A showroom quality car wash for less than $1.00

I still remember being a little kid and my grandpa driving through a full service car wash. We got to walk through and watch the car get blasted with these funny colored foams and then blasted with fans loud enough that conversation was impossible. I could just stare in awe as the army of guys armed with towels coming out of every pocket descended on the car and began wiping every surface. It was then and still is an impressive display of luxury in our world. For around $25 today you can experience this at your closest full service car wash. The one near me ranges from $25 – $45 for a much more clean and luxurious experience. These places do a great job, but what if you could get an even better looking car at the end and spend next to nothing? You might even get a little tan or some stronger muscles out of the deal.

Here is how my grandpa used to wash his cars before a parade. He built the cars himself from junk yard parts. When he washed the cars for parade day he was gonna make sure they were as close to perfect as they could, but also making sure he didn’t have to spend any more money than was necessary.

1930 Model A
1930 Ford my grandpa built from a junk yard – also some very cool 90s teenagers


Here is your arsenal of consumables:

  • Wheel & Tire cleaner – anything that says degreases will do, get whatever is cheapest and on sale from your local auto parts store or online. I have a 64oz bottle I refill a spray bottle with. It has lasted more than a year at a price of $14.00
  • Wash fluid – Get the best price per ounce on a foaming concentrate wash fluid mine was another 64oz that typically lasts about one year washing three cars regularly. $6.49
  • Tire Shine foam – I always buy the No Touch brand just because my dad always did. This stuff is not necessary but does a great job on the final finish; it makes such a difference that it’s clearly one of the secrets to making cars look new. One can lasts 8 months on three vehicles – $6.99

One time purchases/acquisitions:

  • Microfiber towels – Get a bunch, 20 or so that are bought in bulk packages. I’ve found Costco and Autozone to make the best 3-10 packs. Also get 3-5 larger and much more high quality versions. When you are shopping for these you are looking for fluffy feeling and the packaging to say “finish”.
  • 5 gallon buckets – I use 4 buckets, but that’s just because I have 2 that are permanently stuck together and one is my chair for when I’m doing wheels. You’ll be fine with 2 that are new or at least very clean inside.
  • Wheel brush kit – Just get a generic one, make sure the brush fits between your wheels and has bristles on all sides.

Here is the process – Let’s call it the clean bucket system.
The idea of this system is to never let a dirty towel touch the clean water or clean towels.

  • Fill your wash bucket with whatever the recommended amount on the container says and add water until ½ full (2.5 gallons)
  • Add your ¾ of your bulk microfiber towels and mix very well
  • Give your vehicle a gentle rinse to get any easy dust off (optional if you are in extremely limited space, you’ll just use more towels is all)
  • The towels should be pretty saturated at this point. Take 1 towel and begin scrubbing your car down. When it starts to feel like the towel has run out of soap and water mix then throw that towel in the dry bucket. Repeat this step until you have scrubbed all surfaces of the car, including the door jams
  • Rinse as needed, I live in a very dry place so typically I break this up into 4 equal parts during the whole process.
  • Scrub any foreign particles aggressively with the soapy towel until they come off. 
  • After you have washed and rinsed you’ll need to start drying. Use the remaining bulk microfiber towels for this job and add them to the dry bucket.
  • Grab your clean, higher quality microfibers and wipe down all surfaces after the car is fully dry. (This is a crucial step if you want showroom quality)

If you lived in a place without access to a hose that can reach your vehicle this process still works with an additional bucket that is just full of water and a few extra towels. Your rinse process is using a clean and wet towel to rinse the soap off.

Alright so now the body of the car looks like brand new and you’ve spent nothing other than a small amount of water and a small amount of consumables. At this point most wash cycles you are done. However, when you are really going for that parade look you can’t leave those wheels with all that road and brake dust can you?

Here is how you get your wheels to be admired:

  • Wet the wheels, I will usually use the remaining wash bucket and equally dump it on all the wheels, careful to splash too much on the body or you’ll need to wipe that down.
  • Hit the wheels with the Wheel & Tire cleaner – do a good coat including inside of the wheel.
  • Go clean up – The cleaner needs to do its job and now is a perfect time to put your wash stuff away. (keep 2 towels very wet with the wash solution)
  • After 3 minutes or more your wheels will be ready for your 2 Tire Towels. Get in there and make sure you touch every surface you can with mild to medium force. Each wheel should take you at least 2 minutes. If it’s been awhile you may need more towels and a little more time.
  • Spray the wheel down with water to remove all the excess grime
  • Wipe any areas you missed now that the water did its job
  • When the tires dry spray on a thin layer of the Tire Shine Foam. Let dry
  • Once everything is totally dry go back and wipe the wheels (not tires) down with a dry microfiber

This is everything you need to make your car look like you spent $25+ on a car wash when in reality you spent around $1, got a decent workout and have a pride of ownership that you did it yourself.

The final product

Building Raised Garden Beds – Efficiently

It’s no secret that our family dreams of a homestead where we grow our own food, raise our own animals and live a life more connected to our planet. These goals are very real for us and we plan to pull the trigger at full FI/RE in the next 3-5 years. In the meantime while we cannot have that full dream today we can take steps to learn in the kiddy pool before jumping in the ocean.


One of the big projects I wanted to do was figure out an affordable way to build raised garden beds. I’ve seen tons of people spend a lot of time on craigslist and get free materials. That is absolutely wonderful that you can do that. I, however, do not have the time and energy to track all that down. I also live about an hour away from most of civilization so it’s gonna be a big journey and then dealing with the craigslist curse that 50% of the time the deal dies or is gone when you get there when it involves free. Free is best, but my time has value and I wanted the project to be efficient and affordable. 

Instead of sourcing the materials on craigslist or facebook market I went to our local lumber yard. I made sure to not go to a chain, but the one that is locally owned and asked if they had any 1 bys that were warped or damaged that the contractors didn’t want. Sure enough I got a sizable discount on some slightly warped or damaged wood.

The next step in the process is to get some food safe stain since this lumber is not treated there needs to be some layer of protection from the elements and the soil it’s going to hold back. I know the research says that all wood stain is food safe when it’s fully cured but it’s only about $2 more for my entire project to get the food safe stain. Even if it’s an unnecessary precaution it’s just so cheap that you might as well. 


The other benefit of buying from a lumber yard is that they cut everything exactly to my drawings. I wanted my beds to be 3’x6’, two boards tall with cedar fence posts at 18” at 6 points. I was able to have a professional with a bad ass saw make all my cuts for this project in all of three minutes. Here is the picture of the finished product. I added shelves from some scraps to mount the greenhouse (we are already close to our first frost). 

Total cost of the project, including the 3.5″ deck screws that will last me a year
$109

Not bad considering that built three 3’x6’ garden beds and I have deck screws to last many other projects. On Homedepot.com you can purchase a 3’x6’ raised garden bed kit for $93.46 plus shipping and tax. That one appears to have no additional reinforcements whereas mine has the cedar fence posts which was a large % of the total budget. 

Do it yourself to save a bunch of money, have some pride and satisfaction that you designed  and built something for yourself then go use your savings to buy you and your sweetie an ice cream cone.

Here are the instructions if you wanted to copy what I did.

To make 1 bed
6 – posts – Cedar fence posts cut to 18″ each
4 – plywood, pine, cedar, whatever, just thin and 3′ long
4 -plywood, pine, cedar, whatever, just thin and 6′ long

Position the cedar posts flush with the 3′ boards and begin drilling decking screws from the outside into the cedar posts. 6 screws in a rectangle on each board will be more than sturdy.

In the middle of the 6′ boards screw the cedar posts to both the sidewall boards. Continue fastening the cedar posts to all sides and you’re ready to fill with soil!

We have a long way to go until we are growing 80% of our food, but these first steps of sustainability will provide for us on a small scale until we are ready to fully commit and will also teach us valuable skills and lessons that are much less costly on a small scale then when you are planting on a 50x scale.

Work Worth Doing

I have always been intrigued by the concept of ‘retiring early’, but have felt like an outsider for the majority of my time reading other blogs, forums and sub-reddits. The closest I’ve found is Mr. Money Mustache and I think the biggest reason for that is that I subscribe to work that is enjoyable or makes the world a better place is work worth doing at every income level.

That’s really the purpose of our FIRE journey; we seek a life that is filled with work worth doing. This can mean an infinite amount of things to different people, but I define work worth doing as performing a task that is enjoyable and has a positive impact on a life or the world. In my world this means putting the energy into growing our own food, raising our own animals to reduce worldwide emissions and suffering, spending significant energy on raising our children to be stewards of the world, etc.

Work worth doing is much more easily defined by the list of what it’s not. That list is just about anything that you do for ‘just a paycheck’. I have been an accountant for many years and while I enjoy helping friends solve their business accounting issues I absolutely hate doing the daily tasks that are associated with this career. No one is passionate about processing payroll, invoices, payables, managing a team of accountants, and a thousand other mindlessly stupid tasks that suck up my daylight hours in the pursuit of money.

If you step back and think of the most fun you’ve had doing work then turn it into a list I would bet most everything on that list was from volunteering or doing something for your family. At the very least, I’ll be there is little on the list you got paid for. Here is mine in no particular order

Hiking trail in Niabi Zoo I built
  • Building a hiking trail in a zoo (volunteer)
  • Building a race course for our High School MTB team (volunteer)
  • Learning how to grow our own food (family)
  • Replacing spark plugs on my Porsche (money saving, rewarding as hell)
  • DIY kitchen renovation (family)

Basically anytime I spend energy and effort to solve a problem in our family’s life I feel rewarded far more than when I go to work and spend money to solve the problem. The truth is that I make a lot of money per hour to sit at a desk. It would be far more efficient for me to continue working as much as possible and simply spend money to solve every problem that comes up in life. I even tried this quite a few times and still there are problems that are not worth my energy and effort while I’m still employed (a full boiler replacement for one).

The American experiment is a facade and we are seeing it peeling away at a rapid rate. Doing mindless tasks for money to then use to solve your problems makes people feel dead inside and this process is reinforced by consuming. Get a higher paying job so you can buy more shit! Hire a housekeeper, pay someone to wash your car, grow your food, take your trash, exercise your dog, etc etc etc. If you aren’t happy maybe you just don’t have enough shit? The fallacy here is that cleaning your house or walking your dog are somehow tasks that are not to be enjoyed when the truth is that your 8+ hours a day in an office is what’s not to be enjoyed and if you didn’t have to work so fucking much you would actually be able to live your life.

Let’s all work together to end the consumer lifestyle. Stop outsourcing your happiness and live life. I’m working on it very hard and have been for almost 10 years. The end is in sight for us, but the process is not easy. You have to break free from society’s expectations of success. Just ask yourself if the consumerist cycle is working for you; I’d be willing to bet it’s not. It sure wasn’t for us.

The Seltzer Experiment

I like to think I buck the norms and pave my own path. At the end of the day my wife and I are millennials and with that I suppose some stereotypes are true. We are addicted to seltzer. Like most of you that share this affliction you likely tried a Sodastream at some point. After all the machine seems much cheaper than just buying seltzer in cans from the supermarket. After the Sodastream started to seem a little too expensive and annoying to change out the tiny canisters I figured that if this company is packaging such an easy concept that there must be a more  direct way.

From my research the cheapest way to get seltzer is to make it yourself,  but you have to get your gas supply at  your local gas supplier, a company like Airgas. 

There are quite a few levels you can take from here depending on how much work you want to put in up front. Our setup is pretty basic. It’s a 20lb CO2 tank attached to a regulator with removable caps that attach to 2L Pepsi or Coke bottles. Take a 2L of cold water, attach to tank, turn on, put in fridge. 

I’m interested to try the same concept with 5 gallon kegs that you then dispense from refrigerators modified with a beer tap. While a lot more up front work and cost this seems like a fun project that will still save money in the long run. Plus, how many people can say they have seltzer water on tap. 

If we are going strictly for cost savings then the 2L option we are currently using is going to be hard to beat. The upfront costs of the regulator and caps was right at $140. A tank exchange is $44 in my area and makes about 90 gallons of seltzer at our favorite carbonation rate. That’s the equivalent of 960 cans. 

Some quick math:
First tank –  $188 for 960 ‘cans’ or 20 cents a can
960 cans bought in bulk in actual cans (Walmart store brand)- $3.22/12 or 26 cents a can 

The insane thing is that there is no payback period on your investment. It starts paying off on the first tank! This math gets even better as our above example just amortized the entire cost of the operation in the first tank. This means that your second tank and onward will cost 4.5 cents a can equivalent.  Each additional cap for a 2L bottle is about $8.90 on Amazon (get the stainless steel ones, they’ll last years) so you can even add a 2L to your stockpile every 10 bottles and you’ll still come out way ahead. 

We have found that keeping two 2L’s loaded with CO2 and capped with one full 2L that hasn’t been gassed yet is the right amount in the fridge for two regular users. It’s so simple to gas one, but you need the water cold first so that’s why we refill one after use and just get it cold. We also recycle the bottles every 3-6 months and replace them with a fresh Coke (which should be included in the cost, you could ask friends or co-workers for their empty 2L’s and you’ll get more than you could ever want). Remember the expiration date on the bottle is as much for the Coke as it is for the bottle. I am currently researching some more permanent bottles but have yet to find anything I’m willing to try. 

From here I’ll be doing the experiment in my free time of locating a suitable size and cheap fridge along with the necessary parts to do the beer tap build. We are redoing our kitchen so this project is on hold until that’s done. Until then I strongly recommend getting yourself a tank, regulator and some caps. If you happen to find a good bottle that can be reused under 45lb of pressure then link it below.

Growing Our Own Food – Update September 2020

2020 is our year of learning the basic skills we need to homestead and inch closer to food independence as we can in the future. You can learn more about our long term homesteading goals here. Disclaimer: We are learning and know basically nothing. If you are reading this to learn how to grow food or homestead you are in the wrong place. There are countless amazing people on youtube and bloggers to follow if you are trying to learn. Some of our favorites are Roots and Refuge Farms MLGardner    Whispering Willow Farms

These people know their shit; we don’t.

What we started with

  • We started this project late, late June and July is when we really started getting serious about learning to grow our own food. We had been interested for years, but always put it off for whatever reason was convenient at the time (usually our environment which is pretty harsh for plants – 8,000’ elevation and 6-7 months of winter) 
  • 3 raised bed – 3’x6’
  • Fence planting space
  • 1 – build it yourself greenhouse (nothing planted currently)
  • A few misc beds and planting spaces we picked up from craigslist/FB marketplace
  • 1 indoor grow room with a seed starting LED light, HED grow light, Ebb & Flow hydroponic setup and a full set of nutrients to grow fruit/veg producing plants
  • No knowledge of how to grow plants for food

So far our small scale production has been pretty fruitful for a first year that started late. Our tomato plants haven’t been mega producers but every plant has produced edible and delicious fruit. The same with our strawberries which actually have 3 ripe fruits! We planted 6 berry bushes along our fence line hoping they will just take over in future years. This was just one of the plants we put in hoping it would yield in later years. The same goes for the rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries we planted.

 As we started to watch Youtube videos on homesteaders 100% of my favorite vloggers have said they wished they would have planted more perennials (I learned this means comes back each year on its own!) early on. They all also pointed out that the plants that take 3 years or so to mature and produce fruit are especially rewarding in the long term. Given that our plan has always been how to make this project scalable to multiple acres rather than our backyard we felt it was important to plant those now even if we don’t see the fruit the knowledge of how to keep them alive and healthy is reward enough.

Here are the highlights we have learned so far:

  • Tomato plants do not respond well to watering the leaves, you gotta water the base. Any step you take to keep water/rain off the leaves will yield a healthier plant.
  • Dead and dying leaves can go, pruning keeps the plant healthy. A tomato plant that looks healthy bushy is likely not. Airflow is important.
  • On any vining plant you want to keep leaves off the soil (especially tomatoes) if you can. We got a fungus from this. Google saved the day here.
  • Berry bushes are awesome. They are easy, resilient and thrive. I’ve heard people complain about berry bushes before since they can be hard to get rid of. I can’t imagine wanting to get rid of a beautiful plant that produces amazing tasting fruit. The people who bitch about an invasive raspberry plant are the same people paying $6 a pint at Whole Foods. Next year I’m seriously considering planting our entire fence line with berry bushes.
  • Tomatoes should be picked before a watering. If it’s going to rain today then spend the late morning picking any ripe tomatoes. The water goes straight to the fruit. Did you ever wonder why tomatoes at the store are huge and flavorless? Excess water is a main culprit.
  • Salad greens are the easiest shit in the world to grow. Seriously, go buy a kiddie pool and plant salad greens from seeds. It is truly amazing how fast they grow and how little effort is needed. From everything I’ve seen if we ever get to the point of participating in farmers markets then greens HAS to be where the money is.






  • Hydroponics is a lot of science. If you are into that sort of thing then it’s a lot of fun. If you are bored by a discussion about the parts per million of nutrient solutions, the best performing PH water, and fixing a browning of leaves with adding calcium to your nutrient mix then it’s not for you. Lucky for the family Firedad is a major science nerd finds this to be awesome.
  • It’s going to be years before we know if the hydroponics system pays off. I did a non-firedad thing when buying this setup. I didn’t go cheap since I tried hydroponic tomatoes about 10 years ago and failed miserably. This time I went to an indoor grow shop and bought what they told me to. Total cost was about $700, but could have been $70 with a DIY approach. My first DIY approach failed; I learned my lesson and went to the pros.
  • Modern technology makes hydroponics a shit ton easier. A few basic products have made maintaining the exact environment a breeze. Here is what I’ve bought, tested and my opinion:
    • Smart Plugs & Devices – $9.25 a piece – This is not the first or last time I recommend a Smart Home setup. These things have 100s of uses to improve your quality of life. When it comes to hydroponics I have the following things running on Smart Plugs
      • Exhaust fan – can turn on and off based on temperature readings
      • Intake fan – same reason
      • Wifi Temperature & Humidity – this thing reports to an app every 15 minutes with exact readouts of the room. I even have it set to send me an alert of the temp goes over 80 or under 55. 
      • Humidifier – It automatically keeps the room at the desired humidity based on the Wifi temp and humidity reader. (If humidity drops below 35% then the smart system turns this plug to “ON”.)
      • Grow lights – set a simple timer – currently they run for 18 hours a day. The plug controls that automatically.
      • Nutrient pump – I can schedule it to run whenever I want for any length of time that I want or I can simply control it remotely.
    • The most fun I am having is figuring out how to automate as much of the hydroponic process as possible. This has been a really rewarding thing to work out and I am still very much a beginner. 
  • It’s very enjoyable to be a true beginner at something. It’s been a long time since FireDad & Mom have tried something so incredibly new to us and it’s extremely rewarding. The initial progress when you are brand new to something, fix a mistake, apply a new technique has such high returns when you are brand new.
  • Food you grow yourself tastes a million times better than bought food. Every, single, time.

That’s the update on learning to grow our own food. It’s been a pretty fun experience and just makes us want to go full scale as quick as we can. We still have at least a couple years of this place until we can make the full jump to being full time homesteaders, but these years should arm us with all the skills necessary to make sure that life change is successful and fun.

Baby clothes – on the cheap

This week my lovely wife is 22 weeks pregnant. There have been a lot of projects and things going on in the house and we are slowly converting rooms into baby appropriate spaces. Along with this has been a list of items we need to get before FIREbaby pops out. These are purchases that the baby industrial complex will hound you and prey on the unsuspecting adult in unforeseen ways.

The bombardment of things you “need” to buy to keep your baby safe is overwhelming and can be about 5 posts. Today we are just going to talk about the approach we are taking to getting clothing from 0-12 months old.

We live pretty remote from normal civilization. It’s about an hour drive from a city that has places to shop. With that in mind I had some items we needed to take to the thrift store and I also knew I could combine those trips into a baby clothes trip.

I ended up going to three different thrift stores and buying pieces that looked in like new or new condition (some still had the tags). We ended up spending $86.50 across two different stores (one store didn’t have anything worthwhile) We are not finding out the gender of our baby so I was somewhat limited. While I strongly hold the belief that a baby doesn’t care what it wears I still wouldn’t want to put my potential son in a Broncos cheerleader outfit or my potential daughter in a “I’m daddy’s little man” shirt. I stuck to the tried and true, cute animal prints.

For my $86.50 I got:

NB pants – 1
NB onesie – 9
0-3mo onesie – 10
baby sock – 1
3mo onesie – 6
3-6mo onesie – 12
3-6mo pants – 4
3-6mo top – 2
6-12mo onesie – 3
12mo onesie – 1
12mo top – 1
A total of 50 new or like new items of baby clothing for an average cost of $1.73.

50 baby clothing items – $1.73 average cost

Nothing was damaged, nothing was worse than a onesie you see at Target, GAP or any other store. I used those two specifically because in that pile there are items from GAP and Target that had the original tags on them.

In everything in life I’m finding that the sustainable method is usually the most affordable in the long term as well as the best for our planet. Babies don’t care what they wear and these clothes are pretty cute. It’s not like your baby is going to be upset it’s not wearing designer clothing so why are you buying it?

The best part is that when we are done we can either donate these items back to the thrift store or we can sell them in a yard sale for at least what we paid. My goal is for the cost of our babies first year of clothing to be as close to $0 as possible. I think with garage sales (once this COVID shit is over) and thrift stores are going to allow me to do it. Everyone has told us that kids are super expensive and if everyone says something there is a good chance it’s wrong.

Optimization

If there was a single word to describe my entire philosophy in life it would be Optimization. I’m at the point where I work a full-time job as a CFO, in my events company I am the lead consultant and run the org as President, I own and manage a retail speciality running store, I own and rent out ½ of the duplex we live in, I own another rental property and at this time have built an indoor grow room to learn hydroponics to start a produce business. There is really only one way I got to this point where I can keep track of everything on this list and that’s optimization.

Even our FIRE dream of homesteading is built on a foundation of optimization and the most affordable way to live a sustainable life.

My work life is really where this started as I just found myself bored quickly in my first office jobs. Those early jobs in accounting had such old school approaches that when I took over from Joe Boomer who was retiring who took 45 hours a week to do a job that only takes 20 with a computer and the ability to type with more than two fingers. Still, I was stuck there in this office with 20 hours a week to do nothing. At first I browsed the internet and read articles, because I was so committed to being available I didn’t want anything I couldn’t instantly shift focus from. As time went on I learned the value of turn based card games like Hearthstone. If this sounds like the perfect job to you then I promise you it’s not what it seems. At a certain point, no matter what freedom you have, being forced to sit at a desk for 20 hours a week with absolutely nothing to do or accomplish is soul sucking.

After 6 months I took the approach to do my job the best I could and that meant to come up with the most efficient and accurate way for everything. Over the next few months I tediously and relentlessly went about automating every task I had. I was the only accountant for a K-8 private school. Here is an example of what I would do:

There was this super complicated report that I prepared for my Board of Directors monthly. I learned how to make a plug in that allowed me to export from my accounting system into a series of excel spreadsheets that all compiled everything into a pretty template. Took me about 2 weeks to learn how to do all the steps I needed to get what I wanted. My predecessor would spend almost 2 days making these reports, I had it down to about 2 hours a month, then I built a program that made it 2 minutes.

I applied this approach to nearly every single task I could. By the time I left this job I had my core duties down to 8-15 hours a week. The other advantage was the quality of my work was better. I got really good at solving problems because building the structure of how to make my job efficient gave me really good problem solving skills.

Once the free time really started piling up but still having to sit in my office I had to get creative. This led to me starting companies while I worked a “full-time” job. From there it’s a series of different full time jobs with me starting and running more and more businesses “on the side.”

Over the last 15 years my approach has evolved and I expect it will continue to evolve. After I recently hit LeanFIRE my priorities shifted away from ruthlessly pursuing money towards more fun ideas and tasks.

Here are a few of the things I do:

Payments, utilities, communications, filings, investments, and even shopping should be automated at the maximum level you can. Use a bag of dog food every 4 weeks? Sign up for an auto-delivery and you will never spend a thought on it again.

Everything in your life that happens regularly that you need to be involved in gets a calendar reminder – always. For an accountant this is tax filings, budget work, planning, payroll, check runs, etc. Anything that you actually have to be actively involved in at any regular interval gets one.

Your calendar reminders should be set for a realistic time on a day that you have time. When they pop up you should always complete the task or the moment you hit a wall you then stop and make another calendar reminder. 

When you are working on a joint task that has a lot of back and forth you want to always 100% finish what you can and then pass it back. I typically check my email 4-6 times a day, with notifications turned off because they are distractions from whatever I’m currently working on. During those email times I delete all the junk, then work my way from the oldest email through to my newest and do one of three things:

  • Fully complete whatever task the email is asking of me
  • Set a reminder to complete the task at a later, but specific date
  • Delegate the email to a subordinate

When email time is over because something else comes up or my inbox is 100% empty I then can move on.  

When I’m working on a task I’m hyper focused and don’t let much distract me. What I’ve found, in the white collar world at least, is that most people tend to do the opposite. They let little distractions pepper their day and let the work pile up. They float in and out of tasks over a 10  hour work day, but never seem to accomplish much. Now I’ve read books that would call those people lazy. The truth is that I’m the lazy one. I value my free time so much that whenever works needs to be done I want it done and over with so I can focus on either my own businesses more, my leisure time or my family. Procrastinating is the enemy of the lazy person.

Optimization is the lazy man’s best friend as it’s the best way to maximize the amount of time you get to do whatever you want.

So go on, be lazy like me and optimize every single thing you can.

We have reached Lean FI/RE

I suppose today is the day I became lean FI. There were no sirens, alarms, parties or even mentions. I discovered it looking at my FI/RE spreadsheet and updating some numbers. The part that felt the weirdest was that reaching this during a pandemic was…cheating? Either way as I’ve come to accept that we are Lean FI and will continue to work; this milestone doesn’t really change anything from our plan. While it’s true that we could not work the pay off to keep going 3-5 more years is huge. If we chose to live like the Little house on the prairie then we would be fine, but that’s not the goal.

Our napkins goals for different levels of FI/RE are:

Lean FI/RE # – $60,000/yr mostly passive income
FI/RE # – $110,000/yr mostly passive income
Fat FI/RE # – $150,000/yr mostly passive income with no mortgage on primary residence

Those numbers are not the way I typically see other FI articles, but it’s the method I prefer to use. When I buy a rental property, invest in the market, or invest in a business I can calculate the return based on how Americans calculate their lives every day; in annual salary. For the market I use 4.5% on investments. These numbers are all based on living a homestead lifestyle with significant amounts of land, livestock and crops.

Our current income per month is:

$1,000 – Renting ½ of our duplex
$800 – Rental condo
$5,000 – Retail store
$0 – Events business (COVID, we are shut down)
$9,900 – Finance salary
$16,700    or $200,400/yr

As you can see our income is sizable and we are a one income household,  but I work as much as I can to achieve our FI/RE dream and be able to take care of our children together rather than just the one of us. Our long term FI/RE goal is to buy a homestead on a significant amount of timber. This will allow us to live a lifestyle more connected to the world and the things that are important to us.

Today is also the day I’ve decided to slow down the grind. Sure it may take a little longer to reach that full FIRE number but from this point forward we will always have a place to live and enough income for food to eat. That’s a win by my standards and seems like a good of time as any to slow down my hungering pursuit of making money. It’s one of the reasons that I’m finally starting a blog.

I have no less than 4 folders in my Gdrive with 1-6 articles I’ve written over the last 8 years with the intention of starting a blog. I’ve always been too busy with other things, mostly I didn’t want to focus on anything that I couldn’t guarantee a profit. I didn’t want to write a blog that was focused on money, and until now that didn’t seem like a good use of our resources and time. Now that we have reached the point of lean fire everything is just that much more relaxed and our whole family can focus on more fun projects. For me, that project is finally starting my blog.

Thanks for reading,

FIREdad

“Stop buying coffee and avocado toast” are lazy articles

It sure seems like the older generations have figured out what is wrong with the young whippersnappers of today. They are spending too much of their money on fancy coffee and avocado toast. The argument alone is so stupid and simplistic, and worse yet is that the statement has no substance. Anyone who isn’t financially independent and spends money on ANY luxury can be the target of these types of shitty articles. The people who write and promote this garbage on social media agree simply because the attacks are against luxuries they don’t enjoy. The fancy coffee and avocado toast could be replaced with any number of the following: Going to the movies, buying craft beer, buying a nicer car than a late 90s Camry or Accord, buying organic produce, going to concerts or plays, buying nicer sports equipment, etc, etc. 

One of the many things I hate about these types of generational attacks is that they never tell you how to replace these things that skilled professionals are producing for you. The last three articles I read that said to KICK THE STARBUCKS HABIT suggested that coffee is cheap and you can easily reuse a keurig style machine with the pods, or use a french press or a Mr. Coffee or all these other super cheap options. It’s time to fix some of the fallacies with these bullshit articles.

  1. Starbucks fucking sucks. If you are treating yourself to a luxury at least do it at some place locally owned that’s good
  2. The assumption that everyone using these luxury coffee places wants to replace it with everyday drip coffee is really stupid. If I’m going to a local coffee shop it is because I want something orgasmicly good. Drip coffee isn’t even on the same planet as a perfectly made latte.

I’m here to tell you that luxury goods and experiences are a wonderful part of life but should be enjoyed sparingly. Engrossing ourselves in luxuries every single day will make a person weak and soft to the challenges of the world. It’s also proven that exposure to luxuries on a regular basis will trick our brains into thinking they are necessities. What is the dad to do when his family wants good lattes every morning while avoiding the high price of paying a barista? You do it yourself and you do it right.

The first step to making something high quality yourself is to use the tools of the pros. The barista making a flower on your latte isn’t using a Mr. Coffee and a bottle of creamer from the grocery store so neither should you.

After a lot of research including asking all my friends who have ever worked in a coffee shop for suggestions we settled on this Rancillo Silvia pair of grinder and espresso machine. The total cost was right around $1,000 including shipping. A large upfront cost to be sure, but it breaks down to 166 small lattes at our local shop. Let’s add in the cost of the raw materials and the breakeven point was 200 lattes. We purchased this machine almost 3 years ago and it has paid for itself roughly 3-5 times over. 

This is where I admit I wasn’t trying to solve my own barista made coffee problem but the problem of FireMom. I had tried everything from making her french press, to a manual espresso machine, to a plug in milk frother, but none of them replicated the quality of the coffee shop. She would try my idea for a few weeks but would eventually slip back into stopping on the way to work more and more. That all stopped when we got the right equipment. I needed to understand why my partner was spending money every day on the barista experience rather than doing it at home. The answer – was quality. Once we matched the quality she never looked back.

Here is how I make a latte every morning and then sometimes at lunch or whenever we want really.

$9.25 – Smart plug

Let me tell you about the smart plug. If you haven’t started researching the convenience of the smart home systems, now is the time. I have a few blog post ideas on these so I’ll spare the details.  For now let’s just say for less than $10 our espresso machine turns on every morning at 6am, stays hot until 9am then turns off, then turns back on at 11am until 12:30pm. If it’s outside of those hours I can turn it on with my phone from anywhere in the world. Get a smart plug.

$300 – Rancillo grinder  – “Your grinder is just as, if not more, important your espresso machine”  That’s the advice from a family friend that is so into coffee he built a shed in his backyard to roast his own beans. I listened and got a really good grinder. The best feature of this one is that we can fill the little espresso wand thingy directly. Super convenient.

Negatives:  We have to keep a towel right nearby as it tends to spread a fine layer of grounds in a 6 inch diameter. 


$735 (today’s price) Rancillo Silvia – We paid around $575 but that was three years ago and it was on sale. I’m sure there are dozens of decently priced options that would do the trick, but we liked this one based on price. Here at the Firedad house I like to make things as automated as possible. I briefly considered the models that you can plumb directly into your water line, but didn’t feel that justified the price doubling. (Full disclosure, if I ever have to replace this one I’ll be getting one that has a water line) Do some research and buy what works best for you. 

Negatives: We just have one hot line, this means that we first make the  espresso then have to flick a switch to let the water get hotter to steam the milk. If you then want to make another coffee you either need to wait 5-10 minutes or the water will be too hot and burn your coffee. We counter this by making all the espresso we need for all the adults, then steam all the milk at once. More expensive machines let you do both simultaneously. You decide.

$30 – MISC accessories – Get yourself some insulated espresso cups. The opening to dispense is pretty small and we like to transfer to insulated travel mugs. The small cups help with  the correct portion, easy clean up and are just worth it everytime.  

FREE – line cleaning container – When you first get your steam ready you’ll need to purge the line for a second or so. We use glass milk containers. Technically they cost $2 a piece because of the refundable deposit, but we rotate them out monthly-ish.  

Learn and perfect the craft. It is a very rewarding experience. I  have my own recipe to the point that most coffee shops aren’t nearly as good. I’ve been able to dial my measurements to exactly my preference. I like  2 shots of espresso (beans that my  neighbor roasts) and 3 ounces of  2% milk steamed extra long. Firemom likes 2 double shots of espresso (when she’s not knocked up) and she changes it up with whole and 2% milk. 

In order to kick the habit we needed to first identify what was drawing us to a barista and work backwards. Once we knew it was the quality and art of the final product we could reproduce that and get even better results for a fraction of the money. Sure it’s not as cheap as the reusable  Keurig, french press or Mr. Coffee, but those aren’t even in the same realm and trying to replace a luxury with the cheapest option was a shitty solution that we constantly failed at.

The cheapest option is often not the best. Identify your wants and needs then figure  out the most cost effective way to do it yourself. 

 Fuck lazy journalism that says there is a problem and then provides non-solutions as fact.

The plan – done in 5 years or less

Over here at the FIREdad house we have shifted gears into planning for our retirement which seems to be getting closer every day. The journey of FI/RE has been pretty short for us compared to most and that is in large part to some major upticks in income in recent years mostly from businesses that I have started. I started about 8 years ago and should be done in the next 5.

We have gone from an initial goal amount of $750,000 in assets with a paid for house to thinking we would want $2 million. At this point we have scaled it back and the FI/RE goal for us looks something like this:

$60,000/yr in income from various sources
$400,000 in pre-tax retirement savings
A paid for homestead on 40 or more acres of timber

Today I’m going to dive deeper into each of those goals, how we are going to achieve them, where we are on the path to that goal and what the future holds.

$60,000/yr in income from various sources

I expect that point is 2-5 years away depending on where life takes us. Most people would look at those lists above and say something like “They want $60k a year in income, sounds like work to me!” and snicker because they outsmarted me. When I think about FI/RE I rarely think about the Retire Early part. The end goal for us is to live life exactly how we want without needing money to be a part of the equation. 

When I write that we want $60,000 in annual income to be FI that sounds like a conflicting statement, but here is what I mean by that and the breakdown. We currently own multiple businesses that I have built up while working full-time in Accounting & Finance. At this time I have two that are producing fairly well with minimal involvement from myself.

Running Wild

Retail Running Speciality Shop – This business has been around for 30 years and is quite established. It was one of the first jobs I had after graduating college doing their accounting and selling shoes in the store. Over the last 10 years I became very close to the family that owned and operated the store. Last year the owner passed away suddenly and I offered to purchase the business. We had been talking about it for years, but that unexpected incident really lit a fuse. As of today I spend about 10-15 hours a week as the owner of the business. I have an extremely reliable manager and staff that run the business day-to-day. 
$40,000/yr – This will vary greatly as the health of the shop financially is my main goal

Racing Consulting Business – I also run and manage a race timing/consulting business. I’ve sold ⅔ of the business over the years to 2 other partners which has been both rewarding and challenging. Until 2020 I was President and lead consultant for this company and at our peak we were supporting around 100 events annually. With COVID there is no telling when this business will come back. When it does come back I’ll be scaling my involvement in this business back quite a bit by hiring a President and other employees. I’ll just be doing the events I want.
$0/yr during a pandemic – Roughly $20,000 when I hire out all my current work

Rental properties – We own 1 fully paid for condo worth $130,000. I use a property management company to make this as passive as possible which is great, especially considering the condo is 800 miles away from our home. I would really like to purchase 1-3 more before reaching retirement age. We also rent out ½ of our primary residence. Our attic is remodeled to be a studio apartment and the COL is so high here that it generates $1,000 a month. Our homestead dream will reduce this income by $12,000/yr as we will sell our current residence and lose that studio rental.
$21,600/yr Now
$9,600/yr post FI

CFO – I am also still working a full-time accounting/finance job. I am 2nd in command at a Destination Marketing Organization. This is a really rewarding position that is quite fun at times. However, quitting this job is the main driving force of FI/RE for us. This is more of a traditional job and that is the thing I am trying to get away from. When we reach our goals I will quit this position, purchase our homestead property and make homestead our primary “job”.
$110,000/yr

As you can see when we review the list of our FIRE goals that the income side is already met with my businesses and rental properties. That means the CFO role is currently being held to supercharge the savings rate to accomplish these other goals.

$400,000 in pre-tax retirement savings

401k,457,IRA, Roth IRA, CO PERA (pension)- As of today we max both a 401k and a 457 as well as the maximum allowed in IRAs each year. The CO PERA pension will be multiple posts in the future but it currently automatically takes 8.5% of my salary and goes into that bucket.

$220,400 – All retirement accounts including cash value of pension 

When you look at our income and see we ‘only’ have about $220k in retirement it might seem like we have a terrible savings rate. The truth is that we do save quite a bit of money but I have used that savings over the years to invest in businesses, rental properties and other ventures rather than just pure retirement savings. 

$400k in pre-tax accounts that are left alone until we reach retirement age will turn into $1.5-$2.5 million by the time we turn 59.5. The plan is to get that to $400k then let it sit for the next 25 years in VTSAX, international and a small % of bond funds with an annual rebalancing. 

In 2020 we will have contributed $58,000 to our retirement accounts. Assuming we aren’t faced with a major economic collapse (apart from COVID) this goal should be met by 2023 and with average returns will be even sooner.

A paid for homestead on 40 or more acres of timber

We have set a budget of around $400,000 and not to exceed $500,000 on our homestead plans. This is the land, home and improvements we want to do.Our list for the homestead phase of our life is far more luxurious than I’ve seen on most homestead bloggers and YouTubers. It’s why I am such a big proponent of living the life you want to life, but just being intelligent about it.

Our list includes:

  • 40 or more acres, mostly timber where I can build MTB and running trails
  • Water on or accessible from the property: lakes, streams, rivers are all acceptable
  • 3 acres or more of semi cleared land near the home for agriculture
  • Outbuildings – at least 1 but more is better
  • A mostly or fully remodeled home with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with significant space for food storage

This is the part of the plan that is going to take the longest. While we could afford a mortgage on this dream property it is a personal goal to have no mortgage. Our current home is worth $75,000-$100,000 more than what we owe. We also have another $30,000 in after tax savings.

I put a lot of my free time into working on projects at our current home to raise the value as well as living frugally to save as much of our income as we can.

We currently save 100% of the income from all our businesses towards this goal. There are a lot of variables but this should be achievable in 3-5 years depending on market returns and if we can maintain these income levels.

When reviewing this plan there are people who would say it’s too conservative that with our income, savings and expenses that we could quit today and go homesteading now. There are others that would say I’m not going to have enough of a cushion should things change. All of those perspectives and opinions are equally valid. The plan above works for us. Both my wife and I have serious anxiety issues and this very conservative plan with multiple revenue streams along with a very comfortable retirement account is what works for us to sleep at night. If we needed to we could live on just the retail business income, if that needed to stop we could live on just the investment properties income, if that didn’t work then at least we own land that is producing a majority of our food and water needs. 

That’s the plan. Keep maxing the retirement accounts and save everything else to buy a homestead with cash. Then spend our days teaching our children how to live off the land, growing your own food along with selling at farmer’s markets/roadside, and hiking on our private slice of rural America on trails we built ourselves. I can’t think of a better dream to be able to pursue.