April Expenses

At the lake, celebrating, and looking at Work Optional

I needed April. The tulips coming up. The sunshine. The festivities of Easter. And weekends out of the house.

early retirement budget with big family

One of my favorite things about being “Work Optional” is when a day with truly amazing weather comes along, we can drop everything and go enjoy it! After weeks of rain, we had the perfect Saturday in April. So we headed out to spend the day at Flathead Lake. Spring was in full force, and after sharing how I was lacking energy, I soaked this up.

spring day at Flathead lake

My sweet Montana kids love some good climbing rocks!

Hiking at Lakeside State park Montana

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Have I mentioned that I used to work 9-10 hours EVERY Saturday. Well, I thought about that fact a FEW times while we were out hiking at the lake. =)

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Cost: $3 in gas

I had keep things really simple for Valentines Day this year, but decided to spend more cash for the Easter holiday. We had scored these super cute baskets 75% off after Halloween and hid them for the last 6 months to use as Easter baskets. We held on to these to be “treat buckets” that the kids get to pick a treat out of each night. They are actually sturdy, and I imagine will last at least a year.

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I filled about 75 plastic eggs with candy and hide them in the  yard (reusing the plastic eggs left over from the last few years). We had extra egg coloring supplies bought 75% off after holiday over the last few years. But I spent about $20 on candy and a few coloring books from the dollar store.

I have fun holiday pancakes for EVERY occasion! I think when my kids reflect on their childhood, fun pancakes will be a standout memory. =) For these Easter egg pancakes I cut up jelly beans and added them to the batter, then decorated with sprinkles. I’ll admit I attempted some Easter bunnies as well. With a round face, and 2 big floppy ears. But almost every time one of the ears would break off. Those were R rated pancakes, folks! Thankfully the kids didn’t seem to notice. =)

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Easter celebration: $22

The thing I LOVE about having low fixed expenses is that I felt like we spent a lot in every category this month (built cabinet doors for our bathroom, built a lean-to for our firewood, 2 dental cleanings, family photos, TONS of groceries, Oh, and I spent $100 for 260 coffee pods: a year’s supply!) And we STILL came in $100 under budget!

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monthly expenses for early retired family with kids

“Joy” Money

We switched our cell phone plans which is saving us a bit of cash each month. I wanted to be intentional about finding little things to spend that extra money on that add a TON of value for the price. It’s been a fun mental exercise to focus on finding stuff to buy that I might have passed on otherwise.

I’m naturally frugal. I see something I would enjoy and have no trouble passing it by. I feel no sadness in my heart or bitterness that I “can’t have it.” I don’t feel like I am doing without. I have a hard time imagining how spending more money could actually make life any better.

So I am experimenting with this idea. I call it my “Joy Money.”  One of the awesome things about going frugal on fixed expenses ( like our cell phones) is each month there is all this extra money. You can use it to pay down debt, super charge your investing or in this case….add a little joy.

April’s Joy Money purchases

2 8×10 prints. $25

We had some new family photos taken, and I opted to buy 2 large prints (which I’ve never done!) to fill picture frames I had. The kids have loved it, and it does give the house a more personal feel. We have lived in this home almost 5 years, and never hung a family photo on the wall. It was time!

Ice cream and donuts. $2.28

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We had been out hiking that day and I thought about heading straight home, but then thought about the extra money and decided to make a pit stop at our favorite treat place. It’s tough to beat .25 cones and a “monster” donut big enough for all of us to share that costs $1.28!

Cut Flowers: $2

I saw these flowers on sale for $2. At first I just shrugged it off because the tulips in front of my house were in full bloom. But the joy money changed my mind. I have to admit, they were darn lovely, and I was SO happy to have them around for a week.

Awesome new mug: $8

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I love a good cup. Coffee cups, tea cups, mugs. Love them! It’s a weakness. I have to have a strict one-in-one-out rule or our entire kitchen would be overrun with cups. But this one was worth trading out an old one. I would have passed it by, but my “joy” money was the encouragement I needed.

Total Joy Money Spent: $37.28

Verdict for April: Win. Money much better spent than on the old cell phone plans!

Work Optional Status

I wanted to start a new category in our monthly expenses to see how we are doing on our “work optional” situation.

  • Can we really just do work that we love, instead of going back to the 9-5 grind?
  • Can we focus on things we find interesting and best leverages our skills or passion instead of just things that pay the most?
  • And can our work/hobbies/volunteering actually accommodate the rest of our life, like family time, travel and long days at the lake?
  • If people don’t have 1.5 million net worth, how do average folks piece this thing together?

If you are just tuning in around here, here is the lay out of our financial land:

Passive Income Sources

Rentals: $1000 a month after all expenses

Military Retirement Pension: $1450 a month

Total: $2450 

Ideally our monthly spending would come in close to this number. If our expenses for the year are higher, we have 2 back up sources before counting on earned income.

Optional sources

Cash buffer: About $60,000 (this includes our Giving Fund, which funds our charitable giving each month)

Investments: $616 a month currently ($185,000 @ 4% withdrawal). We would pull from our cash buffer before using our 4% option. We hope to let it continue to grow for another few years.

Future Income:

Rental Mortgage 1 payoff: $38,000 balance/$189 monthly payment (future passive income)

We have enough cash to pay this off and increase our passive income, but the interest rate is very low, and I’d rather have the extra cash on hand in case of emergency.

Rental Mortgage 2 payoff: $97,000 balance/ $512 monthly payment (future passive income)

The rents completely cover these amounts for now and they are set on 30 year mortgages (25 years/ 27 year remaining). At some point we might decide to pay them off early to increase our monthly passive income.

This month:

Monthly Spending: $2350. 4th month in a row to come in under budget!

Giving: $289

Year to date: $8328: $1472 under budget so far!

Year to date giving: $967

Year to date Extra Income: $5350.

Mr. Mt and I have each done a bit of freelance work and pulled in some extra cash this year. We have a bunch of renovations on the docket for this summer, so we probably won’t be taking on much new work until Fall. Although the renovations will greatly improve our net worth, and increase our rental income.

This year has been a good process of finding the best use of our time. About half of our non-family time are things that we do without direct pay. Honestly, we are really picky about the things we take on. Not only the type of work, but the clients. If it seems to be an amazing fit, and something we are really excited to do, we will say yes. If not, we just have too many other plates spinning to take on something just for a bit of income.

Even without 9-5 jobs, if we lack one thing: it would still be time, not money. 

We also got our tax return back (about $5000) which helps fill our giving fund for the year.

Conclusion: Work Optional still going strong!

This month marked 18 months away from the 9-5 grind. Personally and financially, it seems to be going great. Our expenses are really consistent. Even if the stock market tanks for a few years, our $60k cash buffer would cover an extra $500 a month in expenses for 10 years without earning a dime of income!

We could always take on a bit of extra freelance work if we wanted, but right now we are picking the amount that gives us the best balance between the joys of parenting and talking with other adults. =) I’ll totally admit that after a 14 hour day with all 5 kids, not one little piece of me is sad about heading to the coffee shop the next day for a few quiet hours of writing or jumping on a Skype mentoring call for an hour. Not. One. Tiny. Bit. (And all the stay-at-home parents said “Amen!”) Actually it feels like a tiny vacation. =)

That has been our moving target: doing exactly the right amount of all the stuff we love. No matter if it’s family time, traveling, writing, mentoring, gardening, renovations, hiking, volunteering or hanging out with friends. It’s all just stuff we love. =)

Hope you all had a great April!

For conversation:

If you could custom design your ideal week, what would it look like?

Are you naturally super frugal? What do you think of my “joy” money?

What do you think of our new “Work Optional” section? Does it help make sense of our crazy piece meal life?

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25 thoughts on “April Expenses

    • I thought they were super cute too! They were clearance Halloween buckets. =) Being able to scale back our work time and go with things that are super flexible has been amazing during this season of having little kids. It’s really about just having the flexibility to switch things up to best fit the year we are in. =) I’m sure it will look really different in 5 years when all 5 are in school, or in 10 years when we have a house full of teenagers and kids heading to college or in 20 years when the house might be empty! But we have the flexibility between low expenses and a bit of passive income to roll with it. =)

  1. Isn’t Spring great! We finally got out and did our gardening over the weekend. The sunshine was glorious.

    And the “joy money” is a great idea. I spend some joy money this past weekend. My 14 year old daughter and I had an evening to ourselves and she was craving good sushi. So her and I went out for sushi. Best $40 I’ve spent in a long time.

    Love the work optional section. Thank you for sharing. I love reading how others’ finances operate (though I still don’t share my own!?).

    • I think the numbers are helpful, so people can see how others figure this stuff out and the range of options. But I kind of hate sharing it all! It’s just weird. =) But if it’s really helpful for people, then I’ll do it. Although, I seriously doubt I will look up all that info each month. One of our stock accounts I only look at when then send a yearly statement! Same with one of the mortgages. Then send a yearly statement for taxes, and I log the info then. =)

  2. Great job on your spending. Your passive income is perfect for your situation. Really nice.
    I like the joy money idea. I’m very hesitant to spend because everything is in one big pile. We had a cash system a while back and that worked well. Maybe I can give myself $20 cash to spend every week. I’d probably still be pretty cheap. 🙂

    • $20 cash in your pocket might be a good reminder! And my frugal ways still showed through. $2 on flowers. $2.28 for treats. Oh well. They still added a bit of joy. =) It’s really easy for me to just not spend. As in we are 8 days into May, and I haven’t spend any of that extra joy money yet. =/

  3. Love this! I’m in the process of pulling back our spending, it has gotten a little out of control. We might be moving so we can open up new income from our house while taking away some bills by moving into our vacation rental. I mean who really needs satellite. Apparently vacation renters, blargh think I’m done with them. Our ideal week is working to build something(we love working with out hands), enjoying nature, and enjoying our family.

    • We love building stuff too! We just finished our master bath and Mr. Mt already has big plans for a few summer projects. I think it’s almost meditative for him. =) Plus as parents of little kids, honestly, it’s just nice to do work that stays done for more than 3 minutes. We tackle about 15 loads of laundry a week, 1-2 loads of dishes a day, and sweep almost daily. So to built something that stays built is really rewarding!

  4. My ideal week would involve about 16 hours of work – probably on 3 consecutive days. I’d start late (11 or noon) and fit in some sport or a run in the mornings. I’d spend my 4 free days seeing people and doing the other stuff I like to do. Every couple of weeks I’d take a trip somewhere. Or I’d be location independent possibly and immerse myself for around 6 months in new countries.

    • So here is a crazy thing. I actually wrote out my ideal day and week a few years ago. Although it almost feels like it happened by chance, my schedule is almost exactly what I had thought out back then. I think just having that idea in my head helped me make choice after choice that brought us closer to it. If I hadn’t taken the time to really think it through and write it down, I’m not sure we would have this schedule right now. =)

  5. I’m not ready to speculate on our ideal week just yet – it’s still a fair bit away for us to contemplate specifics that will likely change. As you know, kids can change so quickly from month to month, what JuggerBaby needs this year will be totally different from what ze needs three years from now.

    The numbers make more sense, though. I like that the foundation of your income is from two relatively reliable sources, it does make more sense why you’d not worry about that going away now. We’re breaking even on our rental but we still need some more gap between those expenses and rent income to make it true passive income. I’d like to add two more rentals to our portfolio for a bigger steady flow of income, but that’s going to be at least another year away.

  6. I love the idea of labeled “joy money.” Thanks so much for continuing to share your journey! Reading about your lifestyle outside of the traditional workplace is a HUGE inspiration … and one that I look forward to!

    • Ah, thanks so much! It’s been an interesting journey so far. Just kind of figuring it out as we go. =) But I am SO glad we didn’t wait any longer to jump in. It was a left turn for us and so many good things have happened as a result.

  7. +1 on joy money.

    Surely I thought you bought ice cream at the grocery and made cones at home to serve up with a giant donut. $2.28. No you cannot beat that!

    You make the most of your tome even if you feel you don’t have enough of it. I’m tickled by all that you accomplish.

    Looking forward to meeting you in person!

    • Yeah, I’m so excited that you guys are coming to visit. I do make ice cream at home for special occasions, like company. =) But at .25 cents a cone, it’s tough to beat. And I love soft serve. Heck, I love all ice cream!!!

  8. What a great life story you are writing. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    +1 on the ideal work week. I love the clarity that brings and the acceptance for me that my ideal work week is not 0 hrs. Doing interesting projects with interesting people that add value to the world is an ok way to spend some of my time.

    • I did that exercise about 2-3 years ago and just kind of set it aside. But I believe that having really thought through it gave me clarity in all the choices I made since then. A few years ago I put down 3 hours of really meaningful, high impact, enjoyable “work” each day. And that is about what I do now. There are a 100 other things I could add to earn more money, but this year 3 hours feels perfect. I love the amazing conversations I get to have, the people I see that are changing their trajectory and life, and the impact I can have with those 3 hours. Add in some time outside in the yard or hiking. Some time playing with the kids. Time to exercise. A bit of volunteering. Relationship building time. And some time to renovate and build things. A bit of travel a few times a year.
      It’s almost exactly what I had planned a few years back. It’s one of the exercises I go through with people in the mentoring program. Because if you don’t know what you are aiming for, how do you know which way to go? Or when you have arrived? =) Thanks so much for the comment Steve!

  9. Thanks for the great bullets and budget insights. You’ve probably mentioned this in other articles, but is your primary residence paid off?
    I have rental properties I own individually, and some with a business partner. Some are paid off and some have mortgages. Over the last 18 months, I’ve acquired a triplex and a duplex in Indianapolis, both of which are going through a pretty massive renovation process now.
    Because I like spending time in Indy and also St. Pete, Florida, depending on the seasons, I’ve kind of house-hacked my life to make this happen without extra cost. I bought a little house in St. Pete with a one bedroom guest cottage. I renovated the guest cottage and have rented it out and this completely covers my mortgage.
    The duplex I recently bought in Indy (once renovated) will allow me to keep one side for myself while the other side, when rented, will more than pay my mortgage there as well.
    I’ve actually been a contractor/freelancer in my career for about 15 years, but especially because these renovations require money, I’m actually about to go the opposite direction and join one of my clients as a full time employee. One reason this works, and is acceptable to me, is because I can work remotely which means I’m not chained to an office, and can travel while working if I like. It also helps me negate those slow times when I need to try to cobble together work from multiple clients (not to mention the health insurance, benefits, etc).
    That all said, I’m doing this for the bigger picture. I may enough passive income to get by now but not much of a cushion. Once all of these other renovations are complete, I should be able to quit working and live pretty well off the rental income. I’m not a “cheap” person but I am frugal, and like you, it doesn’t give me heartache to pass up a lot of worldly luxuries, gadgets, etc. I really don’t feel like I live without.
    The key for me has been to live pretty simply, and have no consumer debt, other than a few investment mortgages. It’s given me so much more freedom, and less stress. It’s great to read your article and comments to see people living less “traditionally”.

    • Hey Jason! Thanks for the awesome comment! To answer your question, we paid cash for our first home (which we still live in.) So we have never had a mortgage payment, just prop tax (paid twice a year: $800ish each time) and insurance (paid once a year: about $500)
      It sounds like you have found a great set up and income plan. I found that once we passed that threshold where I knew our basic bills could be paid, a whole world of options opened up.
      And I totally think that simple living is a big part of the ticket. The best parts of my life happen without occurring an expense. It’s actually hard to me to find things to spend my “joy” money on, because most of the things that actually make my day and month better can’t be bought with cash. Like the fact that it’s an amazing day outside right now, so I’m going to close the computer early and head out for a hike in a State park with my baby. Spending $15 on take out doesn’t even come close! Just the fact that I have that choice. I worked in a lot of places where I longingly looked out the windows at nice weather and felt sad that I was stuck. =( It’s hard to itemize the joy of choice. =)

  10. I love that you are keeping us updated about how you are spending your “joy” money! I think you definitely got some great value from it this month. I’ve started to track our “found money” for unexpected little windfalls and am trying to set aside that money for fun things. For example, we were able to clean out an old fridge and two abandoned window air conditioners from our rental property and got a $100 Visa gift card from the electric company after they came and picked them up! It was a total win for us, and we’ll be using the gift card to help fund our summer travel plans. It’s also great to see how your spending fits in with the rest of your financial picture, I love that your work optional option is going so well! Cheers! Audra

    • Hey Audra! It’s been good for me to think about finding ways for that money to add value. I actually have a little envelope that I label “fun stuff” that I put little bits of extra money into. Like Neilson recently sent us a tv journal, and $30! So that went in there. It’s funny how often we come across a little bit of extra cash. Clearing out an old item on craigslist or what not.

      And I’m glad the big financial picture is helpful! I think of it as a multi legged stool. There are a few ways we can cover expenses or emergencies and the plan has a lot of flexibility. I hope it shows others how they can create enough financial freedom where they have the courage to go out and try new things. 😉

  11. That ice cream + doughnut deal is a STEAL! Wow! Looks like a super fun month. 🙂 We’re working toward “work optional,” a phrase I particularly enjoy. We’re pretty close. We go for walks and hikes each night and on the weekends–more of these at 2 PM would be great, too.

    • Yeah we go there at least once a month! =) They also have really good biscuits and gravy for .99 cents each. =) I’m so excited that you guys are getting close to your own “work optional.” It’s such a cool place to be, and I think it just opens up even more options. =)

  12. hi, i love that mug, I am starting a tipi glamping business in the mountains and I am Cree, I would love to get these, any chance of sharing more information.

    • That is a really cool business! Best of luck! I bought the mugs from Montana Coffee Traders in Whitefish. They have lots of cool retail items! If you give them a call, they might let you know which wholesaler they buy from. 🙂