Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How to Retire Early: Walk

Lets talk about cars. I love my car. Who doesn’t? Its comfortable, convenient, and opens up an entire world of possibilities: a world of go anywhere/do anything possibilities. Just last week, my family and I jumped in the car and drove up to the snow to go sledding. That experience was priceless and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I do, however, think that - perhaps - we as a culture depend too much on our cars (ducks to avoid the throwing of rotten fruit). Hear me out. Driving a car around is more than just the price of gas. It is the cost of wear and tear on your car and each little piece that keeps it together. These all have a finite life span and every mile you drive moves you closer to that end. Not to mention the cost to the environment with all the pollution in the air.

I came across this profound piece of advice from a blogger that I follow: Cars don’t cost you money per month, they cost you money per mile”

We are so trained to think, “well, I pay $xxx for my car loan so I might as well use it as much as I can.” Wrong! You pay $xxx for your car loan and THEN gas and deterioration PER MILE.
With this in mind, Adam and I made a deal to only drive the car if we were traveling further than 2 miles. (At some point we will increase this number once we get the little one more comfortable on a bike, but for now, its all on foot).

By keeping the car in the driveway and using our legs to transport us, we discovered something truly amazing:
  1. Our bodies are getting more fit. Instead of sitting, we are now moving more - yea for exercise!
  2. We are connecting more. In a car, there is music and traffic and cell phones and a million other things that distract you from the very simple joy of spending time together. When you are on foot, all of those distractions disappear and you find yourself marveling together around a leaf changing color or a caterpillar building a cocoon. We talk together. We laugh together. We may even sing and dance together (yes, we are that geeky).
  3. We save money. We didn’t buy our car on credit, but we are saving money on gas and repair.
  4. We connect with our neighbors. We happen to live in one of those magical neighborhoods where everyone knows each other so a walk down the street invariably results in an unexpected conversation with someone who lives nearby.
  5. We are more connected to nature. Now, I know this sounds a little woo woo, but being in touch with the changing seasons and sounds of the birds fills my soul in a way that listening to music in a car never will.
  6. We shop local which supports our local economy. Most of the businesses around us are local shops run by local people. So, by limiting ourselves to what is within walking distance, we inevitably support those local business.
  7. My daughter gets exposed to multiple opportunities to learn. Why do the ants walk in a straight line? Why do some trees lose their leaves while others don’t? What makes something a weed? There is so much wonder in the world around us and by simply being in it, my kid is asking all sorts of questions that we then build on later.
  8. We appreciate what we have more. When we have to physically move to go get something that we want, we end up seriously considering if we actually want this thing.
  9. We buy less wasted food. There are four grocery stores within two miles of our home. We carefully make a shopping list every time we go because we know that we will have to carry whatever we buy home. That box of crackers suddenly seams a lot less appealing when you have to carry it two miles on your back.
  10. We get to explore more. When we are driving, there is usually a pretty strong emphasis on getting from point A to point B. When we are walking, however, every new street becomes a chance to explore something new. We discovered that the beach is less than 2 miles from our house over Thanksgiving, as is a movie theatre and an amazing wooded park.
In my quest to retire early to spend more time with my family, I am discovering ways to do just that within my current life. There are so many conveniences - cars, restaurants…etc.. - which have actually disconnected me from the people and world around me. By simplifying my life, I am getting back in touch with the things that really matter to me.

Monday, December 28, 2015

How to Retire Early: Cooking at Home

I have a confession to make: for the first part of this year (let's say January through October) my family ate our meals out 90% of the time. The food that I could make at home was boring and tasteless compared to the explosion of flavor that graced my plate at the restaurants. And I love food. A lot. I tried to recreate the meals that I love but they never worked out as well as what I could simply buy.

I knew I was eating out too much but I had no idea how to change this behavior. Because I wasn't cooking at home, my skills atrophied and I swear that I got worse at it.

All that changed when I got invited to try Hello Fresh. I swear, this is not an add for Hello Fresh. I'm not getting anything by linking to them. I'm just explaining how I managed to escape the trap of eating out.

Hello Fresh is one of those meal in a box delivery systems (overpriced but convenient with everything you need so I did end up saving money on both eating out and grocery shopping). I was skeptical since everything I cooked tasted like mush, but I followed their directions and was amazed by the way a few herbs and spices could make an ordinary dish taste extraordinary.

Don't get me wrong. I had used herbs and spices in my own cooking previously but I often used old dried herbs and out of date spices. I was amazed by how much flavor fresh herbs and spices produced. Not only that - but I LOVED the meals. Each one was different and flavorful.

I used Hello Fresh for about two months and steadily ate out less and less during that time when "the switch" happened. I turned into one of those snobby food people. Their bulk ingredients were no longer satisfactory. I wanted only fresh organic vegetables to go in my cooking.

So, armed with their recipes (which they kindly let you keep), I cancelled their service and began to make my own meals. I used herbs from my garden and veggies from the farmers market, and I became addicted - not only to the flavor in the food but to the act of preparing a meal for my family.

I would pour myself a glass of wine and listen to Billie Holiday on the radio while I created a meal that would nurture those I loved most. Dinner became a sacred time in our home. A time to connect and talk about the day away from bustle of a busy restaurant. A time to enjoy the simple flavors of the food and appreciate each other.

Dinner became more than just a inconvenience to feed my hunger. It became an integral part of my life. I love to create meals to feed my friends and chatting with them while the flavors of the food cook together on the stove. I love the time it takes to create the meal and the love that is my table when it is ready.

By giving up restaurants, I not only saved hundreds of dollars a month on eating out but I found a connection and joy with my family that I didn't have before.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

New Goals and a New Direction

I started this blog as a personal journey to document my life and, continuing in that vein, I'm excited about the direction my life is headed.

First a little back story: Over the past several years, my family did what most families do when they get to a place where they are comfortable with money. We spent it. A lot. We never went into debt and prided ourselves on that fact but we didn't really save it either. We just didn't worry about it. I get it - we are lucky. I know. But to be fair, we did work very hard to get to that place in life...and that was the trouble. Working. Because no matter how much we love our jobs (well, I love my job - SDN - my hubby - tolerates his) we are still working and not spending our time doing the things that we want to do.

I want to be at a place where I can give photography as a gift to those whose lives would be enriched by it. New mothers, animal shelters, causes I believe in...etc... and SDN wants to draw. To be an artist and create graphic novels. We also want to travel and spend time together with our little Alice while she is still little. We want to cook together and live abroad and explore the rain forests and create. everything.

To reach these goals we need to be at a place where we don't have to work to make money. Retirement.

I started reading everything I could about retiring early, and believe it or not, it is surprisingly simple to do (notice I didn't say easy). To retire early, you simply need to save as much money as you can, invest that money and live off of the interest. 

For those of you who like lists (like yours truly), here are some steps to retire early:
1) calculate your monthly expenses (don't forget to factor in big expenses like car repair and holidays - and spread that money out over the year)
2) Take that number and multiple it by 25 - this number is the amount of dollars you need invested in order to retire and just live off of a safe withdraw rate of 4%
3) Start saving for your goal (the number you came up with in step 2)

Simple, right? Simple but not easy.

If I had done the exercise two months ago, that number in step two would have been enormous and I could as soon as flown to the moon as saved that up. So, I made some choices. We were spending A LOT of money on eating out. Tons. I made it a goal to only eat at home and like magic that big number shrunk (plus, I now had extra monthly income that I would have spent eating out to save towards that big number).

It became a game: what things could I cut from my life and still be happy? The answer was surprising. Almost everything. Once I stopped spending money on new clothes and shoes and coffee out, I found that I started to appreciate all the things that I did have so much more.

* The smell of grinding our own coffee grounds in the morning and pouring over the frothy sweet milk
* The music filling my house
* The way my puppy rests her head on my lap while I am reading a book as the rain hits the window

I could go on and on.

I started this change so that we could retire earlier thinking that it would be hard to deprive myself of the things that I loved so much (eating at fancy restaurants, getting a latte whenever I felt like it, shopping) but what I found was that life became immensely more enjoyable once I cut those things out.

You're thinking I'm crazy, right? But here are a couple examples:

For my birthday dinner, instead of going out to eat sushi and spending around $100, my husband and I bought some fish and made our own sushi rolls at home complete with saki (for about $30).  The food was amazing and plentiful. We had a blast making the rolls together and every bite was melt in your mouth delicious.

I joined a group called "buy nothing west seattle" and kept a close eye on it throughout December. It didn't take long before someone offered a stuffed moose. I knew that my kid would love it so I picked it up. I was thrilled when I realized that it was no ordinary stuffed moose. It was a KIDSIZED stuffed moose. My daughter absolutely LOVED it. She sleeps with it and drags in around everywhere even though it is bigger than she is! Plus, this stuffed moose is getting a new round of love where he might have ended up in a landfill. Total cost of the best holiday present ever? $0

My goal is not to live in deprivation but to treasure what I have and to get what I want in a more meaningful way.

Currently, we are saving anywhere between 40% and 60% of our take home pay (this does not include the 401K that we contribute to - so really those numbers are about 5% higher).

I'll go into more detail about how we will reach our Big Number goal later but I feel like this post is already too long :)