May Spending: manure, growing food, and hitting the gym

early retirement budget with big family

Farmers Market and Manure

Planting our garden might be my very favorite weekend of the year! And buying plants from the farmers market is ABSOLUTLY my favorite way to spend money. I generally dislike shopping, and see it as a dull chore. But not for flowers, veggies and herbs! (Or books, who am I kidding!) I stroll through the farmers market with a big wade of cash and wide, greedy eyes. I want it ALL!

The only saving grace is our very fixed planting space. I was eyeing pumpkin plants and Mr. Mt gives me “the look.” Not the “that’s $2.25 look” more like the “where in the world are we going to grow that!?!” look.  So I only bought one… and said “we’ll figure it out” just like I said about the 6 tomato plants and 3 squash plants or 8 hot pepper plants (those were ALL him!) Plus everything seems like a steal. $1.50 for a beautiful tomato plant? $3 for fushia flowers. Geesh… it’s not even a fair fight.

Plant Cost: $80

We have a local dairy farm here, Kalispell Creamery. We love their dairy products and I found out they also sell poo! Well, composted manure. =) And it’s a heck of a deal. $10 for a cubic yard. For $20 our little pull trailer was WAY past it’s capacity, and I had enough poo for all our planters, bushes and containers. There’s nothing that makes me feel more like a Montana girl than a few hours of shoveling manure. =)

Manure Cost: $20

After planting weekend, all I really like to do in the garden is water and eat. So we make the gardening really low maintenance and mulch the whole thing. We waited for the mulch to go on sale and bought 10 big bags for $20. It means there is almost no weeding all summer, and less watering.

Mulch: $20

By the end of the season this patio will have disappeared under a bed of squash, tomatoes and pumpkins. In the back is our pop-up camper/guest room!



Whitewater rafting Festival

Bigfork Montana

Crazy to watch, but really entertaining!

There are more awesome things happening on any given Spring or Summer weekend in the Flathead Valley than we could possibly take in. Almost all of them are free or super low cost. The yearly whitewater competition is a really fun, free event. In general, I think festivals are fun, but this one is extra awesome because you get to watch crazy young folks compete in kayaks by hurling themselves down rushing whitewater. It’s an athletic feat for sure, but also a touch insane and therefor captivating to watch.

bigfork Montana whitewater festival

All the kids are glued to the action!

One of the competitors took the time to explain to us and the kids all the tricks and techniques. I love hearing people who are passionate about things I know almost nothing about! Plus the grown ups treated themselves to locally brewed beer, and kids got our favorite local ice cream.

Treats (beer and ice cream): $16


Gym Time

During my Spring “think week” I realized that my focus for the next few months needs to be my health. I had felt I only had 2 hours to spare a week to exercise. (And, I um…am 100% in control of my schedule!) I’ll chat more about the work I have been doing in figuring out our scheudual in June’s “Mentoring Question” but the short and skinny is that I needed to set aside more time for meal prep and exercise.

A mid day family hike because it makes me “feel rich”!

So we spent $30 to get unlimited childcare for our 3 youngest. And I started logging 6 hours a week. I have always loved weight lifting since I first started in Jr. High. And that love has stuck with me. Not only does it help reduce my stress and general anxiety, but I just feel strong. Like I can do stuff. Lift stuff, hike places, fix things, shovel out a whole trailer full of cow poo. I feel capable and confident when I lift. I’m already making good progress and am closing in on my personal best numbers.

Cost: Gym membership for 2: $40 

           Childcare for 3 kids: $30


“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.

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.

May’s Joy Money purchase

This was a total impulse buy. I had spent a day digging out our strawberry patch because the weeds had kicked my a**.  After 5 years of fighting them, I gave up. So I dug out 3 feet of crappy, weed infested soil from this miserable planter.

I’m always interested in different plant varieties. We have 6 kinds of raspberries in our yard. 3 kinds of blueberries. 2 apple trees. So these little bushes caught my eye at the farmers market. Jostaberry is a cross between currents and gooseberries. Hum…. Well, heart full of joy, I plopped down $20 and these two lovely bushes. And they found a new home in our yard. Our kids love eating new and weird foods. Especially if they get to pick them! So in the next year or so my joy will be shared with little kids covered in jostaberry juice, which I’m sure will stain everything they touch. =)

New Jostaberry bushes!

Total Joy Money Spent: $20.00

Verdict for May: Win. Money much better spent than on the old cell phone plans! After 2 months with the new cell phone, I’m happier than ever about the phone downgrade. I feel like I’m living the carefree 90’s again. =)

FIRE budget large family

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 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?
  • And can our work/volunteering actually leave 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?

My sweet baby hikes now?!? When did this happen?

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 fixed expenses would land 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) This cash buffer would cover an extra $500 a month for the next 10 years before we would have to touch our investments or need to use earned income.

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

View from our “feel rich” hike

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. We will be using some of the cash to renovate our rentals, which will increase the rents by about $200 between the two rentals in the next 6 months.

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: $2505. SOO close to under budget! I had figured out property tax would push us over, but was really surprised we still came in very close. Within $55!

Giving: $341

Year to date: $10,857: $1393 under budget so far!

Year to date giving: $1208

Year to date Extra Income: $5563

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. We will be investing a bit of our rental fund surplus into rental renovations will increase our net worth, and rental income in the coming months.

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

My “flower” vase from our herb garden

Conclusion: Work Optional still going strong!

I love hearing all your stories about how you are paying off your debt, reducing your expenses and building a little bit of passive income/ growing a side hustle so you have more flexibility in your future. I love the emails you all send me. “I love your blog… we are planning to…take a year off/ retire early/ take a 6 week vacation/ start a side hustle/ pay off the mortgage in 3 years..”. LOVE it! I love all of it! Selfishly, it’s one of my favorite things about doing the mentoring and consultations. I just really love getting to be friends with amazing people: who are chasing down interesting and meaningful things, who see that things can be different and better and are hustling to make that happen. I love being a small part of that. Keep up the good work!

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. =)

My “skittle” strawberries will be ready in a week or two.

Hope you all had a great May!

Join my email community for the best stuff I write each week!


Sign up and grab your FREE copy! Get started planning your next Mini-Retirement.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Add to the conversation! Community is built in the comments section.

12 thoughts on “May Spending: manure, growing food, and hitting the gym

  1. What DEALS you got! Unlimited care for $30 and mulch at $2 a bag? How can you not spend the money!

    If you keep putting your heart into the work optional category you’ll find ways to leverage your passions. Or the work you love will come to you. I’d be very surprised if you go back to the grind.

    • I would be surprised too. =) I recently did a podcast interview and he asked if we were offered twice as much money if we would go back. NOPE. At this point, the money just isn’t a deciding factor for us. If a more normal job offered me the impact, or opportunity to create change that I couldn’t create myself, then I might consider it. But I’m not holding my breath or looking for that. I think I can create the kind of “work” I find the most important and leverages me skills the best, and that I love, and fits the rest of my life better than anyone else can. =)

  2. I have been meaning to ask. What does the # column signify? the one that at the end says 49. Not sure how relevant it is to me but I haven’t figured it out yet.

    • Oh, yeah, the budget program I use adds that. It’s the number of transactions for each category. So not really useful to you, no. =) So we donated to 3 things, paid property tax once, and did 15 trips to the grocery store. So in total, we had 49 transactions in May (although some of those are automated, like our bills, and I automated the entry into our software) I suppose it might be encouraging for folks to know that tracking every dollar might just mean 1-2 entries a day. Or if they have a few hundred transactions a month, to look at why that is.

  3. It’s awesome to see your “giving” budget. My wife and I tithe, so it’s something that goes in our budget as well. Overall, looks like you guys are fairly conservative with your spending, that’s great! Not as much for us. But it’s due to living in an HCOL area, along with paying my wife’s private school NP school tuition. We spend between $10-12K a month =( our housing is a very small portion of that relatively speaking.

    • 10-12k a month is a good size chunk of change! =) We keep a fairly large pile of cash in our giving fund. It helps because it doesn’t really feel like it comes out of that months spending. We have set that money aside already, and add some to it each month. It makes me a more joyful giver. =)

  4. I think gardening has become one of my favorite things. It’s so nice to watch stuff grow and then be able to eat it. I really does make you appreciate food more. Good luck continuing your “work optional” life!

    • I love the gardening weekend! Plus it’s great to go out in the yard in the evening, after the kids are in bed, and water the garden for 10-15 minutes. I can feel my whole body relax. Being outside in the cool of the evening, watering, plants, and the quite just calms me and helps me feel centered. Especially after a frantic bedtime routine with kids running amok. =)

  5. Looking good. I like the gym spending. You need to stay healthy and exercise helps a lot. $70 per month is not bad at all.
    I agree with Mrs. Groovy. $2/bag is so cheap. I think they’re $5-7 per bag here.
    Good job in May.

    • The mulch goes on sale at Lowes a few times a year 5 bag for $10, and we buy it then. It makes gardening so darn easy. =) I’m loving the gym time. Plus it’s also quite time for me. I can relax as I lift and be uninterrupted in my thoughts. And I get to go with my cute husband, so in our rather full lives it feels a bit like a date. =) He has been really focused on his lifting the last 3-4 years and it SHOWS. People hardly recognize him now. =)

  6. I’m a total sucker for great deals on plants/gardening anything! What great deals on the plants, mulch and poop!

    I hate spending much on annuals, so I only have two hanging baskets and two bit planters on my front porch. I was able to fill them for $20 by waiting for the clearance sales. Our peach trees have not done well, so we are trying to decide what to replace them with. Cherries? Plums? Maybe paw paws? I don’t know. I froze 3 quarts of strawberries yesterday and have more coming. I’m an amateur, but still love gardening with all my heart. There’s just something about being outdoors and watching those little seedlings grow and produce the best food ever.

    • I love growing food. And it just feel comforting, being in our yard, surrounded by yummy food. We have neighborhood kids that come to play at our house, who struggle with food scarcity at home. They LOVE our yard. Just SO much food, everywhere. They just eat and eat then fill up their shirts before they go home. =)