on monday night, at the end of a spate of back-to-back work trips for both of us, we were both flying into our home airport from different destinations. because of various delays and air traffic issues, our planes ended up landing one minute apart, and then pulling into gates right next to each other. one of us was on the “f” side of the plane, the other on the “a,” and we were able to wave at one another from our respective planes while waiting for the jet bridges to be connected. that strikes us as one of those funny moments that we’ll look back on and chuckle about when we’re 80 and in our rocking chairs (okay, maybe 90 in the rocking chairs), because it’s something that could only happen with the frequent work travel we do at the moment. it’s so exhausting, it’s so unrelenting, but at least it created this funny moment the other day. (how exhausting? last week, after landing in an east coast city at 2 am, mr. onl ate a cup of noodles with pens as chopsticks, because he was too tired to go back down to the front desk to get a fork. i have photographic proof.)
the good news is we’ve finally wrapped up the weeks of the most intense travel, and have a few days at home (small victories!). so of course we’ve resumed our habit of having a regular conversation that goes something like this:
can we quit our jobs yet?
what if we ________? then can we retire now?
yes, but we don’t want to do that.
depending on the day, that blank might be filled by “sell our house and go full-time rv,” or “move into the trailer park,” or “move to some town in a state where we know no one and where houses are super cheap.” and, in case you’re wondering, the roles frequently flip in this conversation, because we both want to quit our jobs so flipping badly.
the truth is, we could retire now if we did any of those things. that’s kind of crazy to think about, and a pretty awesome feeling. it kicks ass to know that if we both got laid off, all we’d have to do is sell the house and either become rootless or move somewhere cheap, and we wouldn’t have to find other work. like, ever.
but here’s the other truth: we don’t want to have to do any of those things. we want to stay in our mountain town, which means paying the premium to live here. any accessible mountain town in the west is expensive, both for housing and for groceries and services. so moving to a different mountain town wouldn’t shield us from the mountain tax — plus we love our town in particular. while we’d be happier being retired anywhere than working in that same place, our retirement dream is to be retired in the mountains, and to be able to spend time every day outdoors — skiing in the summer and hiking, biking, paddling and climbing in the summer. we could downsize our home, and may still do that, but that wouldn’t get us to the point of being able to retire now, and would also make our remaining work time fairly unpleasant, since we’d likely lose our separate offices. (we shared an office back when we lived in the city, and that was no fun at all. mostly because of conference calls. but mostly mostly because i’d always be trying to talk to mr. onl about some news item and he’d be too busy “working” to listen. the nerve of that guy!)
and so, short of winning the lottery, which we can’t win since we don’t play, we’re going to keep working for a few more years, to make sure that we’re not just able to retire, but to retire to the life that we want to live. a life with roots in the mountain town we love, and with a home base that we love (even if it’s a smaller home base than now).
but, while we don’t feel like budging on the question of where we live, there are actually plenty of things we are willing to give up, or have already given up, to accelerate our progress toward our goals, and to keep our expenses low when we’re retired.
what we’ve happily given up or scaled back:
entertainment — music is a big deal for us, but the cost of concerts and festivals can add up fast, especially if travel is involved. we’ve cut back from three or four festivals a year to just one, and go to a lot fewer paid concerts. free concerts, though? we go to as many of those as we can! (going to glastonbury at least once is definitely on our retirement bucket list — that will be a big splurge.) on the tv front, we didn’t even cut the cord at this house. when we moved in four years ago, we just never got cable to begin with. we got internet and a hulu account, and called it good, and we’re completely happy with that arrangement except on big game days. (exception: we recently upgraded to hulu ad free, and think it’s completely worth the $4 monthly supplement on top of the $8 hulu plus subscription. fewer ads = less temptation to spend!). we also rarely go to movies now (aided in part by our town’s lack of movie theater), and stick mostly to netflix with the occasional redbox rental when they offer us a discount or free movie.
dining out — want to save money on dining out? move to small town with a lot fewer restaurants! want to save even more money? get diagnosed with a serious food intolerance! i kid, i kid, though these factors have made dining out less alluring. we love food, especially new food, but we love getting closer to our goal more, and have not missed much about dining out. every once in a while, if we really miss going someplace nice, we’ll go to the nicest restaurant in town and order a glass of wine each plus an appetizer to share, and sit at the bar. that’s a whole lot cheaper than sitting down for a meal there! otherwise our dining out is now limited to a monthly trip to a very affordable thai place, or an occasional breakfast at a diner if we have guests visiting.
new outdoor gear — we used to have a semi-regular rotation of getting new skis, or buying a new piece of climbing protection, or otherwise upgrading our outdoor gear. that has pretty much stopped, unless something truly wears out. and instead of buying new, we always look for used first now. that is a huge perk of a mountain town — there is always a thriving market for used gear on craigslist, via ski swaps and at consignment stores. we had to invest in new ski boots this year for the mr. (one piece of gear you really shouldn’t buy used — along with any helmet!), and we don’t plan to buy anything else for a good, long while.
frequent travel — we used to travel a whole lot more for fun, and wouldn’t hesitate to fly somewhere for a long weekend. (we used to be ballers, after all.) it helps that work travel has stripped much of the joy from personal air travel, but it helps even more that we’re focused on keeping costs down. instead, we now camp more instead of always flying and staying in hotels, and our first instinct is to look for destinations within driving distance instead of destinations far away.
books — we’re pretty sure that we used to singlehandedly keep the amazon kindle store afloat. or if they gave out status for kindle book purchases, the way that airlines do for frequent flying, we would have been at the top diamond level. yes, it was a little out of control. before the kindle, we bought books by the case practically, so at least e-books helped by not taking up so much space. but now we’re completely reformed, and have learned to love library e-books. sure, you sometimes have to wait to read the most in-demand books, but they’re free. and, if you’re super impatient, you can probably find other libraries to get privileges to, to shorten the wait. we were able to get a library card in the next state over because they offer reciprocity, and that state’s libraries grant access to all libraries in the state, not just in the county. plus we have our old card from the city we moved from, for a total of three library cards plus one whole state’s worth of privileges. is #libraryhacks a thing yet?
inflated transportation costs — we used to not know what a gallon of gas cost. if the tank was empty, you filled it up, and that was that. now we know what gas costs, and we know exactly how long it takes to bike from our house to the main services in town, from the coffee shop where we buy our locally roasted beans (27 minutes), to the natural food store (36 minutes), to the farmers market and closest redbox (25 minutes). while our current work schedule makes it tough to bike as much as we’d like to, we eliminate some car trips by biking, and we work harder to combine errands with work trips to the airport, to avoid unnecessary transportation spending. and — this is a biggie — we’re going to go from two cars to one after we quit. we own both cars outright, and the old honda civic costs very little to maintain, but we’ll make sure it finds a good new home after we’re not making frequent airport runs.
excessive grocery spending — we shared back in july how high our grocery spending had been, and we’re gradually bringing that number down. (future post to come.) we also think we can get this number much lower in retirement, when we can make almost everything from scratch.
mindless spending generally — getting laser focused on our goals has had a powerful effect of helping us eliminate virtually all mindless spending. no more magazines at airports, or random impulse buys at whole foods. no more clothes just because something looked cute in a store window (this was rare for us, but did happen once in a while). no more shoes. no more extras, or things that we suddenly think we can’t live without. cutting back in this category was surprisingly easy once we had our goals in mind.
what else we’ll happily give up when we retire:
snowplowing contract — right now we pay $500 a season to have our driveway plowed when it snows. to those who live at sea level, that probably sounds crazy. but trust us — in the mountains snow comes in feet, not inches, and having a snowplow truck come and clear your driveway in under two minutes is a godsend. but once we aren’t working and don’t care about whether our driveway is clear by the time we need to leave for the airport, we’ll happily trade that cash for the exercise we’ll get shoveling it ourselves. (#prayforsnow)
any money paid to contractors ever — we are eager diyers, but in the past few years haven’t had the time to do some of the work that’s needed doing around the house. most recent case in point: the $4000 we shelled out to have our house siding restained. (i still get shaky and nauseous thinking about the expense.) considering that it took a crew of four guys a full week to get the work done, we for sure would not have been able to do it ourselves — yet. once we quit, different story. we’ll do our own house staining, limb up our trees and maybe even clean our own chimney. (also, in case you haven’t gathered — mountain living is expensive! there are a lot of things you have to do and pay for up here that city dwellers don’t have to consider.)
produce at the grocery store — produce is by far our largest grocery expense since we try hard to eat as healthily as possible. once we quit the incessant work travel, we can go back to getting our produce from our local csa. that will save us money and shopping time.
furnace heat — this one is a bit of a pipe dream, but we’re putting it out there to encourage ourselves to do this. it costs a small fortune to heat our house with natural gas, so we keep the house pretty cold in the winter (55 at night, 61 during the day — yes, we dress in head-to-toe fleece). buying firewood, which we’ve done before, is pretty costly as well, though it’s still worth it to supplement the furnace heat with a woodstove fire. but, it’s actually super cheap to get a permit to get your own firewood, and it helps clear out wood in the forests that poses a fire danger. (we’re on board with anything that reduces our wildfire risk.) we’d love to be able to gather enough wood to keep a roaring fire going through most of the winter, and reduce or even eliminate our need for furnace heat.
what have you happily given up to get closer to your goals? anything you can’t wait to give up once you retire, like us with the snowplowing? anything you wish you could give up but are struggling with, and want some moral support? we’re here for you!