September Expenses and Unexpected Insights

early retirement budget with big family


Every once in a while, everything falls into place! It’s been almost 2 years since we walked away from the 9-5 jobs. September was a long-awaited “Ah-ha!” moment for me. Two big things happened for me in September.

I worked. And I rested.

And it was AMAZING!

Ok, let me unpack that a bit more.

I worked: I generally tinker around with my blog stuff for an hour, two hours, maybe three hours a day. I write. I read. I email with awesome readers and blogger friends. I respond to comments. I chat with people on Skype. You know, really hard work.

Septemeber was different. I legit worked. And I loved it. I put in almost a normal amount of work hours for two whole weeks, people! To call it 9-5 might be a stretch. But it wasn’t just an hour of my normal tinkering either.

I organized, wrote and filmed two entire courses in two weeks! Now granted, I had been thinking, planning and rolling these ideas around in my head for, um, like 8 months. But making them wasn’t even the awesome part.

I sent out a sign-up to my very cool email subscribers for a beta-run of my Mini-Retirements Mastered course, and in 12 hours the whole thing was full up. THEN the fun started. All these ideas I had pulled together, this whole process I had created…I got to watch an amazing group of people apply that to their lives! And it was pure magic for me. All the feedback, transformation, and changes made me want to cry tears of joy. That was the just the first two weeks.

Then I rested.

The last two weeks…well. I wrote a bit. Went out to dinner with friends. Had friends come visit. Hiked on the cool autumn days. Did my 4 workouts a week. Hung out with my kids from the moment they stepped off the bus till bedtime. Read a few books. Took about a dozen soaks in the tub. Dried everything that grows in our oven and new (to us) dehydrator: apples, bananas, mint, tomatoes, deer jerky, plums, raspberry leaves.

And I spent some time with the folks working through the courses. We emailed. We chatted in our private fb group. I did a few ridiculous fb live videos with my dog Cheesy Taco. I Skyped with a few people.

Every once in a while in life, we get these little glimpses that say, “Oh, THIS. This is what I should be doing.” September was one of those glimpses for me.

While I have always loved blogging. The course was an entirely different experience. I loved the small, personal feel. I loved getting to know everyone, the stories, and their plans. Through the videos, worksheets, and process, I was able to teach a huge, overwhelming idea, step by step in a manageable way over 3 weeks. Then I was able to witness the transformation up close. The plans changed, the timelines changed, the clarity of what people wanted out of life, the perspectives changed.

I’ll be forever grateful to the 25 brave, supportive folks who jumped first with me in this journey. I’m so excited to follow each of your journeys over the next few years and see how these plans take shape!

Plus it was just calmer. Last year Adam took a few college classes. He wanted to try a few things and learn a few new skills, like electrical wiring and welding. Not that he had any desire to do those as a full-time job, just something he had always been interested in. A mini-retirement seemed like the perfect time to explore those interests. And that was great. Except…. it kind of made things a bit hectic. Just sort of this rushed feeling most weeks. It was still a 100x better than life had been while we were working, so I didn’t mind or notice too much.

But this semester, he is taking a break from college classes. This is better.

(Mini-Retirements Mastered isn’t available right now. I’m going back in and polishing the whole thing up plus adding some cool new features! But it will be available to everyone by the end of November! It won’t be open year round. Just once or twice a year, so we can work through it as a group. Make sure you sign up for my email newsletter to be notified when it opens up again.)

This month:

September Expenses

Monthly Spending: $1829

September was kind of our basic core expenses with normal life. No long trips and travel. No big bills came due. We did stock up on quite a few things at Costco. Our grocery bill not only includes things like food but also personal care items like razors, soaps, toothpaste and paper products. We bought 6 sticks of deodorant and about a 2 years supply of razors!

The best parts of our month rarely show up on in our expenses, with travel being the exception. The smoke finally cleared up in September so we were outside enjoying the fall weather constantly.

We did a few trips to Flathead Lake. Hiked in local state parks. Went to city parks. Took part in a few free community events. Played in the yard and garden. And I spent almost every day dehydrating one thing or another.

Last raspberry harvest for the year

Giving this month: $226 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 expenses: $19,908. $2542 under our passive income for the year!

Year to date giving: $7386


Other expenses:

New license plate: We have “permanent plates” on all our vehicles so we never need to pay to register them again. But one was torn off during our trip, so we had to pay to replace it! Being as it was torn off due to travel, we put that expense under “vacation”. Lamest vacation expense EVER.

Total cost: $40

Clean the van:

To be honest, our van is almost always a disaster. With 5 kids who seem only able to carry a stack of artwork into the van but not out….it gets crazy fast. After 2 weeks on the road in August, the ick factor was high. My amazing hubby detailed the whole inside at the car wash, all the way to washing the mats!

Total cost: $10.50

Cereal Sale: Twice a year the local grocery stores have a huge cereal sale and we stock up. A few dozen boxes later….

Total cost: $52

Plums: We spent an afternoon picking over 20lbs of plums at a private orchard. It was a first for the kids and a lot of fun over an unexpected 5 day weekend. Days of eating fresh plums and drying them ensued.

Total cost: $12

Food dehydrator: After a few rounds of drying our autumn harvest in the oven and having a blast with that, we started thinking about a dehydrator. Instead of buying one new, we decided to start with a used one, just in case. $10 later, it’s made a few rounds of apple chips, banana chips and dried raspberry leaves for tea.

Total cost: $10

dried tomatoes in oven

deer jerky frugal living low cost snacks

Deer jerky in the oven



“Joy” Money

We switched our cell phone plans which save us $30+ each month (From $66 to $27 for both phones). 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, supercharge your investing or in this case….add a little joy.

September’s Joy Money purchase: I’m a big fan of celebrating! We generally keep our expenses low, but we always want to carve out a little money and time to celebrate. So in September, we bought a pinata, some candy, set up the bouncy house, and had a few friends over to celebrate our kids “gotcha day” aka adoption day. Two years ago we stood in court in front of friends and family and became a family officially!

I can’t think of a better way to spend this joy money than celebrating things that we are already so grateful for!

Total Joy Money Spent: $22


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?

take a year off

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. 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.

Bucket 1: Fixed Passive Income

Rentals: $1200 a month after all expenses

Military Retirement Pension: $1450 a month

Total: $2650 

We use bucket 1 to cover all our basic living expenses. I don’t include investments into this bucket. Rentals, pensions, loan repayments, royalties or anything you have little choice if you “pull” from it or not.

We recently completed a major renovation, increasing our rental income by $200 this summer. Over the next few years, we will continue to invest in this rental to position it as a “mid-priced or premium” rental. Our total budget is $10,000 for the updates.

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.

It was like every stone on this beach was made for skipping!

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 in monthly 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.

mini-retirements with kids

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 earmarked for giving or business expenses, we get to be really picky about what kinds of projects we take on and how much we do.

The beta run of the Mini-Retirement Masted course brought in enough money to pay for all the hosting, graphic design and audio upgrades. I’m going to be retooling the entire course, plus adding some expert interviews in October and early November. While it’s currently not available, it should be ready for a new group of students by the end of November!

The other course I created was born out of the 1-on-1 blog coaching I started in the spring. I decided to put all the ideas and process I was teaching to other new bloggers into one place. Partly because I had to turn away a number of mentoring clients because my schedule was full, and this is a way I can still help. Plus for those whom the cost of 1-on-1 mentoring is just too expensive, this course is a great alternative. It’s literally everything I teach. But at a fraction of the price.

You can check it out here: Before You Blog. There is a promo video on that page that explains everything the course covers! (If you are a blogger and would be interested in offering this to your readers as an affiliate, just shoot me an email.

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

2016 Tax return: $5,500

Extra Income (year to date) : $9,698

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 

$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.

Second to last tomato harvest for the season!

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. =)


Mint from the garden in our “new” dehydrator

For Conversation:

Are you getting back into the autumn routine?

Do you ever buy a used version before going all in on the new item you actually want?


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20 thoughts on “September Expenses and Unexpected Insights

  1. I completely, completely lucked out on a dehydrator this year! I was talking about the frustration of dehydrating apples with a coworker (using a dehydrator that I borrowed from friends, who bought it at a garage sale), and she offered to GIVE me hers! $0 is a price I very much like! She said it just took up space in her apartment. I was blown away. She didn’t even want apple chips as payment!

    • $0 is a very nice price! I bet there are a lot of dehydrators just taking up space. =( It was part of the reason we wanted to try a used one first, just to see if we would actually use it! The one we found is far too small for our family. But it’s a great practice run for this year or two.

  2. Thank you for such a detailed report on how you make your finances work. It is helpful to people like me closing fast on retirement. I’m sure it was a bit hectic when Adam was taking classes, but I’m also sure he’s glad to have all that practical knowledge in hand now!

    • I’m glad the numbers are helpful. It’s still a little weird for me, but I think it’s useful for others, so I’ll keep it up for a while. =) And I am glad Adam knows how to do more of this stuff! Especially the electrical. Those classes were really helpful! He actually got really good at wiring. Not quite at “wire our entire home” level, but close! =)

  3. Are you trying to convince me to try a mini-retirement? If so, you are doing a great job! 😉

    We are enjoying the fall feel and took to our yard for a cool evening bonfire last night. I enjoy the activity of summer (getting out for lots of adventures!) but fall/winter allow me some time to reset and complete the house projects which I ignore all summer!

    ~Mrs. Adventure Rich

    ps- Congratulations on the Plutus nomination! I am looking forward to my first FinCon this year!

    • Sweet! Mini-Retirements for everyone. =) Well, that’s my goal at lest. 😉

      And I totally agree about Fall. It’s my time for inside projects, computer work, and reno. Oh, and lots of books and hot baths. =)

      And thanks about the Plutus!!! I’m really excited for FinCon and getting to see everyone. =)

  4. What cell phone company do you use? We live in Northern Wyoming and are interested in switching but want decent but not perfect coverage? Loved the extra info on how you spend your time.

    • We use a local company, Red Dot. But they can offer coverage anywhere. They use Verizon minutes. Here is the phone number, they have a number of plans. (406) 257-5999. They also have a price list sheet they can email you.

  5. Great work! You’ve got me day dreaming of all the wonderful ways I could be spending my time if I could just get away from that blasted cubicle. I may just need inspiration from you and call it quits sooner than planned. Maybe a challenge to myself is in store…

  6. I know that now is not yet our time, we need to recover and strategize, but I know that we’re looking to have the same level of choices in our future! I wish I’d gotten to this mental place a little before having kids but all things in their place and time.

    And it turns out I’m making it (barring any really crappy surprises) to FinCon so I’ll see you there!

  7. I love the concept of 2 weeks of hard work followed by 2 weeks of rest. If we were a bit further along in our income, I’d love to be doing that right now, but instead both Jaime and I are working hard every week for 6 hours a day and then a few hours twice a week after the kids are in bed. That said, it’s on work that I really love – the blog, the app, everything.

    I can definitely anticipate a world where our mini-retirement shifts into a more “work optional” scenario. Right now, we’re living off savings, but eventually that runs out unless we create a replacement income. Working on doing what we can!

    • Keep hustling for now! You guys have really carved out the time to do a 180 in your work/life so take advantage of it! After you have things more set up, you can fine tune to bring it closer to your ideal day. I think having that “ideal” in my mind really helps me filter what might work and what isn’t a great fit.

  8. I have been a terrible blog follower as of late and wish I had known about your course! I am so thrilled to hear how well it is going and the amount of joy you have gotten from the process of creating. My family/friends like to tease that I am semi retired because the nature of my job has me home more days than I work, but a mini retirement sounds so much better. To know I don’t have to go in at all. I have a similar plan on the horizon – just working out a few kinks before I can fully commit. 🙂

    And, what do you do with raspberry leaves? Tea?? You know I am all about the raspberries!! Seeing your bushes with frost on them was a dagger to my heart.

    • I should have it ready for a new group in Nov. =) And I do make tea out of the raspberry leaves. I use to buy it from Yogi tea, but now I can just dry my own. I like to mix it with green tea or mint. Apparently, it’s supposed to be good for uterus related things. 😉

  9. Sounds like a great month! We also celebrate each child’s adoption day (we call it their “family day”). Actually, we celebrate the day we got custody (came to live with us) rather than adoption finalization.

    • That’s great! I think it’s so important to celebrate the good things in life. =) Even though our adopted kids are half-siblings, they came to us on different days, but were all adopted on the same day. So we kind of treat it as a celebration of the whole family. Plus for our family, the day they were dropped off wasn’t exactly a happy day. The loss and grief were still palpable. Whereby adoption day, it was much more joyous. At this point, they probably wouldn’t care, as long as there is cake! Really any reason for cake is a good day around here. =)

  10. Ms. Montana: I have a few questions after discovering your blog this week. I apologize if you’ve answered some of these in other posts (I’ve read a number and the “our story” page, but I couldn’t find an easily summed up overall post that included the breakdown of this information). I’ve been on the FIRE path for a couple years, and your blog is reigniting my determination – we are the same age (I had to restart after the ex left a couple years ago), and I have at least ten years at the current rate! So, your ability to make FIRE happen without ever making six figures is really inspiring me.

    1. Health insurance: is this covered with military benefits (seeing as there’s a pension, too)? Normally, this expense category for a large family would be 10x your stated amount.
    2. Military retirement: did your husband complete 20 years? (just curious, I’m a total civilian, so I know nothing about how this works)

    Even if you have #1 covered through a benefit, your numbers are really impressive and should inspire those of us who might think we can’t make FIRE happen because of x, y, z…

    • Thanks so much Lauren! We do have healthcare from the Army, and my husband was medically retired after 10 years. The healthcare is 80/20 but no monthly payment. I don’t have vision and pay $60 for dental just for me. There is a $3000 a year cap, which is awesome. When we had our last baby, it was about $1000 out of pocket.

      I’m glad you are getting excited about the idea again. Let me know if I can help. =)