Vacation Home to Speed up FI/RE?

Before the days of the Fat FI/RE movement that headline would have seemed like blasphemy. I say the notion of a second home in the context of the Financial Independence movement is a rare fringe, but I am here to make the case that, for a % of us in this movement, purchasing a vacation home is the best use of our resources and could even accelerate your FI/RE date. It’s going to take some work, research, energy and effort but it can be done and it can be done A LOT cheaper than you think.

Our FI/RE journey was built on investing capital aggressively in businesses and opportunities regardless of geography with very few limitations. This has led us to our current position of owning 3 businesses that operate in 17 states and internationally, 4 rental properties in 3 states and family far away from our primary residence. We have kids, dogs, equipment to work remotely, etc. We travel heavy and FI/RE dad has enough committments that I need to be able to connect on a regular basis. Those are the logical reasons to consider a second home somewhere near some of the items listed. It so happens that the most time consuming business and lots of family are all within a 150 mile radius.

The icing on the 2nd home cake is that I built an Event’s Consulting business on the back of travel. Lots and lots of travel that took me to multiple countries and 30+ states every calendar year. It will take decades before I willingly want to spend a vacation in a hotel. Air Travel and hotels are not things I associate with fun and that is just a product of being a million mile traveler before the pandemic of 2020. It’s been 15 months since I’ve been on a plane and if I never had to fly again I’d be happy.

Everything seems logical, but from the lens of FI/RE it seems illogical to buy a second home just so you can keep working. Looking at current real estate prices the most modest home in the cheapest places in the US are at least $100,000. The time it takes to earn that extra capital plus maintenance should outweigh any potential savings so much that there is no way it could actually speed up FI/RE?
This is fundamentally a math equation where the purchase needs to directly contribute to an increase in earnings or reduce future expenses enough to offset the initial outlay of capital. Turns out, that math isn’t as difficult as it sounds if you’re willing to spend the time and energy. Let’s look at our costs:

$55,000 – Cost of 2br/1b cabin on 1 acre
$5,500 – Initial repairs
$1,250 – furnishings

$61,750 – One time investment

Annual costs

$1,200 – Utilities
$2,100 – Tax and federal land lease
$1,500 – repairs fund

$4,800 – Annual expenses

The vacation home we purchased is a cabin with central air, heat, plumbing on a national wildlife preserve. it is 25 miles away from my retail business and 30 miles away from 3 of our rental properties with a ton of family in easy driving distance.

Given the opportunity we would spend 6-8 weeks each year in this general area either working on our investments, visiting family and now, vacationing. The cost of lodging for us on the vacation home market would be enormous (we were estimating $7-8,000/yr) and would easily exceed the annual expenses of the cabin each year which helps pay off the principal investment from year 1.

Did you know that the federal government owns tons and tons of land? Did you also know that this land has been leased out to citizens for over 100 years? These programs are extremely cost effective ways to enjoy some of the most beautiful parts of America, having access to a second home and helping to protect and preserve public land.

Going through the 10 month process of applying for a lease I learned that these applications are dropping by my generation and younger. The programs are hard to learn about, there is little information online and most of the process is paper and phone calls.

The goal of this post is not to try to convince everyone they need to lease public land. Rather to give another concrete example of what my blog is all about. The tagline of this blog is “A Frugal Life of Luxury” and I can’t think of a better example than buying and maintaining a vacation home for less money than hotel stays.

Here are some photos from the first 36 hours we had the cabin.

Setting yourself up for post FI/RE success – Setting Goals

If you are a consumer of Financial Independence content on a regular basis then you can’t ignore that there has been a MASSIVE uptick in the people who have really struggled 2-5 years into their retirement. 

It makes sense though, depending on how you measure the growth of this movement, there is no denying that it has grown to a scale no one imagined. It’s also been around long enough that there is a sizable population that has been early retired for some large chunks of their lives. Nearly all of the earliest FI bloggers have been retired for years and many of them decades. Some of them are starting to admit online that they got slapped in the face that “money doesn’t buy happiness” still applies if you live frugally. People need a purpose.

I follow plenty of the bloggers who have been varying levels of happy and content with their choices, but the takeaway that I heard “was that burning your life energy away to reach that FIRE finish line at all costs is a miserable decision and might even be worse than the “normal” folk who work until 63”. I also took away that nearly everyone who seemed happiest among the FIRE Giants out there is that they all had some form of meaningful pastime that they pursued very purposefully. 

The fear of the post FI regret was all too real for me and in searching for guidance on that issue I found the Die With Zero book I wrote about. Elements of that book are exactly what I needed to guide my decisions with less than 5 years to go until our FIRE date. 

Invest in hobbies and interests I’ve always been interested in. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what would produce the most happiness in our family compared to actual dollar costs. Here is the current list to achieve:

  1. Spend as many clear nights as possible looking at the stars, when covid ends, reach out to astronomy groups, clubs and observatory in walking distance, consider volunteering there. I’ve spent too many years wanting to study astronomy and it’s so silly I never have. That stops; it’s time to live more intentionally.
  2. Invest in my health to ensure I never am the slow leg when taking our family on adventures.
  3. Show our children as much of the US as possible, every national park at the very least, and hopefully for months or years at a time. Anything is on the table to achieve this. 
  4. Increase our knowledge of homesteading, including doubling our growing capacity in the next two seasons.
11pm

Some of these are personal and others are shared goals of our entire family. I expect that when we reach FI/RE and are truly comfortable while being able to achieve these goals that we will be giving our children a better childhood than anyone I’ve ever met experienced. 

In the end, all of these goals point back to the only goal that really matters. To make sure we give our children the best life we possibly can.

America Divided in 3

The world is changing and America is no different and it feels like we are turning a corner that cannot be reversed.

The income disparity in the US has always been extreme, but what is happening now is a spread that might not be able to be overcome. I’m not talking about the billionaire class or the 1% or politics as those have been discussed by far more educated people that I am.

I’m referring to the cost of living across the US. There really are 3 Americas right now and it feels next to impossible to move up from one to the other. Let me explain.

3 levels of America – 

3rd world America – Deep south and rural north. Examples include: Rural Mississippi, North Dakota (not cities), native reservations.

2nd world America – Rural areas of 1st world states, populated areas in less desirable climates. Examples include: midwest metros, Raleigh NC, Des Moines IA, Albq NM.

1st world America – Big cities and states in great climates. Examples include: Colorado, all the west coast, most of the east coast, Chicago.

These have existed in three different levels for my entire life, but the disparity has gotten huge. Six years ago the FIRE Family moved from a 2nd world America to the 1st. We moved from Davenport, IA to Estes Park, CO. At the time we sold our home in Iowa for $150,000 – exactly what we paid for it 3 years earlier and purchased a major fixer upper in EP, CO for $300,000. 

At first glance those numbers don’t seem too bad since it’s double the price for a much more desirable location. I’ll concede that six years ago that was a doable trade and transition. The problems come in what has happened in those six years. The house we sold in Iowa is still worth basically what we sold it for. Our first house in Estes we sold one year ago for $475,000. We could have done some more work to it and gotten the value well over $500k.


The price we sold our first Estes home for was higher than we could have even afforded. That means in the six years since we first came to Estes we are lucky we came when we did, because as of today it would have been near impossible for us to afford that move. This is happening all over the country across all the different levels of America listed. Values of homes and cost of living in 1st world America continue to rise while the lower tiers are staying relatively flat and in the case of the 3rd world are actually decreasing. 

As with all things it is important to identify the problems and do your best to maximize the situation. In this case the move is to find some beautiful land and homes right on the edge of the 2nd and 3rd world and purchase a manor when the same money in the 1st world America buys you a 1 bedroom condo. 

If you find yourself trapped in 3rd world America or even the lower tiers of the 2nd world it is getting more and more difficult to transition to the top tier and if you are planning on it then move fast. Every year you let go by is going to become more expensive and restrictive. I was a full blown adult during the 2008 housing crisis and while it is obvious we are living in a real estate bubble right now I do not believe that bubble will burst especially hard in the 1st world America. There is just too much money at the top and these areas are extremely desirable. Demand drives up prices and good weather and recreation is not going out of style.

I expect in my lifetime we will see America divided in a more formal manner. If you’ve spent any time traveling this country as I have you’ll know that there really are multiple Americas and the disconnect has never been greater. The best we can do is take these observations and do the best we can for our future. For the FIRE Family this means we are planning to become self sufficient and use our income/savings from the 1st world to buy a massive property in the 3rd world with the intention of homesteading. While that goal is pretty unique the lesson is still there for others to learn. Wealth inequality is not just a 1% vs the rest equation. There are quite a few different problems that are arising from this issue and it’s important that we all stay educated and informed.

Cheap TVs are amazing

If there is one thing a dad is good at it’s spotting a deal and Firedad is no exception. Gather round kids, it’s story time.

I graduated high school around the same time as the television revolution. The time when flat screen and plasma TVs were just starting to become good enough, light enough and affordable enough that the average family could afford the technology. My roommate a few years later actually purchased a 50” plasma when she got a really good paying job and we all thought it was the tops. From then until about two years ago the technology kept getting better and cheaper with us reaching the point now where shit is insanely cheap and the tech has pretty well flattened. Sure the newest and best is slightly better, but entry level is worlds better than what we had in the 2000s.

Go on Amazon right now and you’ll find a fully functioning smart TV with Roku 50” for $225. Once you start getting huge the prices go back up (cheapest 75” I found is $750).
The highlight here is a 50” fully functioning smart TV with incredible picture quality for $225! This is the point where a salesman would tell you that those are “old” technology and you really want the QLED or curved or ultrathin or whatever new thing is out. The truth is that society has reached the point where “old” TV technology is awesome. 

They are so cheap!

At this price we added one to our guest room and bedroom. I’ve been thinking about adding one  to the patio as well. The convenience to watch YouTube videos anywhere or stream Netflix in the background for so cheap is unlike any other point in history. 

The next TV related thing to do is to drop your shitty and overpriced cable package. Cable television is a cancer on society and the sooner you can get  away the better. Our televisions show shockingly little TV. We sometimes stream old shows at night, but mostly it’s wonderful background videos, movies or YouTube tutorials. It’s very convenient to have a large screen streaming a cooking step-by-step as you’re working in the kitchen.

One last thing. It’s not a deal if you don’t need it or want it. Just because I’m saying these things are a great value does not mean you should get one unless you have a use for it. Nothing you pay money for is a good deal if you didn’t need it.

Now hand me the clicker.

So You Wanna Buy A Sports Car?

Some of us are just born with a love of cars. It runs deep in our blood. I believe that electric is the future, but I  also believe that a naturally aspirated engine with perfectly engineered steering can create religious experiences. So whenI hit the age, income and NW to comfortably start thinking about a purchase this ridiculous I knew I had to do it right. I knew my wants list and for today’s blog post we are only talking about wants. Anyone that says a sports car is a need should really check themselves at the door. 

My wants list was pretty small but pretty specific: it had to be a manual transmission, regular maintenance had to be DIYable, I wanted it to be daily drivable and trackable, and I wanted it to be a Porsche. 

After a ton of research I settled on a 1999-2004 911 4S also known as the 996 generation. If you’re not into cars the story of the 996 is fascinating. If you are into cars there is a good chance you’ve heard about it by now as the secret is starting to get out. 

The Porsche 911 is the flagship sports car. Every generation over the last 50+ years has been beautiful, powerful, fast, fun and track ready from the factory. For this, and many more reasons the Porsche 911 has held its value surprisingly well and in lots of cases has become worth more than the original MSRP for good models built before 1999. You see in 1999 Porsche made a few changes to the 911. First it went water cooled from air-cooled which was pretty much necessary to keep up with the performance of competitors. They also implemented some changes that  most automakers do of sharing parts across models. The cardinal sin of the 996 was sharing its headlights from the Boxster and going away from the classic 911 round headlights. 

There are a few other gripes about the 996, but the truth is that at its heart and core the 996 is a 911. It drives just as good as it’s more expensive brothers and sisters and it does it for less than half the cost of nearly every other generation. Here is mine – a 2004 911 Carerra 4S.

996 backcountry

I bought this car for less than the price of a new Camry including delivery and some minor repairs. I’ve had the car about a year and in that time it has actually appreciated about 15% from what I paid. That’s the funny thing about sports cars – the markets fluctuate and if you spend the time researching you can clearly identify vehicles that are undervalued. I’m not advocating for trying to make a profit with your sports car addiction I’m simply saying that you should make the purchase smart and with some forethought. Other than maintenance and repairs the cost of owning my very own piece of vehicle art will cost almost nothing. Meanwhile a 2020 Carerra 4S is $127,900 before options. Ask yourself if you want the car for the status or to maximize your enjoyment for every dollar spent? 

I will always take the approach of maximizing my dollar spent. I drive a car that I had a poster of in my locker in high school and my total cost of ownership so far is less than a fully loaded Kia. I’m into this car for under $30,000 and it’s a pristine example. You can easily find amazing, exciting cool cars for so cheap if you just know the markets. I actually found a friend of mine an Aston Martin Rapide for $52,000 a few weeks ago. It was a 2012 with 40,000 miles.The original MSRP was well over $240,000. He had always wanted one, is pretty close to a Fat FI/RE number and was blown away when I found his dream car for less than a new F-150. 

Do your research, learn the market and buy used but reliable. It’s a great experience to learn the known issues of your dream car and how to wrench on them yourself. It’s a far more rewarding experience to have something you need to take care of rather than walking into a dealership and signing up for a giant loan. 


In 2019 85% of new cars were financed and 56% of used cars were financed. Exotics are financed at a rate of 89%. Imagine having to make a monthly payment on something you can’t even use every day, doesn’t that sound miserable? I don’t think I could enjoy my beautiful sports car knowing it was chained down with debt.

The principal of buying used, learning the market, being an educated buyer and paying cash are principals that apply to nearly every major purchase. Whether it’s a house, car, boat, vacation home, plane, yacht, villa, or island the same rules apply. If you do what everyone else does you’ll learn nothing, gain nothing and be stuck with payments the rest of your life. Who wants that?

I remember my grandpa working on old mustangs and ancient fords he pieced together from junk yards. He was a child of the depression who didn’t go to high school. I’m still working on being as frugal as he was, but those skills made their way down the bloodline of finding the right deal and doing as much of the work yourself as you can.

A showroom quality car wash for less than $1.00

DIY car wash tips for showroom quality

I still remember being a little kid and my grandpa driving through a full service car wash. We got to walk through and watch the car get blasted with these funny colored foams and then blasted with fans loud enough that conversation was impossible. I could just stare in awe as the army of guys armed with towels coming out of every pocket descended on the car and began wiping every surface. It was then and still is an impressive display of luxury in our world. For around $25 today you can experience this at your closest full service car wash. The one near me ranges from $25 – $45 for a much more clean and luxurious experience. These places do a great job, but what if you could get an even better looking car at the end and spend next to nothing? You might even get a little tan or some stronger muscles out of the deal.

Here is how my grandpa used to wash his cars before a parade. He built the cars himself from junk yard parts. When he washed the cars for parade day he was gonna make sure they were as close to perfect as they could, but also making sure he didn’t have to spend any more money than was necessary.

1930 Model A
1930 Ford my grandpa built from a junk yard – also some very cool 90s teenagers


Here is your arsenal of consumables:

  • Wheel & Tire cleaner – anything that says degreases will do, get whatever is cheapest and on sale from your local auto parts store or online. I have a 64oz bottle I refill a spray bottle with. It has lasted more than a year at a price of $14.00
  • Wash fluid – Get the best price per ounce on a foaming concentrate wash fluid mine was another 64oz that typically lasts about one year washing three cars regularly. $6.49
  • Tire Shine foam – I always buy the No Touch brand just because my dad always did. This stuff is not necessary but does a great job on the final finish; it makes such a difference that it’s clearly one of the secrets to making cars look new. One can lasts 8 months on three vehicles – $6.99

One time purchases/acquisitions:

  • Microfiber towels – Get a bunch, 20 or so that are bought in bulk packages. I’ve found Costco and Autozone to make the best 3-10 packs. Also get 3-5 larger and much more high quality versions. When you are shopping for these you are looking for fluffy feeling and the packaging to say “finish”.
  • 5 gallon buckets – I use 4 buckets, but that’s just because I have 2 that are permanently stuck together and one is my chair for when I’m doing wheels. You’ll be fine with 2 that are new or at least very clean inside.
  • Wheel brush kit – Just get a generic one, make sure the brush fits between your wheels and has bristles on all sides.

Here is the process – Let’s call it the clean bucket system.
The idea of this system is to never let a dirty towel touch the clean water or clean towels.

  • Fill your wash bucket with whatever the recommended amount on the container says and add water until ½ full (2.5 gallons)
  • Add your ¾ of your bulk microfiber towels and mix very well
  • Give your vehicle a gentle rinse to get any easy dust off (optional if you are in extremely limited space, you’ll just use more towels is all)
  • The towels should be pretty saturated at this point. Take 1 towel and begin scrubbing your car down. When it starts to feel like the towel has run out of soap and water mix then throw that towel in the dry bucket. Repeat this step until you have scrubbed all surfaces of the car, including the door jams
  • Rinse as needed, I live in a very dry place so typically I break this up into 4 equal parts during the whole process.
  • Scrub any foreign particles aggressively with the soapy towel until they come off. 
  • After you have washed and rinsed you’ll need to start drying. Use the remaining bulk microfiber towels for this job and add them to the dry bucket.
  • Grab your clean, higher quality microfibers and wipe down all surfaces after the car is fully dry. (This is a crucial step if you want showroom quality)

If you lived in a place without access to a hose that can reach your vehicle this process still works with an additional bucket that is just full of water and a few extra towels. Your rinse process is using a clean and wet towel to rinse the soap off.

Alright so now the body of the car looks like brand new and you’ve spent nothing other than a small amount of water and a small amount of consumables. At this point most wash cycles you are done. However, when you are really going for that parade look you can’t leave those wheels with all that road and brake dust can you?

Here is how you get your wheels to be admired:

  • Wet the wheels, I will usually use the remaining wash bucket and equally dump it on all the wheels, careful to splash too much on the body or you’ll need to wipe that down.
  • Hit the wheels with the Wheel & Tire cleaner – do a good coat including inside of the wheel.
  • Go clean up – The cleaner needs to do its job and now is a perfect time to put your wash stuff away. (keep 2 towels very wet with the wash solution)
  • After 3 minutes or more your wheels will be ready for your 2 Tire Towels. Get in there and make sure you touch every surface you can with mild to medium force. Each wheel should take you at least 2 minutes. If it’s been awhile you may need more towels and a little more time.
  • Spray the wheel down with water to remove all the excess grime
  • Wipe any areas you missed now that the water did its job
  • When the tires dry spray on a thin layer of the Tire Shine Foam. Let dry
  • Once everything is totally dry go back and wipe the wheels (not tires) down with a dry microfiber

This is everything you need to make your car look like you spent $25+ on a car wash when in reality you spent around $1, got a decent workout and have a pride of ownership that you did it yourself.

The final product