A part of the path to FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) involves consuming less and this really resonates with me. It’s not being frugal to save money, but it’s being frugal to really think about what you need versus want while considering the true value of each purchase. I haven’t been too great at this lately, but all big purchases get scrutinized for their value.
I’ve written about the every day things we do without – cable, subscriptions, expensive cell phone bills, eating out, etc. – and the big ticket items we’re doing without – kitchen remodel and pretty much any large home remodel that applies to this old house. Obviously none of these things are necessary, so these aren’t tough decisions. We have debt and spending money on anything else seems foolish.
And I can be foolish. This laptop I’m using is physically breaking down with missing parts, dents and dings, and running very slow at times. Couple that with a very persistent, soon to be birthday boy asking for a gaming laptop. And we’re getting one. What’s the value in that? Our family laptop will die and now we have one that the kids won’t complain about. There’s a lot of value in that.
But, I digress. Back to the planet.
Listening to NPR’s Living Green segment yesterday got me thinking there’s more we, as a family, can do. Computers aside, I think we’re pretty good with our environmentally-friendly and frugal and then, sometimes we’re not.
Paper products: We use cotton napkins, but we always have a roll of paper towels. Keeping cotton napkins, cloths and rags handy will help reduce that waste.
Compost: We don’t. We did in Seattle but in our Philly ‘burb, it’s available, but cost prohibitive. We have room in our yard to do something about this. I’ve composted yard waste, but I’d like to get a vessel so we can compost food waste, too.
Food: I’ve been trying to cut out meat during the week, but sometimes the convenience of cooking what we know wins. We can make a more concerted effort on this.
Water: We do wash a lot and we don’t have an efficient machine. We adjust the water levels, but it’ll be interesting to see if we save any water by running full loads only.
Clothes: I need to find a second hand store I like!
Stuff: We have too much! It drives me nuts. I need to purge and minimize. I feel like I’m always doing this, but I’m not making progress. I will start with one room at a time, working from the top (bedrooms) to bottom (basement).
Plastic: Stop buying the ziploc bags and use reusable containers and bees wax wraps.
I’m going to see if my library has All You Need is Less – this book was mentioned in the radio show.
I think the food and clothes will yield the biggest cost savings, but it’s not about the cost, it’s about the planet and, in turn, our health.
I’ve been meaning to calculate my savings rate and finally got down to it: 29%. Eh. I thought it would be more, but I’m maxing my 401k and the kids college will be funded by real estate.
I haven’t yet calculated my husbands, but I anticipate his is about the same but with a few differences, like funding our HSA.
We’re working to pay down debt, so our savings rate will remain flat for the foreseeable future (three mortgages!).
Here’s the breakdown:
401k: 15% (*just reduced to 13% due to bonus)
Employee Stock Purchase Program: 8%
529: 1% – this is just sad
Roth IRA: 1%
I wonder what our debt paying rate is? I’m not sure what that’ll tell me, but it will be interesting to calculate. It also varies based on other household spends like kids activities and household repairs. And skiing.
We entered this journey already on it.
With the arrival of our first son, I left the work force. We planned for it only in that we decided it would be great for a parent to stay home, but we did not prepare financially. One salary in Seattle and another kid later, I re-entered the workforce with $20k in debt. That meant we lived beyond our means by $5k/year for four years. Which – probably a shocking thing for the FI community to hear – isn’t bad considering where we were living and not being of the FI-mindset. And we were not depriving ourselves. But we also lived in a very walkable neighborhood – it wasn’t unusual to not use the car all week – and didn’t pay for daily childcare.
We knew exactly what we were doing and we took (baby) steps to minimize that:
Cut magazine subscriptions
Reduced cell phone and internet bills
Stopped dry cleaning
Ate out less
But we also did a lot of things on the opposite end of that spectrum:
We vacationed. A lot. Mostly weekend warrior trips around the PacNW, but also CA, Whistler, HI and East Coast trips. Miles/points paid for some at first, but certainly not all.
We went out. A lot. We lived in an incredible neighborhood with great restaurants, breweries, bars and live music. We couldn’t resist.
We paid a monthly fee for a babysitting service. Then paid them by the hour when we used them!
I could go on with both fronts. This was pre-FI and I don’t regret it, but it’s funny to look back and try to see the logic in these decisions.
So when I say we were already on the journey, we had already trimmed a lot of the unnecessary monthly bills about 10 years ago. It was the FI community that gave us the nudge to take savings a lot more seriously and be a lot more budget-minded. We’re almost 10 months in and we’ve taken the basic steps:
already paid off one credit card and have a plan to pay off all debt
I thought a W4 adjustment would be a logical optimization because we had a large tax return and it would be great to have a bigger paycheck instead. But I can’t figure out what our ideal withholdings should be on our W4. Files jointly with two kids … he claims 1, I claim 2. I see conflicting information on the internet and I’m confused. At the same time, the IRS calculator is not available while they’re updating it for 2018 tax law changes.
Maybe understanding this will hit me on the head or maybe it’s no big deal. A large tax return isn’t the worst thing in the world. But until then, I’m just keeping on the road of spending less, saving more, and reducing debt.
I have nine years. What will college cost in nine years? It’s a daunting thought and I try my best to avoid it. And think I must I live on Fantasy Island when I say I’m going to retire at the same time I’m sending my two kids off to college. I honestly don’t know if early retirement will be able to happen at the same time. (Loans are not an option – personal parenting goals.)
College is a wild card. Or maybe I want it to be a wild card because all my (limited) research shows tuition will about double and that’s scary. The Vanguard college tuition calculator provides a pretty basic estimate of anticipated costs. Low-ball estimate is that a four-year college education at $100,000 today will increase to $167,000 in nine years.
529s: Today’s standard for college savings. Put it in post-tax, pull it out for education-related expenses without penalty. We have two, established by the kids’ grandfather when they were babies. Our nine-year-old has ~$12k today. We contribute $100/mo. At this savings rate, using a compound interest calculator, this will be almost $40k in 9 years. Maybe enough for one year if we stay at the same contribution rate.
We increased our college savings another $100/mo into each of our Roth IRAs. (No, we’re not at the point where we can max these out yet.) Withdrawing from a Roth prior to age 59.5 carries penalties, unless for a qualifying reason. Your child’s education is one.
Community College Transfer: I really like the idea of saving on tuition by going for two years at a community college then transferring to a four-year, but there seem to be more drawbacks than positives. Maybe this will shift to being a more common practice in the future, but I can’t plan on that.
Change: It’s hard. Going to college is hard. And a lot of Community College students don’t transfer to 4-year institutions.
Social: You learn so much about life and living when you’re living away from home, at college. It’s like a safe bubble (ok, that depends…) where you and your peers are figuring it out together.
Having recently moved from Seattle, I’m wondering … perhaps moving back to enjoy the mountains and sound, while taking advantage of UW’s Dual Enrollment would be worth considering. (Reason #458 we should move to Seattle.)
Scholarships? This Washington Post article is old, but it probably still stands close to the truth today: 19% of high GPA students receive academic scholarships and 0.7% receive athletic scholarships. This would be really great, but I can’t count on it.
Real Estate: Our obvious choice and we’re so so so thankful we have it, because I really don’t think we could achieve the savings rate we’d need to pay for college without loans. We have two rental homes in the crazy Seattle market. We’ve owned one, our ex-primary, for 11 years and the other for four years. Either of them would more than pay for both kids to go to college at today’s average tuition rates. We can’t predict what they’ll be worth in nine years. I don’t have a crystal ball. But this is what will pay for college and enable us to retire around the same time.
Building on the strong foundation we set in 2017, here are our goals for 2018:
#1: Debt reduction. We made some great strides in 2017 by simply organizing our finances and recognizing that we need to be more aggressive and focused on debt reduction. This will, of course, continue …
#2: Travel. We haven’t traveled much lately and we NEED to! This is a no brainer: open a Chase rewards card. Actually, I already got mine and my husband will get his soon. We went with the Chase Sapphire. I’m not sure yet if we’ll get as aggressive as the chase gauntlet just yet. We’re thinking a family vacation to the Bahamas … perhaps that’s because it’s freezing cold right now.
#3: Max out all pre-tax contributions (401k, HSA, FSA).
#4: Increase college savings. Keep 529s at $100 per month and contribute an additional $100 per month into another, separate investment account or Roth IRA for each child.
#5: Save (more) on wireless phone bills. Change DH from Verizon to a Monthly Shared plan with Total Wireless for $60 per month, saving $67 per month. That’s over $800 per year. Cha-ching!
The debt reduction is the biggest nut: credit cards, HELOC, two car loans and three mortgages. It’s daunting, but it’s there and we’re going to make it disappear. POOF!