It’s Time We All Embrace the Spirit of DIY

Here at SLB, we’re all for the spirit of getting your hands dirty and learning a thing or two on DIY projects. DIY can really save you a lot of money, especially on big home improvement projects such as refinishing your deck or repairing your dining table. You can paint, hammer and build your way to a more sustainable lifestyle.

A Different Kind of High

There’s just this sense of accomplishment when you do something on your own, using your wits and skills, no matter how rudimentary. You can’t possibly have the same high when you go to a store and buy furniture versus making your own from scratch. Building and creating something is right up there in the realm of the arts, and it feels great.

Granted, not everyone has the woodworking chops to build his own furniture, but there are a ton of better things to do than to buy affordable, brand new furniture, even if you end up assembling it yourself. You can buy quality, wooden furniture at garage sales and flea markets, haul it off to your house and refinish it.

That’s a heck of a lot cooler than assembling crappy furniture, no matter how new it is. You’ll learn something new about the wood you’re working with, proper sanding technique, how to varnish or paint it, and a whole lot more. You’ll get schooled by an old piece of furniture, and it’ll feel awesome.  Plus, you’ll be doing the planet a big favor by reusing old furniture.

A sense of accomplishment, an education and becoming a hero to planet Earth? It doesn’t get any better than that!

Curious George

It takes curiosity and a love of how things work to take something apart, look for issues and put it back together again. If you’ve been bitten by the engineering bug, you know what this means! The only problem here is putting it back together again. If you fail in one step, the chances that things won’t fit or it’ll fail to work are high.

But it’s all part of the learning process, that’s the beauty of DIY. You’ll never stop getting an education that you can use in real life. Imagine if you’re a salesman or computer programmer and the world is plunged into a zombie apocalypse. No power, no internet. You need to learn real-world skills other than what you know to survive, and it won’t hurt to start now.

When to Give DIY a Break

Speaking of programmers, there are instances that you shouldn’t DIY. One such example is testing your own code for bugs. Even the best programmers have problems testing their own software because their mindset is to “build”, while the mindset of a QA Tester is to “break”.

There’s also the principle that you can’t find fault in your own creation, because there’s a level of attachment to it. Like parents who can’t find fault in their kids. It’s pretty much the same for programmers, because their code is their baby. If you’re a programmer, ask someone else to test for bugs in your system. Use software testing services like Pegasie if the project is too big to handle.

Another instance where DIY should be off limits is when working with electricity. Don’t underestimate it, or you might end up in the emergency room. If the wiring in your house is out of whack, or if you suspect water damage, call a licensed electrician or the utility company.

Same thing for water. It’s easy to repair the kitchen sink, but when other pipes around the house give you trouble, call the plumber. When you do call in the experts, ask them if you could watch and even assist. Be honest with them and tell them that you want to learn the basics, so you can be better at troubleshooting problems. Some of them might not agree, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

It’s Time to DIY

The trick here is to troubleshoot everything that breaks in your home or vehicle. When your washing machine suddenly dies on you, use a process of elimination and see if you can zero in on the problem. It helps if you know a thing or two about how things work. If you don’t and still want to do your own troubleshooting, Youtube is your friend.

It’s never too late to embrace the DIY spirit. You’ll feel alive while you’re doing it, and you can even become a real badass!

The Best Retirement Account For FI

There are a lot of posts claiming to talk about what the best account for you to reach FI is. My good buddy the MadFIentist has a few, where he talks about traditional or roth IRAs and how to use your HSA as a retirement account. Of course, he’s assuming that if you’re getting into those strategies you’re maxing out your 401k and taking advantage of your employee match (if you get one).

Unfortunately, the 401k, while a very good retirement tool for avoiding taxes, is not the best out there.

457B Retirement Plans

See, the 401k (and it’s non-employer sponsored, lower limited cousin the traditional IRA) both have withdrawal age minimums on them. As you probably already know, you need to be 59.5 to take money out of them tax free. Of course, you can use the Roth IRA conversion ladder, but there is another way.

Read on and I’ll show you how.

First caveat. Many people (from my personal experience) that are interested in FI have a certain personality type, and that personality type tends to shuffle them into employment as computer programmers, engineers or other STEM heavy fields. There are plenty of other people seeking FI in other professions (like the millionaire educator)  but in my personal experience, it’s mostly programmers, that work for private companies. What I mean here is that you’re probably unfamiliar with the 457, and for good reason – you don’t have one. 457 plans are only available for government and non-profit workers.

Second caveat. If you do have access to a section 457 plan, aside from the benefits there’s one crucial distinction to this account. This is classified as “deferred compensation“.  The major sticking point here is that the funds in the 457 are not yours until you claim them – ie if the non-profit that you work for goes belly up and you’ve got a bunch of money in your 457, that money’s not yours – it belongs to the company and can be accessed by creditors if the situation comes up. I don’t view this to be an issue with government sponsored 457 plans.

What is a 457b Retirement Plan?

These plans work almost the exact same as a 401(k) plan that most private workers have access to, but with a few difference. First, lets go over how they are the same, and how you can use this to your advantage when pursuing FI.

The contribution (at the time of this writing, Q3 2015) limits are the same as they are for 401k plans at $18,000 per year, and have risen in lock step with 401k limit increases. I suspect this will probably continue, but you can never be 100% certain. The plans are funded through voluntary salary reductions, just like a 401k.

Also like a 401k, contributions are pre-tax, and growth is also pre-tax. You won’t be taxed on contributions or gains from the account until you withdraw the money. However at the time you’re ready to withdraw your money, your spending should be well below the long term capital gains tax rate, making the money totally tax free.

So far, sounds pretty much like the 401k right?

Well, here’s where the difference become crucial. There’s no withdraw age minimum for the 457 deferred compensation plans. Let me repeat that so it sinks in: There’s no age minimum to take out your money!

You do need to leave your job to get access to it, but as soon as you do, you can start accessing all the money in your 457 plan. That means no complicated IRA rollovers and conversion to watch for. No trying to figure out how much money you can convert tax free each year. No games, you can just take your money out when you need it, and that’s that.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering: what does it mean to me, while pursuing FI?

A Financial Independence/Early Retirement Application for  457 Plans

There are a few different ways you can play this, but the most important to think of this as your “bridge” money (the money that you’ll use while you wait for your roth IRA rollover ladder to come through. Typically, this will only need to be for 5 years worth of money, so you can easily figure out how much you’ll need.

I suggest using this only as your bridge money because goverments and non-profits dont really have competitive wages in most cases, so you wont really be able to build up a lot of cash this way. Here’s the first scenario.

You’re about 3-4 years away from FI, but most of your money is trapped in age limited retirement accounts, with not much in a post tax account. You can take a lower paying job with the government or NGO that offers a 457 plan, and max it out for 4 years, giving you $72,000 in contributions at the end of  year four. You’ll have whatever gains that have happened in the market over the last for years and if you end up in a government position, you’ll have a pension! You can take whatever is in your pension balance and roll it over into your 457 as well, giving you an even larger balance. A few numbers as an example (over a 4 year career in government):

  • 457 Contributions: $72,000
  • Pension assets (I averaged about 5k/yr here in wyoming, so i’ll use that): $15,000
  • Gains: ~10k (over the 4 year working period)

Since your salary has been lower than it was before the job switch, you can convert some of your pre-tax IRA money to post tax, up to the tax free limit for your family situation. This could be a good way to get at some of your FI funds a bit sooner.

An Early Career Move (My Path)

I worked for the government from 2011 to 2014, and I had access to a 457 plan (as well as a pension) the entire time. Unfortunately, I didnt get as much money in here as I would have liked as I was busy paying off debt, but once that had finished I had started to increase my contributions and get more money put in there. It wasnt long (just a few months) that I decided to switch jobs and my option of a 457 went away. Here’s what I did, and how I think it will help me with FI when the time comes:

  • Contributed a bit (like $100/mo) to my 457 until debt was paid off
  • Had about 2 months of 750/mo contributions
  • Rolled pension account (I wasnt vested) into my 457

All of those manuvers left me with about 1 year of living expenses post FI in the account, and I’m not anywhere near retirement. At this point, I suspect I’m around 9-10 years out, depending on market returns. Assuming a 6% rate of return, this money will about double, and will probably provide for about 2 years of living expenses when I’m ready to tap them – giving me more time to run my roth conversion ladder and more time for me to grow my after tax stash.

I know that these accounts are not that popular and most people dont know about them, but the high contribution limits and the fact that there’s no minimum withdraw age make them prime candidates for FI accounts. If you live in the right area and are interested, taking a government job for all of your working years could be a great idea. You could get into the 457 plan, have a pension to kick in a bit of old age money, and enjoy a relatively low-stress lifestyle. Of course, you’d have to deal with all the things that come with government work too.

The choice is yours for those of you interested in FI, but personally, I think the 457 makes a pretty compelling case.

Homemade Hard Apple Cider

Note: This article was originally written in early 2012, and I’ve done quite a bit of cider making since then and have learned a lot. I’ve updated this post to reflect that, as well as added a few recipes I’ve tried or developed on my own.

Since my wife and I have officially begun our journey to FI, no expense has been spared. The larger expenses (such as our house and other structural expenses) have been optimized to the fullest, and we have now turned our sights on other things. One of the first was alcohol, and this was mostly me, since my wife doesnt drink that frequently.

About 10 years ago, I used to spend a lot on alcohol (it was college), and since graduating I’ve been able to take that down quite a bit – to about $500/year or $10 per week. Some weeks more, some less but this is where I had settled for a while.

It wasnt until I decided that there had to be a way to get it lower that I looked into DIY-ing my booze. I started in 2012 or so and have not looked back, and the cost of my boozing has been reduced to dimes per bottle and the occasional headache from overindulgence.

Now, I stick to homemade hard cider that costs approximately $20 for 5 gallons, and takes me about 5 minutes to make (and another 30 or so a few weeks later to bottle).

If you buy about a 6 pack per week, you’re consuming 3,600 oz of beer per year, or the equivalent of 5.5 5 Gallon batches. You can bring your spending on booze down from ~500 per year, to just over 100 per year. Lowering your needs and increasing your savings + a fun activity that allows you to experiment and build your own small scale cider operation? Awesome.

To me, this is one of the perfect hobbies. Once you’ve got all of your equipment, the costs are cheap, the benefits are huge, and it gives you something to fill your time. You can get as crazy (or not) with the different juices and add ins and it can supply the boundless curiosity that every human innately has.

So, lets make some cider!

What Is Hard Apple Cider?

Hard cider is a fermented drink, typically made from apples. Since it’s fermented, it does contain alcohol. The amount of alcohol contained varies by the process you use, but typically they come in between 5 and 7%, or about the rate of a standard microbrew. Today, we are going to go over the entire hard cider making process, from brewing to cider fermentation to bottling. You can do this with easy to find ingredients as well as spare bottles laying around the house, but since I already have a home brewing set up, I just use that. Note that this is not the same thing as cider as it does not have alcohol (but is still great to enjoy warm in the winter months).

One of the reasons that I make this is to help me save money. I estimate that the cost for me to produce 5 gallons of cider (now that I have all the equipment) is around $20, which is the price for 12-20 microbrews. Considering my wife and I have a goal of building freedom through saving money, this really helps. Instead of spending $30-40 per month (or night, or weekend) on alcohol (which equates to about 1 6 pack of microbrew beer or hard cider, per week), I spend about $20 for something that will last me 2-3 months and is stronger to boot in most cases. Cider making has become a hobby I enjoy, and as I continue to tinker with recipes and develop new ones the more I get out of it.

 

Bonus: Get a video showing exactly how to make each version of hard cider, and a shopping list, AND some things you can add to flavor your cider. Get the Extra Flavor Guide Now

Hard Cider Ingredients & Equipment

One of my favorite things about this is that it’s so easy to make and very difficult to screw up. Once you have a beer brewing set up (or just a carboy and an airlock) you’ll be able to make your own cider. Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make a batch:

  • Hard Cider Yeast – This is the most important, and will probably be the most difficult to find. You can use a specialized hard cider yeast (like Wyeast Labs 4766), or you can go with a champagne yeast (like Lavlin EC-1118). I would try them both out and see which one you think is the best yeast for hard cider. Each is slightly different, and I use them both (and others as well, but these are the most common). In my opinion, the best place to buy these would be a local homebrewing shop, as they will most certainly carry something this common.
  • Apple Cider or Apple Juice. You can choose either one as they are both great for making hard cider but you need to make sure that you get the kind without preservatives. I’m not just being all hippy-dippy here either – the preservatives will kill your yeast and will leave you with gross tasting yeasty apple juice. You need to make sure you watch out for sodium benzoatepotassium sorbate. I’ve never seen them both in the same cider or juice, but you cant have either. When I first started, I just checked the label for potassium or sodium, and if it had either of those, I found something else.
  • Honey or Brown Sugar (Optional): These will both increase the alcohol content, and will change the flavor slightly of your cider. My first few batches had brown sugar as I prefer the drier stuff and didnt want to make it too sweet. Since then I’ve tried it both with and without add-ons, and prefer to use them. Not needed at all though. (Use about .4 lbs of sugar or honey per gallon)

These are just the consumable ingredients needed. There are a few different ways that you can make hard cider and those mostly depend on how much money you want to invest in your hobby initially. You can get started for around $15 or less, but as with most hobbies there’s bigger and better equipment (that I happened to own already, so I use that).

Option 1: Homebrew kit & Glass Bottles

This will produce the most volume per batch (5 gallons) but will also cost you some money in set up costs. You can order a kit from an online retailer like northern brewer (this one is a good start up kit) or if you really enjoy this stuff, splurge and get the deluxe model. Either of these will give you everything you need except bottles, but you’ll pay quite a bit more than the other methods below. You can simply save the bottles (pry off only, no twist offs) and have friends save some for you as well and you’ll get enough in no time. You’ll need about 56 12 oz bottles.

You’ll also get a beer recipe ingredient kit, so you can give homebrewing a try as well.

Option 2: Frugal and Sustainable Method

This method is very cost effective, though your yield will be a bit lower because of size constraints. You won’t need to deal with bottling either (unless you really want to) so consider that a win.

To use this method, you’ll need a large glass jug (you can even use the one the juice comes in for added time/money/earth savings) and an airlock. If you cant find your juice in a glass jug, you can always use a spent jug of carlo rosse or other high end wine. Make sure to save the cap for the jug as well.

Option 3: Ultra Frugal Method

This method is the most cost effective (and one I havent done since college). You will need only minimal equipment for this, and it’s super easy to set up.  For this, you’ll need whatever vessel your apple cider came in (plastic or glass is fine), a balloon and tape or a rubber band.

The ultra frugal method should cost you about 50 cents above actual ingredients (hence my college tries), and will yield a satisfactory result.

This is something that I’d put in a relatively high traffic area so you can watch it frequently, as sometimes the balloon can pop off with vigorous fermentation.

As many hobbyists may not believe, you can get started into most hobbies for cheap.

My view on hobbies like hard cider making is that if you are starting out, try to get it done as cheaply as possible. Once you’ve got enough time under your belt to decide if you like it, invest further if you do, and if not, then continue using what you have.

How To Make Hard Cider

Finally, on to the actual process used to create the cider. It’s very simple and not time consuming at all to DIY hard cider. There are a few extra (though not necessary) steps you’ll need to run through if you’re using honey or alcohol that will add some time to your process, but they are not significant and can be accomplished with the goods you already have at home.

  1. Gather your ingredients and your storage vessel(s).
  2. If you are adding honey or brown sugar heat 1-2 gallons of your cider in a pot on the stove. Make sure this does not boil, as you will cause the pectins to set and make your end product very hazy.
  3. Stir heated product until sugar or honey is dissolved.

This is where the steps diverge depending on what gear you have decided to use for your homemade hard cider journey. They will all result in the same product, just some will be more time consuming (though produce more) than others.

If you’re using the traditional carboy & bottling method (as I described in the original post) you can get a top of the line product by following the steps below:

  1. If you’re adding Honey or Brown Sugar, you’ll need your large cooking pot and your cider.  What you’ll need to do is put 1-2 gallons of your cider into a pot and heat on medium.  Add your honey or brown sugar, and stir over heat until dissolved. Make sure this does not boil.
  2. While your honey or sugar is dissolving, add the remaining cider to your carboy.
  3. Once your sugar or honey has dissolved in your heated juice, take that mixture off the heat and add to your carboy.
  4. The liquid in your carboy should be an appropriate temperature now to add your yeast (below 85 degrees or so). Add your packet of yeast.
  5. Attach airlock to your carboy and move your carboy into a room away from heat and light.
  6. Your delicious beverage will ferment (when yeast converts sugar into alcohol) for 2 weeks. You can leave it as long as 3 weeks and be ok as well. Here’s what my cider looks like fermenting away in the basement. Carboy
  7. Once your fermentation has finished, it’s time to get what is now your alcoholic apple cider into your other carboy (or bucket) for secondary fermentation. Though this step is unnecessary, I have found that it really helps clarify the final product and it’s a great time to do add-ins to add other flavors to your cider. You can see my hand model (AKA wife) adding some pomegranate juice to the bucket for some stirring prior to the secondary fermentation below.
    IMG_20150803_195915534_TOP (1)
  8. Leave your cider in secondary fermentation for 2-4 weeks, and after that, it’s time for the time-consuming process of bottling.
  9. I use 22oz bottles (because there are less bottles to fill) but if you get your bottles for free (ie drink what was in them) you’ll need about 56 12 oz bottles.
  10. Follow the instructions for sanitizing & bottling that came with your brew kit and fill Homemade hard apple cideryour bottles with your cider. This, by all accounts is the most tedious part, and the reason for the other 2 methods. You dont need to bottle anything with the other 2 methods, just drink it straight from the jug. Bottling is a task, but it’s something that I dont mind considering the output (5 gallons) that I’m getting when I’m finished.
    Pro tip: open up your dishwasher, and place all your empty bottles on the dishwasher door. Fill them up while they are there, and if there’s any spillage you can just close the lid! easy clean up.
    Bottling Made Easy
  11. Cap your bottles and let rest for a week or 2. Yes, this process is long, but it yields the best product I’ve gotten so far. I’ve also found that the longer you bottle condition the cider, the smoother it gets.

If you dont want to plunk down the cash for a rather expensive brewing kit, you’ve got a few options.

  • try finding the brewing kit stuff on craigslist. If you live in a bigger market this could work well for you. Lots of brewers give up their carboys when they move on to larger scale brewing.
  • use one of the methods below and make batches a gallon at a time

If I were just getting started, I’d use one of these (probably the frugal & sustainable option).

How To Make Hard Apple Cider with The Frugal & Sustainable Option

FrugSustain

  1. Gather your ingredients and materials, including your glass jug if you’re using one.
  2. If you’re adding sugar, make sure to remove an equal amount of liquid so it does not overflow.
  3. Take your apple cider yeast and add 1/2 teaspoon to the liquid. Shake or swirl if you want, though it’s not necessary. Remember to set the jug lid aside, as you’ll need it later.
  4. Add your airlock to the top of the bottle, and fill with sterile liquid or hard alcohol
  5. Take your jug and set it aside in a dark place for two weeks while the yeast work their magic.
  6. After the yeast have done their thing, take off the airlock and put the jug in the fridge. Enjoy whenever you need. No need to worry about over-fermentation, as the cool temperatures in your fridge will slow the activity of the yeast to a crawl.
  7. Congratulations, you now know how to make hard apple cider.

This is one of the simplest ways to accomplish this, and you can use it for many other types of juices as well. You can download a guide at the bottom of this post that will tell you what other juices work great and other flavors you can add to your cider.

If you’re interested in this, here’s what I’d buy: this one gallon glass jug ($5), this airlock ($1.50), this rubber stopper ($1) and this cap ($1), for a total cost of less than $9 before shipping. Note: If you find a cider you like that comes in a glass jug when you buy it, you’ll only need the stopper & the airlock. You can use the glass jug the cider came in, as well as the screw cap.

Homemade Hard Cider with The Ultra Frugal (College) Method

College

I was fond of this method in college, so I know it well and I know that it works. I also know that it costs about 1 to 10 cents above consumables costs, so it’s dirt cheap. Obviously, I don’t condone lawbreaking (no matter how senseless I find it) so if you’re residing in the USA and are under 21 don’t try this at home. Since we’ve got many international readers, this is for them. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Gather your ingredients and materials. This is your cider, the yeast for your cider, your balloon, rubber band (or tape) and a safety pin.
  2. Take your saftey pin and poke a few holes (3 or less) in the balloon and set the balloon aside
  3. Open the cider and add 1/2 teaspoon of yeast in there. If this feels like a small amount dont worry, when yeast get put in favorable conditions like this one, they will reproduce like crazy. Remember to set the jug lid aside, as you’ll need it later.
  4. Pull your balloon over the lid of the container, and wrap the rubber band or tape around it a few times to make sure that it doesn’t pop off during fermentation. Set aside for 2 weeks (though with this method, check on it a few times per day the first few days to make sure everything is still as it should be) and then take off the balloon.
  5. Cap the container and place in the fridge to drink. No need to worry about over-fermentation, as the cool temperatures in your fridge will slow the activity of the yeast to a crawl.

Congratulations, with just a bit of ingenuity and some household goods, you can skirt ridiculous (IMHO) government regulations and stick it to the cider companies that are charging 8 bucks (or more) for a 6 pack of of the good stuff. You now know how to brew cider.

This is the ultra cheap method, and all you’ll need to make many batches is a package of yeast and a bag of balloons (as well as the juice). If you’re frugal but still want a nice alcoholic beverage, this is for you.

Mastering this has also saved me a boat load of money over the last 8 or so years. I used to spend an embarrassing amount of money on alcohol. Making my own hooch and cutting back my drinking significantly have helped bring that cost way down, to the point where I spend about $20 per month or less. I’ll only need a cash stash of $6,000 to sustain this particular part of my lifestyle.

If I spent more on alcohol, freedom would be that much further away.

What’s Next?

Well, once you’ve mastered the process and feel confident in your skills, feel free to step up your game a notch! I have experimented with many add ins to my cider (like real blackberries & vanilla beans) and have tried making cider out of many different juices. Some of this is easier with a carboy set up, but again it’s not necessary. Download the guide below, where I detail all the other juices I’ve used for hard cider, as well as all the additions to the secondary fermentation that have taken my cider from ho-hum to awesome!


ciderLeadBox

My Road to Financial Wellness

The following blog post is part of the The Road to Financial Wellness Blog Tour. Over a period of 30 days, the Phroogal team will go to 30 locations to raise awareness about financial empowerment. Today they will be in Cheyenne! Our goal is to help people learn about money by starting the conversation. We understand that local conversations can help bring about national awareness.

Today, in what will be a first in my blogging career (if you want to call it that) I’ll be attending an event that I was tangentially involved in organizing. For those of you in Cheyenne, WY (or nearby) feel free to come to Lions Park where Phroogal is teaming up with Warren Federal Credit Union and offering a financial seminar. It’s in the Kiwanas house at Noon, for those wanting to attend. It’s a part of Warren’s Member Appreciation day, which starts around 11:30, and they’ll have youth activities, lunch and more. I’ll be there around 11:45, and if would love to meet any readers. As a part of The Road, Phroogal asked everyone who was participating to share a story of financial empowerment. Here’s mine.

There are quite a few things that have led me to where I am financially, and many of them I’ve written about here. The one that sticks out as the real turning point to me though, was when I went to grad school.

When I got to grad school, I had 1 friend, and she had to be my friend because she’s my sister. I didnt know anyone, which after a few days I came to realize would probably be a good thing. I was never much of a spender, but when I was in undergrad I was not very good at saying no, so whenever someone invited me to lunch/dinner/for a drink, I usually said yes. I knew a lot of people, so this happened quite often.

It started costing me money – a lot of money, as you can correctly assume. I did some things here and there to cut costs and make things cheaper, but I didnt do the best (and easiest) thing: Say no.

In grad school, I was in a very small program and didnt have any friends, so there was no one to say no to. That, coupled with the fact that I knew what I was earning every month and had  been told in no uncertain terms that the plug was getting pulled, it was time for me to do something about it.

For the 2nd time that I can recall, and the first time in at least 12 months, I gathered all of my financial stuff and got it in order. Even though I wouldnt be paying it for a few years, I got my student loan data as well, and made a budget. After looking at the numbers for a while and gathering everything, I realized that for the first time ever I could build a savings account, as long as I stuck to my modest dining out/entertainment budget. There was not enough to make significant progress on my debt or student loans, but there was enough to chip down and to save some.

It was the first time that I can remember that I actually felt like I could be in control of my finances, instead of letting them control me like they had been the last few years. I wasnt making a ton of money, but my expenses were very low (probably less than $400 per month, and certainly less than $450).

I looked at that sheet, and I finally felt like I could get things under control. I had a budget, I had a steady income, a fairly stable list of expenses, and room to save. I could finally start making progress, and all I had to do was act. I also started reading up quite a bit about money. I read a lot of The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly in those days, and learned that my problems were more psycological with money, so I worked on those as well.

I started to tell myself (and occasionally others) that I’d have to skip something that wasnt in the budget. I’d suggest cheaper activities (like frisbee golf) or having beers at someones house instead of going to a bar. Even though you could get an 18 oz beer for 2 bucks, I typically skipped it.

After quite a while of struggling, that was the moment that I finally felt empowered with my finances.

When did you feel financially empowered?

March 2015 Monthly Review

March Monthly Review

As you can see, I have finally finished the redesign that I have been working on for just about a year, and it seems to be going well. I started writing anonymously when I started, because I was afraid (or something) of sharing all my personal financial details online. It wasnt 100% anonymous, but it was close. I mainly did this out of fear, and I’ve been slowly loosening the reins on that since 2011 or so. I will say though, that nothing is more awkward/uncomfortable when people find your site and you’re in the room as they go through your financials. I will say that I dont regret my decision (then or now), as back at that time many bloggers were anonymous, and like me, many have started to put a bit more personality into their sites. I’m hoping that more people can relate to our situation now because they see a real person behind it.

We are continuing to move forward, but due to poor meal planning we spent a whole boat-load of money on food last month, and will be focusing on reducing those costs as the year progresses. It seems to be a never ending battle, with the hinge point being the meal planning. When we do it, we are much less stressed during the week, eat better and spend less on food. When we dont, the dam breaks and calling it a disaster is an understatement.

In case you didnt catch the last post, we are focusing our financial energy and goal setting now on the FI/RE movement, or retiring early. Both my wife and I want nothing more than to have our time back, and spend it with family and friends doing things we enjoy. The easiest ticket out of that will be to lower our expenses and build up enough savings to meet our needs for the foreseeable future. We live fairly lean already (when we can control our food spending), and figure that it will take about 10 years to reach our goal.

Debt

Mortgage $ 100,971 (-$1966) There is a huge drop off here from last month, and it’s because this took a while to write and I didnt get it up before the april payment happened. It looks like we will be under 6 figures by early may, after our extra payments this month.

Total Debt: $ 100,971

It’s nice only have 1 source of debt (and even then, we know we can sell our house for more than what we owe on it. Now that this number is solidly in control, it’s time to ramp up our savings.

Savings

Goals in this area are pretty straight forward – Max out traditional IRAs for both of us, contribute to my wife’s 457 plan (Im not eligible for a retirement plan yet at my new job) and put the rest into our savings accounts, listed below.

Vacation fund $1,000 – We will be transferring what was going to our emergency fund into this account, and once we reach a goal here we’ll be investing in taxable accounts.

Emergency Fund $9,950 – We are almost back at the 10,000 that we wanted to keep in here, but there is still some confusion between us and the insurance company about the hospital stay we had last month. The insurance company has told us that they both have and have not paid the entire bill, so we are not sure what’s going on.

How are you doing so far in 2o15?

New Goals

On July 7, 2009, I published the first entry on what would become this blog. Back then, the design wasnt great, my writing wasnt that good, and I didnt know that much about blogging or doing much of anything online (though I was great at reading the news online). A lot has changed since then.

NewDir

I had over 5k in credit card debt, over 20k in student loans, and was just about 4 months away from piling on another 20k in debt for a replacement car after my old one gave up the ghost. Over the next 5 years I worked hard (most of the time) and was laser focused on paying off all of that debt – which I was able to do in July, 2014 after I switched jobs. Oddly enough, it was about 5 years to the day since the first post here and that moment. I am afraid to think of where I’d be right now if I still had that huge debt burden hanging over my head. Sure, my life was not all fun and games during those 5 years, though I did have some fun and was able to enjoy myself. Being free from consumer debt (we still carry a mortgage) was the longest project I’d ever worked on, and when I started, there was a lot of people giving me odd looks when I told them I wanted to become debt free. It took longer than I wanted it to, but so what. It’s allowed me to do quite a bit since then, including buying a house with 20% down, building up a huge cash buffer to do major repairs, getting engaged, married and going on a honeymoon across the world without accumulating any debt, having a child and more. Not having any debt also allowed my wife and I to ride out a major cash crunch unscathed this summer, as she went part time at work to take care of our daughter, I switched jobs (each of those things ended up resulting in lower take-home pay) and our health insurance costs went up 10x as a result of the job switch. All told, it amounted to about a 40% cut in our income for the last 6 months of 2014. We spent some out of our savings, but that was on a planned project for our house, and had we not done that, we would have kept our savings intact (and added to it). I’m sure some of those things still would have gotten done had I not paid off all my debt, but having all debts paid off sure as hell made it a lot easier.

Conventional wisdom kept telling me that I’d never be totally debt free, and that I should “manage” my debt well. I had listened to that advice before 2009, and it didnt really do me any favors, so I figured conventional wisdom might be wrong and that I should tell conventional wisdom to go pound sand. When a fellow blogger left work early, he bought a farm (which sounds cool) but this part is what really struck me

It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted in a sick society. – Krishnamurti

And that’s all I could see (and still see) – a sick society.  People that have stopped working to live, instead filling evenings with mindless television and copious amounts of useless entertainment on the weekends so that they can continue to bear their jobs.

Brave New Life

I dont agree with everything in the entire post, but the above I think he’s to spot on. If the average american has 15k+ of credit card debt, 150k+ of mortgage debt and 30k+ of student debt (and rising) and I have just 100k left on my mortgage – what’s wrong with me?

This comes up a lot in healthy living/eating spaces as well – everyone is doing XYZ and they are not healthy, but doing ABC will get you healthy and people will think you’re weird for it. Same story in life & finances, I’ve found.

I often get asked for advice and people dont like what I suggest because it’s out of the mainstream. I often get weird looks from co-workers when they find out that I biked to work in -20 degree weather and not only did I not die during my 1 mile commute, I actually felt uncomfortably warm. I do a lot of things that people consider fairly odd, and I dont care about what they think – but I did wonder if I was doing something wrong. Just because everyone else is making imprudent (or dumb) decisions with their life, doesnt mean that I need to be doing that as well, and I’ll probably be happier because of it.

All of that thinking and talking to my wife led us to a decision about our future & goals. We decided we needed a new goal, so we talked about what we want and where we were at, and we came up with one big goal, and a series of smaller goals to help us hit our big goal.

Our goal is Financial Independence/Early Retirement/FI or whatever you want to call it. There will still be plenty of ways to reduce debt and go green, but they will all fall under the FI/RE banner.

We are both tired of working for other people, and would like more time to spend with our daughter (and potential future children). Tired of workplace politics and tired of having to cram all of our fun and other errands into the 2 weekend days. We’d like to spend more time traveling, and have more time to do it. I would like to spend more time teaching my daughter and watching her learn new things. I’d like to be able to take on the many projects that I’ve got piled up (like aquaponics, a bigger garden and more house projects) without taking weekend time. I’d like to read more books. The list for both of us goes on and on.

We ran some numbers, and realized this would be another long-term goal (even longer than it took me to pay off debt) and we’ll have to work for it – but it’s doable. We’ve been making some changes to our budget, and are planning on making a few more in the coming months that should bring our expenses down even further- allowing us to put away even more money.

Over the coming (weeks and months) I’ll be laying out our plans and strategy in more detail, including other things we are doing to do to hit our goals. Some will probably seem odd to some people and not to others, but it doesnt matter. We’ll have our freedom at the end of the road, and that’s what will matter (and will be odd as well).

As I reiterated to myself when paying off my debt :

“If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” – Dave Ramsey

The same thing applies – just to saving instead of debt freedom.

Image Source: Flick’r