What Will Tank Your Frugality, Fast

Earlier in the school year, Little ThreeYear was really struggling. He has some learning issues, and moving to a new school almost put his brain on overload. The problem was, he couldn’t focus on anything, so he focused on absolutely nothing, and refused to do his work.

During those difficult few weeks, I wrote these words.

You want to do anything you can, anything, to lesson their struggles. Even though I know that some struggles are good for a child, I’ve watched my son’s square peg be wedged into school’s round hole for ages now, and it hurts. It hurts to watch him cry out, “I hate school! I hate everything about it!” It hurts to know that he’s just not happy and will never be happy being forced to sit and do endless math problems in order to prepare himself for state mandated testing.

Another part of me knows that there are things in this world that you just have to suck it up and do, and school is one of them. Yes, it’s hard and purposefully dull and boring, to prepare you for employment. I hated parts of school even though I was an excellent student, Mr. ThreeYear hated school (and wasn’t an excellent student). We both made it out okay.

But on the other hand, a small voice inside me keeps asking, “but wouldn’t he thrive in an alternative environment, like a Montessori school?” Junior ThreeYear is a maker. He builds and plans buildings, Lego sets, paper dolls, forts, comic book series. He can focus for hours on a project involving any of those things. But he completely tunes out his teacher and stares off into space during math, to the point where he struggles to complete a few problems. It drives his teachers crazy. I understand; I’m a teacher. I also know he’s not doing it on purpose. He just isn’t interested and can’t make his mind focus. 

He has counseling, he has meds, he has OT tools. None of it is working.

So now what? What do we do now? Private school is not in our FI plan. It’s expensive. Can we afford it? Yes. Should we afford it? That’s the nail-biting question. I don’t know. We go back and forth, “this would be an amazing experience.” “What if he doesn’t do well here either? What a waste of money.” “You and I sucked it up and got through it.” “Will he be prepared for high school?” “Will we be able to save enough for college?” “I’ll have to go back to work earlier than I wanted.”

Shortly after I wrote this panic-stricken missive, I sat down with his teacher, the vice-principal, and a wonderful counselor who’s been at the school for 30 years. The counselor introduced a small little “tweak” in Little ThreeYear’s day that has produced a dramatic turnaround in his productivity.

Continue reading “What Will Tank Your Frugality, Fast”

January Net Worth Update

Ahh, January. What can I say about my least favorite month? You’re cold. You’re long. You’re at the beginning of the year and don’t really contain any fun breaks or holidays (not forgetting about you, MLK Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day, but you’re not quite as fun as say, Spring Break).

We have made it through our first January in North Carolina, and I have to say, although we didn’t suffer through -14F temps like we did last year in New Hampshire, it was still pretty darn cold most days.

I struggled to keep up with Lucy the dog’s massive energy, and tried to walk her each and every day, even as my fingers and nose protested bitterly in the wet and chilly 20F temps of the early morning.

Our Progress

We eeked out another small gain with our net worth this month. We’ve definitely seen a difference in our net worth growth with me not working (it’s been slower!).

Continue reading “January Net Worth Update”

A Year of Good Food: What I’ve Learned

A year ago, I made a decision to try again: I’d been working to decrease our grocery bill for 10 years. I’d never been consistently successful at it, and as our family grew and our boys ate more, the grocery bill steadily ticked upward. In 2017, we spent almost $1000 per month on groceries alone. So I set a modest goal for 2018–to shave about 20% off our grocery bill each and every month. I set a budget of $772 per month, or $9264 in total yearly spending.

Did we do it? Well, despite going over budget in 4 of the last 12 months, we had an average monthly spend of $746.55 and a total yearly spend of $8958.60! We did it!!!

The Three Year Experiment's 2018 Food Spending

We did not halve our grocery bill. We did not keep it under $500. Or $400. Or $350. But we did hit and surpass our goal, keeping grocery spending to under $750 on average for the entire year.

I am proud. I am pleased. I have $1600 in the bank that I wouldn’t have had if I’d spent it on groceries, many of which we might have thrown away. I would have had $2400 if I’d saved $200 for each and every month of the year like I planned, but for four months in there, the months when we were getting our house ready to sell, I didn’t save the $200.

So what lessons can I extrapolate from this year-long experiment so that I can continue to spend less on our groceries?

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: What I’ve Learned”

Instacart Review

This year, my #1 goal has been to lower my family’s grocery expenses from almost $1000 to no more than $772 each month.

For a lot of people, that number might seem huge. How do four people eat so much? For some people, that might seem like a ridiculously small amount. “How can they possibly subsist on so little?”

For me, grocery shopping is the thankless, difficult, necessary task that I do each and every week, going back again and again to the basics: meal planning, making lists, inventorying, not wasting food.

I love shopping at Aldi, the low-cost grocery store, but it’s 25 minutes away from my house, so getting there, buying groceries, and getting back to put them away can be a pain.

Enter: Instacart. A few weeks ago I saw a sign in Aldi that advertised grocery delivery with Instacart. For Aldi groceries! I was intrigued, and decided to spend the month of December testing the service out (because, with all of the running around and craziness in December, what better month to have groceries delivered straight to your door?

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Will We Spend Less in Retirement?

About nine years ago, when Mr. ThreeYear and I began to wise up about our finances, we visited a financial planner and filled out a detailed survey. We didn’t have many assets to speak of, at the time, since we’d just gotten out of debt, but if the dude had been wise, he would have nurtured the relationship with us because he could have had very good future clients. He was not and we now manage our own investments, a scenario I am more than happy with. 

Even so, it was interesting to hear his predictions that we’d need about 80% of our income at retirement. Where did that number come from? In the years that followed, as I filled out online retirement calculators, I heard the figure repeated. 

Then, I began to learn more about the 4% rule, the oft-cited retirement rule-of-thumb (based on the Trinity Study) that cites evidence that if you withdraw 4% of your portfolio per year in retirement, adjusted annually for inflation, then your portfolio should easily last you 30 years (or more). Another way to look at the rule, popularized by the incontrovertible Mr. Money Mustache, is that you’ll need 25 times your annual spending invested in order to retire. This rule assumes that you’ll keep your spending relatively level in retirement, that is, you’ll spend a similar amount in retirement as you do now.  

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A Year of Good Food: Grocery Delivery

Just two more months left to report for our grocery experiment. November was a month that was supposed to be short and easy to stay in budget, but, alas, it wasn’t.

A Year of Good Food: Grocery Delivery www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

The Reason for This Experiment

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, I tried to cook a bunch of food each Sunday for us to eat during the week. But because I didn’t make clear menus for each week, it didn’t work as well.

November

While November was a short month, we packed a lot in. Mr. ThreeYear traveled for a week to New Hampshire. We went to South Carolina early in the month to visit my parents. We went to the beach for Thanksgiving. That meant that we were thrown off our routine and weren’t consistent and thoughtful grocery shoppers.

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Grocery Delivery”

November Net Worth Update

Wow! It’s almost December, which means we’ve got just one month left of this year. This year has definitely been an eventful one for our family.

November Net Worth Update www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

This month has been a good one. We’ve been surprised by how cold it’s gotten in Charlotte during the fall (it’s been in the 20s this week in the mornings, but it does warm up to the mid 50s or 60s during the day). The boys both seem to have gotten into a groove at school, I’m running now with a running group, and Mr. ThreeYear has been regularly playing tennis.

Last night, we went to our town’s downtown Christmas celebration via trolley! We parked in a parking lot at the edge of our neighborhood and the cutest little trolley picked us up. The boys actually got to ride standing up in the back of the trolley as we cruised the four miles downtown.

Once we got downtown, there were carriage rides, vendors, a Christmas tree display, bands playing, and Santa Claus. The boys and my niece, who was with us, had a blast. It made me so glad we decided to move to this town, because it’s ridiculous how festive and involved our town is. We are freakin’ Mayberry over here. I absolutely love it.

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 tried to increase it by more than 65% from where we started in December 2016. Even though it looks like we’ll miss our target by a wide margin, we’re keeping our goal in place to see how close we can get in 2019.  Continue reading “November Net Worth Update”

Drinking My Coffee Black

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I’m back after a short break. This past week, I was at the family beach house for Thanksgiving. I had every intention of posting, but my computer battery had 15% life left (and doesn’t work when it’s not plugged in to the charger due to an unfortunate coffee spill a year or so ago) so I had to take it in to the repair shop.

Drinking My Coffee Black www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Guess what? New battery, $169.99, guaranteed for 90 days. PLUS, the computer now works if it’s not plugged in! It’s a MacBook Pro, so no way was I going out and buying a new computer for $1500. The fact that we could replace the battery relatively inexpensively AND it now works better was an awesome surprise this Thanksgiving!

While at the beach, I was helping my parents put together a budget for the first time. They’re not budgeters, and while they have investments, real estate holdings, and a pretty high net worth, they’ve never really had to think about controlling their expenses because they’ve enjoyed high incomes for most of their adult lives.

I could tell the experience was stressful and painful, especially as they kept thinking of new expenses to add to the total.

The First Budget

I remember the first time Mr. ThreeYear and I budgeted. It was right after I’d found The Total Money Makeover back in 2008, and I was trying my hand at estimating our monthly expenses.

I had a similar reaction as my parents. A little bit of panic. Shock, that we could spend so much, and disbelief that we’d ever be able to save anything, since we currently spent everything we made! Continue reading “Drinking My Coffee Black”

Holiday Gift-Giving Guide

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure for more information. Thanks for supporting the blog! 

I am so excited! I’ve been wanting to create a holiday gift-giving guide for a while and I’ve finally done it. I hope you enjoy. I really love everything I’ve picked.

Holiday Gift Giving Guide www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Christmas is upon us! Hanukkah starts in two short weeks. Get your kinara out; Kwanzaa is coming. Festivus is right around the corner.

Whatever you celebrate (or don’t) in December, this is one of my favorite times of year. If you’ve been reading for awhile, you know that I absolutely love Christmas and tend to go a little crazy at Christmastime.

My love language, if you know about that, is giving. Over the years, I’ve dramatically toned down the level of gift and amount of giving I do, but it still brings me great joy when I can find that perfect gift for my loved ones.

Last year, we gave the gift of experience to our family: a paddle board lesson for my dad, a cooking class for my sister and brother-in-law, and rock climbing for Junior ThreeYear.

Giving experiential gifts is fun, but it can get expensive. So, this year, my sister recommended we adults give each other stocking stuffers only, under $20. I love this idea because you’re not spending a ton, the gift can be practical (and/or a consumable that the recipient would buy anyway), and adding parameters somehow makes it easier to choose for each person.

In the spirit of stocking stuffers, I decided to create a gift-giving guide to highlight some wonderful gifts I’ve come across this year. And because I love books so much, I’m throwing in some book ideas, too.

All gifts come in under $20, to boot!  Continue reading “Holiday Gift-Giving Guide”

A Year of Good Food: Cook for the Week

Happy November! I am very proud to report on our October food spending. Due to a week away at Disney and Mr. ThreeYear being away for a week, we spent the lowest amount on groceries that we did all year.

Not that it was easy. There were complaints (from the Big Guy). So many complaints! Apparently if the fridge doesn’t look like the produce aisle then something’s wrong.

But I held fast and we survived, and we clocked in our month way under budget.

The Reason for This Experiment

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, I just kept doing what we’ve been doing that has worked: shopping at Aldi, keeping side trips to a minimum, making a list, making a meal plan, and taking inventory before I go to the store.

Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Cook for the Week”