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My $15,000 Middle Class Budget

October 29th, 2014 at 01:30 pm

(I now blog weekly on frugal living, personal finance & earlier retirement at:
retiredtowin.com)




If you think about it, your basic living expense budget is THE crucial factor affecting WHEN you can become financially independent, and HOW MUCH capital you need to become financially independent. The lower your basic living expenses are, the smaller your financial independence stash needs to be, and the sooner you will have it.

But how low a basic living expenses "nut" CAN YOU STAND living with? And for how many years would you have to stand it? How much rice and pasta can you stand to eat? How small a place can you stand to live in? How cold (or hot) can you stand the temperature to be in that place? How much of your income will an acceptable, LIVABLE basic lifestyle cost you? And how much would then be left over for you to apply to your financial independence plan?

My answer to all those questions is that a comfortable and secure lifestyle can very, very definitely be achieved without spending a fortune on it. My basic living expense budget is $15,048 a year, which is about one third of my income. And I am perfectly happy with the kind of daily lifestyle I get for less than $1255 a month (which, by the way, is a lot MORE than really frugal people find necessary to spend). My case is just one more testimonial to the power and joy of modest expense (I won't even call it frugal) living.

In fact, it is not my intent to show that I spend very little. It is, after all not that little. Instead, I want to document by one more example (mine) how much you can have and do -- how good a daily life you can have -- on less money than most (middle class?) people have coming in. To show that financial independence could be a lot closer than generally assumed.

My Basic Lifestyle
The context of my basic daily lifestyle includes owning a large house on 2.5 acres of land located 5 miles from a small town and 25 miles from "the big city"... eating a modified paleo diet heavy on meats and vegetables and low on starches... driving a well maintained older vehicle... being free of an obligatory job and commute... and spending a lot of my time hiking, blogging, reading, taking video courses, doing hobby carpentry, watching DVD movies, playing computer strategy games, and listening to classical music.

I live very comfortably. I enjoy my time on a daily basis free from an obligatory job. And I do it on less than one third of my income. Doing that does not feel to me like a big deal.

So why do so many people find this impossible (or unacceptable) to do?

My Budget Big Picture
That $15,048 a year basic living expense budget of mine works out to $1254 a month. Of that sum, $397 goes to housing expenses, $185 to vehicle costs, $378 to health coverage, $244 to household expenditures, and $50 to federal and state income taxes.

My budget big picture also takes into account that my wife pays for her share of our overall expenses. If I factored her out of my calculations, and I had to pay the entire cost of our indivisible shared expenses (like mortgage), my monthly nut would go up by a net $34 to $1288 a month (or $15,456 a year).

That my go-it-alone costs would go up so little is something that we have already tested out to be true.

We own a smaller rental home on one acre of land that I have lived in by myself before. If I were alone, I would live in that house. From prior experience, my solo housing costs (lower mortgage, lower real estate taxes, lower utilities costs, etc) would then go up a net $34 a month.

My vehicle and health coverage costs would remain unchanged because they are already calculated on a solo basis for me and my 1996 Dodge Dakota. And my household expenditures (food, etc) would not change either because their consumption would be proportional (half) to the number of people doing the consuming (1 instead of 2).

So, living with my wife or living alone, my basic living expenses would still be about $15,000 a year.

Given that, doesn't $15,000 a year (per person?!) sound like a more than generous basic living expenses budget benchmark that anyone could apply if they made up their minds to do so?

My Housing and What It Costs
I share with my wife an 1800-square-feet single-story brick house with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a full unfinished basement and an enclosed patio room that adds another 200 square feet to our living space. The house sits on two-and-a-half acres of land, along with a detached two-car garage, a large 400-square-foot metal outbuilding, and a humongous 1000-square-foot pole barn (that my wife has converted into her rabbit-geese-chicken raising place).

If I were living alone, then I would be living in what is currently our rental house. There I would have to myself 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, a living room and an eat-in kitchen in a 1000-square-foot single-story brick house. I would also have a full unfinished basement, an attached oversized one-car garage with enough room for a workshop, plus 2 standard-sized sheds -- all on an acre of land less than 1 mile from a river boat landing and less than 3 miles from a magnificent state park with a very large number of hiking trails.

Either way, this is living in an owned home with ample space for me, lots of privacy and no in-my-face neighbors. So, we are not talking about hovel living.

For either house, large down payments have made the monthly mortgage low. We keep the shared house at 78 degrees F in the summer and 70 degrees in the winter. At the shared house, we pay for 2 Ooma phone lines, have a trash pickup service, and have satellite as our only (and expensive) internet option. If I were alone at the smaller house, I would drop one phone line, do my own trash hauling to a nearby dump station, and enjoy better yet cheaper cable internet service.

So my monthly housing cost breaks down like this (shared house / solo house):
[] $25K mortgage ================>$114 shared ========>$112 solo
[] tax and insurance escrow ========>$ 56 shared ========>$121 solo
[] trash service ==================>$ 14 shared ========> 0 solo
[] home warranty ================>$ 50 shared ========>$ 50 solo
[] internet service ================>$ 45 shared ========>$48 solo
[] phone service ==================>$ 5 shared ========> 0 solo
[] utilities =======================>$113 shared =======>$100 solo

[] TOTAL =======================>$397 shared ========>$431 solo

So either way, it takes around 400 bucks a month (give-or-take) for me to live in a comfortable house on a good piece of ground.

With the right choice of location and a serious down payment, couldn't anyone do just as well or better?

My Vehicle and What It Costs
I think my most powerful budget-lowering tactic is my textbook Mustachian vehicle ownership strategy. In my book too, a vehicle is for safe, reliable and comfortable transportation of people and stuff. Social status preening through one's choice of vehicle is in no way a legitimate basic living expense. So my vehicle is a 1996 Dodge Dakota extended-cab pickup that I have driven since 2003. It is paid for, utterly reliable and totally practical. (I haul a lot of stuff.)

My monthly costs for that vehicle are as follows:
[] insurance (top-of-the-line) ======>$ 35
[] maintenance (and repair) =======>$ 100
[] fuel (for 300 basic miles) ========>$ 50

[] TOTAL ======================>$ 185

(My wife drives and pays for a similarly thrifty 1998 all-wheel-drive Subaru Forester.)

Opting out of a new, fancy-schmanzy vehicle has drastically reduced my monthly outlay for installment payments (I have none), insurance (much cheaper to insure a $4K vehicle) and maintenance (simple systems mean simpler work). AND my older non-status vehicle has reduced my magic FI stash number by about $150,000. (!!)

Ego stroking aside, what justification can there be for hardwiring the monthly costs of a late model status vehicle into one's basic expense budget? How can that be worth the many extra years it adds to reaching financial independence?

My Health Coverage's Big 30% Budget Bite
Even with Medicare, making sure I am covered in case I get seriously sick accounts for a mind-boggling 30% of my basic living expenses.

I have opted for an insurance strategy that is front-loaded with out-of-pocket costs to a maximum of $2435 a year, but then covers me 100% after that. Because those out-of-pocket expenses are sporadic, very variable, somewhat optional and mostly theoretical, I pay for them -- if and when they happen -- out of discretionary funds. So I don't consider them part of my basic living expenses.

That leaves my monthly health coverage "sub-nut" looking like this:
[] hospital and medical insurance ==========>$ 158
[] longterm care insurance ================>$ 188
[] dental insurance ======================>$ 17
[] medications insurance =================>$ 15

[] TOTAL ==============================>$ 378

On a budget percentage basis, this is still a big bite. But affordable (to me). Anyway, it is just about what the lease or installment payment would be on one of those late-model fancy-schmanzy vehicles I poke fun at.

And isn't being able to take care of one's health way more important than vehicular ego preening?

And Here Is The Rest
The remaining $294 per month of my basic living expenses go primarily to "feeding." Feeding myself a modified paleo diet that includes very few starches except for whole wheat bread for lunch sandwiches and rolled oats for breakfast oatmeal. Feeding one dog and 2 cats on mixes of brand name dry and wet foods. And feeding the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, etc. with all the usual household consumables (paper towels, bath soap, cat litter, what have you). All this feeding eats up $225 a month. (I don't break it down any further because it all gets purchased on the same register receipts at either WalMart, Food Lion or Dollar General and it's not worth it to me to subcategorize the expenses.)

So the monthly basic expenses that I arbitrarily grouped as "household expenditures" earlier tally up like this:
[] food, pets and sundries ==========>$225
[] Sirius internet radio =============>$ 2
[] $1MM liability insurance ==========>$ 7
[] federal income tax ==============>$ 40*
[] state income tax ================>$ 10*

[] TOTAL ========================>$294

(* based on applying the standard deduction and exemption to the gross $15,500 required to meet my basic living expenses.)

I am well fed. My pets are well fed. And I never find myself lacking for anything.

It is all perfectly satisfactory basic living... wouldn't you say?

The Takeaway
I consider this detailing of my $15,500 annual basic living expenses as one more real-life testimonial to what is made possible by astute spending choices without making big sacrifices or a big effort. Without having to grow your own food, repair your own clothes, fix your own stuff, use solar for electric, keep the heat low in winter and high in summer, buy in bulk, ride your bicycle everywhere instead of driving, or any other unusual/special effort.

Take another look at my budget details. I live in a spacious, comfortable house that is kept at a comfortable temperature. I drive a comfortable, reliable and well-maintained vehicle. I drive around like a clown to do everything; I don't ram my bike through snowdrifts or use it to haul refrigerators. I eat great. I keep pets. I am insured up the wazoo against anything and everything. I lack for nothing.

The takeaway is NOT that $15,500 is very frugal (because it really isn't). The takeaway is that it doesn't have to take much more than that (for one adult person) to have a comfortable middleclass life. That it is not a big effort to get expenses down. And that you can then direct the balance of your income to wiping out your debt or building your (early?) retirement stash. You can apply your (newly found!) surplus income to reaching financial independence YEARS SOONER than you had thought possible!

I did that. Covered my basic living expenses with 32% of my gross paycheck. Paid off all the installment debts. And built up enough of a stash in 6 years to let me become financially independent with way more passive income than I need to cover those basic living expenses.

And, since I know I am not a financial genius, I know this IS DOABLE by almost anyone. Without making any big deal sacrifices.

And that is THE real take-away.


# # #


Retired To Win
making the most of my time and my money
I blog weekly on frugal living, personal finance & earlier retirement at:
retiredtowin.com

Don't Short Sell Life After Retirement

August 26th, 2014 at 12:45 pm

(I now blog weekly on frugal living, personal finance & earlier retirement at:
retiredtowin.com)




Very often, lack of money is not what keeps people from retiring. What keeps them on the job is that they are afraid that they will have nothing to do in retirement. That it will be boring. But I think that's nonsense.

Of course there is life after retirement!

Since I earlier retired some 14 years ago, most of the time I have not even had time to be bored. I've always had a new personal project in the works to get interested in. Or a trip to plan. Or a home improvement project to ramrod. Always there has been something. Usually more than one something.

I really think people who actually become bored in retirement, not knowing what to do with themselves, have sold themselves way short. They just won't sit down to look inside themselves to find the things they would like -- even love -- to do. They just won't give themselves a chance.

And that's a shame. Because they could be having a great time in retirement. Like I am.

# # #

Fiscal Discipline: It Means a Better Future

August 23rd, 2014 at 07:52 am

Children live in the present. At best they can project themselves into their short-term futures. But adults can hold the vision of a long-term reward in their mind's eye and control their present actions by being able to visualize and live mentally in that future.

Fiscally disciplined grown-ups choose meaningful long-term satisfaction over transitory instant gratification. Children cannot help themselves. They want that treat now. They must have that toy now. Future rewards for self-control hold no attraction for them. A frustrated desire in the present triggers emotional turmoil in a child that can easily lead to pouting, crying and tantrums.

Adults behave differently. They can keep their eyes focused on the more valuable goal ahead. They can keep their heads in the face of spur-of-the-moment temptations.

Imagining myself living in my house worked that way for me. And every debt-lowering payment and every savings account deposit reinforced that vision, making it easier and easier to stick to my financial plan. Until it just became second nature. No new shirt, gadget or night on the town could any longer compete with the emotional highs that came from each lowering of my credit card debt and each increase of my downpayment savings.

In effect, I was already happily living in my future through my fiscally disciplined actions in the present. Anticipated long-term satisfaction had won hands down over instant gratification, And I think that is the hallmark mindset of a fiscally disciplined adult.

The takeaway: The end-game reward for being fiscally disciplined now is to be in control of one's future. The reward, when all is said and done, IS the future.

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Fiscal Discipline: Goals Facilitate It

August 19th, 2014 at 06:39 am

It is long term goals that facilitate fiscal discipline. In my case, that first big goal was a house. Before that, I really lived financially day to day. I bought on credit and then made payments. I knew enough to keep my spending within my means (to make those payments). I had enough sense not to chase after extravagant whims of the moment. But otherwise I was just financially coasting.

Setting a strategic financial goal of buying a house changed all that. I would need to save for a down payment (which was a requirement back then). And I would need to keep my debt to income ratio low enough to be acceptable to banks. And those 2 tactical motivators kept me on a fiscal discipline course towards my goal.

A reason to save for later instead of spending it all now. Perhaps it is there, at the setting of that first financial goal, that we can find the real beginning of fiscal adulthood. Because the lessons learned from the setting -- and from the achieving -- of that goal have to be tremendously powerful. That we can aim at something better. That we can hold our course towards it. That we can reach it, under our own financial steam and control. Very powerful lessons. Very empowering lessons. IF one actually stays the course by not frittering away one's money on the whims of the moment.

The takeaway: When it comes to actually being fiscally disciplined over the long haul, financial goals are the name of the game.

# # #

Fiscal Discipline: It Has to Have a Purpose

August 12th, 2014 at 11:41 am

Intellectually, I can see that being fiscally disciplined is in a way its own reward. Being in financial control of yourself is good in and of itself. But when you are embarking on a lifelong journey of fiscal discipline I think you need a destination. A goal. A reason to stay the course. A carrot. A heavy-duty carrot. Without that very strong long-term incentive, it could be too easy to dribble away money on shorter gratifications like lattes, a seventh pair of shoes, or the third vacation of the year.

For me, the first financial discipline goals were easy to define. Get my income to exceed my living expenses so I could stop living on borrowed money. Then build up an emergency reserve to backstop that income. Then save the money to buy for cash a car I could be happy with for a long time and dump the old wreck I was driving. Then move to a decent apartment I could afford and furnish it modestly but comfortably. At which point, about one year into my fiscal discipline journey, I had had the time to decide on my first truly heavy-duty carrot: buy a house and stop paying rent.

Setting those initial goals in sequence and keeping my money in my pocket so I could reach them was an adult thing to do. It required planning ahead and it required financial self-control in the present. And the carrot of those goals made the self-control much easier.

But just about everyone gets that far: job, car, reasonable housing, bills paid on time. Somehow, though, a lot of people seem to get stuck at that point. It just seems that they do not look beyond job, car, and a place to live. So, as their incomes improve, they just keep increasing the amounts they spend on car, housing, and an ever increasing load of consumer installment debt for recreational distractions needed to offset job stress and tedium.

They are living in the "now", not looking very far ahead. Like a child would. It is life caught in a consumerism hamster wheel.

The takeaway: It is terribly difficult to be fiscally disciplined in a vacuum. You need to give yourself a reason to be fiscally disciplined. You need to look ahead, use your imagination and set financial goals.

# # #

Fiscal Discipline: It Is About Looking Ahead

August 8th, 2014 at 10:56 am

Fiscal discipline is about looking ahead. Because tomorrow does come. And a grown-up knows that more can be done than just sitting in the present waiting for whatever that tomorrow may bring.

A child may keep eating cookies until he or she gets a bellyache. But an adult sees the bellyache coming and knows to stop. Likewise, a grown-up sees the financial bellyache coming and does not just keep spending money until it is all gone. Or just keep charging on credit cards because there is still some available credit not yet used up. An adult looks ahead. Or, perhaps more realistically, an adult should look ahead. So why do so many people behave like children and not look beyond spending more and more in the present?

In my case, increasing income did not automatically result in increasing spending. It is hard to explain why. I loved my well-maintained, gorgeous-looking ten-year-old Thunderbird. I did not covet a newer car. One business suit for each day of the week, with a dozen ties and shirts to vary the look, was enough for me. I did not wish for more. And why would I ever want more than 4 pairs of dress shoes?

Instead of automatically and thoughtlessly continuing to bump up my consumption in the present, I asked myself what could that money do for me in the future. And in that future, I saw myself living in my own house.

I saw myself with no neighbors stomping on my ceiling or banging on my walls. With no daily rides in crowded cramped elevators. With no tedious weekly up-and-down-the-hall laundry trips. With no jogs across the parking lot in the rain to get to my car. With no inevitable rent raises every year. With the freedom to paint my walls, or install a built-in, or play loud music. In short, I saw myself living a much better life. And "all" I had to do to make that future a reality was to keep my wallet in my pocket in the present. To be fiscally disciplined now.

It was an offer I could not refuse. I had a future to look forward to. I had a reason to remain fiscally disciplined.

So why doesn't everyone look ahead? Why do so many people just choose to spend in the present with no thought of the future?

Fiscal discipline has to have a purpose. A goal. A heavy-duty carrot in the future to help staying on course today.

Fiscal grownups choose meaningful long-term satisfaction over transitory instant gratification. And it is goals that will keeping eyes and mind focused on that long-term satisfaction.

The takeaway: "Some" tomorrow is coming. Fiscal discipline can make it a tomorrow worth looking forward to.

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Fiscal Discipline: It Has to Be Hands-On

August 5th, 2014 at 06:35 am

An epiphany came to me in 1980, at the age of 33, after 10 years of short-term financial "thinking" that had left me sitting flat broke in a cramped one-room studio apartment with virtually no money, absolutely no credit and just a beat-up old car to my name. I looked around, I looked at the way I was living, and I just said "no." I did not like what I saw. I did not like the direction I was going. And I just rejected it all.

I resolved to have a good financial future, even though I did not yet know what I wanted that to look like. I resolved to use my own skills and energy to steer a course towards that future. And I resolved to get underway even though my eventual destination was not yet defined.

Fiscal discipline starts with assuming responsibility for your financial destiny. I realized that you must resolve to take control. That you have to acknowledge and accept that your financial destiny is up to you and no one else. That you are going to have a financial future -- good or bad -- whether you like it or not. That no one else has any obligation (or even inclination) to do anything for you or about that financial destiny of yours.

And you have to realize that, yes, you CAN do something about how your financial future turns out. That you are not a helpless, rudderless skiff doomed to just drift along out of control. No. You have to discover that you are instead a motor-sailor able to take advantage of favorable financial winds as well as capable of advancing even when you run into the occasional fiscal squall.

But why didn't I just throw my hands up in the air and play financial victim? Why didn't I just blame the economy, fate, or "the rich" for my situation and just keep wallowing in it? Why do some other people do that? Why don't they realize the future is coming? What makes the difference?

Fiscal discipline is about looking ahead. Because tomorrow is coming. Beginning to look to the future will make a difference.

Fiscal discipline has to have a purpose. A goal. A heavy-duty carrot. Setting financial goals will make a difference.

It is those goals / carrots that will facilitate fiscal discipline. And staying on course will make a difference.

Fiscal grownups choose meaningful long-term satisfaction over transitory instant gratification. Keeping eyes and mind focused on the more valuable goals ahead will make a difference.

The takeaway: Fiscal discipline has to be hands-on. And it is some basic but vital actions that make the difference to make fiscal discipline happen.

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Fiscal Discipline: It Is About Perspective

August 3rd, 2014 at 07:11 am

Fiscal discipline is all about perspective and behavior. More specifically, it is about the difference between the perspective of an adult and that of a child. And about the very different behaviors that come from those perspectives. Acceptance of the reality of personal responsibility and effort versus the unfounded longing for financial windfalls that require neither. Long-term thinking versus short-term thinking. Planned goal setting versus vague wishing. Holding out for long-term satisfaction versus giving in to instant gratification.

And all those factors are connected. Either as steps in a ladder taking you up or as dominoes in a row pushing you off a cliff. How does a person standing at that cliff edge step back and get on the ladder?

Fiscal discipline starts with assuming responsibility for one's financial destiny. So that person must resolve to take control.

Fiscal discipline is about looking ahead. So that person must begin to look to tomorrow because tomorrow is coming.

Fiscal discipline has to have a purpose. A goal. A heavy-duty carrot. So that person must think things through and set financial goals.

It is those goals / carrots that will facilitate fiscal discipline. Goals will help to keep that person on course.

Fiscal grownups choose meaningful long-term satisfaction over transitory instant gratification. So that person must keep eyes and mind focused on the more valuable goals ahead.

The takeaway: Fiscal discipline doesn't just happen. To make it happen, a person must put out the effort and do the thinking to make crucially important informed adult choices.

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Fiscal Discipline Is For Grownups

July 31st, 2014 at 11:20 am

Eliminating old debt. Staying out of new debt. Keeping living expenses well below income. Following guidelines on what is affordable. Choosing lower cost alternatives. Building up reserve funds. Growing an investment portfolio. Those are all parts of the strategy to reach financial independence. None of it is rocket science and theoretically anyone could do it.

So why do loads and loads of people do the exact opposites? And then bemoan and resent their financial situation and complain about it as if they were the victims of someone else's actions? Here is what I think.

Fiscal discipline is all about perspective and behavior. More specifically, it is about the difference between the perspective of an adult and that of a child.

Fiscal discipline starts with taking control of and assuming responsibility for one's financial destiny. It is up to you and no one else.

Fiscal discipline is about looking ahead. Because tomorrow does come.

Fiscal discipline has to have a purpose. A goal. A heavy-duty carrot.

It is that goal / carrot that facilitates fiscal discipline. It keeps you on course.

Fiscal grownups choose meaningful long-term satisfaction over transitory instant gratification. They keep their eyes and minds focused on the more valuable goal ahead.

The takeaway: Fiscal discipline doesn't just happen. It is the result of informed adult choices.

# # #

Making Sure I Feel Retired

July 26th, 2014 at 08:19 am

Ahh, retirement. Kicking back on the porch with a book and a beverage, with nowhere you have to go and nothing you have to do. Well, it is not happening for me. I retired almost 2 years ago, and I am still waiting for that kicking back to kick in. Here is how I am handling that.

If I am going to have what I call a "free day", I have to schedule it. And then I have to impose it. Otherwise, I will just keep filling the day with chores, tasks and projects. On a day-to-day basis, I have to do a similar thing: I have to schedule free time blocks into my day or I am not going to give myself any. Thank heavens I have worked out a way to make sure I get my well earned free time!

Together, all my "work" demands could easily take over my retired life. And leave me no freer than I was when a job held me. That is where scheduling comes in for me -- to make sure that does not happen. The way I have worked it out (and it is not a coincidence), my weekly schedule includes a total of 35 task hours (five-and-a-half a day for 6 days plus a couple of unavoidable task hours on my free day). But more than double that number of waking hours are reserved for my recreation, relaxation and fun.

So I live by a weekly schedule and a check-off list of to-do's. Every Friday or Saturday, I sit down and plan the next week's schedule (after checking the extended weather forecast). Top priority is to designate a good weather day as my free day for the week, which is all mine and will for sure include a hike(1*). That done, I will note on the schedule sheet's left hand column all the tasks I should/could work on during the week. But here is the thing. That task time is limited each day to 2 time blocks: from 8:30am to 12:30pm (when any physical stuff gets done) and from 5:30pm to 7:00pm (when only paperwork gets done). The rest of every day is mine for recreation and fun.

I admit that living by a weekly schedule brings more regimentation into my retired lifestyle than I would prefer to have. But by having that structure, I make sure that I stay in control of the tasks I have to do and I also ensure that I have sufficient free time to do what I want. It is a deal with the devil that works for me.

The takeaway: Demands on your time are not all going to disappear when you retire. There are still going to be plenty of things you'll have to do that ideally you would rather not. But if you manage your tasks and your time, you can get things done and still feel nice and retired every day.

# # #

1* My Love Affair With Hiking:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...

My Failed Try at Bond Investing

July 22nd, 2014 at 11:19 am

(I now blog weekly on frugal living, personal finance & earlier retirement at:
retiredtowin.com)


In 2013, I took 20% of my investing capital and moved it from high dividend stocks to high yield bonds. I did that because a portfolio with stocks and bonds was supposed to be safer than an all-out stocks portfolio. Boy, did that theory go down in flames for me!

I bought into 9 corporate bond positions after doing A LOT of financial analysis of the companies involved. It was for naught. Four of the companies did unnecessary VOLUNTARY bankruptcies to get out from under their debt. Another four exercised tender offers for their bonds that left its bondholders grasping the short end of that transaction stick.

A year and a half after going into those bonds, I was all out of them. But I had incurred a $2740 out-of-pocket loss and missed out on about $9000 to $10,000 in dividends I would have collected if I had left the money in high yield stocks.

So, lesson learned. Goodbye bonds. And good riddance.

(You can read the whole gory story on my main blog at retiredtowin.com.)

Having Frugal Fun My Way

July 19th, 2014 at 08:23 am

Having fun does not have to be expensive. Heck, having fun can actually cost almost nothing or even nothing at all. Being retired, I have more free time to fill than the average person(1*). And I do fill it -- without having to resort to endless hours of tv watching or rocking chair napping. I have no trouble finding interesting fun activities to pursue without having to spend an arm and a leg to pursue them. The thing is I think anyone can do that. Using me as a case study, here is how and why.

Having a low-cost hobby is a big first step. Something that you enjoy doing, that you can do for hours at a time, and that does not require the constant spending of substantial amounts of money. Preferably, something that is also good for you -- whether physically, mentally or spiritually. Something to keep you engaged and your wallet out of trouble!

For me, that something is actually several somethings. I hike(2*), which only costs me the price of gasoline to get to one of my nearby parks and trails. I read history(3*), which -- if I wished(4*) -- could cost me nothing more than the cost of fuel to occasionally drive 5 miles to the library. I play pc strategy games(5*), which costs me nothing at all as long as I stay happy (which I do) with the 4 games I bought 10 or more years ago for a total of less than $150. And I blog(6*), which also costs me nothing other than the price of yellow pads and disposable mechanical pencils because I prefer to do almost all my writing that way.

Taken together, these activities can more than fill my free time. They keep me interested and mentally involved on a daily basis. They can be mixed and matched depending on the weather and my mood so that I always have something leisure to do. And they do not drain my wallet.

But there are many other frugal fun hobbies to pursue. For a modest one-time cost for the equipment, one can do bird watching... digital photography (no cost for film or print paper)... biking... surfing... skateboarding... rollerskating... astronomy... playing an instrument... just to name a few at random. And for no money at all, one can visit art galleries and museums... take online courses at sites like Coursera... and so on. There are many other frugal leisure options besides what I do.

So it is totally possible to have lots of fun without crashing one's budget(7*). Oh, I of course also do fun things that cost money((8*). Like eating out, traveling, going to concerts, etc. But still my typical week is filled with daily leisure activities that cost little or nothing. For less than $10 a week (mostly for gas) and without a single minute of mind sucking tv programming, I get 35 or more scheduled hours of rewarding leisure blogging, hiking, reading and pc game playing -- not even counting evening library-DVD-movie-buffing and classical music listening. And that is a heck of a lot of frugal fun my way.

The takeaway: There are obviously many fun things to do that do not require the constant spending of money for fees (like golf), or materials (like most crafts), or a major piece of equipment (like a boat). Frugal fun that anyone can afford to have is all around us for the doing. And anyone can make life fuller and richer by doing them.

# # #

(1*) Making Time For Fun:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/08/making-tim...

(2*) My Love Affair With Hiking:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...

(3*) Time Traveling With History Books:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/03/time-trave...

(4*) My Books -- A Huge Frugality Exception:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/25/my-books-a...

(5*) My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/07/strategy-g...

(6*) 200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/07/200-words-...

(7*) My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/29/my-18k-ann...

(8*) A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/29/a-discreti...

When My Financial Freedom Ducks Fell in a Row

July 15th, 2014 at 04:30 am

I retired in January of 2013. Once I had made my final decision and plans the previous October, I could hardly wait and I was all excited to embark on a new free-from-a-job life. And I was excited enough to write the article that follows to let the world know that I was shaking free. Here is how that felt.



This is really great. I finally have got my spending, income and investing ducks all set up for financial independence. Hey, folks! I am FREE!

The last piece of the puzzle just fell into place. With the help of cash I just got from selling some vacant land, I have eliminated my mortgage payment. This in turn has dropped my gross annual living expenses to a mere $18,000(1*). And, since my gross "passive" income is $53,000 a year, I've got a whopping $28,000 after taxes available to spend for fun(2*). Whoppee!

Before we start getting into details about the kind of living I (or you) can do on $18 thou a year gross, and the specifics of my income stream, I think it would be a good idea to give you some context about my situation.

I am a 65-year-old guy living in Virginia. (I know, I know, 65 is not early retirement by any means. BUT I only started hands-on planning for retirement 4 years ago. So I think that's still pretty good.) My working career included jobs in chemistry, marine science, sports diving, marketing, advertising, management, and non-profit administration. And now I spend my fun time hiking(3*), biking, reading history(4*), exploring civil war battlefields and national parks(5*), blogging(6*), watching movies and playing computer war strategy games(7*).

I am married and my wife still works. Due to business circumstances, she and I are living in separate houses 100 miles apart, and each of us individually covers his/her housing, auto and other basic living costs(8*). So the numbers you are going to see here are for me, the house I live in and my individual basic expenses.

Now, where's that $53,000 a year income coming from? Here's the breakdown: $20,600 from Social Security, $27,500 from stock dividends and bond interest(9*), $1500 interest from peer-to-peer lending, and $4200 from a little consulting side hustle.

Now, what's that $18,000 gross a year ($15,000 a year after taxes) getting me for a basic lifestyle? Well, let's see.

I live in an 1100-square-foot house on 1.25 acres, with a nice big attached garage and workshop. I eat just fine, thank you, with lots of meats and vegetables, and no keeping-the-cost-down reliance on pasta, or rice-and-beans.

I am insured up the wazoo (or so it feels). Okay, I do have Medicare, (which I have been paying for through paycheck deductions over my entire working career) but I have also made sure to have supplemental coverage to keep my retirement stash safe from hospital-cost-threat(10*). Same goes for insurance to cover long term care, personal liability, the house, and my pick-up truck(11*). (Nope, no life insurance; my wife and I agreed we no longer need it. And yes, my wife carries her own auto insurance on her own vehicle.)

I drive a 1996 Dodge Dakota extended cab pickup truck in super good shape -- and no loan payment(12*). And I've got all the hiking, biking, computer, photography, workshop and what-not toys I could want.

Oh, yes. That $15,000 a year net includes reserves for auto maintenance and repairs, home repairs, and pet care.

And here's the typical "basic" day I get for my $41 (times 365 days = $15,000). Get up when I want (usually just after first light) in a paid-for house, enjoy my breakfast without any time-pressure while listening to classical music, surf blogs a little, then spend an hour or so managing my stocks and bonds. After that, go do something physical (in the workshop or on the grounds) until lunch. Then I've got 4 hours of totally open time to have fun hiking, biking, computering, netflixing, taking an online history course, blogging, etcetera. (And none of that costs me anything over and above what's already included in my $41 a day basic living cost.) Right around 5pm I get back to my "work" desk to do some home administration paperwork until it's time to cook up and enjoy a steak/ chops/ ham/ chicken/ fish dinner. After that, it's hang-out time with the dogs and the cats -- while doing some more reading or netflixing or pc game playing. Not a bad deal, I think, for $41!

Of course, I've also got another $2300-plus available each month in discretionary income to spend on anything I please. But most times I really have to work at finding something to spend that money on(13*).

What does it take to keep those basic living costs at less than $1250 a month? I've always been a thrifty guy. (My wife sometimes thinks I cross the line into skinflint territory.) But I have to give a big, big thank you to Mr. Money Mustache and his blog for really opening my eyes to just how much you can lower your living costs by pursuing a strategy of what I would call no-sacrifice frugality(14*).

Inspired by Mr. Money Mustache, in the last few months before actually retiring I lowered my annual costs for stock trading by $1000... for phone/internet/tv utilities by $750... for debt interest costs by $2700... for electricity/propane/fuel oil by $750... and for a stack of other miscellaneous budget line items by $850. That's over $6000 a year sliced off what used to be my living costs before I pulled the retirement trigger! Without giving up any comfort, convenience, or capability.

And so now here I sit, expectantly planning what adventures I am going to have with my annual $28,000 spend-for-fun discretionary money pot.


That is how it felt back then to be looking forward to financial freedom. Now, I am having those adventures. And still feeling the same great way.

# # #

1* My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/29/my-18k-ann...

2* A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/29/a-discreti...

3* My Love Affair With Hiking:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...

4* Time Traveling With History Books:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/03/time-trave...

5* Frugal Fun: Hiking Civil War Trails:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/16/frugal-fun...

6* 200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/07/200-words-...

7* My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/07/strategy-g...

8* Marital Finances Our Way:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/11/marital-fi...

9* Why I Only Buy Dividend Stocks:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/01/why-i-only...

10* Taming My Health Care Costs:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/18/how-i-tame...

11* My Stash-Shielding Insurance:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/10/my-stash-s...

12* My Oldie-Goldie Thrifty-Nifty Truck:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/25/my-oldie-g...

13* Making Sure I Spend That Money!:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/08/making-sur...

14* How I Do Frugality Without Sacrifice:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/12/how-i-do-f...

Enough Time for Enough Money

July 12th, 2014 at 10:23 am

I do not want my investing work time to cut into my free-for-fun time any more than is absolutely necessary. And that means doing just enough work to generate $20,000 a year of investment income(1*). Having that as a benchmark has radically changed my attitude towards investing. It has also relieved my pressure-to-invest stress level. And it has freed up a good chunk of extra time for more fun stuff. Here is how and why.

My previous maximum-income investing attitude had become a problem. That is because I follow a dividends-focused investing strategy(2*) that does not factor in (or expect) stock price appreciation. All my income expectations are based on dividends, so to maximize that income I need to stay fully invested in dividend-paying stocks. But those stock positions get regularly and steadily sold off(3*) as the positions build up enough unplanned for gain.

Those stock sales throw off a bunch of cash back into my investment account which in the past has virtually screamed at me not to be left sitting as cash but to be reinvested as soon as possible. And that pressure to invest has been a problem because it requires that I stay on the investing job until I do find other stocks to buy with that cash.

Now I have shifted to an enough-income investing attitude. As long as the projected annual dividends from my existing stock positions stay above $20,000 that is enough. The cash in the investment account no longer exerts an urgent pressure on me to be put back into stocks to maximize dividend income. I do not HAVE to give priority to the work of applying my research-intensive investing strategy(4*). I can take my time. I can do that research and stock buying at my own pace and when I like. And that has changed that activity from being a pressure job demanding many hours a week to a relaxed and interesting hobby I do when it suits me.

This has dramatically reduced my weekly investing work time. Instead of laboring 16 hours a week (and sometimes more) to stay fully invested, I just have to put 4 hours a week into essential avoid-at-your-own-risk portfolio monitoring(5*). That is "enough time for enough money." That has given me an extra 12 hours a week to hike(6*), or blog(7*) or just play(8*). And that has reduced my stress and made my days more relaxed. All of which has left me a much happier camper.

The takeaway: Seeking to maximize income can materially increase stress and definitely reduces time available for rest and leisure. If one cannot define a specific life-enhancing use for the extra money, it could be preferable to forego the added income and thereby avoid the labor and stress of producing it. Instead, one should consider enhancing one's life by taking the increased time that would thereby become available and using it to have fun and pursue personally satisfying activities.

# # #

1* Enough Money From Enough Time:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/07/08/enough-mon...

2* Why I Only Buy Dividend Stocks:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/01/why-i-only...

3* What Makes Me Sell a Stock?:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/14/what-makes...

4* My High Yield, High Risk Investing:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/20/my-high-yi...

5* How I Stay On Top Of My Stocks:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/09/how-i-stay...

6* My Love Affair With Hiking:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...

7* Why Share My Retirement Journey?:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/13/sharing-my...

8* My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/07/strategy-g...

Enough Money From Enough Time

July 8th, 2014 at 11:02 am

Tending my stock portfolio can take over "too much" of my time if I let it. And up to recently I have let it do that. Managing my investments had grown into a substantial part-time job eating around 16 hours a week of my supposed financially free retirement. And that just did not feel right.

Putting in the time was necessary to maximize the income from my investments(1*). But I have recently realized that maximizing that income is not really necessary(2*). So I have revised my approach to my investment management. Now I put "enough time" into it to generate "enough money." Here is what that means and how I figured it out.

The key was to find a balance point between enough free time and enough money. But what does that actually mean? I had to define how much money IS enough and to set up a system that would keep my stock portfolio generating that much income without getting sucked into devoting more time than was necessary to get that done.

My baseline living expenses do not factor into the "enough money" calculation. That is because I have gotten those costs down to less than $18,000 a year(3*) -- and that is more than covered by my earned Social Security "annuity" payments. So I actually do not have to work at investing at all to enjoy my baseline satisfying lifestyle(4*).

Money to build up back-up funds does not factor in either. That is because I have already set up my financial reserves(5*), and because my baseline budget already includes premium payments for a comprehensive suite of insurance coverages(6*). So I do not have to work at investing for this either.

I just need to work for fun money. Since I do not need my investment income to cover basic living or to build up reserves, all that money can go directly into my discretionary fund(7*). To a point then, all my investing work time is optional, it produces optional income, and it funds optional expenditures. So how much optional discretionary income is "enough" for me?

An extra $20,000 a year is enough fun money for me. From experience, I know I will be hard pressed to actually spend that much on discretionary purchases and activities(8*). And that much investment income will give me a nice security blanket to backstop my Social Security payouts(9*). So there was my answer to the enough-money part of the balance point question. Twenty thousand bucks a year.

Now that just left the second part of the balance point question: how much time do I need to work at investing to generate $20,000 a year?

Stay tuned!

# # #

1* Profiting From Working My Stocks:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/28/profiting-...

2* Letting Enough Money Be Enough:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/07/06/letting-en...

3* My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/29/my-18k-ann...

4* My Financial Independence Key:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/17/my-financi...

5* Making Over My Reserves Plan:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/04/making-ove...

6* My Stash-Shielding Insurance:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/10/my-stash-s...

7* A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/29/a-discreti...

8* Making Sure I Spend That Money!:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/08/making-sur...

9* My Six Lines of Financial Defense:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/29/my-six-lin...

Letting Enough Money Be Enough

July 6th, 2014 at 11:30 am

Having more money is always better. It has to be and I cannot argue with that. But having more free fun time is also better -- and I hope no one is going to argue with me about that. The problem is that those two very desirable goals work against each other. Time is money and money is time(1*), so to have more of one you have to accept having less of the other. The trick to solving this dilemma is to find a balance point between money and free time that is personally acceptable. I am still groping for that balance point, but I am getting closer to an answer that works for me. Here is where I am at so far.

Declaring money victory has been hard for me. I reached the point of having and passively making more money than I need a good while ago(2*). But I kept on trying to make more money. I then reached the point of making double the passive income that I need to cover my baseline living expenses. But I still kept trying to make more money. Then I finally found myself with a steadily growing pile of discretionary money(3*) and not enough want-to-buys to spend the money as fast as it comes in(4*). And that is what has made me pause and think. What in the hell would even more money be for?

More security from more money would be marginal. I have already laid in ample financial reserves(5*). I have arranged insurance to cover just about any eventuality(6*). And I have a multilayered financial defense plan in place(7*). So, if increasing my cash flow further will not result in a significant boost to my financial security, what in the hell would even more money be for?

Money to buy more free time is already there. I could use money to hire out chores and projects that I could do myself but that I either have no time to do (what?!) or that I find bothersome to do. Chores like cleaning house. Or projects like replacing all the door framing on our garage. But the fact is that I already have surplus cash to contract out those things(3*). If I am not hiring out such tasks it is because of some mental block, not because I need more money. In which case, what in the hell would the extra money be for?

So... if more money will not give me more meaningful security or buy me more free time, is it a smart use of my limited life time to spend it making even more money for which I do not have a purpose? Why not just use the time to have more fun or relax more? To take another hike(8*). To read another book(9*). To play another pc game(10*). Why not let enough money be enough?

The takeaway (so far): Money costs time out of one's life. And life time is limited and precious. As much as possible of that life time should be spent living, not laboring for money that will not add anything meaningful to one's life.

# # #

(1*) My Unrecoverable Cost of One-More-Year:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/05/my-unrecov...

(2*) My Financial Independence Key:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/17/my-financi...

(3*) A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/29/a-discreti...

(4*) Making Sure I Spend That Money!:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/08/making-sur...

(5*) Making Over My Reserves Plan:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/04/making-ove...

(6*) My Stash-Shielding Insurance:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/10/my-stash-s...

(7*) My Six Lines of Financial Defense:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/29/my-six-lin...

(8*) My Love Affair With Hiking:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...

(9*) Time Traveling With History Books:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/03/time-trave...

(10*) My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/07/strategy-g...

June 9: Paperwork, Box Unpacking and Raccoon #3

July 3rd, 2014 at 11:54 am

My plan for today was to work along with "my" carpenter constructing another built-in bookcase* but that plan fell apart when the carpenter phoned to reschedule. So I just sort of hodge-podged the day.

After my early morning coffee and post writing**, I walked back to our "barnyard" and found raccoon number 3 waiting for me in my live trap. (I am on a roll, here.) So it was another drive-and-hike raccoon release*** for me before I could officially start my day. But I will never complain about a hike.****

9:30am to 12:30pm This seemed like a good day for it, so I put in 2 hours of emptying stored boxes***** and filling up book and display shelves. That plus some mundane chores (like doing the cat boxes) got me to lunch.

12:30pm to 1:30pm Had another enjoyable lunch and DVD lecture on ancient civilizations.

1:30pm to 6:30pm Got totally immersed in stocks****** and household financial paperwork for the rest of the afternoon.

6:30pm until... A leisurely drink, a nice dinner at home, and a big time-chunk of pc strategy gaming******* wrapped up the day for me.

# # #

* My Books -- A Huge Frugality Exception:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/25/my-books-a...

** 200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/07/200-words-...

*** A Raccoon Release:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/06/21/june-4-rac...

**** My Love Affair With Hiking:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...

***** Packrating Is Costing Me Plenty:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/30/packrating...

****** How I Stay On Top Of My Stocks:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/09/how-i-stay...

******* My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/07/strategy-g...

June 8: Art Booth Setup, Stocks and Raccoons

July 3rd, 2014 at 11:15 am

My plan for the day was to set up our new art/what-all booth at a local indoor antiques mart, do some stock searching, and relocate another trapped raccoon. Things went even better than I planned.

After my early morning blog post writing*, I went to check my raccoon trap at our barnyard -- and found another "customer" to relocate!** So the next thing I did was to drive and hike in to a good spot where I released the pesky critter before really getting my day started.

10:00am to 12:00noon I did the initial setting up of a 3-by-5 against-the-wall booth that we have started renting at the local indoor antique mart. We have SOOO much art and other stuff that we can find no place for*** that we are going to see if we can sell some off. And -- unbelievable as it may seem -- I sold 2 small pottery art pieces for $155 while I was still setting up. Let's hope that is a good sign of things to come.

12:00noon to 4:30pm After my usual "lunch and a DVD lecture", I spent the afternoon updating my stock records and researching potential new stocks to add to my portfolio.**** Except now it is more of a game instead of a chore.***** And that is a very good thing.

4:30pm until... I ran out of steam early, so -- being Sunday and all -- I hung up my "stockering" hat and spent the rest of the evening watching movies.

# # #


* 200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/07/200-words-...

** A Raccoon Raid and Coop Defense:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/06/10/may-31-a-r...

*** Packrating Is Costing Me Plenty:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/30/packrating...

**** My High Yield, High Risk Investing:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/20/my-high-yi...

***** Should I Still Work At Investing?:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/17/should-i-s...

June 7: Wildlife Feeding Wagon Ride Super Fun

June 22nd, 2014 at 04:50 am

My plan for today was to tag along with my wife to an offsite church group activity at Virginia Safari Park. But I did not expect to turn into a kid again or have so much fun!

We carpooled about 100 miles from the church assembly point to this Virginia Safari Park, a place I had never heard of. It turned out to be the kind of wildlife attraction where you drive through a huge park-like area where exotic animals from around the world roam free and come close to your vehicle. But instead of driving in our own vehicles, our group program included riding through in a large, open, tractor-pulled wagon that made this even more fun.

As we boarded the wagon after an ostrich-gawking picnic lunch, the driver-guide gave each of us a large plastic bucket full of animal kibble. Every so often, he would stop the wagon along the trail and the animals would converge on us to be fed, close and personal, and essentially by hand. I loved it!

You name it, we fed it. Food bucket snatching camels, pot-bellied pigs, huge-headed Scotch Highland cattle, super tame buffalo, all kinds of gazelles and antelopes, llamas, deer and elk, and more. All coming right up to the wagon and sticking their heads in over the transoms for the food.

The bunch of little kids in our group got me acting like a little kid too. Wanting to be sure I got to feed everything. Wanting to pet everything. Keeping the camels from stealing our buckets. Pouring kibble onto the gigantic tongues of begging buffalos. Ooohing and aaahing over everything. It was great.

After the wagon ride, my wife and I roamed all over the pedestrian zoo-like part of the park to see many more exotic creatures and birds as they "did their thing" in various enclosures. And some of those animals were super-unusual australian and south asian species I had never ever heard of before. So that was great, too.

The trip to this place took practically all day, but it was sure worth it to me. On the way home, we errand-bundled building-supply and grocery stops. And topped it all off with a nice dinner out.

What a nice break.

# # #

June 6: Doggie Surgery and MORE Packrating

June 21st, 2014 at 10:29 am

My plan for the day was to spend the day packing up stuff* at our now-vacant previous home while my old and blind doggie, Little Bit, had surgery performed to remove a massive mammary growth. All went as planned. All went well.

Again, I had to skip a coffee-and-blogging start to my morning** so I could get Little Bit to the vet by 8:00 am -- which I did. Then back I went to our old house to keep working at getting the heck out of it.

It might seem strange for me to take my dog to a vet that is located over 100 miles from my present home, but it actually often ends up being more time efficient for me to do things like vet trips, bank stops and DMV visits when I am already going to be doing the 100-mile trip anyway.***

By 2:30pm, I had done all the packing I could stand doing, my truck was loaded and I was ready to get the heck out of Dodge. Got to the vet by 3pm, and there was Little Bit with a successful surgery under her belt (no pun intended).

With my doggie snuggled up in one of her most favorite places in the world (my pickup's passenger seat), we were off and running. Two-and-a-half hours and 102 miles later, we were home. Another half-hour and my truck was emptied out and I had had it for the day.

After that, it is all a blur but I would not be surprised if I wrapped up my day with a big Chivas Regal and an extended round of Pacific War!****

# # #

* Packrating Is Costing Me Plenty:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/30/packrating...

** 200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/07/200-words-...

*** The Frugal Game: Errand Bundling:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/26/the-frugal...

**** My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/07/strategy-g...

June 5: A Great Hike and Some More Packrating

June 21st, 2014 at 08:02 am

My plan for the day was to drive over to our now-vacant previous home (102 miles each way), do some caretaking there, load up my pickup* with yet another load of boxed up stuff**, and do a nice hike*** at nearby Shenandoah Virginia State Park. It all worked out.

8:00am to 1:30pm
I skipped my usual early morning coffee-and-blog-writing**** routine to get an early start on my drive. (It takes me a long time to get ready to go.) So I arrived at our previous home around noon, just in time for lunch.

After setting up for my overnight stay (because staying at a vacant house is just like camping!), I had a sandwich lunch while viewing the lecture on The Egyptian New Kingdom in my Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations DVD course.

1:30pm to 5:30pm
Drove over to Shenandoah Virginia State Park and piggybacked Overlook Trail and Allen's Mountain Trail (up and down the mountain) to trailwalk some 4 miles. Great stuff.

5:30pm to 7:30pm
Got a couple of hours packing in and then goofed off the rest of the night.

7:30pm until...
Cooked up dinner, ate it and then caught up my Pacific War fantasy combat journal*****, all while watching the movie Gettysburg.

# # #

* My Oldie-Goldie Thrifty-Nifty Truck:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/25/my-oldie-g...

** Packrating Is Costing Me Plenty:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/30/packrating...

*** My Love Affair With Hiking:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...

**** 200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/07/200-words-...

***** My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/07/strategy-g...

June 4: Raccoon Release and Spend Spree Progress

June 21st, 2014 at 06:18 am

My plan for the day was to focus mostly on doing stock research* and working on setting up my part-time hiking blog business.** That got changed by a raccoon, a newspaper flyer and a brochure in the mail. But it was all good in the end.

Today, I did my early morning coffee routine at the computer while I edited, typed up and posted my blog article Cashback Cards ARE Worth the Effort. Then off to the barnyard -- where we found our first trapped raccoon.***

8:00am to 12:00 noon
-- Drove and hiked into a secluded wooded area with fresh water access, and released the raccoon. It trotted off about 20 feet, went behind a tree, and then stood there on its haunches looking at me. (Yes, you are welcome for your life, raccoon.)
-- Back at home, I did some stock portfolio monitoring**** and it was time for lunch.

12:00 noon to 1:30pm
-- Another enjoyable sandwich lunch eaten in front of the TV watching a DVD lecture in the Great Courses' Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations.

1:30pm to 6:30pm
-- A day or two ago, a newspaper flyer from Ace Hardware sold us on picking up a modest above-ground pool there at a great discounted price*****. This afternoon, we set it up. (1000 gallons of water is a lot of water.)
-- Having some leftover time and energy, I knocked off a few boxes off our monstrous storage pile.****** It's a start and it felt good.

6:30pm until...
-- Having hardly made a dent on my June 30-deadlined $5000 spending spree*******, I opened today's mail to find an offer I could not resist from the Great Courses company. Seventy percent off on anything and everything in their catalog, including all already discounted courses on sale. So I spent an hour or so deciding what to buy and how to get the most bang for my buck, and then I picked up the phone and ordered TEN courses at a total cost of $795 including taxes and shipping. (List price on the courses was well above $3,000.) Take that, spending spree.
-- And then I played a little Pacific War********...

# # #

* My High Yield, High Risk Investing:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/20/my-high-yi...

** For Fun And (Maybe) Profit:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/01/for-fun-an...

*** A Raccoon Raid and Coop Defense:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/06/10/may-31-a-r...

**** How I Stay On Top Of My Stocks:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/09/how-i-stay...

***** A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/29/a-discreti...

****** Packrating Is Costing Me Plenty:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/30/packrating...

******* A $5000 No-Guilt Spending Spree!:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/24/a-5000-no-...

******** My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/07/strategy-g...

June 3: Heavy Stockering and a Trapped Raccoon

June 20th, 2014 at 04:31 am

My plan for today was to spend most of my task time "stockering": reviewing quarterly earnings reports on my portfolio companies* and researching new investments to make.** Plus doing a little more start-up planning for my TrailWalkers Club part-time business***. And I accomplished all that.

Today was also the day we trapped a big raccoon we suspect is the raider that killed 2 of my wife's chickens last week!****

I launched my day with an early round of blog writing, getting down 200 more words***** on my newest opus, Cashback Cards ARE Worth the Effort, while enjoying a cup of my free gourmet coffee.******

8:00am to 12:00 noon
-- barnyard critter detail and house chores
-- pinned down all the regulatory hoops I will have to jump through to start up TrailWalkers Club (county, state and fed -- oh, my!)

12:00 noon to 1:30pm
-- lunch and another Great Courses DVD lecture from Prehistoric Man and the First Civilizations.
-- welcomed my wife home from her latest business trip.

1:30pm to 6:30pm
-- researched stocks, plowed through several quarterly earnings reports, and set up some new buys and some possible profit-making sales.

6:30pm to ...
-- set out our new and BIGGER live trap at the barnyard.
-- after dinner, played a long session of Pacific War******.

and a trapped raccoon!
-- the trap worked and the next morning we found a big raccoon in the trap!

# # #

* How I Stay On Top Of My Stocks:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/09/how-i-stay...

** My High Yield, High Risk Investing:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/20/my-high-yi...

*** For Fun And (Maybe) Profit:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/01/for-fun-an...

**** A Raccoon Raid and Coop Defense:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/06/10/may-31-a-r...

***** 200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/07/200-words-...

****** Free Gourmet Coffee Every Day:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/06/11/free-gourm...

******* My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/07/strategy-g...

A Frugal Tale of 2 PCs (Part 2)

June 15th, 2014 at 03:40 am

Last year, I had to choose between spending $350 for a new laptop computer or spending $113 to get both my desktop pc and my laptop back into service.* Of course, I went the frugal route** and regained the use of 2 computers for one third the cost of buying just one. Unfortunately, my Gateway laptop has now developed new problems that actually make replacing it the frugal way to go. Luckily, I have found a way to also keep using my old Gateway that makes the cost of my new laptop tax-deductible. Here is how.

My Gateway laptop's screen suddenly went black. It had been flickering slightly for a few days, but this was finally the end. One second I had a fine screen image and the next I had nothing. My local pc repair shop offers free diagnostics so I took my poor pc there. The tech confirmed that my screen was dead... priced out an installed replacement screen at $170... and showed me the keyboard command to shunt the laptop's image signal to an exterior monitor. And that would give me a frugal solution. But...

My laptop's operating system had become another problem. My Gateway's operating system is Windows XP. I knew Microsoft had stopped "supporting" Windows XP in April. But I did not realize what that meant until the tech explained it to me. No support means no more software updates automatically downloaded and installed when you shut your pc down. And no software updates means no software "patches" to combat new hacker threats. My XP system had become an open door for hackers to access my laptop anytime I went online. All my financial accounts and passwords were now at serious risk of breach.

Now repairing would cost more than buying new. I could have a "late model" Windows 7 operating system for $190 installed. I could replace my screen for $170 installed. And I would have to spend $70 to clear my Gateway of any and all viruses and malware it had picked up. That all added up to $430. Instead, I bought a brand new Asus Transformer Convertible Tablet/Laptop for $374 total. With more computing capability than my Gateway. Preloaded with Microsoft Office, which I did not have on my Gateway. And perfect for my under-development hiking blog side business.***

But my old Gateway will still help keep things frugal. I have a spare working monitor! So I just connected it to my Gateway using the keyboard command the tech showed me and my old laptop became usable again. I just will not use it for financial or other password-sensitive stuff. The Gateway is now my "fun" internet computer, dedicated to Retired-To-Win blogging and web surfing. Why bother doing that? Because it makes the purchase of the my new Asus laptop tax-deductible.

My new Asus is now my "business" computer. I will use it for portfolio stock management**** and for TrailWalkers Club*** work. This makes the $374 cost of the Asus a tax-deductible business expense. And therefore brings my true cost for the Asus down to under $300. (To be exact, $296 if I factor in the cashback reward.*****) Sweet!

The takeaway: There is more than one way to skin a cat. And more than one way to be frugal. When a piece of equipment stops working, don't just run out to buy a replacement. Always look first into repairing what you have.****** Then go with the frugal flow.

# # #

* A Frugal Tale of Two PCs:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/11/a-frugal-t...

** How I Do Frugality Without Sacrifice:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/12/how-i-do-f...

*** For Fun And (Maybe) Profit:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/01/for-fun-an...

**** How I Stay On Top Of My Stocks:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/09/how-i-stay...

***** Raking In Credit Card Cashback:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/11/raking-in-...

****** Repair It or Replace It?:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/31/repair-it-...

June 2: A Long Hike on a New Trail and Paperwork

June 14th, 2014 at 04:14 am

My plan for today was to go hiking* in the morning (before the rains came) and hunker down to do paperwork in the afternoon. And so I did. Walked a long, hard new trail and swept a bunch of paper out of my inbaskets.

I am now back to my early am routine of good coffee** and blog post writing.*** So I did some 200 words on my new blog article "Cashback Cards ARE Worth The Effort", had breakfast and got ready to go hiking.

8:00am to 1:30pm
-- With my wife Kathy on a business trip, I took care of her barnyard (geese, bunnies, chickens) for her.
-- Took a nice drive to Walnut Creek Park for my hike.
-- Since I had enough energy and time, I walked the longest trail in the Park (about 4 miles) for a darn good workout, seeing as this Wilkins Way Trail was designed for trail biking and that made it challenging in places for on-foot hikers. But what the heck!
-- Back at home, I had lunch while viewing The Origins of States and Civilizations, lecture #19 in the Prehistory and First Civilizations DVD course I am currently "attending."

1:30pm to 7:30pm
-- Dove into my paperwork pile and paid bills, updated stock records,**** fixed admin problems and placed orders for miscellaneous house stuff.
-- Wrapped my tasks time block***** with 45 minutes of new-planting watering for my wife.

7:30pm to ...
-- Had dinner and played Pacific War****** until I got too sleepy to stay awake.
-- NICE DAY!

# # #

* My Love Affair With Hiking:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...

** Free Gourmet Coffee Every Day:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/06/11/free-gourm...

*** 200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/07/200-words-...

**** How I Stay On Top Of My Stocks:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/09/how-i-stay...

***** Making Time For Fun:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/08/making-tim...

****** My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/07/strategy-g...

Free Gourmet Coffee Every Day

June 11th, 2014 at 04:30 am

I drink fancy, schmanzy Tully's French Roast Coffee. I get it in little individual serving "K cups" that I brew in a Keurig coffee maker. These K-cups come in boxes of 18 that retail at $11.78 (with tax) where I get them. That works out to 65 cents per cup of coffee. But I do not pay a single penny for my coffee and have not for a couple of years. Here is how I manage that.

First step: I use cashback cards. And I always make sure that I am taking advantage of each credit card's quarterly 5% cashback promotion.* My Discover cashback card has promotions like that. So I make sure to carry that card in my wallet and use it whenever I can get that 5% cashback leverage on purchases I am going to make anyway.

Second step: I leverage my cashback redemptions.** For the Discover card, that means that I redeem my cashback Discover dollars for Bed Bath and Beyond gift cards instead of cash. Doing that gets me a $25 BBBY gift card for just 20 Discover cashback dollars.

Third step: I wait for the BBBY discount coupons. These come regularly via emails and via postal mail flyers. And they are good for either $5 off a $15 purchase or 20% off a single item.

Fourth step: I go get that free coffee. Here are the numbers from my most recent BBBY coffee raid. I gave the cashier two 18-cup boxes to ring up at $11.49 each, for a total of $22.98. Then I gave her a $5 off store coupon, leaving a balance of $17.98. Add the 2.5% food sales tax, and the final total was $18.43. To pay, I handed the cashier a $25 BBBY gift card. And I walked out with my two 18-cup boxes of Tully's French Roast Coffee and $6.57 credit still left on my BBBY gift card.

Doing the math, I leveraged 14.74 in Discover cashback dollars by almost 60% to get coffee worth $23.55 after tax. That is a nice win. And I got those Discover cashback dollars just for using that credit card on 5% cashback purchases I would have made anyway. That is a win-win. Free gourmet coffee every day. Win-win-win.

The takeaway: Playing the Frugal Game my way*** will put a smile on your face every time.

# # #

* Raking In Credit Card Cashback:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/11/raking-in-...

** Leveraging Up CashBack Rewards:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/18/leveraging...

*** Playing the Frugal Game is Fun!
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/14/playing-th...

June 1: Catching Up and Sprung Raccoon Traps

June 11th, 2014 at 04:08 am

My plan for today was to sweep through May-end pending chores and paperwork, and to do some blog planning. I managed to do all that, while continuing to act out our raccoon raid saga.*

I got back to my routine of starting my day with good coffee and writing or posting in my blog.** Today I posted an article I titled Is That Expense Essential or Discretionary?***. Then onto the chores and paperwork.

8:00am to 12:00noon
-- First thing, I went to check the traps we set out last night.* No raccoons. Just sprung traps several feet from where I set them. We are going to need a bigger trap! (So my wife promptly ordered one.)
-- Then I blitzed through a whole bunch of home administration paperwork until lunch time.

12:00noon to 1:30pm
-- Back to my routine of a nice sandwich lunch while viewing a Great Courses DVD lecture. (Presently, I am halfway through the course on Human Prehistory and First Civilizations.)

1:30pm to 5:30pm
-- Because it is month-end and I just returned from a 3-day trailwalking trip****, I doubled up today's task time and dove back into the paperwork.
-- That done, I spent a couple of hours reviewing quarterly earnings reports***** from companies in my stock portfolio (something I am falling behind on) and placing some orders for tomorrow.

5:30pm until...
-- Work time done, I spent my evening doing some blog planning, organizing my TrailWalkers Club to-do notes, and playing my Pacific War pc game.******

# # #

* A Raccoon Raid and Coop Defense:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/06/10/may-31-a-r...

** 200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/05/07/200-words-...

*** Is That Expense Essential or Discretionary?:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/06/01/is-that-ex...

**** Two More Parks and Two More Hikes:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/06/10/may-30-two...

***** How I Stay On Top Of My Stocks:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/09/how-i-stay...

****** My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/01/07/strategy-g...

May 31: A Raccoon Raid and Coop Defense

June 10th, 2014 at 06:06 pm

Whatever plans I may have had for today flew out the window when, early in the morning, my wife came in from her barnyard and announced that we had "a crisis in the henhouse." I spent the better part of the day helping her address that crisis by setting up chicken coop defenses against suspected raccoon raiders. Here is the whole story.

Yesterday, my wife had reported the disappearance of Goldie, one of her preferred egg-laying hens. Not finding her in the coop when she opened it that morning, she had speculated that Goldie might have somehow escaped the previous evening before the coop was closed up for the night. But, alas, no. Because today she found the mangled and torn-asunder body of Cochee, her only Cochin hen, on the roof of the 8-foot chicken coop.

She deduced that a raccoon had found a way to scale the coop wall, crawl into the coop through the ventline that runs along and under the roof, catch and drag out the hen, and then totally shred her. So, we had a job to do if we were going to keep our remaining 5 chickens from suffering a similar fate.

So off we went to obtain the materials and get the tools to completely wrap the roof ventline in tightly-stapled chicken wire so no raccoon could again crawl in. But there was more to be done, because who was to say that a dexterous raccoon would not be able to open one of the rabbit hutch doors and make off with one of my wife's cute bunnies? So we installed raccoon-proof spring-loaded latches on all four rabbitt hutches and weighed each of their swing-up hutch tops with a brick.

That took care of defense. Then on to offense. Because the raccoon(s) had to go.

So that night we set up 2 live traps around the chicken coop (each baited with an open can of tuna) and retired for the night hoping for the best.

I did do some stock portfolio management today and took care of some other paperwork. But that was just minutiae. Today was the day of the raccoon.

# # #

May 30: Two More Parks and Two More Hikes

June 10th, 2014 at 05:05 pm

This was the third and last day of my kickoff trailwalking* trip. I planned it as a 350-400 mile driving loop that took me all the way to Fairy Stone Park in Stuart (VA) and by today's end brought me back home. And in between I explored 5 state parks and took 5 hikes** covering 8 trails. Today's part of the plan came off without a hitch, as I hiked some 5+ miles on Otter Path Trail at Twin Lakes State Park and Channel Cat Trail on Bear Creek Lake State Park.

I started off the morning with a 50-or-so-mile drive from the Super 8 in South Boston to Twin lakes State Park*** in a pit stop of a "town" called Green Bay. Once I got on Otters Path Trail, I found it to be a "rolling wave" type of trail, going up and down and up and down and getting me to huff and puff almost the whole 3.5 mile way. From the nicely cleared and wide trail,I had pretty views of the lake and picturesque views of "acrobatic" creek crossings.

After a picnic lunch, I drove another 40 miles to Bear Creek Lake State Park**** in Cumberland (VA). Channel Cat Trail itself was well marked, but not so its junctions with cutouts and side trails. This made it a challenge to stay on course, even with the help of a trail guide (which was not very much help at all). But I managed.

I chose to do Channel Cat because it was described as an "interpretive" trail. But the signs along the trail were off the mark, not really interpreting the scene around you but instead imparting information on such burning topics as what bait works best on a particular fish. The real highlight of this hike was a half-mile side trail named Running Cedars Trail. Narrow, with towering trees close-in and lush vegetation underfoot, it delivered a very satisfying woodland experience.

And then another 50-mile drive and I was home. Just in time to go out to dinner!

# # #

* I Am A TrailWalker Now!:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/03/19/i-am-a-tra...

** My Love Affair With Hiking:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...

*** Twin Lakes State Park:
http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/twin-lakes.shtml

**** Bear Creek Lake State Park:
http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/bear-creek-lake.shtml

May 29: Three Hikes Along the Staunton River

June 9th, 2014 at 04:06 am

This was the second day of my three-day "shakeout" trailwalking trip.* The weather forecast predicted rain, but I dodged it all day and did all my hiking** while staying dry. I pulled off my plan for the day and logged 3 hikes in 2 state parks along the Staunton River.

I started my day with a nice country drive along 40 or so miles of back roads from the Best Western in Danville to the Staunton Bridge Battlefield State Park*** outside the teeny-tiny town of Randoph (VA). Although this was a smallish, one-day battle, the state and a non-profit group have done a great job of preserving the site. There is a very well-done visitor/education center and the 2.2-mile battlefield trail I hiked**** is well posted with interpretive signs on what happened when during this engagement fought over control of a bridge vital to Confederate resupplying of the besieged city of Petersburg.

Next, I headed for the Staunton River State Park***** some twenty miles away, after enjoying a picnic lunch at the battlefield park. The big highlights of this hiking were the river views along the trails. This was aerobic, up-and-down, body-leaning-forward hiking that gave me a good workout. From the extensive network of intersecting trails, I cobbled a composite 3.5 mile hike going from the River Bank Trail to Crow's Nest Trail to Robin's Roost Trail to Captain Staunton's Trail and back to end at the River Bank Trail trailhead. And I was ready for some rest!

My stop for the night was the Super 8 at South Boston, which I reached after another 20-mile drive. No luggage cart there, so I had to do a lot of back-and-forth trips to my truck to get fully set up in the room. But it was all good, anyway. I had a good night and it was a good day.

# # #

* May 28 -- Little Mountain Falls Trail:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/06/06/may-28-lit...

** My Love Affair With Hiking:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/23/my-love-af...

*** Staunton River Battlefield Park:
http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/staunton-river-battl...

**** Frugal Fun: Hiking Civil War Trails:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/16/frugal-fun...

***** Staunton River State Park:
http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/staunton-river.shtml


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