There’s Always Grilled Cheese…

A Well Stocked Pantry

A well stocked pantry Pinterst PNG

My mom taught me so much about taking care of her family.  So many little things.  Things you don’t realize until you are the one taking care of others and you find yourself doing them and realize, she did them too.  One of the treasures I learned from my mom was a well-stocked pantry.  With a few staples always stocked and restocked immediately, you will never find yourself with “nothing to eat”.

The best thing about a well-stocked pantry?  It’s a money saver.  There is no need to run out to the grocery to buy something for dinner and it makes eating at home super-duper easy!

So, let’s take a walk through my cupboards…

Some of the items I learned to always keep on hand are baking supplies.  The usual, flour, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt.   But also, other items like corn meal and oatmeal are also good to have on hand.  Add just a few extra things to these ingredients and you can whip up pancakes, biscuits (YUM – warm biscuits and butter!), a cake, cornbread, oatmeal cookies, brownies….and so many others!

For quick dinners, I try to keep several boxes of whole wheat noodles as well as a few different kinds of rice on hand.  Diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, canned mushrooms and tomato paste are also necessary staples.  And don’t forget the beans!  I always have both dry and canned on the shelf.  With these, I can whip up several dishes.  A spaghetti with a marinara sauce, or a stroganoff with a bit of sour cream and Worcester sauce, add beans and some yummy spices to tomatoes and you can make a really good chili (with or without meat, depending what you have on hand).

Speaking of spices.  You MUST have a spice cabinet.  And not just salt and pepper, garlic and good ol’Lawry’s…you want things like coriander, cumin, paprika, dried onions, dried parsley, bay leaves, cloves, ginger, chili powder, dill weed and if you are adventurous things like curry and old bay seasoning…You get the picture.  Spices can last for years, so load up your cabinet – they truly make a dish shine. In this cabinet also keep some liquid ingredients on hand.  Oils, shortening, soy sauce, a selection of vinegars, and Worcester sauce.

It’s important to not just keep your pantry stocked, but a few staples in the fridge and freezer as well.  For the omnivores, keep things like shredded cheese, milk and sour cream ready.  As well as easy to prepare meats like ground turkey.  I buy several loaves of bread at a time at the dollar store and freeze them until we need a loaf. We are recent converts to a plant-based diet, so instead of eggs, we make sure to always have an egg replacement, vegan “butter” and almond milk on hand.  We have used them in most meals as a substitute and so far so good.

As a young adult, I remember a friends mom talking about some hard times they had early in their marriage.  The thing she said that got them through those times was knowing, “there was always grilled cheese!”  And though she said it with a smile on her face, I know it was the absolute truth.  I have caught myself saying the same thing a time or two.  There IS always grilled cheese, or a quesadilla, or PB&J…

Part of this financial independence journey is optimizing our spending and savings.  Unplanned trips to the grocery store usually mean extra money spent that was not planned for.  Having no food in your house, makes it more tempting to eat out. By creating a fully stocked pantry, you are providing yourself assurance and INSURANCE that you can keep your food budget in check and on track.

And on those days where you just don’t know what to cook, or you simply don’t want to, remember, there is always grilled cheese!  (Well there is if you have done what I have suggested and kept a well-stocked pantry.)

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Pennies and Styrofoam

Pennies and styrofoam.Pinterest

Growing up, I thought it was so weird, well – if I am honest, embarrassing, that Grandma Florene and Grandpa Willard took my sister and I with them to shop at the “dented-can” stores and day-old bread stores.  I also thought it was weird that in the spare bedroom, of their little 2 bedroom house, was a shelf full of canned goods and non-perishables.

On my high school graduation day, Grandpa Willard handed me an envelope with a $100.00 bill in it.  I knew where that money came from.  For years, I saw stacks of KFC Styrofoam containers with a slit cut into their lids filled up with pennies.  There were towers of them on a shelf by the side door.  I did not know what he was saving up for then, but when I received that $100.00, I knew and I knew how long he had been saving to give me this gift.

What I wouldn’t give now to sit down with my grandma and talk to her about their frugality.  Or my grandpa.  But he was a man of few words.  I don’t know if I can recall a sentence with him that had more than five words.  That didn’t matter – he loved us.  Man, how he loved us.  He never had to say it – the look in his eyes was enough. And this gesture, pennies saved for years, every penny purposefully set aside for me and my sister – we always knew.

I know now, their frugality was born out of extreme hardships encountered during the wars before we were born.  Need we haven’t really experienced as a nation since then.  We have faced recessions, extreme unemployment, the bursting of bubbles and the “great recession” but even so, the marker of our recovery was a pole vault back into the same consumerism all over again.  Frugality didn’t sick  – it hasn’t “stuck” for the vast majority of Americans since then.  When times are hard, we can’t wait to be able to freely spend again.  Which is never really free, it comes at an expense.  Interest, debt, payments over time.

Curt and I have participated fully in all of it.  And here we are.  In a heap of debt. Drastically behind in our savings. But changing.  Not slowly – it was like light switch.  Once we saw what we could accomplish if we “exited” ourselves from the current consumerist undercurrent and into a simpler one, we find “opportunities” daily to spend less, save more and pay down debt.

In less than six months, we have seen our savings rate jump from nothing (a big fat ZERO) to over 20%.  We have paid off several credit cards, a car and other accounts.  Our (negative) net worth is getting LESS negative every month.

It’s like those pennies.  One penny at a time.  Every day.  Turns into stack of pennies, that turns into something big.  Without even thinking about it too much.

I have a coin jar in my office.  Every day one or more of us put coins in it.  Left-over change we find, change from purchases, change I find in the laundry.  I started the jar a few weeks ago and to date we have we have about $25.00 in it.  Soon it will have $100.00.  We intend to then deposit it to be invested into an index fund so those pennies can turn into even more pennies.  Then we will start the process all over again.  Some might think that’s a little weird.  I don’t think my Grandma or Grandpa would think it weird at all.

Focus On the Wins

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Day 2866…134 days in.

It is a GOOD thing to look back and find your wins.  Especially if you have been knocked on your butt a few times.  We’ve been thrown a few lumps recently as described in my last post.  Because of that, I thought it would be a good idea to look back and examine a few of our accomplishments since starting this journey back in July.

Now, when we started we took a very good look at our budget and we cut several things.  Cable. The gym. Reduced our cell phone bill.  Paid off a few accounts.  And that was a great start.  We reduced our discretionary spending significantly as well.  At the time, we were like, “wow, that’s pretty stinkin’ good.”  and it was, TOTALLY!  (I am 46-year-old California girl through and through; “Like” “totally” and “awesome” are part of my permanent vernacular. And sometimes they all get thrown together even.) 

Then, we started gaining some momentum.  Started talking to more people about what we are doing.  Talked with and listened to others that are on this same journey, some behind us and some way ahead.   It’s inspiring.  It’s motivating.  Even so, this BIG goal we have does not seem real.  It still seems like a dream.  Because when it happens – it WILL be a dream.  It will be something that most people never reach because they are afraid.  Or stuck.  Or because they just can’t envision a life of MORE than what they already have.  We want more than that.  We want to be able to choose.  Choose whether or not we continue to work in some fashion after we “retire” from our current careers.  To choose to pursue passion projects or volunteer.  Choose to pick up and go wherever we want to go, whenever we want.  All because we have laid the groundwork for it now.

Have you ever taken a moment to watch construction? It is hard, labor intensive, exhausting work.  Not many people choose to do it.  Having previously lived in Phoenix for fifteen years – I especially felt for them in the Summer months.  Its not a job you can do forever.  But their job is so important. A structure built on a crappy foundation is ultimately worthless or at best will cost a lot of money to fix.

We are in the foundation building stages of FI (Financial Independence).  Its not fun a lot of the time.  It is work.  There is sacrifice. But it must be done in order for our plans to work.  Without our foundational work now – Financial Freedom and Early Retirement, will not happen.  We will be on the hamster wheel until we die.  No thanks.

So this morning, I took a step back to look at our work. And I was pleased with our progress.  (That is an understatement for sure.) Here is a summary of the monthly costs we have cut and/or paid off since we started a few months ago:

July: 

Cell 25.00

Cable 120.00

Gym 110.00

Care Credit 49.00

Aug/Sept:

Tuition Wendy 400.00

Dentist 215.00

Department Store 27.00

Tuition Maddie 781.00

Oct: 

Nov: 

State Taxes: 250.00

Karate 375.00

Water Delivery 125.00

Gym (again) 159.00

TOTAL MONTHLY SAVINGS:  $2636.00

But wait….now times that by 12….That is $31,623.00….$31,623.00!!!!

Whaaaaat?  That is a pretty freakin’ awesome number, right?  And this does not include our reduced discretionary spending for things like groceries and fuel.  Cool fact? If you look at most of them, individually, they are fairly small amounts.  The lesson?  Small wins add up to BIG ONES.  When I see what we have been able to decrease from our budget, I get excited.  It makes me want to go back through it and look for more costs we can reduce. It makes me jump up from my desk, run into the other room and, excitedly, tell my husband, “Babe look at what we have done!”  Really, I did do that.

Now you may look at our numbers and be thinking, “I can’t do that.  You make waaaaaay more money that I do.  Of course YOU can do that.”  But I challenge you.  Listen up! Becoming debt free and saving money can be done, and IS done, by people who make significantly less that what our family is fortunate enough to make.

Have you looked at your monthly spending lately?  What are you spending money on that you can cut or reduce?  Make a goal.  Start small.  Cut $100.00 from your monthly spending and put it in an investment account.  (I put ours into a Vangaurd VTSAX account.  Unsure of why you should or where you should put your money, go to JL Collins site and read his stock series, or buy his book The Simple Path to Wealth.) Then the next month cut your spending by another $100.00 (or 1% – whatever is achievable for you and will not cause you to freak out. And invest that amount in the same way.)  Then wash, rinse and repeat.  Its MAGIC.

$100.00 in savings a month, equals $1200.00 a year.  $200 a month, equals $2400.00 a year.  $300 a month, equals $3600.00 a year.  Compound each of those over ten years at 8% interest and you get $17,383.87, $34,767.75 and $52,151.62 respectively.  How would it make you feel to have that much sitting in an investment account growing by simply making a few simple cuts to your budget NOW.  Life-changing. Truly it is.  If you can grasp this one thing – you will have changed your life and that of your family’s.

Trust me…. you can do this.  It is just math.  Math and determination.  I believe you can do it. So get to it.

Love and Prosperity, 

Your GirlFIday 

Mountains, Mistakes and Missteps

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2884 days…116 days in…

I expected there would be bumps in the road.  That at some point on this FI journey we would have some hiccups in our plan.  I did not think that it would come so quickly.  I naively, I suppose, put a plan together and thought all I had to do was execute.  It’s all just math, right?  It is.  And it isn’t.  Because we are humans.  With human problems.  Kids – that need STUFF.  And food.  You have to feed them. Fears. Impulses.  All of those things and more.

Since my last post, not much has changed.  In fact, due to a mistake I realized I made after speaking with our CPA, I had to halt my retirement contributions until the first of the year.  I discovered I misunderstood how much I could contribute as the employer into my individual SEP and due to that, I have until the end of the year to make up my “income” so I do not go over the percentages allowed by the IRS.  Ah yes, Uncle Sam, he seems to always show up and at JUST the right time.  So in a nutshell – I contributed too much money, too soon.  A good problem to have I suppose, but who wants to be in trouble with the IRS?  Not me.  Been there, done that and it stinks (still paying on that one after 8 years.  Seriously, trust me, a good CPA is CRUCIAL if you are self-employed.) Our CPA is wonderful and has really given us some of the most sound advice.  The problem is follow through.  Much like errant children, it has taken us some time to truly value his wisdom.

Ah taxes. What’s that saying? There are two things certain, death and taxes.…It will be a MOST wonderful day when we have finally put ourselves in a position to not pay so much of them.  Reducing them is part of our overall FI plan – but much like chess or a puzzle box, there are moves that must be made, in order, first.  But right now they are killing us. I am all for paying my fair share.  I like the things they provide – roads, schools, national parks, infrastructure – those things are all good things.  But if I can pay LESS – that would be super-duper awesome too.  As it is, the more we earn to pay our taxes, the more taxes we owe, so we must earn more, to pay the taxes…and so on and so on.  It’s the definition of the “hamster wheel” and we are dying to get off.  This year we have to pay more in estimated taxes for 2017 than we have ever before.  It made my heart leap out of my chest when I saw the number.  I was not prepared.  And therein – is the misstep.  2018 will be much better because we will be going into the year with one of our primary objectives being to reduce our taxable income.  We will do that by investing as much money as our budget will allow into pre-tax retirement accounts.  (Not sure what all of this means?  – Go check out some of the recommended blogs and podcasts mentioned in my last post).

My husband is incredibly fortunate in this regard.  He is a teacher and his school district allows him to not only contribute to a 403B but also a 457 plan…say whaaaat? (If you work in a service field; teacher, police officer, fire-fighter…you likely have the availability of a 457 plan as well and should consult your benefits department to learn more.  Seriously, this is like the most awesome thing ever for you.)  What this means is that we are not limited to contributing $18,000.00 a year into one account.  We can actually contribute double that amount, $36,000.00, $18,000.00 into each.  This was a new discovery for us and we were both floored when we learned of it.  The hurdle is to be able afford to max out both the 403b and the 457 as quickly as possible.  That will be extremely difficult with this mountain of debt we are carrying.  Sometimes I look at the numbers and I am overwhelmed.  Keeping positive and focused, which I usually succeed in doing, is sometimes difficult.  This plan of ours would be so much easier if we didn’t have the debt.  But there is no way around the mountain.  The only way is to painstakingly keep climbing.

Adding to the difficultly of the climb up the mountain, is that the debt service also requires a certain influx of income to also be maintained to keep up.  So not only are we climbing steep terrain, we are doing it with a 200-pound monkey on our backs.  It makes changing careers impossible without adequate replacement income. (and that, folks crushes my spirit and is a discussion for another day.)  It also delays how quickly we can achieve financial freedom.

So…the income is needed to pay the debt, thereby necessitating an increase in income – which increases the taxes, which requires more income to pay the taxes…and here we are right back on that hamster wheel.  Trapped.  That is often how I feel.  It can be so discouraging…

And then something happened….it was as if the clouds parted and a choir of angels began to sing….Well, no, but almost.  I went and looked at my Vanguard account…and there, sitting in my brand-new three-month old account, was quite a nice little chunk of free money.  Interest.  FREE MONEY.  And that was enough.  It was enough for me to catch my breath and look up ahead.  The top of the mountain in the distance, it is far, but I see it.  So we take a deep breath, we stick to the plan, and we keep on going.

Love and Prosperity,

 

Your Girl FI-day.

 

2983 days…17 days in…

Has it really only been 17 days?  It feels like an eternity really. I am astonished at what we have been able to do in such a short time.  Intention is the word that comes to mind.   What a difference being intentional makes.

Here is just a quick update of what we have been able to do in a little over two weeks:

  • Opened up a Vanguard VTSMX retirement account and began funding it. (GAH!  How exciting is that!)
  • Paid off a credit account
  • Ordered the firestick and new remotes so we can cut cable THIS WEEK!
  • Did a three-month analysis of our spending on mint.com (Think you cannot afford to save or pay off debt, I will bet you there is a ton of waste happening.  If you eliminate the waste, you can do some BIG things.)
  • Reduced our cell phone bill by $25 – I know that’s not much, but we have a 3 month plan to reduce it even further.  Every dollar counts.
  • Cut out several unnecessary items in our budget for a total monthly savings of:  $200
  • We stuck to our weekly meal plan.  (which means money saved on food)
  • And the BIGGIE…We stuck to our budget and discretionary spending for the month of July!!!  – REALLY! This is HUGE.  I don’t know how many times I have to readjust the next months budget due to overspending in the previous month.

In the coming weeks our goal is to accomplish the following:

  • Fully cut cable
  • pay off several accounts for a total monthly savings of:  $1761.00, that savings will go directly into debt repayment
  • Pay off Wendy’s car
  • Continue funding retirement
  • Fund a “baby emergency fund” with at a minimum of $1000.00
  • Cut utility bills

The above is just a minimum.  If we keep this train chugging along, by our next update we should have far exceeded the above goals.

Love and Prosperity,

Your Girl FI-day.

 

P.S….This book is a MUST read if you are interested in retiring early.  Seriously.  A MUST.  File Jul 30, 3 19 53 PM