25 Jul

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Material Possessions

July in the South East is hot hot hot. You would think that spending 8 months in Central America would have prepared us for the heat and humidity of the Carolinas… not so. I’m still melting. Another confession: I never read the classic Financial Independence book: Your Money Or Your Life! I was able to fit it in around the new home renovations and hiking with our friends: some of the four-legged variety that we check out of the local adoption center for a fun day out.

CRW_7299-2

Settling Into Our New Home

We’ve been in Asheville since April and moved into our new house earlier this month. The past 3 months have seen a lot of $$$ flying out the door. Especially now that we are furnishing and renovating our space. I’m certain we’ve met every single person in Asheville by buying their used stuff on Craigslist, and the retired greeter at Lowe’s gives us the ol’ nod when we go in for the third time in two days.

Adding the “buying frenzy” on top of our all-in regular expenses, we’ve been spending roughly $3,000/month. Does that seem low to you? Because it’s 30% more than we’re used to spending. For the first six months of the year, our spending has averaged 3.9% of our portfolio (excluding the house purchase). Our annual target remains 3.0%, so we’re forecasting the expenses to decrease in the next month or two. Aside from the cost of furnishing our new home, most of the money is going into upgrading the value of the house: lots of painting, a bathroom reno, and eventually landscaping with a new deck.

On the up-side, this temporary increase in spending encouraged us to start credit card churning. We decided to get a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card that rewards us for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months with points worth around $700. Having just received our credits, we’re thinking this will cover the cost of our future travel plans… and then we’ll cancel the card and maybe start over.

Whoa, where did all this stuff come from? Our lives used to fit on four wheels…

CRW_7348

We set about cleaning the place from several years of renters. There was a beat-up fire extinguisher under the front porch that I was eager to dispose of properly. I took it to a fire services company here in Asheville and after telling the guy behind the counter that I found the extinguisher under the porch of my new home, he asked if I owned a gun. We’ve lived in the US for 7 years now, but this question still throws me off. My Canadian mind thought, maybe he’s concerned for my safety in my new home? Before I had a chance to answer, he followed up with “You know what old fire extinguishers are good for, right? Kaboom!”

CRW_7251

The new house has birds up the wazoo. In fact, the multitude of trees up here in the mountains have been awash with amazing bird watching: scarlet red cardinals, yellow finches, sparrows, jays and robins… I love having the windows open to hear them all day long.

Keeping the AC off most of the time is an exercise in our badassity. Something to strengthen our frugal muscles. There is sweet pleasure in seeing how low our utility bills can go. We bought an excellent and cheap floor fan that follows us from room to room instead, and it’s always cooler in our basement. Although, if we’re making a trip in Bruno, he may choose to reward us with a little conditioned air…

Exactly how hot are summers in Asheville? July has daily highs of 85°F (30°C), with varying degrees of humidity. We’re wimps, right? Yeah, we know. It’s gorgeous here!

Hiking and getting out with the incredibly friendly Animal Rescue dogs is a nice distraction from playing house. We definitely still plan to foster cats at home, so hamming it up with the other four-legged kind in the mountains is rewarding for them, as well as fun for us.

CRW_7308-1

Finally Reading “Your Money Or Your Life”

I’ve managed to read a book that I just never found the time for when we were working and saving. Ironic, since we claim to be writing a Financial Independence blog and this book arguably started the “FI” movement. Originally published in 1992 and revised in 2008, Your Money Or Your Life by Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez is just as relevant today as it would have been when it first came out (I was 10). The book had been reviewed by the likes of MMM back in 2012 and already being on-board with Mustachianism, I never got around to reading it until now.

YMOYL

How to get more of what money can’t buy? Don’t spend your money.

The program was developed by author Joe Dominguez for his own early retirement in 1969 at the age of 31 and has now been used by millions of people globally. He grew up poor and eventually got a job working on Wall Street as a financial analyst.

“All the while, he knew that his goal was to do his service to the money economy in the way young men to do military service – with integrity yet for a finite period of time.”

Ask yourself these questions (I’ve got two or three No’s myself):

CRW_7464

I was most interested in the various new ways to explain the concept of Financial Independence to others. Like the time I took a Snowboard Instructor course, just to see how the sport is broken down to be taught. When you teach yourself a skill, it often comes with blunders and stumbles before you master a step and move on to the next. Your Money Or Your Life (YMOYL) outlines 9 clearly-written steps to reach not only Financial Independence, but Financial Intelligence and Financial Integrity. These steps reinforce what many of us in the FI community already know, but it’s pared down into seminar-format exercises. Do these steps over months and eventually years, and watch your life transform. Some great quotes:

  • “FI is defined as having an income sufficient for your basic needs and comforts from a source other than paid employment.”
  • FI is “not just rolling in dough. It’s unhooking your thinking from the consumer culture and from assuming you must buy your way through life.”
  • FI’ers “stop buying their way out of problems and instead use such challenges as opportunities to learn new skills.”

CRW_7325

The consumer lifestyle (“more is better”) is not only a drain on your finances, but a strain on the planet. This has become ever-apparent to us, as we fill our home with even the most basic pieces of furniture. Every purchase of a brand-new item not only has a higher price tag than its used equivalent, but it also has an invisible tag that reads: “Total carbon emissions associated with this item due to extraction of the raw materials, manufacturing, and transport is ###. Thanks for your contribution to more droughts, floods, hurricanes, and ocean acidification!”

The book doesn’t go into much detail on exactly why the average consumer lifestyle is unsustainable, other than to say we are exceeding the Earth’s capacity to regenerate resources. I’m thinking that back in 1992 when it was first published, wide-spread understanding on the immensity and seriousness of climate change was not yet widely known.

The truth is, buying most things new is not only more expensive, it’s lazy. This is not to say that we don’t ever buy anything new. We do. Sometimes it’s just necessary. The point is to be aware of what your dollars are contributing to. The old ’90s adage still applies: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

It’s not just a financial decision to buy used, it’s the sheer wastefulness of buying new.

We weren’t always savvy. Ten years ago we furnished our entire Calgary condo with new Ikea products and bought a couch on layaway (with enough sense to pay it off while the 0% interest rate ‘special’ was still in place). Travis was out to save the planet way before I was, and his frequent use of Craigslist increased as we moved to its hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area. The metro Asheville area is 15 times smaller than the Bay Area (with no Ikea!) and yet whatever you’re into: Pottery Barn, Ashley Furniture, Crate&Barrel – it’s out there on Craigslist. [Note – desist from purchasing animals on Craigslist]

CRW_7400

The book explains that paid employment has two functions or “rewards”: financial (getting paid) and personal (emotional, intellectual, psychological). If the personal reward can be fulfilled with unpaid activities and it certainly can, then you can remove the expectation that your job must fulfill all your needs for “stimulation, recognition, growth, contribution, interaction and meaning”. See your job for what it really is. A financial activity or financial exchange of your time. Unhappiness with work often comes from the expectation that your job is going to fulfill all of your other life purposes. You can be a stellar worker, completely dedicated, (hopefully) trading your hours for higher and higher pay, and all the time knowing, like Joe Dominguez, that it is for a finite period of time.

As much as I liked the company I worked for before we drove off into Mexico, I was struggling with the fact that my identity was linked to my job. How would I “define” myself after I no longer worked full-time? I started challenging myself to ask questions other than”What do you do?” at a cocktail party. ‘Are you into sports?’ or ‘Do you read many books?’ often leads to a discussion on what each of you is reading now, the quality of the local libraries, or a favorite author. Offering up hobbies, pass times, even things you’ve been thinking about doing but haven’t tried yet makes for more interesting conversation than “I’m a (blank) with Company X.” “Oh, that’s nice.” *Awkward silence* (Unless Company X is actually SpaceX, which would be super cool and I would have tons of questions).

CRW_7242-1

“Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for.”

The Your Money Or Your Life phrase to drive it all home. We each have a certain number of life hours allotted to us by the almighty cat gods and many of these are spent acquiring money. Therefore, we should learn to equate money with our valuable time. “Ultimately, you are the one who determines what money is worth to you. It is your life energy. You ‘pay’ for money with your time. You choose how to spend it.”

Another takeaway is that “money is a lien on the earth’s resources”. And in that spirit, don’t go out and buy this book in print! Why cut down trees to read something once? I highly recommend you get it from your local library or as an e-book online. If you want to read it twice, the library will happily store it for you until you decide to pick it up again.

Despite the fact that we’ve already achieved FI, it still felt like an appropriate time to read this book. Which leads me to think that there’s never a bad time to read it. We may have reached many of the financial goals set forth in the book, but there are steps focused on finding a “life purpose” and ensuring your finances align with that purpose. It’s a question we get a lot – but what do you do with your time? The answer is always ‘whatever we want’, but maybe in order to have true fulfillment, we’ll sit down with the exercises in this book and outline what we genuinely want for these next 40-50 years. The possibilities really do seem endless.

Oh, and by the time I finished writing this blog post, Fluffles McGee joined our household. We are proud foster parents of our first fuzzy beast!

CRW_7457

  • That’s a great book I read last year. Hope everything goes smoothly with the new house!

    • Amanda

      Thanks Fervent! Your article on Chase Rewards / 5 Nights in Cancun is pushing me to look into more churning in my “spare time” 🙂

  • Confession: I still haven’t read YMOYL in its entirety. 🙂 Maybe someday if I can find the time…

    If you guys can really forego air conditioning during North Carolina’s summer, that IS some serious badassity. I just tell myself it’s a cost of doing business in a generally low cost area, crank it down to 77 degrees (73 at night) and enjoy blissful humidity free summertime living the southern way. The $400 or so we spend on air conditioning each year is right up there alongside internet and food expenses as far as comfortable living is concerned for us.

    • Amanda

      I think what surprised me most was that there has been a book out there since the 90’s that outlines – in very clear steps – the basics for reaching FIRE. This is certainly not a “new” phenomenon, we just have the internet by which to share all our experiences. More psychology too, in our relationships with money. It was a quick read, in any case 🙂 And we try our best to avoid using the AC, but Travis kicks it on for 10 mins at time on really hot days. Now to get the water bill down… it’s a bit of a game!

  • [email protected]

    Your Money or Your Life was one of the first personal finance books I ever read. It gave me a good foundation as I started to clean up my finances. It took a while, but I was finally able to break the addiction to the consumer lifestyle.
    And congrats on the new addition to your family!

    • Amanda

      Thanks Linda! We’ll see how quickly we can get our fuzzy friend adopted 🙂 Know anyone in MN?? We can arrange transport! YMOYL would be a great first book to read – I wish I had read it sooner! Consumerism really is an addiction to be “broken”, isn’t it? There’s a fair amount of retraining the mind to think differently when the wallet gets pulled out…

  • First year of having a new home is always expensive. Between buying furniture, yard tools, and renovation costs. The good news is they’re not a recurring expenses. We just finished renovating before I quit my job and I am enjoying just cruising for a while.

    A way I like to keep cool is a kiddie pool. The small ones with the blow up ring that floats up are just big enough to sit in and rest your arms on the edge with a beer. But of course that’s more junk to buy 🙂

    • Amanda

      I’m so looking forward to just enjoying the house when it’s all done! And yes, really good point about the non-recurring expenses. I have to keep that in mind when I see our credit card bills. Kiddie pool is a great idea – I wonder how my neighbors would feel about my going over to sit in their son’s… !

  • Jo MF

    Hey guys. Congrats on getting to work on some home improvement projects and home ownership.

    While others may say the first year is the most expensive (see below), having been a home owner for decades I can tell you that there will always be supposed “non-recurring” expenses – based on 10 years of tracking, about every month something pops up. Got to build that into your baseline,. Home ownership sometimes even exceed the cost of what renting would have been. Some of ours in the past couple of years: a broken water main due to freeze temps, a hot water heater needing to be replaced at end of it’s useful life, a new air conditioning unit, a new roof, endless gardening and landscaping projects, retaining walls, deck maintenance, various periodic upgrades to bathrooms and kitchens, etc. The point is, there is always something and those cash flows are not predictable and can easily blow the budget if not accounted for. Oh..and if it’s not house repairs, it’s something else in the capital expenditures area such as car maintenance like new tires, battery, timing belt+water pump, alignment, etc. I’m pretty handy with home and car maintenance and do a lot myself — it’s still adds up quickly.

    $3K/month run-rate is about typical for a non-mortgage paying couple in the mid-west / low cost area for fairly decent lifestyle including the property taxes and insurance, some form of internet, air conditioning, health care, decent food, some entertainment, a car and some home maintenance. I’d say it’s more like $4K-$5K when kids come along and are included –your WR scares me.

    I’ll say it again – I’m a skeptic at your current WR on a $1M portfolio that you wont be forced to UNRETIRE for a spell… (by comparison, I’m FIREd, home paid off, etc, and our WR is 2.5% and 15 years older age-wise..so less years in theory to cover..yet I still really really worry if our 2.5% WR is too high and if the money will last the rest of our lives)

    No AC in the Carolina’s? Yikes, I think I’d find a way to monetize the blog to get a few extra bucks to pay for cooling… just because we can doesn’t mean we should…avoid AC, that is.

    Congrats on adopting a pet. All our animals have been found as abandoned or adopted from a shelter. Adopting a pet is one of the simple joys of being a human being.

    Edit to add: Reference churning,seems too much like work !! Plus, I’ve always been skeptical of the increased risk of ID theft with more cards, more accounts, and more stuff to get lost/intercepted/stolen from the mail that contains confidential financial info. I’ve always tried to keep it simple and contained. Maybe I’m kidding myself that ID theft is a big risk and having lots of cards/accounts increases that risk. I did think about changing my one card into an Airline mileage/points card as we do travel and enjoying a free trip is always fun, but have not done that (have had the same basic non-points credit card since 1988)…

  • Petra

    Hurray for dogs and cats! 🙂 Congrats with Fluffles, he or she looks like an amazing cat.

    • Amanda

      Thanks Petra! He’s slowly getting used to the place 🙂

  • RocDoc

    I think that’s great you are taking “dogs for the day” from the adoption center. I’m sure the dogs enjoy the one on one attention. I didn’t even know taking dogs out for a day was possible. I may look into doing this where we live. My husband is allergic so we can’t keep a dog but he said he’d enjoy going hiking with a dog for the day.

    • Amanda

      The Adoption Center we’ve been volunteering at is privately run and they encourage volunteers to come by and take dogs for walks. Once you reach a certain volunteer level, you can check them out and take them somewhere farther away! Like you, we wouldn’t keep a dog, but it’s fun for both parties to hang out for the day!

  • Have you shifted your activities and siestas to avoid the worst times for humidity? That seems like one of the biggest perks of having control over your time. Our AC is out tonight and my roommates cannot handle it. I am the only one who wishes we could agree to consume less. Another reason to want my own tiny home away from other people’s consumption choices.

    • Amanda

      Hey ZJ, to tell you the truth, we’ve kind of been going full-tilt on the house renos – regardless of weather! Fans in the house have been super important though. But yes, as we start to pace ourselves, it is wonderful having the flexibility to plan your day around the weather or anything else that may come up!

  • Great reflections on the role of work and stuff in our lives. It sounds like you’re using your travels and move to Asheville as an opportunity for a reset on those things, even if you’ve been living on the FIRE path for years already. I find continual inspiration in reading things like YMOYL, even if it’s not necessarily anything new.

    To your point about your identity being linked to your job, I’ll be curious to hear how you start defining yourself in this new phase … or if you end up finding that notion irrelevant.

    • Amanda

      Hi Matt! Yup, getting rid of all your stuff and having to gain it “all” back, makes you question everything that’s coming through the door (i.e. what is its purpose here? is it just taking up space?) I’ve found that “defining yourself” is only important when meeting new people. Since we’ve been doing a lot of that, I’ve been analyzing what comes out of my mouth! I like the idea of labels being irrelevant; I guess I just need to become more comfortable in my own skin.

  • LeeRoy78

    Wow, you have a Nook!! Do those still exist?

    • Amanda

      It works! And performs its function! lol I’d better not tell you how many models back my phone is 🙂

  • สุปปวาสา ปราณี

    Hi Amanda,

    I’m Natha (female), 43, still work every day, in Thailand. Your story is so inspiring and I wonder if you want to spend some time in Thailand?
    Here, your monthly expense could be 3 times lower than over there. Just curious.

    • Amanda

      Hi Natha! Nice to hear from a reader on the other side of the planet 🙂 We would love to visit Thailand someday. I’ve seen beautiful pictures and heard how affordable it can be. It is on our list of things “to-do” in this life!

  • สุปปวาสา ปราณี

    Hi Amanda,
    I hope you won’t forget that you already have 1 friend here, it’s me! I’ll love to show you and tell you about Thailand.
    There was the post from Ron Staple May 27, he said your way is “No way”, would you like to explain a little bit about his comment?

    • Amanda

      There are many people out there who won’t be on board with our way of life. Just have to smile and carry on 🙂

  • สุปปวาสา ปราณี

    Hi Amanda,
    I think we don’t have something like Mint in Thailand. Are you interested to develop one for Thai people to use?
    You can make some money from that, and this will help the new generation teenagers to be quite disciplined about their money.
    I have a feeling that it will be popular in the near future, if we have it.

    • Amanda

      Sadly, I’m not the developer type, but I feel confident somebody in the world is working on something like this!

  • Jay

    Love that book, really changes your mindset when thinking about purchases. Instead of, “Would I prefer a nicer model car?”, I always ask “Am I willing to trade X number of life hours to drive a nicer car”. The answer is usually no!

    • Amanda

      It’s a great way to think about money – really puts things in perspective! I can’t believe it took me so long to read the book 😛

  • bugaboo

    As I sit here in yet another meeting, on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend, I ask myself, “How much is enough?” Single, unmarried, no kids (“SUNK”?), $2.2M theoretical net worth (theoretical because it’s mostly real estate – my home plus rentals, net of liquidation costs/taxes – and so actual value depends on what someone is willing to pay, not what Zillow says). But I also think I don’t want to be rash – that my situation may not be as grim as I perceive it to be – and so I keep plugging away. For now.

  • bugaboo

    I should have bought a used Honda Civic instead of a new BMW. Oh, well.

  • Jay

    Are you guys still blogging? I know the big trip is over, but I really enjoy your blog – I’m sure there are fascinating events happening there in NC!

    • Travis

      Hi Jay! Instead of feeling forced to publish new posts on a regular basis, we’ve opted to only publish new stuff when we feel the natural urge to share something new. Sorry if we’re taking so long! Amanda’s parents are currently visiting and we’ve been super busy landscaping and building a new two-story back deck (woah!). We’ll probably do a new post soon, and thanks for inquiring since it’s nice to know people actually care!