Our 2015 budget update – how did we do?

Published January 6, 2016   Posted in Budgets

As many of you know from our monthly budget update, we rely on a budget to help keep us on our goal to Financial Independence. But, budgets seem to be sore subjects. We either love them or we hate them. Take a look at how our 2015 budget worked for us.

Our 2015 Budget: How much did we save over the year?We love keeping a budget, but we approach budgeting in a slightly different way than most.

Instead of a straight monthly calculation of anticipated 30-day expenses, we calculate our anticipated spending numbers for the year and then break down those numbers into their respective amounts per month. We focus on yearly expenses because we have a number of expenditures that do not apply on a neat monthly basis, making a straight monthly-calculation a poor indicator of frugal spending.

Ultimately, this means that if we go over budget on a particular month, it’s not a big deal so long as our yearly expenditures are on target.

This also means we have to be disciplined enough throughout the year to not blow through our discretionary funds too early because if we have a few months of over-spending, we may find ourselves in the position of having very little cash left at the end of the year to use for holiday spending.

Luckily, we don’t tend to have that problem because the budget helps keep our spending to a reasonably consistent level all year long.

We don’t say, for example, “Hmm, I don’t really want to cook tonight, let’s check the budget to see if we can eat out.” Instead, we plan special lunches out a couple of weeks in advance and make sure we’re doing okay budget-wise before we actually go.

We also adjust our budget categories as we go. For instance, we managed to shave off some of Steve’s cellphone payment about half way through the year, so our yearly budget for cellphones went down as a result. An example in the wrong direction this year was our grocery budget. We started the year with a monthly budget amount of $300 and we stuck to that pretty well. However, due to food sensitivities, I completely changed my diet (and for support at home so did Steve) midyear. Let me tell you that cauliflower is expensive! We’re still trying to get our grocery budget back down to $300, but when it kept falling at $350 no matter what I tried I upped the budget amount for the year. We stay flexible and realistic.

Our 2015 budget update

This is the first full year that we’ve tracked our spending as a couple and the first year we tried to stick to a budget. How did we do?

In the Fixed Costs category we did well at 102% spent. We are over a bit on the year for what I anticipated but that is due to our home refinance.

One more month and we would have broken even on that deal.

This category is staying the same to start 2016. However, it is going to change DRASTICALLY once we start selling the houses. Thus, this category will have to be extremely flexible in 2016. You can check out my upcoming article on what we anticipate our budget to be once we hit the road full-time. I will also be writing a budget update for the months we are living in the Airstream and still working full-time.

In the Utilities and Other Necessities category we are under budget for the year at 94% spent! There are a couple of subcategories where we went over (Insurance and Car Repairs) but multiple where we stayed under, so it evened out. Again, this whole section will have to change drastically some time next year when we move into the Airstream but I plan to keep the same dollar amounts to start 2016. Except maybe Insurance. I need to figure out why that was higher than we anticipated.

I’ve already mentioned that we needed to increase our budget for Groceries this year. We are just about perfect for our yearly adjusted budget, so yay! (100% spent) This is one of the categories we need to stay on top of the most. I have great plans on how to shrink this number down even more and still maintain our gluten-free, dairy-free and mostly vegan lifestyle full of fresh veggies and fruits. My plans involve creating a capsule pantry/kitchen and I’m excited! Maybe that will have to be a future post if people are interested (*wink*).

Lastly, the Fun category. We are under for the year here too, though not by much. (98% spent) Again there are some subcategories here where we went over (Health being the main one due to the unfortunate knife incident). I’m definitely upping the Health Budget for next year. It was a total guess since I had never tracked that before. I’d rather budget on the high side so if an accident does happen we’re prepared. We’re thinking about shrinking our lumped Fun subcategory a bit more next year. This is the one place we sometimes will buy something because we have the budget for it and lowering the amount would put a stop to that. We shall see.

Overall we were under-budget for the year and I’d like to keep it that way! Since we do budget for emergencies most years we should be under budget and that’s what needs to happen, especially once we’re on the road full time. Once on the road we’ll be pulling a certain amount out of our investments to cover our living expenses. If we don’t budget for emergencies we will have to scramble if something happens to get the funds. If we do budget for emergencies then the money will slowly accumulate in our account so that when something happens we are ready. But this only works if we stay on budget everywhere else.

2015 was a great learning experience. 2016 will bring with it a HUGE amount of change. Our budget will change with it but what we’ve learned this year will help us make the best choices when we need to.

Budget December 2015 ~ Rental Woes + Year-End Numbers

Published January 1, 2016   Posted in Budgets

Ever since we decided that the path for us is out of the rat race and into an early retirement of our choosing, the Mr. and I have been keeping an eye on our finances and scaling down our spending. Neither one of us were complete clowns, but we certainly weren’t looking out for our future selves at anywhere near the level we want/need to be. (more…)

Reflecting on 2015: A year of refinement from the Mrs.

Published   Posted in How to Think

New Years 2016

At the end of 2014, I labeled 2015 The Year of Consistency, and it was. We consistently tracked all of our spending and mostly stuck to our budget (Full year budget assessment coming soon!). However, I think I’d like to rename the year 2015 as The Year of Refinement.

As Steve mentioned in his Reflections post, we slowly refined our retirement plans from our original retirement date of 2020 to our new retirement date of this time next year (for Steve) and our dream of full time travel in our Airstream took shape. We also slowly refined our spending and budget which I will mention here but will go into more detail in an upcoming article.

On a more personal note, I refined my eating. I am now gluten-free and dairy-free. We already cooked mostly vegan in the house but these changes have taken a while to get used to. By refining my diet I’ve managed to eliminate most of my migraine problems, though this is still a work in progress. We refined our stuff. We’re slowly getting rid of anything we don’t use and don’t love. This is in preparation of our big move into the Airstream sometime next year but it has helped us understand what is truly important to us.

I refined my activities as well. I’ve cut out anything that – while sounding fun – dragged me down. Again, I’m trying to focus my life on the things that lift me up.

Anyway, 2015 was an amazing year and lovely to reflect on.

What I did Right:

  1. Tracking our spending. I started tracking our spending last year but wanted to buckle down and make sure every cent was accounted for in 2015. Success! Us signing up for Personal Capital and receiving the daily emails of our transactions certainly made the whole process easier. I also had my excel spreadsheets all set up and everyday when I got to work I would input anything new. We also saved all receipts. This sounds a little daunting but it actually wasn’t so bad. Steve would leave any of his receipts out for me near where we store my purse and I had a special area in my wallet where they would go until I entered them in the appropriate spreadsheet. By doing this every morning, it only took about 5 minutes and we stayed on top of everything.
  2. Budget. The first step is figuring out where the money goes. The second is to create a budget to help steer where the future money goes…or at least for us!  We look at our budget as a yearly summation, so while it worked great to keep us on track, we didn’t beat ourselves up if we went a little over one month as long as we’re on track for the year. Aside from mostly sticking to our budget, the flexibility built into it was also very important. I changed categories as we learned more about how we spend. Since we were fairly new to the business of budgeting, we had to guess in quite a few categories. Some guesses were high, some were low. Once we established what the true spending level looked like, we adjusted the budget accordingly (though we did keep trying to find ways to get some of the higher categories down).
  3. Personal Reflection. In line with refining our dreams and lives this year, I spent quite a bit of time in personal reflection. What is important to me? What makes me happy? What stresses me out? Why? This lead to quite a few changes in my life as well as Steve’s and I think all for the better. Sometimes we just keep on going because change is difficult and we don’t know what we want. Well, I’m determined to figure out what we want – and make our lives reflect that. We’re not waiting until we retire to live the best possible lives we can.
  4. Health.  One of the things that came up in my personal reflections was that health is very very important to us. Not only that, our gym and healthy eating habits needed to be prioritized and continued, and it was also time for me to get serious about figuring out the causes behind my migraines. I can honestly say I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life right this moment, and I’m not stopping. I still get migraines and sinus headaches and I’m not strict about some of my known triggers. So this is a thing I did right but also something I could have done better this year. I’m determined now. I want to live my life without pain and I’m going to do everything possible to make that happen.
  5. Daily Cleaning Schedule.  We started a chore schedule this year. I took care of a quick clean in a different room every night while Steve did the dishes. Then Steve kept the floors clean (my LEAST favorite chore) on assigned days and I did other bigger tasks a couple times a month. It worked out great. Even on weeks we didn’t quite do everything because life got in the way, the house stayed clean and neat overall and I never had to worry about doing a deep clean before people came to stay. So much less stress.


What Didn’t Work:

  1. Diet Changes. As I mentioned above I wasn’t as strict as I needed to be this year. In fact, while I went gluten-free earlier in the year, I ended up giving it up in July. Why? Because I wasn’t serious about sticking things out to really figure out what’s going on. I’m committed now. Hopefully Diet Changes will be solidly in the What I Did Right category next year.
  2. Grooming our Dogs Ourselves. While grooming our Boxer mix was no problem, we failed at grooming our Poodle so we wouldn’t have to take her to the groomers every 6-8 weeks. We groomed her twice this year. Both times turned out okay but took a LONG time and was stressful for all of us. Patti our Poodle gave us the death glare the entire time. We could have gotten better with more practice I’m sure but neither Steve nor I really wanted to. We also rationalized that once in the Airstream it will be much much easier to take her to a groomer than to groom her ourslves given storage and water rationing. So we failed here. Oh well, all money saving measures aren’t for everyone.
  3. Article writing. You may have noticed that there was a lot more content on the blog from me earlier in the year. I had high hopes for contributing more but even the Friday Feast became too much for me and so Steve graciously and splendidly took it over. Work is too full right now for me to get any writing done there and my days are full with other important activities. So for now my article writing is confined to a few hours on the weekend and that’s okay. Very soon I’ll have a lot more time on my hands! 😉

What I LOVE:

  1. Meditation. I started a meditation practice the last quarter of this year which is going wonderfully. It means that Steve and I now wake up at 5:00 am every weekday so I can get my 15-minute meditation in but it is totally worth it. I have noticed I am calmer, more focused and more mindful during the day. I don’t let things effect me as much – in fact, Steve has even noticed that I give fewer shits about little things. I resisted meditation for a long time and I’m certainly still a beginning practitioner, but I cannot wait to see how I feel after a year of consistent practice. Now that I have a schedule that supports it, I am ready to rock in 2016.
  2. Minimized House. We’ve done a lot this year to minimize our belongings to the things that are used regularly or that truly matter to us. It is still definitely a work in progress but I would say that we’ve probably gotten rid of 30-40% of our stuff at this point. And we don’t miss it. In fact we feel better! Not being surrounded by things has made me calmer. It makes it easier to clean our home, pick what we’re going to wear, decide what we’re going to do with some cherished free time. It has made it so I smile when I walk into our home or when I see that picture or smell that candle (we’ve had one burning daily). While the process is being done out of necessity (for our huge downsizing next year) it is making our current home a peaceful enjoyable place to live.
  3. Minimized Commitments-> more time with Steve and the girls. There are certain things we all do even though they don’t make us happy. Some we cannot avoid. Some we can but it takes effort. I decided this year that the effort was not worth it. I stopped attending monthly events that may have been fun in principle, but actually stressed me out more often than not. I felt guilty for a while since I am friends with the people involved but it was the right thing to do for me and didn’t hurt anyone. In fact it gave me more time to spend with Steve and the girls and that I love. Steve and I also realized that while the idea of entertaining is awesome, we hate it. I get way too stressed when I am the one hosting any kind of event. Participating, I’m golden, but hosting I can be a wreak. So no more. Yes we have the house that’s made for summer BBQs. But we won’t be having anymore of those.
  4. Travel. If you’ve followed us for any length of time you know we love to travel. We revel in the new experiences, fabulous places, cool people and especially the food (even with my new sensitivities). Glacier National Park was definitely my favorite trip this year. It was actually breath-taking. I can’t wait until we go full-time and get to visit all sorts of wonderful places.
  5. Family. Family is very important to us and we are lucky that we both love each other’s. We got to spend multiple weeks with both Steve’s parents and my parent’s and even managed almost a whole week with all of our siblings and nieces. Pretty incredible and we will cherish those memories forever. That is one of the things I look forward to in our post-retirement lives. We will be able to pick up and go to support family much more easily then we can now. No more worrying about having to get back to work.

Anyway Happy New Year to you! In 2015 we refined. In 2016 we take action!

Budget November 2015 ~ Too Many Gifts!

Published December 1, 2015   Posted in Budgets

Ever since we decided that the path for us is out of the rat race and into an early retirement of our choosing, the Mr. and I have been keeping an eye on our finances and scaling down our spending. Neither one of us were complete clowns, but we certainly weren’t looking out for our future selves at anywhere near the level we want/need to be. (more…)

The meaning of being grateful when we already have so much

Published November 25, 2015   Posted in Having some fun How to Think

Hey everyone, Courtney here! Thanksgiving is here in the US (and already passed for our Canadian friends) and so I’m sure you’ve been flooded with articles about being Thankful and might think it’s all kinda corny.

Well, here’s another one of those articles 😉

grateful-faceI think it is the perfect time to reflect on what I am grateful for because truthfully I don’t do it enough. We too often get caught up in the nitty-gritty business of daily life and it doesn’t leave us with much time to focus on the positive. And we should!

Don’t just take my word for it. Numerous studies have shown that “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships” That sounds pretty good to me.

So what am I grateful for?

I am grateful for me being me. WHA?? No, I’m serious. I get to be the person I truly am. There are so many people who have to hide their true selves for many different reasons. The fact that I can live the way I want, with whom I want, where I want, and how I want is amazing and something I am truly grateful for.

I’ve had great successes and equally awful failures but they are all mine, choices freely made. I am grateful for the freedoms I possess. This blog would not exist if not for the freedom that Steve and I have to decide what our dreams are, what we want our life to look like, and to follow through. Being free to do something doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s our challenge to conquer.


The family in Albuquerque, NM

I am grateful for my family, my husband and the relationship we have, my pups who make me so very happy, my parents who have given and continue to give me more than I can say, my siblings for being supportive, my friends for always being there, my colleagues for keeping me grounded and last but certainly not least for all of you in our FI community who provide inspiration and motivation each and everyday.

I am grateful for ALL the things. We have too much stuff and are slowly remedying that through yard sales, Good Will and our eventual crazy sale of almost everything we own so we can move into our Airstream. Most of the time I look at our stuff as a hassle, a time commitment, a mistake, or another to-do item. But I am still grateful for each and every thing we own.

I have someplace warm and safe for myself and my family to sleep every night, food to eat, clothes to wear, running water to wash with. Granted, I also have boxes of useless decor but I am grateful for the fact that buying or receiving it at some point gave me joy and I’m grateful again that I can now give it away to someone else who will enjoy it more.

I am grateful that Steve and I have broken free of the the ‘societal stuff trap’ and no longer want or need to surround ourselves with things in order to feel secure.

I am grateful for my continual learning and growing. I am learning new things daily and often changing the way I live my life to reflect what I’ve learned. My understanding of life, happiness, and love continues to expand. There are so many things that make me happy today that I probably wouldn’t have even noticed a couple of years ago.

By continually growing I’ve been able to sweat less of the small stuff, or in my husband’s words, give A LOT fewer fucks (though he is still much better at this than me) about the little things that truly don’t matter – and my life is more content because of it.

I am grateful for the internet. A lot of negativity and hate can be spread through social channels on the internet but so can hope, and health, and new ideas, and old reminders, and joy, and peace, and friendship, and love.

I am grateful for my health and the health of my family. We have numerous semi-serious medical issues in our families but overall everyone is healthy. Steve and I prioritize our health. We are probably the most healthy fitness and diet wise than we have ever been in our entire lives, and we feel it. We get plenty of sleep, eat a diet rich in nutrients (yay plant based!) and exercise almost daily (more than daily for Steve). I’ve even begun tackling my migraine issues and actually I am grateful for them. My migraines have taught me how much control I have over how I feel. So many people pop pills for maladies that they are choosing to inflict upon themselves.

This year, I have learned that dairy and gluten cause me a massive amount of inflammation which leads to my migraines. Alcohol and sugar too. I grateful for the knowledge of how to feel like my best self and the opportunity to continue learning so hopefully one day my diet makes me feel the very best I can.

There are so many other things I cam grateful for but I will end with Nature. I am grateful to be alive and to exist on this planet with sunrises, bird songs, tiny plant sprouts, massive trees, magnificent mountains, soothing rivers, crashing waves, blowing winds, echoing calls, silent snow falls, crackling fires, stunning sunsets, and glorious starry skies.

O and pie. Definitely grateful for pie.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Budget September 2015 ~ NY NY

Published October 6, 2015   Posted in How to Think

Ever since we decided that the path for us is out of the rat race and into an early retirement of our choosing, the Mr. and I have been keeping an eye on our finances and scaling down our spending. Neither one of us were complete clowns, but we certainly weren’t looking out for our future selves at anywhere near the level we want/need to be. (more…)

Budget August 2015 ~ Over the Ridge

Published September 1, 2015   Posted in Budgets

Ever since we decided that the path for us is out of the rat race and into an early retirement of our choosing, the Mr. and I have been keeping an eye on our finances and scaling down our spending. Neither one of us were complete clowns, but we certainly weren’t looking out for our future selves at anywhere near the level we want/need to be. (more…)

Simplification. What’s Important? : “Everything That Remains” by the Minimalists

Published August 29, 2015   Posted in Reviews

Everything That Remains, by The MinimalistsI’ve never been a hoarder. When you move throughout your childhood – living in 3 different houses in high school alone – you learn it’s easier to not have a lot of stuff. I moved from Washington DC to Seattle WA with 5 50-lb suitcases. But from Seattle to Tucson I had more. And then from my apartment to my home, even more. And then when my husband moved in, even more.

As adults, we accumulate. Furniture. Kitchen supplies. Extras for guests. We finally have money to spend and we spend it. Work clothes. Books. Electronics. And soon we have homes full of stuff. Perhaps well organized stuff but still full of stuff.

It bothers me when things aren’t put away. It irks me when surfaces aren’t clean or there is clutter or dust or piles of things to deal with later. For years I would try to ignore the mess and do massive whole day cleanings when needed. You know the joke about someone scheduling an event at their home just so they will clean it. That was me. I hated it. HATED it. I do not like cleaning. I get no joy from the process.

But I really like when things are clean. I smile when I walk into a room that is organized and tidy (I know I have issues). Society today would probably tell me there is an easy solution. Hire someone to clean. I work 40+ hours a week and commute 1+ hours a day. I go to the gym daily and cook all our meals from scratch. I already do so much…so I deserve it right?

Now don’t get me wrong, hiring a cleaning service is 100% awesome for some. My mother cleaned homes (not just our own) growing up and now she employees someone to deep clean her house once a month. Good for her. But it never felt right for me. Even before we decided to retire early and save 70% of our take home pay, it just didn’t feel good to spend my money on paying someone to do something so easy.

So I’ve figured it out. Have less stuff to deal with. Simple right? Even better is to also have less space to have to clean as well (that will come when we retire). The other solution is to clean a bit everyday. I have a chores list for myself and my husband and do a 10 minute chore every night before going to bed. End result is that the house is always pretty clean (clean enough to keep me happy) and our weekends aren’t spent cleaning and putting things away instead of doing the things we love.

This concept has seriously changed my life and we’re slowly getting rid of the many things we don’t need to make room for doing more of the things we love to do. In this journey towards minimalism (which is essentially what I just described) I have found that reading about others going through this process helps me stay motivated and check-in on my progress. This is why Steve and I love our Early Retirement / Financial Independence community. Hearing the stories of like-minded people keep us going when things get hard.

So in my search for stories on minimalistic life changes, I came across the Minimalists. We got to see Joshua Fields Millburn (one of the Minimalists) on his recent Word Tasting Tour and it inspired me to pick up his memoir, Everything That Remains, from the library. Joshua tells the story of his life from an unhappy married high-earning career man to a happy single minimalist through his mother’s death, the end of his marriage, the loss of his career and more. There were some real gems scattered throughout the story that resonated with me. Particularly that “the things you own end up owning you.” Which I have already come to realize and am starting to remedy.

This quote should sound familiar to the ER/FI community. “Now, before I spend money I ask myself one question: Is this worth my freedom?” Joshua came at FI from a minimalism perspective. I’m coming at minimalism from an FI mindset but truly these two concepts go hand in hand. The goals of FI & Minimalism are that we have the freedom (from debts or things) to live the lives we want to live. How do we pay down our debts? We save more money which means buying less stuff. When we buy less stuff we have less stuff to deal with and therefore have more time to live how we want. It all works out.

If you too like to read about other’s changing their lives for the better and becoming inspirations for those of us striving to live as our authentic selves, then you might enjoy Everything That Remains. It’s a nice story of how two men changed their lives to be more simple and more in line with what they wanted. Who wouldn’t want that?

FOOD ~ July 2015

Published August 3, 2015   Posted in Budgets

We are over again this month. As I mentioned in the July Budget we had to stock up on some necessary staples such as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and peanut butter. These supplies should last us a few months. So you’ll see that reflected in the Canned Goods area below. Otherwise pretty good month and as always delicious!

Anyway, here is where the money went:


Budget July 2015 ~ Glacier National Park

Published   Posted in Budgets

Ever since we decided that the path for us is out of the rat race and into an early retirement of our choosing, the Mr. and I have been keeping an eye on our finances and scaling down our spending. Neither one of us were complete clowns, but we certainly weren’t looking out for our future selves at anywhere near the level we want/need to be. (more…)