What I Wish I Knew Then About FIRE: Guest Post on Costa Rica FIRE

Ahh, hindsight. Most always 20/20, it is the perspective gleaned from missteps and mistakes made.

We can’t change the past, no matter how much we’d like to, so our ancient mistakes can only serve as a guide in our present lives.

That’s the idea behind Scott and Caroline’s post. The couple, now empty nesters who I first profiled on the blog here in my Your Three Year Experience series, write about crafting a life you love, living in multiple places, and traveling. They reached out to lots of financial bloggers, me included, with the question, “What do you know now about FIRE that you wished you knew when you started?” In other words, what would you have done differently in your pursuit of financial independence/retiring early?

For our family, where retiring early has never been a primary goal, I had to think about the question under the framework of decisions we made that would have impacted our lives differently.

Certainly moving to New Hampshire in 2010 was a decision that we debated. Just before Mr. ThreeYear accepted the job with his company there, his company in Atlanta offered him a really great deal to stay. If we had stayed in Atlanta, our lives would have looked so different. What choices would we have made? Would we be as financially solid as we are now? Would our health and well-being have suffered as a result of Mr. ThreeYear staying in a stressful work environment?

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Grocery Services: Are They Worth It?

Since I’ve started working full time, I’ve almost exclusively used grocery services to buy my groceries. What are grocery services? There are several types.

Delivery Services

One type is a delivery service. Some companies, such as Instacart and Shipt, are companies that offer delivery from various stores in your area. You pick out your store, then pick out your groceries on an online app or website.

I’ve used Instacart extensively, in conjunction with Aldi. I really like it because it’s convenient and they bring food right to your door. But it’s not cheap.

These delivery companies generally make money in two ways: one, by charging a delivery fee (generally a fixed amount, like $3.99), a service fee (with Instacart, it’s 5% of your order), and a tip (this is also a recommended 5% of your order but it’s not required). On top of all these fees, the company marks up the cost of the food you buy. So if your potato chips normally cost $.89 per bag at Aldi, you’ll pay $.99 through Instacart.

Several times, the buyer has left the receipt in the bag, and I’ve been able to compare what he or she paid at the store with what Instacart charged me. The difference is usually about $25.

$25?! So why would I ever buy groceries from this service? That’s a lot of money!

What I’ve found is that by having a delivery service, I actually end up buying less than I normally do when I go into the grocery store. Because I’m not physically in the store, I’m not tempted to buy more than what’s on my list. Obviously if you’ve got great self-discipline at the store, this is not an issue you face, but for me, it’s helped.

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6 Ways I Trick Myself Into Spending Less

It has been well established on this blog that my family is not particularly frugal. While we have tried hard, we tend to fail at the “a millionaire is made $10 at a time” adage. We spend little bits here and there, which add up to big bits by the end of the month.

But it doesn’t matter. Here’s why.

We’ve already made one-time decisions long ago that have locked us in to spending less, sometimes way less, than we have, and because of that, we are saving and investing at an impressive rate (around 40% of our income, although that will increase this year now that I’m working).

Because I know that I like to spend money, and honestly don’t have a huge amount of self control in that area, I’ve learned that I have to trick myself in order to keep my money away from myself. And the crazy part is, it’s worked!

Here are the six tricks my family uses to spend less:

We Max Out Our 401k

Many years ago, I figured out that the very best way to decrease our taxable income while also investing tax-free was to max out my husband’s 401k. So, I started small (I say I because I am the investor in our family and made these decisions). I began saving 7% of his salary, then increased that amount each year as he got a raise. Because he’s a high salary earner, it only took a few years to max out. I document that entire process here.

When I got my full-time job in August, I debated if I should max out my own 403b (the 401k equivalent at my non-profit private school). After all, my teaching salary is quite low and I wouldn’t have very much left over after I maxed out. However, in the end, I couldn’t turn down the tax benefits or the tax free savings, so I chose to max it out as well. Now, even if we end up spending most of my all of my salary on home improvement projects, I don’t feel too bad since we’re saving $38,000 alone in our retirement accounts.

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October Net Worth Update

We have crept into November, here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Our trees are now handsome shades of red and orange, and while nothing rivals the splendor of a New England Fall, the foliage is looking particularly lovely right now.

And I don’t have to brace for seven months of winter, either.

Life is good.

I thought as much on Sunday when I looked next to me and saw my sister on the pew next to me in church. We’ve started attending the same church on Sundays and it’s just another way I get to see my nieces and my sister and BIL regularly. It’s hard to explain the satisfaction that comes from living close to my family. But it’s a feeling of relief. I’m not living 14 hours away anymore. I don’t have to plot and scheme to figure out how to move closer to them. We’re currently living in the most idyllic of locations, our little town of Davidson. The weather is lovely, most of the time.

This week was Halloween and at my school, we had a Trunk or Treat event for the kids, replete with a Halloween-themed scavenger hunt. My middle schoolers brought flowers for the Ofrenda we created for a beloved teacher who died last year.

My own kids trick-or-treated in our neighborhood, despite steady rain, and came back with an impressive haul.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I get an entire week off. We’ll head to the beach house to soak in some sand, turkey, and family.

Our Progress

We did so well in September with our spending, but October saw us back to our newly-spendy(er) habits.

We’ve been using the part of my salary that’s not designated for my 403b to fix up several things in the house that need fixing. We’ve updated our dishwasher, which was essentially worthless, and just finished getting our cabinets painted. We toyed with the idea of doing it ourselves, but the truth is, we had no idea how, so I’m infinitely glad we left it in the hands of professionals.

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August Net Worth Update

Happy September! Labor Day has officially passed. School has begun for the kids and me, Mr. ThreeYear is off on his first travel trip of the school year. FinCon, the eponymous financial conference, has started, although I’m not there this year.

A new season has started for many families in the US and it definitely has for ours; I’m now working full time and life is very different in our household.

Last week was my first full week teaching at my new school. I loved it; the kids are great, in general, and it was fun to have such a challenge in front of me. I also got home completely depleted every evening. I know that in time, I will feel stronger and less exhausted. I know this is a period of transition, but it feels hard.

That said, I’ve tried to put into place things that will help me make good choices. I’ve given myself a week to sleep in a bit, but this week I’m getting up earlier. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m going to my office to write, and on Wednesdays and Fridays I’m going to a fitness class. My neighbor, who works at our club gym, started it because I asked her to, so I feel locked in to going each Wednesday and Friday. That’s exactly how I want to feel, so that I will go regularly and not miss a workout.

I’ve started new habits of making lunches and getting clothes out the night before, something I’ve never mastered, so that mornings won’t be as rushed. Seems to be working for now.

Our Progress

While July showed an uptick in the net worth category (68.9%), August brought us back down (66.9%). I’ve now had one full month of contributing the max to my 403b, but that did little to my overall balance, combined with a market downturn. That means I bought low, though, so I’m glad.

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Broke to Financially Woke: Guest Post on Peerless Money Mentor

Do you remember a time when you were broke? Not just a temporary “I can’t afford X today,” but a period where you couldn’t afford anything?

It’s hard for me to remember those days, honestly, but I think it’s good to try and remember what it felt like to sweat every purchase.

When I was in my twenties and we were just starting out I remember playing the gas game. I’d drive up to the pump and put in $20 because there was no way I could spare $60 to fill up the tank of my BMW X5. Ironic, right?

I remember having $10 or less in my checking account in college. That happened a lot. I drove to the ATM, would check my balance, then if I had enough ($10 or more!), I’d go join my friends at Checker’s or wherever else we were eating/drinking that night.

While I’m really glad to be on the other side of that now, I think it’s important to remember the Russian Roulette money days, when we had to decide what bills to pay and what bills had to wait and couldn’t imagine ever getting out from our mountain of consumer debt.

Jerry from Peerless Money Mentor has a series on his blog about people who’ve gone from “digging in the couch cushions to go to McDonalds” to “on the way to FI.” So I reached out to him to see if I could share our story in his series, From Broke to Financially Woke.

Jerry is a millennial from Baton Rouge who graduated with degrees in Business Management and IT. Despite his supposed business acumen, he still made the typical financial mistakes and ended up broke. He wised up, started some side hustles like driving for Uber, and began to make better money decisions. He started his blog to document his journey toward FI and help others make better money decisions.

Jerry’s series details the stories of people like him (and me) who went from major debt to financially literate.

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

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One Year of Pet Expenses

Thank you for your patience with me, readers of this blog. In part because of my new job, in part because of my 40th birthday, in part because of my family from Chile visiting, I have taken a sabbatical of sorts this summer, and have not been posting as often. I hope to get back to a more regular writing schedule soon. I appreciate you reading!

Just about one year ago, on August 6th, 2018, we brought Lucy the dog home from the Amish farm.

Lucy is our labradoodle who we bought from an Amish breeder at a farm just an hour away from our house in Davidson, North Carolina.

I resisted getting a dog for years, and with good reason: a dog is a ton of work. Taking care of Lucy has felt like taking care of another child, in a lot of ways. We had to potty train her (housebreak her), sleep train her (crate train her), set up playdates (dog park outings), and find babysitters when we go out of town (pet sitters).

There has been no small amount of expense related to my furry white daughter, as Mr. ThreeYear calls her (as opposed to my hairless Latino sons, I suppose?).

And although I am very firm in my decision that she is the last family pet that we shall have (stating it on the internet makes it official), she has brought a lot of joy to our lives.

In this post, I’m going to outline allll the costs involved in taking care of Lucy for the last year. I will include all the direct costs, like vet visits, food, and toys. I won’t include all the indirect costs, like the cost of replacing my favorite pen that she chewed up, or replacing my sister-in-law’s slippers, etc. We’ll just call those bonus expenses.

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Four Money Lessons from Four Decades

On Wednesday I turned 40. I started this blog with that birthday in the forefront of my mind. The three year experiment was an exercise in using the last three years of my 30s well, in reaching a financial and lifestyle goal before I hit the big 4-0.

To celebrate this auspicious occasion, I went with a group of friends to a Korean restaurant where we rented a private karaoke room. Several friends drove or flew in to Davidson to help me celebrate. I had that perfect, happy feeling of being well celebrated and surrounded by people I loved all night.

Time is a funny thing. The memory of my 30th birthday is so clear, and yet it happened a decade ago now. Junior ThreeYear was two then and now he’s twelve.

Celebrating Junior ThreeYear’s second birthday at our house in Atlanta. I turned 30 a few days later.

I’ve done a lot of living in those ten years. Just ten months after my 30th birthday, we moved from Atlanta to New Hampshire, and then eight years later, on to North Carolina. We had a second child. We sold two and bought two houses in that decade. I’ve run over ten half- and full-marathons. I’ve had half a dozen jobs. We lived through eight New Hampshire winters. We’ve gone on countless trips. I’ve made lifelong friends.

We’ve done a lot with our money in that time–we’ve grown our net worth substantially. We’ve paid off our apartment in Chile as well as many cars and large chunks of mortgage debt. We’ve built a college fund for the kids. We’ve gotten a month ahead with our budgeting. We’ve learned to be a bit more frugal, to spend according to our values.

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Mid-Year Goals Update

In January, I made the decision to set my goals a little differently for 2019. I decided on the top three values for our family for this year, which have changed a bit since we’ve moved, and made a list of daily behaviors I wanted to work on in order to live those values.

Now that six months of the year have passed, I thought I’d report on how I’ve done.

Our Top Values

In New Hampshire, we became very focused on our financial goals. Part of the reason for that was because we didn’t have our family or long-time friends around, so pursuing financial goals gave us something to focus on.

Now that we live in North Carolina and enjoy something like location independence, although I have a full-time location-dependent job starting next month (but not summers!), our values have, admittedly, changed.

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June Net Worth Update

The first month of summer has now passed. For the ThreeYears, it was a whirlwind of swim practices, swim meets, and a job acceptance. That’s right; as of August 1st I’ll officially be gainfully employed (although I don’t actually start teaching until the end of the month).

I also took a bit of a break from blogging. I had been blogging three times per week; that’s a lot of writing. I took a rest from getting up early in the mornings and blogged once or twice per week instead.

While the boys had a great experience in swim team, it reminded all of us that we don’t like to have lots of activities in the evenings. For the first two weeks of June, we didn’t eat dinner as a family once (and we almost always do!).

Our Progress

In June, our net worth came back up to 65.6% of our goal, having gone down by several percentage points last month. Our goal was to reach 100% of our December 2016 net worth by December 2019, that is, to have doubled our December 2016 net worth in three years. While we’re still a long way from our goal and I don’t think we’re going to get there, I’ll start getting paychecks in August, so my 403b contributions will start then. I’m looking forward to making more progress than we would have otherwise for the last five months of the year.

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