On my post "25 Ways We’ve Tightened Our Budget and Saved Money " (https://www.poniesandfire.com/blog/25-ways-weve-saved-money-and-tightened-our-budget), number 16 was unplug unused electronics.
Prior to this spring, we were rolling along with a pretty high electric bill. We run a dehumidifier in our basement and our pellet stove (main source of heat) runs with an electric auger. We also left tons of things plugged in 24/7 even when not in use, like cell phone chargers.
I was skeptical that unplugging things like our coffee pot and PoniesandFIREjr’s nightlight would make much of a difference, but I decided it certainly couldn’t hurt and got on board with taking the time to unplug.
Through the winter, our electric bills were $120-$130, on average. When we received those audits from the electric company on how we compared to our neighbors, we were always at the top of the average or higher. Ouch.
It finally warmed up enough to turn off our pellet stove a few weeks ago, which I know is the main reason our recent bill is lower, but I have to think my diligent unplugging has also made some difference too!
Our bill came in yesterday and was $88.16! Over $30 below the previous bill! I can’t wait to see if I can get that even lower this next month. Once the spring rain is over, I’m thinking we could probably use our dehumidifier sporadically, rather than 24/7. I’ve also got to stay on top of air drying rather than using the dryer. We were a little lax on that this month.
The only thing that could derail this newfound low electric bill would be the air conditioners. We have two window units in our bedroom and PoniesandFIREjr’s bedroom for when it gets super-hot while we’re sleeping. Our house is 118 years old and the insulation upstairs isn’t fantastic, so it’s cold in the winter and warm in the summer. I’m hoping we can hold off as long as possible this year though.
Goal – below $80 on our next electric bill…
It’s been four days since Mr. PoniesandFIRE and I agreed that downsizing would be a good plan and neither of us have changed our minds! All the other times we’ve discussed this, we’ve changed our minds within 48 hours or less. I guess this time we are going to do it!
We have been working out a tentative timeline and list of projects we need to finish before it’s realistic to list our house. About a year ago we had a couple realtors go through our house with us, so we have a good idea what needs to be done to make it more appealing to the average buyer.
Mr. PoniesandFIRE also told me last night that he’d really prefer we have the truck paid off before we sell as well, as it will be one less payment to worry about while we are in limbo. I like that plan, but that’s $22,440 to pay off. We have sent a timeline of 11 months to get the house on the market, so we had better get our keisters in gear to accomplish all this!
We have about $25,000 in renovations (smaller projects to be done by us, with a couple bigger projects to be done by pros) and some major decluttering/selling of stuff to do. We already have $6,500 towards these projects saved, so that’s a start at least! We are estimating high on some of the projects, so ideally we will come in under budget somewhere.
I’m going to go home this afternoon and list at least three things on FB Marketplace and Let Go. We need some stuff to start exiting our house and any extra income we make selling our junk is going to be put to quick use on these goals.
Our house is large, as in 2800+ square feet. We are a family of three, plus two dogs and a cat. It turns out, we do not need four bedrooms and we literally have rooms we don’t even walk into for months at a time.
I love our house. I love the location, the view, the land, but I don’t love the payment and I don’t love how big it is. It takes forever to clean, it is expensive to heat and we tend to accumulate a lot of stuff, just because we have so much space to stick stuff. The extra rooms are great when family visits, but that’s only one or two times a year. Lately, that just doesn’t seem like enough to justify the space and expense.
We purchased the house as a foreclosure in 2011 and got a great deal on it. It had been sitting empty for a year and it was during the mortgage crisis, so the market locally was a bit dead. Its value, with the minimal work we’ve done, has probably increased $45,000+ above what we spent on it in the last seven years.
We refinanced last year from a 30 year mortgage at 4.75% to a 10 year mortgage at 3.25% and are making huge headway because of that, but the thought of having that mortgage for 9.5 more years, when we could downsize and end up with little to no mortgage is hugely appealing. That extra cash flow would easily allow us to max out our 401ks.
Honestly, without daycare (PoniesandFIREjr starts kindergarten in fall of 2019) and our mortgage, either Mr. PoniesandFIRE or I could stop working one of our jobs and still make the same progress on our finances with a huge increase in quality of life.
This is not the first time we’ve thought about this, but during a long car ride yesterday, while listening to a BiggerPockets Money Podcast about live in flips (this one - https://www.biggerpockets.com/renewsblog/biggerpockets-money-podcast-05-jump-starting-early-fi-plans-live-in-flipping-mindy-jensen/), we realized we were sitting on that potential situation.
We could spend the next 6 months to a year working through some renovation projects and downsizing our stuff and then sell our house and walk away with enough money to buy another smaller fixer upper in cash, or very close. We could literally have NO MORTGAGE by the end of next year by moving!
Now, like I said, I love our home’s location and so many things about it, but you know what I love more? The idea of NO MORTGAGE. Plus, we’d have the added benefits of smaller utilities and insurance costs. We’d also have the mental simplicity of less stuff and a smaller home to maintain and clean.
Have you downsized your living arrangements for the sake of reaching FI sooner or simplifying your life? I’d love to hear other’s experiences with this…
Theodore Roosevelt said it, “comparison is the thief of joy.” Dave Ramsey has his own version when he rails against keeping up with the Jones’. I try and drive it home with my own riding students, when I discuss with them that there is always a better rider with a fancier horse somewhere, but that takes nothing away from your own journey and experience in the sport.
It’s human nature to compare. I find myself comparing our financial journey with others. Part of it stems from a feeling of fear, wondering if we are on track or doing enough. I have to remind myself, to quote my dad, that “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” Terrible phrase, but applicable.
Our journey isn’t perfect. Our journey isn’t going to match anyone else’s. That’s ok.
Everyone has their own financial struggles, strengths and goals. We each have different priorities in our lives and, as long as we are aligning our dreams and goals with our actions and making steps forward, we are all succeeding.
These are three questions I ask myself when I start to compare someone else’s life to mine:
1. Is there something in my life that I want to change that this is highlighting for me?
a. If so, what am *I* going to do about it?
2. Does this take away from my own accomplishments to be happy for their success?
3. Does more people finding success and happiness build a better future for everyone?
I typically find that when I take a moment and think through those questions, I end up with genuine and sincere appreciation for the other person’s success. I can take a moment and revel in someone else paying off their house, even though I know we are years from that point. I can cheer on someone reaching FIRE, even when we’ve had a bad financial month. Neither situation changes anything in my life, except encouraging me forward, that this FIRE plan can work, because see?!? It just worked for those people!
Present day PoniesandFIRE is way more in control of her finances than a few years ago.
We have a decent net worth, retirement savings, a plan, no student loans or credit card debt, yet some days I still feel overwhelmed. The financial goals we have set seem impossible at times and the desire to hit them ahead of schedule is often on my mind. I want to reach FIRE and I want it NOW!
When that feeling of being overwhelmed by the tasks in front of us takes over, here are a few things I’ve started doing to help.
1. Review our monthly financial snapshots. Every month, I write up a word doc with some basics of our financial situation (debt, retirement account balances, 529 balance, cash savings, etc). We have almost two years of these now and it is so empowering to look back where we were 1 or 2 years ago and see the progress we’ve made.
2. Find something to list for sale on FB marketplace. The idea of selling something and having extra unplanned money in the budget is a huge mental boost.
3. Make a list of small actionable items I can do that week or month to help move the needle. I’m obviously all about lists, so this is actually fun for me.
4. Use Dave Ramsey’s investing calculator to play around with how our timeline changes in the future when things like daycare costs go away and we can raise our investments.
5. Play outside with PoniesandFIREjr, enjoy the sunshine and stop thinking about finances for a while!
6. Plan a free or cheap family activity (hiking, fishing, camping in our backyard, etc) and embrace the fun of where we are at now in life.
7. Schedule a little “me” time. I am terrible at overscheduling between my job and my side hustle and when I start to feel overwhelmed, it often means I need to dial it back a touch for a day or two.
8. Exercise. Those endorphins from a good workout are no joke and sometimes my best ideas come during a run.
9. Gather up all the spare change from our cars and house and deposit it! Those few dollars might not be a big step towards our goal, but they might be enough to feel like I’ve made some progress that day.
10. Listen to a financial podcast or re-read one of my favorite financial books or blogs. Hearing about other people’s struggles and successes is hugely reinvigorating! I always end up thinking, if they can do it, so can I!
April was not our best month between taxes, vehicle repairs and the extra-long winter, but we still made some progress!
401k balances increased by $3,091
Mortgage balance decreased by $1,016
Truck debt decreased by $551
Our emergency fund is still fully funded
We are at 7.29x our annual retirement budget
Here are our May goals:
1. Stay on or UNDER budget for groceries again
2. Pay off our car insurance in full
3. Decrease debt by $2,000
4. Add $200 to PoniesandFIREjr’s 529 account
5. Get garden planted!
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.