny, because being in a very emotionally unhealthy place led to a behavior that had a lot of positive reinforcement…There’s been a lot of external validation to just being a basket case.”

Does this conversation point strike a chord with others the way it does with me?  Perhaps it hit me so hard because I see myself in what Paula says.  My obsession with saving comes from a mindset of anxiety and fear of the unknown future, not from one of abundance and confidence.

Just as it is unhealthy to spend beyond your means, it can ALSO be emotionally unhealthy to become obsessed with squirreling money away!  And this is not something I often see addressed in the FI community.

Spending Regret and Satisfaction

I have definitely had times in the past where I regretted not spending money on something.  One example is that I did not study abroad during my graduate program like a couple of my friends did.  At the time I didn’t feel comfortable spending the money and instead took a well-paying internship.  This was fifteen years ago and any amount of money I would have spent on the education and travel would have long since been paid off by now.  The regret of not spending a few weeks in Italy, unencumbered by work or family obligations, still lingers.

There have also been times where I was stressed about spending money at the time but in retrospect have fond memories associated with that monetary outflow.  The first one that springs to mind is a big trip I took with my best friend five years ago.  We bought expensive handmade Turkish rugs in Istanbul and a split a case of wine in Tuscany.  My only regret is that I didn’t buy more wine!

Can you think of any instances where you wish you would have spent money instead of squirreling it away?  What is your motivation for saving for the future?

Q2 Goals Update: Some Bumps in the Road

At the end of last year I set some goals for 2018 with an expectation to provide quarterly updates.  How’s it going, halfway through the year?  Well…we had some bumps in the financial road in Q2.

The Chaos of Life in Q2

My husband lost his job in April.  We’ve had some random extra expenses recently, including finding out our dog has diabetes and needs insulin shots twice a day.  I also planned a mini-vacation for our family to Chicago for last week, thinking this was a good time to go as my husband is between jobs and we wouldn’t have to fight for him to get a few vacation days at a new job.  While I was able to book flights with points, I didn’t have enough points for a hotel stay.  I wanted to stay at a family-friendly hotel close to downtown attractions since we didn’t have a car and were traveling with a toddler, so I did shell out some money for that.  (It was worth it, BTW.  And our toddler did awesome on her first flight, first bus ride, and first ride on the “L” train.)

I wish the story of our vacation ended there (we had a great time!), but it doesn’t.

We ended up taking our daughter to the ER early in the morning the day we were scheduled to fly home from Chicago.  That visit resulted in a 2 day stay in the hospital.

The good news: our daughter is doing great, and we made it home safely, just a couple days late.  (Can I repeat:  this is great news, and overshadows the bad news by quite a lot.  You can’t place a value on knowing your child is healthy again.)

The bad (financial) news:  The hospital visit will result in a significant out of pocket expense; we had to book last minute flights to get home; and we had extra miscellaneous expenses like an additional two days for dog boarding and two days of meals.  (Interestingly, we didn’t have extra hotel costs; the hotels in the area were all sold out and the social worker graciously found us a place to sleep in the hospital for two nights.)

So the bottom line is that we had a few surprises thrown at us in Q2.  As you’ll see below, we’re still making progress on goals, but the pace will slow down for the foreseeable future.

Financial Goals

Max out 401(k).  On track…for now.  I may end up cutting back my contribution for a few paychecks to cash flow some of the medical expenses instead of having to pull it all from savings.  It kind of depends on how long it is before we get the bill and what Mr. FIREDup’s employment situation will be in the coming months.

Finalize will. Finally done!  We also bought life insurance.  Hopefully a blog post to come soon to share more on these experiences.

Fund 25% of Financial Freedom goal for non-retirement funds.  At 24.4%.  YAY!  If Mr. Market cooperates, this should be complete before the end of the year even if I can’t made any additional contributions.

Make 2017 IRA contribution.  Done in February.

Minimalism/Simplicity

12 Items in 2018.  My plan is to limit clothing related purchases to 12 or less items this year.  As of today, I’ve purchased seven items.  I’m on track for the year, but it doesn’t look like I’ll come in much below that number.

Blogging

Average one post per week.  Nope.  I wrote 2 in April, 3 in May, and 4 in June.  My new goal is at least two per month and ideally 4 per month.  This blog is a hobby. 🙂

Share quarterly updates on progress against the Financial Freedom goal.

Capture

I’m really happy to see that we are still making progress here.  We’re up from 71.5% at the end of Q1.

Stretch Goals

Attend FINCON 2018.  Nope.

Get 2nd mortgage balance below $10,000.  Man I would really like to do this, but at this point it seems unlikely.  It mostly depends on the employment situation for Mr. FIREDup over the next few months.

How are you doing against your goals for the year, financial or otherwise?

3 Weeks In: The Effects of Losing an Income

It’s been three weeks since Mr. FIREDup lost his job.  Here’s an update on how things are going so far.

Summer Fun

A noticeable effect has been that we have more fun family time!  Mr. FIREDup can now do weekend chores during the week.  We aren’t spending Saturday morning at the grocery store, and he can mow our fast-growing spring lawn any weekday the weather cooperates.

You know those pesky little tasks around the house that never seem to get done when you’re working all the time?  We’ve got a list of those, and he can usually complete a couple things a day.

It’s really nice that his time off coincided with the weather improving significantly.  We’ve had more time to go to the park and enjoy other outdoor family activities the past few weekends.   He has also had time to indulge in one of his newer hobbies – photography.   That photo at the top of this post?  He took that on Monday while hiking in a nature area near our house.

The weeknight after-work dinner hustle has also calmed.  Mr. FIREDup is a great chef and now dinner prep is well underway by the time I get home with our daughter!

Excitement…but Uncertainty

I’m very excited to see what new opportunities might open up for my husband.  His particular work is a narrow niche, and there aren’t a tremendous number of opportunities in our local market.  I think this makes him feel a little uncertain about his prospects.  However, it’s also exciting because he can find something he really enjoys doing.  There have been a couple of promising leads, but nothing formal has materialized yet.

Gratitude

I’m extremely grateful that we came into this situation in good financial shape.  My solid salary and our generally good saving habits mean that this switch to a single-income household hasn’t derailed our finances.  In all honesty, if we were willing to tighten up our financial habits a bit, I think we could live on this income and still save for FI…it  would just be at a much slower pace.

Financial Freedom = Flexibility for Lifestyle Design

This pause in the rat race of having two full-time working adults in our household has made me think a lot about financial freedom and the trade-off between time and money.  Can we design a lifestyle with more flexibility, even if it slows down our savings?

What if my husband takes a part-time job that allows him to get home earlier to make dinner every night, or which gives him a day off every week to take care of household chores?  What if he takes on freelance work (something that is very common in his niche) rather than another traditional 9-to-5?  What if he finds a new full-time job, and that allows me to look for a part-time opportunity?  What if both of us could work part-time?

It’s exciting to think about how we can design our future lifestyle so that we have enough money to live comfortably but also have more control over how we spend our time.

Have you made trade-offs between time and money?  What mix of work works best for your (or your family’s) situation?

I’ve Always Saved for a Rainy Day. Time to Break Out the Umbrella

The Backstory

Corporate machinations have been in full swing at Mr. FIREDup’s workplace for several months.  Senior leadership changed at the end of last year.  His director left as a result, and in January of this year a perky, up-and-coming new director was hired from another company.

He was excited to see what perspective the new director would bring.  Unfortunately things quickly went sideways.  The new director was displeased with the work he was producing.  It’s not clear to me exactly what went wrong.  Did the new director’s creative direction not align with my husband’s?  (The creative world is more nebulous than my world of numbers and spreadsheets).  Did his personality rub her the wrong way?  Did someone at a higher level have it out for him?  Was he a pawn in a power struggle?  Whatever the cause, my husband was coming out on the losing end.  He was miserable.

It got bad enough that one day in February I told him, “It’s okay if you have to walk out one day and not come back.”  (This is a pretty out of character thing for me to say.)  By the end of that month, we knew there was a realistic probability that he might be asked to leave.

A Blessing in Disguise

Things had gotten better recently.  Until yesterday, when I got a text from my husband saying he had been fired.

A range of feelings consumed me:

  • Anger.  Not because he was fired, but because he had not been treated with  decency and respect by his employer.
  • Empathy.  This type of experience takes an emotional toll.  I was worried how my husband was feeling about all of it.
  • Relief.  This feeling came to me later in the evening.  This job was never a great fit for my husband.  It’s probably a blessing in disguise that he was asked to leave, because I truly believe there is something out there that is a better fit for his talents and skills.
  • Gratitude.  I am thankful that we have had the means to save for a rainy day.  I wasn’t consumed with financial worry when I heard the news.  Because we have been living below our means for a long time, we have adequate emergency funds we can tap into if needed.  For the short term, few financial adjustments will need to be made.

But I also don’t want to be tied to a job because it pays a lot, or have to work on someone else’s schedule for the next 25 years.  Companies get acquired, managers move on, job responsibilities shift, and sometimes great jobs become stifling or downright horrific.  Financial freedom means that either I or my husband can choose to quit a job if one of us lands in a bad work situation; or that we can weather the storm if one of us gets laid off.  Working towards a financial freedom goal also means that we will have the flexibility to shift careers, work part-time, take a sabbatical from paid work, or start a business.

Contingency Planning

Because we knew this situation could be happening to us, I had already done some contingency planning in my head.  What financial moves do we we make now and down the road, until new employment is found?

  • My husband will file for unemployment.  (Spoiler: it’s not a lot, basically enough to cover daycare.)
  • I will add my husband to my health insurance.
  • We can tap the emergency funds if needed.
  • If necessary, we can reduce my retirement savings to the minimum required to get the company match, freeing up much more of my paycheck to flow to the bottom line.  (This is not a change I am planning to make immediately.)
  • My husband can pick up freelance work.
  • We can take our daughter out of daycare.  My husband could become a semi-permanent stay-at-home parent if necessary.  Dropping the monthly daycare expense would free up a ton of cash flow.  We love our daycare, so this is not something we would consider until other options had been exhausted.

I have always been the primary breadwinner in our family, so luckily this job loss doesn’t equate to us losing half (or more!) of our household income.  And honestly, if we can’t figure out a way to live on my income for a while, then someone should probably revoke my financial blogger status; even with just my income, we still make more than the median income for our area.

Conclusion

The pursuit of financial independence isn’t just about being able to retire early.  It’s about being able to weather the storms that life rains down on you along the way.

Would you be prepared if someone in your household lost their job?  What other financial moves should we be making in the meantime?

 

 

Is Family Support a Part of Your FIRE Plans?

Last week I listened to Sylvia’s story on the FIRE Drill Podcast.  Sylvia is a lawyer who has already hit her financial independence number, but is working for a few more years so that she has the flexibility to provide financial support to family members after she retires.

I’ve seen plenty of discussion in the personal finance world about parents providing economic aid to their grown children. But the opposite scenario – wanting to help parents or siblings – is not something I’ve seen covered much in the FIRE community.  Is Sylvia somewhat unique, or are there others who want to have the flexibility to do the same?

This episode hit home for me.  I do not worry about my husband’s parents’ financial situation; his dad is living comfortably on a railroad retirement pension, and I believe his mom’s husband will have a pension when he retires in the next couple of years as well.  But my family is a different story.

My Family Story

I grew up in a rural area.  My dad was a farmer and my mom stayed at home.  When I was ten my mom, a nurse, went back to work part-time.  There aren’t a lot of job opportunities in the immediate area.  She could have chosen to commute an hour to a larger city where she could work 12-hour shifts and earn more money.  But it was important to her to have the flexibility to be close to home for our after-school activities.

At some point my mom went back to work full time, while my dad continued to farm.  In addition to farming, my dad also took on side jobs, including selling seed and appraising and selling real estate.  My parents always worked hard, but the hard work did not result in lucrative financial gains.

Twelve years ago, my dad died unexpectedly.  He had life insurance and his affairs were kept in good order.  But there was still a financial impact.  My mom sold off some of the farm equipment, but there were loans against the farm from the lean years that needed to be paid down.

I am thankful that my mom had been working for many years by this point so she didn’t have to worry about finding a job.  But despite being at the same employer for coming up on 30 years, she still does not get paid a high wage.  Though she manages her money well, there just isn’t a lot of it to go around.  And maintaining a home and farm occasionally requires significant outlays of cash.

My Philosophy on Family Support

Honestly, I do worry about my mom’s financial situation.  So when I have an opportunity to help in small ways, I do so.  My brother and I both went to college, then moved to large cities and got jobs that pay substantially more than any jobs in the area where we grew up.  So we have the luxury of being able to pay for things that are a small burden to us but a much larger burden for her.  For example, we bought her a new washer and dryer two years ago for Christmas.

There has never been an expectation that we provide things for my mom.  And my mom is not the kind of person who would ever take advantage of us for financial gain, either.  But she has always been a great mom, and a role model for hard work and sacrifice.  Why wouldn’t we share our financial abundance when it makes sense to do so?

While providing family support is not an explicit part of our FI journey, having extra money to help my mom whenever it’s needed is definitely a consideration in our long-term financial decision making.

Caveats

I do think there are some rules to abide by when it comes to sharing your financial resources with family, whether it is a child or a parent or another family member:

  • Take care of yourself first.  Sylvia referred to this as the airplane method: you can’t help someone else if you don’t take care of yourself first.  Make sure your own financial house is in order before you offer to help family.
  • Only provide money or resources willingly, not out of forced obligation.  My mom would never have an expectation that we “give” her things, but others may have a different family dynamic.  Providing money without creating a cycle of dependence can be tricky.
  • Be cautious in loaning money.  I have never loaned money, but if I were in that situation, I would treat it as a gift so as not to create resentment should the money not be paid back.
  • Consider non-monetary gifts.  Sylvia mentioned that she shares frequent flier miles with her family.  I think this is a great idea!  My mom said Hawaii is the one place she really wants to visit, so in the next few years we are planning to do a trip there – and I plan for us to pay for most, if not all, of the trip on her behalf.

I’m really curious to get feedback from others on this topic.  Do you have family support as part of your FIRE plan?  If so, how do you plan to do so?  

What I Learned from the Uber Frugal Month Challenge

In January I decided to partake in the Frugalwoods Uber Frugal Month Challenge as this was the last opportunity before it goes on hiatus.

I really didn’t know what to expect; I went in with an open mind to see what I could learn.  Now that the month is complete, here are my biggest takeaways:

My basic frugality skills are solid.

As I read each daily e-mail, I realized that I’ve already done a lot of work to get back to a frugal mindset in the past year or so.  I have cut back on clothing/shoes purchases, pack lunch for work 4’ish days a week, actively shop the ads at our grocery store, think before purchasing things impulsively.  Since we have a toddler, our travel and entertainment budget is pretty minimal (we don’t go out much).  We even hosted a frugal birthday party for our daughter, which was both inexpensive and low stress.

I also used the challenge as an opportunity to “go without” some small luxuries for a month as a reset.  For example, I didn’t buy anything on Amazon or Target and didn’t purchase any coffee away from home.  (How did I manage to go a whole month without setting foot in Target?)

Could I have cut my discretionary expenses even more during the challenge?  Definitely.  But overall I feel we have a solid foundation in frugality.

 

We have a lot of ‘big rocks’ in our spending

These are our 3 big rocks:  Mortgage, Daycare, and Retirement Savings.  I just added up in my head what these three line items amount to, and it’s pretty ridiculous.  In fact, January was a 5-week daycare month so that expense was nearly as much as our mortgage!  We also had an unexpected plumbing expense in the middle of the month.

When so much of your monthly budget is consumed by a few big things, it can be discouraging; why even bother cutting back on the $5 lattes or $10 lunches? But these are the only changes that will make an impact for us in the short term.

You can’t force frugality upon someone else.

I started the month trying to rope my husband into this challenge, thinking it would be fun to do it together.  One of the first UFM e-mail topics related to goals.  I set out to have a conversation with the hubs about our frugality and future life plans.

Well…I kind of forgot that my husband hates goal setting and thinking about the future and really anything that constrains his behaviors artificially.   (We are very different souls.)  I kept pushing on it and we both felt miserable at the end of the discussion.  So I took a step back and remembered I can only manage my own behaviors.

“You cannot effectively shove ANY philosophy, world view, religion, or way of life down someone else’s throat. The best you can do is live out the shining example of your financial certainty. People will notice.”  -Mrs. Frugalwoods

Do I wish my husband would spend less money going out to lunch during the week?  Yes.  Is that a hill I want to die on?  NOPE.  So I’ll carry on by eating leftover black bean soup three days in a row.  You know why?  Because I CHOOSE to do it, and it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.  (That was some damn good soup if I do say so myself.)

My husband is generally open to listening to my points about frugality when I make non-judgmental remarks in passing conversation, so I’m going to continue using this approach.

 

There is a season for saving and a season for spending.

January is the perfect month to focus on frugality.  Everyone is burned out from the holidays and trying to get back into a regular routine.  However, it can be really easy to get in a NO FUN RUT where you never let yourself splurge on anything.

This path to financial independence?  It is not a short one, at least not for us.  Some fun things need to be sprinkled in there to keep up the morale.  The key is to find a balance and spend money on things that you value.  I’m loosening up the purse strings just a little in February.

“There are seasons for blowing money like a dope, and seasons for saving like a coupon-clipping maniac. Finding your balance is key.”  –Abandoned Cubicle

Who should do the UFM Challenge?

I was a surprised to discover I didn’t learn much new information from the daily e-mails.  Maybe that’s because I’ve been reading the Frugalwoods blog for a while now and am already familiar with many of the great tips offered through the challenge.

I think the ideal target for the UFM challenge would be:

  1. Someone who is early in their frugality journey and still building their skills (this would be a great Frugality 101 class);
  2. Someone who likes/needs group accountability (there was a lot of discussion on the Facebook group, though I didn’t participate personally);
  3. Someone looking to do a frugality “cleanse” – a previously frugal person, who has encountered some lifestyle inflation and is wanting to reset habits

Have you done the UFM challenge?  What did you learn about yourself?  How do you talk frugality with your significant other?

FIREd up about the Flexibility of Financial Freedom

I was comforted to recently read this post on Adventure Rich where Ms. Adventure Rich admits that they don’t have a set FI target date or amount.  I felt some imposter syndrome setting up a FIRE blog when we don’t have an FI date or number, either.

But in reality, this isn’t a blog about me retiring early.  Ideally I am done “working” before 65, but I’m not going to be bowing out of the workforce decades early.  What really interested me in the FIRE community is the Financial Independence facet.  Money = Financial Freedom.  So rather than having a FIRE goal, it is really a Financial Freedom goal, similar to the FFLC (Fully funded lifestyle change) espoused by Slowly Sipping Coffee.

So what does Financial Freedom mean to me?

Career Flexibility

Most days, I actually don’t mind working; I enjoy the mental challenge and the social interaction.  I have worked for my company for a long time and have some great benefits, generous PTO, and a manager that respects me and doesn’t micromanage.

But I also don’t want to be tied to a job because it pays a lot, or have to work on someone else’s schedule for the next 25 years.  Companies get acquired, managers move on, job responsibilities shift, and sometimes great jobs become stifling or downright horrific.  Financial freedom means that either I or my husband can choose to quit a job if one of us lands in a bad work situation; or that we can weather the storm if one of us gets laid off.  Working towards a financial freedom goal also means that we will have the flexibility to shift careers, work part-time, take a sabbatical from paid work, or start a business.

Time

Maggie at Northern Expenditure wrote:

“…it is so unfair that the most important working years coincide with the most important years for our children. Why did parents have to spend so much time trying to build careers at the same time their children were trying to figure out how to walk and talk and learn?”

We had our daughter at the beginning of this year.  I don’t want to sacrifice these early years we have with her just to retire a few years before she leaves the nest. For me, saving and investing means we have the financial flexibility to make lifestyle changes that align with our values – spending time with our daughter.

Overcoming Uncertainty

My dad died unexpectedly at 52.  My mom is a cancer survivor.  I’m 39 now, and even though I work to maintain my health, there are things outside my control that could lead to physical limitations as I age.

On a trip to Italy a few years ago, my friend and I stayed at the property featured in the photo at the top of this post, in one of the towns in the Cinque Terre region.

Our room was at the VERY TOP.  So.many.stairs. There is often a level of physical fitness that is required for the type of travel I enjoy, such as sightseeing or hiking through the wilderness.  If I postpone all this traveling until I retire, my physical body may not be quite as willing to cooperate.

Meaning

Do you find meaning in the work you do every day?  I’ve spent my career in the corporate world.  I care about the overall mission of my company, and believe we are doing good work.  But it’s usually hard to find meaning in the day-to-day of the actual job.   I think quite a lot of people in large organizations feel this way, especially those who are seeking FIRE.  Financial freedom means the option to pursue ‘work’ that provides meaning and fulfillment, rather than just focusing on a paycheck and benefits.

What are your reasons for pursuing Financial Freedom?

%d bloggers like this: