In Praise of Restraint

This week, the ThreeYear Family has had the incredible privilege of spending the week at a swanky island resort. We’ve swum at the lovely resort pools, eaten in delicious restaurants next to a marina filled with forty-foot yachts, and marveled at a collection of world-class cars from around the US–Teslas, Rolls Royces, Land Cruisers, and many German-engineered automobiles.

Seabrook Marina--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

We were able to vacation in such a luxurious setting mostly due to dumb luck (having to do with winning the genetic lottery).

My grandparents lived on the island during their retirement. My grandfather, of the best Yankee stock, relied on hard work, brains, frugality, good investments, and a little luck to arrive at retirement with a solid net worth and the ability to live out his days on this scenic island, pursuing various hobbies, or not doing much at all. My grandmother, his second wife, did likewise, although she was of a more vigorous disposition, and biked, gardened, and cooked her way through their years together. When he, and then she, many years later, passed away, the house was left to my father and his siblings.

And so, here we are, in this lovely setting, biking by houses straight out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Our own accommodations, though very comfortable, are a bit less ritzy. My grandparents’ house is forty years old, and almost everything in it is original. The linoleum in the kitchen is a bit worn, the outside paint is peeling, and the deck is about to be dangerous, the wood is so worn out. But it is a solid, well-made house, and it’s a great place to relax and enjoy ourselves.

View from the deck--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our view from the deck

It is evident, though, as we ride around, that this is an enclave of extreme wealth. As we look around the multi-million dollar homes and imagine what the inside of the massive yachts look like, my sister and I wondered at the stories behind these houses. How did the owners make their money?  It could be that the families that own these houses have inherited their wealth, although that seems unlikely to account for the majority of home owners, given that around 70% of family wealth is lost by the end of the second generation and 90% by the end of the third.

Could these be successful business owners, who have created great wealth through entrepreneurism and ingenuity? Possibly. It could be a collection of high-income earners, who like big displays of their big bonuses. All of this is conjecture.

According to the site CityData.com, there are around 1800 residents living on the island as of 2014. The median age is 67.3 years, which is unsurprising, given that it was founded as a retirement community. The estimated median household income is $105,480. The estimated property value is $728,117. This average is skewed by some of the mega mansions on the island, that are currently selling for $4 and $5 Million US, according to Zillow. If we look at the mean housing price, it is $369.748, which makes a little more sense, given the average income.

Many residents only vacation here–homes on these islands are second homes. In 2009, there were 52 non-occupant loans (meaning families owned other homes in other places that they considered their permanent residences) that were originated for an average of around $535,000 (20 applications for non-occupant loans were denied, withdrawn, or not accepted). That tells me that many homes purchased were not purchased outright with cash, and that a large percentage of the purchase price was financed ($535K is 73% of the average home value of $728K, not adjusting for differences in years).

All of that is to say, it looks like aside from the very wealthy home owners who can purchase the $4Million home outright, many of the vacation homes on this island are financed. Perhaps many of the home owners here are living high-income lives, but unable to support their lifestyles without their bi-weekly paychecks.

Frankly, I don’t know. And honestly, I don’t think I care that much. But it does lead me to evaluate our own choices. As Mr. ThreeYear and I ran to the workout center each morning and spent an hour working out, then ran back home, I thought, “I want the ability to do this every morning.” It didn’t matter that we were running along beautifully landscaped streets, although that was nice. The freedom to be in charge of my time is worth infinitely more than a fancy vacation experience or fancy second home. Having choices, having freedom over our time–that’s the key to our long-term happiness.

Family vacay--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Having fun in the sun

As we were surrounded by so much excess this past week, I thought a lot about the word “restraint.” We certainly didn’t participate in a lot of restraint during our vacation, especially with regards to food, drink, and soaking in the sun. And there are definitely times when I believe a bit of excess is appropriate–family vacations seem like an excellent time to let loose, eat, drink, and be merry. But the opposite concept, restraint, once embraced, brings us many of the benefits that Mr. ThreeYear and I are looking for over the next three years, to help us achieve our goals and become location independent.

The idea of restraint is a bit of an antiquated one–in our modern world, we tend to prefer the terms self-control or self-discipline. But the term denotes the idea of moderation. It calls to mind the Buddhist concept of the Middle Way. It is the idea that we must reel in our baser impulses, require a higher standard for ourselves. To me, it calls up the idea of not doing the things that we might really want to do, in the heat of the moment–not posting the incendiary internet comment, declining dessert if our pants are fitting a bit snugly, not buying a new car just because you can afford the payments. It is the ability to reign yourself in when your emotional reactions might get the better of you, to take a step back, to say nothing, to give yourself a moment to think of the long term implications of your actions.

We can have external and internal restraint. Externally, restraint is a measure or condition that keeps someone or something under control or within limits.

For us, external restraints look like automatic contributions to our retirement accounts, automatic payments to pay off our apartment in Chile, and written plans to carry out our yearly goals. It is not buying potato chips at the store so we won’t eat them on Friday nights.

Internal restraint is unemotional, dispassionate, or moderate behavior– self-control.

Internal restraints are those measures of self-control that make life better–regular exercise, moderate spending, choosing the more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding, choice: fixing the broken faucet ourselves, rejecting our impatient urges to have it all right now and wait, just a bit, until a better time or price comes along.

Running route--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our running route

Mr. ThreeYear and I need both external and internal limits to help us control our behavior and our spending. We appreciate the restraints we’ve created in our lives in order to encourage ourselves to save more, get into better shape, and ultimately, create more choice and happiness for ourselves.

Spending a week in the Land of Excess helped us appreciate restraint even more. We saw the beauty surrounding us this week and we admired it. We ate the food, drank the wine, and played outside with abandon. But we are ready to return to our lives of order, discipline, and self-control. We are ready to return to restraint, and watch it give us more choice and freedom as we march towards location independence.

Have you had any Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous moments lately?

Make It This Weekend: Empanadas!

One of the ways we keep our spending low around here is to eat the vast majority of our meals at home. We do occasionally eat out, but it’s rare–in part because we’d rather spend on travel and in part because we live in the “country” as we say in the South. That means in the middle of nowhere. The nearest grocery store is 20 minutes away, for reference.

delicious empanadas--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Therefore, I’ve become adept at making a lot of food. Since Mr. ThreeYear is Chilean, I occasionally make Chilean food. And my absolute favorite Chilean recipe is the meat empanada.

The Little Meat Pocket That Could

We make empanadas for everything–for dinner guests, to give as gifts, as dinner when we’re in a rush. Whip up a couple of sides and you’ve got a meal.  Freeze them, then pull them out and cook at the last minute (they last up to a year in the freezer). They make fabulous gifts.

The one downside is that they’re labor intensive. When you make them, it takes a while, and when you first start to make them, it takes time to get the hang of putting them together. So I generally make a bunch at a time, since once you’ve got your set up in place, you might as well make several batches.

While you can fill these baked empanadas with a variety of ingredients, I’m going to share arguably the recipe for the most classic filling today–pino. Pino is what Chileans call ground beef mixed with onions. It’s the basis for many classic Chilean dishes like pastel de choclo (recently a hit at our Multicultural Night) and pastel de papas.  

If you have a weekend afternoon handy, give these a try. You will not regret it!

Empanadas de pino (Chilean Beef empanadas)

Makes about 3 dozen

To make the pino:

  • 3 lbs fairly fatty ground beef (I use 80% or lower–the fat provides both flavor and moisture). We have used ground turkey and ground pork. Both work fine. Just use fattier versions of each meat.
  • 4-5 medium yellow onions (we like a lot of onions in our empanadas. I recommend using more than you think you should. You’ll be glad you did).
  • 1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1-2 healthy shakes of red pepper flakes, depending on your tolerance for heat (Chilean people, esp. From Santiago, contrary to popular belief, do not like spicy food. This is our Stateside addition).
  • Salt, to taste (you’ll need a good 1-2 tsp. or more). 
empanada ingredients--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Gather your ingredients.

While you’re getting that stuff together, hard boil 3-4 eggs. If you don’t know how to hard boil an egg well (I didn’t), I recommend putting them in a small pot with water to cover most of the egg. Put in the eggs and let the water reach a boil. Let it boil for about 3-4 minutes, then turn off the heat. Let the pot sit for 10 more minutes on the burner and your eggs will be properly hard boiled.

Back to the pino:

Add 2 tbsp. cooking oil to a large pot. Finely chop your onions. I use this miraculous food processor that we just bought for $21 on Amazon. If you don’t have one, I recommend it. We use it almost every time we cook. 

Add them to the pot and start to saute them. Once they’re starting to turn clear, add the ground beef. This recipe will make a lot of empanadas, so just know that the browning process will take longer than you’re probably used to.

Brown the meat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. When the meat is browned, add salt, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning. Remove it from the burner and let it cool.

Pino--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
This is the finished pino–ground beef and onion.

To Make the Dough

You’ll need:

  • 6 cups of flour (about a kilo)
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 ½ cups Crisco (that’s vegetable shortening. You can use lard, instead, or Copha, if you live in Australia (you’ll need to melt it). Or Trex if you’re in the UK. I wouldn’t recommend all butter, as your crust will be too flaky. You need some kind of vegetable shortening, preferably.
  • 2 cups water

Once the pino is ready, it’s time to make the dough. Find a big bowl.

Add the flour to the bowl, then the salt. Next, incorporate the shortening. If it’s in solid form, add it in chunks to the flour and squish in your hands to incorporate. If it’s melted, make a little well in the flour and pour in. Then stir to incorporate. Once the flour and shortening are mixed, add the 2 cups of water. Stir everything until you get a doughy consistency. At this point, you can plop the dough ball on a floured surface and knead it a bit. Now, separate it into golf-ball sized circles.

Empanada dough--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
The finished empanada dough

Assembling the Empanadas

Once you have the dough and pino, line up your pino, dough balls, raisins, hard boiled egg (cut up into small pieces), and olives. Roll out the dough to make a round disk about the size of a small dinner plate. Fill with one tablespoon filling, one piece of egg, a couple of raisins, and an olive (all of this goes in the middle of the circle).

Now, pull the top of the dough over, so you have a half circle, and fold the bottom edges over the top edges, twisting to close. You could also pinch with the tines of a fork to seal.

Empanada filling--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Filling your empanadas

Once your empanada is filled and sealed, set it on a greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with an egg yolk so they’ll be golden brown.

Bake for 350 degrees F for 45 minutes, or until the empanadas are golden.

Ready to bake--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Empanadas, ready to bake!

Alternately, you can stick the baking sheet in the freezer for 3 hours so that the empanadas freeze, then slide them into a Ziploc bag. They’ll keep in the freezer for months, and you can pull them out, put them on a baking dish, and cook on 350 degrees F for 60 minutes or so.

There you have it! If you make them, let me know how they turn out!!

Happy weekend!

At Home in the World

A few weeks ago, I found out I was picked to be part of the launch team for the new book from one of my favorite bloggers, Tsh Oxenreider. It’s called At Home in the World, and as thanks for helping spread the word about this book, we got to read advanced copies. Luckily, I received the manuscript on a Sunday, because I spent the entire day devouring it.

At Home in the World--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

First, it combines my favorite two things in the world–family and travel. Second, it was written by the founder of The Art of Simple, a blog devoted to simple living and a thoughtful pursuit of happiness. Tsh is one of the people who inspired our three year plan to move internationally after we double our net worth and she seems to be grounded and unassuming as they come, but with a terrific sense of self. I love pretty much everything she writes or recommends. Continue reading “At Home in the World”

Get Out of Town, Already!

I’m listening to the birds chirp outside my window. We’ve left the window cracked over night. Unheard of, even a week ago. Yesterday the temperature rose to 72 and the sun shone all day. Our stream was swollen with melted snow rushing downstream.

Seabrook--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Time for a change in view.

Spring hasn’t arrived, unfortunately. It’s a trick of New England, a trick of nature to give you a golden taste of the glorious summer ahead, to get you through the rainy, muddy, dreary next two months. But I believe the snow may melt this time, and my son told me a flower was blooming, so I am hopeful that some of this good weather is here to stay. Continue reading “Get Out of Town, Already!”

Updating Our Pendant Lights

Hi! If you’re new here, I’m Laurie and my family and I are on a three-year journey to location independence by doubling our net worth so we can move abroad.

pendant lights--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

During our three year experiment, one of our goals is to get our house ready for sale. To that end, we asked a realtor to visit last month and give her opinion of what needs to be done to make the house ready. It turns out, a lot. But the good news is, we have time to tackle all of these projects slowly, so we’ll be able to do a lot of the work ourselves.

Mr. ThreeYear and I are not DIYers. And we’re not especially detail-oriented. But we are committed to amplifying our skill set and learning in order to get the house ready. Continue reading “Updating Our Pendant Lights”

Outfitting Your Kids

Mr. ThreeYear and I practice selective frugality. That is, we spend our money on the things that matter to us, but minimize spending in areas that don’t matter. One of those areas is clothes. While I haven’t been on a three-year clothing ban like Mrs. Frugalwoods, I minimize costs in this area whenever possible. We also have two kids and live in Winterfell–I mean, New England–so we have growing bodies to clothe through our long, snowy winters.

Snow--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Happy winter. And Spring.

So how do we outfit our Little ThreeYears each year Continue reading “Outfitting Your Kids”

Are You the 1%?

Last night, my son asked me to replay a video I’d shown him last year.  It’s called If the World Were 100 People. Maybe you’ve seen it. One of my professors in a TESOL (that’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages if you’re new here) Master’s course had introduced me to the video last Spring.

World 100 People--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

If you’ve got two and a half minutes, it’s a great watch.

The company that developed the video, GOOD Magazine, used research from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook to give us an idea of what our world would look like if its 7.5 billion inhabitants were reduced to a mere 100 people. 100 is a number we can wrap our brains around fairly easily. We all know 100 people. We’re probably friends with 100 people. Continue reading “Are You the 1%?”

A Year of Good Habits: Quarter One Update

We have officially completed the first quarter of the year! We’re calling this year, which is Year One of our family’s plan to reach location independence, the Year of Good Habits. Each month, I focus on improving or developing one new habit. Sometimes the habits are directly related to personal finance and sometimes they’re related to general self-improvement.  At the end of each month, I have been continuing the last month’s habit (or trying to) and adding a new habit in. (But, just for totally transparency, I would not recommend starting so many new habits in one year for the average person. This is more an experiment for the blog. In real life, I try to add in one or two new habits a year).

Quarter One Update--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Habits–whether intentional or not–have been proven to be incredibly important. They are routines that are so ingrained into our days that many of them we follow without realizing we do so. Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: Quarter One Update”

Make It This Weekend: Kuchen!

This past weekend, Mr. ThreeYear’s sweet tooth was activated. Unfortunately, my emergency supply of cake mix was depleted, so we had to resort to Plan B. “I would love some kuchen right about now,” he said.

Kuchen--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Kuchen, which originated in Germany, is a delectable cross between a fruit pie and a tart. Let’s start with the pronunciation. I know it’s tempting, but it’s not in fact pronounced like kitchen with a “u”–instead, coo at a hen and you’ve said it correctly. Continue reading “Make It This Weekend: Kuchen!”

Can You Shop Zero Waste and Be Frugal?

I discovered the Zero Waste movement, like so many others, when I stumbled on Béa Johnson’s blog, Zero Waste Home. Zero Wasters try to purchase and create as little trash as possible. People like Bea, who really originated the movement, get so good at it they can put all of the trash they generate in a year in a mason jar–everything else is refused, reused,reduced, recycled, or rotted, in that order.

Zero Waste and Frugal--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

The movement is super inspiring. Paying attention to how much trash you purchase and/or generate gets you thinking about how much waste we, as a society, generate. Zero wasters freely admit that for most people, creating no trash is really hard, if not impossible. The idea is to reduce as much as possible the amount of trash you create, to really think about what you purchase and be creative about ways of buying stuff with less packaging.

The biggest place you can make a difference in the amount of waste you make is at the grocery store. Continue reading “Can You Shop Zero Waste and Be Frugal?”