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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Sat Sep 12, 2020 1:11 pm
by Western Red Cedar
@ RF

You're right. The monastery I was at practiced Theravada Buddhism. I think the approach was similar to what you described, with opportunities to ask questions at least a few times over the 10 day retreat. I liked how you described the experience in your journal. It was very impactful, but also really challenging at times.

I've been lazy about meditation practices for years now. DW is an inspiration and does at least a couple twenty minute sessions per day.

One of my goals this year is to develop a better morning routine. I just need to start meditating until it becomes a habit. If I can't find 10 minutes in the morning to meditate then my priorities need adjusting.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Sat Sep 12, 2020 7:25 pm
by Western Red Cedar

I made the most of the weather yesterday before the wildfire smoke got too bad. I finished a 19.5 mile bike ride and felt great. I was going to extend my loop, but checked the air quality index first and thought it was best to call it a day. I went out on Thursday on my lunch break and finished a 9 mile ride. I really like bike rides on my lunch break because it feels like I'm burning a lot more calories than I would on my typical walks. I have a mountain bike with chunky tires so I don't seem to average more than 10 miles per hour. I've never really tracked it closely. The good news is that I used to do 7 miles, and decided I could push it a little further. I think I may be able to push it up to ten or eleven miles and still make it back in an hour.

Today I tried the fitness blender website to switch it up with an in-home workout. I chose a core workout that wasn't too difficult, but worked up a bit of a sweat. I need to continue proactively focusing on health and fitness, and develop some routines at home that work well for me.


I've found journaling here really helpful to motivate me to take more action toward my goals. I finally sat down and worked out what my pension will pay out if I take it without penalty at 65. I only had online records for the last two years, but it was enough to make some general assumptions about a projected payment. Currently it would be about $962 per month. It is based on the five highest consecutive years, which has some financial implications on the calculation if I take a sabbatical or a couple years off work and decide to go back. If I stay put for another two years, I think my monthly payout at 65 would be a little over $1200 per month. My net worth would also see a nice bump. Staying the course means that every month I'm earning a service credit at my highest salary, and replacing one of my lowest value service credits. This (along with social security) provide me with a lot of confidence trying semi retirement and considering a withdrawal rate a bit higher than 4%. I wouldn't want to run my principal down too much, but I also wouldn't be too concerned drawing it down a little if I have a pension and social security waiting for me in 25 years.

A good portion of the mainstream FIRE community seems really focused on a conservative SWR. I think earning a higher income really impacts the way they are looking at early retirement. Once you earn above a certain level (50, 75, 100k?) it becomes more difficult to fathom taking some part time work down the road to help pad the stash. As my salary has increased, I've found myself thinking along these lines as well and I don't necessarily like it. Apparently the golden handcuffs are a real thing, even if you're planning to escape the rat race 25+ years early.


As I mentioned, having some accountability through journaling is quite positive. Last night I tried pickling new vegetables. I bought two bunches of radishes that were on sale earlier this week (69 cents/bunch) for pickling. I cut off the radish tops in the morning to add to my veggie scramble. For years I had been throwing these away, then last winter I found out that they were edible and have been using them in my breakfast. A win-win-win in terms of health, environment, and personal finance.

I used a "quick pickling" process and made the brine with white vinegar, water, honey, and salt. I ended up making a bit too much brine so I added a third jar for pickled carrots. I made pickled radishes with garlic and peppercorns in one jar, pickled radishes with cabbage, carrots, and peppercorns in another, and a third jar with pickled carrots and scapes which I scored for free from a local farm. I tried the radishes after about an hour and they tasted awesome. I'm looking forward to letting them sit for a few more days to try again. This process should work with most vegetables.


I just finished The Happy City by Charles Montgomery. It had been on my reading list for a couple years now. The central theme is about how urban design impacts happiness and behavior. MMM did a review of the book here: ... appy-city/

The author does a great job taking some of the major themes and considerations in the urban planning and design field and weaving it together in a coherent storyline. In keeping with my attempt to read multiple books within the same genres, I picked up the Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner yesterday. He's a journalist who's looking to find the happiest countries in the world. I've only made it through chapters on the Netherlands and Switzerland, but it is quite funny.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Tue Sep 15, 2020 7:07 pm
by Western Red Cedar
As I was reading last night, the author mentioned a sign he saw in Bhutan that gave him pause:

When the last tree is cut,
When the last river is emptied,
When the last fish is caught
Only then will man realize that he can not eat money.

The author reflected on what it means for a country to measure success in terms of gross national happiness rather than gross domestic product. It struck me particularly hard as my community, state, and region have been recently consumed in toxic air quality and wildfires. The traditional measures of success mean little when you can't breathe clean air. They probably mean little even when you can.

As someone approaching life from a Salaryman perspective, I tend to see a healthy bank account as a secure foundation. The capital provides not only security, but flexibility. While I still believe that is true to an extent, COVID 19 and its impact on society has demonstrated the strength of ERE and a renaissance approach to life. Creative problem solving and a dynamic skill set are crucial to living a successful life. This is true whether living conventionally, or when living outside of the orthodox framework.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:24 am
by basuragomi
Admittedly, I only read of the metric from a half-remembered National Geographic article, but I thought Bhutan mostly used Gross National Happiness as a method to retroactively justify expulsion of ethnic minorities (1/5th the population!), via incorporating religious/cultural practices from the politically dominant faction as a metric for happiness. Maybe they weren't happy enough though.

The UK has a Minister of Loneliness so that might be a similar approach to the same problem. Though they appear to have accomplished very little due to competing commercial interests.

Re: golden handcuffs, I'm feeling that way too. I think there's a distinction to be made between work that fits within the web of goals and work that does not. I'd take far below minimum wage if it was something I'd want to do anyways - since if it fits very well with my goals, I probably wouldn't even count it as work. But a job that actively endangers me/my goals becomes unacceptable. There's also self-selection in effect where a high-pay shitty job encourages people to burn out very hard, whereas a low-pay shitty job would more likely prompt rapid quitting and re-evaluation.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 7:40 pm
by Western Red Cedar

Really interesting comment on Bhutan and GNH. The recent literature I've been reading on happiness seems to skim the surface on Bhutan, primarily using GNH as a comparison to the common measure of productivity and well-being in the west - GDP. I occasionally hear references to GNH, but admittedly don't know much about Bhutan (I did spend a couple weeks in Darjeeling, and a month in Nepal, along with a few months in different parts of India so I have a general feel for the region and culture). The current book I'm reading does provide some support that the GNH index is a legitimate government effort that supports public investment decisions and Bhutanese culture/beliefs. I read an article this evening based on your comment, and while it didn't reference GNH as a means to justify excluding Nepalese, the expulsion of Lhotshampa seems to be well documented. It reminds me of what my ninth grade history teacher told the class on the first day - everything you learn this year about history can be boiled down to power and control.

In regards to the golden handcuffs, my situation is even a bit more complicated. Most aspects of my job are great and I'm relatively well compensated. When I read about some of the other workplace experiences with toxic bosses and shitty environments it makes me feel particularly ungrateful. I have competent and supportive management, my coworkers are generally very cool, my work provides financial support for professional development, I typically learn as part of my job, and I make a positive impact on the built and natural environment. Following COVID, it seems like I'll probably have the flexibility to work from home full time for at least another year, if not longer.

My main gripe, and the reason that I'm actively pursing early retirement, is that I spend the majority of my waking hours sitting in front of a screen. I live and sleep in a box, and spend most of my time staring at boxes. I worry that I'm spending the best years of my life working in an office - even if it's a home office. When I'm doing my job well, it involves a level of conflict that can be a bit exhausting. I also have to deal with a lot of the regular salaryman crap that can get old, like unproductive meetings, passive aggressive colleagues/clients, or high expectations with limited resources.

Ultimately, I have a pretty good situation that I spent years building, so I'm very hesitant to walk away. I think I may just need some time off. I haven't taken a full week off work in a year. I'm planning on spending a full week alone in a cabin up north next month without internet access. It's one of my favorite times of the year, with the Tamarack's changing colors and crisp evenings/mornings to spend by a fireplace. I'll bring my guitar and plan on writing some songs - one of my favorite places to write new music. Lots of time for reading, mixed in with physical activities like splitting wood, felling trees, and cutting brush.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Thu Sep 17, 2020 2:28 pm
by JackMoore1965
Western Red Cedar wrote:
Tue Sep 08, 2020 1:17 am
"Our strength grows out of our weakness" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

to this topic 8-)

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Sun Sep 20, 2020 11:04 pm
by mooretrees
Western Red Cedar wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 7:40 pm

My main gripe, and the reason that I'm actively pursing early retirement, is that I spend the majority of my waking hours sitting in front of a screen. I live and sleep in a box, and spend most of my time staring at boxes. I worry that I'm spending the best years of my life working in an office - even if it's a home office.
It's a real worry. A week off will be nice, but it doesn't change the reality that most of your time after that week is going to be back in front of a screen. Do you have an exit strategy for changing that? I agree with something you wrote earlier (paraphrasing) about not worshiping at the 4% rule alter. I am pursuing part time work, and the mindset is very different-though I'm not living it yet, just dreaming.

It seems like some people here, 2Birds1Stone for example, leveraged FU money to job craft either for more money or getting rid of the negative parts of their job. Are you considering that? Is that even possible with your job? I'll be curious to hear what you think is possible or any plans you have.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Mon Sep 21, 2020 8:53 pm
by Western Red Cedar
@JM1965 - I wasn't entirely clear if you were encouraging me to consider the Emerson quote in relation to my last post, or if you were encouraging me to elaborate on that topic. Either way, it got me thinking a lot which I appreciate. Emerson has always been one of my favorite philosophers/poets since I first discovered him in high school. I agree with Walt Whitman when he said "I was simmering, simmering, simmering. Emerson brought me to a boil." I think the Emerson quote strongly reflects stoic philosophy. I'll plan on doing a bit more detailed post on that in the near future.

@MT - You ask a lot of great questions. I do have a tentative exit strategy. I have the ability to take a year sabbatical, and my current plan is to continue working for about 12-18 months and then taking a year to slow-travel internationally. At that point, I should have about enough to cover my half of our household expenses at a 4% rate (depending on how the markets perform). I would also have the ability to come back to my old position after a year. I would plan on doing that out of respect for my colleagues, as I wouldn't want to leave them with an impression that I was planning on coming back, then bailing on them when they could have transitioned to a permanent solution a year earlier. This is obviously all dependent on how the COVID-19 situation plays out. Without the sabbatical, we would probably be close to our FI target ($600,000) in 4-5 years. That isn't a particularly long time in the grand scheme of things, but I don't think "grinding" it out would be the healthiest approach.

Prior to the pandemic, I negotiated a 60% work from home arrangement. I think I'll be able to work from home permanently (or at least 80% of the time) after we transition back to a more typical office environment. This is a major perk! I had previously leveraged FU money to land my current position. While the pay was better than my last job, I primarily took the new role because the work was more interesting, I was closer to family, and could live in a cheaper but larger city.

I'm really hesitant to make an additional jump because I have kind of a cushy setup currently (work from home, a little over a month of vacation per year, lots of accumulated sick leave, and respect from colleagues). I also have a lot of respect from my supervisors and, as a result, a lot of autonomy over how I prioritize my work. There is always a year or two of proving yourself in a new position, which seems a little exhausting to me at the moment. If I was to try something new, it would probably be with a non-profit, but after I had time to travel, explore, and take an extended break from work. Considering how rough things look economically, I think it's best to just stay put and continue saving. :)

In terms of savings, I think I'm at the point where compound interest and the growth curve really start working in my favor. In the last two months our NW jumped like I've never seen it before. I know that was partially the result of a frothy market, and that it will drop this month, but the fact that it is jumping up by five figures a month is at least in part due to the fact that we have over $200,000 invested in equities and have been dollar cost averaging for the last five years. I really like the idea of a sabbatical when I'm at least at 50% of our target, and if possible at 60-75%, because it allows me to test drive some of our visions for an early retirement lifestyle, but doing so while we have a significant amount of money working for us in the market. I remember hearing "A Rebel Spy" on an early Mad Fientist podcast saying that he wished they would have taken the sabbatical route, rather than pushing through to full FI. I've seen others mention this in forums or podcasts.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Mon Sep 21, 2020 9:05 pm
by mooretrees
Cool! Sounds like you've already done a great job making your work life as good as it can be. Well done. I remember another Mad Fientist interview with someone who shared a story of someone grinding it out to get that 4% or something, quitting and then some short time (year or so) getting a job for fun. As always, having a long history of low expenses and low needs makes all of the many options for early retirement much easier. You seem on a good path. A year long sabbatical sounds like a really great test run. I hope to do something similar when my son turns 6.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Mon Sep 21, 2020 9:19 pm
by 2Birds1Stone
I've really enjoyed reading your journal thus far.

Your household spending is quite impressive! If I could get my DW on board with a permanent $24k/yr spend (+health insurance) we could be FI as a household right now.

My journal is long and boring, but somewhere 2-3 years ago I decided to take a year off and see what happens, well before we got to even 4% WR as a household. It definitely hasn't gone as planned, but have 0 regrets and think it's definitely worth trying sooner than later. All around us we see peoples lives change suddenly and unexpectedly. Most recently, one of our best friends (age 27) was diagnosed with fairly aggressive breast cancer. I would personally hate to slog away at a job for X straight years and find something like that out with the finish line in sight.

Really looking forward to more of your writing, and following along your journey.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Tue Sep 22, 2020 7:46 pm
by Western Red Cedar
@MT - Mad Fientist is one of the only personal finance podcasts that I really enjoy. I selectively listen to others based on the guests, but I really like the MF interview style and don't get the sense he's trying to build a brand through the podcast. Just exploring ideas and sharing different paths and content with listeners. I also have the same personality type and am a similar age. I'm pretty sure I know the episode you are referring to, which was really interesting because it touched on both small-scale farming and mental health.

I actually significantly altered my approach to FI based on the MF advice and experience. He's mentioned a few times that he really started obsessing about FI, to the point where it wasn't healthy and he was isolating himself. I've noticed some common advice among those that reached FI that they wished they didn't worry or stress out about money as much. I noticed the same tendency internally a few years ago to always think about finances, FI, and my life in the future. I've tried to focus less on all of that and it's been generally positive - mostly in terms of relationships. I've really tried to minimize the big three expenses, automate investments to my 457 and Roth IRA (and previously after tax brokerage), and stop focusing/stressing as much on money. This system works for me because I've always been naturally frugal and only tend to make regular expenditures that are in line with my values.

I don't sweat going out with friends for dinner and drinks, even if it means I'll spend $50-100 in a night, as I know this only happens a few times per year. We typically meet for barbecues or potlucks because everyone has kids and its easier. I also know that DW really enjoys eating out, so we (used to) try to go out at least twice a month for a date. She'd usually be fine with happy hour or some cheap but delicious ethnic food that we don't make at home. As I was first introducing her to FIRE I tried to make sure there was one or two areas that we didn't initially cut out of our budget so the transition wasn't too extreme, and restaurants were a priority. Covid ultimately changed that practice and now we are good with walks, air popped popcorn, and a movie or fun series. I'm also okay splurging on a nicer vacation every other year (leveraged with credit card points of course). A lot of these things are keeping me from a higher savings rate, but I consciously try to avoid recurring expenses that will lock me in to a different lifestyle at higher costs. I've given myself permission to make occasional splurge spending decisions to help maintain some continuity and balance in my marriage and other relationships.

Right as I was making this mental shift, I decided to take three weeks to go to Europe to attend my cousin's wedding in 2016. It was DW's first time in Europe and a chance for her to meet my extended family. It was the last time I saw my grandfather, and the only time she got to meet him and see the house where my dad and uncles grew up. We also went back to Ireland, Spain, and Portugal after DW quit her job last fall for a month. Both trips felt very extravagant at the time, but I'm really glad we went on each of those. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with family, and we were the only yanks at the wedding. On the most recent trip, it was a chance for her have some closure as she was making a career transition and walking away from a valued (but stressful) work community. It was also a chance for us to reignite our love of art and travel in countries neither of us had experienced, an opportunity for me to practice Spanish, and a much needed break from work. We spent so many nights in lockdown earlier this year grateful that we had taken that opportunity to travel.

In the grand scheme of things, these splurges aren't really going to move the needle on my potential FI date, and I know I can cut them out if necessary. But it means I'm not always sitting at home eating lentils on a Saturday night. Not that there's anything wrong with that - I just prefer my lentils midweek :D !

Perhaps the most valuable lesson I took from MF was that you can spend a lot of time planning what you think will constitute an ideal life, and quickly learn that you don't really like it. He developed what I thought sounded like a great plan, called his 6-3-3 plan. Living in Scotland for six months, traveling internationally for three months, and traveling in the US for three months where they would primarily stay with friends and family. They quickly realized that extended stays with friends or family in the states felt too imposing, and that traveling regularly was a bit exhausting and didn't meet a lot of their personal goals. While he liked the idea of traveling, he didn't like the lack of structure or a home base to work on projects. A few weeks abroad was preferable to a few months.

His experience led me to focus more on general ideas or projects that I want to pursue in retirement, rather than concrete plans. One of the beautiful things about the semi ERE approach is that you get to test drive some of your lifestyle ideas. When planning for the future with a partner (or with kids) I think there is even more uncertainty because the new lifestyle may not be working for one member of the family. I've done a couple bouts of long-term travel and all of the trips were amazing. But they were also exhausting and I was ready for some roots or a home base after 6+ months. I really like the idea of slow-travel as a transition from the salaryman lifestyle as the new environment is a great opportunity to change your lifestyle and habits. I also suspect that may not fulfill all my needs if I'm not being creative or giving back in some capacity. Realistically, I think I'm likely to pick up some paid work after a few years away from a traditional job, which is one of the main reasons I'm not overly concerned with the 4% rule. I just want to make sure I have plenty of cushion to ensure I maintain a lot of flexibility in choosing what kind of work that is.

Wow - this kind of turned into a novel, but apparently I had a lot to unpack after work.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Tue Sep 22, 2020 8:28 pm
by Western Red Cedar
@2B1S - Sorry to hear about your friend. I've actually been following your journal for a couple years and never found it boring. Of course, most people willing to spend spare time poking around ERE forums are probably finance nerds that enjoy monthly spreadsheet updates from random internet strangers. I personally pick up a lot from those who are a couple years ahead of me. I also find it really interesting to see how people manage finances with their partners.

I'm lucky in that DW is naturally frugal and doesn't care much about material possessions. She is also a great fit for ERE (in some ways better than me) because she has a lot of high-level practical skills: cooking/baking, making her own clothes, making jewelry to sell, teaching dance, etc. I'm more of the tax optimization, credit card hacking, salaryman.

You may have noticed that our household spending doesn't include health insurance. Our spending in that field is pretty low, but that is partially because I have great insurance and don't have many copays (I think the deductible is $125). I've opted to use an FSA rather than the HSA, in part because I wanted better coverage while I'm working and didn't want to deal with a high deductible plan. There are a couple variables that I haven't fully solved in my FI plan, and healthcare is one of them.

One of the reasons I like the idea of slow travel followed or combined with living for up to a year in different countries is that health care costs are much easier to plan and manage overseas. The health care quagmire is a bit different if or when we decide to move back to the states.

I appreciate the kudos on savings. After digging through more journals and my last post on spending extravagantly, I should try to claw back a little ERE street cred. While I'm pretty conscious with spending, I know tracking expenses is key to filling unnecessary budgetary holes. Some of my approach is a salaryman weakness that relies on money to solve problems rather than a more creative alternative.

I decided last week to start tracking grocery expenses more closely, and separate the household and beer/wine from groceries. I tend to buy a lot of bulk items (rice, spices, oats, popcorn, frozen berries, etc.) which makes looking at one month a little deceiving, but I should be able to keep this up. I think we are typically in the $300-400 range for two people, but that includes household and alcohol. I've been particularly unconcerned about groceries lately because we haven't gone to a restaurant since March and it's always nice to splurge on summer produce like berries, cherries, or other seasonal items that can be a little pricey. I've spent $58.00 thus far (one week) and I'm looking to keep it under $200 for the month (ending 10/15). Some of that includes about $14 worth of food that should last a few months. I made a big pot of lentil soup on Sunday to get me off on the right foot and I have been eating it twice a day. I added some bratwurst that were slowly getting freezer burnt after not getting eaten on a camping trip this summer. I'm not going to win any awards for the dish, but it tastes great and I've been eating it twice a day. Nothing like cabbage, potatoes, carrots, celery, lentils, and home-grown herbs to get me started on a grocery challenge! Off to make some baked fish, mashed potatoes, and a garden salad for DW tonight.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 1:40 am
by Western Red Cedar
"One's destination is never a place, but a way of seeing things."

-Henry Miller

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Fri Sep 25, 2020 9:45 am
by Western Red Cedar
Duplicate post :oops:

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Fri Sep 25, 2020 3:15 pm
by Western Red Cedar
Tracking Food Expenses:

Looking closely at food expenditures has been very informative. After ten days we've already spent 97.50, which is close to half of our target for the month (9/15 to 10/15). Of course, the fridge/freezer is well stocked and we could easily make it through the next 5-7 days with what we have on hand. So, in general we are on track for a $200 month. I bought a two-pound bag of pistachios on the first grocery trip for $12.00. I realize this was a bit of an indulgence to start the month. DW doesn't eat many nuts or seeds, but I tend to like to have almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin or sunflower seeds on hand to add to salads, oatmeals, trail-mix, or just to eat plain. Of course, I ate a bit over a pound of pistachios in the next week. I could probably get a lot of bang for my buck with peanuts instead of fancier nuts, but I'm actually glad I made that purchase because I think its more important to actually track what we spend and eat, rather than trying to be uber-thrifty, to get a more accurate picture of our food expenditures.

We had a bit of unusual expenditures with a trip by DW. I typically do all the shopping as I have a really good sense of what produce costs across different stores, and thus can easily spot deals. I also tend to be a bit better about meal planning. DW had oral surgery this week and spent $19.67 on some treats - bougie ice cream and popsicles, two cans of progresso soup (at $3 per can), and some type of designer granola bars. All very non-ERE expenses. I was a bit annoyed that she got some crappy , store bought soup. I had some garden kale, potatoes, fresh herbs and coconut milk to make a nice, blended soup that she really enjoys (at twice the volume for half the price). I opted not to say anything because I can be a bit hypercritical at times (particularly over financial or environmental stuff). I did remind her that we were tracking our grocery expenses this month and that I needed the receipt. I can do a better job of texting her to let her know my cooking/shopping plans.

The other larger expenses included five pounds of ground turkey that was on sale for $2 per pound, a few pounds of organic tofu on sale for $2 per pound, a massive jar of Adams peanut butter, and four bottles of good-quality salad dressing ($1.50 each) that was marked down because the sell-by date was approaching in a few months. All of this should last us a while. Everything else was fruit, vegetables, and eggs. We typically make our own salad dressings, but one of the discount stores had some different non-dairy dressings made with avocado oil and pretty good ingredients. We've both cut dairy out of our diet recently (or I thought so until DW brought home a pint of ice cream :? ).

I typically shop at three stores. An Asian specialty store for certain Korean Spices, bulk rice, coconut milk, and the vegetables to make kimchi (you can buy these at regular stores, but Napa Cabbage is the main ingredient and tends to be 2-3 times as expensive, which really bumps up the cost/jar of homemade kimchi). Rice is a big part of our diet and we only buy good-quality rice, and always cook it in a rice cooker. This was a preference for DW for years and I thought initially it was a bit excessive. Now I've seen the light. If you ask a good sushi chef about the most important ingredient, they'll tell you that it is rice. American's typically try to buy the cheapest rice or pasta available, and see the main value in sauces or meats. I think Seppia talked about the importance of buying good quality pasta in a post years ago. We had already been doing this for rice, and I now do it with pasta (though I don't eat a lot of pasta).

The other two stores are a typical, large, local grocery store about a block away from our apartment and a Grocery Outlet which is a discount chain. We also go to our local co-op about once every 6-8 weeks to stock up on bulk goods (mostly organic popcorn, organic oats, coconut flakes, and different bulk spices). The Grocery Outlet is a bit of a crapshoot as they sell different products at steep discounts when they don't sell well elsewhere or are close to expiring. They do have a lot of regular products as well, and I always go there specifically for nuts, olive oil (or other oil), apples, frozen berries, and a few other odds and ends. The neighborhood store is mostly just for fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meat. I've heard people say that particular store is expensive, but I think that's because they are buying a lot of processed junk. I don't even go to the outer edges, I just stick to the edge with the fresh produce, and maybe over to the corner with the meat and eggs.

Until this spring, we were pretty heavily plant-based, with some limited animal protein. DW has been adjusting her diet and realized she doesn't do well with legumes, nuts, and seeds. Thus, we've had to move more towards animal proteins. I try to stick mostly to chicken or turkey as the environmental impact is significantly lower and its generally healthier. I don't always buy organic meat, but would like to move as far away from factory-farmed garbage as possible in the future.

On a positive note for expenditures, I scored a large bag of plums, about 10 peaches, some green beans,tomatoes, a couple carrots, and a big bag of kale from my parents' garden. I'm going to lend them my dehydrator this weekend and they're going to give me a bunch more plums and kale. I'll probably end up freezing the plums for oatmeal through the winter, but I can work through huge amounts of kale like nobody's business.

Long-term, I think the key strategies for keeping (my own) food expenditures in check will be a higher focus on intermittent fasting, growing my own food, and setting up a work exchange/barter system with a local rancher.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Fri Sep 25, 2020 3:54 pm
by Western Red Cedar
Health and Fitness:

The wildfire smoke finally cleared out last weekend so I managed to get out for hiking and biking adventures. It was still a bit hazy on Saturday, but I really needed to get out and the air quality index was in the moderate range. I typically do this hike in the fall and spring because there is a small fee ($2.00 per person for hikers) between Memorial Day and Labor Day. To my surprise they had extended it through the end of September, so it was my first time paying. I hadn't been there in about a year so I opted just to pay rather than drive to a different trailhead. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon and I brought my camera to experiment with filmmaking. I got some cool pictures of fungi, and experimented with the telephoto and wide angle lenses in a large, grassy area that is a complex of wetlands and beaver ponds. It had been filled and turned into an orchard about 100 years ago, and there were still a few apple trees with fruit, but it has now been restored as part of a large water quality and habitat project. I hit the fields about an hour before dusk and got some great photos and short video of the wind whipping through the grass and trees.

I made it out for a 17 mile bike ride on Sunday morning and the air quality was finally in the "good" range, the first time in over 10 days. The ride went by quickly and I'm feeling a bit faster. It might be that I recently tuned up the bike and made sure the tires are properly inflated. On my lunch break on Monday I took the bike out again and completed a 12 mile ride in about 1 hour 3 minutes. This had me feeling pretty good about myself because I was initially averaging 7-9 miles in a little less than an hour. I'd never really timed it, but I was paying closer attention on this ride so I can have a better idea of how far I can make it on my lunch break. I live about a mile from a great trailhead for bikers. It totals about 9 miles, so it's a roughly twenty mile round trip from my apartment. I went back out on Wednesday at a more leisurely pace of 9 miles. I just enjoyed some chill walks by the river on Tuesday and Thursday. My weight is staying fairly steady, probably because I'm snacking on too many nuts and too much popcorn. I'm pretty happy with where I'm at in terms of BMI, but know that my physical activity will slow down in the winter. I've also found it a little tougher to complete a full 16 hour fast lately when working from home. At least all my snacking is pretty healthy though.

Skills and Hobbies:

I mentioned the minor steps into filmmaking. I still need to play around some more, but I'm hoping my week off at my parents' cabin will give me a lot of opportunities to get some cool footage. One of my long-term goals is to make a documentary about their cabin and lifestyle. My dad built it by hand over one summer based on plans he read in a Foxfire book. I've spent a lot of time up their with him since I moved back to my hometown in 2015. Lots of great stories. I'm amazed that he built a two-story cabin (w/ plumbing and electricity) over the course of a summer. Everyone building in the area currently seems to take years to finish their builds - if they ever get there.

The early feedback on practicing my guitar scales motivated me to actually follow through on that goal. I don't really track my time on guitar, just a fun activity I pick up when bored in the evenings or on the weekends. Sometimes it helps on a short break from work to get out of my head. As I mentioned, my understanding of theory is really limited, so I'm not sure if this is all correct. I've started in the e blues scale and done some modifications (added the major third), and practiced a run that extends from the fifth fret to the twelfth fret. I'd messed around with the run for a while, but really focused on it for about an hour. The next day I picked up my guitar and realized I had enough muscle memory to start anywhere in the middle of the run, then throw in some chords. Previously, I always had to start at the beginning or end of the run. It allowed me to play around with some nice sounding solos and new licks.

I've also started writing songs more frequently and made a nice, simple three chord ditty one evening. I thought it turned out pretty solid. For years I would just kind of freestyle and throw some lyrics in based on recent conversations, thoughts, or books I'd been reading. Sometimes (often) it sounded like garbage, but sometimes it sounded great. A couple years ago, I figured I should probably start writing the good stuff down and record it on garageband.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 10:43 pm
by Western Red Cedar
I have been pushing my boundaries in terms of cycling. On Saturday I finished a 25-27 mile ride, which I think is probably the longest continuous bike ride I've ever done. I mapped out a new loop that took me through a large state park, so about 1/3 of that distance was off road. I felt really good at the end of the trip and decided to extend it another couple of miles. I'm not exactly sure about the mileage because I use google maps after a ride to calculate distance and it didn't recognize some of the trails. I think 25 miles is a pretty conservative estimate though.

Even though I own a mountain bike, I've used it as a commuter for years. My first experience with mountain biking in College was on a pretty hardcore set of trails with a lot of elevation change. It turned me off the sport for a long time. I didn't have any health insurance for a number of years so I was always pretty cautious about sports and outdoor activities. Lately, I've been exploring some of my regional hiking trails on bike and there are a lot that are relatively flat and really fun to cruise through. I did take a fall this weekend as I was navigating a sharp curve downhill, but was able to control it and it never felt too dangerous. I'm enjoying longer bike trips and mountain biking as an alternative to my go-to outdoor weekend activity - hiking.

I went out on my lunch break yesterday and decided to time my ride and see if I could complete 12 miles in an hour. I made it back to my apartment at just under 58 minutes, even though I had to wait for a group on a bridge for a couple minutes. Today I decided to see if I could push myself and try to finish 14 miles in an hour. I was cranking pretty hard and made it back in an hour and two minutes. It felt great. Pretty amazing that I was doing about half that distance in roughly the same time earlier this year. I always feel great as I cruise by the parking lot full of cars loading or unloading their high-end road bikes. I think a lot about a conversation with my coworker who was talking about he and his friends spending hundreds (thousands?) on high end bikes for races or triathlons to drop a few pounds or increase speed. He said most of them would have been a lot better off just dropping a 5-10 pound beer gut.

The funny thing is that cycling wasn't really a part of my yearly goals - just indirectly related to maintaining a healthy weight. I think it fits into some of my larger web of goals, including health, travel, and ecology. The travel aspect is particularly interesting because I think it is a good speed to travel at, with minimal environmental impact, that would allow me to explore my region in a completely different capacity.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Fri Oct 02, 2020 6:55 pm
by Western Red Cedar
Net Worth Update as of 9/30/2020

457 B - 118,404
Roth IRA - 46,310
Savings - 28,497
Pension - 34,802
DW Roth - 40,499
DW Savings - 3,676
Brokerage (shared) - 18,488

Our net worth decreased by $3,207 this month. This was the result of market declines and wasn't unexpected. A little disappointing considering we were close to a major milestone - %50 of the FI goal. We'll be there soon enough. I've been pleasantly surprised that the market volatility over the last year hasn't really phased me. I had been mentally preparing for a recession for a couple years and was a bit surprised how quickly the markets recovered. Of course, funny things happen when the federal reserve injects massive amounts of capital into the economy.

Withdrawal Strategy

There is a lot of discussion about access to funds and focusing on saving outside of tax deferred accounts on the forums. My personal strategy has focused on maxing out tax deferred accounts, and I wish I had started even earlier. One of the beautiful things about the 457b account is that the IRS treats this differently thank a 401K. I can access this upon severance from my employer without an early withdrawal fee. I'll still be taxed on withdrawals, but this could prove valuable in case I need to generate some "income" for health care or other reasons. At ERE spending levels, I should be able to access my account without ever paying taxes. Things get slightly more complicated if DW is working, but I plan on having multiple years of living expenses that I can access in cash or through a brokerage account, so I'm not particularly worried about that.

Skills and Hobbies

I've been playing a lot of guitar lately and have been soloing up and down the neck through the 12th fret. I had been practicing the extension of the E blues scale, then figured out how to connect it to an extension off the pentatonic scale I had learned years earlier. It feels really good to be able to solo up and down the neck from the low to the high E. I give much of the credit to the journalling efforts and feedback here to encourage me to actually sit down and focus on this.

I'm taking the week off of work next week to spend some time by myself at my parents cabin. I'll bring my guitar and will have plenty of time to mess around on the guitar and make music. I tend to do some of my best songwriting there, and I'll bring my computer to do some recording up there for the first time (no internet). I'll also bring my camera up and do some filming.

This will be my first full week off of work since DW and I went to Europe for a month last year. I've got plenty of things to take care of at work, but I need a break. I'm sure I'll be more productive after a week off. I also have 6 weeks of vacation leave accrued and will start losing my new vacation time if I don't use some by the end of the year. I've had plenty of long weekends over the summer, and have made it out for a lot of great adventures this summer. I had five days of mandatory furloughs spread out since June, and I turned almost all of them into backpacking or camping adventures. I really don't like using vacation leave if I'll be staying in my apartment, and this is a perfect opportunity to get a real break from work, to get out of town, and all without spending any money.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Sun Oct 25, 2020 5:47 pm
by Western Red Cedar

I finished tracking a months expenditure for food and groceries on 10/15/2020. The total came out $260.81 for two people over the course of a month. I think we could have probably hit the $200 goal with a little more discipline, but I splurged for my vacation on some higher end items (steak, shrimp, salmon, etc.) and DW spent $50-$60 on snacks and random items that were a bit unusual. We also scored a lot of free produce (peaches, plums, tomatoes, kale, and herbs) from my parents' garden which limited spending elsewhere. $200-$300 is likely a realistic range after looking at our expenditures and eating habits more closely, but I'll keep tracking everything for at least a couple more months to see how things even out with bulk purchases.

Tracking expenses for groceries surprisingly led me to much more awareness of what I'm eating and how much I consume. I was a bit shocked at how much air-popped popcorn, nuts, and peanut butter I consume. We generally eat quite healthy, so I don't stress much over portion sizes or pay attention to how often I'm replacing certain "healthy" items (nut butters, olive oil, bulk popcorn, produce, etc.).

I've also realized that food is one area where I don't want to cut back too much. We already eliminated the most significant part of this budget by not eating out anymore. DW and I both like to cook and buying good-quality ingredients and certain pricier options adds significant value to our lives. I'd probably be happy spending a bit more in the future if it meant I could buy directly from local farmers.


I spent a week alone at my parents' cabin in early October. It was a nice break from work and provided a good opportunity to reflect on some things I've been thinking about recently. I did a lot of reading, finished a 27 mile bike ride to a local town, recorded some music, listened to a lot of records, split about 2.5 cords of wood, and relaxed out in the woods. The bike ride was pretty hilly with a lot of gravel roads, but I was really glad I brought my mountain bike and completed this ride. Most of my family members were really surprised I would even attempt it. I usually play a lot of guitar at the cabin, but I didn't play more than a few hours. I brought my djembe up which I rarely play b/c I live in an apartment, and played quite a bit and recorded a few tracks. I also had a great time digging through some of my dad's vinyl and exploring albums I hadn't listened to much.

Some reflections and thoughts after my vacation:

-I have a lot of money saved up and need to spend less time thinking about or stressing over spending and financial independence. I have a bad habit of fixating on FI too much. I could live for multiple years on what I have in my checking account.

-As an extension to this, I realized that I think too much in general. This takes me out of the present moment and can amplify any underlying anxiety. I finished reading the Geography of Bliss on the trip and it was really interesting to look at cultural factors which can influence general levels of happiness in different countries. Here is a general overview of what the author found after looking at 10 countries: “Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.”

-I spend too much time focusing on productivity - even when I'm trying to relax on vacation. One of the major challenges I'll face as I step away from full-time work is being comfortable with my own choices. I suffer from careerism and place too much value in other peoples opinions.

-I'm a little more reliant on television or media for my entertainment than I realized. My parents have an older TV and dvd player in the cabin. I watched a movie the first night, but somehow the colors on the TV got really messed up. I spent an hour or two trying to fix it, then gave up. After four or five days without any modern media I found myself quite bored in the evenings. This was usually after multiple hours of reading, writing, playing instruments, and doing projects on the property or around the house. I don't fell guilty about watching films or documentaries, but I need to monitor how much TV I'm consuming and make sure it isn't simply brain candy.

-One of the things missing from my work routine is some balance of physical labor with my other tasks. I really enjoyed taking a break from reading, writing, or other mental tasks to go and split wood. These type of physical tasks are really valuable b/c they get me out of my head and cause me to focus intensively on what's in front of me. I try to use bike rides or walks on my lunch breaks to meet this need, but it isn't quite the same.

-I had thought seriously about living on my parents property full-time for at least a year after hitting full or semi ERE. I think this is still an option but I don't feel as strongly about it after a week up there alone. They have a four-bedroom log cabin (on grid with plumbing and all of the modern amenities except internet). They have a partially finished 200 sq. foot tiny house on an adjacent 20 acres they bought a year or two ago. They also have a couple of travel trailers that are in decent condition but need some work. These could make for a fun rebuild project. I have a strong connection to the land as I was born there, grew up there, and have done a lot of work there in the last five years. Spending time up there and sharing expertise with my dad on various projects has been great for both of us. DW hasn't sounded too excited about living up there for more than a year.


In addition to Geography of Bliss, I read The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert and a novel called Found Audio by N.J. Campbell. I also started a novel by both Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs called And the Hippos were Boiled in their Tanks. I've been reading a lot of non-fiction lately and wanted to switch it up. I also enjoy fiction on vacations as it lets me escape a bit more from my work (I have a tendency to pick non-fiction that has some relationship to my field).

I originally read The Last American Man in 2008 and would recommend it to anyone who wants a somewhat light, easy-to-read biography of someone living an inspiring ERE lifestyle. I had remembered Conway's adventures and ambitions, but forgot about all of the challenging relationships and personal struggles. Relationships seem to focus heavily in a lot of Gilbert's writing, so it makes sense that it plays heavily in this book too.


I did some random filming at my parents cabin. I discussed the notion of doing a documentary on how my dad built it and their lifestyle over the 16 years that we lived there full time. I got a few great pictures, but the larch hadn't started changing colors yet which makes for some really dramatic landscape pictures. I've played more guitar after transitioning back to my regular routine and I'm pretty happy with my recent progress. I realize that at my level, a small amount of time spent on theory can pay significant dividends.

Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Posted: Wed Oct 28, 2020 8:18 pm
by Western Red Cedar
Relationships, Marriage, and ERE

I mentioned healthcare as one of the unsolved variables in my early retirement strategy. The more significant one is designing a life and balancing expectations when in a long-term committed relationship. I consider myself very lucky to have a loving and supportive life partner. We work well together as I'm a INTJ and she's a INFJ - Married for 7+ years and together for about 14 years. Many of our natural skills and talents complement each other.

One huge advantage in our relationship is that we are both on board philosophically with an ERE lifestyle. I've been reading about and actively pursuing FI since late 2014. DW doesn't really care much about finances, but is generally pretty frugal and has a lot of practical skills. We've always been very conscious of our environmental footprint which naturally leads to frugality. As I started getting more interested in FI, I painted a picture of long-term slow travel that was very appealing. She also became very interested in minimalism a few years ago which made an ERE lifestyle more acceptable.

As we lived together for so long before marriage, we always maintained separate accounts and split expenses evenly. We continued this arrangement after marriage because it worked well and I can be a bit "uptight" about finances and expenses at times. (She probably would have been happy with any arrangement, but I thought this would be best for our relationship in the long-term based on how closely I scrutinize expenses). I went back to graduate school in 2010 and have been working my way up in my field over the last eight years. After school I started at about $30,000 per year and now make about $74,000 per year. DW decided to focus on work that she felt personally called to - early childhood education - but which unfortunately doesn't pay well. This worked out well for my career as I could move for better job prospects and she could easily find work in a new city. After getting my first professional job, I started paying for a larger share of the expenses, and now cover probably 60-65% of the total household expenses.

DW was suffering from pretty severe burnout last year, and decided to quit her job with nothing lined up, but with plans for a career pivot. We had talked about this for about a year and I was supportive, even though it would put a dent in our FI plans. She quit before the summer of 2019 with about 10 grand in the bank which allowed her to travel in the PNW with family and allowed us to do some great backpacking trips and long weekend getaways with friends (San Juan Islands, North Cascades National Park, Bellingham, Vancouver BC, Salem, Eugene, Oregon Coast, Seattle, N. Idaho and more). We also decided to take a month off to travel internationally at the end of the summer. I get generous vacation leave but DW always had trouble getting more than a week or two off, and of course it was never paid. I was initially looking at Mexico as DW has never been and I love Mexico, but ultimately decided on Spain, Portugal, and Ireland after doing some travel hacking, leveraging points, and comparing prices with Mexico. (The initial plan was to go to Portugal, Spain, and Morocco but the cheapest tickets to Malaga were on Aer Lingus which basically offered a free stopover in Ireland).

She had a bit of trouble finding even entry level work when she got back last October and was a day or two away from applying for grad school to go into counseling after a few months of fruitless searches. She got a job offer near the end of last year that allowed her to leverage some of her skills in early childhood education, offered a 25% pay raise over what she previously made, and would allow her to work more in one-on-one settings. It was a win in many ways, but we later learned that some of the downsides include somewhat unpredictable hours (clients can cancel), the need to drive to client's houses (we share a car and she doesn't like to drive), and no benefits or paid time off. She ended up taking three months off over the spring as well due to Covid-19 after we weighed the risks and rewards of working, but decided to go back to work in June. She works a little less than 3/4 time and doesn't want to add clients because she really likes her schedule. In reality, she probably works closer to half time considering the frequency that she or others need to cancel.

I had always assumed that we would collectively save up 25x expenses to reach FI. I maxed out her Roth IRA for one year and used $3,000 from our shared brokerage account to max it out last year, but other than that we've kept things fairly separate. At some point in the last year I broached the subject of leaving my career when I could cover 50% of our household expenses, rather than saving up the full $600,000. She is fine with that approach, but as I've thought about the practical implications of that there are some unknowns.

1. My plan after FI was to slow travel for a few years. DW depleted much of her cash reserves, so she would need some kind of online work while slow traveling if we wanted to do this more than a year.

2. I've always covered DW with health/life/vision/dental insurance through my work. I have great benefits and our current spending doesn't capture the true costs of health insurance if we were paying out of pocket. I also don't count my FSA in our monthly budget, which covers a lot of random personal expenses like sunscreen, contacts, glasses, copays, etc. The long-term travel strategy was one way to bypass health insurance in the US. If we stay in the US, we'll need to figure this out. If she is working, her income may make it a bit more difficult to access my 457 account, do some Roth IRA ladders, or maximize ACA subsidies (if they still exist).

3. I'm a little worried about finding purpose if we continue living in the US but I don't have a job/career. I've taken multiple months off on a few occasions in my twenties, but I was always moving around or going on adventures. I'd be less worried if we had a house, so I had ample space to garden, tinker on projects, and engage in hobbies that require tools and storage space.

Ultimately, I know that we are in a strong position because we are generally on the same page and both relatively flexible with future options. DW also realized that if we aren't traveling, she is probably happier working half time, which is a pretty significant revelation for an ERE budget. I've never wanted to force frugality on DW, and fortunately our eco-conscious background provided a natural foundation for this lifestyle. I tend to desire certainty in my future plans, but considering the variables I think I just need to keep saving and let things take care of themselves.

Our current plan is to continue saving for 12-18 months and then take a year to slow travel internationally - assuming that is feasible with the pandemic. I'll see how I'm doing with work at that point, and can request a sabbatical rather than just quitting. That will give DW time to save money to cover her costs of the trip, and will provide some stability for moving back to the states. It will also allow us to try out a nomadic lifestyle again and see if its practical over multiple years. Our last long-term trip was 7 months (in addition to a year living in S. Korea) and we were both pretty exhausted after that; though we were moving around quite a bit and she was hospitalized twice.