7 Little Changes that Sparked the FIRE

It’s been about 18 months since I jumped on the FIRE bandwagon and realised I wasn’t all that keen on gorging myself on debt and plasma screens till I collapsed. These are the 10 changes I made that have set me up for the future:

  1. Figuring out where all the money went – tracking all of my expenses for a month gave me a really powerfully insight into where it was all going, and just how much I was tossing away on crap that brought very little value. Getting into the economics-trained mindset, there was very little gain from a significant amount of financial outlay at a massive opportunity cost (ie. an early retirement!). Now I use a detailed FIRE spreadsheet to track how I’m progressing towards my financial goals.
  2. Taking lunch – $10-20 bucks a day on lunch and coffee adds up to an awful lot of future relaxing lost. Getting some decent tupperware and spending an hour or two during the week prepping a week of decent lunches is one of the best investments you can make. Not only is the food likely to be healthier, it means you can avoid lots of other frivolous spending opportunities by not having to visit food courts and malls, and free up some cash for investing. Plus you can instead take your lunch to a sunny park or chill on a bench chatting to a friend – cheaper, healthier, happier.
  3. Telling people I was going to retire after 15 years of work – making it public firstly gives you a great justification for adjusting your lifestyle and people have a way to comprehend the changes be it suggesting what people perceive as cheaper alternative options, bringing lunch, drinking cheap beer, ditching the car, not constantly updating the waredrobe, and secondly publisicing is a massive motivation to stick to the challenge, especially with so many naysayers!
  4. Fixing everything – youtube has an insane amount of videos on how to fix so many things, and whilst it is a small time investment initially, it works out incredibly cheap in money and time to repair most things yourself rather than replace.
  5. 4603522314_76dd819095_bWorking with my after-save pay – when I first started saving with a full-time paycheck, I tried to think of my pay in post-savings terms. If I wanted to save $300 a fortnight, then I didn’t earn $1800, instead I earned $1500. Then I had to figure out how I could work around this figure. In my mind I was able to subsist on less than a $800 a fortnight at uni, so it was possible, and made saving the priority.
  6. Scrutinising the car – when I first got a car it was fantastic, I could go anywhere, it was generally quicker for longer trips and could carry much more than a bike! Then the costs started piling up, and the belly fat. When I got all the costs down on a paper I realised I really needed to investigate other options. Now I use a combo of cycling and public transport to get the work. It takes about 20 minutes longer than driving, but instead of sitting in traffic, I’m exercising and reading. And saving a bucket load of pineapples.
  7. Getting to grips with index and managed funds – despite doing an economics and business degree, I didn’t fully understand the ins and outs of these investment options, particularly in terms of long-run returns, fees, investment types and the best way to get into them. I ‘m not expert, but I figured out that getting in with the minimum investment into a broad-based sharemarket tracking (index) fund with low fees is not a bad start. Then adding to it on a very regular basis to smooth out the highs and lows (known as average cost investing) is a pretty low-risk way to build them. Currently I have an international hedged index fund, ethical ASX managed fund and a bond fund which I contribute to each week via automatic transfers. Slow and steady wins the race (hopefully!).

 

 

Make Sunday Count – 6 ways to prep for a fantastically frugal week

As a 9-5er, Sunday is about reading, walking, picnicking with friends, nursing a hangover, catching up on sleep and laundry. But a really great Sunday can also help set you up for an awesome and wealth-wise week. Here are a couple of things I try to do most Sundays to fire me up for a new week:

  1. Make a big batch of lunches (45minutes – save $45) – I love cooking and I love cooking beans, which are an excellent food to reheat at work with some rice and smoky hot sauce. As part of Sunday dinner prep, I throw the rice cooker on (best $15 you will ever spend), and then chop up onions, garlic, veggies, fry it up with choice spices (cumin, smoked paprika, cinnamon, oregano), add some tinned tomatoes and tinned beans, and after about 30mins of cooking you have excellent lunches for the whole week. Just whack a serve of rice and beans into five tupperware containers and bam, healthy, cheap lunches for the week! If you don’t like beans and rice, there are heaps of other options – sandwiches, pasta, curries – whatever you like cooking and love eating. Either way, you will save heaps by not paying for lunch at work and likely eat a much healthier meal.
  2. Stock the fridge with healthy and nutritious snacks – I tend to do a shop on Sunday and try to make sure there is a good abundance of fruit, nuts, veggies and dips in the fridge to make sure that I have plenty of great snacks to take to work and avoid the mad rush to the takeaway kebab joint in the afternoon when a 5pm-hunger starts to kick in.
  3. Put a water bottle in your bag – you never know when you will need a drink, and there is pretty much always a tap to be found somewhere to fill up. This always saves me cash as I never need to buy bottled water and reduces my impact on the environment from massively energy intensive and wasteful plastic bottles. Win-win!
  4. Check your expenses for the week and put that into your spending account – I like to take a few minutes to think about what I will be spending during the week (groceries, petrol, pub meal etc.) and just transferring that amount into my debit card account. This allows me to pre-plan and figure out strategies to reduce overspending (for example, if I know I will be meeting friends at the pub in the evening, I might decide to have dinner at home first then only have a drink when I’m there to avoid the $20-odd cost of the meal).
  5. Make a mini-FIRE goal – financial independence and early retirement (FIRE) is a stretch goal of mine, so to motivate myself I set a little financial goal for myself that week to help me along that journey – it might be an action related to a bigger monthly/yearly project to build new habits or simply something I’ve been wanting to try out to see how it fits with my life. It also helps to reinforce why I’m spending the time to do the things above.
  6. Get to bed early! – there is nothing worse for destroying self-control and laying the groundwork for credit card carnage than tiredness. With weeks seeming ever more busy, I find that if I don’t get a decent sleep on Sunday, it is extremely hard for me to catch up during the week. It definitely can be tough to get to be early on Sunday when you’re beginning to think about work, plan the week but still trying to enjoy the weekend. I find that making sure I get some decent exercise in, some sun if possible, limiting alcohol and screen-time and eating relatively early all set me up for an excellent Sunday sleep.

 

Is there anything you get up to on Sunday that sets you up for a stellar week? I’d love to know!

Housemates for healthy pockets

Housing is one of the three major expenses for most people, so sharing housing is a smart way to minimise this cost, whilst getting the benefits of sharing the housework and (hopefully) building great friendships. I currently live in a four bedroom house with a nice garden, in one of the most expensive cities on Earth, about 15km from the CBD. My housemates include a teacher, bike shop owner, performing arts educator, lawyer and renewable energy engineer, which brings a nice diversity to the skills, knowledge and interests in the house, which is especially good for crosswords.

I wanted to share a couple of great things about how our house operates that has developed over a decade of sharehousing with friends. These approaches to important elements of the house give us all more money for our future and more time to enjoy our lives (read: spend on wine).


Cleaning
 – we each have one major area/task in the house that we focus on and ensure is kept to an agreed upon standard (bathroom, kitchen, chooks etc)- this means that we become efficient at doing the related tasks and only need to focus our attention on one main chore, saving lots of time and energy. And when people get over cleaning the bathroom, usually every few months, we switch it around!DSC_0270

 

Meals – we each have a cook night that fits in with our schedules in which we cook a meal for the whole house. With our focus only on cooking one evening, this gives us each lots of time to spend on our other projects, as well as allowing us to have cheap, home-cooked meals every night (and often leftovers for lunches the next day). It also means we often    have big ‘family’ meals during the week which is a great time to debrief about our days, catch up on news and bounce around ideas.

2013-12-20 17.23.38Groceries – everything in the house cupboards and fridge is communal, except things that are specifically bought by person for themselves beyond the food kitty (and they have their name on it!). We each spend $40 per week on food for the house, and add things to Wunderlist as we need them. I highly recommend Wunderlist for keeping track things like groceries, especially amongst a busy group of people. We also have five chooks which provide us with eggs every morning and an expanding garden that provides herbs and greens. Another great thing about a big house is that things can be easily bought in bulk, significantly reducing the per unit cost of food items, making it very cheap to eat.

 

Tidying – everyone is responsible for their own stuff. That means cleaning your own dishes and laundry, as well as keeping communal areas junk-free. Fostering open communication (and choosing housemates willing to take on board a little healthy constructive criticism) is key to ensuring this works well!

 

Communication is the key to all of this. Fostering open and supportive communication based on common interests (happy home, healthy pockets) is critical to making sure all of these work, and no one feels like that are carrying all the load in terms of money and time. You need to be upfront with housemates right from the beginning about what is and isn’t acceptable and discuss that fact that you are keen to address issues before they become unhealthy and costly problems.

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Drive money back into your pocket – Five frugal driving tips

If you have to drive, (it’s cheaper not to if you can help it), there are a few ways to keep costs down.

When I first got my car I felt an affinity with the accelerator. My car is pretty old and cheap but it took off at the lights like a ferrari (I thought so). Recently however, its become clear to me that chewing through petrol for a few thrills on the way to work is unnecessarily costly.

What are the costs of ‘expensive’ driving? You use more petrol, wear down parts quicker (brakes, tyres, gear boxes, etc.) and are more likely to get a fine.

How to drive ‘cheaply’?

  • Think of revs/RPM as money – the higher you rev the more fuel you use
  • Drive off slowly at lights, coast downhills and leave space in traffic to avoid stop/start
  • Keep you tyres inflated to the recommended PSI – this reduces drag on the car which reduces the amount of fuel required to move the car and also increases the life span of your tyres.
  • Drive within the speed limit = no fines!
  • Fill the tank up at night – heat cause fuel to expand, so colder fuel is more dense but the same price

I’ve been driving using these tips for the past few weeks and I’ve seen a 20% drop in the amount of fuel I’ve needed for my 5 day/week , 60km round trip commute.

And if you can avoid driving by taking public transport, biking or walking, even better!

Also for most cars, there are lots of cheap fixes that you can do yourself to avoid the expensive service costs at the auto shop

Easy minor fixes worth DIYing:

  1. Replacing basically all globes (except the dashboard – this looked fairly complicated and involved!)
  2. Topping up the oil (on older cars – critical for reducing wear)
  3. Replacing windscreen wiper blades/cartridges

How to do it? Go to youtube and type in your car brand and what needs fixing. And keep that money in your pocket!