The What If Post

The assumption, even in the FI community, is that you need to have relatively high income to retire early. Part of this is the disproportionate representation of successful professionals in the community. Part of it, I think, is leftover cultural biases.

Having kids young is considered all but a death sentence for FIRE dreams. Those who arrived at the concept of early retirement in their 20s are typically deferring kids into their 30s – assuming, of course, they discovered the concept before having them.

But what if they knew the concept and had kids anyways? Would their frugal lifestyles be resilient enough to live the dream even with kids?

I’ve wondered this about our own journey. What if we had been “Mustachian” from the beginning? I would have skipped grad school altogether. I could have stayed home with the young ones and worked weekends for a time until the Alchemist’s income ramped up enough that we would make gangbusters progress on it alone. The Alchemist could have done something completely different, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll just assume we ended up in our current jobs – but with her advanced education moving up in timeline.

There’s obviously some hand-waviness here, but when in doubt, I’m erring on slightly high expenses and slightly low income compared to what I think we would have been capable of.

Year 1 (2006)

  • Income: $35K (net)
  • Expenses: $19,500 (assumes we rented the same apartment we did when first married, had one car, and lived the same lifestyle we do now, only with fewer mouths.)
  • One-time expenses: $5,000 (hospital, furniture, bike gear)
  • Life events: goblin Alpha is born!
  • Pre-tax savings and compensation: $5,000
  • After tax savings: $11,000
  • Net worth: $16,000

Year 2 (2007)

 

  • Income: $40K (net) (small raises for both of us)
  • Expenses: $20,100 (food bill goes up slightly)
  • One-time expenses: $3,000 (hospital)
  • Life events: goblin Beta is born!
  • Pre-tax savings and compensation: $6,000
  • After tax savings: $19,900
  • Net worth: $42,380 (previous year x SP500 gain/loss + current year contributions)

Year 3 (2008)

  • Income: $41K (net) (Alchemist completes her Masters, paid for by the company.)
  • Expenses: $20,500 (Small inflation assumption. We have enough to buy a house, but the crash happens before we pull the trigger.)
  • One-time expenses: $5,000 (car replacement)
  • Life events: none
  • Pre-tax savings and compensation: $10,000
  • After tax savings: $15,500
  • Net worth: $51,775

Year 4 (2009)

  • Income: $42K (net)
  • Expenses: $24,500 (mortgage is added, and third mouth to feed)
  • One-time expenses: $20,000 (house is purchased, goblin Gamma arrives)
  • Life events: goblin Gamma is born
  • Pre-tax savings: $11,000
  • After-tax savings: -2,500
  • Net worth: 72,100

Year 5 (2010)

  • Income: $35K (net) (with house savings out of the way, pre-tax savings is maxed out for the Alchemist.)
  • Expenses: $25,000
  • Life events: none
  • Pre-tax savings and compensation: $20,000 (401(k) max plus end-year profit sharing contribution.)
  • After-tax savings: $10,000
  • Net worth: 111,360

Year 6 (2011)

  • Income: $35K (net)
  • Expenses: $25,000
  • Life events: Alchemist completes an important certification, but net raise is $0 because I stop working to get family time. This transition happens 4 years ahead of schedule. (I plan to quit in 2015.)
  • Pre-tax: $20,000
  • After-tax: $10,000
  • Net worth: $141,360

Year 7 (2012)

  • Income: $40K (net)
  • Expenses: $25,000
  • Life events: none
  • Pre-tax: $20,000
  • After-tax: $15,000
  • Net worth: $194,740

Year 8 (2013)

  • Income: $45K (net)
  • Expenses: $26,000
  • Life events: none
  • Pre-tax: $20,000
  • After-tax: $19,000
  • Net worth: $290,000

In other words, we’d be nearly halfway to our current FIRE number, but we would have already surpassed our stage 1 goal, meaning we could live indefinitely on $15K of part-time income, drawing only part of our assets down each year. In this scenario, the Alchemist could have kept working for a few years, or we could have started transitioning into contract and freelance consulting work.

I realize anyone reading this will take it with a cup of salt, but it’s an exercise I’ve done in my head a few times over the past year, but wanted to actually put numbers to it. In all cases, the net worth is ignoring the value of the house (you have to live somewhere). Our current liquid net worth stands at -$86,000

In other words, changing nothing about our personal history EXCEPT our consumptive lifestyle, we would be $376,000 further along in only 8 years.

 


Old Tyme Religion

1762322_orig

Because I like to break the rules, today we’re going to talk about religion. The Alchemist and I have had some marital friction lately. All of us do. I won’t say more than that here, but the hard talks and sparking connections we’ve been putting back to rights have gotten me using parts of my brain I haven’t used in ages.

I was raised Catholic but slowly fell away, until, all of a sudden I realized I needed to make a clean break. That clean break put me in a nebulous theological position. I have a lot of formal training in the area, and none of the other Christian traditions could hold water (for me). I knew all of the arguments backwards and forwards. This led to a questioning of Christianity and, by extension, religion as a whole.

I’ve even gone so far as to toy with the label of atheist. Those who know me, know I hate labels. I used it more for provocation than anything else.

When pressed to think about it, both in getting to reconnect with the love of my life, my diadh-anam, and those helping me along my journey by sharing their own highly personal stories (if you’re reading this, you know who you are) I can’t say that I don’t believe anymore. I do believe. Catholicism doesn’t work, but reductionist materialism doesn’t work either.

I believe in God.

I also believe that God, at its* core, is fundamentally unknowable. As an accurate translation of Pseudo-Dionysius reads, it is beyond-being, beyond-essence, beyond-knowing.

The revelation traditions which have risen throughout human history, in my opinion, teach us far more about the human psychology of those receiving and proselytizing that revelation than any positive truth about the divine. At the same time, it’s difficult to critique traditions (excepting hard ethical boundaries like discrimination, physical mutilation, etc) because I’d take a very pragmatic or teleocentric approach: if your religion makes you a better person, so be it. That’s wonderful.

Tying back into the beyond-beingness of God is the fact that, what makes humanity special among all of the (known) universe, is that each one of us shares this core of beyond-knowingness. When approaching one another, we have to remember that – no matter how much we know about a person, their history, their motivations, their desires – they are an agent. Agency is an incredibly powerful concept. At the other’s core is otherness. A locus of choice, a wellspring of activity, the foundation of consciousness – something we can never, ever understand.

We have to embrace the wonder and mystery of unknowability. We have to meditate on this.

Someone I’ll refer to as M shared with me an incredible story. The key to it was learning to love her husband unconditionally. Replacing what she called a Spirit of Disrespectful Judgment with a Spirit of Curiosity. I haven’t dug into the sources she recommended, but the Spirit of Curiosity really resonated with me. It’s a method of looking at your beloved (and, really, anyone you encounter) asking to be surprised. Not answering their question in your head before they’ve even asked it. Not criticizing them constantly according to your judgments. Instead, seeking to understand them. To fall into the core of their personality – even though you know you can never, ever fully understand it.

Whatever your religion or lack thereof, I hope you’ll consider joining me on this journey into the unknown.

*English desperately needs a non-gendered pronoun which conveys positive being more than the impersonal and inanimate ‘it’.

 


Bike versus Car – September 2014

bike-vs-car1

September 2014 Report

  • Vehicle Miles (this month): 810
  • Vehicle Capital (this month): $238.74
  • Vehicle CPM (all-time): $0.38
  • Bike Miles (this month): 341
  • Bike Capital (this month): $16.44
  • Bike CPM (all-time): $0.46

Transportation CPM Sep 2014


Goblin Hoard – Net Worth Q3 2014

Chugging, chugging along. We had a spendy few months, so I’m not expecting our progress to be huge.

Assets

  • Home (Estimated Market Value): 80,000
  • 401(k) combined: 63,589
  • Cars combined: 2,000
  • Cash Savings: 9,094
  • Total: 154,683 (+351)

Liabilities

  • Home Mortgage: 105,080 @6.5% –> PMI makes it effectively ~7.1%
  • Student Loan (Chief A): 2,918 @0.1%
  • Student Loan (Chief B): 11,211 @6.5%
  • Student Loan (Alchemist A): $2,586 @0.1%
  • Student Loan (Alchemist B): $25,693 @6.5%
  • Roof Loan: 10,971 (no interest before March 2015)
  • Total: 158,459 (-2,470)

Net Worth: -$3,776 (QOQ +$2,821)

Net Worth (liquid assets only): -$85,776 (QOQ +$3,321)

Savings Rate (Delta NW/ Net Income): 23%

Net Worth Q3 2014


Goblin Hoard Report Card – September 2014

This month our spending is back within normal limits, putting us in great shape going into October, which will be a high income month for us. (Triple pay period for the Alchemist and quarterly bonus for myself.) The carryover credit card bill from last month kept us from having much of a surplus to replenish sinking funds.

We’re also tweaking our budget a little bit. The discretionary line item is now going to be a sinking fund as well @ $100/month. We’ve been averaging $95/month, but it’s not budgeted for…so now I’m budgeting for it. This is also tied to our groceries/necessities line item. Months where we stay under $600, the surplus gets added. Months where we go over, it gets taken from the discretionary fund.

Budget for September 2014

Income (combined after all deductions): $3,672.39

Recurring Payments

  • Housing (Mortgage+Tax+Insurance): $1,061
  • Student Loans (combined): $859.78
  • Auto Insurance: $82.58
  • Life Insurance: $60
  • Internet: $58
  • Cellphone: $20 (PayGo, average: $18.33)
  • Gas/Electric: $117.78

Spending

  • Groceries/Necessities: $568.13
  • Gas: $165.18
  • Medical Expenses Out of Pocket: $55
  • Discretionary: $9.88 (Ending balance: $121.99)
  • Travel: $0 (Ending balance: $241.10)
  • House: $0 (Ending balance: $-126.86)
  • Education/Kids: $-114.20 The Alchemist is teaching Sunday school, so we got a partial tuition reimbursement. (Ending balance: $-296.43)
  • Vehicle Capital Fund: $5.66 (Ending balance: $-254.24)

 


Spending Breakdown – Groceries September 2014

Grocery Spending Breakdown for September 2014

Notes:

  • Family of 5: two adults, goblins aged 8, 7, and 4
  • Primarily shop at Woodman’s (regional grocer), Costco (once a month), and farmer’s/produce markets.

Categorization is always somewhat arbitrary, so I’ve shared the Google Sheet for those who want to see details. Commenting is allowed if anyone wants to.

  • Produce: $91.90
  • Animal Products:  $193.04
  • Grains/Snacks: $114.85
  • Misc/Personal Care: $51.52
  • Beverages: $89.42
  • Total: $568.13

I think we did really good, considering that we hosted about 20 people for a party (local MMM forum meetup) and still stayed under budget. Getting under our $600 budget line and still having a decently stocked freezer and pantry going into October makes me feel good about my home economics skills.

I’ll have a note about this in the forthcoming full report card for the month, but surplus below the $600 limit will get added into our new $100/month discretionary/entertainment sinking fund. That way we get an extra little incentive to stay under budget, but if we need to go over, it’s also no biggie.


Communicating about budgets: the end and the way

Communicating about finances is something every partnership* needs to work on. The Alchemist and I are no exception. For us, we struggle explaining our individual perspectives without letting too much emotion get into it. Charged words like wasteful, deprivation, and other things come into the mix.

The journey to financial independence is just that: a journey. And with any journey, the way is just as important as the destination. There’s the post-FI lifestyle, with little to no required work. Lots of travel, if that’s your thing. The freedom to work on hobbies. Learn subjects with little to no economic viability. My vision of retirement is busy, but it’s a great kind of busy.

Sometimes it’s easy to get excited about the end of the FI journey, to the point that the present is neglected. “You only live once” is an easy way to justify reckless spending that’s both financially and environmentally destructive, but the literal meaning of the phrase is correct. We only have one journey on this planet (that we know of) and even the most optimally aligned vision of human flourishing requires material nourishment.

The typical form this discussion takes is wants versus needs, but portraying wants and needs as simultaneously dichotomous and clearly demarcated is counter-productive in our first-world abundance. For the vast majority, satisfying survival needs is trivial. What’s far more challenging is keeping your money outflows aligned with your personal values. If you successfully do this over the long term, the need to budget disappears, deprivation is never felt, and you can honestly say you truly have all that you want – even if, in many cases, you spend very little.

Communication is essential to align your mutual values, both values of the end, and those of the journey.

Values of the End

  • Freedom. This is what financial independence is all about. Someone with enough money, invested correctly, can say F-You to wage slavery.
  • Self-Actualization. For ourselves and especially our kids: a life of no regrets. Mistakes will be made, but they will be learning experiences, not decisions which shear off entire possibility spaces that we wish we could have explored.
  • Sustainability. Freedom should not be attained on the back of irresponsible environmental practices. We are “free” to shit where we eat, but the long-term effects of pollution and the squandering of resources drastically narrows future generations’ degrees of freedom. At the same time, emotional hand-wringing about every last decision cripples decision making. In this case, freedom and self-actualization trumps sustainability.

Values of the Way

  • Mindful spending. Our wants aren’t perfectly aligned with our earning potential and the primary end goal of freedom. So we track everything to make sure advertising and misaligned appetites aren’t causing us to self-destruct.
  • Knowing the material requirements for flourishing. Just as leisure time is a relatively recent concept in human society, human flourishing requires something above basic survival provisions. Establishing just how far “above” is the challenge. If you’re not already familiar with them, learn about concepts like lifestyle inflation and hedonic adaptation. They are why phrasing things in terms of needs versus wants is perilous for the end goal of freedom. What feels like a ‘need’ is often nowhere near the baseline, and is in fact far above the baseline of a more enlightened view.
  • Honor each other. If one partner does the spending tracking, share the results of your mindfulness with the other. Propose (and be willing to accept) changes either way. We recently discovered the need to change the way our personal spending money was funded to keep each other happy about the length of time it took to save up for large hobby purchases. I also added another “sinking” fund which will be for gifts, and to capture any spontaneous spending or surplus above and below our $600 of “necessities” spending.
  • Alcohol. It feels weird to give a chemical substance its own value, but there it is. We go back and forth on this but currently the taste of a good adult beverage enhances our life more than the health and financial costs. My position on alcohol over the past year’s journey is probably the most tortured and contradictory of anything.

Freedom is what we’re all working towards, but a freedom worth earning takes harmony to achieve. That’s why the values of the journey are so important. Your life shouldn’t change much on reaching FI, it just gets bigger. The black hole that is most jobs related to personal development collapses and the interests and desires you’ve cultivated get to stretch their wings and fly.

*I’m not trying to ignore single folks, but it’s just not a part of my adult life experience.


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