Update: 2017 Spending

Update: So, it turns out, I suck at math. I’ve revised the original posting with new figures.

Ok. The math part isn’t true. It’s just that I didn’t remember some things that come straight out of the wife’s paycheck, like FICA and Health Insurance. This was pointed out to me by a fellow attendee of the local ChooseFI meet up.

. . .

Let’s a take a look at where the money went in 2017:

Category  $, 2017
Taxes  $  (18,594.18)
Home Ownership  $  (17,314.76)
Fun!  $  (11,622.18)
Work  $     (8,668.47)
Groceries & Household Goods  $     (6,247.61)
Medical  $     (5,594.33)
Unknown & Misc.  $     (4,833.96)
Automobile  $     (4,127.47)
Exercise  $     (1,888.95)
Utilities  $     (1,776.18)
Insurance  $     (1,773.30)
Pooper  $     (1,738.91)
Clothing  $        (582.67)
Grand Total  $  (84,762.97)

Home Ownership

Let’s start with the second biggest category: homeownership. I actually thought this would be bigger. (That’s what she said.) I’m sure many folks pay more in rent than $1,443/month. And I think we’d be hard-pressed to find a place for less than $1,443 to fit our wants. (I know because I looked recently.)

Side note: I did say “wants,” and not “needs.” This is because our little guy requires a little spot outside where he can do his business while we’re out making that cheddar. Without him, I’m sure we could get that number down.

Now – to be fair – I’ve separated mortgage interest from mortgage principal. I’m treating mortgage interest as an expense (and is included in this category) and am not counting mortgage principal – because that’s an investment.

Home Improvement  $         (1,519.35)
Insurance, Ho  $         (1,330.00)
Mortgage Interest  $         (8,749.43)
Taxes, Property  $         (5,087.69)
Water & Sewer  $             (628.29)

Mortgage interest is the biggest expense for the category – followed by property taxes. And of course insurance. Note that I’ve included water & sewer utilities in here. Why? Because were we to rent, that cost would be included in the cost of rent. Also, the line items for HOI includes both flood and earthquake insurance.

I should probably include a portion of our electric and gas utilities here too – since technically renting a smaller apartment would leave us with a smaller utility bill.

In the future, the home improvement line item could go anywhere – either increase or decrease. (We had some asbestos work done on the house that ran us a pretty penny in 2017.) Property taxes will only go up over time and mortgage interest will do down over time as the loan naturally amortizes. It’s frustrating that our biggest line item in our budget doesn’t leave us with a big opportunity to cut our spending – outside of moving!



Our biggest line item and everyone’s least favorite. Taxes will definitely be lower in 2018 because I plan to use more tax-advantaged retirement accounts. In addition to the usual route of maxing out the HSA, I’ve got a few other plans this year to drastically decrease our taxes:

  1. Contribute to a Traditional IRA instead of a Roth IRA. (We contributed to a Roth IRA in year’s past)
  2. Max out the wife’s 401(k) account. (We were previously putting in a token amount into her Roth 401(k).)
  3. Create and max out a solo 401(k) for me. (Last year, I contributed the max possible a SEP IRA – which is to say not much given my income!)
Federal Income Tax -9387
state income tax -2319
Lien’s payroll taxes -6888.18

Side note: these taxes are actually estimates. I’ve filed an extension for 2017.

Making tax-deductible contributions should drop our taxable income by roughly $50,000, slashing our tax bill. I can’t wait to do this exercise again next year just to see how little we will pay in taxes! (The lower tax rates won’t hurt either.) There is much promise for this category for reducing our spending. And given that taxes are our second-biggest expense, that’s very comforting.

Second side note: I wish my wish had a section 125 Cafeteria plan at work – so HSA contributions could go directly into it – avoiding FICA and $527.85 of taxes.


Yikes. This one is a doozy. This one is very, very big. (That’s what she said.)

Bars  $             (482.02)
Eating Out  $         (1,351.76)
vacation  $         (9,788.40)

The bar line item is more or less the wife socializing with friends – and I wouldn’t dare tell her what to do – so that’s that. Our eating out budget isn’t huge – roughly $100/month. For now, it may make sense to maintain a date night once a month – and focus on cutting spending in other categories. (Or at least that’s what I already promised the wife!)

No, let’s look at that vacation line item. Ohmiegawd. That’s a lot of money.

Recently, we want on a six-day trip to Hawaii. That trip cost us $2,200 – and included a scuba dive and a luau. The daily cost of the vacation was  $366/day (and we didn’t even out that much).

Side note: If we’re spending $366/day on vacation, this begs the question: how much do we spend per day when not on vacation? Assuming the same spending, but without the line item and the actual vacation time taken when we are on vacation, we spend about $166/day. So, vacation costs 2.2 times as much as not.

Wait a second – can we go back to that other figure? It costs us $166/day just to exist. Wow. That seems like a lot. Every day we’re spending $166 (not including vacation!). That seems like a lot of money, right? I feel like getting that to be a double-digit such as $99/day would be a good goal. I’ll add this to my goals list.

And looking at vacation spending, we only really went on one awesome trip in 2017 – Playa Del Carmen. Jesus. What is going on here!?

Well, what’s great about tracking expenses is the knowledge it provides. I know that we are spending almost $10k/year on vacation. Wow. Can it be decreased? Of course! Will it? I have no idea. We’ll see what 2018 has in store for us. Of course, with the $2,200 trip for HI for six days, we’re off to a dubious start.

Decreasing Vacation Expenses

There are at least three ways that I can think of right now.

Credit Card Rewards

We have already been doing this. And in fact, we recently have been denied on a couple credit card applications because we’ve likely flown far and above the 5/24 rule. So, while we will keep doing this strategy over the long-term, I’m not sure how helpful it will be for 2018. Not being able to heavily lean on this strategy for 2018 may mean that this could increase our travel expenses. FAIL!

Geo Arbitrage

This means going to less-expensive destinations, like Mexico, Thailand, or Bali (instead of Hawaii). I’m super excited about these trips – because I can spend money and not feel guilty about the value I’m getting for it. We did Mexico last year – and are gearing up for possibly Bali either later this year or next year. I’m really looking forward to that.

Be Less Particular

I can be kind of annoying. You know, as in I-need-my-own-private-bathroom-kind-annoying. Well, not anymore! If a shared bathroom means a less expensive vacation expense, then sign me up for the hostel or the Captain’s Quarters! Of course, when you take advantage of the second principle – geo-arbitrage – you may be able to afford to be more particular just because the dollar can sometimes go so much farther in certain places.

Groceries & Household Goods

I know that I can get this expense down. I am determined to spend less in 2018.

Alcohol  $             (122.52)
Groceries  $         (2,617.94)
Household Goods  $             (682.02)
Costco (Groceries, etc.)  $         (3,152.66)

Side note: I buy a lot of non-groceries at Costco, such as movie tickets, sunscreen, clothes, and alcohol. But for now, my expenses aren’t that detailed.

I think a good goal for 2018 would be to target grocery spending to $3,600 for the year – or $300/month. (In the past when I tracked my expenses, I was able to achieve $300/month in groceries.) I think that this is definitely achievable again. I’ve been shopping more at Costco Business Center recently which has cheaper cuts of meat available (like beef cheek!) and larger quantities available at a bigger discount (like ground beef for $1.99/lbs).

I think that I can also whittle down the household goods categories. More than $100 of that is from Target – which I am determined never to set foot in for the rest of my life. Some of that is als0 some uncategorized stuff from Amazon. (We had a free prime trial for a while that certainly prompted us to spend more than necessary on stuff we didn’t need.) Without those two lines items, I am confident that I can get this category down for $4,000 for 2018.


I had several one-time start-up costs (for websites, etc.) and also did a lot of outsourcing to rather mediocre editors, etc. I foresee cutting this figure in at half for 2018. Those start-up costs are gone and I’ll just be doing my own editing, etc. I look forward to seeing how 2018 goes for this line item.


Most of this was for (some overdue) dental procedures. This was pretty fairly split between myself and the wife. I believe that the wife is all caught up – but I might need yet another $3,000+ procedure. At least that’s $3,000 that my previous dentist quoted me.

I plan for this line item to be smaller in 2018. On my list of To-Do’s is shopping that procedure in Tijuana or elsewhere. If I can find a competitively-priced, competent dentist south of the border, then this line item should much less for 2018.

Unkown & Misc.

Obviously, I need to do a better job of tracking my expenses. And I will for 2018. I am looking at expenses monthly now – giving me a much better idea of what a particular line item on that budget actually was.

 Cash Withdrawal  $         (1,183.50)
 Electronics  $             (645.77)
 Fees, Account/Bank  $             (197.31)
 Gift / Donation  $             (568.00)
 Hobbies  $             (321.22)
 Unknown & Misc.  $         (1,704.99)
 Women’s Stuff  $             (213.17)


Automobiles are certainly a wealth destroyer. Pretty much every early retirement blog and everything else says so. For 2017, we’ve managed to let automobiles destroy close to $4,000 of our wealth. That sucks.

Auto Expenses  $         (1,129.99)
Gasoline  $         (1,694.08)
Insurance, Auto  $         (1,008.50)

For the sake of an experiment, let’s see what putting $4,000 away every year in investments could do for our financial future. Using the MMM post as an example, we could retire at least two years earlier were it not for this line time.


Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is expensive. I do it really enjoy it, though. Both my wife and are moving offices later this year. That means a different commute – and possibly a different housing situation. But, it also means a different jiu-jitsu studio for me – as the studio I’m currently at is en route to (and from) work – making it very convenient.

BJJ  $         (1,588.95)
Gym  $             (300.00)

This means that price I pay for BJJ will likely change. I’m aiming for it to decrease. $165/month plus various other fees and expenses is just too much money given my goals.


Note that I’ve segregated out HOI into homeownership and auto insurance into the automotive category. Insurance will actually be going up for 2018. That’s because the wife left her sweet gig at Deloitte for a new firm. The new firm’s benefits aren’t competitive with Deloitte. This includes not providing long-term disability insurance (LTDI). So, I went out to buy more LTDI to make up for her current lack of benefits. This expense will likely be $800 or more in the future.

Insurance, Disability  $         (1,024.30)
Insurance, Life  $             (534.00)
Insurance, Umbrella  $             (215.00)

Side note: Having no LTDI from Deloitte is actually a blessing in disguise because most employer-provided LTD policies aren’t any good. (Deloitte was no exception to this.) So, while we are now paying more money than when we were paying before, we are getting protection. This wasn’t even possible before because you can’t buy a good LTD policy is your employer gives you a bad LTD policy for free. Click here to learn what constitutes a good LTD policy.


This might go down a little bit for 2018. I am doing my best to keep lights off – and use the heater less. I’ll try very hard to sweat it out in the summer instead of using the A/C. So, perhaps a small decrease is in store for us in 2018, but not a big change overall.

Gas & Electric  $             (656.82)
Utilities, Internet  $             (575.72)
Utilities, Phone  $             (543.64)

Also, I am switching to a new cell phone (MintSim) that is 1/3 the cost of my old plan (Straight Talk Wireless). Mint offers plans as low as $15/month. On Straight Talk, I’m currently paying $45/month. I haven’t made the switch yet so I can’t yet attest to the quality of MintSim. I can only hope it’s good enough I can have a smaller phone bill.


It’s anyone’s guess what our little guy is going to cost us in 2018. He’s a wild card! Hopefully less than 2017 because of a needed tooth procedure.


I’m pretty much determined not to buy any clothing for 2018. I have more clothes than I ever wear. So, I’m confident that this figure will be less in 2018.

2018 (Non-?) Spending Goals

I think that there is a lot of possibilities to decrease expenses for 2018


Category  $, 2017 2018?
Taxes  $  (18,594.18) Decrease
Home Ownership  $  (17,314.76) No Change
Fun!  $  (11,622.18) No Change
Work  $     (8,668.47) Decrease
Groceries & Household Goods  $     (6,247.61) Decrease
Medical  $     (5,594.33) No Change
Unknown & Misc.  $     (4,833.96) No Change
Automobile  $     (4,127.47) No Change
Exercise  $     (1,888.95) Decrease
Utilities  $     (1,776.18) No Change
Insurance  $     (1,773.30) No Change
Pooper  $     (1,738.91) No Change
Clothing  $        (582.67) Decrease

Some changes to less expensive options (like a different cell phone plan, and a lower-cost vet for Pooper), or new strategies (like taxes), some one-time costs (work and hopefully medical), and a general determination to spend less money on everything should mean lower spending across multiple categories. Wish me luck for 2018!

Life Goals

When I first started this blog, my intent was to house some posts for another website that was going the way of the dodo bird. I didn’t want that content to disappear forever (even if no one ever ended up reading it) because I had put in considerable time into writing up that content. (It was for some homebrew recipes.) After creating my own online space for homebrew experimentation, I then branched out into BBQ, and then of course baking. So, the blog then became a place “experiments in the culinary arts.”*

And having an online library of past (read: failed) recipes was a good to have. It serves as a resource with which to remember what the ideal temperature for brisket is, and the best technique for incorporating vanilla flavor into an oatmeal stout.

But now I’m going to broaden the theme of this blog one more time. I’m going beyond beer, and even beyond food. That new theme will be pretty everything I want to write about.

Financial Independence

Of late, I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of stuff about the early retirement / financial independence (FIRE) movement. (This has also been referred to as a fully-funded lifestyle change (FFLC).) In fact, I’ve been talking about it so much, that I’m quite confident that I’m getting on my poor wife’s nerves. I believe she used the word, “obsessed.” Her word choice is fair.

But, convenient enough, I believe the mere title of this blog lends itself well to the topic of FI. Because, that’s what you do with FI – go after pursuits of passion, such as mastering the perfect bottle of home-brewed beer.

Stuff I Want to Do with FI

The more I read about FI, the more I realize that are just so many things that I want to do (homebrewing included), and that I will simply never even come close accomplishing if I have to work 40 hours a week (or more) until I’m age 65 (or more). What are these things that I’m so eager to accomplish? To name a few of them . . .


Right now, I’ve got a batch of homebrew sitting on the secondary fermenter. And I want to bottle that batch, and make a million more beers. On my list for near-future recipes include another super-light session IPA, a coconut stout (as inspired by a recent Hawaiian vacation), another bourbon beer, and kombucha. But, precious weekend time is so very finite. Each weekend comes and goes, with the current and future homebrew projects getting pushed to the back burner.


I’ve got several (poorly-read) blogs. I joke about them being poorly-read, but it is true. Perhaps they would be better-read if I put out more valuable content. But, good, valuable content will only come with more practice in writing that very content (at least for me).

To be clear, my goal is not to get people to read my work. My goal is to write. Having readers is just a nice side benefit of writing (with engaged readers an even better benefit). Writing is the reward. It is the end.

So, I want to write about FI, and all the fun stuff I’m get to do with FI (i.e. homebrewing), and my journey to FI here. I want to write about deeply nerdy and complex financial topics at JonLuskin.com, and more basic finance 101 at Define Financial’s blog. I also want to keep writing utterly nerdy academic journal articles for the Journal of Financial Planning and other venues.

But writing takes time. Lots of time (especially for me because I’m not the greatest writer). And there’s no way I’m going to come close to tackling this amount of writing with my current 40 hour/week** schedule. This is why FI is a must for me.


If you read one book a month for 10 years, you’ve only read 360 books. ~Steven Rocha

I don’t read enough. (I’ve been starting to do more of it lately, though.) And, I want to do more of it. But reading takes time. To even make a dent in my growing “for later” list on the public library website, I’m going to need more time.

The growing list of books I want to read. This doesn’t include the books I already have!


Right now, I’ve got a goal to do Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) four days a week. Sometimes, I get there. Sometimes, it’s just two days a week. Ideally, I’d be doing some sort of exercise six days a week – be it BJJ, or cycling,or running or hiking the dog.

Side note: At $165/month, BJJ is not inexpensive. (And $165/month is me asking for a negotiated rate.) Likely the subject of a future blog post is how to get this cost down.

Second side note: I’d like to get our poop factory more exercise, more outdoor time. We’re not even getting him on a hike once a or right now. I want that to change.

This guy is so good at making poops.

Home Improvement

If you own a house (and not a condo or townhouse with a Home Owner’s Association to outsource everything to) you know that this is a monster. Here’s a list of stuff I want to do to the house but have not gotten around to because of finite weekend hours and the nature of priorities:

  • Caulk the front windows
  • Replace the front door trim/insulation
  • Replace the rear patio door trim
  • Feared the front cityscape (again for the third time)
  • Fix the garage door sensor
  • Create a front walkway with pavers/flagstones
  • Lighting for the front walkway
  • Fix the light assembly above the garage door
  • Insulation for the attic
  • Fix the A/C wiring
  • Fix the A/C duct mounts
  • Fix the laminate flooring that is water-logged by the kitchen and generally out of sorts elsewhere in the house (which should also fix the sliding doors)
  • Touch up the poor paint job performed by contractors we hired when we moved into the house

Side note: I don’t think I’ll ever hire anyone to do anything ever again, if I can ever avoid it. Why not? Likely because whoever I would be hiring could not give a fuck about their work. It’s not their home/property/etc. they are working on. They don’t have to live in it. So they just don’t care? They don’t!

What happens when you hire someone who doesn’t care because it’s not their own home they are working on? You get to light your own money on fire for the privilege of cleaning up someone else’s mess. No thanks. I’ll never again hire someone else for something that I can teach myself to do.

  • Install a ladder to the attic.
  • Update the 70’s era bathrooms
  • Maybe install crown molding. This is at the end of the list of house projects. I actually cut this off the list of jobs we paid the contractors to do because we were spending too much money on the house.
  • Refinish/paint cabinets and do something with the hardware

I hope to come back to this blog post over time and strike out items on this home improvement list.


I could be better at this.


I’ve had a couple successful ventures with gardening in the past. It was awesome!

We grew carrots once.

I’d like to get back into it – gardening and growing stuff. Related, I’d like to get the vermi-compost back up and running as well.

Lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs are high on my list. Artichokes would be an amazing project.


I’m writing this on a return trip from Maui. It was amazing, of course. But, as with every single trip planned by my wife, it was rushed. Given limited vacation time, the result is a tight itinerary with simply too much to do, and never enough time to relax. And while it’s fun to do fun stuff, being rushed fucking sucks. And given that not doing all the stuff my wife wants to do is just not an option, I just need more time for travel.

Hawaii sucked. Just kidding – it was awesome!

Related note: The other thing is that (and depending your particular amount of life experience, you may disagree), I am approaching the age of dirt. And when you’re dirt, you can’t do as much. I don’t want to wait until I am 65 to travel the world. I want to do it now while I still can, and I can enjoy it.

On our recent Maui trip, we did a four -mile round trip hike to see an 80-ft. waterfall by Hana. It was awesome. But I felt like a feeble old man navigating the muddy trail, afraid I’d slip for another time. That experienced sucked. I’m not in terrible shape. But, I’m also not in fantastic shape either. But, I’m very cognizant of the fact that my body is aging, and it’s only going to get worse. The solution is to exercise more now, and do those awesome traveling adventures now.

More garbage photos of us in Hawaii having an awful time.

New Life Goal: Build an Imu

If you know me or read this blog, you know I’m into barbeque. But true barbeque isn’t turning the dial on your propane-fueled stove outside. It’s not your charcoal burning kettle. It’s not even your wood smoker. Real barbeque is digging a pit in the ground, filling it wood embers, and then covering that when rocks, then wherever you’re cooking, and then dirt, and letting that marinate for half a day.

I really need to do that before I die. It’ll be a be a neat party trick.


Recently, my associate had to move homes. He shared with me that he was surprised at the amount of stuff that he had. He said it made him (figuratively) sick.

I couldn’t agree more. The amount of stuff I have also make me sick!

We’ve managed to acquire a lot of stuff. Too much stuff. Stuff we never use. Stuff we forgot we had. I need to get rid of a lot of this stuff.


I can mend stuff. And I really enjoy it. But I want to be able to use a sewing machine. This means I can alter clothes and fix them more easily and professionally.

I’ve been leaning on my wife to sew stuff with the sewing machine for me. But it’s really a chore for her. So, I want to be able to do this myself.

I’ve lost some weight recently (a good thing) and my clothes need some work.

Other Stuff

Fix stuff: It’s really satisfying to fix stuff, especially over and above buying it new. I’ve gotten a couple inflatable sleeping pads that need patching.

Save more of the planet: Just generally being a little more environmentally conscious would be nice.

Organize the garage: Such a mess. I’ve already started this, but I’ve got a long way to go.

Learn to play the guitar: I’d do this if I had infinite time. I had learned a few chords once to surprise my wife for my wedding proposal. I ended up selling the guitar because I just never found the time to practice. I did enjoy it.

Spend more time outside: This could be as easy as reading a book in the backyard or bicycling somewhere instead or driving, or as involved as going for a hike or going to the beach. (Fortunately, there first two lend themselves well to minimizing spending.)

Learn to surf: Not high on my priority list, but it seems amazing. With more time, I’d take this on. I even had a few folks offer to teach me.

The FI Plan

How will I do all this? That’s a great question – and the subject for a future post!


*As my wife would point out, that sounds a little pretentious.

**To be clear, I still want to work. I don’t want to stop working. I just want to work a little bit less – and absolutely only want to work on the things that I absolutely love – like writing blogs posts, trading client accounts, doing financial planning, and creating original research.