Checking out the beautiful holiday lights at English Bay in Downtown Vancouver (in the rain)!
Hello again, my amazing readers!
I hope you had a nice holiday and that you got some time off to spend time with loved ones. My family indulged in lots of yummy food and enjoyed one of the least-stressful Christmases ever.
This was largely because of our decision to go giftless with most of our family and friends this year. (More on this below and in my green Christmas article.) We saved a lot of money and a lot of time.
With few gifts to open, sort, return, or exchange, I actually found myself with spare time after Christmas! And that’s how I was able to write this update (which is a surprise to me since I thought the next time I’d post would be January).
Changes to my monthly updates
It’s been a while since my last update (I missed doing one for November) and I’ve missed being able to connect with all of you. I really like the conversations that happen after I post my updates. They’re important to me, so I’d like to maintain a regular update publishing schedule.
But given my challenges with balancing life, podcasting and blogging, I’ve decided to make changes that’ll help me hit publish more easily:
Let go of perfection
Instead of trying to make every post pretty and perfect, I’m going to let go of perfection and be happy with good enough. That means no more editing and re-editing my writing. And no more sourcing/creating images or graphics for every section—a single featured image at the top will do!
My update posts were getting more structured and detailed with each new update; I was creating a monster! Moving forward, I’ll go more free-form with my updates.
No more FI progress updates
This is a FI blog, so I felt I needed to justify my updates by including FI progress updates (aka our portfolio gains and losses). But updating the numbers and creating the graphics took a lot of time and attention to detail.
Additionally, since I don’t share our actual numbers, I don’t know how helpful that section was anyway. I’m doing away with FI progress updates and will instead sprinkle in actual numbers for some of our expenses and savings.
Going back to what matters
I’ve come full-circle and am going back to the post where I decided to start doing monthly updates. In it, I stated that what I really love about other bloggers’ updates isn’t their numbers, but their real-life stories.
I believe that’s the true value of blogs and what sets them apart from corporate websites. They’re real and personal, and that’s what makes them engaging. I’d like to go back to that—more stories, less numbers.
Learning from other bloggers
I always look forward to reading Abigail and Revanche’s entertaining but simple update posts. Their uncluttered formatting is appealing and easy to read. And importantly, these two ladies manage to post frequently and regularly. I aspire to do the same, so I’m learning from their example!
Minimally formatting my update posts will bring other benefits, including:
- More opportunities to connect with my readers;
- More consistency in my posting schedule;
- More practice letting go of my perfectionism;
- More practice with writing faster.
BUT if I’ve learned anything about blogging, it’s that best-laid plans can still go awry! For now, this will just be an experiment… let’s see how it goes!
Here’s what happened at the ESBFI household in November:
My dad’s medical scare
In my October update, I wrote about my dad’s bladder cancer diagnosis. Some of you were so kind to check in to see how he’s doing. Thank you all for your caring and kindness.
We have good news to share—my dad’s bladder cancer was completely eradicated with the removal of his tumour in November. He’ll continue to be monitored for the next ten years, but it’s highly unlikely that the cancer will return.
I’m so grateful that my wonderful family jumped in to help however they could. It sure made a stressful time less so with all the support. Thank you, family!
Oh no, braces!
In November, we received the bad news that Kid 2 will need braces next year. The rough estimate for his braces is $7,000—ugh!
We had some coverage through M’s extended health insurance at work, but those funds were exhausted in phase 1 of Kid 2’s treatment. That means we’ll be 100% out of pocket for phase 2 (aka braces).
There’s a tiny silver lining though: our orthodontist offers a 5% discount if we pay the entire balance in cash, so that’s what we plan to do. I’ve set up a YNAB category to put away $700/month over 10 months*, so we’ll have the cash ready when the time comes.
This is a bit of a bummer since it means we won’t be able to put that money into investments. But I guess our kids need to have functional bites and teeth that actually meet when they chew. Sigh!
This large expense reminds me again of the importance of financial literacy and sound money management. Without these basic foundations of FI, we would be in a panic, have to go into debt, or just not be able to pay for the braces.
Having a solid financial footing is crucial when unexpected expenses hit. And it’s why I think everyone should pursue FI—even if they have no interest in FIRE.
FI blogger meetup
I had the pleasure of attending another FI blogger meetup in November. (Thanks to Bob for organizing again!) We met with Chris, Liquid, Money Mechanic, Phia, and Stephanie to talk shop and all things FI.
As you’d expect from a bunch of money nerds, it was a frugal and casual meetup. We pulled up a few chairs in the entrance hall of the main library downtown and chatted away.
It was awesome to finally meet my online buddy Chris in person. We’re similarly eco-minded, and I love picking his brain on such matters. I didn’t have a chance to chat a lot with Liquid, but I’m glad he was able to join us.
And of course, it’s always nice to see Bob, Money Mechanic, Phia, and Stephanie again. I’m so fortunate to have this amazing group of bloggers to call my friends (and that they all live close enough that we can get together in real life!)
Updating our FI plans
After a year of conscious lifestyle inflation it was clear that our old FI number would no longer cut it. It was time to revisit our plans, and I got started with some rough calculations in this free spreadsheet.
Since math isn’t my strong suit (and I’m not a financial expert) I called on our financial planner, Ed Rempel, for help. It was about time for our annual review anyway, so the timing was good.
I always look forward to chatting with Ed. He and I like to nerd out with the numbers and he totally gets my hyper-optimized way of thinking. I’d happily talk money with Ed every day if I could!
Why our FI number increased
While it pains me to admit that our spending increased this year, that’s not the only reason for the change to our FI number! We’d also like to plan for some big, one-time expenses post-FI. Gasp!
Below is the complete list of increased spending and expenses we’ve included in our revised financial plan:
- Maintenance and ongoing expenses for M’s classic Mustang.
- 10–15 more years of dog ownership.
- Continuing to travel overseas with our kids while they’re still young and willing.
- Slightly bigger budgets for eating out and shopping (M’s requests).
- A major home reno in 15–20 years (also M’s request).
- A lump sum for each of our kids to put towards a wedding or home (their education savings are already taken care of).
- No reduction in our travel budget even after the kids move out (we’ll just travel even more without them).
After incorporating all of the above, Ed’s calculations turned out similar to mine. The news wasn’t great, but it’s what I expected: our path to FI will be delayed by two years.
We’ll still retire in our 40s, but it’s disappointing nonetheless—even when we know the delay is completely due to decisions we’re willingly making!
Maybe FI’s an unattainable dream
M was pretty disappointed to hear about the two-year delay to FI. It was hard to hear him say, “Maybe FI’s an unattainable dream.” I disagree with M on this, but I can sympathize and understand why he’d feel this way.
It’s defeating for him to have worked so hard for his promotion and raise, and to save as hard as we have for so many years, only to be told we’ll reach FI later than we’d hoped. Sure, he’s got his dream car and we love having a family dog, but it’s still hard to accept news like this.
It’s time to work on earning more
I spent the next few weeks reworking our numbers and thinking of ways to improve them. It’s clear that we can’t cut anymore—we’re happy with our spending as it is. It’s all in line with our values and makes our lives comfortable and rewarding.
Cutting anything back would cross into deprivation, and neither of us are okay with that. It was time to look into the other side of the equation: earning more.
M and I got to work and brainstormed some ideas. We were in agreement that me going back to work, even part-time, would create a lot of stress for the family. So that was off the table.
M and I talked some more and came up with a few ideas that’ll help improve things without significantly affecting our lifestyle. While they might not move the needle a whole lot, we’ll start with these easy changes and go from there:
- Host more students: We’ll continue to host short-term students, and will try to accept more students more often.
- Sell on Teachers Pay Teachers: It’s free to sell on TpT, and I’ve already designed the materials (posters and library signage for our school). With a few minor edits, I can upload my files and start selling right away.
- Do our own house cleaning3: Up until I was pregnant with Kid 1, we did all our own cleaning. With the kids old enough to help now, it’s time to go back to that. While we love our cleaning lady and feel good knowing we’re giving her another avenue to earn income, it’s a rather large expense (we pay her well).
Since we were headed into the busy holiday season, I still haven’t had time to start working on these changes. Hopefully I’ll have more time in January and can report on them in my next update.
Talking about our expenses and income took considerable time, but it allowed M and me to process our disappointment and put some new goals in place. This helped us feel in control again and move on.
M and I made peace with our choices and quickly went back to feeling happy and satisfied with our progress. He continues to love and excel at his job, and knows there’s no rush to reach FI.
I think it’s natural to feel letdown when you get close to your goal, only to have the goalpost suddenly jump farther away. We realize that our numbers are in our control, and we’re consciously choosing a lifestyle (both now and post-FI) that’s slightly more costly.
And that’s totally okay! Slow FI is the path we’ve chosen, and we’re happy with it.
Our green Christmas
Earlier this month, I shared my tips for a greener Christmas. One tip in particular—limiting gift giving—made a huge impact for us this year.
I haven’t tallied the final numbers for our Christmas expenses, but I’d estimate that we’ve cut our Christmas spending by 30–40%. That’s an enormous cost savings since Christmas normally costs us $1,000+ per year. Yikes!
What we gave each other for Christmas
While we limited gift-giving with our friends and extended family, we didn’t cut back on our own. Since we’re already very frugal with gifts for each other, we didn’t actually need to cut back.
The boys and I gave M a few bottles of his favourite holiday beers along with some unique edibles that he’d normally not buy for himself. I, as always, requested no gifts, and my family obliged. (M always feels guilty about this, but I assure him every year that not buying me gifts is a gift!)
Our boys received one small shared gift from Santa, new pajamas, and a small gift (a used Keva set for Kid 2 and cash for Kid 1). This is in stark contrast to years past, where each kid received 4–6 gifts from us and Santa.
I was honestly a little worried that we’d face disappointed faces on Christmas morning, but that wasn’t at all the case! Our boys were actually happier this Christmas. With fewer gifts, they could really savour our time together and be grateful for the gifts they did receive.
Also, with hardly any wrapping and packaging to deal with, we gained back hours of time. For me, that’s the best gift of all! (It also felt really good to not have a massive pile of packaging to recycle or dispose of.)
Green Christmases are here to stay
Our friends and family unanimously agreed that replacing gifts with quality time was a brilliant suggestion. It was incredibly freeing for all of us to not have to lug a pile of gifts to and from our various gatherings.
Based on this runaway success, we plan to go giftless with even more friends and family next year. See Simple Tips for a Green Christmas for my tips on going giftless (along with lots of other green Christmas ideas).
Blog and podcast update
In my October update, I decided to separate my blog and podcast updates from these life updates—and I’m still sticking to that. This is just a quick note to let you know that a blog and podcast update is coming!
It’s not quite ready yet because I’m rolling it into my one-year blogiversary post (yay!) I’m furiously working on a detailed post for that, so I’ll update you very soon on how things went for both of my online projects.
And that’s a wrap!
How was your December? Did you do anything to go green and save money or the Earth? I’d love to hear your holiday stories. Also, share your easy income-increasing wins. I could use more ideas!
This will be my final post for 2019, so I’ll send you off with Happy New Year wishes—I hope 2020 brings you good health and wealth!
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