If you’ve been following along at home, you know I’ve set forth some guiding principles in my quest towards financial independence: spend less, spend thoughtfully, live happier, stop working for the man. I’ve decided not to cut every conceivable cost in doing this, but instead, to cut costs that are not bringing me joy while still remaining true to the things that are important to me — for example, eating whole, healthy and sustainable foods, saving money for my kids, and donating to causes I care about.
But how do those general goals translate into specifics? Several times over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to define some goals with my husband, and we come up with many different possibilities, but no conclusions. So I’m ready to start drawing some lines in the sand.
To become expert at anything takes practice. Usually, there is a steep learning curve at the beginning, followed by slower, measured improvement over time as you refine your technique and build incrementally on your prior gains. Although the end result can be stunning, the journey to get there is not glamorous — it’s hours of work, practice, and refinement over years that eventually results in an amazing outcome that looks effortless to the outside observer. Angela Duckworth talks about this at length in her book Grit, and I’ve experienced the phenomenon first hand in both physical training and in my education and career.
I see building up an expertise in frugality as no different. At first, we should be able to tackle low-hanging fruit and realize massive reductions in spending, but I expect that to really get our spending habits lean and mean will take time and incrementally adjusting habits along the way. This round of goal-setting should be challenging but attainable for us where we are today. But it’s only the first step towards the ultimate goal: getting spending low enough and savings high enough that passive income is enough to cover all spending (as my hero, Mr. Money Mustache, discusses here).
Reaching that goal, which would allow for full retirement from being required to do paid work, is a longer-term project. But in the nearer term, I’m just going to focus on making a substantial improvement over my pre-Greener Pasture$ ways. In 2016, we spent about $110,000, or an average of $9,167 per month. In our first month of combined budgeting, we spent $7,409. If we spent at that level for a year, we’d spend $88,909.
This is a great improvement, but I want to aim higher. So, I’m arbitrarily setting the goal of reaching a spending level that would result in our family spending $80,000 over the course of a year ($6,666 per month). I like this, because those are some nice round numbers that I’ll easily be able to remember. But is this goal possible or desirable for us given the principles set forth above, and that we’re not planning on moving to a cheaper part of the country or selling our house for something less expensive in the near future? I have no idea! But I guess it’s worth a try, and if we succeed, we’ll wind up putting $30,000 more towards our nest egg than we were able to do last year simply by virtue of smart spending — no raises, promotions, or additional grueling work required. I’ll keep you posted!