Our Mid-Year Check-up

It’s that time of year – time to do a quick check of our overall progress toward our goals. If I had to give us a mid-year grade, I’d say we hit a solid B or maybe even an A-. Here’s how:

Mission 2016 launched on January 1st with the bold goal to live on 50% of our income. Our absolute expenses have managed to stay around 54%. Of this, we’re pretty proud!

MidYear Expenses

The remaining chunk of our income has gone toward the following:

Flex Expenses: 2 car repairs, a new washer, landscaping and gardening materials

Experiences: Getaways to the Smoky Mountains (TN), Northern KY and Cincinnati, and Golden Isles, GA; tickets to 6 minor league baseball games; 2 hammocks; 2 fishing licenses, membership to our local community center and pool; Netflix and miscellaneous movie rentals.

Savings: including contributions to our IRA and paying off of one student loan

Business Expenses: post office box rental (which we can get rid of next month), Microsoft Office online, WordPress annual fee

In previous posts I’ve always shown just the percentages, never the actual amounts we spent or saved. I’m definitely not trying to hide that info but until recently, I didn’t think it mattered. In my current job, I write a lot of grant proposals to request funding for low-to-moderate income populations. I guess it never dawned on me that we might actually fall into that population ourselves. In fact, when I looked it up today, we just barely beat the low-income benchmark for our county (by a mere $150). At $44,000 per year, we’re a moderate-income couple! Woohoo!!

I suppose you could say that when it comes to personal finance, we’re playing in the minor leagues. And that’s okay. Chances are good that most of the folks reading this blog play there too, since 71% of Americans earn less than $50,000 per year.

Quick random fact: The salary of a Class A minor league baseball player is somewhere between $1,100 and $1,500 a month before taxes.

So what do I hope to achieve by all this data sharing? First, laying out these numbers in black and white is helpful to me as I think about semi-retirement. It lets me know where we need to cut expenses and exactly how much we need to earn to maintain our current standard of living. Second, and more importantly, I’m hoping you’ll be inspired. If two random chicks in TN can save money and still live a pretty cool life (if I do say so myself) on a moderate income, I’m betting you can too.

Financial success isn’t based on the amount of money you make, it’s based on your attitude toward that money. And that’s where minimalism comes in. Minimalism taught us to focus on only what was essential. Food, shelter, clothing, good health, and a way to get from place to place are pretty much all that we find essential. The rest is just a want (and yes, we do indulge in more than a few of those). My point is, when you simplify your life, you simplify your need for money and the money you do earn becomes a lot easier to control.

Back to the check-up.

To reach our larger goal of living on 50% of our income, we set monthly focus areas. Here’s a summary of each month’s progress:

JanuaryThe Grocery Game – Since this was written, we’ve eliminated almost all meat from our diet and are receiving most of our produce from our CSA share and weekly trips to the Farmer’s Market. Occasionally we still shop sales at Kroger or Food Lion but for the most part, we shop at ALDI.

We managed to convince my mom to join in our home hair cutting efforts. She calls it "Outdoor Clips".
We managed to convince my mom to join in our home hair cutting efforts. She calls it “Outdoor Clips”.

February – DIY Household – We’re still using the compost bin that we made, as well as the “home gym” that I made for Angie, and all of our cleaning products are still made from vinegar.

March – Decluttering for Cash – We made about $180 in March, which promptly went toward paying for a car repair. As we prepare to move next month, I’m still decluttering for cash. Only this time the money is going toward vacation.

AprilCheap Travel – Though we’re not going as many places as we once did, when we do travel, it’s pretty cheap. Our recent trip to Golden Isles, GA cost less than $350 for lodging, transportation, meals, and 3 excursions (including a dolphin tour, a turtle walk with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and a day trip to Cumberland Island via the ferry).

May – Alternative Transportation – The thing that I learned in May was that I don’t like bicycling. I love to walk. I would take a bus if we had one but for some reason, I hate to bike. It might be the lack of bike lanes here or it just may be that it makes my butt sore. Regardless of the reason, we sold the bikes to someone who would enjoy them.

June – The Minimalist Wardrobe – We added 2 shirts and a bathing suit after our last tally but plan to weed though the remaining old T-shirts when we pack for our move.

In the second half of this year we want to continue our goal of living on half of our income (so long as I maintain my current employment). We also want to pay off another student loan and look into some ways to get those paid off even quicker. We have plans to travel to NY in October and if my mom’s up for it, we’ll be taking her to NC to visit family sometime before then.

So why the B grade? I deducted points for our failed attempt at gardening. We spent way more money on gardening supplies (a wheelbarrow, garden implements, watering hoses, organic seeds, trellises, and posts) than our garden has produced. Our cucumbers died after giving us only 3 pickles. Our squash was on a roll until the squash bugs killed it. And our poor tomatoes! All of the big ones became infected with cucumber virus and died. So for a handful of carrots, a bucket of cherry tomatoes, 2 potatoes, 15 squash, and 3 cucumbers, we paid more about $400. Sad 😦

Reality Check: Cheap Living is Expensive!

Trip to Discount Tire
Luckily we were able to find the equivalent size for Scotty’s aged tires at Discount Tire, where it took them less than 30 minutes to install them.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve had some real ups and downs, which at times has made me wonder (again) what on Earth we’re doing living in this tiny metal box. The things that I worried myself silly over (like getting new tires) turned out to be easy. The things that I thought would be easy (like using the campground’s wi-fi) turned out to be so difficult I wanted to scream. Actually, I think I did scream.

The KOA North Nashville is a great place. The staff is super friendly and helpful, the location is perfect, and the amenities are terrific when you can use them. They take some pretty good precautions to keep people from hogging the internet (like limited codes and speed throttling) but that doesn’t stop the more savvy RVers (ourselves not yet included) from being able to get around them and watch Netflix all day long. Since I still have to work, I need the internet to operate reasonably well and that just doesn’t happen when the enabled devices on the network include a half dozen Roku boxes.

One day we decided to go to the library. It was closed. So we went to the food court in the mall instead. Their wi-fi was out. Oy!

A few of our "neighbors" at the KOA.
A few of our neighbors at the KOA. We felt even tinier sitting next to these big rigs.

We do have two internet hotspot devices. One operates on the Sprint network, the other on AT&T, but I try to limit their usage to just places where wi-fi is not available. I didn’t think the KOA was going to be one of those places. In all, we spent about $75 on internet data in July – not including our cell phones. That’s a bit more than I planned but then again, almost all of our expenses in July were more than I planned. For anyone thinking of full-time RVing, I would say this: the first few months are expensive so plan accordingly. Between necessary upgrades, repairs, supplies, campground stays, and general living expenses, we’ve spent nearly $5,500 in our first two months. We’re CHEAP so realizing we’d spent that much money was a shock (and another of those moments when you reconsider what you’re doing).

On Sunday, after filling up on pancakes and clearing our heads with coffee, we had the dreaded budget meeting. With Excel spreadsheet in hand, we went through each and every category and came to some very interesting conclusions.

  1. We paid $69 more per week to stay at the KOA over a nearby state park simply because it offered free wi-fi.
  2. We are paying approximately $15 per GB of hotspot data on Sprint and $10 on AT&T.
  3. Our grocery and household expenses cost three times as much as they ever did in our apartment.
  4. Campground fees in July were no cheaper than our previous rent.
  5. Gas was way less than we expected, considering we went on several 100+ mile day trips. (I threw that in lest you think it was all negative.)

For the month of August, we’re implementing a few cost cutting measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of this adventure.

  1. We’ve set a cap on campground fees – no more than $25 per day.
  2. We have two library days planned into the calendar each week to cut down on data usage and we’ve decided to skip using the more expensive Sprint hotspot, except in the case of an emergency. We also turned off all of the apps on my computer and set the hotspot usage to metered. This is supposed to reduce data usage as well.
  3. We will get back on track with meal planning and shopping will be done once a week from a list (just like when we lived in a regular home).
  4. There will be no “looking around” in Walmart. Though we’re not spendthrifts, we always seem to find things that we don’t really need but would make life in the RV more organized, easier, etc. when we just kill time in Walmart.

I sincerely hope that August is a more normal month as far as expenses go. Knock on wood – we should not have any more repairs left to do so perhaps we can focus on the more fun parts of this adventure.