April has been a little disappointing, as we had a pretty big tax bill due, thanks to my side business growing so much in the last year. Also, with the never ending winter, we had to order some extra propane. We typically order propane once a year during July or August, when the prices are at their lowest, but we were running low. Lastly (hopefully), Mr. PoniesandFIRE’s car needed a new wheel bearing. Ugh.
Everything is paid for, in full, and yesterday we finally were able to move some funds back to savings from our paychecks - $1,500! We have no big bills coming up and I’m predicting a killer May for us.
Right now we are saving for some needed home repairs and then we are back to extra debt payments, either to our truck or the mortgage. We are still debating if we want to split the funds and hit both or focus on just one. The Dave Ramsey fan in me wants to focus on the truck and get that done and over with, but the mortgage interest rate is higher.
I also am planning to up my 401k by another 2% in May. I’m not sure why I haven’t pulled the trigger yet on that, but here’s to better weather, bigger savings, overtime and extra income next month!
**HEADS UP - THIS POST IS ALL HORSES**
Where do the ponies fit into all of this? Great question.
My full time job is at an upper level show jumping stable, where I mostly do exciting things like PR, record keeping, billing, etc. In my free time, I also have my own training business, where I teach middle and high school equestrians. I love doing both of these, but they create limited time for me to actually ride and compete on my own horse, so currently I own one pony that hopefully will eventually be PoniesandFIREjr’s, but is leased to a student for the time being. Leasing means that all of his expenses are paid AND I make money off him!
Fair warning to anyone reading who is interested in horseback riding or has a child that wants to start riding - horses are expensive. Insanely. There is a joke in the industry that goes "How do you make a million dollars with horses? Easy. Start with 2 million."
That being said, it is also one of the most incredible sports for someone to be involved with. It's a sport you can take up at any time in life and for kids who start riding, it teaches more life skills than any other sport or hobby I can think of. Equestrians need insane work ethics, acceptance of things beyond their control (horse injuries or death), balance, coordination, strength, ability to work together with another living being that cannot speak and the ability to manage their emotions. This article says it best - https://www.equisearch.com/discoverhorses/why-horses-are-great-for-kids.
This blog post is for a young equestrian on a shoe string budget:
10 Tips for a High School Equestrian with Limited Funds
1. Learn to braid. You will be terrible at first, but that’s how EVERYONE starts. Braiding is one of the few ways a high school kid can make $40+ an hour. It is insane how much money you could make if you take the time to get good at it.
2. Learn to body clip horses and invest in good clippers. This is another equestrian life skill that can rake in the money.
3. Devote yourself to reading. There are so many books out there filled with insane amounts of knowledge and you can learn so much about horse care, riding, training and management if you put in the effort to read. Start with the Pony Club manuals and then keep going to George Morris, Steinkraus, Sally Swift and more.
4. Spend your lesson money with the best trainer you can reasonably afford in your area. If you have big dreams, you better be sure the trainer you’re working with has the knowledge and dedication to help you.
5. If you can only lesson once a week, it will be hard to progress in your riding, but NOT IMPOSSIBLE. Ask your trainer if you can audit other lessons! Put your phone away and watch other lessons. It’s incredible what you will pick up just from watching.
6. The internet is an amazing resource filled with free livestreams of horse shows, youtube videos of “how to’s”, articles about horsemanship and more. Use your time online wisely and learn online for free!
7. No money for tons of horse shows? Go anyways and WATCH! Park yourself ringside at the schooling ring and watch all the riders and trainers preparing to show.
8. Become a working student. Working student positions vary from trainer to trainer, but most positions involve lots of hard work in exchange for the opportunity to ride extra horses or get extra lessons. If you want to be successful, you will need to put in 110% and never be above the hard work of cleaning stalls, sweeping, cleaning tack, grooming horses and anything else your trainer needs done.
9. Check out the Interscholastic Equestrian Association. This program is for middle and high school students and offers an affordable way to horse show as part of a team. It’s modeled after the IHSA (college riding), so if you are interested in riding in college, it is great prep for that!
10. Buy quality USED equipment (except your helmet, that needs to be new) and take proper care of it! Boots and tack should be cleaned and maintained regularly. If you take good care of your stuff, you’ll be able to re-sell them when you’ve outgrown them! Facebook groups/marketplace, as well as local tack sales, are great places to check. Some local tack stores will also have consignment sections. No judge will ever be able to tell if you bought your breeches or show coat new versus used, as long as they fit correctly and are the right type/style for your discipline.
We are still very much frugal works in progress, but here are some easy things we’ve done! If we can do it, you can do it too!
1. We always make our coffee at home and bring it with us.
2. We pack our lunches and snacks.
3. Condensed trips to save fuel. Grocery shopping mostly happens when I’m already out now, rather than a special trip on its own.
4. Moved away from meat at every dinner and red meat every week. We are mostly sticking to chicken, eggs and beans for our protein. It’s cheaper and as a bonus, we’re losing weight too!
5. Installed a thermostat with a timer, so we can keep the heat lower when no one is home, without having to remember to turn it down when we leave. I was forever failing at turning down the heat before.
6. Embraced “do it ourselves!” Yardwork, cleaning, minor electrical/plumbing/home repairs – ALL US BABY!
7. Started brewing our own beer. It started as a fun experiment for Mr. PoniesandFIRE, but now we are majorly cutting back on purchasing alcohol, as he’s getting pretty good at brewing his own. I hate IPAs and I even like his latest IPA…
8. Made trades. I exchanged services for a client in my side hustle for a bunch of their son’s outgrown toys and ended up with a bunch of Thomas and Brio trains sets that PoniesandFIREjr was desperate for without spending any money out of pocket.
9. Stopped the bottled water habit. Seriously, why were we buying something we can get for free?
10. Reduced out Dish service to the basics (and are considering cutting it completely).
11. Make a meal plan and follow it! We waste so much less food this way and buy less too.
12. Haircuts at home! I cut my own and PoniesandFIREjr’s. Mr. PoniesandFIRE does his own with clippers. None of us look like disaster.
13. Embrace free family activities, like hiking in our local parks.
14. Regularly bring back the “returnables” for cash. I know not every state has this option.
15. Gardening! PoniesandFIREjr is way more likely to eat a veggie that he’s helped grow and pick himself. Saving money and actually eating our veggies= win win!
16. Unplug unused electronics to reduce phantom power usage. I used to just leave my cell phone charger plugged in all the time, but no more!
17. Check used sources (FB marketplace, craigslist, thrift stores) before buying something new.
18. Eliminate impulse buys by making it a family rule to discuss and wait on any medium or large purchases. Often we decide just not to get the thing.
19. Time purchases to our advantage. We order our propane for heat in the middle of summer when the demand and therefore, the price, are at their lowest. Same with our wood pellets.
20. Ask for cash discounts on things like car repairs or our propane and wood pellets. The worse that will happen is someone will say no, but often we hear “yes!”
21. It’s rare that we drink anything besides milk, coffee or water (or homemade beer), but if we have lemonade or juice at home, we dilute it with water. Tastes less sugary, lasts twice as long and better for you!
22. Use dish towels and rags rather than paper towels. This one we still struggle with, but are getting in better habits.
23. Air dry all year long! I find our clothes last longer and this one definitely saves on the electricity bill. With the pellet stove running in the winter, the air in the house is dry, so things dry quickly too!
24. Simplify beauty routine. I use less makeup, do my own nails (rarely), eyebrows, etc. Saves me time (hello extra sleep) and saves money. Again, not looking like a mess, but also not spending excess on fancy foundation and blush every few months.
25. Mentally embraced the idea that time is more important than things. I would rather have memories of spending time together as a family doing simple things at home, over the latest gadget or a bunch of new clothes. When this clicked, it became way easier to tell myself no.
We woke up to an inch of snow this morning, so apparently spring is not happening this year. I’m a little worried about my seeds, as we haven’t seen the sun in about a week. Payments for taxes cleared yesterday, so I’m feeling a little financially beat up this week, but trying to get in a better frame of mind by coming up with some positive accomplishments.
1. We sold a second item on FB marketplace, bringing the monthly total to $145.00 of sold items.
2. We had an incredible week at work and the whole staff is getting a bonus. No idea the amount yet, but super exciting!
3. We were under budget again at Aldi’s for groceries this week!
4. Our mortgage principal is down over $6,000 in the past 6 months, since refinancing! If we hadn’t refinanced, it would have only gone down by approximately $2,800.
5. My side hustle has grossed 31% more so far in 2018 than it had by this time in 2017.
Just making this list I feel better already! I’m Ready to take on the rest of the month.
PoniesandFIREjr is 4 years old and our house has slowly transformed into what feels like an explosion of toys, outgrown clothes, shoes and approximately 10,000 art projects. I’ve tried to stay on top of his clothing and have donated some stuff over the years to a local charity to gives clothing free to families in need in our county, but I have had this nagging feeling that we could be recouping some costs by reselling and also giving unused items a new purpose with a new family.
My challenge to myself this month was to sell something (anything!) out of our house and last night the mission was accomplished! PoniesandFIREjr’s crib and changing table have a new home and we have $120 from the sale!
Here’s how I accomplished this:
1. I located all hardware, manuals, instructions and warranty cards that I had obsessively saved in a folder.
2. We cleaned the pieces to look their absolute best and took quality photos in good light.
3. I looked at similar pieces for sale on Facebook Marketplace* and Letgo and then listed both as a package for slightly under what I saw other items listed for.
4. I was quickly flooded with messages asking if they were still available, mostly from Facebook Marketplace, but a few from Letgo as well and I tried to respond to all questions promptly.
5. One week later = SOLD!
I’ve already listed the baby monitor and an old light fixture we recently replaced and we will see if we can get those gone too and a little cash in our pockets. What I’m learning quickly is that baby and kid items are hot commodities on FB Marketplace.
My next struggle is toys. PoniesandFIREjr has a ton of toys, some of which he’s starting to outgrow, so I’d like to move these out of our house. My personal hang up is that most of these were purchased by family and friends as gifts and it feels a little weird to sell things we were given. I’m not totally sure the etiquette on this one, any readers have thoughts?
*I’m loving using Facebook Marketplace so I can see if the potential buyers and I have mutual friends and I can stalk their profiles before meeting with them. Seems less sketchy than craigslist. Your mileage may vary…
I love to garden. I had a small garden as a kid growing up in Vermont and I’ve kept a small garden going the last few years at our home. PoniesandFIREjr loves to pick cherry tomatoes off the plant and eat them and is a boss at helping with the watering.
Last year we did tons of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and a watermelon. I also have a bunch of black raspberry bushes and apple trees. Gardening is fun, it’s heathy, but if I really assess the finances of it, it’s probably not saving me much because I easily spend over $100 on started plants each year and have kept it pretty small.
With this year’s plan to get more serious on our finances, I decided to have a better plan for my garden and to start my own plants from seeds. I looked at local prices and then ended up ordering seeds through Amazon. I chose the Heirloom Vegetable Garden Seed Collection – Assortment of 15 Non-GMO, Easy Grow, Gardening Seeds: Carrot, Onion, Tomato, Pea, More from Mountain Valley Seed Company (https://www.amazon.com/stores/node/9461715011?_encoding=UTF8&field-lbr_brands_browse-bin=Mountain%20Valley%20Seed%20Company&ref_=w_bl_hsx_s_lg_web_9461715011). This plethora of seeds cost me $20 and shipping was free.
Then I picked up a bag of Miracle-Gro 75078500 Seed Starting Potting Mix Bag, 8-Quart for $12.
Last night my assistant, poniesandFIREjr, and I went to work and started some cherry tomatoes, regular tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, sweet peppers, lettuce, peas, watermelon and cantaloupe seeds. I’m using egg cartons and containers we already had in the house, so no other expenses involved.
We will probably start a few more plants inside next week and then wait and plant things like carrots and beets directly in the garden next month. If it all goes as planned, we will have about 4x the number of plants in our garden this summer, for about a third of the cost, just by starting our own plants!
It’s also super fun kid activity, once I got over the spilled dirt in my dining room. PoniesandFIREjr keeps checking the plants, he can’t wait to see them start growing!
You just can’t have everything you want. – Peter McWilliams
That is a phrase that has peppered the last 5 years of my life. I struggle with wanting so many things, not necessarily material items, but I find myself as one of those people that never have enough hours in the day to do everything I want.
I love my job. I love my side business. I love spending time with my family. I love spending time with my friends. I love working out. I love traveling. I love staying home. I love a good book and a glass of wine. I love hours in the library. I love napping. I love being outside on our property gardening or playing with my dogs. I love hiking. I love horse shows. I love camping. I love writing. I hate/love running. I am simultaneously torn between wanting to be hugely successful in my side business while also wanting to give it all up, live in an RV and travel the country before poniesandFIREjr is too old, as well as about eight other equally differing dreams.
Where do I fit it all in? Right now I don’t. I try to prioritize, I try to manage, I try to carve out time for all the “important” things, but constantly struggle with feeling like I’m not giving my 100% to my job or parenting or my husband. It feels like a big juggling act that (mostly) works, but is unnecessarily stressful.
That is my why.
Right now, I feel like I want to do all these things, but I can’t help but wonder what would shift in importance to me, if money wasn’t a factor. I love my job, but if I didn’t NEED it, how would I feel? What would change? If our house was paid off, if we had “enough” to sustain ourselves, if we had passive income, how would my priorities change?
This week is National Library Week and in honor of that, I’m sharing my newly renewed love of libraries with you all.
As a kid, I would go once a week to the library in the summer time. I loved to read and it was a good waste of a few hours for my mom to occupy me. As I got older, she’d drop me off for a few hours while she ran errands or did some grocery shopping.
As a self-proclaimed bookworm, I am embarrassed to admit that I have not been in my current town’s library, except when voting, since moving here in 2011. This is extra embarrassing, as the library is legit five minutes from our house. That horrible crime has been rectified and I am now a proud library card carrying member of my community. They even gave me a free tee shirt when I signed up!
PoniesandFIREjr is 4 years old and the two of us now have a weekly date to the library on Monday nights when they stay open late. We’ve gone the past three weeks and we are loving it! The great things I remember about libraries from my childhood are the same and I have found some exciting new free stuff in ours too!
Here are my six reasons to check out your local library for some FREE entertainment:
1. This is obvious, but BOOKS! I LOVE to read and if I’m being honest, I probably qualify as a book hoarder. The library gives me an unending supply of free books for myself and bedtime stories for PoniesandFIREjr.
2. My library has hundreds of movies on DVDs available to check out. This week we borrowed Cars 2. Last week was Lady and the Tramp. It will take poniesandFIREjr years to get through them all!
3. On the same vein, DVDs of TV shows and stuff Mr. poniesandFIRE and I would want to watch too! Seriously – everything from Friends, to Breaking Bad to anything in between.
4. My library has puzzles you can check out! I have no idea if this is a normal thing or not, but how cool! I love puzzles, as does my son, but I have zero desire to ever pay money for them or have them permanently take up space in my house. PROBLEM SOLVED!
5. My library hosts free community events for kids. A couple weeks ago, they did an egg dyeing party for kids on a Friday afternoon before Easter. We missed that one, but I can see us hitting up these free events in the coming months.
6. Librarians are awesomely nice! Our local librarian lets poniesandFIREjr run the scanner himself to check out his own books and movies and he thinks that is incredibly cool. They also give great suggestions of books we might love. Last, but not least, they sometimes give out free snacks! So many wins!
All in all, there are so many things to love about libraries, most of which is that they are in EVERYONE’S budget! In honor of National Library Week, take some time to swing by your local library and check out all the amazing free stuff they have to offer.
If there is one thing that following the snowball method of the Dave Ramsey plan taught us, it’s that small changes can quickly snowball into an avalanche over time. When we were in the thick of baby step 2, nothing in our budget was above discussion and possibly cutting. Nothing was off limits, if it could save us money.
Now that we are shooting for 2025 FIRE, we are returning to that mindset.
Here are a few easy changes we have implemented in the last few weeks:
1. Reduced DISH. We were paying around $93/month and we called, reduced our plan and are at $75/month now. Savings: $18/month or $216 per year
2. Aldi’s! Our town JUST got an Aldi’s a few months ago and we are hooked. We were spending probably around $150 per week in household items, dog and cat supplies and groceries. We are averaging $115 per week now, just by switching grocery stores and sticking to a meal plan. Savings: $140/month or $1,680 per year
3. Reducing heat. We heat primarily through a pellet stove. Our house is 2800 square feet and over 100 years old, so not super-efficient. We also have propane. We typically keep our thermostat at 65 degrees and our pellet stove at one down from the highest setting. Now that we are at the end of winter (said slightly tongue in cheek as we got 6” of snow last night), we are dropping the thermostat to 64 degrees and the pellet stove down one more level. Savings: To be determined
4. Unplugging. Our electric bill averages around $120-$130/month in the winter. A good chunk of this obviously comes from our pellet stove which runs 24/7 in the winter, as the auger is electric driven. That being said, we have never been great at unplugging unused items (cell phone chargers, coffee pots, toasters, microwaves, etc). Our new mission is to unplug electric items not in use and see if that makes a discernable difference. Savings: To be determined
5. No more bottled water. I know it’s a waste of plastic and money, but every day, I bring a bottle of water with me and recycle the bottle after. I can easily fill a glass of water at work, so there is no reason for this waste. Savings: $0.50/day or $130 per year
These small changes are not going to change us into overnight millionaires. However, even if reducing the heat and unplugging devices saves us NOTHING, the other three changes will save us over $2,000 per year, with very little effort on our part. Over the next seven years, (a.k.a. - our goal timeline for reaching FIRE), that’s $14,000! Not an insignificant number at all.
It doesn’t stop there, either. If we use that $2,000 effectively, by either reducing debt or investing, it grows further!
“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” ~ Pablo Picasso
I am what Dave Ramsey would label “the nerd.” An ideal day for me for sure includes doing some planning, making a list, maybe some research. With this comes the love for goals, which it turns out, is immensely important in achieving a good financial situation. It’s pretty rare to stumble into wealth and those that do still need goals and plans or else they quickly find themselves stumbling out of wealth.
So what are our goals?
We want to be in a better financial position. We want to have the freedom to support ourselves, if one or both of us want to quit, go part time or explore a whole new career. Or sit around and do nothing for six months.
This isn’t a goal though, this is a wish.
A goal needs a deadline. When do we want to reach this ideal financial position? A goal needs to be measureable. How much is enough?
Well, for starters, we’re going to use the 4% rule to determine our number. What’s the 4% rule? Mr.Money Moustache explains it best here- http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/05/29/how-much-do-i-need-for-retirement/
First part of setting goals: Measurable
Our proposed monthly budget in retirement
Property taxes: $500 (we are assuming we stay in our current home for planning purposes)
Dining out: $100
Insurance/Healthcare: $400 (At this point, who in the USA really knows future costs here…)
Vehicle maintenance: $125
Cell phones: $125
Mr. poniesandFIRE fun: $200 (his hobbies are clearly cheaper than mine)
Ponies: $800 (yup, ponies are pricey. This is a conservative number for keeping 1 show horse for myself)
Savings: $150 (Building in extra safety)
poniesandFIRE jr: $150 (if we reach this before he’s grown, he may want to do sports/activities/etc, so needs to be budgeted for)
Annually = $48,900
This budget clearly has a ton that, by hardcore FIRE folk’s standards, could be cut. Eating out? PONIES? Travel? Easily could go, but that’s ok. We don’t NEED those things, but if we’re designing our ideal life plan, I think it’s important to include the things we’d hope to have.
Next, I round up. I don’t want to be so tight that a down market means we can’t travel for two years. So $48,300 becomes $52,000 for the sake of (more) safety.
$52,000 x 25 = $1,300,000. Whoa. Our goal net worth is pretty huge.
Here’s the time for a serious self-reality check. It has taken us about 15-20 years to amass our current net worth of $370k. Now, some of those years were “wasted” in college or working really low income jobs, and most of our wealth has been garnered in the last 5 years, but if we have about a million dollars left until we reach our goal, it’s time to get serious if it’s not going to take us another 30 years to get this done!
Second part of setting goals – Timeline
When do we want to hit our goal?
Well, let’s talk this through a little. Right now, Mr. poniesandFIRE and I both work 50+ hour weeks. With my side business, there are times when I average only 1 or 2 days off per MONTH.
That was all well and good before we had poniesandFIRE jr, but I don’t want us to miss his whole childhood as workaholics. I want to reach FIRE before he’s in high school and I want to work smarter, rather than longer hours, so during this time we aren’t unavailable to him or missing out.
Ten years seems like a reasonable timeline. Insanely hard and almost impossible, but somehow also reasonable. I don’t want to be reasonable though. I want to push our limits and crush our goals. I want to have the options in our lives that Financial Independence offers.
So seven years it is. Seven years to reach a net worth of 1.3 million. Let’s say by December 2025. Here we go and welcome to our journey.