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…
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!
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.
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!
In 2010, my fiancé and I were living the blissful “normal” life. We were dual income, renting an apartment, putting away maybe 3% into 401ks and thinking we were doing things right. I also had a student loan still hanging around, credit cards, vehicle payments and no real savings to speak of.
Then I fell in love with a foreclosure, a huge old farmhouse on 5+ acres. We went to look at it and I knew it was “the one” as we drove in the driveway.
After a long process of negotiating with the bank and waiting for our mortgage to go through, we finally closed on our house in January of 2011. There were about three days of happiness followed by a blind panic as we found the pipes leaked, it cost $300+ per month to heat the house and the finances were TIGHT. We put very little down on the house and rolled some expenses into the closing, leaving us with a mortgage of $178,000 on a house we bought for $162,000. We had taken out a 30 year mortgage at 4.75% and 30 years of payments was starting to feel what I imagined drowning to feel like.
At the same time we were trying to plan a wedding and were lost about how to stay on top of all the bills. We were using credit cards to get the house livable and wondering how in debt we were going to be after a wedding too.
I found myself in front of a computer and typing in “how do I pay off my debt?” into google. And then came Dave Ramsey.
I poured through the website, I devoured the baby steps and I started listening to the show daily on my drive to work. Mr. poniesandFIRE thought I lost my mind, I was so hooked. I ordered the FPU home study and Mr. poniesandFIRE agreed to watch the DVDs and follow the plan.
What came next was cash flowing a wedding in the end of 2011 and then going full tilt on baby step 2 in 2012. We paid off three or four small credit cards, my student loan and then the vehicles. Mr. poniesandFIRE worked a ton of overtime and I started a side business. It felt like nothing got done on our house that year, but so much got cleaned up on our finances.
1. Budgeting – we always had a general plan for our money, but it wasn’t always accurate and we got off track on things like groceries. We got serious on tracking our spending and as soon as we got paid, we sent payments to debt rather than wait and watch the money disappear elsewhere.
2. Working together – doing this year one of our marriage really built a team between us in terms of our finances. We had the normal disagreements, but having a common goal made all those disagreements easier to get through. It was “us versus the problem” rather than me versus Mr. poniesandFIRE.
3. Things got streamlined. It was like minimalism for our finances. Small monthly expenses were cut, such as subscriptions we barely used. Each debt that was paid off was one less bill to pay each month. It seemed like just having less bills to manage was weight off our shoulders.
Where We Are Now
In 2017, we decided we needed to refinance our house. The 30 year term still felt overwhelming to us. Paying off a house early is a touchy subject in the FIRE community, but for us, it feels like something we wanted to do sooner rather than later. We refinanced with a local credit union to a 10 year 3.25% fixed rate and currently owe $136k. Each monthly payment now makes so much more headway than the 30 year did, even after being six + years in and making some extra principal payments.
During the process we had an appraisal done on the house and its current value has grown to around $249k. That gives us a positive equity of around $112k to date.
We have one used paid in full vehicle (Subaru) and a 2016 diesel truck that is financed with positive equity at 1%. The truck earns an income as part of my side business, which partially justifies the payment, but at the same time, it is hanging over our head and likely will be up for conversation soon on if we pay it off sooner. Obviously purchasing the truck after paying off all our debt was a step away from Dave Ramsey, but personal finance, is, above all else, personal.
The intention is to keep this truck as long as possible. There will be no trading it in for something newer and no more vehicle payments after this one.
I am putting 13% into my 401k with a 4% match. Mr. poniesandFIRE is putting away 10% with a 3% match. Current combined values is around $170k.
We just started a 529 for our son, with under $1,000 currently.
We have a fully funded emergency fund at $10,000 and additional cash saved for some small home improvement projects.
Current net worth (includes vehicles and equipment, pony, real estate equity, investments, cash) = $370k