Hey blog friends!
I took a few months off writing these, but honestly, I kind of missed it.
So here’s a recap of my spending, saving, doing, and blogging over the past month.
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Table of Contents
- What we did in August
- What I knit in August
- What I read in August
- What we spent in August
- Progress towards financial independence
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What we did in August
Ha! It’s more like what we didn’t do in August. Over the month some or all of our family
- Competed in Ultimate Frisbee Youth Club Championships
- Celebrated a 40th birthday and the 20th anniversary of our first date with a short getaway
- Promptly injured my Achilles tendon doing sports right after my 40th birthday
- Attended a family reunion
- Hosted visiting family
- Dealt with emergency car repairs
- Had our primary mode of transportation (cargo bike) recalled
- Officially joined the high school cross country team and attended lots of team building social events
- Got 3 kids ready for their first day of school (first day of high school for one for them😭) including back to school physicals
I guess somehow this month we also found time to work (a few hours at least).
August was sooooo much. Too much almost. But on the other hand, it was mostly good stuff. There were a few times I caught myself wishing for the future when things would be slower. But I think that’s a fallacy. No matter how much or little stuff I have going on, I’ll always feel like there is not enough time. That’s how time works… right? So when I was feeling a little overwhelmed with everything going on, I tried to force myself to be present and enjoy what was happening right now.
What I knit in August
If you haven’t memorized everything about me, I started knitting last December. I’ve been having so much fun learning something completely new.
My wife bought me some really nice chunky wool yarn and a Ravelry pattern for a pair of mittens for my birthday and I had so much fun knitting these mittens.
Also- I’m on Ravelry now. So you can follow me there too. From what I can tell, Ravelry might be the best kind of social media. I’ve yet to find any political arguments there. <<If there is politics on Ravelry please don’t tell me and let me bumble along like a happy idiot.>>
What I read in August
I read two books I really enjoyed this summer.
The first is collection of short stories called Better Times by Sara Batkie. Before I picked this book up, it had been a really long time since I read a short story. I forgot how engaging short stories can be. For me, the most exciting part of short stories is that you’re often just dropped right into the middle of a situation with no context. When I read a short story, I feel like I’m Ebenezer Scrooge being led to a very curated snippet of someone else’s life. And I’m often haunted for days afterward about what happened to the characters before and after the vignette we’re shown as the readers.
The stories in Better Times did not disappoint. I especially enjoyed the story about a woman’s life juxtaposed against that of Laika, the first animal in space. And several of the stories I read multiple times because I enjoyed them so much. I think I need to add short stories to my Fall reading list.
The second book I really enjoyed was The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood. It was clear from page 1 that Ali Hazelwood had gone to graduate school for STEM. I felt like the whole romance novel (which was super sappy and predictable in the best way possible) could have happened during my time in graduate school.
In fact, the whole book made me so nostalgic for my grad school days. Of course graduate school was horrible and depressing and we all cried after meeting with our advisors on a weekly basis. But 15 years later, I look back at those days and the friendships I had with a lot of fondness. This book definitely tugged on my heart strings in lots of different ways. Sadness over no longer being a poor graduate student who hits the hipster dive bar near campus with friends multiple times a week. And also just all the feels for the lovable main character who has to fight not just for love but for a space to exist in academia.
What we spent in August
August was a huge month of spending. Perhaps it’s not surprising given all of the things we did this past month.
The emotional part of my brain is ashamed/frustrated at how much money we spent. The logical part of my brain knows that we are in fantastic financial shape. We have a giant nest-egg, we live in a paid off house, we’re still maxing all of our retirement accounts.
I’m also starting to see that our spending is shifting (more on that later in this post).
I don’t really care that it’s shifting. I feel like trying to keep our old spending habits when our lives have changed is as futile as trying to fix a leak in a dam by putting your finger in the hole.
But I’m having a hard time figuring out what our normal expenses are now. And that might not be a problem but I guess I write this blog that’s kind of about financial independence and it seems like everyone else writing one of “those blogs” has everything figured out and is telling you how easy it is.
Top 10 expenses
Alright, enough of that narrative crap and onto the numbers.
Since I felt like we spent a lot of money when I looked at our overall spending number, this graph helps break things down for me.
Some things, like property taxes, utilities, and our charitable contributions, and the allowance my wife and I pay ourselves each month are essentially constant. There’s not really anything we can do about those expenses.
And then there are mostly needs but also kind of variable spending, like groceries, and transportation. We spent a lot of money on bicycles, but that’s also because we hadn’t had any of our bicycles tuned up for several years and they were falling apart. Since we bike almost everywhere, this was a deferred maintenance cost and well worth the money we spent on it.
We spent $712.50 on Groceries this past month. Which works out to $1.53 per person per meal. I still feel like you’d be hard pressed to spend less than that. Especially since I’ve been targeting 2 grams of protein per kg of body mass as a nutritional target.
Could we have spent $675 instead of $712.50? Maybe. Does it matter? Absolutely not.
That really only leaves 3 spending categories that were significant and costly: daycare, kids, and vacation.
I think summer childcare costs are a fact of life. I’m not sure how we get around paying that for at least another couple of years for the youngest.
We have not had an elaborate vacation for a long time. Nothing more than a few days and nothing on an airplane since (checks notes) 2017???. Upon reflection, maybe this number is too low rather than too high.
So that just leaves the “kids” category. I have a couple of thoughts here. The first is that we always spend more on kids in August. Even if you’re frugal with back to school shopping, the school district fees are intense. (Public school is a great value. I’m not trying to complain. I’m just stating the obvious fact that it’s hard to not drop hundreds of dollars on involuntary “back to school” costs.)
The second is that maybe older kids are more expensive than younger kids (daycare not withstanding). Perhaps if you had a cost vs. time curve of kids there is a minimum on the curve from ages 6-12.
Which leads me to have a couple of thoughts.
- I think we will be spending more on kids for a while. We will have one kid in high school for the next 12 years.
- I realized I have no idea what our kid spending will look like beyond high school.
- I think my wife and I need to re-evaluate our FIRE plans.
Progress towards financial independence
So Mr. Money Mustache is right. The math behind financial independence is shockingly simple. What I’m finding difficult is to figure out what my spending will be like by the time I’m (emotionally) ready to FIRE.
I’m not one of those doomsday FIRE bloggers who wants to live on a 1% withdrawal rate. And in general, I think that federal employees have a lot of safeguards against outliving their money in retirement. (Hello FERS pension and social security). So if I knew what my spending would look like in early retirement, I don’t think I’d be hanging around to save up more money “just in case”.
When I started down the FIRE path, I was most worried about trying to get a grasp on what healthcare spending would look like if I retired early. And while that’s a complicated piece of the puzzle, I’ve run the numbers several times and have a good idea of what it looks like.
Healthcare spending is a variable in a solvable equation.
Spending on your offspring is much more complicated and just becomes more complicated the older they get. We’ve been putting money in a 529 plan for them for a while that I don’t count in our assets. I guess a simplistic FIRE calculation would be to just assume that all kid spending ceases when they reach their 18th birthday and they get their 529 balance and we send them off into the wilderness to fight for themselves.
I can’t really see doing that, but I guess that could be a “worst case scenario FIRE” simulation I run.
All of this rambling is to say that I have no idea how close we are to financial independence because I don’t even know what FIRE means for our family any more.