Budgets are the worst lie being told by the personal finance industry. People like Dave Ramsey are happy to sell you a shitload of useless products to budget more effectively. All you have to do is pay him some money for those products and he promises he will save you even MORE money back!
If you’re brand new to the concept of how money works then sure, budgeting is a great form of training wheels. Once you have a basic understanding of saving, investing and Money 101 then budgeting is a colossal waste of time and resources. How is budgeting still a thing that is being sold to people in the FI/RE community?
Over the years I have tried every budgeting approach you can think of. I kept trying different approaches and then always giving up or failing. The reason I kept going back was I would fail then end up reading some blogger or article about how budgeting is the number one key to financial success! Turns out, that’s all bullshit.
When you look at ways to simplify your life you’ll want to look put the magnifying glass on every way you spend time each day. After multiple failed attempts at budgeting I was trying again. Putting each item I had bought in a spreadsheet to figure out how much I spent, trying to figure out how to categorize some random purchase and I realized this is a colossal waste of time. Don’t believe me? These are Dave Ramsey’s top 10 signs you need to spend MORE TIME on your budget.
1. You’re constantly worrying about money emergencies. 2. You use the same exact budget each month. 3. You aren’t tracking purchases. 4. You don’t have a budget line for giving. 5. You overspend in one category. A lot. 6. You forget annual expenses. 7. You need space for a new budget line item. 8. You aren’t budgeting to zero. 9. You just hit a Baby Step milestone. 10. Your budget doesn’t line up with your money goals. 11? You Need to Refresh Your Budget by Season
How many hours a month am I supposed to dedicate to this bullshit? I have to spend every single dollar before the month begins……why?
Here is what I do now and I have done for the last several years. It takes almost no tracking, no line items, no seasonal budget adjustments and it maximizes our savings.
FireDad’s budget approach:
Automate all your savings and investments
Spend less that what’s left in your account
Don’t waste money on stupid shit
There you go! If you follow the patented FireDad budget not only will you not stress about your zero balanced budget, you won’t think about budgeting at all! Even better there are no envelope systems to buy, no software, no step by step books, this budget can fit on a sticky note you attach to your credit card and can sit in your wallet unaltered for years like that expired condom.
Stop wasting time on worthless tasks that over complicate life.
It’s no secret that our family dreams of a homestead where we grow our own food, raise our own animals and live a life more connected to our planet. These goals are very real for us and we plan to pull the trigger at full FI/RE in the next 3-5 years. In the meantime while we cannot have that full dream today we can take steps to learn in the kiddy pool before jumping in the ocean.
One of the big projects I wanted to do was figure out an affordable way to build raised garden beds. I’ve seen tons of people spend a lot of time on craigslist and get free materials. That is absolutely wonderful that you can do that. I, however, do not have the time and energy to track all that down. I also live about an hour away from most of civilization so it’s gonna be a big journey and then dealing with the craigslist curse that 50% of the time the deal dies or is gone when you get there when it involves free. Free is best, but my time has value and I wanted the project to be efficient and affordable.
Instead of sourcing the materials on craigslist or facebook market I went to our local lumber yard. I made sure to not go to a chain, but the one that is locally owned and asked if they had any 1 bys that were warped or damaged that the contractors didn’t want. Sure enough I got a sizable discount on some slightly warped or damaged wood.
The next step in the process is to get some food safe stain since this lumber is not treated there needs to be some layer of protection from the elements and the soil it’s going to hold back. I know the research says that all wood stain is food safe when it’s fully cured but it’s only about $2 more for my entire project to get the food safe stain. Even if it’s an unnecessary precaution it’s just so cheap that you might as well.
The other benefit of buying from a lumber yard is that they cut everything exactly to my drawings. I wanted my beds to be 3’x6’, two boards tall with cedar fence posts at 18” at 6 points. I was able to have a professional with a bad ass saw make all my cuts for this project in all of three minutes. Here is the picture of the finished product. I added shelves from some scraps to mount the greenhouse (we are already close to our first frost).
Total cost of the project, including the 3.5″ deck screws that will last me a year $109
Not bad considering that built three 3’x6’ garden beds and I have deck screws to last many other projects. On Homedepot.com you can purchase a 3’x6’ raised garden bed kit for $93.46 plus shipping and tax. That one appears to have no additional reinforcements whereas mine has the cedar fence posts which was a large % of the total budget.
Do it yourself to save a bunch of money, have some pride and satisfaction that you designed and built something for yourself then go use your savings to buy you and your sweetie an ice cream cone.
Here are the instructions if you wanted to copy what I did.
To make 1 bed 6 – posts – Cedar fence posts cut to 18″ each 4 – plywood, pine, cedar, whatever, just thin and 3′ long 4 -plywood, pine, cedar, whatever, just thin and 6′ long
Position the cedar posts flush with the 3′ boards and begin drilling decking screws from the outside into the cedar posts. 6 screws in a rectangle on each board will be more than sturdy.
In the middle of the 6′ boards screw the cedar posts to both the sidewall boards. Continue fastening the cedar posts to all sides and you’re ready to fill with soil!
We have a long way to go until we are growing 80% of our food, but these first steps of sustainability will provide for us on a small scale until we are ready to fully commit and will also teach us valuable skills and lessons that are much less costly on a small scale then when you are planting on a 50x scale.
2020 is our year of learning the basic skills we need to homestead and inch closer to food independence as we can in the future. You can learn more about our long term homesteading goals here. Disclaimer: We are learning and know basically nothing. If you are reading this to learn how to grow food or homestead you are in the wrong place. There are countless amazing people on youtube and bloggers to follow if you are trying to learn. Some of our favorites are Roots and Refuge Farms MLGardnerWhispering Willow Farms
These people know their shit; we don’t.
What we started with
We started this project late, late June and July is when we really started getting serious about learning to grow our own food. We had been interested for years, but always put it off for whatever reason was convenient at the time (usually our environment which is pretty harsh for plants – 8,000’ elevation and 6-7 months of winter)
3 raised bed – 3’x6’
Fence planting space
1 – build it yourself greenhouse (nothing planted currently)
A few misc beds and planting spaces we picked up from craigslist/FB marketplace
1 indoor grow room with a seed starting LED light, HED grow light, Ebb & Flow hydroponic setup and a full set of nutrients to grow fruit/veg producing plants
No knowledge of how to grow plants for food
So far our small scale production has been pretty fruitful for a first year that started late. Our tomato plants haven’t been mega producers but every plant has produced edible and delicious fruit. The same with our strawberries which actually have 3 ripe fruits! We planted 6 berry bushes along our fence line hoping they will just take over in future years. This was just one of the plants we put in hoping it would yield in later years. The same goes for the rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries we planted.
As we started to watch Youtube videos on homesteaders 100% of my favorite vloggers have said they wished they would have planted more perennials (I learned this means comes back each year on its own!) early on. They all also pointed out that the plants that take 3 years or so to mature and produce fruit are especially rewarding in the long term. Given that our plan has always been how to make this project scalable to multiple acres rather than our backyard we felt it was important to plant those now even if we don’t see the fruit the knowledge of how to keep them alive and healthy is reward enough.
Here are the highlights we have learned so far:
Tomato plants do not respond well to watering the leaves, you gotta water the base. Any step you take to keep water/rain off the leaves will yield a healthier plant.
Dead and dying leaves can go, pruning keeps the plant healthy. A tomato plant that looks healthy bushy is likely not. Airflow is important.
On any vining plant you want to keep leaves off the soil (especially tomatoes) if you can. We got a fungus from this. Google saved the day here.
Berry bushes are awesome. They are easy, resilient and thrive. I’ve heard people complain about berry bushes before since they can be hard to get rid of. I can’t imagine wanting to get rid of a beautiful plant that produces amazing tasting fruit. The people who bitch about an invasive raspberry plant are the same people paying $6 a pint at Whole Foods. Next year I’m seriously considering planting our entire fence line with berry bushes.
Tomatoes should be picked before a watering. If it’s going to rain today then spend the late morning picking any ripe tomatoes. The water goes straight to the fruit. Did you ever wonder why tomatoes at the store are huge and flavorless? Excess water is a main culprit.
Salad greens are the easiest shit in the world to grow. Seriously, go buy a kiddie pool and plant salad greens from seeds. It is truly amazing how fast they grow and how little effort is needed. From everything I’ve seen if we ever get to the point of participating in farmers markets then greens HAS to be where the money is.
Hydroponics is a lot of science. If you are into that sort of thing then it’s a lot of fun. If you are bored by a discussion about the parts per million of nutrient solutions, the best performing PH water, and fixing a browning of leaves with adding calcium to your nutrient mix then it’s not for you. Lucky for the family Firedad is a major science nerd finds this to be awesome.
It’s going to be years before we know if the hydroponics system pays off. I did a non-firedad thing when buying this setup. I didn’t go cheap since I tried hydroponic tomatoes about 10 years ago and failed miserably. This time I went to an indoor grow shop and bought what they told me to. Total cost was about $700, but could have been $70 with a DIY approach. My first DIY approach failed; I learned my lesson and went to the pros.
Modern technology makes hydroponics a shit ton easier. A few basic products have made maintaining the exact environment a breeze. Here is what I’ve bought, tested and my opinion:
Smart Plugs & Devices – $9.25 a piece – This is not the first or last time I recommend a Smart Home setup. These things have 100s of uses to improve your quality of life. When it comes to hydroponics I have the following things running on Smart Plugs
Exhaust fan – can turn on and off based on temperature readings
Intake fan – same reason
Wifi Temperature & Humidity – this thing reports to an app every 15 minutes with exact readouts of the room. I even have it set to send me an alert of the temp goes over 80 or under 55.
Humidifier – It automatically keeps the room at the desired humidity based on the Wifi temp and humidity reader. (If humidity drops below 35% then the smart system turns this plug to “ON”.)
Grow lights – set a simple timer – currently they run for 18 hours a day. The plug controls that automatically.
Nutrient pump – I can schedule it to run whenever I want for any length of time that I want or I can simply control it remotely.
The most fun I am having is figuring out how to automate as much of the hydroponic process as possible. This has been a really rewarding thing to work out and I am still very much a beginner.
It’s very enjoyable to be a true beginner at something. It’s been a long time since FireDad & Mom have tried something so incredibly new to us and it’s extremely rewarding. The initial progress when you are brand new to something, fix a mistake, apply a new technique has such high returns when you are brand new.
Food you grow yourself tastes a million times better than bought food. Every, single, time.
That’s the update on learning to grow our own food. It’s been a pretty fun experience and just makes us want to go full scale as quick as we can. We still have at least a couple years of this place until we can make the full jump to being full time homesteaders, but these years should arm us with all the skills necessary to make sure that life change is successful and fun.
I suppose today is the day I became lean FI. There were no sirens, alarms, parties or even mentions. I discovered it looking at my FI/RE spreadsheet and updating some numbers. The part that felt the weirdest was that reaching this during a pandemic was…cheating? Either way as I’ve come to accept that we are Lean FI and will continue to work; this milestone doesn’t really change anything from our plan. While it’s true that we could not work the pay off to keep going 3-5 more years is huge. If we chose to live like the Little house on the prairie then we would be fine, but that’s not the goal.
Our napkins goals for different levels of FI/RE are:
Lean FI/RE # – $60,000/yr mostly passive income FI/RE # – $110,000/yr mostly passive income Fat FI/RE # – $150,000/yr mostly passive income with no mortgage on primary residence
Those numbers are not the way I typically see other FI articles, but it’s the method I prefer to use. When I buy a rental property, invest in the market, or invest in a business I can calculate the return based on how Americans calculate their lives every day; in annual salary. For the market I use 4.5% on investments. These numbers are all based on living a homestead lifestyle with significant amounts of land, livestock and crops.
Our current income per month is:
$1,000 – Renting ½ of our duplex $800 – Rental condo $5,000 – Retail store $0 – Events business (COVID, we are shut down) $9,900 – Finance salary $16,700 or $200,400/yr
As you can see our income is sizable and we are a one income household, but I work as much as I can to achieve our FI/RE dream and be able to take care of our children together rather than just the one of us. Our long term FI/RE goal is to buy a homestead on a significant amount of timber. This will allow us to live a lifestyle more connected to the world and the things that are important to us.
Today is also the day I’ve decided to slow down the grind. Sure it may take a little longer to reach that full FIRE number but from this point forward we will always have a place to live and enough income for food to eat. That’s a win by my standards and seems like a good of time as any to slow down my hungering pursuit of making money. It’s one of the reasons that I’m finally starting a blog.
I have no less than 4 folders in my Gdrive with 1-6 articles I’ve written over the last 8 years with the intention of starting a blog. I’ve always been too busy with other things, mostly I didn’t want to focus on anything that I couldn’t guarantee a profit. I didn’t want to write a blog that was focused on money, and until now that didn’t seem like a good use of our resources and time. Now that we have reached the point of lean fire everything is just that much more relaxed and our whole family can focus on more fun projects. For me, that project is finally starting my blog.
Over here at the FIREdad house we have shifted gears into planning for our retirement which seems to be getting closer every day. The journey of FI/RE has been pretty short for us compared to most and that is in large part to some major upticks in income in recent years mostly from businesses that I have started. I started about 8 years ago and should be done in the next 5.
We have gone from an initial goal amount of $750,000 in assets with a paid for house to thinking we would want $2 million. At this point we have scaled it back and the FI/RE goal for us looks something like this:
$60,000/yr in income from various sources $400,000 in pre-tax retirement savings A paid for homestead on 40 or more acres of timber
Today I’m going to dive deeper into each of those goals, how we are going to achieve them, where we are on the path to that goal and what the future holds.
$60,000/yr in income from various sources
I expect that point is 2-5 years away depending on where life takes us. Most people would look at those lists above and say something like “They want $60k a year in income, sounds like work to me!” and snicker because they outsmarted me. When I think about FI/RE I rarely think about the Retire Early part. The end goal for us is to live life exactly how we want without needing money to be a part of the equation.
When I write that we want $60,000 in annual income to be FI that sounds like a conflicting statement, but here is what I mean by that and the breakdown. We currently own multiple businesses that I have built up while working full-time in Accounting & Finance. At this time I have two that are producing fairly well with minimal involvement from myself.
Retail Running Speciality Shop – This business has been around for 30 years and is quite established. It was one of the first jobs I had after graduating college doing their accounting and selling shoes in the store. Over the last 10 years I became very close to the family that owned and operated the store. Last year the owner passed away suddenly and I offered to purchase the business. We had been talking about it for years, but that unexpected incident really lit a fuse. As of today I spend about 10-15 hours a week as the owner of the business. I have an extremely reliable manager and staff that run the business day-to-day. $40,000/yr – This will vary greatly as the health of the shop financially is my main goal
Racing Consulting Business – I also run and manage a race timing/consulting business. I’ve sold ⅔ of the business over the years to 2 other partners which has been both rewarding and challenging. Until 2020 I was President and lead consultant for this company and at our peak we were supporting around 100 events annually. With COVID there is no telling when this business will come back. When it does come back I’ll be scaling my involvement in this business back quite a bit by hiring a President and other employees. I’ll just be doing the events I want. $0/yr during a pandemic – Roughly $20,000 when I hire out all my current work
Rental properties – We own 1 fully paid for condo worth $130,000. I use a property management company to make this as passive as possible which is great, especially considering the condo is 800 miles away from our home. I would really like to purchase 1-3 more before reaching retirement age. We also rent out ½ of our primary residence. Our attic is remodeled to be a studio apartment and the COL is so high here that it generates $1,000 a month. Our homestead dream will reduce this income by $12,000/yr as we will sell our current residence and lose that studio rental. $21,600/yr Now $9,600/yr post FI
CFO – I am also still working a full-time accounting/finance job. I am 2nd in command at a Destination Marketing Organization. This is a really rewarding position that is quite fun at times. However, quitting this job is the main driving force of FI/RE for us. This is more of a traditional job and that is the thing I am trying to get away from. When we reach our goals I will quit this position, purchase our homestead property and make homestead our primary “job”. $110,000/yr
As you can see when we review the list of our FIRE goals that the income side is already met with my businesses and rental properties. That means the CFO role is currently being held to supercharge the savings rate to accomplish these other goals.
$400,000 in pre-tax retirement savings
401k,457,IRA, Roth IRA, CO PERA (pension)- As of today we max both a 401k and a 457 as well as the maximum allowed in IRAs each year. The CO PERA pension will be multiple posts in the future but it currently automatically takes 8.5% of my salary and goes into that bucket.
$220,400 – All retirement accounts including cash value of pension
When you look at our income and see we ‘only’ have about $220k in retirement it might seem like we have a terrible savings rate. The truth is that we do save quite a bit of money but I have used that savings over the years to invest in businesses, rental properties and other ventures rather than just pure retirement savings.
$400k in pre-tax accounts that are left alone until we reach retirement age will turn into $1.5-$2.5 million by the time we turn 59.5. The plan is to get that to $400k then let it sit for the next 25 years in VTSAX, international and a small % of bond funds with an annual rebalancing.
In 2020 we will have contributed $58,000 to our retirement accounts. Assuming we aren’t faced with a major economic collapse (apart from COVID) this goal should be met by 2023 and with average returns will be even sooner.
A paid for homestead on 40 or more acres of timber
We have set a budget of around $400,000 and not to exceed $500,000 on our homestead plans. This is the land, home and improvements we want to do.Our list for the homestead phase of our life is far more luxurious than I’ve seen on most homestead bloggers and YouTubers. It’s why I am such a big proponent of living the life you want to life, but just being intelligent about it.
Our list includes:
40 or more acres, mostly timber where I can build MTB and running trails
Water on or accessible from the property: lakes, streams, rivers are all acceptable
3 acres or more of semi cleared land near the home for agriculture
Outbuildings – at least 1 but more is better
A mostly or fully remodeled home with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with significant space for food storage
This is the part of the plan that is going to take the longest. While we could afford a mortgage on this dream property it is a personal goal to have no mortgage. Our current home is worth $75,000-$100,000 more than what we owe. We also have another $30,000 in after tax savings.
I put a lot of my free time into working on projects at our current home to raise the value as well as living frugally to save as much of our income as we can.
We currently save 100% of the income from all our businesses towards this goal. There are a lot of variables but this should be achievable in 3-5 years depending on market returns and if we can maintain these income levels.
When reviewing this plan there are people who would say it’s too conservative that with our income, savings and expenses that we could quit today and go homesteading now. There are others that would say I’m not going to have enough of a cushion should things change. All of those perspectives and opinions are equally valid. The plan above works for us. Both my wife and I have serious anxiety issues and this very conservative plan with multiple revenue streams along with a very comfortable retirement account is what works for us to sleep at night. If we needed to we could live on just the retail business income, if that needed to stop we could live on just the investment properties income, if that didn’t work then at least we own land that is producing a majority of our food and water needs.
That’s the plan. Keep maxing the retirement accounts and save everything else to buy a homestead with cash. Then spend our days teaching our children how to live off the land, growing your own food along with selling at farmer’s markets/roadside, and hiking on our private slice of rural America on trails we built ourselves. I can’t think of a better dream to be able to pursue.
Hey there, I’m the FIRE Dad. I have been working on this idea for years and even have multiple old blog style posts on my Google Drive. I have never published anything or put real effort into the process, but with the pandemic of 2020 and some life changing events I have decided that now is the best time.
I have played around with the idea of FIRE for a long time now. I’m not nearly as frugal as those that usually blog, but I’m nowhere near as spendy-pants as others at my income level. Through some decent investments and saving so much of what we make each year and investing that money into business opportunities at the age of 35 I have reached the point of Leanfire.
Along with reaching Leanfire in the middle of a global pandemic, finding out my wife is pregnant and having one of my businesses totally shut down (we are in live events) we had a lot of time to finally evaluate what we really wanted out of life. Surprise, surprise it isn’t career oriented. My wife and I currently live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, Estes Park, CO. The views will take your breath away almost every day. We have world class hiking, climbing, trail running, backcountry skiing along with any other adventure you could want. The town is small but the tourists bring bigger businesses and we have those benefits year round. Despite it being a nearly perfect place to live we have decided to plan on a move and not a move that most anyone would expect.
Our goal is to buy a large plot of land in the northern midwest with 30 or more acres with a mostly done house and lots of timber. Any guest quarters, outbuildings will be high on our list along with any farming equipment because we are taking steps to start homesteading. We have some experience and are taking the next 1-4 years to hone those skills before we go “live” and us eating is somewhat dependent on our skills.
So that’s the goal, we want to spend $400,000 or less on a homestead with tons of timber to hike, run, bike, and build more trails. I believe in doing things as cost effectively as possible while providing the most enjoyment. For us, homesteading is going to be the way we want our children raised. We want them to gain the skills to be self-sufficient, knowing where your food comes from and how to get it, how to hunt and respect where your meat comes from as well, and have a family that is active and engaged in their upbringing.
We have grown herbs and small vegetables in the past, but were not particularly successful. We also had chickens which went quite well until a bear came and caused a bloodbath. Homestead 101 began for 2020 and it’s set to hard mode living in the mountains, but we are looking forward to growing our skills and getting ready for the big leagues. On this blog you can expect topics that relate to this journey in any way, from how I make a living, saving, investing to how I build my raised beds, my hydroponics experiments and which tomatoes can grow at 7,500’ of elevation.