January Expenses and Finding Your Ideal Year

January was a perfect example of our seasonal life. Maybe it’s from growing up in wheat and cattle country, but I’ve never cared for each month to feel exactly like the last month. I love the ebb and flow of the seasons. I love to work on certain projects in certain months and then switch gears. Too much of anything burns me out, even vacations.  It’s part of the reason a standard 9-5 job was always lackluster for me. I hated doing the exact same thing week after week, 50 weeks a year.

early retirement budget with big family

One of my favorite mentoring questions is about the “Ideal Day”. (If you sign up for my newsletter, you can get all three of my life planning conversations sheets!) Partly because I think it’s important to not only know what your ideal day and week look like, but also how you would structure a year. How many weeks of travel are right for you? How many weeks of big projects? Weeks of recreation or rest? Do you want a few weeks of gardening? What about a week or two each year for a house/car/hobby project?

In this mini-retirement, we have been able to test out and try different “ideal year” schedules to find what fits the best for our family.

Some people say, “I’d love to retire early so I can travel a lot.” Or “I would never retire early because I love working.” Or even more vague, “I’d just love to do whatever I want to do.”

One of my favorite things to watch is when people go through the mentoring questions in my courses or in the 1-on-1 mentoring and say, “Oh, actually being as THIS is what we want, there are a whole bunch of different options to get the exact life we want!!!” Once we get clear on the outcome we are looking for, the path to get there starts to make more sense as well.

Here’s a quick recap of what our last year looked like.

June: Gardening, two weeks resting at the beach and with friends (I spent a lot of time thinking and planning, it filled my creative cup up).

July: Renovation project

August: Fun adventures and travel to see family

Sept: Creating! After months of thinking and planning, I was SO excited to create some of those things. (I built two online courses.)

Oct: Creating and travel

Nov: Creating

Dec: Preparing for a launch and family

Jan: Rest, fun, and people.

Looking ahead…

February will be more rest and chatting with people. I’m going through the mini-retirement course with a group and having fun chatting with them. I also opened up my mentoring program and am talking every week with those folks. I love doing that deeper work with people where we chat every week and see significant progress in an area.

March and April will be a few house projects and creating some new content.

May and June we are traveling! 11 national parks in 7 states. It’s these times that are my most creative. Road trips, hiking and being outdoors is what fills up my creative energy and makes me excited to hunker down in the winter and make things happen. Each night in the camper I will take a few pages of notes.

That is about our perfect year. If I were to change anything for next year, I would add a two week trip to someplace sunny and warm in January or February. And a retreat or creative workshop with a small group in October or November.

This month:

mini-retirement budget

Monthly Spending: $2189

Giving this month: $326. Being as our giving comes from its own Giving Fund, instead of our passive income, I decided to start showing it here instead of in our pie chart to make that easier to read.

Year to date giving: $326

Other expenses:

January was a time for rest and connecting. For my birthday gift (Hello, 35!) my parents offered to watch all our kids overnight (twice!) which is about the best birthday gift ever! So we cashed in some credit card rewards and booked a night at my favorite resort Whitefish Lake Lodge. We ate out (which we rarely do because, with all 5 kids, that just isn’t enjoyable!). We worked through the very conversation sheets I wrote while soaking in the indoor and outdoor hot tubs. =)

Total Cost: $175 (We used some credit card reward so our out of pocket cost was lower)

Adam went skiing! I broke my toe in January. =( And I’ve missed out so far. Hopefully in February.


He owns his ski gear and gets 50% off the day pass with his military discount!

Total Cost: $50

In my commitment to spend more time connecting this year (online and offline), we bought a 10 punch pass to a hot springs that expires in 6 months. So we are committed! It’s a 90-minute drive away, so we have been dropping the kids off at school or childcare and heading for a 3-hour soak before we need to be home. But it’s about the most beautiful drive. I love getting that quiet time with Adam so I’d do this drive even if there wasn’t the amazing hot springs at the end.

Being from Montana, I’ve probably seen 10,000 deer. But they are so dang cute in the winter, I still want to stop and take a picture. SO fluffy!

Total Cost: $70 for the 10 punch pass, $30 in childcare per trip

Add in 14 days of someone in our house being sick, and that was January for us. =)

Mini-Retirement Status

I started a new category in our monthly expenses to see how we are doing on our “work optional” life as we continue with our mini-retirement.

  • Can we really just do a bit of 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?
  • Can we work/volunteer and actually still have space for the rest of our life, like family time, travel and long days at the lake?
  • If people don’t have 1 million + net worth, how do average folks piece this thing together to create their most meaningful life?


5 Bucket Method

If you are just tuning in around here, here is the lay of our financial land. We use a 5 bucket system. It’s extremely useful for anyone trying to custom design their life. It’s perfect if you want to take a year off to travel, try to launch a side hustle into a full business, go part-time at work for a few years, or retire early.

Depending on your situation and goals, you would customize these buckets to meet your needs.

Bucket 1: Fixed Passive Income

Rentals: $1200 a month after all expenses

Military Retirement Pension: $1450 a month

Total Monthly Passive: $2650 

We use bucket 1 to cover all our basic living expenses. All passive income that is “fixed” goes here: rentals, pensions, loan repayments, royalties or anything you have little choice if you “pull” from it or not.

Bucket 2: Cash Buffer

Cash buffer: About $50,000 (this includes our Giving Fund, which funds our charitable giving each month and our Rental Fund.)

  • We use this bucket to fill the gap in our basic expenses if needed.
  • We give donations from this bucket.
  • We also use it for one-time large purchases or emergencies.

Bucket 3: Investments

Our investments don’t go into our passive income bucket because when you are creating a flexible lifestyle early on, these buckets might function very differently.

Investments: $220,000

Because we don’t need to tap this bucket yet, we will continue to let compound interest to do its thing. We might also fill it with some extra money from bucket 4 (side hustle) at some point.

$733 a month right now with 4% withdrawal.

In 10 years our investments would provide an additional $1,583 in monthly income, growing at 8% to $475,000 with a 4% withdrawal.

That isn’t to say that we will use it in that way. Investments provide a host of options because it’s one of many buckets.

  • We might pull a lump sum to purchase other rentals.
  • We might use 2% in 6 years as our expenses grow (bigger kids, bigger food bills).
  • If we use it for “extras” instead of basic living expenses, we might pull 5-6%, knowing that in low market years we wouldn’t pull any money from it or only 1-2%. For example, when it grows to $300,000, we might pull $15,000 (5%) one year to take a 3 month trip to Europe. If the next year, a big market drop happens, we might pull $3,000 (1%) to take a 6 week US camping trip.

Bucket 4: Side Hustle/Lifestyle Business

This bucket would include any extra income you produce. If you are growing a business, that income would go here. As would a profitable hobby, income producing passion project, or side hustle.

I met another online creator recently. Jake creates maps for national parks and sells them on his site and in stores. We chat when we run into each other at the coffee shop.

He made an interesting observation the other day: “Well, you aren’t really retired because of the books you read. Retired people don’t read these books.” I kind of get it. Who reads business, marketing, entrepreneur, or writing books for fun? Apparently, I do. Because I love it. I said to him, “Well, I need to fill my days with something.” I love these books, I love these ideas, and it’s more fun to learn about if you have a bit of skin in the creating game. It can be fun to be a consumer: to read the books, blogs, listen to the podcasts and take the classes. But for me, it’s even more enjoyable if I get to test out all the things I’m learning.

I solving hard problems and having things come together. Then the icing on the cake is watching people’s lives, businesses and trajectories change right before my eyes. And I got to be a small part of that. I can hardly imagine anything more satisfying that than.

The decorations on the icing? I have the coolest group of friends now. I talked about that being the biggest benefit of blogging in my 6-month blogging recap. It’s still true. I’ve gotten to know people who are creating, building, changing the world around them, serving people well, making art, and just thrilled to use every creative muscle they have.

I know most bloggers are more excited to share their blog income as it grows and is more impressive. I’m not sure I want to do a full blog income report (something that would actually be helpful) so I’ve hesitated to throw out numbers without context the last few months. But here is where things have been.

January Lifestyle Business Income: $4,917

I didn’t do any freelance work this month. The income came from 4 things.

Mini-Retirements Mastered Course: $240 (currently closed)

Jetfuel for Blogging Course: $429

Custom Mentoring: $1750

Idea to Launch// Product or Service Mentoring: $2500 (Only available to my email subscribers right now)

So far I’ve reinvested 100% of the income this blog has generated: conferences, mentors, software, classes, books, courses, gear, freelance help and tools to create better things and help grow my audience. Some might see “business expenses” as boring. But for me, it’s an awfully fun way for me to reinvest the money. Paying for email, teachable hosting, credit card fees and web hosting… is less fun. But those things run me under $200 a month.

Bucket 5: Future Passive Income

Rental Mortgage 1 payoff: + $189 a month

$38,000 balance on rental house 1. There are 25 years left on this mortgage. The interest rate is 2.85%.

Rental Mortgage 2 payoff: +$512 a month 

$95,000 balance on rental house 2. There are 27 years left on this mortgage. The interest rate is 4.35%.

We might pay these off earlier to increase our monthly passive income.

Social Security: Who knows?

My current assumption is that there will be a small amount of money that will start around age 70. I’ll start more carefully considering this in about 20 years. Right now I have it earmarked as extra money for health care costs or vacations with grandkids.

Conclusion: Mini-retirement for life. =)

I absolutely love what we are doing right now. I love the ebb and flow of our days and months. I love writing. I love working with people in the courses. I LOVE the mentoring. I love creating things. I love the flexibility. I love the travel. I love the ability to go soak in hot springs in the middle of the week. I love the emails and hearing how people’s lives are changing. I love being able to workout with Adam 6 hours a week at the gym and it not decimating our family time.

Our moving target: doing exactly the right amount of all the stuff we love and is important to us. No matter if it’s family time, traveling, writing, mentoring, gardening, renovations, hiking, creating, volunteering or hanging out with friends. It’s all just stuff we love. =)



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25 thoughts on “January Expenses and Finding Your Ideal Year

  1. Your life sounds awesome, I love the way you are living it according to your own beliefs and value system.

    And that resort looks awesome, I love to soak away the stresses of a modern life.

    • I’m a hot tub junkie. =) We owned one for years, but not we just travel to the hot springs. It was $30 a month for electric, plus chemicals and maintenance costs. We might get one in the future, but it’s fun to make a day trip or overnight out of it.

  2. I love your method of having different “buckets” of money in which you pull from. This has to be perfect for planning not just now, but long term.

    My goal is to set up a new passive income stream this year, just mulling through ideas and working out the details at this point 😄

    If only the real estate market around me wasn’t so darn expensive I’d have gotten a rental property (or property for myself) by now!

    • This is the system we used for our mini-retirements and I teach it in my mini-retirement course. When people retire early, take a mini-retirement or transition into self-employment, normal models don’t work as well. Instead of 4% until you die, most people can start creating their ideal year much faster this way. =) And I’m so glad we bought our properties when we did. The local numbers aren’t as easy as they were a few years ago.

  3. I love the idea of life seasons that you’ve laid out here. The one thing that keeps my work as interesting as it is usually is that I do a ton of different things depending on the stage of a project we’re in. But having a month just to work on the garden and house chores sounds totally awesome.

    • I love having varied work, but having time to really switch gears totally fills up my creative cup. =) After a few months of traveling, I’m totally rested, and bursting with ideas and energy. =)

        • I love it! =) I am thinking about doing a post about all the cool reasons to keep doing a little bit of work. From having money to spend on personal development, extra fun money, or getting cool professional trades. Plus having that backup plan that if something came up, you have something you could always scale up for a year or two. Plus making really amazing connections with other people doing things that are interesting to you. Creators connect best with other creators in any field.

  4. I recently spent the first part of my summer living my “ideal days” (I’m a teacher in New Zealand so we just went back to work). It was amazing. House and garden in the morning, blogging in the afternoon… the flow to the days was very satisfying. I just wish I’d stumbled across your website and that of other FIRE people earlier in my life so I could make this a reality sooner! I love adding the month theme to the mix as well with the ideal year.

    • It’s great when we find a pace that balances all the things we care about. With a bit of FI and a bit of side income, a lot of doors open up to start living that permanently. =)

  5. Hi Jillian, thank you for publishing this. I see a blog as a good way of keeping myself accountable on different objectives I have, but also I would like it to bring some income. I just struggle with the idea of whether or not it is worth spending time on it while I already have a demanding career. I know a lot of PF bloggers advise having another stream of income but I wonder if that’s the best option when you are already giving a lot to your primary job. What do you think? And can I ask how much time you spend on your blog weekly?

    I really enjoyed reading you for the last year, thanks for everything!

    • So there is a common misconception that a blog makes money on its own. It’s a marketing tool but not actually income generating. So you really need to think about what income generating things your blog will do. Ads, affiliate links, sponsored posts, freelance work, products, services, there are 1000 options. If you want you can shoot me an email with your blog and ideas for monetization and we can chat a bit about it. =)

  6. You’re a national treasure, Jillian! So glad you and Adam got a couple of nights away from the kids. Not that the kids aren’t wonderful–they truly are–but all parents need a break from the daily drama and havoc that kids naturally create. Thanks for the update and thanks for the Montana pictures. Any chance you guys are gonna swing by the Carolinas on one of your family adventures?

    • Shoot, not this next trip. But the big trip after we are probably going to swing by your new place. It should be all done by then. =) Just level out a nice little patch for our camper and we’re all set. =)

  7. Sounds like you had a fantastic month. Mini vacation, passive income, and you are doing what you love? You show it’s possible to live life on your terms. Congrats for a great start to the New Year

  8. “Our moving target: doing exactly the right amount of all the stuff we love and is important to us.”
    I love that! mini-retirement is kind of where my mind is since the journey to FIRE is still so long… saw you through some link from Rockstar Forum… stopped by to say hi!

    • Mini-retirements are a great way to get a taste of what FIRE would be like, rest and explore new options! We sprinkled 5 of them into our life so far and are richer for each one.