A Year of Good Food: Shop at Aldi

Time for the seventh installment of our family’s grocery challenge for the year, which I’m calling “A Year of Good Food.” (Spoiler: this is the first month we failed).

A Year of Good Food: Shop at Aldi www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

At the beginning of July, we moved from New Hampshire to North Carolina. We sold a house there and bought a house here, but along the way, we lived in hotels and stayed with my sister for about a week, then filled up a new fridge and pantry, then fed all four of us breakfast, lunch, and dinner all month. We blew an exorbitant sum of money on everything in July, including food.

The Back Story (Skip This if You’ve Already Read it Six Times)

This year, our family is challenging ourselves to spend less on food so we can save and travel more. Last year, I adopted one habit a month that would translate into better money moves for our family. You can read all about our A Year of Good Habits here.

That experiment worked so well that we tried a new one this year. In 2018, we are challenging ourselves to do better at our food spending. Last year our family spent over $12,000 in groceries, or $966 per month.

This year, our goal is to spend 20% less on groceries. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s almost $200 per month in food savings. The extra $200 per month is going into a travel savings fund, so we can see the results of our hard work in spending less on food.

We could have adopted a radical goal to keep our spending under $500 or something like that. But we know better. We thought it made much more sense to consistently hit our modest target, month after month, for an entire year, to show ourselves we could do it, than to maybe hit the $500 goal once or twice and then face plant with more $1000+ grocery bills.

And if we consistently hit sub-$772 spending, then perhaps we’ll challenge ourselves next year to shave off more.

Each month, we’re trying out a new way to save money at the grocery store. Last month, we focused on staying in budget while moving houses. We kept our expectations low–I knew I wouldn’t be able to consistently meal plan or regularly grocery shop, so the idea was to do as well as we could despite the chaos.

July

Ok, I’m going to get real with you this morning. This privileged WASPy white woman who currently doesn’t work (much) and who really only has to make sure that she keeps her two kids alive and make them clean the bathrooms for her has another first world problem. We got a puppy. And I have to watch it all the time. Because of course it lives inside and has the Prince(ss) of Bel Air life right now, complete with training treats and grooming gloves. She gets up at 5am which is normally my prime writing time, so this post may or may not make sense, because I have to check to make sure she’s not tee-teeing under the bed every 2 minutes.

labradoodle puppy www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Lucy, our new dog

We did not get the puppy in July, though, so I digress something mighty. Lack of sleep will do that to you.

We spent the majority of the month unpacking boxes and getting acclimated to our new house. Mr. ThreeYear started working from home, which is both weird and wonderful, as he’s… home all the time! He eats every meal at home, so during July, all four of us ate every meal at home, except for the week we spent at the beach, when we ate every meal at the beach.

moving boxes www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
It took awhile to unpack all these.

I didn’t even notice we were going over budget, probably because I was busy spending money in every other budgeting category. We were also getting used to the heat, and drinking beverages like crazy. We have a Soda Stream and love it, but the $2.50/12 pack of seltzers kept ending up in our cart.

I also think that mental fatigue played a part. We had been “on” for our move since about March, getting the house ready, selling it, packing up our stuff, buying a house in NC, and once we moved and got a reasonable amount of boxes unpack, we could finally relax and rest. Moving in was about ten times as hard as I predicted and expected, and I’m glad that pretty much on the other side now.

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Shop at Aldi”

How Our New Home is an Investment in Our Health

Last month, we moved from our home in New Hampshire, where we’d lived for six years (and a total of eight in the town), to Davidson, North Carolina.

How Our New Home is an Investment in Our Health www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Despite massive spending last month to get settled (thank you fifteen year mortgage for mountains of equity to help get through that), I expect our new home will be a financial boon. We’re closer to family, so we’ll spend less on travel to see them. We’ll be able to spend more on travel to places we’ve been itching to go as a family (Hawaii, Ireland, Australia) and we’ll have the time to do it. We took out another fifteen year mortgage with a low interest rate, which we plan to pay off early. It’s our only debt.

While I’m not working as an ESL Teacher next year, so we won’t have my income to save and invest, I expect to spend this year figuring out ways to lower our expenses–through an energy audit, shopping at Aldi, and new cell phone plans.

We’re definitely temporarily spending more with our move, as last month’s spending shows. But ultimately, through gas savings, food savings, property tax savings, and do-it-yourself savings (yard and house cleaning), I expect to see our overall spending decline and our overall savings increase in 2019 (because we’ve got a net worth goal to reach!).

Let me be clear: we didn’t move for financial reasons. We moved because it’s been our dream to achieve location independence, and be able to travel at will and be closer to our families. But we chose a smaller house, in a travel hub, where we can also continue to save and invest for our retirement and education goals.  Continue reading “How Our New Home is an Investment in Our Health”

July Net Worth Update

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I am happy. I know I’m in the honeymoon phase of our move, but I am so glad to live in North Carolina. We see my sister, brother-in-law, and niece, maybe three times a week. We spent the entire weekend with them last weekend. I know we’ll start school and get into routines and not see them as often, but my niece now thinks that when she comes to my house, she is supposed to eat marshmallows and watch Captain Underpants on my bed with her cousin.

July Net Worth Update www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

We drive through the streets of our little town and I just smile, because it’s so cute. And we picked it! We didn’t get carried by the circumstances of life to a place. We picked the place we wanted to be and moved there. It’s an incredibly freeing feeling. I am also really enjoying Mr. ThreeYear working from home. Yes, he starts early and works hard, but we get to see him more, because he finishes earlier (no commute!), eats lunch with us everyday, and pops out for coffee breaks. He’s there when service people come by the house, which is reassuring.

Financially, I am not happy, because moving has cost an arm and a leg, and we’ve spent another arm and a leg doing repairs on our new house. Carpet cleaning, painting, air conditioning repair, stocking the fridge, paying neighborhood dues, etc.

I’m trying to keep in mind that this month’s spending has been an anomaly, and because we’re not moving again for a very long time, we will not incur these expenses again for a very long time. Despite all the spending, we managed to increase our net worth. Let’s take a look.

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Since we’ve achieved the latter goal, we’ll be primarily focused on the former in each of these reports going forward. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending. Last year, we increased our net worth by 32% over the year before. This year, we’re trying to increase it by more than 65% from where we started in December 2016. Given our move and the market, I’m not sure it’s doable. But we’re going to try. Continue reading “July Net Worth Update”

Finding Your Personal Savings Superpower

If you (like me) have trouble saving, may I recommend a psychological trick that may help you save a little more? Sometimes, when you feel like you spend more than the people around you, it can get discouraging, and you can start thinking self-defeating thoughts. While some people are incredible at saving in all areas of their lives, I’ve noticed that many people have gotten really good at saving in one particular area. They’ve found their personal savings superpower.

Finding Your Personal Savings Superpower  www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

For Mr. Tako, it’s eating out. While his family are super low spenders in general (especially taking out their mortgage and day care expenses), they just. don’t. eat. out. Ever.

They’ve saved hundreds of dollars per month and thousands of dollars per year, compounded over time because they’ve mastered the art of eating in (and I do mean “mastered.” Check out this post and this post on the delicious food Mr. Tako prepares at home).

Liz and Nate at Frugalwoods have arguably mastered everything, but they love seltzer, so they’ve optimized the price they pay for making bubbly water. They’ve figured out the hacks and tricks to pay as little as possible for their favorite beverage.

Now, eating all your meals in or making your own seltzer may sound awesome to you, or something out of the third level of hell. But, picking your one spending habit to improve does more than just save you money in this area. It actually psychologically sets you up for more success.

If you can identify one area that you’d like to master, spending-wise, then you can become the savings expert there. Maybe it’s keeping your gas costs low even though you drive a lot. You might keep your grocery spending at $300 or less for three people (like Lily!). It could be your entertainment budget. Continue reading “Finding Your Personal Savings Superpower”

What’s Next for the Three Year Experiment?

In July of 2016, I turned 37. My husband and I lived in New England, far from both sides of our family, because of his job. I longed to be able to live in a place with milder winters, see my family more, and travel for extended periods of time. I longed to be able to visit Chile and see his side of the family, more than once every three years.

What's Next for the Three Year Experiment? www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

So when he asked me what I wished for on that birthday, I voiced my crazy wish, “I want to be able to spend half the year in Chile with your family and half in the Carolinas with mine.” At the time, it was impossible. His job kept him in New Hampshire, our kids were in school there, and we were far from financial independence. Yes, we’d spent the last eight years growing our net worth, first by paying off our $38,000 of consumer debt in 2008 and then slowly growing our net worth from there, but we were no where near the amount needed to quit work. Continue reading “What’s Next for the Three Year Experiment?”

5 Frugal Midsummer Activities for the Family

By my count, we have five weeks of summer left (school starts for us the last week of August). For our family, the first two weeks were consumed with moving to a new state. And even though we’ve spent the last two weeks enjoying more traditional summer activities, I know my kids have spent way more time on devices than I’d like.

5 Frugal Midsummer Activities for the Family www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

So I’ve vowed to spend more time finding fun, frugal activities that will make the next five weeks feel more like summer. Here are five ideas you can use to keep your costs down for summer fun over the last half of summer for your family (sniff sniff it’s going too fast). And hey, since there are five ideas, you could try one per week!

Kids Bowl Free

This summer, for the first time ever, local bowling alleys have partnered up to let your kids bowl for free, all summer long. Sign up here for the program.  They also have discounted plans for adults. How it works is you sign your kids up and the program will send you links each week with coupons for two free games of bowling per day.

I took my kids last week and they had a blast. You will have to pay for their bowling shoes, so be prepared that this isn’t a completely free activity. In my local bowling alley, kids’ rentals were roughly $5 each (tax included). But I still feel like $10 is a pretty good value to keep the kids entertained all afternoon.

Bowling fun www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Kids bowl free this summer at hundreds of participating locations.

Summer Programs at the Library

Continue reading “5 Frugal Midsummer Activities for the Family”

A Year of Good Food: Easy Meals

Hello from sunny (very, very sunny) North Carolina! Our family has moved and is now living in the charming town of Davidson, North Carolina. We’re enjoying our new air conditioning, as the heat here is intense in July.

A Year of Good Food: Easy Meals www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

This year, our family is challenging ourselves to spend less on food so we can save and travel more. Last year, I adopted one habit a month that would translate into better money moves for our family. You can read all about our A Year of Good Habits here.

That experiment worked so well that we tried a new one this year. In 2018, we are challenging ourselves to do better at our food spending. Last year our family spent over $12,000 in groceries, or $966 per month.

This year, our goal is to spend 20% less on groceries. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s almost $200 per month in food savings. The extra $200 per month is going into a travel savings fund, so we can see the results of our hard work in spending less on food.

We could have adopted a radical goal to keep our spending under $500 or something like that. But we know better. We thought it made much more sense to consistently hit our modest target, month after month, for an entire year, to show ourselves we could do it, than to maybe hit the $500 goal once or twice and then face plant with more $1000+ grocery bills.

And if we consistently hit sub-$772 spending, then perhaps we’ll challenge ourselves next year to shave off more.

Each month, we’re trying out a new way to save money at the grocery store. Last month, we focused on staying in budget while moving houses. We kept our expectations low–I knew I wouldn’t be able to consistently meal plan or regularly grocery shop, so the idea was to do as well as we could despite the chaos.

June

I feel like I’ve been writing the same report for months now, but June felt absolutely crazy-pants chaotic. I had to take it one day at a time. We had the end of school, the boys’ birthdays, the start of a new graduate class for my master’s, good-bye parties, a big work conference Mr. ThreeYear and I both needed to attend the week of the move, plus all the regular packing and moving details involved with a move. We spent $691.78 for the month, well under budget, in nineteen separate trips to the store. We tried to eat up all the food in our fridge this month, but did a lot of eating out as well.

Yard sale-www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our spectacularly unsuccessful yard sale in late June (small towns aren’t great for yard sales, we learned).

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Easy Meals”

What Our Cars Really Cost

On Wednesday I wrote a post about all of the cars Mr. ThreeYear and I have owned in our time together (it was actually about most of the cars we’ve owned. There were a lot!).

What Our Cars Really Cost

Today I thought I’d delve into the financials of those cars, or as much as I can remember and piece together, and see what the total operational costs of our cars have been over time.

I predict that I will be shocked and disgusted by how much we’ve spent on transportation. A keystone to Mr. Money Mustache’s low spending is his reliance on bikes. Operating cars is one of the big three expenses that we’ve worked on reducing. But I suspect we’ve still spent a lot.

Let’s dive in: Continue reading “What Our Cars Really Cost”

How to Choose Cars that Match Your Financial Goals

Mr. ThreeYear is a car person. I am not. But we have both owned a lot of cars in our fifteen+ years of dating and married life.

How to Choose Cars that Match Your Financial Goals www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

We have made good car decisions. We have made bad car decisions. We have had car payments. We have owned cars outright.

Currently, we have two of the best, if not sexiest, cars we’ve ever have, and they match our financial goals pretty well. But how did we get there?

Today’s post contains all the details of our wonderful cars over the years, and how they’ve worked with or against us.

The Laser

I realized that I was marrying a car person when, soon after we started dating, Mr. ThreeYear decided to buy a new car. For our first date, he was picking me up outside my apartment in Santiago, and he told me he had a pretty old car. I had gotten locked out of my apartment, so I was waiting for him on the sidewalk, watching cars drive by. I have to admit that I was looking at some clunkers, and thinking to myself, “Please don’t be that car. Please don’t be that car.” He pulled up in a dark blue Ford Laser that was as old as I was (at the time, 22). But I thought, “I can live with this.” True, he had to adjust the radio with a screwdriver, and the interior was a bit worn, but the car took us where we needed to go. Continue reading “How to Choose Cars that Match Your Financial Goals”

A Year of Good Food: Shop the Perimeter

Another month is done. Here’s what happened last month in your next chapter of… A Year of Good Food.

A Year of Good Food: Shop the Perimeter www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

This year, our family is challenging ourselves to spend less on food so we can reach our goal of location independence by the end of 2019. Last year, I adopted one habit a month that would translate into better money moves for our family. You can read all about what I called A Year of Good Habits here.

That experiment worked so well that we tried a new one this year. In 2018, we are challenging ourselves to do better at our food spending. Last year our family spent over $12,000 in groceries, or $966 per month.

This year, our goal is to spend 20% less on groceries. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s almost $200 per month in food savings. The extra $200 per month is going into a travel savings fund, so we can see the results of our hard work in spending less on food.

We could have adopted a radical goal to keep our spending under $500 or something like that. But we know better. We thought it made much more sense to consistently hit our modest target, month after month, for an entire year, to show ourselves we could do it, than to maybe hit the $500 goal once or twice and then face plant with more $1000+ grocery bills.

And if we consistently hit sub-$772 spending, then perhaps we’ll challenge ourselves next year to shave off more.

Each month, we’re trying out a new way to save money at the grocery store. We’ve tried shopping with cash, making only one trip to the store per week, and shopping with a list. So far, shopping with cash has worked best. That’s in line with the idea that parting with your money is painful, and so you’re more likely to part with less of it if you’re paying in cash. When we use credit cards, we separate ourselves from our spending just a bit, since when we pay with a card, we feel like we’ll pay for the groceries later (and we will, when we pay our monthly bill). Strangely enough, when we pay our monthly credit card bill, it feels like we’ve already paid for stuff in the moment of purchase. So there’s a lot less purchase pain, which is the reason we tend to spend more with credit cards.

As of now, we haven’t adopted an all-cash system because it’s convenient to pay with credit cards. But I might start this summer.

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Shop the Perimeter”