Photo credit: Austen Frostad on Unsplash
How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life in Spokane?
Hello, and welcome to interview #21 in the How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life interview series! Part interview, part spending report, this series will introduce us to FIRE* seekers from all over the world.
They’ll reveal their essential spending and money-saving tips—all to help us learn new ways to save on our own expenses. As a bonus, we’ll also get to discover the unique advantages and challenges of living in different places around the globe.
*FIRE stands for financial independence, retire early. It’s also known as FI—financial independence. For more info, see my FI School series—it’ll teach you everything you need to know about FI (and FIRE).
About the interview series
I created an intro page for this interview series to help explain what it’s about, what’s included (or not) and why. I’ll also link to all the interviews from the intro page—so check back there to see the entire collection.
Jump to the series intro: How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life? (The Interview Series)
Interview #21: Ryan from Spokane
Chrissy’s note: Ryan uses she/her as well as the gender-neutral they/them pronouns.
In today’s interview, we’ll meet Ryan, who lives with her spouse in Spokane, Washington. Ryan’s another one of my very special interviewees who is not a blogger or podcaster. (However, you can find them on Twitter, under the nom de plume, Thomas A. Waffle.)
I love these interviews with ‘regular’ people (including past interviewees Ana, Carrie, and Nadia). Ryan’s was particularly enjoyable for me because I have a soft spot for our Pacific Northwest neighbours. 💗
I’ve always wanted to visit Spokane, so I appreciated the many details that Ryan took the time to include in their interview. (I could almost picture myself walking down the streets of Spokane with her and her spouse!)
I hope, like me, you find Ryan’s interview inspiring and helpful. They share not only their money-saving tips but also the thought processes behind their decisions (which is invaluable when applying tips from others to our own lives).
Part 1: Getting to know you
Post-FI, Ryan and her spouse plan to spend more time exploring places like Olympic National Park (Photo credit: Emma Dau on Unsplash)
Tell us about you and your partner
Self-described yupsters (Late model Gen X, on the cusp of being Millennial, too self-aware to buy into capitalist greed, too old and jaded to think that our outsider status is truly unique), we’re DINKs with a dog and a house. We’ve been together for almost 19 years, married for all but two of those years, and solid Xennials at 42 and 40.
I work in Marketing, and my spouse is a first responder (formerly a line cook and barista). We both have long-running artistic and creative pursuits that we do for the “love of the art,” not for money.
We combined our finances early on, before we were even married. I’ve taken the lead making sure bills are paid, taxes are done and money is set aside for savings. We’ve had unequal salaries for most of our relationship. I made more money at the beginning until the one year we had equal salaries six years ago. Then, my spouse changed careers and is now bringing in more than me.
I know there are benefits to separate finances, but it wasn’t modeled for me. The concept, with no examples in my life 20 years ago, felt stressful. I’d done the 50/50 split on living expenses with roommates before but didn’t know how to make that work in a relationship with unequal earnings and a shared life.
All of our property is in both of our names, including our bank accounts and cars, which we also did before we were legally married. Even now, as a couple with different last names, I want to ensure that there is never a question of ownership if something happens, even though we live in a community property state.
Where are you in your journey to FIRE?
We are 60% of the way in our journey to FIRE (counting dollars), but in percentage of the working years it’s taken us to get here, we’re 80% through our journey. In 2018, just six months shy of my 40th birthday, I hit the wall at work. I had recently changed jobs (again), and surprise, it wasn’t the answer to all of my stress and work anxiety.
I had been tracking our spending down to the penny for a year at this point. But my goals changed from saving for a large purchase to saving for early retirement. It’s cliché, but I just knew I couldn’t keep doing this for another 25 years.
We’ve always been sensible with money: no credit card debt, saved for retirement and made extra payments to our mortgage principal when we could. I felt confident that we would have enough saved by 65 to retire, even without Social Security.
When we received an increase in pay, we would increase our savings and even started maxing our IRAs when my spouse’s career change provided a 30% increase in our combined salaries. But we also started thinking about using our savings for a big home renovation project or buying land to build a cabin.
I could finally buy a leather couch to replace the scruffy one that’s seen plenty of dog drool and accidents. And then I started questioning everything. When I ran our numbers through a few FIRE calculators, it told me we could hit our FI goal in 7 years.
We weren’t starting from zero since we’d been saving and investing in our retirement accounts for the last 12 years. With all of our current savings and retirement accounts combined, we were just shy of 20% to our FIRE goal.
I made spreadsheets and proposed a budget that would keep us on track and show us where we agreed it was okay to spend money. It didn’t take much convincing to get my spouse on board with the idea. I was honestly a little disappointed that they didn’t want to dive into my spreadsheets or talk through how it would work.
Me: “Hey, did you know if we cut down our frivolous spending, contribute the max to our 401ks and invest the rest in a brokerage account, we could “retire” in 7 years?”
Spouse: “Really? Sounds great. Let’s do it.”
What type of FIRE are you aiming for? (FIRE, Lean FIRE, or Fat FIRE*)
How Chrissy defines FIRE, Lean FIRE, and Fat FIRE
Some people define Lean FIRE as under $40k in annual spending; FIRE as $40–$100k in annual spending; and Fat FIRE as $100k+ in annual spending.
However, I prefer looser definitions that are not based on hard numbers. That’s because $100k could be Fat FIRE in a small Canadian town but Lean FIRE in San Francisco. That said, here are my definitions:
- Lean FIRE: The essentials with little or no discretionary spending.
- FIRE: The essentials plus a comfortable amount of discretionary spending.
- Fat FIRE: The essentials plus a luxurious amount of discretionary spending.
We’re planning for regular old FIRE, but with conservative growth estimates. I know that, despite the recent tumultuous year in the stock market, we’ve experienced a good long bull market run over the last 12 years. My FI goal uses market growth estimates of only 3% real returns without social security and a life expectancy of 102 for me.
My great-grandmother lived to 103, so I might need it. We also live in an area with average cost of living. This makes it easy to keep essential living costs down, but it’s expensive to travel since our airport isn’t a hub and it’s a long drive to anywhere.
Tell us about your living situation
We live in a 1,200 square foot 1920’s classic northwest bungalow (not including partial basement or unheated attic space). In my teens, I was desperate to escape what I saw as suburban isolation and didn’t want the responsibility of maintaining a yard. But in my twenties, I desperately wanted a space of my own that I could improve and make changes to without having to move if the building was sold.
When we were house shopping, we only considered homes within 2 miles of the downtown core and along a bus route. We also focused on older neighborhoods with a business center. Our neighborhood has a tiny business district that has seen exceptional growth and revitalization over the last 10+ years.
We can walk just a few blocks to:
- Get coffee.
- Buy a beer.
- Get bread, pizza, pastries, or a burrito.
- Buy a book.
- Go to a dentist.
- Have cocktails and dinner.
- Do some thrifting.
- Visit the doctor.
- Buy a bike or have it repaired.
- Play in the park.
- Get ice cream.
- Take a yoga class.
- Get a massage.
- Buy flowers.
- Purchase new earrings or a cute outfit.
- Take a cat to the vet.
- Have an açai bowl.
- Pick up chips and a six-pack.
There are even some empty storefronts and a vacant lot waiting to be redeveloped. We live right on a bus route, and it is the rare block that doesn’t have a sidewalk. We don’t have dedicated bike lanes on our street, but it is easy to bike downtown, to the neighboring business strip, or to the grocery, but there are hills. No matter which direction you go to leave our house, there is a hill. So you are going up a hill, either coming or going to your destination.
When we first moved to this house, we could both bike or quickly bus to work (> 2.5 miles). But shortly after, my job moved from downtown out to the suburbs, which made biking a more occasional thing at over 16 miles each way.
For a few years, I worked only 6.5 miles from our house and racked up over 1,500 miles on my bike one year. I have been working from home since March 2020 except for two months this summer, when I went in four days a week. Since the most recent Covid case spike, I’m back to working from home full-time through the end of the year at least.
Why did you choose to live in Spokane?
We both went to High School in Spokane but have lived in other cities/states before and after. Spokane has long been known as a city the youth want to escape from, and it was hard for me to feel okay moving back here after college.
But the cost of living is affordable, generally right at the median for the US, and I decided that those of us who wanted more from the city needed to be part of making that happen.
Being involved in the local arts scene, supporting local businesses, and being an advocate for 20-minute neighborhood and street design are all things I’ve been doing to build the city that I want to live in. I think most of us agree that change has happened, and we’re better for it.
Part 2: The expenses
In this section, Ryan shares their essential expenses and best money-saving tips. But before we get started, let’s review some important notes:
Important notes about the numbers
- Only essential expenses are included.
- Discretionary expenses (e.g. travel, gifts, etc.) are not included.
- Expenses are rounded to the nearest dollar.
- Expenses are displayed in the interviewee’s home currency.
- In this interview, the home currency is US dollars.
- For your convenience, I’ve included a currency converter for each expense.
1. How much does housing cost in Spokane?
We have been mortgage-free since the last quarter of 2019, 12 years after we first bought our house. We bought our house at exactly the wrong time in the last quarter of 2007, right before the housing market, and prices, slumped.
But we made sure we only borrowed as much money as we felt comfortable making payments on with our income at the time. As our income increased over time, the payments were easier on the budget.
In 2007, we felt lucky to lock in an interest rate of 6.5%, which I know all the young people might be shocked by. But my parents had a 13% interest rate when they bought their home (1981) and refinanced when they could to 9%.
We took advantage of the falling mortgage interest rates in 2010 and refinanced to a 15-year loan at 4.125%, which only increased our monthly payments by $150. I never anticipated that rates would continue to fall to the crazy levels they’re at now, but we used to earn interest in our savings account in the old days too.
We were scheduled to have the mortgage paid off in 2025 even with no extra payments, but we felt the pull of paying the loan off in full and eliminating the expense. I first noted the day that our mortgage balance was equal to our emergency fund, and it felt really good.
Then, as our emergency fund grew a bit more, I realized that our expenses without a mortgage would require a smaller emergency fund. The numbers aligned when my spouse received a check for 18 months of back pay after a retroactive salary increase. I withdrew the rest of our mortgage balance from the e-fund, and we were able to pay off the remaining balance.
We live in a two-bed, 1.25 bathroom with a small yard, partial basement, and attic storage space. If we were renting our current house, rent would be approximately $1,400/month. We would still pay all the utilities but wouldn’t be on the hook for property tax, insurance, or regular maintenance.
Property tax ($202/month; $2,423/year)
Our property taxes fund our local city and county governments, police and EMS services, and our public school district that encompasses the entire city and extends into the fringes a bit.
I think the rates are very reasonable when I hear numbers from other parts of the US (and Canada)! Part of the reason our property taxes are low is that our house is modest and not in the “most desirable” neighborhood.
Strata/HOA fees ($0)
We don’t pay HOA fees, and I’m not sure I’d want to live in a neighborhood that was part of an HOA. Obviously, condos and townhouses are different because there are shared walls/roof/utilities that have to be maintained.
Around here, you’re generally only in an HOA if you live in a gated community. I’m sure there are exceptions. In fact, I recently read a blog post by a FI blogger whose neighborhood had a common heating system. But my impression of HOAs is that they’re the type of neighborhoods who value conformity and homogeneity over individualism and diversity. I’d prefer to live in the latter community.
Home insurance ($77/month; $927/year)
Because our house is old and built with older building methods like masonry and lath and plaster, the replacement cost for our home is quite high. We do have replacement cost insurance instead of cash value coverage because we couldn’t cover the difference if something catastrophic were to happen.
I recently lowered the coverage value for our belongings since it was significantly more than we would need to replace everything we own. I also increased the deductible because we can afford any repairs or losses at $1,000—we would only need to file a claim for significant losses.
Home maintenance ($120/month; $1,440/year)
This category includes: home maintenance, repairs, cleaning, and improvements; household goods and supplies; furniture; and appliances.
I averaged our home maintenance expenses over the last four years for the number that I provided. This includes some regular repairs, including a new deadbolt for the back door, various landscaping plants and materials, and fencing materials to close off the driveway side of the yard.
We haven’t had any major repairs or appliance purchases in the last few years, but since we purchased the house, we have replaced the oil furnace with a new 92% efficient natural gas furnace, replaced the six layers of roof down to the original shake with new decking and shingles, installed a 500 square foot patio in the backyard, had the entire house rewired, bought a new mattress, washer/dryer, and installed a bathroom and kitchen vent fans.
If I amortize those costs over the number of years we’ve lived in the house, it would add an additional $150/month to our home maintenance costs. We are currently saving/planning/procrastinating on additional work in our bathroom and kitchen, installing a new water heater, and replacing all of the water supply lines in the house.
As we will complete all or most of this work ourselves, hence the procrastination, the total cost for these projects should be $5000–7000, which we have saved up in our sinking fund. My spouse would be really happy if I complete these in the next year or so. We will see.
Home equity opportunity cost ($13,050)
About the home equity opportunity cost ‘expense’
This category was suggested by The Economist from FI Garage. The intention for sharing this is to calculate the opportunity cost of home ownership versus renting.
In other words: if you invested the amount that’s tied up in your home equity, how much would that be worth after one year of investing (based on a conservative 5% return)?
100% equity in home.
House estimated sale value—$261,000.00
Using the 4% rule, if we invested our home equity and used it to pay for rent (even accounting for property taxes, homeowners insurance, and home maintenance), we would still fall short of being able to rent a comparable home.
Assuming a 5% return, we’d be about even. This might say more about the housing market where we live, but for now, the security and stability of owning our home is more important than possible future gains (and we have a dog that limits options in the rental market).
We may change our minds if we decide to move, but we purchased our house as a place to live for an extended time without expecting it to be an investment or trade up in the future.
$261,000 in home equity x 5% = $13,050 in opportunity cost after one year of investing.
2. How much does transportation cost in Spokane?
Vehicle loan ($0)
Both of our cars are owned outright but we did get a three-year loan when we purchased the (used) Forester for a half of the purchase price so we didn’t deplete our cash savings. It was my first car loan and I was anxious to get it paid off.
Now that we have more of our liquid assets invested, I’ve learned more about the benefits of using low-interest loans to our benefit. We will likely use a loan again when we replace the car.
My plan is to find a 3 to 5-year-old electric car for our (future) one-car household, but it’s hard to know how they will hold their value as both the technology and market for used cars keeps changing.
Vehicle insurance ($86/month; $1,031/year)
Our car insurance is for two Subarus—one 20 years old and the other 10 years old. We only carry liability on the older car and limited comprehensive on the newer. We do opt for roadside assistance for both, which has come in handy for surprise flat tires and dead batteries.
I increased the deductible for our auto insurance to $1,000 to reduce our monthly rates. Again, this is because we have sufficient savings to cover a larger deductible or small claim out of pocket.
Gas ($140/month; $1,680/year)
Gas prices are low compared to California, Europe, and Canada. However, they are still much higher than some other states in the US due to the high gas taxes in Washington state. I normally have a highway commute to my job five days a week, but my spouse works shifts and only has to drive to work 2–3 days a week.
We try to combine trips whenever we can, like stopping for groceries on the way home from work or waiting to go shopping until we have several stops to make. The age of our vehicles means they don’t get the amazing gas mileage of a newer model car. But we don’t drive enough miles/year to reap the ROI on replacing vehicles on this expense.
Vehicle maintenance ($160/month; $1,920/year)
Our vehicle maintenance costs reflect the age of our cars. I am caught in the constant battle of, “are the repair costs high enough, often enough, to justify replacing the car?” We plan to go back to being a one-car household again in the next few years, so replacing the older car doesn’t make sense at this point.
Maybe it’s just the hassle of selling/buying that I’m trying to avoid. We also pay $176 annually for state vehicle registration for the two cars. It is a flat fee per vehicle and includes a local transportation benefit assessment of $40 that goes back to our city to maintain and repair non-arterial streets.
Bike maintenance ($8/month; $96/year)
I do basic bike maintenance myself, like oiling the chain, adjusting the brakes, and changing/patching flat tires. I do bring the bikes into the shop when the cables need to be replaced or the gearing adjusted. I could do these things myself, but I just don’t have the equipment. Luckily, we have a bike shop just across the street from our house.
Parking and tolls ($2/month; $19/year)
Toll roads aren’t a thing around here, although there was a toll bridge when I was a kid that charged ~$0.10 per crossing with a carpool discount. We occasionally pay for meter parking when we drive downtown, but we park at the outskirts to pay the cheapest prices.
I also try to take my bike whenever possible. However, it’s hard to convince someone else to bike instead of drive when the weather is crappy, and bike theft is a real concern—U-locks for everyone!
Transit ($2/month; $24/year)
When we’re planning a night out, and the weather is kind of dicey, or we’re taking one of my sister’s kids out for their birthday, we’ll take the bus. The bus runs right in front of our house, and although it is technically cheaper in gas to drive and even park downtown, if you find a 10-hr meter, sometimes it’s just easier to take the bus. With kids, it means we don’t have to borrow and install a car seat, and if we’re going to dinner, we can have a few cocktails without concern for who is driving home.
I included in my transit tally:
- The occasional Lyft ride we used to get home from Costco when we had tires installed on the cars.
- A ride to a fancy event that we didn’t time correctly with the bus schedule.
- The occasional Lime bike/scooter ride.
The Lime bikes/scooters are priced higher per trip than the bus, but they are on-demand, so there is no need to wait 20 minutes for the next bus to get there.
3. How much does food cost in Spokane?
Groceries ($609/month; $7,313/year)
I am fascinated reading about how much people spend on groceries. I want to know, “what are they buying?” and “how are their groceries so cheap?”. I think both factors are at play, the type and volume of food purchased and food prices in your state/province.
We used to spend 30% more on our monthly groceries, but after tracking for a year and looking at the total, we were mortified and decided to start paying more attention and being more mindful of our grocery spending.
We do a combination of meal planning and basic pantry shopping when creating our shopping list. We do keep a lot of food on hand between buying in bulk and buying on sale. Occasionally, I’ll realize we should eat down the pantry if there are items stagnating.
Food is a priority in our house. I like to bake and eat good food, and my spouse likes to cook and eat good food too. Both of us split meal cooking, and we plan meals with leftovers so we don’t have to cook every meal, every day.
I did remove the direct wine purchases and liquor store purchases. However, this number still includes the occasional six-pack of beer, grocery store wine, and a bottle of bourbon or rum picked up at Trader Joe’s.
I have considered itemizing our grocery purchases for a year to see how much we spend on specific items but haven’t gotten around to it yet.
Eating out ($200/month; $2,405/year)
We enjoy supporting the restaurants in our neighborhood and other local places in town. We don’t eat out a ton but often enough that it’s about 20% of our food spending. In 2020 and still in early 2021, we haven’t eaten at/in a restaurant. But we do get takeout orders, especially when places that have been closed do a popup special event.
Our eating out spending was the same in 2020 as the previous year due to takeout and bigger tips. We give ourselves an eating out “allowance” each month that, if we don’t spend it, rolls over or can be used to buy extra fancy groceries if we want.
I try to plan our eating out ahead of time so we don’t end up going up the street for a burger or pizza when we’re tired and don’t want to cook. Those nights still happen. But a little bit of planning helps ensure we have the chance to try the new Mediterranean place that just opened without having blown it all on burritos and rubens.
4. How much do utilities and bills cost in Spokane?
Natural gas ($35/month; $414/year)
The only thing we use natural gas for is heating. I picked up a 7-day programmable thermostat from Craigslist when we were living in our old house (it still had the old round mercury thermostat).
Our heating schedule has remained the same for over a decade: Monday–Friday, 65 in the morning and evening and 55 during the workday and overnight, weekends 65 from 7 am–10 pm. I’ve been working from home for a year now and haven’t updated the schedule, but my desk is right next to the thermostat, so I bump up the override every morning.
I think the thermostat is on its last legs. I’ve been having trouble getting it to stay powered by the batteries, so I bought a roll of new thermostat wire so we can replace it with one of the new smart thermostats that get power from the furnace.
I don’t need a learning thermostat since I know when we’re home and when we’re not. But I do like the option to set a vacation override without reprogramming the entire schedule. Our utility company has a rebate, and I just noticed it doubled, so we might only be out $15 to replace the thermostat.
I just compared our high/low bills to the house next door (identical layout and square footage except they heat the attic and they have air conditioning.) Our January gas/electric bill was $100 cheaper than theirs.
On average, we pay $40 less a month. Reasons? Both houses are 1,200 square feet, and we don’t heat the attic or have air conditioning. Both houses are brick masonry, meaning no “insulation” in the walls. But the thermal mass and plaster walls do help reduce drafts and moderate heat loss/gain.
Electricity ($46/month; $552/year)
We use electricity to heat water, cook food and power the lights and electronics. I plan to replace our 13+-year-old electric resistance water heater soon with a heat pump version. All of our lamps and overhead lights have smart LED bulbs that we love for the novelty and laziness factor.
Lights come on in the evening an hour before sunset, and we can turn every light in the house off with a single command or tap. Electricity is relatively inexpensive in this part of the country due to our heavy reliance on hydro generation.
I hear it’s different in other cities, but every utility here has a monopoly on its market. We only have a single option for gas, electric, cable, water, garbage. Neighboring areas have different electric utility providers, but there isn’t any competition in a single market.
Water ($90/month; $1,085/year)
I looked at an old budget from 2008, and our water utility bill has increased significantly. The bulk of the water bill goes toward paying for wastewater treatment and infrastructure. The city has made significant investments in building safer, more efficient water treatment plants and new storm overflow tanks.
Because older neighborhoods here were built with the storm drains connected to the sewers, heavy rain or snowmelt that overwhelmed the system would overflow directly into the river (gross). The new tanks can hold the overflow until it can be safely managed by the water treatment plant before being discharged into the river.
Water from the taps is metered, and we pay a per-gallon fee each month, but the water use cost is a very small percentage of our bill. In the height of summer, when we’re watering our vegetables, I think the highest consumption charge was $42. But it is usually between $0.63 and $3.
(I haven’t mentioned that the full city lot next door is planted with vegetables and watered with water from our house. We are not the primary gardeners, but we benefit from the harvest in exchange for the use of the land.)
We get a $5 credit on our bill every month for being a top (bottom?) 10% low water user. So apparently, most people do use more water than us.
Garbage and recycling ($19/month; $224/year)
Garbage service is provided by the city and a required service for every residence. We have the smallest refuse bin, but we still only put it on the curb every two or three weeks. Recycling is also provided by the city as a part of the garbage service. That bin also only goes to the curb every few weeks, maybe once a month.
Good thing, too, since the city’s recycling cost has skyrocketed, and they are switching to bi-monthly pickup. The neighboring city of Spokane Valley, which has a contracted private garbage service, already does bi-monthly recycling pickup.
We compost all of our food waste (except bones) and most of our yard/garden waste. This cuts down on our garbage, but we also don’t eat very much packaged foods, which I imagine contributes significantly.
Internet ($55/month; $660/year)
Our internet is provided by Comcast/Xfinity, and it is our only option unless we want DSL service. We’ve had our cable internet account with them since 2003 as we moved from house to house. It was originally paired with cable television. But in 2007, we dropped that down to the basic, basic cable option (network channels and public access).
It made sense at the time to keep the basic, basic cable because we got the “bundle” discount and had the option to watch live network television without an antenna. After broadcast television went digital, we stopped using live television at all.
We needed a signal convertor box to use the cable, which they provided, but I never connected it. I purchased a digital antenna but never installed it. It still seemed like a decent deal for internet service since we had a grandfathered plan price from 2003, even with the cable package we never used.
However, the straw that broke me was when the broadcast fee (on top of the basic cable charge) doubled from $10 to $20/month. Comcast wouldn’t let us cancel the cable television without changing to a new internet package which was $10 more than we paid before (because they didn’t “offer” the plan we used to have).
As I didn’t do the negotiation, I can’t say if we could have gotten a better deal. But dealing with the #1 worst customer service team in America isn’t something I’m looking to revisit soon.
Home phone ($0)
When we moved into this house in 2007, we decided to go without a home phone.
Cell phone ($40/month; $480/year)
We were late adopters to the smartphone because the additional cost of a data plan felt hard to justify. Of course, now that we have smartphones, we use them ALL.THE.TIME. But also, we figured out an acceptable way to moderate the monthly cost—BYOD plans.
When we jumped on board, the only BYOD plans available to us were through T-Mobile, and I think Cricket Mobile (but with severely limited model compatibility). We are solid Google phone users and originally bought Nexus 5s directly from Google to use with our plan.
Around this time, my parents were interested in getting a cell phone, and they also wanted to subsidize the cost of a phone for my sister. We decided to share a family plan and were able to get a discount through my spouse’s workplace.
Since then, we have added a sixth phone to the plan, improving the cost per line. (Most family plans advertise up to five lines on the plan, but will allow additional phones if you have good credit.)
We were able to switch to an even cheaper plan offered for veterans with unlimited data and taxes included by switching the primary plan holder to my father. Now, my sister and we send my parents a check every month to pay for our share of the cell plan.
We probably could switch to a secondary service provider like Republic Wireless, but I don’t think my parents would be as comfortable doing so. In having six lines on our plans, we’re all helping keep the cost per line down, and with unlimited data, there are never any surprise bills.
Streaming entertainment and cable TV ($31/month; $378/year)
We’ve fallen victim to streaming lifestyle inflation, now subscribed to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. We cut our cable a long time ago and even had an entertainment PC that I built to allow us to stream content in the early days.
The beta Hulu desktop application was great, and FREE, for a long time until they moved all of their content behind the paywall. I resisted adding the Hulu subscription for a long time, but finally buckled when their original content ramped up, and I decided it was worth the monthly cost. I’m perfectly happy using the free Spotify, Pandora and other ad-supported music services.
See the Internet section above for details on Ryan’s basic, basic cable TV.
5. How much do other essentials cost in Spokane?
Life and disability insurance ($75/month; $900/year)
We each have disability and small life insurance policies through our jobs but carry additional life insurance too. Initially, we purchased enough to cover the mortgage x2, so neither of us would have to consider selling and moving if the other died.
Even though the mortgage is paid off, we’ll continue this coverage as long as we’re working. This is primarily because it’s important to my spouse that there is plenty of coverage in the event of their death ☠😒.
Medical insurance ($39/month; $468/year)
At the beginning of 2020, I switched to medical and dental coverage under my spouse’s employer. Through my job, I was previously paying ~$75/month for a medical plan with a $1,700 deductible and $3,000 OOP (out-of-pocket) max. (This was for my share of the premiums; my employer paid the balance of the premium.)
With both of us covered by my spouse’s employer’s medical/dental, we pay a combined $41.76 premium share (the employer pays the remaining $1,878/month). The individual deductible is $1,100 individual or $1,200 family, and the OOP max is $1500 individual or $2,000 family.
We are very lucky to have most of the premium cost covered by an employer (thank you, union contract). However, it keeps us tied to this specific job for the benefit.
Out-of-pocket medical expenses ($120/month; $1,440/year)
We are lucky to not need any recurring prescriptions or regular doctor appointments over preventative screenings (which are covered 100% by insurance as required by the Affordable Care Act).
We usually have about one or two acute illnesses each year that we will see a doctor for or visit the urgent care and pay a copay for the visit and lab tests. Spouse does see a chiropractor on a regular schedule and started talk therapy this year (both are $20 copay/visit).
Their employer funds an HRA (Healthcare Reimbursement Account) each year, which covers the OOP max for the insurance plan that covers all of our OOP costs. We don’t always charge medical expenses to the account, so we pay for some things and let the balance of the HRA roll into an investment account that can be used for medical expenses or retirement in the future.
Clothing and footwear ($77/month; $924/year)
In our budget, we pay for clothing and shoes out of our personal “allowance” along with other personal care costs. Neither of us is big into “fashion”, but we do both try to buy well-made items that will last more than a season. At the same time, we’re not above thrift store purchases, and often I’ll search for shoes or boots on eBay instead of buying new.
A few years ago, I tried buying a more expensive pair of jeans from a well-known brand, thinking they’d last longer than the fast-fashion jeans I’d been buying. When they wore out within a year, and my repair wore through in even less time, I realized that some clothes aren’t worth spending more money on.
I sew some of my clothes but haven’t made much lately. Generally, this is not a cost-saving measure, but I am working on finding more items that can be upcycled into clothes or buying fabric secondhand (even though I have an extensive stash already).
Knitting hats and mittens has been productive and makes sure my hands and head are warm in the winter (in 100% wool) for not much cost.
Personal care ($34/month; $402/year)
This category includes: haircuts, toiletries and grooming services and supplies.
Like clothing, we budget for personal care items from our personal “allowance” except for shared household items like TP and basic soap and shampoo. I started cutting my own hair about two years ago, mostly for convenience.
I could never be bothered to make a regular appointment for my twice-a-year trim. I stopped dying my hair eight years ago when I realized the contrast of my roots was requiring more frequent dying than I cared to do.
I never dyed my hair to cover the grey hair, so I decided to let it take over when it became more dominant. Neither of us spends very much money on personal care but will occasionally try something new for hair or skin care.
Technology ($40/month; $475/year)
This category includes essential technology: software and hardware purchases, upgrades, maintenance, and repairs. Non-essentials (video games and consoles, e-readers, security cameras, etc.) aren’t included.
I struggle with maintaining the balance of wanting to add new technology to our home and waiting until the tech has matured enough for the price to come down. I know that we don’t need “the best” of everything, but we’re also a bit above the average user.
I built our current desktop PC in 2016 and spent a little more to include a better graphics card for gaming. In the last year, I added an additional 8GB of RAM and another SSD (1TB) to extend the life of the computer.
I’ve been looking at building or buying a new one, but the price of graphics cards is insane, and I refuse to pay over MSRP. It’s just not right. Our modem is 11 years old right now, and at $8/year, we’ve definitely saved over renting from the cable company for $7/month.
I want to upgrade to a DOCSIS 3.1 modem and replace our router with a mesh Wi-Fi system to get better coverage in the kitchen and the yard. Both of those can wait, though, as everything is working fine right now.
We added a $13 plug-in Wi-Fi extender to the kitchen last year, and it took us from no connection to a decent connection—well worth it. I’ve been looking on eBay and will probably buy the router and modem secondhand or refurbished sometime in the next year.
We’ve purchased all of our smartphones upfront and average 3–4 years before replacing them. I’m constantly amazed by the level of computing power that we carry around in our pockets, but it doesn’t come cheap. I feel like paying out-of-pocket helps us value our phones more, and I’m willing to do repairs (replace battery, screen) to extend the life of the device.
Part 3: Adding it all up
Now that we’ve detailed all of Ryan’s essential expenses, it’s time to add everything up in some nice, organized tables!
Important notes about the numbers
- Only essential expenses are included.
- Discretionary expenses (e.g. travel, gifts, etc.) are not included.
- Expenses are rounded to the nearest dollar.
- Expenses are displayed in the interviewee’s home currency.
- In this interview, the home currency is US dollars.
- For your convenience, I’ve included a currency converter in each section. I hope you find it useful!
How much does it cost to live the FIRE life in Spokane?
|Expense||Monthly (USD)||Annual (USD)|
Home equity opportunity cost: $13,050/year
Note: Ryan uses she/her as well as the gender-neutral they/them pronouns.
Thanks again to Ryan for sharing her and her spouse’s expenses. Wasn’t that an epic interview? We got to follow the story of Ryan as she moved through young adulthood, to finding FI, to now—as they’ve just reached Lean FI. (Congrats, Ryan!)
As I mentioned in the intro, I loved all the details they included in their interview. There’s so much I want to point out! But I know I can only pick a few for this section, so here we go—my favourite takeaways from Ryan’s interview:
Sharing costs benefits all
By going in on a family plan with her parents and sister, Ryan and their spouse pay only $40 per month for two cell phone plans with unlimited data—wow! This demonstrates the power of sharing costs with a group.
You may not be able to replicate Ryan’s tactic for your cell phone costs, but there are many other ways that you can purchase as a group for big savings. Some ideas include:
- Buying groceries in bulk with your family.
- Renting an entire house with friends.
- Getting group discounts by teaming up with co-workers.
- Sharing internet with your neighbour(s).
Ryan mentions that she and her spouse have combined finances. That is: all their income, assets and expenses are jointly shared. This is a topic that I haven’t really mentioned on the blog, but I think it’s worth discussing.
Like Ryan and their spouse, my husband and I also started off with unequal income. If we’d kept separate finances, I would have always felt behind or beholden to my husband. This would’ve only worsened when I stopped working and became a stay-at-home mom.
Right from the start (even before we got married) I could see this would be a problem. So, we made the decision to combine everything. We manage our money as a team, and both feel we’re financially equal. Combining finances has worked very well for us.
To be fair, I understand that this comes with risks, and I see why many couples prefer to keep things separate. Our way is certainly not suitable for everyone. However, combined finances may be the ideal solution for some.
This is why I want to highlight Ryan’s and my choice to combine finances with our spouses—to show the benefits and how it can work. I hope it helps others to make the best decision for their partnership.
Be the change you wish to see
Ryan and her spouse lived in other areas before returning to their high school stomping grounds of Spokane—despite her initial reluctance. But instead of feeling like they’d ‘settled’ for Spokane, Ryan took matters into their own hands.
They say, “I decided that those of us who wanted more from the city needed to be part of making that happen.” And so, Ryan got involved and is making a difference in their city. I think this is amazing—bravo to you, Ryan, for making the effort to be the change you wish to see.
If you’re wondering how this relates to FIRE, this is how: I believe the way Ryan approached their issues with Spokane can be applied to just about anything in your life—including the journey to FIRE.
You don’t have to unhappily accept the status quo. Instead of letting your life circumstances run you over, take charge. You have the power to change your life. It won’t happen overnight, and there will be bumps in the road. But if you keep working at it, you will be better for it.
As a side benefit, others will witness your hard work and determination and be inspired. This is what I hope for in sharing these interviews and my own FIRE story. I hope our efforts ripple outwards and help more and more people take charge of and improve their lives.
For me, Ryan’s story exemplifies the power of FI and the intentionality it brings. When she “hit the wall at work” just months shy of her 40th birthday, she knew she “couldn’t keep doing this for another 25 years.”
It was then that Ryan and their spouse decided to start saving for early retirement—instead of the next large purchase. That’s a profound mindset shift. They were already very good with their money, but FI gave them a bigger, even more meaningful goal.
So many of us were/are in a similar situation that Ryan found themselves in. Finding FI and figuring out our whys can help to make the path forward clear and drive us to keep pushing ahead… even if things get tough or we hit the doldrums of FI.
Thank you again, Ryan, for sharing so much of your story. I’m certain it will inspire and be of help to others as they start or continue their own FIRE journeys.
Connect with Ryan
If you’d like to connect with Ryan, you can find them on Twitter as Thomas A. Waffle.
Share your thoughts
Were you surprised by Ryan’s essential expenses? Are any of them significantly different from where you live? Share your thoughts in the comments, along with your own money-saving tips!
Sarah and Laura live in the South Australian city of Adelaide—one of the world’s most liveable cities (and, apparently, affordable and FIRE-friendly too)!
Hi FI-ing Auntie lives in Singapore—the world’s most expensive city. And yet, she spends less than you’d think! Check out her interview to learn how she does it.
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