July Expenses: Renovation and Summer Fun

early retirement budget with big family

The Renovation Life

In one of the mentoring questions, I talked about how I enjoy doing 2-week renovations. 2 of those a year would be a perfect balance. Time to build and create, then time for family, rest and other creative projects that are less physically tiring. But in July we took on a 4-week project.

Week 1: Repair flat roofs (awesome, it’s fun to get to work after our 2-week beach vacation!)

Week 2: Tear out floors, paint ceilings (Still fun, getting stuff done!)

Week 3: Paint walls, start laying flooring (I’m kinda tired, and sore, are we done yet?)

Week 4: Paint trim, and more trim, finish flooring, put the trim up, more touch up paint (I’m done. DONE. All the joy is gone. I’m SO over painting. 13 gallons interior, 10 gallons exterior and I have been covered in paint for an entire month.)

30 sticks of 8 ft floor trim, plus door and window trim, and every lovely door

The ONLY reason I’m smiling is that it’s our last day!

Here was my take away. This is what life would feel like if we worked regular jobs.  We each put in 20 hours a week. My mom was awesome and helped us out with childcare and we brought one kiddo along as a paid helper. One-on-one quality time with the kids + them learning work ethic= total win! Although my mom was quick to remind me that people generally work 40 hours a week, not 20. True. =)

Honestly, it stretched us as a family. Especially in the summer, when my kids are primed for daily adventure and fun. We still did Family Fun Night and Weekend Adventure. We were still home to have dinner with them and do bed time stories. But it stretched us.

Whenever I give people advice about renovations, I encourage them to know their limits. You can only stretch for so long. Ours used to be 6 weeks. Now, 2 weeks is great, 3 a stretch and apparently 4 lacks all joy.

Maybe we could do 4 weeks in February. But not July. There are just too many other awesome things happening where we live in July. So on to all the other awesome stuff we also tried to fit in!


It’s been a HOT summer. And I don’t just think this because I was working on a roof or painting in a house without air conditioning the whole month (FYI: add 5 gallons of paint drying to a 90-degree house and it feels very much like a sauna!). =) Our garden is living proof! It’s been growing like crazy.

We have a short growing season in the Flathead Valley here in Montana. So any year I can get ripe tomatoes in July I count as a win.

tomatoes in the Flathead valley

Everything has been doing great. We keep the garden really low maintenance. The only thing we really have to tend to is watering. It’s my favorite way to wind down after a day of painting. Chill in the garden, eat raspberries and water things.

In July we picked a half gallon a day! And ate every single one of them. =)

Summer Fun

4th of July Parade

One of the things I love about living here is the constant stream of free events our amazing community hosts. Art festivals, farmers markets, kids events, and in July the cutest 4th of July parades. This year the Budweiser Clydesdales horses were on tour.

bigfork 4th of july parade


Huckleberry picking

Huckleberries in this part of the world are treated like precious stones. Coveted and revered for their deliciousness and value. Shoot, they sell for $50 bucks a gallon. So when you come to an amazing huckleberry patch, it’s hard to pull yourself away. It looks like a sea of money! Plus visions of huckleberry ice cream, bbq sauce for ribs, and syrup for my Christmas Swedish pancakes start to dance in my head.

I should have just bought a gallon.

Going huckleberry picking with little kids is the WORST. You trek through the dense forest. They get all scratched up. Bitten by bugs. They are impossible to find unless you have a super secret spot that even your closest and dearest family members won’t share that magical location.

We made it. And everyone agreed that we won’t do it again next year as a family event. We went out for .25 cent ice cream afterward for a sweet ending to what had to be the worst 2 hours of our entire month.

Barely enough. But we will make it work!


Family Fun Night- Weekend Adventure

I think it’s really important to have a few constants in our lives that keep us grounded as a family. So despite a crazy renovation month we still did Family Fun Night every Friday night. This is a time that we carve out just to have fun and connect as a family. We play games, do crafts, make fun food, and engage. No emails. No phones. No chores.

Pizza on the BBQ!

I can’t take credit for all the family fun night! My mom came up with this awesome watermelon pizza. Plus she did all the set up for making slime (super easy and fun)!

We also enjoyed our Weekend Adventure. We took in farmers markets, art in the park, festivals, hikes, and a few mornings at local playgrounds.


Unlike huckleberry picking, cherry picking is AMAZING!

hockaday orchards Lakeside Montana

We spent a few hours in the orchard picking almost 70 pounds of cherries for a steal of a deal at 1.25 a pound. We were also treated to a few adorable guests; a mama doe and her two teeny tiny fawns who ate all the fruit we dropped.

frugal fun family activities

The trees are loaded down with fruit, so with just one adult picking and one wrangling kids, we harvested 70 pounds in under 2 hours (plus free all-you-can-eat for the whole fam while picking).

We have wised up after years of doing this and now we just dress our kids in their swim suites to pick. The orchard runs along Flathead Lake so after we finished our days work, we let the kids swim for an hour to wash off the cherry juice and dirt (aka cherry mud!)

Cherry mud in full force!

flathead valley personal finance

After a long month of renovations, this was the perfect finish to our month. It’s days like this I want to pinch myself because we get to LIVE here!

As we walked to the lake with our children covered in cherry mud, an older gray haired man, commented on how they looked like they had fun. We ran into him again as we headed back from the lake and he said, “Oh, your children will never forget this memory!” I just smiled. Because it’s true. Our kids LOVE this. And they are growing up so fast. Which is why we opted to take this mini-retirement now. I want to give them another 1000 memories while we have the chance.

70lbs Cherries + a whole morning of fun! : $86


Other expenses:

Car Insurance: $770

We have full coverage on our classic car ($200 a year) and liability on our other two cars ($570). We pay for the full year every July.

“Joy” Money

We switched our cell phone plans which saves us $30+ 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.

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.

July‘s Joy Money purchase

This is kind of a cheat because we didn’t really spend our money, but instead used a gift card we had won! But the joy factor was there, and we left a $10 tip.

We almost never go out to dinner. As in, it had been 12 months. I know, I know. But getting a sitter for 5 kids is a HUGE hassle. So we generally opt for mid day coffee dates while the older kids are in school. But this month we did it!

I am a huge fan of celebrating small wins. And in July, I hit 1000 email subscribers! Which honestly, felt like an over-the-top-jump-up-and-down kind of win for me. It’s a big deal to let someone show up in your inbox each week. I try to really honor that privilege by sending awesome emails each week.

So we went out for a lovely dinner. We celebrated, dreamed bigger dreams, and chatted about all the amazing things that are happening right now. This journey has been crazy, and I felt like we are doing exactly what we should be.

(If I was a better Millennial I would have taken a selfie and pictures of our delish dinner to insert here. #Millennialfail)

Total Joy Money Spent: $10.00 for the tip

mini retirement budget

This month:

Summer almost makes it hard to spend money around here. There are so many things to do and all of them are free. We can’t even start to take in all the free events happening. Plus the amazing hiking, Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, and a host of other things I really want to be doing.

So July provided yet another month of this mini-retirement under budget! If it hadn’t been for a year’s worth of car insurance, our total cost would have only come to $1556.

What about renovation costs???

Here is how we organize all our rental income and expenses. I call it our Rental Fund. It’s part of our cash bucket.

We have a separate checking account for the rentals. All rent checks are deposited into that account each month. The rentals mortgages, insurance, property tax, maintenance or renovations are paid directly from that account. And once a month our income is auto drafted from that account to our personal checking account. We generally keep about 10-15k in the rental fund.

If the amount grows beyond that, it means our rental income is consistently greater than the expenses and income we currently pull. So we can start taking more income. You’ll never see any of these expenses mixed in with our personal expense. Simply because they have never been. We have never had to pull personal money to prop up our rentals cost. They are 100% self-sufficient.

If you are considering having rentals, I highly recommend taking an approach similar to this! If we have a vacancy, big repair or expense, it has ZERO effect on our personal finances. The rental fund has enough buffer to cover any one time issues.

I have an upcoming post planned to detail average renovation costs. Although I don’t have all the numbers crunched on this one yet, between the roof, all new floors, paint and trim, I think we are about at $2,000-$2,500.

One of the many hot pepper plants Mr. Mt picked out!

Monthly Spending: $2316

Giving this month: $226  Beings 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 expenses: $15,647 vs $17150.  $1503 under our passive income so far!

Year to date giving: $7160

Work Optional 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?

We are starting to harvest squash, with LOTS on the way! So long patio.

5 Bucket Method

If you are just tuning in around here, here is the lay out 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. It’s a great method for any financial transition where you are trying to create a life more in line with your goals and values.

Depending on your situation and goals, you would customize these buckets to meet your needs. (I’m going to be offering a small beta program on how to customize this for your situation and goal so people can start a mini-retirement sooner, knock more things off their bucket list, stretch the time longer, and get a better job when they are done! Make sure you are on my email list for the inside scoop. Space will be super limited!)


Bucket 1: Fixed Passive Income

Rentals: $1000 a month after all expenses

Military Retirement Pension: $1450 a month

Total: $2450 

We use bucket 1 to cover all our basic living expenses. It provides 90-110% of these costs. I don’t include investments into this bucket, but instead, just things that pay out a specific amount each month. Rentals, pensions, loan repayments, royalties or anything you have little choice if you “pull” from it or not.

The housing/rental market has been going crazy here. Between that fact and the major renovation we just completed, this amount will increase by $200 next month.

Bucket 2: Cash Buffer

Cash buffer: About $55,000 (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.

Magical kale forest. I harvest a huge pile and the next day, it’s entirely regrown.

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: $190,000

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).

$633 a month right now with 4% withdrawal.

Untouched for another 6 years it would provide about $1,000 a month income, growing at 8% to $295,000 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.

I bet we get 100+ tomatoes in August!

Bucket 4: Side Hustle/Extra Income

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.

Because the first 3 buckets cover all our needs and wants, we currently use this bucket as “extra.” Extra money for investments to help those grow faster (bucket 3). Extra money for giving. Right now, I reinvest most of this income into business expenses plus classes, mentors, and information products.

Because ours is just ear marked for giving or business expenses, we get to be really picky about what kinds of projects we take on and how much we do. (Just stuff we love, 3 hours a day.)

Our tax returns also go into this bucket earmarked to fill our giving fund.

2016 Tax return: $5,500

Extra Income (year to date) : $6,448

Bucket 5: Future Passive Income

Rental Mortgage 1 payoff: + $189 a month

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

Rental Mortgage 2 payoff: +$512 monthly payment 

$96,000 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 still going strong!

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, volunteering or hanging out with friends. It’s all just stuff we love. =)



Hope you all had a great July!

Any travel or projects planned this summer?

How’s your garden going?

Do you feel an overwhelming obligation to enjoy summer as much as possible? Maybe it’s a northern thing.

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19 thoughts on “July Expenses: Renovation and Summer Fun

  1. Huckleberries!! My yankee side of my family taught me to love huckleberries when we would travel to Michigan. I never went picking, but was always warned to look out for bears if I decided to…. So I never decided to try it. ?
    I’m so excited you got to write your 5 buckets in detail! We have been discussing them since we chatted and have been dreaming big! All thanks to your encouragement!! Thank you!
    PS. I love projects, but 4 straight weeks would be super tough. Looks great though!!

    • Oh, the bears do love huckleberries even more than we do! They generally won’t kill over them, but if a bear wants your patch, it’s best to just leave. =) And bring bear spray (think pepper spray strong enough to deter an angry grizzly bear!)

      I might not mind 4 weeks if all the kids were in school and it was -20 below outside. But not July! =) I’m glad to hear you guys are planning and dreaming. It was awesome to get to chat with you! I’m excited to see how things progress. =)

  2. What a lovely summer! I love all of the outdoor activities you have done with your kids, perfect time to soak up the sun and enjoy the little adventures 🙂

    We have stayed close to home this summer, but will be hosting family next week (first time they will be in northern MI… we can’t wait to show them around!) and we plan to go to Mackinac Island in September. Being the first year in our new home, we have been “accidental grower”, harvesting what pops up in our yard! We have had morel mushrooms, mulberries, and ramps with apples, pears and grapes in the works.

  3. We had a rental vacancy in June/early July, and I think getting the flip done exhausted Jon. (He only accepts minimal help from me, but my DIY skills are rudimentary at best.)

    I think the enjoy summer thing is built in from when we are kids…summer vacation is supposed to be the best time of your life (except maybe Christmas). It’s time for self-exploration, pursuing interests, maybe a little extra independence, as well as travel and relaxation. It’s interesting, because my daughter’s in a year-round school and doesn’t have the same associations (or experiences). She’s used to 9 weeks in, 3 weeks out. Track out is less about combating summer doldrums with creativity and self-exploration than R&R.

    That said, summers in Raleigh can be crazy hot and humid, so as an adult, it’s October rather than July I savor.

    • I never grew accustomed to a hot and humid summer. I love the dry weather and cold nights. Plus cool mornings. By the time we get up, it’s only 60 or 65 in our yard. It’s the best of both worlds. I wear sweaters in the morning, and tank tops in the afternoon. An early morning hike in the summer is pure joy. It’s interesting how we can be conditioned to have an expectation of the season. This far north and in wheat and cattle country, summer takes on a life of it’s own. My whole fb feed is wheat feilds and combines harvesting, day’s at the lake or on the river, and camping trips this time of year. =) Make hay while the sun shines applies to work and fun. =)

  4. Great post! Appreciate all the detail on how to use the money to find life – you’re right, not many people share that part.

    I’m so glad I got to meet you last month!

    • It was so good to meet you too! And I think most people master the saving/budget/investing first. But knowing which bucket to keep the money, where to pull from first, and all those draw down strategies are less talked about. I think if people could figure that peice out, they might take a mini retirement or retire much earlier!

  5. Such an interesting post. We’re considering a similar remodel – so question: Where’s the best source for the trim? We went looking at Lowe’s and the price just seems a bit steep given the volume needed… Help?

    • We bought this trim at Lowes. I like to buy simple trim (multiple discount, lower cost and easier to paint). We actually bought this for a different project that we never got around to, so I can’t remember the exact price. Usually for a whole house I plan $300- $500 for floor trim. Add in windows and doors and your closer to $500-1000 for a 1500sq ft house.

  6. Great post, you guys make me feel lazy! 🙂 We just got back from a 2 week road trip out west, rented a house in Livingston, Mt. for a week. Made it to Yellowstone, spent a day in Bozeman and just wandered around that area. Beautiful State you live in, but it was hot! However we didn’t mind it too much due to the lack of humidity that we are use to being from Michigan. And yes, my wife and I noticed huckleberries are a big deal out there! Hope to get back there again soon.

    • That sounds like a great trip! Next time, just add one more week and make the trek up to the Flathead Valley!!! And it has been a hot summer. At least we have cool mornings, and if you stay up late enough, cool nights. =) Yellowstone is crazy this time of year, but May or September it is pure magic. =) Although I was there 10 years ago in May and it snowed so much my tent collapsed….twice!

    • I feel so torn about school. I love the rhythm and steady schedule, but I miss the fun daily adventures. We are trying to squeeze what we can into the rest of the summer while we got it, so I will be happy to move on to the school year again.

  7. You’re been so busy! I had a lot of big plans for this summer, but it’s been quite an ordeal just to venture out of the house with all five kids (including the newborn twins).

    Your mini-retirement seems to be going so well. Thank you for sharing your numbers and I like the five bucket method – it really shows how there are different ways to reach FIRE other than one huge amount invested in the stock market. Hopefully we’ll be able to achieve our own version (financial semi-independence) in a few more years. I can definitely relate to wanting to spend time with the kids while they’re young.

    Enjoy those huckleberries and cherries 🙂

    • Oh the twins!!!! Congrats. What a sweet and exhausting time. =) Kids are a huge motivator to have a mini-retirement and create flexible work options. The time feels so fleeting. I don’t want to push through the time, but really be able to enjoy it. We are always trying to find that perfect balance. I know they won’t want to be near us 24/7 forever! That season is already closing in for our oldest. =(

  8. You should pinch yourself! In fact, I’m going to pinch you a few times (lightly) when I see you!

    What a great life, Jillian. And I’m so happy your mom has been there to help. Your children will remember these times for the rest of their lives – at least most of them will. I don’t know about you but my memories go back to when I was around 4 years old.

    That obligation to enjoy summer may be a northern thing. I know I felt it when I lived in NYC — before I met Mr. Groovy. There were times I was very depressed. And you feel even worse during summers in NYC because everyone else is doing fun stuff like going to the Hamptons, or doing the night-life thing, and you want to stay indoors. When it’s winter in NY you can fake feeling like everyone else, because everyone hibernates more.

    • It’s one reason I love the seasons. Each one is so unique. The things we do, activities and how we spend our free time. It changes in each season. I think I would get bored living in an area with year round weather. I love winter, in that it gives me permission to rest. =) Or renovate. Or write, or create or drink even more tea (if that is even possible!)

    • Oh I love a good side hustle. =) It was a great month renovating and great to be done! I enjoy the variety of things to keep us busy. Too much of any of it and I get burned out, even vacations.