Our graph is staying pretty steady with our assets increasing from 14.5 to 14.7X monthly expenses. On the asset side investments were up 1.65% mostly due to continued monthly contributions and reinvestment of quarterly dividends. We also saw small overall market gains by the end of the month, despite predictions that the sky was falling just a week earlier with “Brexit”. Yawn. On the spending side, we’ve gotten the diet/grocery plan much more on track and spending was up only $24 from the average. Spending would have actually been down if not for some big outlier expenses. We spent a lot over the past two months on apples, actually Apples. I dropped our iPad on a ceramic tile floor shattering the screen and Mrs. EE washed her iPhone sending it to the rice bucket and then the electronics cemetery. All in all, it was about $550 worth of stupidity to fix the iPad and replace the iPhone. On a more positive spending note, we also dropped about $400 renewing our passports and getting Little EE her first passport. More on that in the coming months!
More of “Less But Better”
One year ago, I published what was both the hardest and, in my opinion, best post I’ve ever written entitled Less But Better. At that time I realized that I was becoming overwhelmed with trying to balance writing the blog, planning our early retirement, maintaining career obligations, having a young child and dealing with life in general. On the surface, everything was going great. In reality, it was one of the least happy times of my life.
The whole thing about pursuing FIRE is that to get started down this drastically different path for life, there has to be some level of discontent with the average normal existence. To an extent, I think that is very good and healthy. On the other hand, it kind of led me down a dark rabbit hole. The horrible experience we had with our financial advisor that prompted starting the blog led me to question assumptions I had lived with my whole life about hard work, fairness and trusting others. I realized that many of my assumptions were pure bullshit.
I was ready to retire early and get on with a different way of life, but I became aware that because of past financial mistakes we were not there yet. That didn’t stop me from trying to figure out how to have everything I wanted for us immediately.
Mrs. EE and I finally realized that we can’t have everything we want when we want it. The philosophy of essentialism helped me to incorporate the idea of “less but better” into all future decisions. I also turned to a couple of other philosophers, two guys named Jagger and Richards, who teach that;
“You can’t always get what you want,
but if you try sometimes,
you just might find,
you get what you need.”
One year later, I thought it may be interesting to revisit how we are incorporating the “Less But Better” philosophy into our lives and how it is working.
We (mostly I) became obsessed with FIRE. I managed to turn a very positive thing into a point of stress and anxiety that was having negative effects on my health, mental outlook, work performance and our relationship. Mrs. EE was starting to feel stressed about any increased spending. This included anxiety about changing her diet for health reasons. She was adding unnecessary stress to herself worrying about what we were now spending on groceries that we were easily able to afford. She was also feeling pressured to “have to” retire to stick to our plan, even as she realized that she had found a dream job that she loves about a year and a half ago.
We also were trying to have it all by having me essentially work part-time with full-time benefits. I was using up my large amounts of banked vacation time a day here and a day there to have many long weekends. This was stressing Mrs. EE out by having to find time to do all that she does for us on her normal off day (shopping, cleaning, etc) during her already busy week while fitting in these little mini-adventures. At the same time, being off a day every week or two while still having full-time responsibilities at work meant I was constantly running to play catch up. This added unnecessary stress and left me feeling less satisfied with my work.
Over the past few months, we have really spent more time and effort working on thinking and talking more about what we really want long-term and what makes the most sense in the short-term until we get there. We have made a few changes. For our long-term plans, rather than locking ourselves into being done by our F.I. Day as we originally planned, we are going to be flexible with our plans year-to-year. I still plan to leave my job on schedule. Mrs. EE is going to plan to continue to work indefinitely as long as she is enjoying her work and her company remains generous, family friendly, and flexible with her.
As for trying to have it all now, we’ve accepted that it clearly doesn’t work. Instead, I’ve returned to a more normal work schedule and we’ve scheduled some longer vacations. When we’re working, we’re working. When we’re not, we’re getting away from everything. This included a recent 10 day road-trip through the southeast that included a couple days of hiking, and a couple of beach days. We also managed to have our first real life meet-up with someone we met through the blog, spending an afternoon hiking in SC with new friends Chad Carson and his awesome family. Maybe most impressive, we did the whole trip without taking a laptop (though we have realized we officially can’t survive without a smart phone, UGH!).
We’ve realized that while we have many issues to work through to get on the same page as we enter FIRE, one thing that we agree on 110% is that we do not value stuff. We want to continue to work on having less possessions to weigh us down. On these same lines, we realize that we get very little value or joy in owning a large home and we have committed to downsizing. We started this process by getting rid of a ton of stuff while participating in our community garage sale last month.
We were both a bit surprised by how hard it was to get rid of things. For me, I had an oddly difficult time parting with my CD collection which represented memories of different phases of my life. In the end though, I had over 300 CD’s that I never listened to that were simply cluttering the house and I am proud to say that I now own none. For Mrs. EE, it was getting rid of things that others had given us as gifts over the years. Some had some sentimental value and others it was more a matter of not wanting to offend the original giver of the gifts. At the end of the day, we weren’t using any of the things we got rid of, so we figured that at least we could sell them to make a few bucks or give them to someone who would use them.
We love being in the outdoors skiing, hiking and climbing. We have accepted that it is very difficult to do these things with any regularity while working full-time and trying to be a good parent to a young child. I was having a hard time accepting this and was constantly wanting to get out more. I was dwelling on not getting out. When we did get out, I was not enjoying it because I knew I didn’t have the strength, endurance or skill to perform at the level I wanted. Mrs. EE simply tried to push to perform at the level she had before having the child and was finding herself with frequent unnecessary injuries.
We have changed our focus from trying to get out and do as much as possible. We have also stopped worrying about it if we can’t climb as hard as we would like or have to take breaks when skiing because our legs are tired. Instead we are focusing on simply enjoying the time we do get out together.
We are also approaching this phase of life with our daughter as an investment in developing her interest in the outdoors. This means spending less time in mountains and more time around water at pools, lakes or the ocean than would be our preference as she loves the water. It also means that instead of doing challenging hikes, we simply walk in the park (SLOWLY!!) while letting her explore or practice riding her bike. We also have been utilizing the climbing gym, though we both dislike indoor climbing, because it is close and easy and we can easily take little EE along and get her interested.
We are also focusing on short, intense bouts of exercise a few days a week in combination with improving our diets. We were previously killing valuable time and beating up our bodies over-exercising. We both feel much better with this approach and feel it is more in alignment with our focus on the long game as we want to have these bodies working for decades more. We also are finding that by exercising in this way, we actually feel better when we do get out and push ourselves.
I was becoming consumed with things like traffic, comments, subscribers and followers that in reality aren’t going to change our lives one bit. I have stepped way back from my writing. I’ve stopped putting pressure on myself to constantly create a post or two every week. I have chosen to switch my focus. I now only write with specific purposes in mind. These include writing something when I feel I can offer a unique perspective than what other people are writing, writing to gain a deeper understanding about things that I am currently trying to learn, or writing as a means to connect with or promote others whose work I really appreciate and feel has been helpful.
I figured this would mean the end of the blog, but surprisingly traffic has remained pretty constant which is pretty remarkable given the lack of new content. We have also nearly doubled our subscribers in the past year. I am grateful to all of you who continue to follow and give feedback despite the limited attention I pay to the blog.
Is Less Really Better?
We certainly have not figured it all out. We still struggle with managing our wants and having realistic expectations at times. However, I do feel that when we are able to step back and be purposeful I would have to answer, yes, less really is better.
Have you found similar struggles on your path to FIRE? Have you managed to plow through or have you had more success changing expectations? Have you found other strategies or philosophies useful to have more immediate happiness and satisfaction while on the path to FIRE? Share your thoughts and experiences below.