Tag Archives: frugal mindset

Strive for FI or Take it Easy?

credit: Link Hoang

credit: Link Hoang

One topic that I’ve been obsessed about is the concept of reaching financial independence (FI) at an early age. It’s not about not working. It’s about spending time doing things that you want to do with your time. One obstacle that I face is that I live in a high cost of living city in NYC. Yes, I realize this is a decision that my family has made as moving to a lower cost area would definitely speed up our journey to early FI. However, we have no plans to leave the area because our family and friends are here.

I’ve always been a frugal person and a good saver. When I got my first job, I immediately signed up for my employer sponsored retirement plan. I also opened an IRA account thanks to the encouragement of my father. However, after reading stories of regular people reaching FI in their 30s and 40s, I started wondering if I could do it as well. While I had saved a good amount in retirement accounts, especially when compared to my peers, I was no where close to FI. I had to turbo-charge my savings and investing rate if I wanted to get there. I started to max out my 457 contributions and I increased my wife’s contributions. I also increased our contributions to each of our Roth IRA accounts as well. My wife and I are naturally frugal. Always have been. We had no consumer debt and never did. We were living well within our means, but having an audacious goal like early retirement/financial independence really motivated us to go from ordinary savers to extraordinary savers.

Saving Fatigue

Brandon from the Mad Fientist talked about how there were some dark times in his road to FIRE. He wrote that he went from being frugal to depriving himself and isolating him and his wife during his pursuit of FIRE. I am not facing that dark time. I am just uncertain whether early FIRE is attainable. And if it is not, would I be better off loosening the purse strings and coast to semi-early FIRE at age 55. If I was certain that I could hit FIRE, then by all means I’d push to get there. It’s hard to keep motivated when a goal is almost 10 years away. It’s even harder if you don’t know for sure if you’re reach it.

I’m already on track for semi-early retirement!

In my previous post, I wrote that I will have a pension at around age 55. I have no doubt that I would retire at that point. Actually, as a frugal family, I think we would be able to retire on the pension alone. But I wouldn’t want to do that. We save a good amount in our 457 plans as well as in our Roth IRA plans. Even if we loosen the purse strings, we would still save for retirement in these accounts. There is a calculator on my 457 provider’s website which tells you whether you are on track for retirement based on how much you think you’ll need, how much you’ve saved, and what you’re contributing to your retirement accounts. It tells me that not only am I on track for retirement at age 55, our savings rate exceeds what we’ll likely need in retirement. Of course, these are only estimates and being a bit risk averse, I’d prefer to overfund. Chances are if I don’t hit FI in my mid 40s, I’ll likely stick it out until age 55. Those golden handcuffs get stronger as the lure of a fully funded pension and subsidized health benefits might be too hard to pass up.

What would change if we ditched the early FI goal?

Many in the frugal and FIRE blog space write about value-based spending and intentional living. They write that if they came upon some extra money, they wouldn’t change anything with their spending. I have written that living a rich life doesn’t have to be an expensive life. That still remains true. But I would be lying if I said, my financial choices wouldn’t change one bit if I had an extra thousand dollars coming in each month.

No, I wouldn’t suddenly buy a fancy car or go out to expensive 5-star Michelin rated restaurants. That’s just not me. I’m never going to be a spendthrift wasting money on frivolous things. I do think that I would like to move to a bigger place at some point as we will likely outgrow our 850 square foot apartment. Housing is expensive here in this high cost of living area. This is the main area in our budget which would expand if we decided to loosen the purse strings. I’d be more likely to take on a higher mortgage or rent payment if early FI wasn’t the goal. I’d also be more likely to splurge on travel and entertainment activities too. And we’d be okay financially. We just wouldn’t be able to reach financial independence in our 40s.

Will I still want to retire early in 10 years?

Of, course I would, right? At first, it sounds like a silly question, but something that still needs answering. The main reason I’m obsessed with FIRE is because I feel like I have no time. My work days consists of a long commute as well as driving the baby to and from grandma’s for childcare purposes. By the time, I get back, it’s dinner time, bath time for the kids, and some household chores. When we wake up the next day, it’s the same routine. On the weekends, we try to run some errands while also making sure we do something fun with the kids. We also try to visit our parents. Many parents with grown children tell me not to miss these precious moments. Mr. Money Mustache and his wife retired early to rise their son together without the shackles of the 9 to 5 job. I’d love to have that freedom as well.

A lot can change in 10 years. By that time, my kids will be in the pre-teen to teenage years. Will they even want to spend that much time with good old dad? I haven’t really fleshed out what I would be doing in early retirement as it seems still far away. Sure, I’d love to spend more time on this blog, but would this blog still even exist? I would like to volunteer, spend more time with my wife, and travel. But, I have a decent amount of vacation days from my employer and my job isn’t too stressful. Is the extra freedom worth taking off my golden handcuffs? Would I enjoy spending a little more in the present rather than saving a whole lot for early FI?

So should I put the pedal to the metal and strive for FI or just take it easy?

Related posts: Just as I was facing this dilemma, I read some blog posts related to this issue. The blogger at Bayalis is the Answer said that you can’t fail at fire, because no matter what, you’ll get somewhere that is worth going. Likewise, Matt from Optimize Your Life, wrote that he is saving for FI because it gives you options even if you haven’t fully reached financial independence.

Living Rich Cheaply: Have Your Cake And Eat It Too!

credit: freedigitalphotos.net by Marin

credit: freedigitalphotos.net by Marin

A few weeks ago, my wife was debating whether to spend money on something. I forget what it was. I said to Mrs. Living Rich Cheaply, “You can’t afford everything. But you can afford anything,” quoting the wise words of Paula Pant, who blogs at Afford Anything. The basic premise is that you can afford anything that you want, but you have to prioritize what it is that is truly important to you, and cut out the expenses which aren’t that important. My wife, fortunately is a frugal person like me, but she responded by saying, “that’s a good point, so why does your blog’s tagline say that ‘you can have your cake and eat it too?”

Mrs. Living Rich Cheaply makes a good point. So now after starting this blog over a year and a half ago, let me finally explain how the title of my blog “Living Rich Cheaply” and the tagline “Have your cake and eat it too!” came about. Years ago I saw a book that included tips to live “twice as well on the same income” and I thought to myself that I had to have it. I loved the idea that you could in effect live “the good life,” but not have to spend as much doing so.

When I first started blogging, I wanted to share tips on how to optimize spending and methods to save money by writing about credit card cash back and bonuses, shopping portals, discounted gift cards, getting great deals at different stores, stacking coupons, travel hacking, finding hidden gems at thrift shops, buying refurbished items. I also wanted to encourage people to get deals by being patient and to seek quality versus brand names to uphold an image. You don’t have to spend a lot to look great and to have great experiences. You can be frugal and fabulous. When most people hear the word “frugal,” they immediately associate it with deprivation and sacrifice. I don’t think that is the case. Being frugal doesn’t mean that you’ll dress like a bum or that you won’t get to experience things that others get to experience. You can live a happy, fun and fulfilling life while following the tenets of frugality. To steal a phrase coined by another wise blogger, Shannon from Financially Blonde, you can be fancy frugal !

My post Changing Your Money Mindset captures the essence of what I think this blog is about. I wrote that I drive a car with all the latest safety features, that is comfortable, reliable, and attractive (in my opinion). It’s a Hyundai Sonata which I bought used a few years ago. Sure, it may not have all the bells and whistles of a luxury sedan or the acceleration capability of a sports car, but it gets me to where I want to go safely and reliably. What else do you really need? I wrote that we do sometimes go out to eat at restaurants, but it’s not going to be an expensive Michelin restaurant with fancy décor and plating. I also use Groupon and Restaurant.com certificates to get discounts while eating out. In addition, I have found the joy of cooking and eating at home, which I definitely feel is not only lighter on my wallet but much healthier. Instead of going out to the movie theater or going to bars with our friends, we’d prefer to watch Netflix in the comforts of home and to entertain friends at our home or go to their homes. So no, we are not depriving ourselves nor are we making big sacrifices. We are not living cheaply. Instead, we’re living rich cheaply.

While part of living rich cheaply is the ability to have the things that the “Joneses” have, but not to spend as much, I think a big part of living rich cheaply is to not chase after the “Joneses” in the first place. For many of us, it is a race to see who can accumulate the most and the coolest toys. But, sometimes less is more. And sometimes, the best things in life are free. I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but it really is true. Think of the things that you care about most. For me, it’s spending quality time with my close friends and family members. Most of the things that make us happy don’t cost a lot. Remember that the next time you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses. Of course, I am human and do deal with envy at times. But I just remind myself of all the good things in my life. My definition of a “rich life” is no longer one filled with expensive consumer goods or fancy clothes to flaunt my wealth. A rich life doesn’t have to be an expensive life. I truly have all that I need, and I could not ask for more. I can have my cake and eat it too! Because what good is cake if you can’t eat it?

Changing Your Money Mindset is the Key

credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

When asked the first step to financial freedom or to get out of debt, most people will say that it is to make a budget or to cut out expenses. The next step is to save and invest. These are the basic steps to having success in reaching your financial goals. However, without changing your money mindset, it will still be difficult to attain and maintain those goals. One of the reasons why I really enjoy reading the blog written by Mr. Money Mustache is because his guide to financial independence is not a mere how-to guide to saving by budgeting and cutting expenses. He has made Mustachianism into a way of life! He explains that you can have a good life living frugally or said in other terms, you can be living rich cheaply! Whenever opponents deride his extreme sacrifices to reach “retirement,” he contends that he has a nice house, eats organic foods, and has plenty of “toys.”

In an article by Laurie from the Frugal Farmer, she wrote about getting out of debt and said that you should view it as a “lifestyle change” rather than a “diet.” I think that is an excellent analogy, whether you are talking about getting out of debt or pursuing financial independence. With a diet, you inevitably get off the diet once you’ve reached the desired weight. This is one reason why almost all diets fail. Once you’ve reached the desired weight, if you go back to your prior lifestyle, you’ll gain back the weight and have to diet once again. Not so with a lifestyle change. If you change your lifestyle to one where you eat healthy and exercise, you will very likely be able to maintain that desired weight without ever dieting.

Similarly, dieting in the personal finance world would be akin to cutting expenses by making “sacrifices.” If you see cutting expenses such as cable television, fancy clothes, eating out or other luxuries as a “sacrifice” and self-deprivation, then it will be very hard to reach your financial goals. Changing your mindset where buying fancy clothes and eating out all the time is not a sacrifice is key in making strides in your money goals. You have to learn the difference between a want and a need. You have to prioritize and do some soul searching and figure out what really brings you happiness. Is it spending quality time with your loved ones or is it buying an luxury items? But once, again, changing your lifestyle does not necessarily mean not having many of the things that the Joneses have. This is living RICH cheaply, not living cheap cheaply.

Instead of buying a luxury car such as a BMW or a Mercedes Benz, I bought a Hyundai Sonata used. Both cars get you from point A to point B. I’m sure the luxury cars have some fancy features, but I don’t really know what they are nor do I care because my car is perfect for me. It has all the latest safety features, it is comfortable, it is reliable, it gets me where I need to go, and I do think it is a pretty attractive car.

A lot of people need to have the latest tech gadgets such as the newest iPad which costs about $500. I already have a laptop, so there really is no need for an iPad. Actually the laptop has more functionality and was cheaper than that iPad. But I am a little ashamed to say that, I did buy a tablet as well recently. What can I say, I indulged myself. I bought the Google Nexus on sale (as the model has been out for a year), with a coupon, reward points, cash back for $125. I figured at that price, I could afford to indulge a little.

Fancy clothes? I’m not a slave to fashion and rarely need to buy new clothes. I like to think that I have a “classic” look so my clothes don’t go out of style.

Going out to eat? When I’m busy and tired I might not enjoy having to cook, but in general I’ve learned to love it. (My wife and I love watching cooking shows and competitions like Master Chef). I like trying new recipes and I like that the food I make is healthier. But yes we do go out to eat. We don’t dine at fancy restaurants that charge an arm and a leg. Why? Is the food better? Not always. Maybe the decor is nicer, but when I eat out, I’m there for the food not the decor. And of course, we always find deals when we eat out.

Instead of going out to watch the latest movie, my wife and I watch Netflix in the comfort of our own home. So no, I do not think we are depriving ourselves. We are still enjoying life. We’re just not spending as much doing it. We are Living Rich Cheaply!

How did you change your money mindset? When you cut out expenses in your budget, do you think you are depriving yourself something?