Birthday’s and other observations

downloadTiny Eivy has not, shall we say, embraced our frugal ideals. And, honestly, who can blame her? Her little seven year old self doesn’t really see the difference between a fancy dinner out and a make your own sushi night at home. She will casually decided that she wants an American Girl doll in the same breath that she declares that she also wants a stuffie from Goodwill. The world is full of wonderful things and she wants them all.

She turned 8 yesterday and when the dust settled, she ended up with an American Girl doll from her grandmother. Holy cow, y’all, those things are over $100! Someone did some great marketing with that one.

Since it was her birthday, we did several things that we never do:

  1. We drove almost an hour to go to THE MALL because that is where the American Girl Doll Store is.

It has been years since I have set foot in a mall and I am not ashamed to say that I was a bit overwhelmed. Everything that I dislike about consumer American can be summed up in THE MALL. From the shiny displays of $100 tee-shirts to the copious amounts of STUFF that is so cleverly presented that even I, in my frugal state, am drawn to. THE MALL is so very good at convincing you to buy things you don’t need for money that you probably don’t have.

2. We bought Tiny Eivy a dress for her American Girl Doll.

This dress cost more than my entire outfit. Probably more than my entire wardrobe. Not that I begrudge this gift at all, but I am still floored by what they charge for a dress. For a doll.

3. We ate lunch out at Blue C Sushi.

You know the place – with the sushi train track that is timed perfectly to allow you enough time to grab your food but not enough time to check and see how much the plate is that you are grabbing. Maybe I’m being cynical, but I was so disappointed by the whole experience. The food was sub-par and after each of us eating the equivalent of one roll, our bill came out to $30. I think I was disappointed because it was supposed to be such a treat. We NEVER eat out anymore and I was really looking forward to the experience. I probably put too much expectation onto the poor restaurant, but clearly I need to be more picky in the future.

It really was a good day, and Tiny Eivy loved it, but the entire experience reminded me why I am embarking on this crazy path of saving 65% of our income to retire early. It is about so much more than saving a few dollars. It is about finding meaning in the experiences that we have by connecting with other people rather than with things. Its about valuing quality over gimmicks, but mostly its about spending time with the people you love.

My favorite part of the day was that I got to spend it with my big 8 year old girl and my husband who took the day off of work. In the evening, we invited our old community to celebrate with us and everything just felt right in the world.

Garage Sale Bingo

downloadIf you have read this blog for five minutes, you know that I can work a thrift store like nobody’s business. I follow two basic rules when I go:

  1. the item must have been on our “want” list for more than a month
  2. don’t pay more than thrift store prices for it.

Rule #2 might seem redundant. Since I am IN a thrift store the prices must reflect that, right? Wrong. Sometimes I find that the thrift stores get delusions of grander and charge outrageous prices for used items. Like $15 for a tee shirt or $30 for a pair of shoes. No thank you. If I wanted to spend that, I’d head over to Target and get something new. (Note: I’m totally bluffing. I would never head over to Target and get something new).

Thrift stores are wonderful wonderful places. There is something that I love more than a thrift store, though, and that is a garage sale. Its like a thrift store on steroids. People shoving stuff into your hands begging you to take it away. It can be very easy to fall into the consumer trap of buying all the tings at a garage sale so we play a little game: Garage Sale Bingo.

Yep – it is as fun as it sounds. Before we go, we make a bingo board and fill in all the spaces with the items that we need (that have been on our “want” list for more than a month). Then, as we hit each garage sale, we frantically search for the items on our board trying to be the first person with a bingo. We fill the board with big things – like a tent – and little things – like a coffee mug. Obscure things – like a humming bird feeder (which I found!) – and common things – cookbooks.

Garage Sale Bingo does a couple things for us:

  1. It keeps up on track – no unnecessary purchases
  2. It breaks up the chore of traveling from sale to sale as we run from the car desperate to be the first person to spot an item on our list (only the first person to spot an item gets to mark it off)

Note: we do not have to actually BUY an item on our board just because we spot it. We simply have to spot it.

It might be important to note that Tiny Eivy hasn’t quite figured out the joy of Garage Sale Bingo. She brought her jar of change and walked away with more loot than we did – mostly because she is adorable and whenever she picked up an item, people begged her to take it for free. Awesome. She spent most of her money on the baked goods that kids were selling at the sales. Sugar high for the win!

Micro Lending vs The Stock Market

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Anytime I get into the nitty gritty details of our investments, I feel like I need to put a BIG disclaimer – “WE ARE NOT EXPERTS! WE ARE JUST EXPERIMENTING AND THIS IS WHAT WE HAVE FOUND!” You should probably just ignore me and and this entire post. Seriously. Go read someone who actually knows what they are doing.

OK – you are still here. You have been warned. Here is what we do.

I might have mentioned that Adam and I differ in ways that compliment each other: he can focus on tiny details for hours whereas I see the whole project and just want to move forward. He sees the value in living life now to its fullest rather than getting bogged down in the rules we have laid out for ourselves. He takes risks where I just want to curl up under my blankets and stay safe.

So, it should be no surprise that he began experimenting with investing money LONG before I was on board. In our mid twenties (dear God, over 10 years ago!), Adam opened a Prosper account and realized that he could get a 12% rate of return. 12% – that’s huge! He was able to get similar results with Lending Club. Being the spreadsheet geek that I am, I used those numbers to calculate just how long it would take us to retire based on that rate of return.

Before you all rush out and start investing in Prosper and Lending Club, let me go over the drawbacks of this strategy:

  • Adam did a lot of research on each loan that he invested in. He created a complex system to determine if he was going to invest in a loan or not. This greatly helped his rate of return.
  • He does not always get a 12% rate of return. In fact, I think one of his accounts is down to 5%. Not great. Theoretically, we should do better in the stock market.
  • Taxes! The interest that we get on these loans is taxed at a higher rate than long term capital gains (the money we make on investments in the market). Plus, since these micro loans are constantly being paid back, we end up with a huge tax bill at the end of year.

Ultimately, we decided that the investing the whole stock market was the best plan for us. The 4% rule is based on the whole stock market, and I don’t feel like I know nearly enough about investing to try my hand at anything other than the whole stock market. Plus, the fees for investing in TWSM are super low through my vanguard account.

We are not selling our Lending Club and Prosper loans, but we are not putting any new money into those accounts. All of our savings are heading straight to our IRA followed by our regular whole stock market accounts.

But what about your house? I thought you were trying to pay that off. True.

After playing around with the numbers, and thanks to some amazing real estate growth in our city, we think that once we sell our two rental properties up north we should have enough equity to pay off our current home! I am super excited about this. I hate being a landlord – the stress of having to deal with issues at a moment’s notice; the worry about getting a bad tenant; the expense of repairs, taxes and insurance. Its just such a weight on my shoulders all the time. I’m really looking forward to removing that weight.

So, there you have it. Every month we save as much money as we can (about 60% of our income) and put that money in the whole stock market (after maxing out our IRAs and 401K). In a couple of months, we will sell our rental properties and hopefully pay off our mortgage enabling us to put even more money into our investments.

 

Big Spender

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So, this frugal thing is all well and good but what about when you want something. I mean REALLY want something.

I have talked about living your life from a place of abundance rather than a place of deprivation. For me, this means that I am constantly thankful for all the amazing things I have in my life. Rather than focus on what I don’t have (summer home in France), I choose to put my attention to all the riches that I am constantly surrounded with: my fancy computer, camera, lenses, beautiful home, tranquil backyard, lovely hardwood floors…etc… you get the idea. I mean, honestly, I have so much more than I could possibly need.

Does this stop me from wanting things? Hell no. I find that it is very easy for me to forgo the latte every morning as long as I focus on all of the amazing retirement investment I am making instead, but what about the big things? Not just the big things, but the REALLY big things? The things that I need and want to feel fulfilled in my life.

As many of you know, I am a photographer and it is my dream in life to travel the world and tell the stories of people I meet through photography. Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to travel to Rwanda with a group of photographers to study how to take photos in the field at an orphanage. It would be a week long conference complete with field days to practice what we are learning and use the images to increase humanitarian aid. I really really really want to go. And it will be about $6000. $6000!

So, what is a frugal girl to do?

This is where Mr. Eivy comes in. I am a rule follower. We decided that we were going to live this way so I will just have to pass up this amazing opportunity. Mr. Eivy, on the other hand, is the teeter to my todder. The yang to my yin. The Han Solo to my Luke Skywalker. Or something like that. I tell him about this trip and how much it costs and he says, “Go. You have to go. This is what you want in life.” Love that man. And it’s true.

To retire early, we need to permanently reduce our expenses. I am not planning on traveling to Rwanda every month or even every year. This will be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Yes, I want to travel the world taking photos of people to tell their stories when we retire but we can do that much cheaper (I promise I’ll talk about our plan to do this in more detail later).

So, I’m going to do it. Every person must forge their own path to achieve his or her dreams. There is no right or wrong way to do this. For me, my path involves this trip to Rwanda in August.

April Wrap Up

downloadApril was a good month. It wasn’t great. We have yet to have a great month this year, but honestly it wasn’t bad.

Our washer and dryer were hanging on by a thread and we knew that we wanted the space in the laundry closest to store food for our kitchen remodel, so, we bit the bullet and traded them in for a fancy new washer/dryer combo! I normally would never buy something like this new but we knew that we wanted the combo and it is impossible to find a combo unit used. They are just too new. Or too many people like them. Whatever the reason, buying a used machine wasn’t an option so good-bye $1500 – hello washer/dryer combo.

(For those of you keeping track, we have now replaced Every. Single. Appliance. in our house so we are good for a long while. Knock on lots of wood)

Despite this huge expense, we were still able to save quite a bit.

Our savings rate for April was…drum roll, please….

50% !!!!

Our goal is to save 65% of our income each month so saving 50% after making a huge purchase is pretty good.

Another fun thing that happened this last month: I discovered a math error and cut an entire year off of our retirement date! So that was awesome. Oh yes, and the real estate market is super hot here in Seattle which means that our net worth hit over a million this month! That’s right. We are millionaires….kinda…OK – not really at all. This makes us sound much further along than we actually are. Most of that million is tied up in the value of our rental properties which we plan to sell this summer to pay off our house giving Uncle Sam a very hefty chunk of change in the process. Sigh.

Here are the numbers for April:

Percent of income saved: 50%

Percent of the way towards our goal: 44%

Thanks so much for following along on this journey. Everyday I get at least one person reaching out to cheer me along. So, how was your April?