White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Where are you and where are you going?
white belt
Posts: 722
Joined: Sat May 21, 2011 12:15 am

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

Well it’s been way too long since updating this. Maybe I’ll work through tallying the last ~5 months of expenses but for now I just wanted to get an update out.

Here is where I’m sitting currently:

Financial Snapshot
Net Worth: $230k
Taxable: 61k
TSP: 93k
IRA: 34k
Cash: 42k

This past month is the first time in a year that I’ve spent 4 weeks at my office without any trips. I’ve settled back into life at my house, but I realize my frequent work travel has really atrophied my social circle here. I really don’t have many social activities on weekends, so I’m going to try to work on that. Luckily I do get a lot of social interaction from my job, but I definitely feel like I need some more recreational interaction on weekends other than going on dates with girls I meet on dating apps.

I’d say one of the big changes since my last entry is that I’ve gotten much more serious about my nutrition and training. I plan on competing in weightlifting and powerlifting this summer for the first time, so my training has taken on a lot more structure. I do really enjoy every session having a purpose at the gym; each session fits into a weekly plan that fits within a larger phasic structure. In fact, it’s been so effective at getting my to consistently lift that I’m thinking about how I could use similar structure to motivate me to practice guitar consistently.

I’ve done pretty well the past month with not spending money on eating out. It helps that I’ve been in a fat loss phase which means I’ve really had to dial in my macronutrient intake (which means I only eat out maybe once or twice a week). I find that serious training actually fits very well into my web of goals. I need to focus on getting better sleep, eating healthier, and really structuring my time so I can hit the gym. All this makes me overall healthier and reduces expenses since I’m not spending as much on eating out or alcohol. Additionally, I find that the amateur nature of weightlifting and powerlifting in the US means that many competitors are used to living frugally to fund their hobby.

The market continues to climb (I don’t really follow it closely) so I have no doubt that most of my net worth is inflated since ~70% is invested in stocks (in the form of index funds). My cash pile continues to grow as I’m still considering getting into rental real estate which would require quite a bit of cash on hand, in combination with the fact that I don’t really have an investment strategy beyond the index funds dogma.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’d like to diversify my income in some form. Right now all of my income comes from my full time job. I think rental real estate is a possibility, but I’m still unsure if it’s the right fit for me since I move so frequently. I’ve read of people having properties on the other side of the country, but it is a bit more complicated than investing locally. I’m going to do more research.

I’ve read quite a bit about multifamily property investing. I don’t really have as much interest in working on fixer upper houses myself, I think my interest and skillset lay much more in my research, analytical, and organizational skills than any sort of handyman abilities. I could develop that skillset, but I’d much rather develop a business that I can manage remotely since I know I’ll be moving around frequently. Maybe real estate isn’t the right fit since it’s hyperlocal. Either way I think I definitely need to find a mentor and get some first hand experience with the whole process before committing to an additional career path. I found a local meetup for real estate investors that I’ll attend this month.

white belt
Posts: 722
Joined: Sat May 21, 2011 12:15 am

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

I know it’s not the end of the month, but I’d like to give an update and put down some things that have been floating around my head. I'll do a monthly recap next week.

To start, over the past month or so I’ve become more interested in real estate investing. I went to a local meetup and really enjoyed learning and the camaraderie. I have no idea the exact niche within real estate that I’d like to pursue, but here is my initial analysis for how it would fit in my web of goals:

-I am very analytical, and real estate investing scratches an itch I have to research and learn
-I have a high credit score, high income from a W-2 job, and access to some military benefits (VA loan) which means I have a lot of financing options
-I like the built-in inflation protection of real estate
-I like that real estate is a physical asset, which I find rewarding since I spend my 9-5 time almost completely in the digital world
-I like the sense of community that exists with local real estate investors, agents, landlords, property managers, etc and that I can work together with others
-I need to diversify my income streams since right now I am entirely reliant on my full-time job
-I like building and optimizing systems, and as far as I can tell most real estate strategies succeed based on system design

-real estate requires me to be tied to a specific geographical area, which may be challenging since I move around a lot
-some profits in real estate are made from leverage, which of course has its risks
-I have no relevant experience

With that said, I’ve been building my own curriculum. Based on everything I’ve read and my experience from the one meetup, the curriculum requires both individual academic studying and working with more experienced investors in my area to learn from them.

An ERE Real Estate Investing Curriculum

One issue I’ve seen with real estate media is that there are a lot of shitty gurus who are more interested in selling a course on how to make money in real estate than actually making money in real estate. There are resources out there that are not get rich quick schemes, but there’s definitely a lot of chaff to sift through. Additionally, there are loads of books on real estate investing, but I think a lot of them skip over strategy and dive right into tactics. Many of them are autobiographical and are strategies that worked in one specific niche in one specific market at one specific time. I’d like to get a firm foundation of strategies and big picture concepts before digging into strictly tactical books. As Jacob said in the ERE book (paraphrased): “It’s more important to do the right thing than to do things right.” If anyone has any other book recommendations, please let me know.

Investment Strategy
-Economics by McConnell and Brue
-Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management by Reilly and Brown
-Investments by Bodie
-Real Estate Finance & Investments by Brueggeman and Fisher

You’ll notice that the first three are pulled from the from the “Startup curriculum for finance, economic, and investing” from the ERE blog. I basically took that list and just dropped the ones that dealt with corporate finance. The fourth text comes highly recommended and as far as I can tell is the best textbook directly related to real estate investing.

Real Estate Tactics
-What every Real Estate Investor Needs to Know About Cash Flow by Gallinelli

Jacob recommended this one in a blog post and I’ve seen it on just about every best book list for real estate investing. One could argue that this is actually a strategy book, since understanding cash flow and being able to analyze a property is important for just about any real estate strategy.

There are a few other tactical books I’ve seen recommended, but I think a lot will depend on what kind of strategy I am pursuing, so I’ll likely worry about that list later.

Hands On (Practical Experience)
-Shadow experienced real estate investors in my area
-Get a feel for which strategies work in a specific market
-Get a feel for which strategies match my temperament/skills

It seems like real estate investing isn't very popular on this forum, but I'd like to share my journey in case anyone has considered exploring it as well.

Edit: I'm not sure about the order of the strategy books. Even if I'm reading 100 pages a week, each textbook will take me 8 weeks. So if I were to read those textbooks in order, it would take me 6 months just to get to the Real Estate specific stuff. I'm not sure if I should change up the order or what. I already have the McConnell Economics book so I'll probably start with that one no matter what.

white belt
Posts: 722
Joined: Sat May 21, 2011 12:15 am

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

Well as is the case with a lot of folks, COVID has me thinking about my overall systems and web of goals. Isolation at home is relatively easy for me as it already fits quite naturally with my lifestyle. The two things that require me to leave the house are groceries and lifting weights. I think in the future I may move towards getting a home gym, but right now I live on base so I have access to a lot of free facilities. I do plan on accumulating a two month stockpile of food and Berkey water filter so that I’m more resilient towards these types of events in the future.

The lockdown has me thinking about my ideal lifestyle again. In my mind, here are the things I need to reach self-actualization (there’s a thread talking about how happiness is far too nebulous of a term, so I think self-actualization is probably more accurate). Let’s call them the three principles:

1. I need to be learning and improving towards a goal
2. I need to be physically active
3. I need to connect with friends, families, and the community

On this forum there seem to be a lot of INTJ types and I believe the desire for mastery and effectiveness is a common for our ilk. Note that as my job has forced me to be more social, I believe I have drifted more towards E, but I am still introverted (just not as extreme as when I was younger).

This has me thinking about what an ideal day in my life would look like if I assume money is not a factor. The exact times are somewhat arbitrary, but it made it easier to model a day:

1000 – wake up/meditate/eat breakfast while enjoying the outdoors
1100 - practice mastery or work towards goal
1300 – lunch while enjoying outdoors
1330 - practice mastery or work towards goal
1600 – practice mastery/work towards physical goal
1800 – eat dinner with friends, unstructured social time, dating, free time, etc
0100 – sleep

This is a relatively simple schedule, but to me right now this is what I dream of as an ideal weekday. I think the weekend may allow for some variation or more unstructured time, but I’m not sure at the moment. I deliberately kept things as vague as possible since I believe specific activities and interests will change, however this basic structure will likely still appeal to me. I plan on batching things like cooking, cleaning, laundry, and maintenance for the weekend (this is my current practice and I rather enjoy the time saved of not having to cook everyday).

Just for reference, I’d say my actual schedule while working a 9-5 looks something like this:

0630 – wake up/eat breakfast
0800 – work in the office (provides social interaction, ability to learn, and working towards goal)
1630 - exercise
1830 – eat dinner at home
1900 – random activities at home
2230 – sleep

You may notice that this is actually quite similar, except for the fact that I can’t pursue mastery of hobbies unrelated to my current job while I’m working. Additionally, I don’t really have a developed enough social circle at my current location to have activities to do every night, but working at the office scratches the itch for social interaction to an extent.

I think my first move will be to try to dedicate some of my time at home to activities and hobbies I’m interested in. Up to this point I haven’t had a structured plan for those things, so by the end of the day I sometimes just end up mindlessly surfing youtube or these forums instead of working towards things I want to do. I also want to develop my social circle, but at the moment that’s not viable.

I have an opportunity this week to test drive my ideal schedule. I will be teleworking so I should have more time on my hands. I will be missing out on social activities, but perhaps I can schedule some digital social activities.

white belt
Posts: 722
Joined: Sat May 21, 2011 12:15 am

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

Over this past week I've been able to do a bit of a test run of my ideal lifestyle.

Working on my projects has really given me daily satisfaction. I think I underestimated how much I was doing just to feel "productive" because I wasn't actually learning/improving towards a goal. Now that I have a little more structure of my free time, I find that I'm spending far less time surfing the web, watching youtube, researching products, etc. Currently my big projects are studying for a certification related to my career, studying McConnell's Economics textbook, playing guitar, and of course my weight training. I find that guitar is a nice change of pace and good to put towards the end of the day. It's easier for me to focus on studying earlier in the day.

I've modified my Real Estate Investing curriculum below:

Investment Strategy
-Economics by McConnell and Brue (April)
-Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management by Reilly and Brown (April/May)
-Real Estate Finance & Investments by Brueggeman and Fisher (June/July)

I removed the Bodie book because after skimming the table of contents, it looks like it's going to dive way deeper into securities than what I'm looking for at the moment. I may still read it later, after I read the Brueggeman book.

I've been reading at a clip of 2 chapters (30-40 pages a day) which takes me an hour. Then it's about another half hour of further research, compiling my thoughts, reading forum threads on the chapters, and posting. I should be able to maintain this pace until I have to work in the office full-time again, which I predict will be May at the earliest. I might even be able to maintain while working full time if I am disciplined.

Apartment Homesteading
I've done a little bit of research into microgreens after reading through this thread. Ultimately, I think I'm going to hold off on doing any home production of vegetables at the moment.

After a bit of introspection, I've come to the conclusion that I'm wired in pretty similar ways to Jacob when it comes to DIY and homesteading. I enjoy DIY as a means to an end, but I don't particularly enjoy the process. For example, I like the satisfaction that comes from changing my oil on my car after the fact, but I view the actual process as a chore. Therefore, when looking to design my web of goals and ideal lifestyle, I think I want to avoid things that require a ton of maintenance or recurring work like a homestead, because I just don't get much satisfaction from that kind of work. Obviously there is a balance here because I'm not just going to outsource everything, but I want to be deliberate in minimizing the amount of extra work I'm creating for myself with my choices. At the moment I'm most interested in working on my various projects.

white belt
Posts: 722
Joined: Sat May 21, 2011 12:15 am

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

March Report

Income: 6757
Savings Rate: 53.5%
Expense Total: 3142

Housing - 350
Health/Fitness - 212
Insurance - 54
Cell Phone - 24
Internet - 15
Music – 10
Mail Box – 20
Education - 97
Dating – 53
Food/Restaurants – 944 (807 in groceries)
Gas – 15
Car - 98 (routine maintenance parts)
Travel - 0 (actual was $66 but my card fully reimbursed)
Shopping – 980
Guitar - 270

Today was a high spending month, but a good chunk of that is from stocking up on a supply of food for COVID19 isolation and a few large purchases that I had been planning for a while.

Recurring Expenses
I'm working with a online coach now for my lifting, which is steep at $200 a month but I think it's worth it for the progress I'm making because of it. Ditto the food tracking app that I'm using. It's been a while since I've done basic maintenance on my car, so that explains the purchases of filters, wipers, bulbs, etc.

One Time Expenses
I've been hemming and hawing for a while on updating my home office setup and I finally took the plunge. I actually did this at the beginning of March completely unrelated to COVID19 teleworking reality, but the timing ended up working at perfectly. I ended up getting an external monitor ($110), laptop stand ($21), docking station ($75), and a LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 Walking Treadmill ($707). So far I really enjoy it and find myself way more productive. I enjoy being able to walk while using my computer, which fits into my web of goals a lot better because sitting all day was restricting the mobility I need for weightlifting. I also like the cardiovascular and recovery benefits of walking, but it's been a challenge doing it while working a desk job. I don't plan on bringing my treadmill to the office at my current position, but I may use it at my next job.

I've been playing guitar a bit more and I'm looking to get back into the regular habit. I sold off some old equipment that I haven't used in awhile and purchased a multi-effects pedal which should enable me to play any style I want for years to come.

Financial Snapshot
Net Worth: $198k
Taxable: 47k
TSP: 79k
IRA: 32k
Cash: 40k

My net worth is down 14%, which is actually better than I was expecting. Of course since I don't plan on withdrawing any money I have invested anytime soon, it really doesn't matter much to me. I'm still holding a lot of cash and making my routine contributions to my tax-free accounts this year (I max out my IRA and TSP every year). I'm holding the rest of the excess in cash because I may purchase some real estate in the next 6-12 months.

white belt
Posts: 722
Joined: Sat May 21, 2011 12:15 am

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

I haven’t been doing a very good job of updating my journal on here, but I’ve been actively posting on the forums elsewhere. The short of it is I’m still working remote and pulling in my ~$80k salary. Spending is probably around $15-20k over the past year, but I’ll have to check the exact numbers. I’ve had quite a bit of CapEx for new projects recently but my recurring expenses remain pretty low due to my low cost of living area and a transition to cheap/free activities due to the pandemic. I’ve started organizing my life into the different areas of expertise from the ERE book. Here are a few highlights:

My investment strategy continues to evolve. My asset allocation currently looks something like the Permanent Portfolio. I’d like to eventually implement Chris Cole’s Dragon Portfolio, but I don’t have a good enough understanding of options to feel comfortable with Long Vol and Commodity Trend Following strategies. I have Sheldon Natenberg’s Option Volatility & Pricing on my reading list to work through at some point. I’d like to have my portfolio mostly on autopilot except for maybe quarterly rebalancing. Someday I might dedicate a chunk of my portfolio to more active strategies like real estate.

I’ve made a lot of strides over the past few months, which has led this to being one of my stronger areas. My microgreens test run was a success, so now I need to refine and optimize my process. I’ve learned fishing and caught a small fish, so my next step is to construct a throw line and improve my technique. I also want to process and eat a fish I catch. I’ve got my shotgun ready for some hunting, but since it is late in the season, I think I will settle for processing a squirrel in the next month with the goal of hunting deer next season. I’m also making my first steps towards homesteading by purchasing a few dwarf fruit trees and possibly raising quail and minnows.

The Collapse Thread got me thinking about constraints to place on myself as a way to better hone in on my ideal web of goals. I’ve come up with the following:
• Living area <350 square feet per person (this is in-line with 1950’s numbers)
• Grow 50% of my own food on premises (veggies, fruit, fish, quail, bee honey)
• Forage for 50% of my own food (hunting, fishing, wild plants, etc)
• Have 3 sources of income to cover my expenses
• Expenses around 1 JAFI

Although I can implement some of the above things, I’m still limited because I am locked in to 3.5 more years of full-time employment. One way this manifests itself is I have to spend some money on travel and my car because I have to live near where I work, which is not the location I’d prefer to live in over the long term. Additoinally, if I’m renting then I am sometimes limited in my homestead practices.

Over the holidays, I’ve been spending some time thinking about my ideal housing situation. I’m back in the city where my family and many friends live, but unfortunately, I am unable to move here until I leave the military. This is a densely populated city, so I don’t know how well it would jive with my permaculture guidelines listed above. On the other hand, living in that city after I leave the military would make a lot of sense from the perspective of the rest of my web of goals and social capital. Even if I had slightly higher housing costs, I could reduce travel and transportation expenses to virtually nothing. I could go car-free and utilize my extensive social capital to still enjoy the occasional car trip, beach houses, rooftop decks, and mountain houses.

The housing stock I’ve been looking at is ~100 year old rowhomes, which are actually quite energy efficient in their own right. Some are larger houses with 3 floors that have been split into 2-3 separate apartment units, and other are the smaller houses with only 2 floors and 2 bedrooms. Here is an example of what I’m talking about (overpriced and recently rehabbed with modern amenities, but the layout is typical):
https://www.realtor.com/realestateandho ... 9923-43906

As you can see from that link, we’re talking extremely compact houses. ~800 square feet of real living space on a ~600-800 sq ft lot. There is also an unfinished basement that is not included in the living space square footage. There are numerous environmental benefits to living in such an arrangement: shared walls and compact spaces mean reducing heating/cooling costs, 100 year old housing stock doesn’t require new materials to build, and I can take advantage of “free” city amenities. Of course, there are challenges too because I’m relying on city infrastructure that may not be all that sustainable, there is very little square footage in the backyard for growing vegetables, and I’m breaking the ~350 sqft per person rule unless I rent out a room or live with a partner. Nevertheless, I think I could make it work with the following:

• Purchase a fixer upper/slightly delipidated row home. This saves me money and allows me to only add the quirky upgrades that I value (see below). Many of these have outdated kitchens, no central air, and baseboard heat, which is all fine with me but very unappealing to the average home buyer.

• Heating will be a masonry heater attached to the chimney in the place where the fireplace used to be (if you look closely every living room has a chimney and fireplace covered by drywall). From what I’ve read, it is quite doable DIY without previous masonry experience with ~$500-$1k and good plans, however I’d also need to verify the chimney is still in working order prior to purchasing the house. The existing brick chimney would act as a large thermal mass that would dissipate the heat from burning wood to both floors. Masonry heaters are similar in efficiency to rocket mass heaters, but are proven and approved in all building codes. In the winter I can use the stovetop for cooking and the oven instead of the gas/electric ones in the kitchen. I think I’d like to make a DIY version of something like this but built into/in front of the existing fireplace: https://www.firespeaking.com/portfolio/ ... bin-stove/

• Since the house doesn’t have duct work, cooling will be split-level AC (more energy efficient than central air). No duct work or central heat means I don’t need a furnace. Ceiling fans in each room keep air flowing when it has occupants and the split-level units means I only am cooling spaces when they are actually being used. You can see a similar solution implemented in a rowhome here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMi-T_U6juY

• I expect an old house to be drafty, but at least I only need to worry about 2 exterior walls and a roof instead of 4. I’d make sure the attic and walls have as much insulation as makes sense/possible, then seal as much as I can and implement low tech measures to keep temperatures more stable (interior window shudders, etc). I found the ideas here inspirational: https://www.nps.gov/tps/sustainability/ ... -homes.pdf

• Roof would be an extensive living green roof (rowhome roofs are virtually flat). This is essentially a few inches of soil medium that small plants and even some vegetables could grow on. This quadruples my growing square footage, with some limitations because rooftop gardens have high wind, high sunlight, and can’t support deeply rooted plants. Surprisingly, even most rowhome structures 100+ years old can structurally support the weight of an extensive living roof. Along with giving me more growing square footage, the roof improves insulation and reduces water runoff. Maybe I could even get away with well pruned dwarf fruit trees in containers to better create a microclimate on the roof. Here is an example: https://www.philadelphiagreenroofs.com/ ... sidence-4/

• I really like the kitchen ideas that Dave Holmgreen talks about in RetroSuburbia. The drying rack built above the sink means no need for a dishwasher, and smart shelving/wall storage means no need for cabinets. In the summer perhaps I could cook with a solar oven in the backyard and a biogas stove setup. I’d also utilize the manual version of as many kitchen appliances as possible.

• I have big plans to turn the unfinished basement into a more productive space. I’d throw a 1000 gallon aquaculture tank (might go smaller) in one end of the basement where I could grow minnows, catfish, trout, or whatever fish I want that will do well in the year-round consistent ~60 degree temperatures (no heating/cooling required). I’d mitigate against the disasters of a leak by raising appliances and other important things off the ground. Concrete floors and existing drains in the floor make things easier as well. Pool cover and efficient dehumidifier keep humidity in reasonable ranges. I’d also have a shelf of quail cages to give me eggs and a work bench for messier projects that I don’t want to do in the rest of the house. Maybe even aquaponic grow beds if I decide the electricity it requires isn’t too much of a liability. No dryer, no furnace, and a tankless water heater mean that I have even more basement space.

• Along with the living roof, garden space is maximized with vertical growing along the backyard fences and a 4x10 raised bed that runs the width of the front of the house (legal as long as it doesn’t block the whole sidewalk). Flower boxes and indoor containers provide more possibilities. Bees would be kept on the roof or in the backyard. I could also get a plot in a nearby community garden in exchange for volunteer hours. There are a lot of good ideas here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qI0F9kT9Zs

• In the future maybe I’d add solar panels, but it is likely I’d be using so little electricity that it wouldn’t make much sense economically.

white belt
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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

Big news on the personal front: I've gotten my next job assignment and I will be moving to a major HCOL city! This is what I wanted for a long time, ever since I started my career at various bases in more rural areas. The specifics of the job are still uncertain, but I know I'll get a big pay bump in my housing allowance for a more expensive area. This should push my total compensation above six figures. In fact, even if my housing costs increase by $1000 a month, I will still come out with more net income than I do in my current location.

It's funny that ever since I started some personal growth towards WL6 (COVID19 was the catalyst), my perspective about city life has changed a bit. I've found ways to entertain myself that don't involve just going to a coffee shop/restaurant/bar and spending money. I like some outdoor space for gardening and have started fishing. I also like the quiet and low cost of living in a smaller city. Nevertheless, I think I will enjoy this new location because I will be much closer to friends and family, and the diverse population allows me to be a part of like-minded communities for some of my hobbies.

The housing situation is uncertain but just by perusing online and using the ERE Housing rule, the only viable option for me is to rent a place for <$900 a month. That should be doable living in a house with a few other young professionals, which I prefer to getting my own studio apartment because the house gives me access to outdoor space that I can use for growing food. TBD if my quail dreams will be possible in such a situation (maybe if I put them in the basement or a shed?) but I should be able to continue with microgreens and mushrooms indoors. It'll be a bit of an adjustment living with roommate again after spending this year with my own studio, but I'm not so worried as long as I pick a house that seems like it'll be drama-free. I see that most shared houses have a cleaning service for common areas, so that at least should mitigate the common dirty roommate conflicts.

Other than that I'm continuing to experiment with some small food production projects and trying to develop my skills. On my list I have mushroom production in jars, making ramen noodles from scratch, and perfecting some soybean recipes that I can incorporate into my regular location.

My study of macroeconomics and investing continues. I did some trading and made $2.6k speculating on GME. I'm still trying to get a better handle on options trading so I can incorporate Commodity Trend Following and Long Vol for the Dragon Portfolio. At some point I'll do a rundown of my asset allocation, but honestly I've been more interested in my other projects. Maybe my reduced enthusiasm for spreadsheets and numbers is a byproduct of moving towards WL6 thinking.

It seems like the theme since the outbreak of COVID19 is that the outside world is in chaos and I just keep getting more muscular, more rich, and more skilled. But I still feel like I have so much to learn and do.

Der Leiermann
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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by Der Leiermann »

Interesting developments, congrats on landing the new job!

Keep us posted on how you go with your homesteading efforts, in particular growing mushrooms is something I’ve thought about for a while now.
white belt wrote:
Fri Feb 05, 2021 9:53 pm

I did some trading and made $2.6k speculating on GME.
You’re a braver man than I am.

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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by AxelHeyst »

It struck me that your last paragraph is a definition of antifragility: you're getting better in response to stressful stimuli. Awesome!

Thanks again for the tip on the surplus boot liners by the way, my feet are finally cozy. I also picked up a pair of heavy woolen trousers from East Germany - what a game changer.

I'm (now) following your updates with interest, thanks for sharing.

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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by Alphaville »

white belt wrote:
Fri Feb 05, 2021 9:53 pm
Big news on the personal front: I've gotten my next job assignment and I will be moving to a major HCOL city!
hell yeah! congrats! that's great news.

between this and @7w5's housing liberation it's looking like a great week for forum members.

white belt
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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

@Der Leiermann

Thanks! I wouldn't call myself a trader, I think it was more of lucky move that I happened to hop on the GME trade after RH blocked trading the first day and the tank priced. I just had a feeling with all the public uproar about the move that GME was going to bounce back.

I mentioned it in the Apartment Homesteading thread, but it's strange how little evidence-based resources there are on growing mushrooms on a homestead scale. I started with microgreens, which have tons of resources available for everything from individual low-tech up to highly automated commercial system. Yet with mushrooms, it seems like the default is that they expect you to have a small scale commercial operation with an autoclave, laminer flow hood, sterile fruiting room, etc. I get that special equipment is necessary on the commercial scale to maximize profits, but the payoff just isn't there on the individual scale. After digging more I have found some youtube channels that grow on the individual scale without fancy equipment, so I'm excited to test out some of their methods.


I'm not so sure I've quite reached anti-fragility, but I am definitely building resilience. In my current lifestyle, as long as I have access to a gym and an internet connection, I am satisfied. A better solution would be to not even require a gym, but I'm enjoying olympic weightlifting and powerlifting which require some specialized equipment that can't fit in a studio apartment.


After the GME profits and getting one of my desirable assignments in a one week span, I considered buying a lottery ticket to see if I was on a lucky streak. But I'm not much of a gambler so I decided against it.

white belt
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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

I've been preoccupied the last few weeks with getting ready for an upcoming move, so that's why I don't have many updates on some of my projects.

I have 2 container potato plants that have sprouted above ground, and I'm hoping to see some more sprouting up (I planted 2 seed potatoes per 5 gallon bucket). So it appears that the self-wicking potato bucket towers still might be successful. I won't know for sure until I harvest them in another month and a half.

My mushroom cultivation experiment didn't work, but I think that's because pine shavings are not suitable substrate for enoki mushrooms (even when mixed with coffee grounds). The jars have had no fungus growth of any kind, which leads me to believe that it's a substrate issue since you would expect some mold growth after this amount of time. I might not start another batch until I'm settled into my new location in a couple months. I think I'll try grain spawn because that is a proven beginner method, then work my way up to used coffee grounds substrate.

I have the tools (rolling pin, dough cutter) to make ramen noodles from scratch, but again that's a project that might wait until my next bulking phase this summer. I plan on following these instructions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8rsTkOsI2M

I'm starting to think I should move towards cooking more with staples and storing raw ingredients, similar to what Jacob does (except I eat a lot more protein and animal products). I figure I can get far with a stockpile of flour, soybeans, rice, and oats combined with homegrown produce like microgreens, veggies, and mushrooms. The baby step will be to do that while stockpiling meat, fish, and eggs. Eventually I'd like to move towards producing some of those protein sources on site or with foraging, but first I think it's prudent to stockpile on staples.

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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

My new life is starting to come together. I've secured my next apartment renting a private bedroom/bathroom in a shared house for $800 a month (utilities included). This is about as cheap as I could get considering I wanted to be close to work and it's a HCOL area. It has a backyard so I should be able to pursue my outdoor projects.

Still, it is kind of crazy looking at living expenses compared to the current area I'm living ($500 including all utilities for studio), which is still a small city with decent amenities. I suspect the sweet spot in lifestyle might be in medium sized cities in LCOL area, but right now my long term ERE plan is still to live in a larger city because I think the networks and amenities will better fit my web of goals.

I'll highlight the breakdown of my new work/life situation:

-higher population density, which means more opportunities to explore hobbies like beekeeping, permaculture, music, etc with like-minded people
-closer to family and friends, which means I have much more social capital
-dating market should be much more favorable
-pay increase (I'll be going from $8k to $9k monthly gross salary)
-higher population density makes it easier to bike or use public transport, so I can use my car less or sell it
-work will pay for public transit commute expenses (my shift work schedule might mean that's not feasible)

-work schedule uncertain (right now I might have to do shift work which I despise)
-more yuppie influences (lots of bars/restaurants/entertainment, young people making high salaries, etc)
-fishing is not as viable (all of the waters within 50 miles of the city are so polluted that consumption advisories limit to one meal a month)
-higher cost of living for pretty much all goods and services

Overall I think it's a net upgrade and I am very excited to move, I just don't like the work uncertainty with shift schedules. That will interfere with my other goals related to strength training and overall health. I also function a lot better when I can establish a routine.

Soon I'll begin the process of packing for my 5th move to a new location in as many years.

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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by ertyu »

sounds exciting, and also sounds like as long as you don't succumb to hipster cafes and avocado toast, the increase in rent will more or less be offset by increased income + decreased transportation expenses due to being able to ditch the car. cool! Hopefully schedule will end up alright.

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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

It's funny because when I was in college and living in a large city, I was convinced that a car-free lifestyle is the way to go (you can probably see this if you go back to my earliest journal entries). I was reading blogs like MMM and ERE and nodding in agreement at the superiority of the bicycle. I bought and modified an extremely functional commuter bicycle with dynamo hub lights, panniers, chainguard, and fenders. When I moved to a much more rural area for the first 6+ months of my military service, I still didn't buy a car. For those few months, I hadn't yet understood how important population density and infrastructure is to living a car-free lifestyle. I was able to carpool or bike to work but my activities outside of work to include my social/dating life were severely limited during that period.

Now, I feel a lot of hesitation at the thought of getting rid of my car. Some of it is perhaps nostalgia or emotional attachment because I've had my car for 5 years and done quite a bit of repairs on it myself. It has been extremely reliable and I've taken it on trips all over the country. I think 5 years living in car-centric areas has also shifted my perspective a bit, but I know that the prudent decision will likely be to sell it when I move to my new location. I think I will feel much more comfortable once I settle into my new life where I'm commuting by bicycle or with public transport while rarely using my car. I do have one friend that lives in the new area who has a car, I believe one of my new roommates has a car as well, and there is always the option to sign up for Zipcar or utilize a rental if I need one. The only activities that don't jive very well with a car-free lifestyle are things like hunting and fishing, but I'm hoping that I can do those as social activities and carpool with others.

My work schedule is still not set in stone, so I'm trying to not get too mentally down about it at the moment. Right now the plan for commuting is to use a combination of bicycle and bus. Fortunately, the buses do have bike racks on the front, so I can pretty easily combine these even in the same day. My employer will pay for public transport commuting costs so in an ideal world I would just take the bus everyday, however with shift work and odd hours it means I'll have some times that I have to bike because public transport isn't running.

In the meantime, I still have one more repair to make on my vehicle before I can sell it. It should be relatively straightforward fix to an airbag sensor issue that the dealership wanted to charge me $500+ to do (OEM part is $200 and they wanted another ~$400 for labor). I still had to pay $120 for the diagnostic to identify the issue, yet another reason I avoid dealerships and was only there to get a separate safety recall issue fixed. I found a suitable aftermarket part for $50 and found a video of someone doing the repair on Youtube in a half hour.

Right now the used car market is very much a seller's market due to the chip shortage causing people to not be able to buy new cars and increased prices that started from COVID. I'm not sure if Kelly Blue Book/CARFAX reflects those changes, but right now it says I can get $3k on average if I sell my car. That's pretty good considering that means I only paid about $200 a year in depreciation ($4k original purchase price), but I definitely have paid more than that in repairs and parts to keep things running smoothly. It is slightly tragic that I made some major repairs in the past year because I thought I'd be holding onto the car for at least another 3 years (new tires, new clutch), but hopefully that means I can fetch a higher sale price since it shouldn't need any major repairs for a long time.

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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by RoamingFrancis »

I feel you! I have recently moved from suburban to semirural. Until now, I have been a hardcore cyclist and enjoyed it. But now cycling everywhere has just become impractical.

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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

Work has been slow and I’m at this awkward period where I am mentally checked out of my current location but it is too early to begin packing things for my move. So I’ve been spending a lot of time learning about various ecological topics related to homes. If you recall from earlier posts (see here), my prototypical use case is a 100+ year old rowhome in a mid-Atlantic US city. There is an abundance of this housing stock and they allow for owning of a single family home even in an extremely dense area. I’m aiming for a neighborhood that is still rough around the edges, but is perhaps next to or in the vicinity of recently gentrified neighborhoods with desirable amenities.

Here is a typical example of a layout (although there are many variations but the shell is similar). This one is about $50k overpriced by my estimates, which is why you see no one has bought it. You can click around on street view to get a feel for the housing stock in the area:

https://www.realtor.com/realestateandho ... 3933142844

That unit is a corner one which makes it a little uncommon and the lot is small with an addition built out the back at some point, but nevertheless it shows the style. Ideally, I’d find one with a bigger back yard and perhaps in more decrepit shape (there is an abundance of those in the city as well). There are a lot of properties that flippers won’t touch do to design quirks, but I actually would prefer a shell of a property that I can purchase cheap and add exactly the modifications I want. South facing would also be ideal so that I can take advantage of passive solar in the living room and front bedroom with those large windows. The idea is I would purchase this and then live in one bedroom myself, while either renting out or some kind of work exchange with the other two bedrooms so I can live with eco-minded people and get the benefits of community and economies of scale.

I’m just going to go down the list of my ideas based on particular areas within the house.

Front outside
As you can see, on these houses there is a few square footage of space that exists from one side of the stairs to the other side of the house, along the front of the windows. Some houses even have a porch in this space. This is actually valuable space because it is south facing and also is visible from the street so it has a lasting impression in how a passerby experiences the space. I got the idea from Brad Lancaster’s book for a sparse trellis to grow some kind of deciduous vines on that will shade and provide privacy in the summer, but not block any sun in the winter (see here). I further expanded on this idea when I came across folks that have made greenhouses out of cowpanels and clear plastic. So, the idea would be to use pallets and cow panels to build a lean-to greenhouse structure, kind of like one of these if you split it in half because it will be against the front wall of the house. In winter months, the greenhouse can be used to start seedlings and for less cold hardy plants (almond tree?). The plastic will be able to roll up and stow for summer months when I will plant climbing vines to cover the trellis. This also provides some year-round privacy and slight noise reduction from traffic/pedestrians walking by while one is in the living room. Maybe if I can get the neighbor onboard I’d also do an arbor trellis arch that spans over both of our doorways/steps to provide further aesthetic appeal.

A street tree or rain garden are also a possibility in front of the house (funded by the city), but a lot depends on the width of the sidewalk and how far back the house is set from the street. I’d add window boxes to at least the 2nd story windows to add more growing space and improve street appeal. Retractable awnings would provide shielding against summer sun.

Ground floor (kitchen and living room)
These houses traditionally have vestibules, which allow for a spot to put shoes and coats while also limiting drafts when someone opens the front door. I like the Japanese style of having guests remove shoes and wearing slippers/sandals inside.

The ground floor will be an open floor plan with the living room towards the front and the kitchen towards the back. I’d like to install a masonry heater as a centerpiece dividing the two spaces and possibly vented through the original masonry chimney. This will almost certainly require some structural reinforcement in the form of support beams built up from the basement. The masonry heater is woodburning but differs from a woodstove in that it heats very slowly and consistently over a long period due to the large amount of mass. It burns extremely cleanly because the actual burn time is so short and hot. Masonry heaters can also burn softwoods just as efficiently. Some designs allow for a cooktop and oven as well, so I’d consider adding those to use in the winter time for cooking, but I’d have to figure out the exhaust fan/ventilation piece (see here for possible design). These are legal under the local code. Custom design plans online cost about $500 and probably tack on another $1-2k for materials. I’d do the labor myself or with the help of friends because professional design and installation is generally in the $10k range, which is not economical. The entire house would be equipped with insulated indoor shutters at each window, which can be closed at sunset in winter months to further improve insulation.

In the living room, I’d like to have a few benches or couches and table arranged in a circle. Ideally no television, but perhaps an exception will be made. I think it would be cool to have furniture that is adaptable to the seasons, so maybe something like breathable airy furniture in the summer and then large pads/cushions to add to the furniture for more thermal mass in the winter. The idea is the living room is the hangout space during winter or inclimate weather. A microgreens shelf might also be tucked in the corner.

I like Alphaville’s idea of making a kitchen structured more like a commercial kitchen rather than having a bunch of expensive cabinets. I already use some metal shelves that I like, I’d add a large double sink built into stainless steel counter, another stainless steel work station with wheels, and then a pegboard wall to hang all sorts of kitchen implements (like Julia Child’s wall). I think most of this can be scored used from restaurant supply stores or other sources. I also would add a dish drying and storage rack above the sinks (see here) to obviate the need for a dishwasher. There would also be a large table for additional work space and community dining. Perhaps I’d also put the washing machine in the kitchen to allow for easier channeling of gray water to a rain garden in the backyard. Sink gray water would follow a similar path, with a simple 3 way switch that allows one to drain to the sewer if needed.

Stove will be a propane camping stove that is portable with the propane line running into tanks in the backyard. In the summer this can be used to run on biogas (more on that later). Fridge is either a deep freezer to fridge conversion that you commonly see among off grid houses, or even some super insulated coolers that use large block ice. I plan on having a deep freezer in the basement to store things over the long term, so a part of me wonders if it makes more sense to freeze large block ice in it and then just load those once a week into two super-insulated coolers (one for drinks/non-perishables, one for perishables). In the winter months the basement freezer can be unplugged and loaded with block ice that is frozen outside on a similar schedule. I got the idea from RetroSuburbia and this blog about boating: https://theboatgalley.com/ice-box-cooler-food-storage/

Nowadays, concrete unfinished basements are utilized for storage and large appliances. However, I plan on making mine more productive. In the back northeast corner I may install a root cellar, but that is going to depend on the necessity of storing a lot of root vegetables. If we are producing a ton of sweet potatoes and potatoes it might be necessary. The idea is essentially to build a small sealed off room in a corner (vapor barrier and lots of insulation) with ventilation in the window and then go from there. I might even go high tech and add a humidity and temperature sensor to operate the vent and maybe some kind of mister or humidifier (not technically off grid, but it would still be possible to easily manually manage temperature and humidity if power ever went out). The idea is you want it to stay humid and between 32 and 40 degrees so that you can store vegetables harvested in late Fall through winter until Spring.

The rest of the northern wall is going to house 500-1000 gallons of rainwater cisterns. The roof tilts backwards so this is already where existing gutters are, and the northern end should stay cool. Outdoor cistern is a non-starter due to winter below freezing temps. The challenge will be fitting the tanks in the basement, although I see on the market that there are a few plastic tanks designed in pieces that can fit through doorways. I think it is legal to use this as potable water in many places since it is quite similar to well water, provided I run it through a UV filter and test it for pollutants. I’d follow standard best practices for rain water harvesting. Electric pump means that if power goes out I don’t have water, but with spigots on the side it is pretty easy to fill buckets and haul them upstairs in that rare circumstance. I’ll also have a Berkey filter in the kitchen to add one more level of filtration for drinking water and as a backup in case of emergencies.

I save some space in the basement by not needing major appliances. I plan on using a tankless water heater with extremely efficient water fixtures, so it can be small. No boiler, water heater tank, or furnace needed. No ducting needed (many of the houses do not have it anyway). Washing machine located on main floor and no dryer needed. The other side of the basement will contain a small workshop, perhaps with work bench and small power tools. This is where a lot of the messy DIY work can happen if tools are required. Somewhere in the basement will also be the quail cage. The basement maintains a moderate temperature year around and is unfinished so it makes the most sense to house the quail there. Odors shouldn’t be an issue to the rest of the house as long as the poop tray is cleaned regularly. They’d have 12 hours of light on a timer to keep them laying regularly through all seasons and they shouldn’t have the stress of weather extremes and predators in the basement like they would if they were outside.

2nd floor (bedrooms and bathroom)
The 2nd floor typically houses a bathroom and 3 small bedrooms. I’d probably just install a low flow toilet due to code restrictions and guests, but perhaps the residents will still utilize a compost toilet bucket system. It seems that a NSF certified compost toilet is actually within code to install, but they are ~$2k and from reviews I’ve read don’t function very well. I’d like the same option to route gray water from sink and shower to the backyard or sewer line depending on the season like in the kitchen.

Cooling on the 2nd floor may be an issue, although I’m trying to design the house to mitigate that. If it becomes a recurring issue, I could install a ductless minisplit AC that has ventilation into each bedroom, but I will probably hold off on that and see how far I can get with just passive strategies and air flow. Since I’ll have roommates as well, I’m sure they will have an opinion about such things (but of course I’m going to screen for eco-minded people who understand house expectations and purpose).

Roof deck
The big money-maker (and money-drainer?) is the roof deck and garden. These are quite common in the region and not something one can DIY. Pilot houses cost around $20k and I’m guessing it’s going to be another $5-10k to reinforce the roof and add the green structure. However, in this region it is quite typical that these roof decks pay for themselves by increasing property values. I envision adding a whole house fan to the top of the pilot house, which will be the highest point of the building. The primary cooling strategy in the summer will be to open the windows on the bottom floor and run the fan to draw in cool air at night. The open staircases should act as a thermal chimney. In the morning, windows close and remain closed all day. With enough insulation and a minimum of heat generating appliances/activities indoors, it may be possible to keep the house cool the entire summer this way. Average overnight lows in summer months range from 64-70 degrees. It might even be possible to rig a food dehydrating rack under the whole house fan.

The possibilities of the roof garden are likely limited by what the structure can support with reinforcements. If it’s not a ton of weight, then I’m planning on covering the whole roof in some kind of ground cover that requires little maintenance. I will then add dwarf fruit trees in containers on the borders of the garden to cut down wind and perhaps some raised bed/tables that grow shallow rooted crops down the middle (again depending on weight limits). There will also be a couple beehives. If the structure can support more weight than I can possibly integrate some intensive tuber production as outlined in my potato bucket prototypes.

Irrigation will be taken care of by a separate drum on the roof that captures run off from the roof cover or pilot house. This eliminates the need to run water pipes all the way from the basement up to the roof, which wouldn’t make sense since I don’t need to water plants with potable water.
The “deck” portion of the garden is the play and processing space. I’d like to have a roof cover over the northern section to allow room for a table and grill. This allows us to entertain guests, enjoy the garden, and provides space for processing. It also provides a space for an outdoor kitchen to cook without generating heat in the summer. The roof cover means it is also usable during rainy conditions.

Solar panels are a consideration. I think some states offer tax and other incentives to the point that it is possible to put a giant solar array on the roof and sell back the excess to the power company. If that is economical at the time, I may consider installing PV panels on pilot house and deck area roof cover. The one thing I’m not sure about is the setup of these systems in the event of a power outage. Like if I normally am selling energy back to the grid, and the grid goes down, can I just unplug something and plug it into my own charge controller? Obviously not having a battery bank in this situation would mean I’m limited to running stuff only during sunny hours, but that alone would be enough to run my freezer, water pump, water heater, and charge devices during those hours. Heat is not a concern since I’d be running off of firewood.

Backyard possibilities are limited by space and north-facing direction. With a large backyard and appropriate zoning permissions, I could construct a goat shelter and pen for 2 Nigerian dwarfs, which would give the house access to milk protein created onsite. I’ve already written about those possibilities elsewhere. I’d make use of various shade loving berries in the backyard to provide privacy and more food. I’d also like some kind of rain garden that grows native habitat for pollinators, which is also where the gray water would drain to. Without goats, this might scale up to a small concrete pond complete with multiple levels and reeds to filter things.

The other purpose of the backyard is going to be storage. There are certain things I don’t want to store in the house, so I’ll need space and structure for a cord of firewood, a couple of 20 lb propane tanks, an IBC tank biogas digester, and various sealed 55 gallon drums of compost (especially if compost toilet is being used). The biogas digester would only be used during warm months for cooking fuel and fed with garden waste, animal manure, and/or food scraps from the household and neighborhood. No compressed biogas so the gas would just live in one of those large bladders, probably tied to the back wall of the house. Cooking in cooler months would use propane or masonry stove.

Exit Strategies
There are risks to such an endeavor, but I’ve tried to select retrofits that can be easily reversed or will increase property values. For example, if I ever wanted to sell the house, the cisterns and additional plumbing could easily be removed, the gas/oil baseboard heating could be reconnected, and a somewhat normal kitchen could be retrofitted. The roofdeck is still functional even as just an entertainment space without all of the fruit trees. The backyard structures can also be removed relatively easily.

I plan on putting a 5-7 year lifespan on the project, but if I decide to abandon ship I could rent out the bedrooms individually or the entire house to a family. I could also sell the house, which depending on the neighborhood should at least break even. If gentrification happens then property values will likely go through the roof. If it doesn’t happen, I already added a lot of value to a house that was likely barely livable before.

Edit: Also, to clarify it makes a lot of sense for me to live this particular area from a web of goals perspective. I intend to spend 4-6 hours of my day working towards other projects completely unrelated to the house, but this does seem to make a lot of sense from a housing perspective.

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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by Alphaville »

great analysis on the rowhouses. plus it can be converted to 3 apartments in high value areas (basement, middle, and top floor which has entrance from back alley). i hope you score a good deal when the time comes.

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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by white belt »

Alphaville wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 5:08 pm
great analysis on the rowhouses. plus it can be converted to 3 apartments in high value areas (basement, middle, and top floor which has entrance from back alley). i hope you score a good deal when the time comes.
That's true. In the gentrified areas you can see a lot of these homes being purchased and then having 3rd or 4th floors added to them as well.

Another possibility I considered is expanding the model to the larger and more expensive 3 story rowhome housing stock (usually 4-5 bedroom, 2 bathroom) if I wanted to have some kind of multi-generational living arrangement. It may be a bridge too far having my 60+ year old parents living in the same house as me with possible significant other or roommates, but it is quite in-line with multi-generational housing that was the norm in the country up until recently and is still the norm in many parts of the world.

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Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Post by Alphaville »

yeah i partially grew up in a 4-generation household. i didn't sleep there, but i lived there--it was a blast and we wanted to be there all the time.

anyway im going to pm you some sensitive information (lmao) re: philly housing areas that i feel too mercenary posting publicly for lurkers and randos.


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