FI Lifestyle Personal Finance

How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life Near Detroit? (As a Family of Five)

fire life detroit peter mol

Photo credit: Peter Mol on Pixabay

How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life near Detroit?

Hello, and welcome to interview #7 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)

Disclosure: These interviews may include affiliate links. That means I’ll receive a commission if you make a purchase through my links—at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

Interview #7: Carrie from near Detroit, Michigan

In today’s interview, we’ll meet Carrie, who lives with her husband and three kids in a suburb near Detroit, Michigan. Carrie isn’t a blogger or podcaster, but still generously volunteered to join this interview series. Thank you, Carrie!

I love featuring non-bloggers in this series—if only to stick it to the Internet Retirement Police (who spread the myth that anyone who FIREs only does so by making money from blogging—totally untrue!)

Part 1: Getting to know you

fire life michigan semiproflyfishing
Photo credit: semiproflyfishing on Pixabay

Tell us about you and your family

My husband and I have been married for 18 years. We have 3 children—two teenagers and one younger child. My husband is early fifties and I am in my mid-forties.

I have an undergraduate degree in Finance, and that has really helped our journey. My favorite books are by JL Collins (The Simple Path to Wealth) and Kristy Shen (Quit Like a Millionaire). 

I was so lucky to work part-time for about 12 years. About four months ago, though, I was laid off due to COVID. There was no panic though, in fact, it motivated us to pay off the mortgage earlier than planned on our primary home. My severance helped us pay it off. I was able to hustle and find a contract position that I started two months ago. 

My husband works in the same industry in a technical position.

Where are you in your journey to FIRE?

We are still saving and getting closer to our money goals. We both work in the same industry so there is a high chance one of us will get laid off due to market conditions over the years, and in fact, it has happened in the past. We are just guessing on our FIRE number right now, but we know our expenses will vary once our kids are not living with us and are finished with college. 

Now that we paid off our mortgage and have no debt, our focus is moving to our brokerage account since we already contribute to the limit on our 401ks and IRAs. We are going to work hard the next five years and then see where we are. We typically invest in low-cost ETFs and mutual funds. Our net worth is now over six figures from diligent saving. We aren’t ready to relax yet, though we hope to retire early, hopefully in five to seven years. 

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 are aiming for regular FIRE, about $60–70,000 a year. We are not huge spenders and really enjoy time outdoors and reading books from our local library. We love to travel and have discussed moving abroad if we retire early.

Tell us about your living situation

We live in a 4-bedroom detached single-family home in a suburb near Detroit. We own this house outright and it is about 3,000 square feet. We have to drive everywhere as there is no public transportation.  

We also own a small cottage a few hours away. It has no mortgage and is pretty inexpensive overall (about $5,000 per year in costs). We use it very frequently on weekends or vacations.

Why did you choose to live near Detroit?

Our families live in this area so we are able to see our family members frequently. We have always lived in this area, with the exception of our college years.

Our suburb is a medium to low cost of living city and is very affordable. We have a great school district, which is important to us.

Part 2: The expenses

In this section, Carrie shares her 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.

For detailed explanations about which expenses are included (or not) see my How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life intro post.

1. How much does housing cost near Detroit?

townhouses curtis adams
Photo by Curtis Adams on Pexels

Mortgage ($0) 🇺🇸

We recently paid the mortgage off, mainly for peace of mind and we sleep better at night knowing this large bill is gone. One of us could work part-time or not at all and we could still survive easily. We put 20% down on our home when we purchased it about 10 years ago.

Property tax ($600/month; $7,200/year) 🇺🇸

Property tax runs us about $600 per month, or $7,200 a year. We live in a top district in our state.

Strata/HOA fees ($0) 🇺🇸

We have no HOA fees.

Home insurance ($150/month; $1,800/year) 🇺🇸

Homeowners insurance runs us about $150 per month, or $1,800. This includes the homeowners insurance and also umbrella insurance on both of our properties.

Home maintenance ($300/month; $3,600/year) 🇺🇸

This category includes: home maintenance, repairs, cleaning, and improvements; household goods and supplies; furniture; and appliances.

I am estimating this one—our household of five spends about $300 per month or $3,600 a year on home maintenance, household goods and supplies. We clean our own home and our children have regular chores. 

OPTIONAL: Home equity opportunity cost ($32,500/year) 🇺🇸

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)?

We have no mortgages. We just paid off our primary home early this year. It is worth about $450,000. Second home is probably $200,000 in value (estimated). This was a goal of ours to pay off our primary home this year because we both work in the same field and have a high risk of getting laid off if the economy gets worse.

Primary home

$450,000 x 5% = $22,500 in opportunity cost after one year of investing.

Second home

$200,000 x 5% = $10,000 in opportunity cost after one year of investing.

TOTAL

$32,500 in opportunity cost after one year of investing.

2. How much does transportation cost near Detroit?

transportation paris 16 flickr
Paris Shared Bike, Bus and Taxi Lane” by EURIST e.V. is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Vehicle insurance ($100/month; $1,200/year) 🇺🇸

Our vehicle insurance is $1,200 annually. We typically pay bi-annually. Our vehicles are over five years old each.

Gas ($100/month; $1,200/year) 🇺🇸

Before COVID, I drove to an office each day and my husband has a company vehicle and company gas paid for by his company. I spent about $100 per month on gas. Now, I am not driving much at all, so this is much reduced.

Vehicle maintenance ($167/month; $2,004/year) 🇺🇸

We save $2,000 per year ($167 per month) for vehicle maintenance and repairs. I’m sitting in the car dealership right now and will spend $100 to repair my vehicle today.

Bike maintenance ($0) 🇺🇸

None. Our kids and my husband have newer bikes and have not needed any maintenance yet.

Parking and tolls ($0) 🇺🇸

None.

Transit ($0) 🇺🇸

There is no public transit near us. We have to drive our vehicles everywhere.

3. How much does food cost near Detroit?

grocery store gemma unsplash
Photo by gemma on Unsplash

Groceries ($540/month; $6,500/year) 🇺🇸

We spend $540 a month on groceries, but some months we do spend more. Food is an area that we might splurge on, but only if there is a sale. We do stock up on food when the prices are best. We have a large deep freezer to store meat and homemade foods. We try to never eat out. My husband loves to cook, so we prefer to eat at home.

Eating out ($67/month; $800/year) 🇺🇸

We might get pizza every week or every other week for about $20 per week. I estimated $67 per month and some months might be more or less depending on our schedule. We don’t eat out other than that, although our teenagers use their allowance to eat out regularly.

4. How much do utilities and bills cost near Detroit?

utilities jason richard unsplash
Photo by Jason Richard on Unsplash

Natural gas and electricity ($210/month; $2,520/year) 🇺🇸

We spend $210 per month on natural gas and electricity. We have forced air natural gas heating and our furnace is new (three years old). We use the heat in the winter and minimal air conditioning in the summer months.

Water ($45/month; $540/year) 🇺🇸

Water cost is about $540 a year, or $45 per month. It is very affordable. We do maintain a huge garden in the summers and we grow a surprising amount of food that we eat all summer and freeze for winter months.

Garbage and recycling ($0) 🇺🇸

Garbage is included in our home taxes.

Internet ($120/month; $1,440/year) 🇺🇸

The Internet is $120 per month. We could cancel it to save additional money, but during COVID it has been entertaining to have.

Home phone ($5/month; $60/year) 🇺🇸

We do have a home phone and pay $5 per month for the service through Ooma.

Cell phones ($200/month; $2,400/year) 🇺🇸

We have four cell phones in use with our two teenagers. We pay $200 per month for service, or about $2,400 a year. 

Streaming entertainment ($20/month; $240/year) 🇺🇸

We have Amazon Prime and that’s it. I miss Netflix, but we gave it up when we got a better cell phone plan for our teenagers. I estimated $20 per month but that is high. 

5. How much do other essentials cost near Detroit?

clothing polina tankilevitch
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels

Life and disability insurance ($40/month; $480/year) 🇺🇸

My husband and I each have a plan for $250,000 and pay $40 a month for this insurance. It was a 3-year term insurance and we got it right when we got married 18 years ago.

Medical insurance ($400/month; $4,800/year) 🇺🇸

We pay $400 a month for medical insurance through my husband’s company. It is good insurance with great prescription coverage.

Out-of-pocket medical expenses ($200/month; $2,400/year) 🇺🇸

One of our children has a minor disability and has out-of-pocket expenses related to this. 

Clothing and footwear ($150/month; $1,800/year) 🇺🇸

Teenagers are expensive! We spend about $150 a month or $1,800 a year on buying necessities. Anything else they want, they use their allowance money. 

My husband and I aren’t into splurging on clothing or footwear. We’d prefer to use extra money for a memorable vacation once COVID is controlled!

Personal care ($175/month; $2,100/year) 🇺🇸

This category includes: haircuts, toiletries and grooming services and supplies.

We probably spend about $150–200 a month for our family of five on all personal care items.  We try to stock up on sale, especially if I have a coupon.

Technology ($50/month; $600/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. 

We did purchase a new laptop last year for $600 but haven’t made any additional technology expenditures this year in 2021.

Part 3: Adding it all up

Now that we’ve detailed all of Carrie’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!

For detailed explanations about which expenses are included (or not) see my How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life intro post.

How much does it cost to live the FIRE life near Detroit?

1. Housing

ExpenseMonthly (USD)Annual (USD)
Mortgage$0$0
Property tax$600$7,200
Strata/HOA fees
$0$0
Home insurance$150$1,800
Maintenance$300$3,600
TOTAL$1,050$12,600

Home equity opportunity cost (OPTIONAL): $32,500/year

Note: jump to the Home equity opportunity cost section for details on this optional ‘expense’.

2. Transportation

ExpenseMonthly (USD)Annual (USD)
Vehicle insurance$100$1,200
Gas$100$1,200
Vehicle maintenance$167$2,004
Bike maintenance$0$0
Parking and tolls$0$0
Transit$0$0
TOTAL$367$4,404

3. Food

ExpenseMonthly (USD)Annual (USD)
Groceries$540$6,500
Eating out$67$800
TOTAL$607$7,300

4. Utilities and bills

ExpenseMonthly (USD)Annual (USD)
Natural gas$120$1,440
Electricity$90$1,080
Water$45$540
Garbage and recycling$0$0
Internet$120$1,440
Home phone$5$60
Cell phones$200$2,400
Streaming entertainment$20$240
TOTAL$600$7,200

5. Other essentials

ExpenseMonthly (USD)Annual (USD)
Life and disability insurance$40$480
Medical insurance$400$4,800
Out-of-pocket medical expenses$200$2,400
Clothing and footwear$150$1,800
Personal care$175$2,100
Technology$50$600
TOTAL$1,015$11,580

Grand totals

ExpenseMonthly (USD)Annual (USD)
Housing$1,050$12,600
Transportation$367$4,404
Food$607$7,300
Utilities and bills$600$7,200
Other essentials$1,015$11,580
TOTAL$3,639$43,084

Part 4: Other expenses

This is a special section that’s just for fun! It’s the place for my interviewees to mention any expenses that they’ve done a really good job of optimizing and/or just want to share. 

These expenses won’t be included in the totals (just to keep things as standardized as possible). I hope you find this section interesting and informative. Here is one additional expense that Carrie wanted to share:

Second home

We have a second small home a few hours away that we use on weekends and vacations. There is no mortgage on that. Yearly expenses are quite small, about $5,000 per year including homeowners insurance and taxes ($1,500 for homeowners insurance and $3,000 for taxes, nothing for well water and a hundred a month max in utilities). These numbers are not included in our totals. 

No other expenses except some small fees for our children’s activities. 

Carrie’s summary

We are doing really well with our finances and I am really proud of us. We paid over $75,000 off of our mortgage in 2020, mainly because of COVID and we couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. We funded our 401ks and IRAs also. I don’t want to lose momentum now, though, because we are not ready to retire yet.

Chrissy’s closing thoughts

Thank you to Carrie for sharing her family’s expenses. I’m impressed with their low spending—especially given their family size (five people) and location (a top district in their state).

Carrie is proud of her family’s finances, and indeed, she should be. They’re doing so well financially that they not only survived a job loss during COVID, but unbelievably, used her severance to pay off their mortgage! That’s simply incredible. Bravo to you and your husband, Carrie! 

Trade-offs: A FIRE superpower

Carrie and her family manage to spend far less than most families in a similar position. And yet, they live a very good life, in a nice area, with three kids. How do they do it? 

One theme that runs through Carrie’s interview is their use of a well-known superpower in the FIRE community: trade-offs. Their flexibility and willingness to make trade-offs has served them very well. Case in point… here are a few quotes from Carrie’s interview:

“Food is an area that we might splurge on, but only if there is a salewe try to never eat out… “

“I miss Netflix, but we gave it up when we got a better cell phone plan for our teenagers.”

We could cancel (our internet) to save additional money.”

Trading one expense for another (or giving one up entirely) allows Carrie and her family to spend more on things they value—without inflating their lifestyle. When this is done consciously, with a strong ‘why’, it translates into big savings… with little or no deprivation.

This flexibility will also be undoubtedly helpful when Carrie and her husband retire. Being open to trade-offs will give their nest egg an even better chance of surviving long term.

One standout expense

Carrie’s my first American interviewee, so this is my first peek into the cost of medical insurance in the US. In my opinion, Carrie’s insurance seems very affordable for a family of five. (Though I assume it’s partially subsidized by her husband’s employer.)

I have many more interviews scheduled in the series—about half of which are with Americans. It’ll be interesting to learn about and compare insurance costs amongst these interviewees.

Thanks again to Carrie

I hope you enjoyed Carrie’s interview and learned from her frugal tips—especially how she and her family creatively use trade-offs to save and spend. 

Given that they managed to turn a lemon (Carrie’s job loss) into lemonade (paying off their mortgage with her severance) I wouldn’t be surprised if they reach FIRE far sooner than expected!

Big thanks again, Carrie, for joining the interview series. Thanks also for your patience as I worked out the kinks and details—you were a trooper! 🙏

Share your thoughts

Were you surprised by Carrie’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!

Join the series!

I’d love for everyone to participate—whether you’re a blogger or not! The more FIRE seekers I can interview, the more useful the series will be. If you’re interested, I have three simple requirements:

  1. You’re at or pursuing FIRE (or FI).
  2. You track your expenses relatively accurately.
  3. You’re willing to share your expenses and money-saving tips.

That’s it! If you’re interested, fill in the form at this link or contact me.

Fire Trekker lives a very optimized FIRE life in beautiful Lévis, Québec. Her most powerful tool to save money shaves 50% off nearly all her expenses! Read her interview to find out more…

T lives near Fredericton, New Brunswick with her husband and son. Can you guess what costs more (or less) in her suburb? You may be surprised to find out!

Visit the intro page to learn more about the what and why behind the series and access the complete list of interviews.

Support this blog

If you liked this article and want more content like this, please support this blog by sharing it! Not only does it help spread the FIRE, but it lets me know what content you find most useful. (Which encourages me to write more of it!) 

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Maria @ Handful of Thoughts
    April 28, 2021 at 10:21 am

    Thanks for sharing your numbers and being so open Carrie. The one number that stood out to be was how high your property taxes are but if that also includes waste collection it may not be as high.

    You’re making great progress on your FIRE journey.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 29, 2021 at 3:47 pm

      Hi Maria—you’re right, Carrie’s property taxes are rather high. I always assumed that those of us who live in costly Canadian cities paid the most in property taxes, but I guess that’s not the case.

      Carrie did mention that they live in a very good district, so perhaps all those taxes are paying for lots of community amenities and infrastructure. One would hope so, at that rate!

      I agree that they’re making excellent progress. It’s nice to see another regular family doing amazing things with their money. Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

  • Reply
    Teresa
    April 28, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    I have always been intrigued by Detroit but have only driven through it on our way to the Atlantic Provinces. Like Maria, I am also surprised about the high property taxes. House insurance also appears high to me since I switched to Square One through Chrissy’s advice – perhaps Carrie can find an option similar that will be a savings. Now – groceries at $540US/month for a family of 5 including teenagers is really economical when I spend that same Canadian equivalent each month for just my husband and me even though I only shop sales. Having company subsidized medical is certainly helpful because I have heard such horrendous costs each month and as Chrissy says – it will be interesting to hear what other US families pay in comparison. Thank you Chrissy and Carrie for the enlightenment!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      April 29, 2021 at 3:55 pm

      Hi Mom—I, too, am intrigued by Detroit and the beauty of Michigan as a whole. You and Maria, as well as someone on Twitter, commented on the high property taxes. They certainly are higher than we are used to, even in the Vancouver area. However, Carrie sounds very happy to live where they do, so perhaps the high taxes are worth it?

      You and I both know that you give away close to half of the food you cook! So it’s no wonder your grocery expenses cost more than they should for two people. Carrie and her family are doing really well, though, for a family of five who eats at home almost every meal. That’s impressive!

      I am really enjoying the comparison of numbers all over the world and look forward to sharing more of these interviews. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Reply
    Graham @ Reverse the Crush
    May 1, 2021 at 12:31 pm

    Another fascinating interview. It’s always interesting to read how other people are spending their money. Thanks for sharing Carrie and thanks for putting it together Chrissy! It was interesting to see the cost of a house even with the mortgage paid off. It is cheaper than a mortgage, but it is still a lot of extra expenses. This is ultimately why I am choosing to rent. However, my partner wants to buy a home within the next 5 years. So, I will see if I change my mind by then. I am considering paying her rent while she owns the house, or I may own a smaller percent of the home. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      May 1, 2021 at 4:40 pm

      Hi Graham—you’re right, home ownership can be very pricey, even without a mortgage. Oftentimes, especially when things go wrong around the house, I feel the pull to become a renter! There are advantages to renting, depending on your needs and wants.

      That’s a clever idea to pay your partner rent or own a smaller percentage if she decides to buy a place. I love how millennials don’t just blindly go with the status quo. You give your decisions a lot of thought, and often forge ahead in ways that are new and unexpected. We need more out-of-the-box thinking like this!

  • Reply
    Max @ Max Out of Pocket
    May 4, 2021 at 5:46 pm

    I am originally from Michigan (Livonia) and enjoyed this. There is certainly a “tug” at times to move back that way, but for now, we are enjoying Michigan. Thanks so much for sharing all of these details. The last time I was home it seems like they were targeting the cost of insurance in Michigan. I think their no-fault set-up makes things difficult.

    Also great you own a second home. Is it “Up north” as we call it? Everyone should check out northern Michigan.

    Your healthcare costs look reasonable to me.

    Thanks again!

    Max

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      May 4, 2021 at 7:30 pm

      Hi Max—I can see why you’d be drawn to return to Michigan. It’s a beautiful part of the world.

      I find it interesting that the no-fault setup makes it difficult to lower insurance costs in Michigan. Here in BC, our provincial insurer just switched to no-fault, and our premiums will go down significantly because of the change. Perhaps their setup is different?

      I’ll see if Carrie can pop in to reply to your question about her second home. I’m picturing it somewhere peaceful and serene, with a lake nearby. 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I hope all goes well with baby’s arrival (any day now, right)?

  • Reply
    David @ Filled With Money
    May 4, 2021 at 6:04 pm

    $43k to live in a city for a year isn’t bad, especially when it’s for a family of five. I mean, per person, that comes out to be like $8.6k per year per person, which is pretty darn close to how much early retirement extreme was living on before he retired after 5 years.

    Good interview.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      May 4, 2021 at 7:33 pm

      Hi David—I agree, their annual spending for a family of five, in a nice area, is pretty good. Ah, you’re right about the per-person cost being similar to Jacob’s! That was quite some time ago, and I think he was around $7,000 per year. With inflation, it wouldn’t be a significant difference. As always, thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  • Reply
    Mr. Dreamer @ VibrantDreamer.com
    May 5, 2021 at 7:38 pm

    Thank you once again for sharing a great episode. The number which made me wonder was the $200 / month on cell phones. I thought the US is more competitive and there are far more options than Canada.

    One great thing to do next is to find a FIRE family in Windsor, ON to compare the prices with Canadian side of the river / tunnel.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      May 5, 2021 at 7:44 pm

      Hi Mr. Dreamer—that’s true, actually. It does seem like US cell plans are far more affordable than in Canada. (However $0 Public Mobile plans are hard to beat!)

      Carrie does mention that she has two teenagers. Perhaps they’re heavy data users? They did give up their Netflix to help pay for the teens’ plans, though, which I thought was pretty impressive!

      Ooh! Great idea to find a Windsor family to compare with. That would be REALLY interesting! Let me know if you come across anyone.

  • Reply
    Ana
    May 6, 2021 at 7:42 am

    Chrissy, I really enjoy this interview series! It’s a wonderful opportunity to see how costs and financial paths differ. Thank you for share your FIRE journey, Carrie. You’ve done an amazing job paying off two mortgages– I’m jealous you have a cottage to get away to!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      May 6, 2021 at 3:38 pm

      Hi Ana—thank you for taking the time to read and comment on these interviews. I myself find them fascinating, and it’s rewarding to know that others enjoy them as well.

      Yes, Carrie and her husband have done very well with their money. A paid-for cottage in a lovely part of Michigan sounds amazing to me too!

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