September Update

graphA Good Month (In Many Ways)

September was a great month! The weather is turning cooler and the days are getting shorter. While we will miss our summer pool time with little EE and extended hours of daylight after our workdays, the fall is our favorite time of the year in the northeast. There is less heat, humidity, and bugs and more colorful leaves, fall festivals, and football. We have been getting outside hitting the trails and crags. We also had two awesome road trips this month (much more on that below).

As for our financials, we saw a nice little uptick in the graph putting our assets at 16.3X our annual spending which marks our highest point for 2016. Our assets were up 1.11% from last month due to small market gains, continued automated contributions, and receiving quarterly dividend payments. Our spending dropped by $200/month despite our travel expenses. This is mostly due to our expenses having been artificially inflated last month due to the way we track spending based on a 12 month rolling average. This August we paid ahead some annual expenses which were still “on the books” from last September and now have come off.

Looking For a Mountain Town

Mrs. EE and I have been scouting out landing spots in the mountain west for our early retirement. Our wish list includes the following attributes:

  1. We want to live in an outdoorsy mountain town that matches our interests and personalities, which our current small town lacks.
  2. We want to have access to skiing, hiking and climbing all less than 30 minutes from our home, ideally living directly in a mountain town to give us optimal access.
  3. We want convenient access to travel. Traveling occasionally is a stipulation for Mrs. EE’s job which she plans to continue indefinitely. Also, we want to be able to visit our family back east and have them visit us.
  4. We are looking for a neighborhood/small town setting in which to raise our daughter.
  5. The final want is the biggest challenge giving the first 4 items on our wish list. We would like to find a small, but nice home for the same price or less than we will sell our current home (<$300,000).

Based on this list, we have narrowed our list to three areas based on extensive internet research. They are:

  1. Driggs, ID home of Grand Targhee Ski Resort and bordering Grand Teton National Park,
  2. Fraser/Granby, CO, home of Winter Park Resort and bordering Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and
  3. Ogden, UT home of Snowbasin Resort and Powder Mountain and in the heart of the Wasatch Mountain Range.

However, while we have been to Jackson Hole, WY and the Tetons, we have never actually set foot in Driggs. While we have spent considerable time climbing and skiing around the Colorado front range, we have never set foot in Fraser or Winter Park. The only place on our list that we have spent any time is Ogden, UT. We therefore took advantage of Mrs. EE having some business in Colorado early in the month as I tagged along for a long weekend and we checked out Fraser and neighboring Granby, CO. Here is our impression.

Fraser/Granby, CO

Positives

Cecking out Fraser and Granby from the summit of Byers peak.
Cecking out Fraser and Granby from the summit of Byers peak.
  1. Location: Fraser is essentially at the base of Winter Park Ski Resort and Granby is about a 20 minute drive. Granby also has its own smaller ski area which is dirt cheap and would be great until little EE gets bigger. There are also endless back country skiing opportunities. Twenty minutes on the other side of Granby (40 minutes from Fraser) is the Grand Lake entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, with endless hiking, paddling and mountaineering opportunities. This gives us immediate access to nearly everything we love to do.
  2. Affordability: Fraser is limited in housing in our price range, but Granby offers very affordable housing opportunities. They also have ridiculously low property taxes compared to what we are used to in PA. We also walked the local grocery store to play a little game of “The Price is Right” to see if everything was inflated as it tends to be in touristy areas. Surprisingly, most things were actually equivalent or cheaper than we are used to paying in our grocery stores. As a bonus, the selection of organic meat and produce was better than we are used to in our current small town.
  3. Neighborhood: Granby has a true small town, non-touristy feel that we want to raise our daughter in. They have numerous well kept city parks and playgrounds despite having a very small population. They also have a very nice, modern library. The public schools are small, but have above average ratings (for what that is worth).

    dscn0047
    Granby, CO
  4. Access: Being 1.5 hours from Denver international airport is not as ideal as we would like, but it certainly gives us the access that we will need for our occasional travel requirements. There is also a train connecting Denver and Winter Park daily year round and multiple times each day during ski season.
  5. Work/Fulfillment Opportunities: In addition to part-time tourism related jobs available in any mountain town, Winter Park offers a very unique opportunity for me. Winter Park is home to the National Sports Center for the Disabled. This impressive organization has numerous paid and volunteer opportunities for me to combine my physical therapy background working with physical impairments and disabilities with my love of the outdoors and passion for helping others. I have already had conversations with some higher-ups in the organization and am confident it would be a great organization for me to be involved with in some capacity.

Negatives

  1. There is little local sport climbing, top-rope climbing or bouldering in the Fraser/Granby area. There is amazing access to everything in 1-2 hours from these locations, but that puts us about where we are now in regards to access. This is a major challenge even currently with the amazing support system we have from our family.
  2. While Granby, and a few neighborhoods in Fraser, have true local neighborhood feels, this is definitely a tourist area. Fraser is far more touristy and expensive than Granby.
  3. The entire Grand County area encompassing Winter Park, Fraser and Granby has a very small population. Aside from Winter Park and Grand Lake tourism, there really is no other industry in the area. If Mrs. EE ever wanted to work aside from her current job or another that allows working remotely, it would likely be very challenging. We also are concerned that there is only one public school for the entire county (located in Granby) that graduates approximately 100 students per year. Small schools have many positives but also present potential limitations if Little EE ends up being substantially above or below normal performance.

Overall Impression

After spending a long weekend hiking, looking at real estate, and picking the brains of as many locals as would talk to us, we were very impressed with this area. While we realize that no area will have everything that we desire, this area and in particular the town of Granby definitely has potential as a future landing spot for the EE family.

Thoughts on Marriage and F.I.R.E.

Last week, Mrs EE and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary.We’re not big on gifts and big celebrations, but even I’m not so dense as to neglect a milestone anniversary without acknowledging it in some way. So I asked Mrs. EE what she would like to do, and she suggested we just spend a day outside together. And so we did, literally. We hiked the Presidential Traverse on our anniversary day, over 10,000 feet of elevation change in over 22 miles of hiking done in about 12 hours from pre-dawn to just prior to sunset.

I have written a previous post about our most important asset, our marriage. However, this milestone had me thinking more about the impact of our marriage on our FIRE plans.

We are not into telling others how to live their lives. You do not have to adopt our “Dirtbag Millionaire” lifestyle. You do not have to do extreme things together as we tend to do. However, I will share this tidbit of insight that I have gained in our 15 years of marriage, during which time we have also put ourselves in position to achieve financial independence at a very early age.

Life is much better when you have common values, take on common challenges, and share common interests with your significant other. Since money is the most powerful tool in our society, it is intertwined in everything we do. Therefore, those that do not get on the same page with regards to their finances will be challenged in every aspect of their shared life.

How was your month? Do you have any other locations we should consider adding to our mountain town list? Did you experience any exciting milestones, financial or otherwise? Any cool adventures in the past month or on the horizon? Share your thoughts below.

26 comments on September Update

  1. The positive trend continues. That is nice.

    Good luck in finding a new home town.

    Happy 15th wedding anniversary. We are not big on gifts as well. I started a tradition on our fifth anniversary: I bought a new ring. I plan to continue this every 5 years. Once the girls are old enough, they get to pick the ring, with the intention that it becomes their ring one day.

    1. Thanks AT. Neat idea to involve the girls and try to give your gifts some meaning. We have gone kind of extreme on the whole no gifts and minimizing possessions thing other than trying to share experiences.

  2. I know 2 people in Driggs, who have 2 totally different opinions of living there. If you are Mormon, it sounds like a great place to live. You can infer the rest…

    1. We are going to visit Driggs to ski Targhee and explore the town for a couple of days this winter to get a feel for it. It is really hard to get a feel by reading on the internet. I have talked to one couple who recently moved to our town from Driggs (who are Mormon) and have a friend who has spent a good bit of time there (who is not Mormon) and both spoke very highly of it.

      We are not very religious people, but also tend to be very open minded and respect others views and tend to be able to get along with anyone so we’re not super worried about that. I know Mormons tend to be very strict on some things such as alcohol, which is not a big deal to me. Are there specific aspects to the Mormon culture that have turned your friend off?

  3. Looks like you had a great month! Thanks for sharing and happy wedding anniversary. Hiking outside seems like a great way to celebrate to me : )

    I’m not from Colorado, but I have family around Denver and visit frequently. I’ve always enjoyed the mountain town of Evergreen (I haven’t skied there, but the hiking is nice, there’s ice skating on the pond, and the Sunflower Cafe is awesome) Good luck in your search!

    1. Thanks! We’ve had several people recommend Evergreen as a cool town. For now, close access to the outdoors and particularly skiing is key to us, unless we find that we just can absolutely not afford it so for now Evergreen will stay on the long list. Thanks for the feedback though.

  4. Good to read about your process of retirement town selection; we’ll be moving within a year or two and know it’ll be a big decision. Good reminder too, of how crucial communication and shared goals are to any marriage or partnership. It’s awesome to be on the same page financially as your partner! Good luck with your continued search!

    1. Thanks for the feedback and great to hear from you Kate! Where are you looking to move? Maybe we can create a FIRE mountain utopia!

  5. Ha ha ha. We’ve never celebrated our anniversary. We called our big Europe trip our “tenth anniversary trip” but really it was something we wanted to do anyway (and it was 6 months after our actual anniversary!) but being grateful for our relationship is important and I agree it’s one of our most important assets on the journey!

    1. Actually, when I say that we never give gifts that is kind of a stretch. We have been doing the “trips together are our gifts” thing for years. I guess we probably spend as much or more on gifts than other people if you look at it that way. We end up with amazing memories and a closer relationship instead of objects that we didn’t really want and end up going to the garage sale! I think of it as an investment in our most important asset.

  6. Good luck figuring out where you want to land! We did much the same process before we chose our forever home, and it’s indeed tough to get everything you want AND get a moderate cost of living, especially in areas with skiing nearby. We were willing to bend a bit on price (and had good timing, buying in 2011 before prices came back up — we thank our lucky stars almost every day for that!), but got everything you guys are hoping to find in exchange for that. Though now it’s gotten even pricier, so if we had to choose again now, I don’t know that we’d make the same decision!

    1. Yeah, cost close to skiing areas is pretty ridiculous in general. Affordability was one of the easiest ways to pare our list down to our current 3 on the short list. We are in no hurry to buy a place as I think that prices may spike initially in panic but then will level back off or drop if interest rates start going back up. With cash from our own home sale that makes the interest rates irrelevant to us (at least from the perspective of mortgages).

      Curious if you would choose a different location or choose not to live in a mountain town all together?

  7. Hmm, looking for that perfect place… Well, I’m a little partial to the Wasatch Front since I live there. But I think I would choose the Salt Lake area over Ogden. Salt Lake is of course not a small town, but I don’t exactly view Ogden as a small mountain town either. Both have incredible access to the outdoors, and the Salt Lake airport is super easy for traveling. What about Montana? Oh, and Craig, CO? Don’t know much about the town. I do know there’s a PT school or clinic that’s apparently kind of a big deal where a PT I used to go to was getting some training. And Craig is close to Steamboat for skiing and the Green R. and Dinosaur National Monument, which are two of my favorite features on earth. Congrats on 15 years of marriage and good luck with your mountain town search.

    1. Agree that Ogden is not a small mountain town as are the other two, which is why it is currently sitting at #3. If we can’t find affordability in housing in a smaller town, Ogden/SLC would definitely jump to the top of the list for all the reasons you mentioned. We actually were in the process of starting a move to SLC when Mrs. EE found out that she was pregnant and we decided to stay put closer to family.

      My good friend recently moved to the Big Sky area ( http://eatthefinancialelephant.com/financial-freedom-is-more-than-a-number/ ) and we will definitely visit them and give it a look. Price and access have that a bit down (but not off the list). I’ve never heard of Craig, but will give it a look. Thanks for the suggestion!

  8. Congrats on the anniversary, we just celebrated our 8th this week!
    The Grand Valley is pretty awesome in a lot of ways. I did a LOT of work for Winter Park, Granby, and a lot of private homebuilders in that valley when I worked the geotech engineering job.
    A couple of notes – in the winter, the pass to the RMNP gets closed eventually and stays that way until spring. They don’t plow it year round, so something to consider for winter sports if that would sway you one way or another.
    Like us, the schools are the biggest catch 22 for the same reasons you mentioned. What if the kids need more help or more academic challenges and the schools are just meh in both regards? I don’t have any other recommendations for CO mtn towns, except maybe something closer to the West slope, like Eagle or nearby towns. They have better medical facilities around there (I helped build one of the hospitals) and more varied industry to choose from but the COL is probably way higher than Granby.

    Good luck in your search, we’ll let you know if we find anything similar that could work for you guys too. We’re checking out Kalispell/Couer D’Alene/Flathead Valley area next year with a week+ trip out there. Whitefish has skiing, and there are multiple inexpensive housing options, plus Kalispell is a college town. Flights are further away, but probably same as Granby to DIA. Just a thought.

    1. Congrats to you two as well.

      Appreciate the feedback. Not to worried about shutting down the pass through RMNP as the location away from I-70 traffic for most day to day activity way outweighs that for us. Agree that schools are a really tough question, especially since we would like to make our move in the next 2 years prior to her starting kindergarten so no real idea of what type of student she will be and what type of needs she will have.

      Will have to give Montana a closer look.

  9. Great to get an update. I like the analysis of towns. My wife has always said Colorado or a mountain towns out west have called her name. Maybe we’ll come hang out wherever you land!

    We love the small town, too. But schools seem to always be the balancing point with that. A little bigger town or a small city gives the most options. Our little small town of Clemson, SC has pretty good schools being near a university. I don’t know if you can add that to your criteria – but university town’s near outdoors would be an ideal combo.

    Best of luck in your search, and happy 15th anniversary to you both!

    1. You all are welcome wherever we end up!

      Schools are a really tough issue, especially since I don’t really know how to evaluate them other than the generic ratings which I think more reflect standardized test scores (which I don’t really care about). One thing we have discussed is the option to home school if we are totally dissatisfied with public schools and with the increased time we will have available, that may be a more reasonable option for us.

      1. Yeah, ratings are tough on schools. We’ve considered home school some as well – especially when we’re traveling. But I don’t think it’s a permanent solution for us. My wife and I just don’t know if we’re up for it 100%. It’s a big commitment. But if it makes a location work that we love otherwise, it’s a good plan.

        Keep us posted! And are you guys going to come visit us in Ecuador next year? I’m sure there are some high points we can climb together:)

        1. Lots of school options to think about. I agree that home schooling is not our first choice, but if the local schools were unsatisfactory in an area we otherwise love, then it would certainly be worth considering.

          Ecuador sounds awesome if we could swing it!

  10. First off congrats on 15 years of marriage. That’s incredibly awesome. Second, I think it’s wonderful that you are able to take long weekends to visit potential home sites. I think once you get to your next forever home that it will become obvious. You’ll know when you know. I know that’s how it was for me when we first bought our house.

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback and encouragement. We haven’t found one place that we’re 100% sold on just yet, so we’ll see if you’re right!

  11. I live in Boulder, CO. I would also look at the Buena Vista/Salida area. Close to Monarch ski area, and a little further from Denver than Winter Park. However, Winter Park/Fraser definitely is crawling on the weekends in ski season with Denverites. You’d feel as if you were in Denver’s backyard. Buena Vista/Salida is still old Colorado and less trafficked on the weekends by a lot. Anywhere up 285 is worth looking at from that perspective. It’s not that hard to get to skiing in Summit county from Buena Vista/Salida either, although Monarch would be your backyard skiing area.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’ll definitely check Buena Vista and Monarch out. In talking to locals the tourist aspect is he biggest drawback to Fraser/Granby.,less than 80% of homes there are primary residences, meaning it can have the feel of a ghost town M-H, especially out of season, then be swamped on the weekends. It also has me nervous about the very small schools as mentioned in the post. Thanks again!

  12. Forgot to mention that Buena Vista/Salida are a bit of a new urban pioneer homesteader/new retiree mecca as well, grafted on to an old Colorado tradition. Plus there’s hot springs nearby. The Collegiate peaks (all 14ers) line the valley and are majestic. I totally agree with Fraser/Granby being a ghost town during the week. That area is completely geared for weekenders from Denver. I wouldn’t live there full time for sure!

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