The stock market must have gone backwards a bit this quarter. Nor have we done any debt prepayment lately. And we have new (medical) debt. So, not a stellar quarter from a net worth perspective.
Mr. Market will do what Mr. Market does, but we’ll be back on an offensive footing in Q3 unless more unfortunate life events happen. Hopefully I can report a lot more progress on September 30th 🙂
- Home (Estimated Market Value): $80,000
- 401(k): $55,044
- tIRA: $17,109
- Non-Earmarked Cash: $2,508
- HSA: we do have some HSA savings, but at this point I’m counting it as “spent” money already. Once the balance gets sufficiently large (who knows when?) I’ll factor this in with NW.
- Total: $154,661
- Home Mortgage: 103,598 @6.5% –> PMI makes it effectively ~7.1%
- Student Loan (Chief A): 1,481 @0.1%
- Student Loan (Chief B): 5,317 @6.5%
- Student Loan (Alchemist A): $1,991 @0.1%
- Student Loan (Alchemist B): $24,273 @3.9%
- (New) Medical Debt @0%: $788
- Total: $137,448
Net Worth: $17,213
For an explanation of the FI possibility spaces, see this post.
We’ve been picking small amounts of snap peas for about a week now. I don’t think the current patch is big enough to ever overload us but I will gladly take that if it does. I will likely pick peas when we go strawberry picking (same farm) to get enough to freeze and/or dehydrate.
Spinach has all bolted now. My family’s spinach lasagna recipe is a great way to use up what we did get from the garden (not much) and the CSA. Lettuce is overwhelming us between CSA and the garden. Only so much salad you can make. Lettuce wraps/cups are enjoyable but again can only dent it so much. We’ll see if we do a CSA share again next year; if we do, I’ll plant much less lettuce, if at all. I’ve also picked some of our kale, and some of our kale/broccoli hybrid. The chard probably won’t be usable at all this year – looks awful between wind, insect, and animal damage.
That’s all we’ve been eating so far but I spied quite a few neat things in the garden today while weeding, and had to run in to grab the camera.
Erica from NWEdible wrote a fantastic post that I just read, had to stop eating breakfast, come here and share. Called “What I Believe” it’s well worth your time to go read. My favorite quote is this one:
I believe we are in control of far, far more than we typically act on, and far, far less than we typically worry about.
This is so true, and really speaks to the crux of my personal transformation since jumping on the early retirement/sustainability/lifestyle design train almost two years ago now. I’ve written in the past about the power of aligning circles of control/influence with circles of concern, but it’s something we need to be reminded of frequently. My latest thoughts about Antifragility are definitely all about putting myself in control of more than what I was acting on, and withdrawing my worry from things I couldn’t.
I want to do more than just post a link and a reaction to Erica’s post, however. Go read it if you haven’t already. Back? Now here’s my riff on it:
- I believe there are some things we can never know, and we have to embrace the mystery.
- I believe we can never, ever truly know someone, and that is the beauty of interacting with others. They are mysteries, other, and should always be able to surprise us.
- I believe in raising the children we have, not the children we wish we had.
- I believe too much comfort is a dangerous thing.
- I believe living your life according to other people’s opinion of you is a subtly tyranny, but a tyranny nonetheless.
- I believe in trying to be as healthy as you can, and no healthier.
- I believe life without being creative in some form is a life I don’t want to live.
- I believe in finding a piece of the earth that is yours, and leaving it better than you found it.
- I believe in the power of designing (and redesigning, and redesigning…) one’s life, and designing (if possible) the way one’s life ends.
- I also believe in embracing the beautiful chaos of life’s surprises absolutely destroying one’s lifestyle design.
Here’s a few I like and want to borrow from Meliad’s comment on Erica’s post:
- I believe that being a chatelaine [Editor note: chatelaine is interchangeable with my concept of a steward] is, for real, a 20hrs/week job all by itself.
- I believe that MANY people would be happier if they had the option of working half-time for above-minimum wage and dedicating the other 20 hours/work-week to creative/family/joy-inducing activities.
- I believe in glass and metal and wood and wool and leather; I believe in things that are made to last (but that will, in general, also rot given enough time and neglect)
- I believe in feeding people
- I believe in DIY, even though I’m not that good at a lot of DIY
- I believe in walking places
- I believe a good book is a great escape and, frequently, a great teacher.
What are some of your beliefs?
I’m a bit past due for a garden update. We’ve gotten good rain up until the past week, which is the first I’ve had to irrigate except for seedling trays. Weeding has kept me somewhat busy, but the one-two punch of a collinear hoe to shave weed seedlings and a Dutch hand hoe for the more recalcitrant weeds like grass has proven very time efficient.
Harvest has been mostly limited to spinach and a few cuttings of mesclun mix. I think I took a few nips of the rhubarb as well. Just today, however, I spotted our first snap pea pods! Snap peas are one of my absolute favorite vegetables, especially hand-to-mouth raw from the garden. Hoping for a good crop this year, as I devoted quite a bit of space to them. Depending on how fast they size up, we should get some kohlrabi soon as well.
I’ve made a few apparent failures this year. Our peach sapling died back after (I think) getting too dry, but is now fighting back with new non-sucker growth. A few of my purchased rhubarb crowns have not thrived at all, I think because of poor siting on my part. Despite rhubarb’s reputation as an unkillable plant, it is somewhat fragile until getting established. One of the beds I picked for squash is getting more shade than I anticipated now that our massive maple tree has leafed out. I’ve got fingers crossed that the bed will be productive. If not, I’ll try something more shade tolerant next year.
As far as successes go, it’s too early to tell, but I think a few of the varieties I’ve picked seem very well suited to this climate. Judging by plant vigor, Cosmonaut Volkov and SunGold tomatoes both seem very happy here. Arcadia broccoli continues to impress from last year. I’ll obviously have more thoughts as the season progresses.
Many people ask about animal damage. The fence helps a lot. In the non-fenced areas, we had some minimal nibbling on the snap pea vines, quite a bit of nibbling on the strawberries I couldn’t fit within the fence. That’s about it. Despite their reputation, the rabbits have not nibbled on my unprotected salad greens or carrots. Yet.
More comments in the gallery below.
I’ve been spending the past week or so reading the fascinating book Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. While a bit obtuse at points, even to me, he develops a concept that is incredibly intuitive, yet has been neglected in basically all thought traditions. The eponymous concept is the state of all natural systems, but can we use it in our own lives and move away from the fragility so common in modern constructions?
First, some terms. He delineates what he calls the Triad:
- Fragile: Things that are fragile are only harmed by disorder, stress, or randomness. Most artificial objects are fragile: they can be weak (non-durable) or strong (durable) but use/stress will only wear them out.
- Robust/Resilient: Often erroneously thought of as the opposite to fragility, robust things are actually a middle ground. They neither benefit from randomness nor are harmed by it.
- Antifragile: Things that benefit from randomness. Alternately, they can be harmed by some stressors, but in general are asymmetrically aligned to benefit from most stress. In other words, what downsides they have are mitigated, whereas their upsides are unlimited.
I’m not going to summarize the entire book, but since antifragility is a unique concept, I’ll give an easy example to understand before getting on to my own thoughts about it in regards to our life. Hormesis is a phenomenon whereby small stressors, either physical or chemical, improve the health of an individual or a system as a whole. Exercise does small harms to our body – our body responds by thriving. Most medicine is about giving our bodies small amounts of poison in order to trigger an asymmetric or disproportionate positive response. Small harm, great good. Whereas stasis will kill us incredibly quickly through atrophy.
In trying to internalize the book, it’s very clear our current financial life is fragile. Not as fragile as it used to be some years ago, where we were literally paycheck-to-paycheck, but the breathing room we’ve carved ourselves still isn’t enough to move out of fragility into robustness. Our primarily fragility is debt. We have a lot of it (a hair under $139K to be exact). Debt can be “strategic” but in imposing obligations on yourself, even then, you’re still making yourself fragile. Both of us agree: we really, really want to be debt free. If we were debt free, our minimal lifestyle (~$20K annually including taxes and estimated capital expenditures on house and vehicle maintenance) could be funded so many different ways. But right now we’re locked into a certain path, until we begin to mitigate our downsides by severing obligations one at a time.
Kids don’t need as much as many people convince themselves they need to have, but our goblins are another reason to move from fragility to robustness. Thinking of feeding your children when faced with, say, a job loss and cavernous debt is NOT something you want to face. Even a Stoic using the power of negative visualization to prepare herself for it can recognize it is a situation they could respond adequately to, but she’d much rather not experience it at all.
Going from Debt freedom to true financial independence entails a mixture of fragility and robustness. For us, debt freedom will instantly move us into robust territory, because the asset side of our balance sheet is more than large enough to qualify as “fuck you” money. If we wanted, it would be enough to fund our entire lifestyle for 5-10 years. Alternatively, we could find enjoyable yet minimally remunerative jobs, enough to skate by on, and let the stash compound for a decade or two – and then we’d be set. Or we could, obviously, stay our current course and simply wash our hands of mandatory work in short(er) order.
What does it mean to be antifragile, however? How can one truly benefit from positive randomness, instead of merely being immune to either kind? Taleb uses the example of a 90/10 investment strategy, where 90% of your funds are invested in low-risk near-cash equivalents, and 10% is invested in a highly speculative manner. It’s almost impossible to lose 90% of the stash, but the upside on the 10% is limitless. (One of his pre-writing careers was as an options trader, so this makes a lot of sense.)
I think, for us, antifragility is only partly found financially. But the main antifragility is time freedom. Having the free time to engage in unexpected opportunities is a massive boon. Time, or life energy, is a far more precious commodity than money.
We could have achieved financial robustness faster if I continued to work. While there’s some economization I’ve been able to do as a radical homemaker, it’s nowhere equivalent to the loss of even my modest income. But the things we’ve been able to do with our time together? Absolutely immeasurable in financial terms.
Leaving oneself open to spontaneity, at first glance, seems to run contrary to my essentialism experiment with routine. The whole point of routine for an Essentialist, however, is to remove clutter and lessen decision fatigue so that you’re able to respond agilely and quickly when real, essential opportunities and decisions arise. If you don’t provide yourself structure, the stress of deciding every last thing results in an exhaustion state where even truly interesting options can’t be exercised because the mundane has worn you down.
For right now the Alchemist is still trapped in a demanding job, thanks to our collective fragile state. Based on the way we’ve been talking, however, I think there’s a lot to be said (for us) about the appeal of banishing debt and then downshifting on the career. In other words, achieving time independence before financial independence. I think the former is far stronger than the latter. No matter what path we choose, we’ve got years ahead of us in fragile waters, but that’s my thought so far.
And what about navigating fragility? The mathematical optimal way to slay debt and move forward is to massage cashflow such that you’re not paying a penny more of interest as possible. You know what? F*** mathematical optimization. Managing a budget that way is nerve-wracking as hell. It’s also a more fragile response, in many ways. You’re giving yourself a fixed upside (less interest paid at a defined rate) but by living cash-poor you’re exposing yourself to massive downside (predatory lending rates, penalty interest rates, late fees, etc) if Black Swan events hit. And Black Swans will happen. We just had one when Beta wiped out hard on her bike and needed an ambulance ride to the ER. Facing that, low cash, was terrifying. Luckily it happened to be the same month the Alchemist had a triple pay period, so it was easy to claw back to having a cash buffer while we wait for the bills to hit.
I’m never letting that buffer drop again. The downside is just too bad versus the fixed upside of paying a few months less of 6.5% interest. Plus, having cash allows one to pounce on opportunities as well. I’m not looking for any right now, but in the future? Maybe.