Six Years of Lean FIRE
This month I celebrate the six year anniversary of my last day at work. Celebrate is a strong word, it sounds so intentional. In reality we acknowledged the fact that it had been six years, because a recently FIREd friend and I chatted about her life and challenges in early retirement a couple of days earlier. During that conversation I realized that my anniversary was coming up, otherwise I probably would have missed it AGAIN. To be perfectly honest, I also got the date wrong at first and it didn’t even occur to me until I started writing this post. I know, right? Funny enough it also isn’t the first time this has happened. Days and dates have a tendency to become fluid when you live a nomadic lifestyle and mostly set your own schedule.
National Parks and reading list
One of our FIRE goals is to visit as many of the 423 units managed by the Nation Park Service (NPS) as possible.
My anniversary (the incorrect date, LOL) fell into a week we camped at Acadia National Park. We lucked out and snagged a few consecutive nights in two different campgrounds of the park during high season, which is akin to winning the lottery.
We even ate a Lobster dinner on that day. None of that was intentional to commemorate or celebrate the occasion. It was a mere product of having the flexibility to seize an opportunity when it presents itself. In our case this means watching the reservation.gov site for any availability and then changing our itinerary to match that availability. Then coming across the flyer for a local Lobster Fest in Winter Harbor offering a fundraiser Lobster Dinner during the time we were there.
And this is one of the things I enjoy most about FIRE, the ability to arrange my time and our plans as we see fit. It’s kind of ironic that I came up with this whole story about the unintentional celebration only to -half way into the fourth paragraph of my post – realize, I was talking about the wrong date all along. My real anniversary date isn’t until tomorrow.
On this trip out East, we have adjusted our itinerary several times, because we had an opportunity to meet up with or visit friends. We even spent a couple of days with folks we “knew” through one of the online Fire groups, without ever having met in person before. In other cases we met some of our travel friends, who were also in this part of the country for various reasons.
In both my one year and my three year posts, I mentioned that being at the right place at the right time, was something I was hoping to do more of. Aligning our travels to intentionally cross the paths of our friends is something I gladly do because it simply makes me happy.
As far as our National Park Project is concerned, we are up to 160 NPS units, 45 of which were National Parks. So far in 2022 alone, we visited 37 units and we are planning on a few more before we head back West for the Winter. We drove both the Natchez Trace and the Blue Ridge Parkway this year and spent time at lots of educational National Historic Sites as well. My favorite two were Women’s Rights NHP and Harriet Tubman NHP.
Among the books I enjoyed reading this year was Follett’s Century Trilogy (Fall of Giants, Winter of the World, Edge of Eternity). The story is set in several locations we are visiting this year, especially many of the Civil Rights sites. The trilogy is also a stern reminder of how all of humanity is connected as well as the pain unnecessarily inflicted on the innocent by wars that are fought for questionable reasons.
Not all of the Civil Rights locations are part of the NPS, some are independently managed and curated. They are still very high on my list of places to see, regardless. We went to Medgar Evers Home (a NM), The National Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine hotel and we are also planning on visiting Selma, Montgomery and several other places relevant to Social Change on our way back South.
In the personal growth category, I am currently reading “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk. A fascinating concept that really makes me want to try EMDR.
I also started reading “Die With Zero”, by Bill Perkins which came highly recommended, but it didn’t have the same captivating effect on me that it had on some of my friends, so I gave up on it midway. It’s probably more beneficial to people who have a hard time pulling the trigger on FIRE doing the perpetual OMY thing. At six years, I’m obviously past that stage.
I have added few more books to my ever growing reading list, but don’t want to comment on them, as I haven’t even touched them yet.
Expenses, money, inflation and such
This wouldn’t be a FIRE post without addressing the financial side of things, especially given recent market corrections, inflation, the fear of a looming recession and other topics heavily discussed in the FIRE communities.
As I wrote in my recent update post, last year was a year of exceptionally high expenses. We had to sell our previous RV at a big loss and lost a lot of valuables due to a break in. On top of all of that we had to purchase a tow vehicle and new to us travel trailer at the worst possible time, when shortages drove prices to insane levels.
The silver lining is that the market was doing well at the time I had to sell some stock to cover those additional expenses. TDA was able to avoid a custody fee (aka negative interest) for some of the cash he was holding in his emergency fund. Nevertheless it was still painful to throw around that kind of money. Selling my car and the RV made up for a small part of that outflow. We also intentionally limited travel during the remainder of the year, staying put in one general area, boondocking on public land until it got too cold. It was still the most expensive year of my FIRE journey so far.
This year we are finally making our long anticipated trip out East, despite high gas prices and soaring inflation. We just don’t know what next year holds and we had to postpone this plan for three years in a row for a number of reasons. Travelling on the East Coast is more expensive than in the West, due to the lack of public land. We choose to pay for parking or camping more often mostly due to the heat and humidity that make boondocking more of a challenge in this part of the country.
To make things worse, our recently installed solar panels broke and we had to take them down and argue with the manufacturer (don’t recommend Windy Nation in case you were wondering!!). So every few days we need to have some sort of electric hookup to replenish the batteries until we get around to installing new panels this coming Winter, blech.
Luckily we are members of Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome (strongly recommend!! here’s my referral link in case you are interested, use code BWFRIENDS15 for 15% off). Boondockers Welcome (BW) is an awesome community of RVers that host members on their properties. You meet great local people on your travels, get a safe place to park and many of them offer electric hookups for a small fee. BW Hosts often are RVers themselves and it’s just super fun to visit and talk story with most of them. I wish BW had existed when I still had my house. I would have loved to host folks, in addition to the friends who camped out in my side yard on occasion.
Harvest Hosts (HH) on the other hand are usually small businesses, such as farms, wineries, breweries etc that let you park on their property and in return you purchase some of their goods. I personally prefer the farms, as I love to buy pasture raised eggs and fresh produce, whereas some of my friends love going from winery to winery doing wine tastings etc. Both programs are great, but we currently prefer BW over HH.
All this to say, barring any unforeseen circumstances, at this point I’m still on track to hit my 3-3.5% WR in 2022, despite higher travel cost and inflation. We are careful with expenses, but continue to spend on things we value without worrying too much. We are naturally frugal and fortunate to enjoy a lifestyle that can translate into savings if needed. I am also on par with spending 30% of my expenses on donations. It’s a small amount, given that we live frugally and I still want to find ways to increase this part.
Of course, I sometimes wish, I had cash coming in so I could donate more and throw some into the market with the recent corrections and possibly more to come. I mean who wouldn’t? But that would also mean giving up more of my time and the above mentioned flexibility and I’m not yet willing to do that at this point.
What is interesting is that I haven’t even done my portfolio evaluation in a long time. At the beginning of my early retirement, I looked at the numbers at least a couple of times a year and updated my excel sheet. The last couple of years, I have seriously been slacking with that. I realize that it would be a matter of a couple of clicks, using a tool like Personal Capital, but I am not a fan (yes, this is an affiliate link, but I personally really don’t recommend using the service). I do all my portfolio analysis manually even if it takes time, because I don’t want to disclose all that personal data to a third party. As someone who used to be so number focused, slacking in this area, has been somewhat of a surprise for me. Sure I check my dividends and such, but I don’t obsess over a lot of details anymore. I still do track my expenses though (also manually in a good ole excel sheet, LOL!).
I don’t want to jinx it, but so far I have been surprisingly calm with recent market developments and inflation. I’m not sure the worst is behind us, it’s probably going to get a lot worse before it gets better. But whenever I see a moment of panic coming on (usually after spending too much time on social media and not enough time in the woods), I try to remind myself of my circle of control.
I literally oscillate between two mindsets: The first being: Let’s use up everything we have, so we can travel more lightly, keep minimal supplies and stay independent and unencumbered by not owing land and other property. The second: Let’s go full on PrepperFI mode, fill every nook and cranny with supplies and while we are at it let’s find a piece of land to homestead and build a community on.
For the time being we have decided to continue going with the flow, rolling with the punches and doing our best while enjoying the ride as we go. I have seen several of my nomad friends come off the road in the last couple of years. Some FIRE friends even went back to work while several die hard renters purchased property. Times are definitely a-changing. At this point we are still planning on continuing to stay nomadic.
Health, fitness and personal growth
Oh how I wish I had written an anniversary post in 2020/21. I could have bragged about losing 33 pounds in the course of a year, almost effortlessly, instead of gaining the famous quarantine 15. It felt AMAZING. I exercised almost daily, went for walks with my MMC group friends (yes, they are a great influence!) and was generally pretty active. I also had no problem sticking to good eating habits, as we limited grocery shopping to a bare minimum, using grocery pickup at Sprouts often. All that went pretty well for over a year, starting in the spring of 2020.
Unfortunately after that stressful summer of 2021, I gained back some of the weight. Getting back in the swing of things since then has been a challenge. Working out or even going on extended hikes in the heat and humidity during the last few weeks has also been less appealing.
I however have been consistent with my daily Yoga habit and luckily the weather in Acadia was such that we could go on several hikes without the feeling of completely melting outside.
I have started to go off sugar earlier this month and had a good streak for about 10 days, until we got invited for cake and ice cream, which I didn’t want to say no to (they didn’t have to twist my arm very hard to be honest). Once I break the streak, it’s so hard for me to go back on track, but I keep trying. This is my third attempt on getting back on the no sugar train this year. As they say, there’s no shame in falling, as long as you keep getting up.
I also have had a couple of opportunities to use geoarbitrage for doctor appointments (nothing serious thankfully!) this past year, both in Germany and Mexico, which went pretty well. That’s maybe a subject for a separate post, as it’s something often discussed in the various FIRE groups but would go beyond the scope of an anniversary post.
Some conclusions don’t change
At the risk of repeating myself, the biggest realizations I have had is that “Things don’t just happen in FIRE, I need to make them happen.” I enjoy the freedom of being the owner of my own time and I love making things happen when I can. We sometimes have spurts of lots of activity followed by the need to “take a vacation” from our perpetual vacation and just chill for a couple of days.
I have gotten used to the slower pace, continue to be very grateful for the flexibility our lifestyle choice offers us and would consider myself reasonably happy. Yet I still sometimes (albeit much less than in previous years) feel the twinge of guilt that comes with “shoulding myself”. That feeling of I should do more, use the time to make more of a difference, have an impact, helping others more, be part of something bigger etc. Sometimes it leads to a change in plans and sometimes it doesn’t and I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that either way is just fine.
So there you have it, six years and counting. How have your FIRE plans changed in view of recent developments?