Not Spending Is Hard!

[Editor’s Note: This is an independent post written by JJ. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.]

The weather is finally turning and I love it!  It was a long winter with so much snow and finally we’ve been having some warmer days full of sunshine.  The older I get, the less I enjoy the snow; ugh!

With warmer weather comes the feeling of wanting to go out and do more and spend more.  That’s not good for our budget so we work hard to control our tendencies and emotions to ensure we don’t break our budget.  If I had so much money that I never needed to work again and needed to figure out a way to spend all of my money, here are the things that I would buy right now (I included links so you can see what I would want):

  1. Private island
  2. House on the beach
  3. House in the mountains
  4. Tesla Model X
  5. Yacht
  6. Private jet
  7. Hire people to manage all of my new stuff

While it’s fun to dream, I actually am getting anxiety over thinking about how much money we would have to spend and stuff we would have to manage which is why I included number 7.

Since we thankfully (yes, I’m serious) don’t have the problems of too much money, let’s get back to real life.  Warmer weather does still make us want to spend money. I’ve noticed my wife and I wanting to spend more on clothes, outdoor experiences and fixing our house.  Also, thankfully, my wife and I are on the same page so we don’t break our monthly budgets. We methodically plan out our purchases and budget for the wants.

Quarter 1 Update

So with all of that, let’s take a look at how we did for the first quarter (January through March).  If you haven’t read Jack’s Q1 update, I highly recommend you check it out.  He talked about how to calculate savings rate, provided spreadsheets for you to download and use, and also discussed his savings rate.  It’s a great post.

Calculating Your Savings Rate

In Jack’s update, he writes that there are multiple ways to calculate your savings rate and I definitely agree with that statement.  Regardless of how you decide to calculate your savings rate, please make sure you calculate it the same way each month so you can accurately compare. The only difference we make when calculating compared to Jack is we include the principal pay-down on our loans in our savings rate. Let me walk you through an example of that.

We have a small car loan of about $12,000.  Each month our payment is about $267. That payment amount is split between principal and interest like any other type of loan.  The interest amount is about $50. The principal amount which is the amount the loan decreases is about $217.  We also pay an extra $400 towards our loan each month for a total payment of $667. I include the extra payment and principal reduction towards our savings rate which is about $617.


Income: $7,075

Savings: $3,923

Savings Rate: 55%



Income: $7,176

Savings: $4,265

Savings Rate: 59%



Income: $7,090

Savings: $2,662

Savings Rate: 37%

March, what happened?!  It’s not as bad as it looks.  This summer, we’re going on our annual vacation with my in-law’s (whom I love dearly). This is a vacation I look forward to every year.  We paid for our summer rental during the month of March which decreased our savings rate. We actually absorbed that amount without stressing at all.  It’s cool to be able to pay for something like that and not have to worry about paying our other bills.

We’re In This Together

I’m happy with how quarter 1 went for us.  We still have some work to do, but we’re working on it TOGETHER. I’m not sure where you’re at in your financial journey, but here are some things that work for us:

  1. Make savings automatic.  A large percentage of our monthly savings is automatic.  The money gets taken out of our checks and deposited into our investment accounts.
  2. If debt is an issue for you, check out Dave Ramsey.  His programs helped us a ton!
  3. Check out ChooseFI.  I regularly listen to their podcast and read their blog articles.
  4. If you’re in a relationship, communicate with your partner.  Check out our monthly meeting article where we discuss and analyze our spending.  It’s not easy, but it’s important to make sure we stay on the same page.
  5. Save, but also live.  We recently spent some money on tattoos.  This would probably be frowned upon in the financial independence community, but I also want to be happy in my journey; and I love tattoos!

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Setting a BHAG

[Editor’s Note: This is an independent post written by JJ. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.]

BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.  According to Wikipedia, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal can be described as a strategic business statement similar to a vision statement which is created to focus an organization on a single medium- to long-term organization-wide goal which is audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible.

While the Wikipedia definition is targeted towards an organization, I like to think a BHAG can be used when setting personal goals as well.  My wife and I sat down this past Saturday to review and finalize our 2019 goals and to set our 10-year BHAG. We actually have two 10-year Big Hairy Audacious Goals.  Both of which are extremely questionable, but not impossible. We will need to work hard and work together if we want to reach either of our BHAGs.

For transparency purposes, my wife and I are very goal-oriented people.  We enjoy setting goals and tracking progress, but we also understand that life can change in an instant.  We all are in different seasons of life.  These goals are based on our current season, but life can change quickly so we will adjust our goals as needed if and when our life season changes.

Anyways, let’s start with our 2019 goals:

2019 Goal #1: Payoff car by October 19, 2019

In February, I published a post called Financial Independence on a Teacher’s Salary in which I discussed our goal that we created in our late 20’s of having all of our debt paid off (except mortgage) by the time my wife turns 35.  In order to complete that goal, we need to payoff our last loan by October 19, 2019.

We were on track to completing this goal until our flooding disaster last fall which my wife wrote an article called Hello Mauston. Not only did we lose our entire finished basement, we also lost both of our cars to the flood.

2019 Goal #2: Save $35,000

This is a pretty lofty goal.  Since moving to our new city and getting a new job, my income was decreased by $25,000.  That’s right, I took a pay-cut of over $25,000 when we moved and I couldn’t be happier with life right now.  With my lower income, we still set a rather lofty goal of saving $35,000 in 2019. To be clear, that’s $35,000 in contributions not market value.  

We actually set this goal at our last monthly household expenditure review meetings and made changes to our budget to try and reach this goal. $19,000 will go directly into my 403b, which will lower my take home pay.  That leaves $16,000 to save to reach our goal. By our calculations, if we are able to only live on my wife’s income, we will reach our $35,000 savings goal. That’s if we don’t overspend all year long and we don’t have anymore disasters.

2019 Goal #3: Maintain Healthy Lifestyle

I love bread more than anything in this world, but bread does really bad things to me when I step on a scale.  Last summer, I realized that things needed to change so I did what many people are doing right now and jumped into the keto diet. It was so hard! For 2 months, I was able to stay strict on keto and dropped 25 pounds.  It was a great feeling.

I’m now working hard every day to keep the weight off. I’m not fully keto right now, but working towards a healthier lifestyle with a bit more balance than keto allows.

Components of a BHAG

We learned earlier that a BHAG is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.  I’m a fan of creating SMART BHAGs. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Here are the components for SMART BHAG setting:

  1. Specific: The goal should be clear and specific
  2. Measurable: We need to be able to track our progress. We are goal-oriented people and we need to be able to see progress.  We have charts posted in our house which allows us to track our progress.
  3. Attainable and Realistic: The goal needs to be challenging enough to motivate us, but not so challenging that it’s impossible to achieve.
  4. Timely: The goal needs a completion date.  Our BHAGs are set for 10 years.

BHAG #1: Payoff Mortgage

We bought our house about 1 year ago.  We financed our house for 30 years since we were moving to a new city and I didn’t have a job secured at the time.  We bought the house based solely on my wife’s income. She’s the breadwinner and I just live in her house.

We recently listened to a great podcast episode on ChooseFI where the guest talked about paying their house off in 5 years.  After that episode, my wife and I looked at each other and knew that was our first BHAG. Our goal is to payoff our house by December 31, 2029.  In order for that to happen, we need to pay an extra $775 on our mortgage every month.

Here’s the great news!  This BHAG ties into our 2019 Goal #1.  Once we payoff our car by October 19, 2019, we will be able to use the money that we’re paying towards that loan, $667, and move it to pay towards our house.  We will only need to find an extra $100 every month to make our first BHAG a reality!

BHAG #2: Save $450,000

Just like our first BHAG, this BHAG also ties into a 2019 goal.  If we’re able to consistently achieve our 2019 Goal #2, we should be really close to completing this BHAG.  It’s still not easily attainable though because there’s some room that needs to be made up based on our 2019 goal.  

If we’re able to reach these two BHAGs, it opens up so much flexibility for us. Luckily, we both love our jobs, but who knows how we’ll feel in 10 years.  If we want to pursue something different for even less pay or no pay, we can because completing these two BHAGs will allow us to not have to work for a w2 income anymore.

My Challenge To You

Set at least one financial-related goal for 2019.  Track your progress and report back at the end of the year.  I will definitely be publishing an article on our 2019 goals to see if we were successful or not.  My second challenge to you is to set at least one BHAG.

So that’s it, let us know in the comments below what your 2019 goal(s) and BHAG(s) are.  I’m excited you’re with us on this journey to financial freedom. Keep up the great work!

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Financial Independence On A Teacher’s Salary

[Editor’s Note: This is an independent post written by JJ. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.]

First things first — my wife is a financial superhero.  She is the reason we were able to pay off $50,000 in student loans in 12 months (they were mine).  She’s the reason we have extra money to invest at the end of each month. She’s the reason we’re in the financial position we’re in.  Brace yourselves for what I’m about to tell you — she balances our checkbook to the penny every single month. How many of you balance your checkbook, let alone to the penny?! She’s amazing!

We’ve always had financial minds, but we’ve also always been in debt. For the past ten years we’ve said that once we get our debt paid off we would really kick our saving and investing into high gear.  The interesting thing when I look back over the past 10 years, we always had debt so we kept putting investing off until the next year. Then, that next year turned into 10 years. And, wow, 10 years went so fast! We are finally at the point that even though we have one small car loan left, we are finally able to invest.  And it feels so good watching our balance increase every two weeks!

Redefining Retirement

We plan to ‘retire’ by the time my wife is 45 and I’m 50, as we discussed in our roadmap post. When I say ‘retire,’ I think we need to take a step back and define that word.  The traditional definition is to leave one’s job and cease to work. My grandma has been ‘retired’ for many years and she still works every single day.  My definition of ‘retire’ is when I reach Financial Independence. When I no longer need my W-2 income to live because I have already reached Financial Independence. I will always work, I may not get paid for it and it may be on my own terms doing what I want to do, but I will always work when I retire.


So, How Are We Saving For Financial Independence?

Create a Plan

The first step is to create a plan.  Seven years ago, my wife and I sat down and created a goal.  By the time she is 35, we would have at least $50k saved and all of our debt (minus mortgage) paid off.  We are eight months from her turning 35 and we’ve already destroyed that original goal. In fact, we’ve already set our next 1, 5 and 10-year goals.  When I think about those last seven years, our lives have changed so dramatically. We made some really bad financial decisions, but also made some good ones.  It was definitely not a straight line, but we made it through and we’re going to be successful.

Keep Expenses Low

As discussed in my last post, we review our monthly expenses every single month. If you haven’t read that post, check it out because it’s extremely important if we’re going to be successful in our short-term and long-term goals.  Do you know how much your expenses total each month? We do and we review those expenses.

Imagine for a minute that a family of four has credit card debt, mortgage debt, vehicle debt(s) and student loan debt with monthly obligations, just on those debts, totaling $2,000/month.  That’s not too far off from a typical family. And, it’s probably on the lower side of bills for those items.

Now, imagine what that same family could do if they didn’t have those debts.  They now have at least $2,000/month to invest and save for retirement. That’s a lot of money each month!

Live On One Income

“We don’t make a lot of money, but we also don’t spend a lot of money.”

My goal in my early 20’s was to have a huge paycheck so I had more to spend. My new goal began in my early 30’s which is to have a $0 net paycheck (no, not work for free!). I want to be able to invest in a 403b, 457 and save the rest so we’re only living on my wife’s income.  

Just to note, my wife doesn’t make much more than me so it’s not like she’s a doctor or lawyer making six figures.  We don’t make a lot of money, but we also don’t spend a lot of money. We’re frugal minimalists or at least we try to be.

Beginning this past January, we’ve been able to almost live on one income.  We are so close to completely living on one income which is super exciting!

We Don’t Buy Stuff (anymore)

I love the quote by Dave Ramsey because it’s so true, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” I just want to scream to the world, “Stop buying crap! You don’t need it!”

Our lives and financial mindsets are so different from where we were ten years ago.  Now, my wife and I drive really nice 7 and 8-year old cars. These cars drive so beautifully down the road, in fact, I bet they drive as well as a luxury vehicle. When I spin my leather-wrapped steering wheel to the left, my beautiful car goes left; I bet the same as a luxury vehicle.  

We purchased a house last year for half the amount we were approved. The house is in a safe neighborhood with more space than we need.  I’m trying to talk my wife into a tiny house, but she just doesn’t see my vision.

We eat out more than we should, but still not that often. If there’s a good restaurant in the area that we haven’t tried, we save up some money and go.  Hey, we like good food! We just don’t drop $400 in one night like we did ten years ago.

We minimize our spending by meal planning and creating grocery lists.  And, we never and I mean never go to the grocery store when we’re hungry. Biggest mistake right there. When we buy groceries, we go to Woodman’s, Aldi or Walmart when possible.  And, we always try to buy generic and store-brand items.

Weekends usually get us the most.  For fun, we hang out close to home or with our family.  We try to plan our weekends ahead of time, even if it’s a weekend at home.  If we don’t have a plan, we could find ourselves at a car dealership buying a new car like we often did in our financially-foolish 20’s.  Even if it’s during a snowstorm when no one should be out driving; yeah, that happened!

We just don’t spend that much money anymore, plus we are so close to only having our mortgage so it’s becoming easier and easier to live on one income.  We’re far from where we want to be, but we’re working hard to get to where we want to be.

So, Where Are We Saving For Financial Independence?

Fees Matter!

We invest in low-cost index funds through Vanguard. There are other companies out there, we just prefer Vanguard.  Fees matter! Be sure you understand how much it’s costing you to save for retirement. There are many different kinds of costs when it comes to saving and investing.  Some of the common fees include expense ratios, load fees, marketing fees, purchase or redemption fees and commissions.

If you don’t know exactly how much you’re paying in fees, you need to find out! Here’s a chart showing you how much fees can cost you in the long run:

All of our money is invested in low-cost index funds.  I know exactly how much I am paying in fees, and it’s not much.

Asset Allocation

I like the KISS strategy — Keep It Simple, Stupid.  I try to keep my investing simple. I’m a fan of Jim Collins and his book The Simple Path to Wealth.  Check out my book review to learn more.

Our current asset allocation is:

  • US Stocks: 87% (comprised of VTSAX, VIIIX, VMCIX, VSCIX)
  • International Stocks: 5% (VTIAX)
  • Bonds: 5% (VBTLX)
  • Alternatives: 3% (part of VTIVX)

Our targeted asset allocation is:

  • US Stocks: 85%
  • International Stocks: 10%
  • Bonds: 5%

We moved our investment accounts away from our advisor about two months ago.  I couldn’t handle the fees anymore. I still have a good relationship with our advisor, but I felt I could manage my own financial destiny and not pay so much in fees. Also, I recently decided I wanted more international exposure.  I’m still less than many, but I’ve been learning some good information and decided to add some weight in international funds. I am considering increasing our international exposure even more in the future. Our allocation would then be 80, 15, 5.

We currently have alternatives, but I’d like to move away from that in the future.  This is a part of a small Target Date Retirement (TDR) account that we have through Vanguard. When I was considering moving money away from our advisor a few years ago, I had opened a TDR account and still have some money there.  I actually do like TDR’s and think they are a solid choice for many people.

Final Thoughts

I wish we were at this point five years ago, but we had to learn some hard life lessons before we could get to this point so I’m glad we’re finally here and ready to really ramp up our retirement savings.

My biggest piece of advice for anyone reading this is to get rid of your debt.  If you don’t know where to start, read Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.  Create a budget, control and track your expenses and pour all your extra money towards your smallest debt.  When that’s paid off, take all the money you were paying towards that debt and put it towards your next biggest debt.  Don’t worry so much about interest rates, just pay it off.

Life is so much easier financially when you don’t have debt obligations hanging over your head. Once your debt is paid off, start investing.  

Do we have everything figured out? No.

Is our plan perfect? No.

Is there room for improvement for us?  Oh, man, there are so many areas of our lives we need to be better, but we’re trying.

Create a plan, follow your plan, fine-tune and adjust as needed.  

Since I’m a teacher, I have to add: Never Stop Learning!

If you need help creating budgets or spreadsheets to track expenses, please reach out and let us know.  We want to help! If you want the help of my financial superhero, reach out to her here.

How do you define retirement? Are you on the path to financial independence?

Do you know what fees you’re paying to invest and save for retirement? What is your ideal asset allocation?

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Beginning Our Journey To Financial Independence (FI)


Financial planning has always been a passion of mine.  Luckily my wife is the same way. While financial discussions may be difficult or completely absent within some marriages, my wife and I enjoy talking about our finances and how we’re going to meet our next goal.  While the communication lines were wide open about our finances, we had an aha moment in July of 2017. We were trying to keep up with the Joneses. Maybe not the Joneses of the city we resided at the time where the average home price was over $400,000, but nonetheless we were still on that path where things and stuff mattered.  Everything changed for me in July of 2017. As a side note, I think my wife would tell you that she’s been ready for a while now, but as with everything, it takes me a bit longer to come around.

Burned Out

Back up a couple months to May of 2017; I was finishing up my fifth school year as a teacher and felt I was at a crossroads. Education is a second career for me and I will tell you that while teaching is rewarding in many ways, it  is also the hardest job that I’ve experienced. I was averaging at least 50 hours/week, even through summer, spring and winter breaks for all five years. My wife would label me as a workaholic. I love what I’m doing and have a vision for where I believe education can go, but I had worked myself to the point of being completely burned out.  

My bosses saw that I was burned out as well and were telling me at the end of the school year to take the entire summer off.  This may sound great, but to a workaholic it’s difficult to hear. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my time and I had a ton of work to do over the summer to get ready for the next school year. To spare you the details of the tipping point for me, I realized that something needed to change.  I also realized that getting a new job or switching careers were definitely not the answers; I knew I had to dig deeper to find the balance my wife and I were seeking.

In June of 2017, my wife and I took a trip to Miami to recollect our thoughts.  2017 had just been a terrible year all around with so many tragedies and then add this work thing I was going through, we just needed to get away.  Miami was great but expensive! Nonetheless, we returned with energy and then the following week I had surgery to repair an old injury. Traveling to Miami and undergoing  surgery forced me to take a break from work and do some soul-searching.


Throughout my time of introspection, which heavily involved Google, I found a blog post by Mr. Money Mustache (MMM).  This is the exact blog post I had read (link).  After reading all of his posts, listening to podcasts by ChooseFI, and Googling (I mean soul-searching) some more, I realized that this is the journey my wife and I needed to begin.  I sent my wife Mr. Money Mustache’s post and she was all in.

Since finding the Financial Independence (FI) community, I’ve been on a mission to help my fellow educators, family, and friends understand the many benefits of FI.  Throughout my discussions with colleagues, I’ve realized that retirement planning and financial education is not a strength for many of us, and many districts do not do enough, if anything, to help teachers plan for retirement.

Goal of TeachFI

The goal of TeachFI is to help and inspire people, especially our fellow educators.  Jack and I want to share our knowledge and journeys to Financial Independence. Neither of us are perfect in our pursuits and we’ve both made a ton of mistakes in our financial lives. We want everyone, including our fellow educators, to know that you’re not alone in navigating your financial lives. We are here to help you. Our goal is to be completely transparent about our journeys which will include the mistakes we’ve made and subsequently learned from, our monthly expenses, our net worth and our savings rate.  I believe if we’re open and honest about our pursuit of financial independence, you will find out improving your financial life is not as far-fetched as you may believe it to be.

{Reader Questions} What does Financial Independence mean or look like to you? If this path interests you, where do you stand now? What steps are you taking to move toward FI?