Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Where are you and where are you going?
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orthodoxcaveman
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Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by orthodoxcaveman » Thu Sep 20, 2018 6:14 pm

I am starting this journal because I can't find anything exactly like my case out there right now, and because writing helps me visualize goals and progress.

Background:

I and my wife are both 28. Both attorneys, both extreme INTJs (me -A, her -T). No children. Two small poodles. Late to the game on ERE and certain related concepts, but with a relatively strong foundation that should enable us to make rapid and nontrivial progress, if not to ERE or FIRE in the (very admirable) five year timeframe. We are both fairly content with and entertained by our work, so there is no material hurry for us. We are, however, drawn to ERE on a philosophical/moral level and we would both like to retire relatively young in order to spend quality time with the family we hope to have soon.

Current Goals:
  • Achieve a positive net worth
  • Get out of debt
  • Have children
  • Buy acreage for homestead
  • Retire
Liabilities:
  • $440k in student loan debt (Household)
  • No mortgage or rent for time being (hopefully I can stretch this another year)
  • No car payment
  • No other debt
Assets:
  • Income - 245k (Household annual, not including structured raises/bonuses)
  • 50k in various tax sheltered retirement accts (401k, Roth IRA, HSA)
  • 20k cash emergency fund
Estimated Current Net Worth: -$366k

Current Strategy:

The plan right now is first to track spending to get a good picture of our actual monthly spending, then to apply ERE principles to aggressively minimize those expenses. After retirement contributions and taxes, allowing for a VERY generous 30k/y (2.5k/mo) living expense, that would allow us to put around 110k/y or 9.16k/mo toward that massive loan balance. Keep in mind that given our income, and by filling two 401ks and IRAs, living on 30k will mean a savings rate of about 85%. That would mean a $0 net worth in about two years, and debt free in about 4 years (with substantial retirement funds). At that point, we will have to reevaluate our position and consider whether she wants to retire, I want to move to a lower-stress job, or whether we want to sprint a few more years to a cushy finish.

Notes:

In the meantime, before you all choke on that 30k/y number, my priority is to practice financial discipline to drive that number as low as possible without driving my wife nuts.

While I am currently fairly tight with my food budget, there is certainly some fat to be trimmed on that front (I've been known to buy flats of diet Dr. Pepper EVEN THOUGH I get all the free diet sodas I want through work) and I will start tracking that expenditure monthly.

I also tend to be a little profligate with my entertainment: Buying (used) books when I could read the myriad public domain books that already live on my Kindle or just go to the library; buying (on-sale) video-games when I could just play one of the (many) video games I bought on sale years ago and still haven't played.

I also have a relatively spendy hobby in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu - not as bad as some, but with travel, gym dues, gear, etc, it amounts to probably $2.5k/year. However, that's my only exercise expense and only hobby expense, so I am relatively unlikely to cut that at this point.

The plan for the Journal is to update at least monthly, perhaps oftener. I plan to track net worth over time, as well as post monthly numbers for spending and debt repayment. I will also reflect as I feel led on the process of learning this discipline and practicing ERE principles in a very ERE unfriendly setting.

Feel free to say hello. I'll respond when I can and update I have something to say.
Last edited by orthodoxcaveman on Fri Sep 21, 2018 2:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

prognastat
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by prognastat » Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:59 pm

Sounds like you've got a pretty big mountain to climb with that debt, but you have the income to be able to take care of it within a reasonable amount of time.

Full on FIRE in 5 years if you cut to 30k and plan to remain at that level after would depend a lot on how the market performs in that time and how much risk you are comfortable with, but not impossible.

If you do manage to cut expenses to 30k you could probably get away with taking 5k from your emergency fund and putting it towards the debt, while still easily covering 6 months of expenses. Of course, I would get it down to 30k first though.

I have some similar weaknesses instead of BJJ I have archery which while a little cheaper once the equipment has been purchased still isn't a cheap hobby if you don't have the room to do it at home(which I don't). I also tend to have too many books and far too many video games though I have tried to reduce these by buying almost everything on sale rather than when it just released.

Tracking your spending is definitely a good first step so you have a good idea of where you can go with your budget.

fell-like-rain
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by fell-like-rain » Sat Sep 22, 2018 10:41 am

Well, you definitely started deeper in hock than most of us, but earning a quarter mil a year should make up the difference pretty quick. Out of curiosity, what's your current living situation that enables you to be rent/mortgage-free, and does your 30k/year plan account for future housing expenses? I imagine most BigLaw firms tend to be in high-COL cities, so I'd be interested to see how you manage to stay within budget.

Re: the 30k number, I don't think anyone's going to yell at you- this isn't the MMM forums with their 'facepunches'. Rather, I tend to find that the mindset is infectious. You start off thinking, "Living off of less is just impossible for us, because [fervently argued reasons]", but later you find yourself reading other people's journals and saying, "Well, they found a good alternative for [extravagance]. And maybe we could save a few bucks on [necessity]..." Sooner or later it adds up.

orthodoxcaveman
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by orthodoxcaveman » Sun Sep 23, 2018 4:05 pm

fell-like-rain: My parents have a MIL suite that my wife and I are staying in gratis, but they're trying to sell the house and downsize, so it remains to be seen for how long I can avoid taking on a mortgage. I'm at a biglaw firm office in a secondary market with relatively reasonable COL, so kinda best of both worlds there.

Re: the 30k number, I'm glad. Frankly, the 30k is just an outside calculation that I'm using to account for housing and other unplanned but suspected expenses. I don't yet have a clear snapshot of what our spending looks like right now - working on that - I imagine I'll refine the actual number once I have better data on our spending.

prognastat: I have a cousin who is deep into archery - seems like the kind of thing with a lot of creeping expenses :lol:. I think our timeframe is more like 10 years - we get that kids are an expenses and a dispersal of focus, but it's worth it to us.

prognastat
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by prognastat » Mon Sep 24, 2018 10:43 am

orthodoxcaveman wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 4:05 pm
prognastat: I have a cousin who is deep into archery - seems like the kind of thing with a lot of creeping expenses :lol:. I think our timeframe is more like 10 years - we get that kids are an expenses and a dispersal of focus, but it's worth it to us.
Yeah it definitely can be costly depending on how deep you go. Of course as with anything there are ways to cut costs and thankfully once purchased most of the more expensive parts of the equipment can last a long time. However just the classes I go to for 1 hour are $20 a pop which adds up(at 1-2 hour a week that's $1040-2080 per year not even counting equipment) hopefully eventually I'll have a backyard capable of allowing me to do archery which would allow me to do it much more frequently at a lower cost, but that's for future me to achieve.

10 years would definitely be much more easily achieved. Kids definitely do add expenses, but there are ways to not spend as much as everyone says you need to be spending.

orthodoxcaveman
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by orthodoxcaveman » Mon Oct 01, 2018 11:00 am

SEPTEMBER REVIEW UPDATE

Because I posted midway through September, the needles haven't shifted all that much and not a whole lot has changed in the last few weeks.

Assets:
27k in cash (checking, HYS, CD) (cash holdings will grow in the next few months as we save for a downpayment).
59k in retirement accts (IRAs, 401Ks, HSAs)
4k in stock (VFINX)

liabilities:
439k (household student loans)

net worth:
-349k

I know that's a shift of +17k since the last time I posted, but I think I failed to account for something last time because there have only been two paychecks in the interim, which means we only actually added about +10k from income. Still, that's about 4.5% change, which is very motivating to me.

notes:

Tracking my spending has gone well. I built a fun spreadsheet and am starting to get a more refined picture of where my money goes. I'm not a spendthrift by nature. That means there just isn't much fat to trim. We are projected to be well under the $30k/y number I had allowed for.

Dining out was our last major negotiable area of spending, but we got that under control at the beginning of 2018. Since we bought a BBQ smoker a month ago (Weber Smokey Mtn. 22") we eat primarily brisket, pork belly, and pulled pork [butt], which are about as cheap a cut of meat as you can get. We bought 75lb of brisket on sale for $1.99/lb. Pork belly and butt are rarely above $3/lb. With incidentals like butter, cheese, cream, our household food costs are under $10/day for two people. If you are wondering, yes, as a general thing we both eat nothing but meat. During work functions, holidays, nights out with friends or whatever, we're omnivores as we please. Sometimes we'll get flavored sparkling waters, or my wife will bake keto desserts, or something like that that inflates our food spending marginally - and the charcoal for the smoker must be counted - but overall, we spend very little on food.

Now, our largest budget item is travel. Unfortunately, her entire family lives on the other side of the country and while our recent relocation to live near my family has solved our double-travel-cost problem, that cost remains and there's not a lot I can do about it.

(An aside: I did a lot of shoestring travel in my youth - as in years and many tens of countries - and at a certain point, I began to hate it. I remember the exact day: the first snowy day of the year in Beyoglu, Istanbul, in 2012. I felt it change in me like someone flicked a light switch, quit my job, went home, started applying to law schools. Around that time I met my now-wife and while I love her and would not change anything for any reason, I offer this advice. Go to school local and marry local. No matter what anyone says, geographic proximity matters, and it matters a lot. Call me reactionary, traditionalist, etc, and you'll be right, but I'm right too.)

Overall, I'm happy with where we seem to be in terms of our spending habits and our lifestyle. I will remain vigilant against creep.

The real challenge for me lately has been my transition to a new job, and fighting my constant hatred for compulsory work of all types, even the type I do now, which is about as pleasant a job as you could ask for. Nevertheless, all jobs threaten me with a spiritual deadness and ennui when they are compelled by mountains of scary debt.

Still, my achievement in September has been to start internalizing the "skin in the game" value of that debt. It will hold my toes to the fire and force me to rise to the challenge of succeeding in a demanding practice.

Fiction-writing and Jiu-jitsu practice continue to suffer as my time and energy are demanded by work and family, but I begin to see that such is the nature of the place I am in my life - pursuing achievement through sacrifice:
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.
And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
GOALS FOR OCTOBER:
Complete saving for house downpayment (~15k)
Bill 200 hours :twisted:
Finish my re-read of Book of the New Sun
Write 15k words in my current fiction project
Jiu-jitsu 3x/week

orthodoxcaveman
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by orthodoxcaveman » Wed Oct 03, 2018 3:08 pm

Despite the guarded and maybe misleading optimism in my recent post, I am feeling down this week. The corporate nature of my job breeds spiritual ennui. My own incompetence and newness frustrates me. I am committed to sticking it out in the short- and mid-terms, and I trust that my newness and incompetence will fade, but right now it is an anchor around my neck and making it difficult for me to engage with work in the way I should in order to make the work fun and meaningful while I must do it.

That is an interesting negative-feedback spiral. The trouble is that the ennui and frustration breed distraction, and make it difficult to gather my focus and energy enough to take the threshold actions and emotional movements necessary to wrestle the negative spiral into a positive spiral, where successfully completing tasks rewards me with a sense of strength, competence, meaning.

Nevertheless, laying out the problem always helps, and coming up with a plan will force me to act. It always does.
  • 1: Turn off my cell
  • 2: Order my tasks in descending order of urgency, and within urgency, difficulty(already done)
  • 3: Pray a Decade of the Rosary
  • 4: Imagine what the final product of the first task will look like
  • 5: Attack the task until I have a suitable final product
  • 6: Repeat 3-5
When my mind begins to wander, I tend to indulge it more than I should. In my prayer, distraction, rather than torpor or other hindrances, is always the problem.

Writing helps me focus. Signing off to put the plan into action.

prognastat
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by prognastat » Wed Oct 03, 2018 3:32 pm

Good luck, hope you feel better in your next update. Sometimes time alone is enough to make a difference as we all have our ups and downs.

orthodoxcaveman
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by orthodoxcaveman » Mon Oct 15, 2018 12:12 pm

MID-OCTOBER UPDATE

Assets:
29k in cash (checking, HYS, CD) (cash holdings will grow in the next few months as we save for a downpayment).
59k in retirement accts (IRAs, 401Ks, HSAs)
4k in stock (VFINX)

liabilities:
439k (household student loans)

net worth:
-347k

Not much shift in the numbers since the last update, but just a function of the current market correction.

notes:

Went to Dallas for a weekend for a conference, so I worked the first two weeks of October without any pause or break. When last weekend came, I was ragged and tired, but the weekend rejuvenated me.

The weather in the desert turned while I was in Dallas, so I came home to perfect fall weather much earlier in the year than I had expected it. I wasn't truly tired of summer yet, but I like when things end on a high note :)

Food spending is admirably low. Even including our "splurge" of $70 on our anniversary dinner, two people spend about $60/week on food.

goal updates:
  • Saving for house downpayment is on-track. We will probably continue saving for it through November, just in case it makes sense to put a full 20% down.
  • I probably won't bill 200 hours this month, but I'm billing above my threshold and if we lose another associate I might get 200 after all :( :o
  • I'm halfway through Book of the New Sun (finished Claw of the Conciliator last night, started Sword of the Lictor this morning).
  • I am behind the curve on my writing side-gig but have good plans to make up the missing words in the butt end of the month
  • My biggest failure. Travel and other obligations have made this difficult but I shouldn't make excuses. I could have gone if I wasn't so lazy. Renewing my goal.

orthodoxcaveman
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by orthodoxcaveman » Mon Nov 05, 2018 2:39 pm

OCTOBER IN REVIEW

Assets:
~34k in cash (checking, HYS, CD) (cash holdings will grow in next few months as we save for a downpayment)
~64k in noncash holdings, including retirement accounts

Liabilities:
439k (household student loans)

Net Worth:
-341k (asset-debt .22)

Notes:

Working on the home-purchase process now. Miserable, even with a reliable and trusted realtor.

Increasing frustration and disillusion with the state of the modern world. The whole thing is a bubble enabled by irresponsible profligacy with fossil fuels. Modernity itself is a purchased on debts that will soon come due. The wealth we imagine is ours is a mirage - the huge concrete buildings, the wide streets built for fast cars, the neon night-lights, the broad accessibility of recreational air travel, the cheap flip-a-switch electricity - all a wild party that's going to wind down relatively soon. Generations, perhaps.

But I don't want to wait. I'm tired of it. I left my cell charger at work over the weekend and found a bizarre form of mental freedom. I had no phone to check. I was connected to reality in a way I hadn't been since I was a teenager.

My pessimism and running internal crisis makes my wife nervous. I don't act intemperately and I'm not lazy - I wouldn't be in the relatively high-trust position I'm in if that were true - but neither can I act inconsistently with my own inner vision of life. And my vision of life is growing less and less consistent with biglaw bullshit.

Weather continues to be beautiful, though still warm enough for mosquitos to plague me at dawn and dusk. I'm at the start of a three-day fast.

I finished Book of the New Sun as planned for October - on to Urth of the New Sun, then perhaps Long Sun for the first time. Gene Wolfe gets better with every read.

I didn't make it to the desired 15k words, but I think I got close to 10k or so, so I'm pleased.

Similarly, I've made it to BJJ once or twice a week, which is pretty good, all things considered.

Goals for November:
1. Write daily - even just a sentence or two. Shoot for another 10k words in the story.
2. BJJ twice a week - three is better, but two is good.
3. Finish saving for house down payment (though given our first time buyer status, this could already be done)

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unemployable
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by unemployable » Mon Nov 05, 2018 3:18 pm

Why aren't you paying down your student loans? That's a guaranteed return. You're hoarding cash so you can take on even more debt (the mortgage)? That's not my idea of freedom.
Increasing frustration and disillusion with the state of the modern world. The whole thing is a bubble enabled by irresponsible profligacy with fossil fuels. Modernity itself is a purchased on debts that will soon come due. The wealth we imagine is ours is a mirage - the huge concrete buildings, the wide streets built for fast cars, the neon night-lights, the broad accessibility of recreational air travel, the cheap flip-a-switch electricity - all a wild party that's going to wind down relatively soon. Generations, perhaps.
I say enjoy it while it lasts. As miserly as I am I don't pretend I don't like nice things.

orthodoxcaveman
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by orthodoxcaveman » Mon Nov 05, 2018 5:01 pm

unemployable wrote:
Mon Nov 05, 2018 3:18 pm
Why aren't you paying down your student loans? That's a guaranteed return. You're hoarding cash so you can take on even more debt (the mortgage)? That's not my idea of freedom.
Gotta live somewhere. I don't want or need the flexibility of rent. I've done my world traveling and I'm not going anywhere for a long time. Mortgage makes sense.

We'll start paying down the loans aggressively in December, once we have enough liquid to get into a house and avoid the PMI.

My idea of freedom is being able to to think about what I want to think about. Don't mind work every day or staying in one place.

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unemployable
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by unemployable » Mon Nov 05, 2018 5:35 pm

orthodoxcaveman wrote:
Mon Nov 05, 2018 5:01 pm
My idea of freedom is being able to to think about what I want to think about. Don't mind work every day or staying in one place.
So I take it you've resolved your feelings of spiritual ennui?

orthodoxcaveman
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Re: Journal of Orthodox Caveman

Post by orthodoxcaveman » Mon Nov 05, 2018 5:51 pm

unemployable wrote:
Mon Nov 05, 2018 5:35 pm
So I take it you've resolved your feelings of spiritual ennui?
I strongly suspect that my ennui is a result of the mammoth amount of my time spent in work that takes me away from my family, does not directly contribute to wellbeing, and forces me to think about certain things in certain ways.

If you are implying I'm tricking myself into thinking I actually don't mind working, I would agree I don't like working as much as I do.

But I don't mind being obligated to do things when the obligation is one that's good for me.

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