Mika loves walking in the snow!
Is it just me, or did January feel like a really long month? It seems like forever-ago that New Year’s happened! It was also a very snowy month (by Vancouver standards) and one of the darkest and wettest Januarys on record—ugh!
Well, February’s here, and I sure hope it brings some drier, brighter weather! For now, let’s kick off the new month with another Eat Sleep Breathe FI update post…
Here’s what happened at the Eat Sleep Breathe FI household in January:
Dinner in lieu of Christmas gifts
As part of our goal to have greener, less-consumeristic Christmases, we asked our families to join us for dinner at our house in lieu of gifts.
Since our relatives are all humongous foodies, they eagerly agreed to this giftless idea. And because we were all too busy (and full) in December, we planned the dinners1 for early January.
Chinese hot pot
One of our favourite ways to feed a large group is Chinese hot pot. If you’ve never heard of hot pot, here’s a great post by Cooking Up FIRE.
Hot pot is fun, social, and everyone gets to cook and eat exactly what they like. It’s also a relatively healthy option since we eat a lot of veggies and seafood with the meat.
Additionally, the food is cooked in a simple vegetable broth, seasonings are minimal, and the nature of the meal dictates that you eat slowly. These are all good things for healthy eating!
A frugal choice
Hot pot is also a frugal meal: our per-person cost worked out to about $3 (that includes some pricey thin-cut meats and big appetites!)
If we were to have lunch at a hot pot restaurant, the cost would be at least $15 per person. Add 5% PST (provincial sales tax) and a 15% tip, and the final total would be $18 per person.
If we were to have dinner at a hot pot restaurant, the cost per person would be closer to $30! By buying and prepping our own food and hosting the dinner at home, we saved 83–90% compared to eating out. Wow.
These hot pot dinners have become a fun holiday event and we plan to continue this giftless tradition for many years to come.
New Year’s potlucks x 2
January was a busy, food-filled month! Not only did we host two hot pot dinners, but we also celebrated two separate New Years—January 1st and Chinese New Year. We hosted a potluck lunch on January 1st, and my sister hosted a potluck dinner on Chinese New Year.
Like Mrs. Frugalwoods, we love potlucks! With my side of the family (our dad, my sister with her family, and my brother with his family) we always do potlucks when we get together. It’s fun and frugal, and makes it easier to get together more often.
My sister is a pescatarian, so she usually brings a fish or seafood dish. The rest of us bring the meat and veggies. We all pitch in with dessert and drinks while the host cooks the rice.
As always, we and the kids have lots of fun catching up and indulging in everyone’s delicious cooking. It’s also more relaxed for everyone to be able to eat at home rather than at a restaurant. (Still—we all enjoy eating out and are happy to do so occasionally.)
Second-generation FIRE gone wrong?
Kid 1 and I recently had a heart-to-heart (if you have a grumpy teen, you know how precious these kinds of talks are!) And I discovered—to my delight and dismay—that he’s really internalized and bought into FIRE. #secondgenerationFIRE
He told me he was already thinking about how to reach FIRE; how he could probably get there in his 30s; which education and career path would lead him there; etc. Clearly, he’d been thinking about it quite a bit!
I was both proud and worried when he told me all this. I was proud because he really gets what FIRE could mean for him. But I was also worried because I don’t want FIRE to influence his life decisions quite so much. (He is only 14 after all!)
I expressed all this to Kid 1, and told him I want him to live his life and just enjoy being a kid. He has decades to pursue FIRE and is already on a good path. I told him there’s no need to look at all of life’s decisions through a FIRE lens… and he agreed.
Moderating the FIRE
I’m grateful that I’ve been able to learn so much about the FIRE journey from others—it’s not just about getting to the end goal ASAP. And now I can share that knowledge with my kids and help them reach their goals while also living their best lives.
I’ll continue to discuss FIRE openly with my kids, but will be more careful about moderating the message. Even though I’m obsessed with all things FI, I don’t want them to be overly influenced by it just yet! For now, I’ll focus on instilling good money habits in them. FI will fall into place when they’re ready.
Hold on to your kids
My conversation with Kid 1 reminded me again how important it is to connect with our kids as often as we can. The night we had this talk, it was past his bedtime, I was tired, and there were still plenty of chores left to do.
But I consciously chose to drop everything to sit with him, chat, and enjoy his company. These moments don’t happen often enough, so I grab them when they do. Fortunately, my husband is of the same mind.
He and Kid 1 also had a good chat recently, which prompted me to post this on Instagram:
View this post on Instagram
Hold on to your kids... . This is my longest IG post yet, but it's so important and I hope you'll read it through. . Last night, I was reminded of the power of the parenting philosophy in this wonderful book. . At bedtime, my husband had a long, heart-to-heart chat with 14YO Kid 1. (Kid 1 and I talk all the time, but sometimes a teenage boy needs his dad—or another trusted male—to confide in). . The things Kid 1 revealed (worries, fears, comparisons he was making to his friends) were all typical teenage things. . Some of the things he asked/revealed were deeply personal, yet he openly and unabashedly talked about them with my husband. . There was no shame, no embarrassment. Just talking, son to dad. Both ended the conversation feeling more bonded and Kid 1 felt loved, accepted, and supported. . This deep trust and connection didn't form overnight. It takes time and a whole lot of intentional effort to maintain a positive connection with your kids as they grow up. . But the teenage years are when it really pays off (and when they especially need our guidance). I've seen so many other teens, despite coming from loving homes, become disconnected from their parents as they lose themselves in their peer groups. . It's heartbreaking to see the consequences (and it's not what you'd expect, from the affluent, educated neighborhood we live in). . Someone once told me that one of the most important jobs in this world—that will change the world and society at large—is to raise our children well. . It's a big job, but help is out there and it's freely available! Go to your local library and peruse the parenting section—you'll find all the instruction you need there. . While you're there, look for my very favourite parenting book of all: "Hold On To Your Kids". If you're a parent and haven't read it, please do it now! It's the best investment in your child(ren) you'll ever make. #holdontoyourkids #attachmentparenting #parenting #parentingwisdom #kidsneedmorethanlove #raisingteens #ilovemyteen #ilovemyteenager #parentsoverpeers
If you’re a parent and take nothing else from my Instagram post, please read the book and take the core message from it: Hold On To Your Kids. Be present with them. Be the compass and guiding light in their lives. It takes time and commitment, but it’s worth every second!
Related read: The Sadness of Motherhood
Wow—we’re nearly 900 words in and I haven’t even updated you on our money moves. Let’s dig in:
Getting a new mortgage
Our mortgage/investment loan with Manulife is up for renewal in mid-February, which meant it was time to do some rate shopping. Thankfully, our financial planner Ed helps with this (for free—even for non-clients!)
However, if you’ve ever had to apply for a mortgage, you know it can be a drawn-out, multi-stage process. Even with Ed’s help and guidance, there was still a lot to deal with.
We ended up going with BMO for the mortgage, but it’s taken weeks of forms, emails and back-and-forth just to get the rate and loan amount settled. As I write this, things are still not finalized! (But we’re almost there.)
After all is said and done, we’ll get to borrow slightly more2 at a lower rate. That makes it worth the hassle and fees to switch from Manulife to BMO. I’m looking forward to having this all tied up by the end of the month!
Year-end financial tasks
January is always a busy but fun month for me—it’s when I update all our financial spreadsheets! Here are the four spreadsheets I track and update every year:
1. Our retirement contributions
I track the contributions to our RRSPs (aka 401Ks) and TFSAs (aka Roth IRAs) throughout the year to ensure we don’t over-contribute. At the end of the year, I go into the spreadsheet to double-check the numbers and enter a final number for my husband’s group RRSP contributions.
I also copy over the current year’s sheet to start a new one for next year. When I do this, I have to update the year and some formulas in the new sheet.
Since I’m not great at spreadsheets or numbers, I’m a bit slow at this. I really have to concentrate and take my time so I don’t make a mistake. Thankfully, even though it’s not the easiest task for me, I find it gratifying and fun—so it’s not all bad!
2. Our investments
On the last day of each month, I enter the final balance from each of our investment accounts. And at the end of the year, I get to calculate our gain for the year. 2019 was great—we ended with a 20% increase in liquid net worth3 over 2018!
Note: while most of this gain was due to the stock market’s amazing performance in 2019, the percentage doesn’t accurately reflect our actual investment gains. That’s because I’m lazy and include our contributions in this calculation. 😬
3. Our annual spending
This is always my favourite spreadsheet to update (yes, I’m a total nerd). I love seeing how much we spent over the last year and comparing it to previous years. Most of the time, I’m pleasantly surprised to find that our numbers stayed the same or went down.
Fortunately, YNAB makes it really easy to complete this task. Using their reports function, I can quickly go through and update each category in my spreadsheet.
We did well in 2019 and decreased our core spending by about $1,300! That surprised me since I felt we’d already reduced our core spending as much as we could—I guess not!
Revealing our annual spending
I’m debating whether I should finally reveal our annual spending here on the blog. I think it could be interesting and helpful to others, and helpful for me to get your feedback.
I’ve been hesitant to do this because it would essentially reveal our net worth. (That’s because we all know the 4% rule and how to use our annual spending to calculate our FI number!)
I’m still not (and may never be) comfortable with sharing our net worth—hence my reluctance. But I think I have a solution…
A possible compromise?
I could reveal our core spending (groceries, gas, utilities, etc.) and exclude discretionary expenses (travel, entertainment, gifts, etc.) My annual spending reports will still be helpful and continue to give us a bit of privacy.
I’ll continue to mull this over…
Do you share your annual spending? Would you find it useful if I revealed ours? Let me know in the comments below!
4. Our annual saving rate
This has always my least-favourite spreadsheet to update. In fact, I got so frustrated with it this year that I’ve decided that I’m done with tracking our saving rate! Here’s why:
Why our saving rate is too hard to track
I’ve tracked our saving rate for years, but these factors have become too aggravating to deal with:
- There are too many variables.
- It’s too time-consuming and mind-bending to accurately calculate our saving rate.
- It takes too long to track cashback from our credit cards and rebate sites.
- I never know how to factor in leftover cash from the year before.
- My husband’s stock options are very hard to track because:
- Some are sold and reinvested.
- Some are sold and used for cashflow.
- Some are held for a long time.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to deal with! After spending hours on this spreadsheet and still not getting any closer to an accurate number, I called it quits.
To remind myself in future years why I made this decision, I wrote a list of reasons. Anytime I question myself for not calculating our saving rate, I’ll remember this list:
Why I’m okay with not tracking our saving rate
- It only takes a few minutes to figure out our approximate saving rate.
- Having an approximate saving rate is good enough for me!
- Knowing our saving rate neither motivates nor influences us to save more. That’s because we’re saving as much as we can all the time.
- I can redirect my time to more valuable or enjoyable tasks.
While it was fun to see where we landed with our saving rate, I was never satisfied with the results. That’s because I knew some info was missing or inexact—which meant the final number wasn’t accurate.
I decided that my rough estimate (which takes a few minutes to pull together) was close enough. It’s not worth the hours and headaches to get a more-accurate number. Instead, I’ll redirect my time and energy to other things—like blogging!
Our spending was relatively low in January… except for two large expenditures:
We spent way too much on a new vacuum
Our 20-year-old Kenmore vacuum recently kicked the bucket… which meant it was time to shop for a new vacuum. As with any large purchase, this meant a lot of careful research and consideration.
We searched to the ends of the internet and kept coming back to one brand: Miele. It’s the only vacuum brand that stood up to every test of value, quality, and effectiveness. Their vacuums are as close to perfection as vacuums get!
The $999 vacuum that we didn’t want to buy
The Rolls Royce of vacuums
The only problem with Mieles is their high quality comes with a high price—$999! (That’s why I say Mieles are the Rolls Royce of vacuums—they’re super fancy and super expensive.)
As nice as Mieles may be, who wants to spend $999 on a vacuum?! Not me! $999 could buy us 1.25 plane tickets to Japan. Or a whole lot of meals out. Or even a short family road trip! Nope, I wasn’t down with a $999 vacuum, so we aggressively searched for other options.
Being the eco frugalist that I am, I always try to buy used first. Unfortunately, this option didn’t work out for us. The vacuums on the used market were mostly low end. That meant they’d break down quickly and didn’t have a motorized brush head to vacuum Mika’s fur (or my long hair).
There were a few higher-end vacuums on offer, including some Mieles. But the prices were similar to sale prices of brand-new models. Obviously, this would not have been worth it. Used vacuums turned out to be a bust.
Buying a cheaper new vacuum
The next option we pursued was to buy new, but at a lower price point. This also proved to be unsatisfactory. Cheaper vacuums tend to have poor reviews and lack power and durability.
They’d also end up costing more in the long run since we’d have to replace them every two to three years (based on what reviewers said). There’s also the huge environmental cost of all that e-waste. I’m not down with that.
Installing a central vacuum
Since our house is already wired and piped for a central vac, we though this would be a great option. However, these vacuums came with iffy reviews and prices that were just as high as the Mieles.
Additionally, we had no idea if we’d be happy with a central vac—opinions on the internet were pretty divided. Some people loved them, but just as many hated them! We didn’t want to risk the time and money to finish the piping and outlets only to find we didn’t even like central vacs.
So there went our final option… and we were back to the Miele. It really was the best option for our needs and expectations, and now we knew it!
Paying less than retail
At this point, my focus went to figuring out how to avoid paying full price for this vacuum. If you know me, that’s where I’m a viking! (If you’re a Simpsons fan, you’ll get the reference. Ha ha! Note: that’s a video clip with audio.) Long story short, I took advantage of discounts and cashback and paid only $659 for the vacuum—34% off the full price!
Was it worth it?
After all that, you’re probably wondering if the Miele was worth it. The answer: YES! While it was painful to spend so much on a vacuum, it’s true to its reputation. Our Miele is lighter, quieter, better-built and far more powerful than any vacuum we’ve ever owned.
As a test, we vacuumed our carpeted hallway with my in-laws’ Kenmore. Then we ran over the same area with the Miele… and were shocked at the results. The tank quickly filled up with dust and hair (from what we thought was clean carpet!) It was totally gross but also really impressive.
Based on the hundreds of glowing reviews across the internet, I fully expect that our new Miele will give us many years of trouble-free use.
Kid 2’s outdoor school fee
Recently, I had to write a $280 cheque for Kid 2 to go on a three-night outdoor school field trip. That wasn’t a huge deal since I’d anticipated the expense and had saved up for it.
But what was notable was that our school will only take cash or cheques as payment, and I didn’t feel comfortable paying the $280 in cash. So a cheque it was. Having to write the cheque reminded me again of how much I hate cheques! (I even complained about it on this episode of Explore FI Canada.)
We’ve also needed cheques for setting up new accounts, gifting larger sums of money (e.g. wedding gifts) and paying for our life insurance premium.
I’d love to simplify my life and only use EQ Bank for all my banking, but they don’t offer cheques. That means I have no choice but to keep another account open just for cheques—sigh.
If you’ve found creative ways to avoid cheques, let me know!
And that’s a wrap!
I want to hear from you—tell me how your January was. I hope it was warmer and drier than ours!
Should I reveal our annual spending? Which of our spending categories would you be most interested in? Also: do you track your saving rate and does it give you a headache too?
Let me know in the comments below!
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