Monday, August 29, 2016

Haters gonna Hate

Have you ever experienced this? You decide to go on a diet or start a new exercise regime, and immediately there's that one friend who comes out of the woodwork to tell you about all the times they tried (or someone they know tried) and failed at it. While hopefully not malicious, the story is told to you to point out how hard it is. Is it motivating?? Absolutely not! Is it aimed at encouraging you or inspiring you to be your better self? Nope. So why do people do this??

It's a mystery to me, but lately this has been happening when I've been chatting with people about our long-term goals (yup, I've turned into that person- but only when people ask about the blog!) of paying off our house early or trying to re-think the two 40-hour-a-week jobs. I do appreciate that a few years from now we may have a major shift or change in our perspective of how we want our lives to look. The things is- I don't see being debt free and financially independent as goals I want to grow out of or toss out the window. I think it's here to stay.

So what's the most asked question that get's thrown my way these days? Here it is:

 I know a lot of wealthy people out there that can't retire early-
if they can't do it, why do you think that you can?

This is such a common one, and is built on misconceptions! Saving and retirement is not just about income. Don't get me wrong- if you don't have an income, you can't save money- but don't let your income define who you are. You do not need to be making 6 figures, working 60 hour weeks in order to save for retirement. Truly, it's about expenses and how you choose to live your life. An example: basic retirement advice is that in order to retire in your 60's you need 8x your annual salary. This assumes a few things about you and your lifestyle, the most major of which is that it assumes that you will need 80% of your annual income in retirement. This is a common assumption, based on the fact that most people spend about all of their income on their expenses. If that's the case the 8x your annual salary is a good way to ball park your retirement number (or what you would need to have saved before you retire).

BUT...what if your spending rate is lower than 80% of your income? Spoiler: you don't need to save as much for retirement. Another way to think about it is how much your yearly spending is. By determining your retirement 'number' off of that figure your number may be lower then traditional wisdom would suggest. This would likely be much more accurate- as it takes into consideration what your actual lifestyle needs are.

The math is actually very simple when it comes to saving- it's the saving that's the hard part! I recently have been loving this blog- Go Curry Cracker. The author simplifies things even more, 'if you save 10% your income for 9 years, you can not work for 1 year and still support your lifestyle. If you save 90% of your income for 1 year, you could not work for 9 years'. I'd take a 9 year sabbatical- would you?

So if the math is that simple why are there so many wealthy people who can't retire early or even seem to save? It goes back to lifestyle habits. I know people who live in our neighborhood, in reasonable sized homes, with used vehicles that probably have portfolios to put mine to shame- and I know others with large houses, generous incomes who barely pay their bills on time. I bet if you thought about it- you know people like that too.

With reasonable expectations, good habits, and some good luck in finding jobs that meet our needs, the Frugal Rock home is trying hard to stay on track with our spending/saving goals! And if you were wondering- there are A LOT of success stories out there from individuals who worked hard to become financially independent and chase their dreams. Here are a few of my favorite blogs on them:

Frugal Rock OUT.

Friday, August 19, 2016

What to Consider When Looking for a New Job

BIG NEWS in the Frugal Rock Household on the Employment Front, there is a new job for Mr. Frugal and this lady couldn't be prouder of him!

Mr. Frugal is in programming/manufacturing and has put his time in working in factories and machine shops. While good experiences, breathing in coolant and manufacturing fumes probably isn't great for his long-term health, so it's great that he has found a job that will bring new challenges, but also a lot of great rewards. Mr. Frugal already started at his new place, but the decision to take the job had to be weighed with a lot of other factors and it got me thinking a lot about how to make career choices and what to consider. So what are the factors to weigh when you are determining whether to take a new job?

1. First and foremost- salary. Be realistic upfront about how much you need to (and want to) make. A lot of people put low amounts on their initial application only to have a higher salary in mind later. If it will take an extra $10,000 or maybe $20,000 to get you to move jobs, it's okay to be open about it. It's also okay to ask about the salary range early in the process. While not a question that is always easy to broach in an interview, when approached by Human Resources for an interview, asking about the salary range can save you (and them) a lot of time if you know up front that it's not going to meet your needs!

2. Don't forget about the 'bennies'- benefits that is! Ask questions about the benefits. Remember that these are a big part of your salary package. A lower salary may be a good trade off for you, with lower health costs, more vacation days, better 401k matches, or other perks.  A great example of this is with Mr. FR's new position. Additional vacation time was big, the 401k match is great, but the health insurance was a huge selling point. While we have always taken my insurance, which is a good policy, my company offers incentives to take your partner's insurance. By not being able to do so, we have left 'free' money on the table the last several years. In addition, Mr. Frugal's new health insurance policy offers a lot of 'healthy' living deductions. For example, employees qualify for a drastically-reduced price fit-bit which if employees and their spouses meet 'healthy living' goals also reduces the price of the health insurance. Score!

3. Consider goodness of fit. So it's not all about the money, right? Even though this is a blog about frugal living, it is also about having a fulfilled lifestyle. Part of a well-rounded happy life, is feeling success and satisfaction. While some people never find it in their work, it's something to strive for. Why spend 40 hours a week doing something you hate or that causes more stress then satisfaction? When interviewing with a company, it's important that you ask questions about things that are important to you. Is it about what type of boss your new supervisor will be? How much you will work independently or in tandem with others? Is it about opportunities for growth or long-term advancement? What's the company climate? Whatever your goal, don't forget that interviewing the company is also part of the job search process. Consider also, it may be worth it to take a salary deduction to switch from a company with no opportunities for growth, to one, that while initially you may take a pay cut, has several positions that you may be able to advance to in future years.

4. Distance. How far is the new job from your old place of employment or your home? This was something that generated some good discussion in our household- especially since we have been trying to decrease our carbon footprint. When Mr. FR was approached about this position, the recruiter mistakenly gave him the wrong location for the company. Initially when applying, he thought it was closer. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Mr. FR loved the company- Goodness of Fit was pretty high and even now several weeks into the job switch- he couldn't be happier.  In looking at factors 1-3 above, it was more then enough to sweeten the deal to make the longer commute more worth while. Mr. FR has also been taking his motorcycle more, saving on fuel costs.

Of course there are additional items to consider after accepting a job offer- like rolling over your 401K, enrolling in a new health insurance program, and making the most of your company retirement match, but that's a whole other post! Is it weird that I can't wait?  Nothing gets me more pumped then open enrollment and 401k matches. :)

What are some factors you consider when thinking about a job change? Are one of these four things more important to you then others?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Frugal Rock Travel- Backpacking Style

Hi Folks! It's been a while- summer is getting away from me. Been really busy enjoying life, getting outside and enjoying out of town company. Hoping to get a more regular schedule in place again for the fall; but thanks for visiting!

I'm back with a Frugal Rock Travel Segment- and want to share about the best mini-getaway I've ever taken. That's right- THE best. And it was the best for a few reasons: getting away for a long weekend, spending time with Mr. FR, having no phone, email or technology...ohhh, and the fact that it all cost less than 200 bucks. Get ready for a photo-heavy post!

Having been lucky to travel quite a bit nationally and internationally, I never would have thought to find such a cool getaway a few hours away. IF you are willing to rough it and enjoy the experience of the great outdoors, camping and backpacking are a wonderful and frugal way to go. In Wisconsin, backpacking and non-electric site (meaning no outlets nearby) costs $20 a night so a long weekend stay can be done for $40 a weekend- $50 with all taxes and fees. This would still be much below the hotel costs or even a night out for dinner and drinks.


Now one quick aside about gear.

Of course, the initial costs of camping gear can be expensive. Tents, backpacks, cook stoves, etc. can add up quickly. I am not advocating for the cheapest purchases all the way around ( after all, who wants to spend any money on a tent that leaks?), but neither do you need to go to REI and let them 'outfit' you with a special cook pot that costs over $100 and supposedly works better over the fire. I call hogwash. Other then our tent and backpacks, we tend to go cheaper/simpler options as best. Here is a quick rundown of our backpacking gear:                   

Only people for miles, right along Lake Michigan.

1 Quechua Tent- for sure the best purchase we have made. Tight fit for two people, but with room at the foot for bags. We have been out in some heavy rain and have never had a leak. Also while a tight fit, because of the small footprint, we tend to stay warmer. The big selling point for me on this one is it springs open and other then staking it into the ground requires no assembly.

A little chilly but nothing a hat won't fix. My
bag is a GoLite.
2 Backpacks- probably out most expensive gear. To haul all of our items comfortably, it's important that the bag be the right size for you and is able to help you easily haul everything you need. In this case, we needed to hike in and out about 2 miles, carrying all of our items. While not a huge distance you would struggle without the proper bag. We have used these not only for camping, but also for train trips or other getaways. Last year the Frugal Rock household took the train to DC, and then walked to the AirBNB, about 2 miles with all of our stuff on our backs. We bought these online (thanks Amazon prime!) but I would highly recommend walking over to a outfitting/camping store and trying on some bags before buying so you know the style that works best for you.

Mr. FR loving the outdoors and outfitted to hike out after a fun weekend!

1 Foldable burner and cook fuel. We had looked at more expensive options multiple times. JetBoil is the most popular one out there, but simple and light won the day on this. We use a simple fold out burner and a small fuel cell that we light. The pot for the stove- that we use for everything, making coffee, meals etc., was an old cook pot of ours that's gotten a little warped over time. When we replaced the pot in our home kitchen, it got repurposed for our outdoor needs.

1 Water Filtration. This is the first trip where we did not have easy access to drinking water.  Due to this we did have to make some purchases, including a foldable water jug, tablets to clean the drinking water (so we could pull it right from Lake Michigan!) and water filtration straws to help filter any left over bits from our lake or stream water. This totaled just under $30 and will be items that we plan on using in the future.

Other items:
Sleeping Bags
Ax- cutting up downed wood, instead of purchasing or hauling wood in (cuts down on invasives too- so double win)
Rain Gear
Clothes/Personal Items

Every so often we need to replace some of the small items, such as flashlights, but over the last 6 years, we have slowly purchased the big items so the expenses were spread out over a long period of time.

While we spend a lot of time hiking and sitting around the fire when camping, we also bring at least one travel game. A pack of cards will do, but lately we have been bringing Travel Chess or Battleship. A book or two generally gets shoved into one of the bags as well. We bring one of our phones for emergencies, but don't use it for distraction- ie. internet surfing during downtimes, though a podcast does come in handy for rainy nights!


The way backpacking differs from most camping, is the lack of refrigeration or coolers. Most foods will either need to be packaged and/or dehydrated to prevent spoiling.

There are several store bought varietis you can purchase if you want to go the easiest route. Here is one variety that came recommended that you can buy on Amazon. If you are worried about the sodium content in some of these package meals (Mr. FR) or just want something a little more gourmet for camping (me) you can also very easily and cheaply make your own food packs. The key idea behind this is something that will taste delicious, is nutritious- in these cases also packed with protein, and can be made with just boiling water and adding the food packet. I got a lot of inspiration from this blogger who made a variety of packaged meals. I also did some comparing to this site and played around with my own variations as well. I will admit that some of these were so good that I could see making and stacking them in the pantry for nights when you may just need an instant meal and don't want to do the same old pasta or rice-a-roni.

To make the recipes above I did go on Amazon (we have a prime membership so it's often cheaper to purchase in bulk from Amazon then run to the store!) and order a few things- freezer Ziploc bags, freeze dried veggies, fruit and chicken. With the help of the link above I made the following meals for our dinners/lunches:

Sundried Tomato Pasta w/ Salmon
Fiesta Rice w/ Chicken and Veggies
Thai Peanut Sauce and Noodle Dish **my personal favorite**
Vegetable Curry

Each bag I wrote the instructions as to how much water and cook time was needed to make things really simple each night. You will notice that these are carbohydrate heavy. One reason for that is that carbs are great in making you full without tons of food. Carbs stick with you throughout the day. When you are hiking 5-8 miles a day something lighter is not going to get you through! Finally, carbs work great in these meals since they come dried, they are uniquely good at being the base in instant meals.

For breakfasts, I did something similar and made homemade instant oatmeal packets. Again for ease and speed, you could bring Quaker Oats instant packs, but if you really want to be horrified- check the sugar content in just one of those packs. In addition, Mr. FR and I combined would eat about 5 packs in a morning so over 3-4 days we would generate a bunch of garbage to pack out. Instead, I made 5 serving breakfast packs again with dried fruit and added cinnamon or one decadent morning cocoa powder. Each morning we boiled water and then threw in the one breakfast pack and a few minutes later had a meal ready.

For snacks, there was applesauce and summer sausage (some varieties don't need refrigeration until opening so we bought small ones and ate in one sitting). And of course, plenty of instant coffee.

The COST Breakdown (rounded for calculating ease)

Site Fees/Reservations- $60 for 3 night at $20 a night
Food Costs- $50- including left over freeze dried items for future meals. I gave myself a budget of $50 and stayed to it pretty exactly.
Gas-$40 - I put $20 in my tank on the way there and the way back, but never was fully empty so the actual gas price is approximate
Restaurant- $35- We did a very un-frugal thing on the way back and stopped for lunch. Being frugal is also about knowing when to splurge, and we couldn't resist the lunch spot with goats on the roof.

Total: $185


So in case you are asking yourself- why all this work? Was it worth it? Absolutely! These below images of the beautiful scenery we got to enjoy. Not only that, but we were completely relaxed most of the weekend, and were truly away from it all. We did not have any other campers nearby and were miles from other people. We were able to wake up each morning with a view of the lake from our tent and songbirds overhead.  Not only that, but I had a huge sense of satisfaction during the trip of being pushed out of my comfort zone, and at times, pushing our endurance. It reminded me that the best vacations are not necessarily the most expensive ones, but the ones that nourish your soul. Needless to say, we already booked our site for next summer!

After several days of rain the forest was a bright green, as only seen in spring- with wildflowers blooming in the underbrush.
Little garden snake. After Mr.FR painstakingly got close to this little guy, I almost immediately stepped on another one.
They were everywhere!

A tree with personality...