Time to Climb a New Mountain // Setting Our Sights Higher

happy new year! we hope your 2016 is off to a fantastic start. we just had a lovely two weeks off — one week at home in the snow, and one week on the road for new year’s fun. and our year-end “bonuses” came through, so we pushed through all the transactions we planned. you know we don’t share numbers, but we’ll just say that making a $25,000 payment against the mortgage balance feels pretty flipping sweet. :-) also fun: giving more to charitable causes than we ever have before, though we hope to be able to do more in 2016. and now here we are, back to our regular monday, wednesday, sometimes friday posting schedule!

if you followed along with us in december, then you already got the play-by-play on our year-end finances, but just in case, here’s the 10-second version: both of our salaries are heavily skewed toward year-end deferred compensation with some element of profit sharing. so we never really know how we’re doing in a given year’s finances until december. as it turns out, we did well in 2015. (we did a 2015 rundown, complete with charts and graphs, here.)

after we had our year-end compensation in hand, and moved everything around where we wanted it, we realized something. something huge, actually.

we are ahead of schedule.

we’re determined to retire at the end of 2017 come hell or high water, and have always figured it would be a photo finish. we’d either barely squeak by with our target number or would come up a bit short, but would find a way to make it work anyway. since we decided to move our date up about a year ago, we have been okay knowing that we were setting a very aggressive goal for ourselves, and might have to work some in retirement to make up the difference. it would be worth it to get out of the rat race.

but then this crazy thing happened: we started this blog. we met a bunch of you online. we get inspiration and support from all directions, and the result was that we upped our game. and not just in a small way. it was more like we went straight from little league to division 1. in 2015, we saved 76 percent of our after-tax income. (granted, that is with incomes well above average, no children and non-mortgage debt long gone — though we do also live in a very high cost-of-living area, which is a bit of a mitigating factor.) our net worth went up by almost 100 percent of our after-tax income, even with markets flat on the year, meaning that almost everything we spent was “covered” by our 401(k) employer matches and the rent we collect on our income property. crazy.

that savings rate meant that we hit our target for mortgage paydown, and exceeded our taxable savings target by almost 20 percent for the year. we already know we got small raises for 2016, which we’ve mentioned we’re hiding from ourselves by increasing the amount we’ll auto-invest into our vanguard account each month. and we’re hopeful that 2016 will be a good year for both of us at work. which means:

we’re upping our game again. we’re ready to go pro this year.

we’ve written before about how saving for early retirement is like climbing a mountain, and we still think it’s a perfect metaphor. you decide to go the harder way (saving hard instead of spending / climbing upward instead of staying on flat land) in exchange for bigger thrills and better views. so this year, we have our sights set on a higher mountain. we don’t know that we can shave a whole year off our retirement timeline, but why not try? if we’re going to fail, we might as well fail upward, right? we’re still going to keep our official date as december 31, 2017 (and the ticker on the sidebar has now switched to counting it down in months — wohoo!), but we’re going to work like madmen to shave off as much time as we can, or at least to give us an extra cash buffer in retirement, or to give us the ability to give a lot more to charity even when we’re not generating much income.

how will we do that? cut out our last vestiges of mindless spending, keep optimizing the grocery budget, travel only on points and miles instead of cash (we have well over a million air miles between us, and are generating more all the time — we won’t miss a few), and be mindful of all the rest. this may sound harsh, but it’s not. we have a pretty low-rent lifestyle at this point (organic food is really our only major splurge, besides occasional airline tickets), and we don’t plan to live like paupers now or in retirement. we’re just looking to make some common sense decisions to cut out some wasteful spending that we know still happens. we think we can do it without feeling like we’re sacrificing, and this will just feel like a continuation of the gradual adjustments we’ve made over the course of several years as folks who are not frugal by nature.

oh, and climbing an actual mountain, too.

we are so happy we made the move from the big city where we used to live, to the small mountain town where we live now. the move has helped us save more money (mostly), but has also nourished our souls more than we could have anticipated. (seriously, just subtracting that deadly traffic from our lives has paid more spiritual dividends than we can count.) but, this other weird thing has happened that we never would have expected, either: we’ve had less drive to get out there and actually climb the big mountains. maybe it’s because we look at mountains every day and can get out in them whenever we want (that is, when we’re not traveling for work), which means we don’t feel that same hunger, or maybe it’s just coincidental that we happened to move right when our jobs got a lot more high-pressure and stressful, but we haven’t climbed any “real” mountains since we moved here. and we plan to change that this year, too.

so 2016 is our year to climb a new mountain in reality, and in our finances. we’ll keep you posted with quarterly financial updates (they won’t look that dramatic until end of year, barring any major market shifts), and with periodic mountain planning updates. we hope you’ll join us for the journey!

what mountains are you planning to climb this year, metaphorical, geological or otherwise? any ways you’ve upped your game recently, or plan to in the new year? we’re all ears! (or eyes, really. but who says “we’re all eyes?” that just sounds creepy.) ;-)

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Categories: goals

96 replies »

  1. Congrats on exceeding your goals! What a way to end the year than with a huge mortgage payment. Our finance mountain for 2016 is paying off all debt. While frugality will be one of our strategies, increasing income will be the other. :) Here’s to an amazing 2016 for everyone!

    • Thanks, Claudia! It’s so amazing that you guys are so close to being debt-free — can’t wait to congratulate you when you get there! Did the big house sell yet? Happy new year!

      • NO! The big house hasn’t sold. :( We’re looking into several options at this point. The big house is the greatest portion of our debt and after significant debate, we are not turning it into an investment property. At this point, I think the best we can hope for is to not have to sell at a loss. Many tweets will commence to celebrate the moment the big house sells. LOL

  2. Hot damn! Congrats on kicking so much ass last year. Even the mere consideration of shaving an entire year off of your retirement date is a wonderful feeling to have, no doubt. We shaved a year off ourselves back in the summer of 2015, in fact. A feeling unlike any other, really – well, up until the point that we actually retire. :)

    No big changes on our end from a savings perspective. This year, we will be selling both of our homes and buying the Airstream, so there will be LOTS going on, but nothing truly miraculous from the way that we live our lives. We have lots of travel planned, too, including a couple trips down to Mexico, which will be on the super cheap.

    I am looking forward to watching you guys navigate the retirement waters and deciding if you can retire even earlier than you expected. Especially with deferred compensation, I understand that it’s probably tough to leave mid-year, though, and forgo all that extra cash at year end. I’d say either the end of 2016, or wait until the end of 2017, to maximize your cash position! :)

    Whatever track you take, good luck, and we’ll be following along as you make your dreams of early retirement a reality!

    • Thanks, Steve! The feeling is for sure a great one, even if we don’t end up shaving off (hacking off?) that year — like you said, we don’t want to quit mid-year, so it’s either end of 2016 or (more likely) end of 2017. But knowing that we could retire with a solid cushion is a pretty sweet feeling too, considering that we were willing to pull the plug even if we didn’t hit our magic number!

      You guys have a HUGE year ahead! Look forward to reading about all of it, especially your search for the perfect Airstream, and the final downsize.

  3. Nicely done! What a year! $25k payment. I wonder what the person processing it thought? :) No big major changes for us in 2016, its a back to basics, a fresh start kind of year for us. We want to get back on track building wealth.

    • Thanks, Brian! Given that we have the worst mortgage processor in the world (Ocwen), I’m positive no human even saw it. :-) Which is too bad! I love that you guys are refocusing after a tough year — I have a good feeling about 2016.

  4. Wow, you guys are crushing it! How awesome to put $25K towards your mortgage. I’d love to pay ours down, but it’s not realistic right now. I actually can’t wait for the military to move us, whenever that might be, so we can really apply more of the lifestyle changes we’ve made over the last year.

    One thing I really want to do this year is create another income stream. I’ve been toying with a few ideas. We’ll have to see what happens.

    • Thanks, DTG! Another income stream sounds perfect, though you’re already crushing it on that front. Seems like you have a great vision for sustaining you guys after you leave the military. Hope you get to move soon to a place you prefer!

  5. Congrats on doing so well on your 2015 goals! When we reanalyzed all of our numbers, and like you guys, getting help and focus through our blog, we realized that yeah, we could be done a good year or maybe two before we initially thought. It’s pretty sweet!
    We’ve also decided if our jobs force us out, then we might just say “Screw it, we’re doing this” and go ahead and move and start the transition for the better quality of life aspect if nothing else.

    As far as our 2016 goals, we’re kind of on auto-pilot at this point. Just keep on keeping on, with no major changes.
    We’ve analyzed how much our date would change if we went real frugal with spending and the very slight movement up of our FI date just isn’t worth it at this point. Our big goal is trying to nail down, where we want to move, and take a trip out there to get a real feel of the area. Wherever that may be. :)

    • Your post on assessing your risk and changing your timeline was instrumental for us in a big way — without it, we wouldn’t have even considered that we might be able to shave time off. So thank you! Same with us in terms of layoffs or whatnot — 2016 should be pretty good, but who knows what 2017 holds? And if we got laid off in 2017, we’d for sure just call it a day then and get on with the rest of our lives! :-)

      It’s great that you’re on autopilot — that’s for sure the secret of our success. We’re just upping our autopilot contributions, since we can, but would be in great shape if we just continued at 2015 levels. We definitely agree with you that we aren’t looking to go majorly frugal — the point of all of this is to enjoy life, right? We just want to cut out the waste once and for all.

      Can’t wait to hear where you guys end up deciding to move… Roanake? Elsewhere in Appalachia? Somewhere in the west? Good luck!

      • Awesome, I’m glad we spurred some thought towards shaving time off! It’s always nice knowing sometimes those posts help other people, lol.
        In any way possible, we’re doing the same for our contributions – if we can up them, we will, if not, that works too.
        I like that we’ve found balance between frugal and wasteful, and sure, some might interpret some of our spending as wasteful, but hey, to each their own. :)

        I jsut got some links to a city data advanced search site, that searches the whole country based on your input criteria – everything from amount of rainfall, snow, sunshine, crime, education, you name it, you can search with it. It’s pretty interesting, especially now that it’s suggesting Pennsylvania… Gah!!!!

      • Your posts for sure help people! I think we all help each other just by sharing our thought processes. :-)

        That city data stuff is kind of hilarious. It once suggested that I move to Fresno, California, which I happen to think is about the worst place in the world. :-) And then it suggested Waco, Texas, which I consider another poor fit (although that Fixer Upper show has informed me that you can get a fully renovated mansion in Waco for like $100,000, so maybe I’m selling it short!). ;-)

  6. Awesome update, and congratulations on your progress! I am hopeful that 2016 will be one of the most eventful years of our lives. Taking these last few weeks away from work has made me even more excited to hand in my resignation (drafted the letter yesterday) and start traveling. Eek!

  7. That’s AMAZING how you were able to put that 25k bonus toward your mortgage. You will be mortgage free and living your early retirement dream in no time (literally, being 2017). It sounds like you are on schedule to retire early as planned which is another AMAZING achievement! Fingers crossed that the stock market doesn’t dip too much and your investments hold up well so you can make this happen. I love how you revised your calendar to have it count down. It’s a nice touch!

    We are still looking to find out how much (fingers crossed) hubby’s bonus will be where we won’t know until April. But we are only allowed to take a small portion in cash where they put the rest in profit sharing. No complaints though. We are still thrilled when we get it!

    You two have made great progress in 2016, keep up the good work (which of course, I know you will)! :)

    Beautiful blog design by the way!

    • Thanks! We’re definitely excited to have ended 2015 where we did. (And, of course, the stock market is even not cooperating today — haha.) Thanks also for the note on the blog design — we still love it a few months in. :-) Good luck on your husband’s bonus in April! We know the bonuses have been a big key to our savings rate, so we always root for friends to get good ones!

  8. Incredible progress! Congratulations on potentially shaving an entire year off your projected retirement date. It’s never too early to break those chains. For us, 2016 marks the first full year of no mortgages, although medical expenses more than make up the difference 😨. Goals include pay no interest, borrow nothing and do not reduce the principal of any investments, or basically “live within our means.” Fixed income living is still relatively new to us, and we’re learning as we go, but we’ve made great strides since last March and hope to fine tune expenses this year even more than last. One issue we’re putting on hold for 2016: any major home repairs for which we don’t have the ready cash. I would like to see a full year of living within our means on our fixed monthly income before we make any major shifts in assets, and I’m looking forward to continuing the process of identifying waste, clutter and unnecessary excess so we can begin saving again. Here’s to a successful year!

    • Thank you! We are definitely ending the year in a more exciting place than we thought was possible even just a few weeks ago. :-) Your 2016 goals are great, and make total sense given where you are as new retirees. I’m sure we’ll have some bumpy years as we adjust to the new order of things in retirement, so I like your plan of living within your means and conserving assets as you adjust. Happy new year!

  9. Thank you for another wonderfully inspiring post! Congrats on such an excellent 2015. I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings to Our Next Life. I think in terms of mountain climbing for us, maybe I’ll actually find a way to measure our savings rate and share it. Our pension contributions are 10% pre-tax and everything else is post-tax, so it probably only makes sense to me in our current spreadsheet mess!

    • Thanks, Penny! And as for your numbers, this is a community that can handle some math, so don’t be afraid to share those rates if you feel like doing so. :-) If you just divide your total dollars saved by our after-tax income, you should arrive at an accurate percentage.

  10. This is so exciting and motivating. We’ve only been at this thing for half a year and have already seen some major changes happening in our lives. I’m so excited to see how far up that mountain I can push us this year! I am looking forward to seeing what a full year of this change can bring.

  11. You guys…this is amazing!! Incredibly excited for you two to step up to pro status for the year 2016 and know that you’re ahead of schedule – what a great spot to be in! Way to also balance out the financial & physical, I cannot wait to also hear about your geological adventures of summiting mountains. We take on Spencer’s Butte here often in Eugene, but I definitely want to head to Smith Rock for a hike. There’s also some amazing mountains to summit in the Portland area and Washington that hopefully we can get to this year. In the professional development sense – my fiancé & I are also working with the local Chamber of Commerce to put on the first ever Young Professional Network Summit/Conference. Cheers to 2016, and taking on all types of peaks in life! :)

    • Thanks, Alyssa! It’s definitely not where we thought we’d end the year, but we’ll take it. :-) Some of the Cascades are definitely on our list of candidates, along with the 14ers of CO and CA!

      Your young professional networking summit sounds incredible! Good for you guys for making that happen! I hope you’ll keep us posted about it on your blog. Happy new year!

  12. Ahead of schedule, wahooooo! That is seriously awesome. What a cool way to start out the New Year. :)

    Oh gosh, I have so many mountains to climb this year that I can’t even keep track of them all. It’s like the Himalayas. But the first one is definitely finding a job that will pay as much as possible (and that, you know, I also like) so I can start getting rid of my loans.

    I’m such a slow/sporadic reader these days, but I’m *almost* done with My Life in France, and I’m feeling really inspired by it. I’ll probably shoot you an email you when I finish because I have a lot of thoughts…

    • Thanks! Sending you tons of good vibes on the job search. Agree with you that actually LIKING the job is super important. I know it reeks of unacknowledged privilege for me to say this, but we wouldn’t have stayed in our jobs, well-paid as they’ve become (though didn’t necessarily start out that way — we had to pay dues), if we didn’t like them and think they contribute good to the world instead of evil. So I hope you find that for yourself!

      Please do email after you finish the book! I’d love to discuss, though I’ll have to refresh my memory if you have specific passage references. :-)

      Happy new year!

  13. You guys crushed it in 2015 – Congrats! I had a great year as well, exceeding expectations but am looking forward to learning from 2015 and applying it to 2016 to kick some more ass. In 2016 I plan to make more, spend less, and invest the rest :)

    • Thanks, FF! How awesome that you had a great year, too! Your plan for 2016 pretty much matches ours exactly: make more, spend less, invest the rest (or pay off the house). ;-)

  14. Awesome job and congrats. I’m sure it feels great to realize you’re ahead. I look forward to seeing your countdown hit zero. Good luck with 2016.

  15. Fantastic job kicking your goals in the teeth — think you’ll update the widget in the sidebar or just go pro and kick the widget in the teeth too? :)

    • Thanks, Jim! And haha — We’ll just keep the widget ticker as-is for now, since odds are we won’t move our date up, but will just work on a bigger cushion. But then again, that could change too! :-)

  16. Wow having 76% of your income after taxes is a amazing accomplishment! Im only 18 and from my income and very small bills I cant even save 76% of my income! Keep going strong and that early retirement will come!

    • Thanks! There is no way we could have saved this much when we were younger — this is definitely a result of growing our incomes over time! You’re in such a great position, though, paying attention to finances at a young age. If you can prevent lifestyle inflation from creeping in, you’ll be in great shape to hit a lot of goals quickly, and to avoid a lot of the mistakes that we’ve made along the way!

  17. Congrats on exceeding your goals! Ahead on your schedule is definitely a good feeling to have.

  18. Your net worth went up more than your after-tax pay … that’s amazing isn’t it? Especially in a “down” year for the equities markets. I am finishing a post (for Wednesday) that looks at our net worth vs. our LIFETIME after-tax earnings.

    Very interesting analysis to see what’s left.

    • It IS amazing! Though we wouldn’t get nearly as favorable a breakdown if we looked at lifetime earnings vs assets — we had a lot of years of frittering it away, though thankfully those were lower earning years. :-) Looking forward to seeing your breakdown!

  19. Your determination is crazy inspiring! Congratulations on everything you have achieved. I can hear it in your tone how badly you want this. While I’m not taking the steepest route up the mountain (or faster), it’s definitely a “challenging hike.” I do need to cut myself a tiny bit of slack and enjoy some life now, but I’m still pretty hardcore about wanting to really feel financially free sooner rather than later.

    • Thanks! Yeah — guilty as charged. :-) Your path seems like a great one. Focus AND balance, because we totally get that desire for financial freedom!

  20. Oh my gosh. $25,000 against your mortgage in one fell swoop? Incredible that you’re considering reaching your Next Life goal by the end of 2016. Good luck! (And looking forward to photos from your “real mountain” climb : )

    • Yeah, file that under “things I never thought we’d be able to do”! Pretty amazing what can happen when you get super focused and disciplined! Thanks for the well wishes — we’ll definitely keep sharing photos from the adventures! :-)

  21. Dang! Congrats on being ahead of schedule! How exciting! The structure of your compensation makes it tricky, though. Make it by the end of 2016 or it’s probably worth waiting until the end of 2017. Tricky tricky.

    My mountain is getting my food under control. I’m a pretty picky eater in the first place and it’s feeling like I’m intolerant to dairy and something else. Stupid Midwest, putting dairy in everything. Not having reactions would be awesome and I’m an adult so I should be able to make it happen. This is going to be my hardest adult challenge yet!

    • Thanks, Kate! And you’re definitely right — there’s pretty much no scenario in which we’d work part of 2017 but not stay until bonus season. But maybe we could work out a part-time arrangement or… ?

      I can definitely attest to the benefit of figuring out your food challenges. The learning curve is sometimes steep after you figure out what you have to cut out, but then it becomes second nature. So I know you’re facing a world of dairy, but it is worth it to figure things out so that you’ll feel better!

  22. Very exciting post! I typically like to create small goals, but I really love the questions about what mountain i’ll climb this year–I just may dream big!

    A few questions: what was your original retirement goal before you decided on Dec 31, 2017 (before you started the blog)?

    Also, you write that you are going to keep the same retirement date and you also write that you want to shave off time–so I’m a little unsure about your point here. By shaving off time, do you mean that you’ll tell us that though you are keeping your dec 2017 date, that you could move it up to nov 2017, half a year, whatever? That way you’d be shaving off time that you would have to work at the current job even though you’ll choose to until dec 2017. You also write about saving up more cash for when you retire so perhaps that is how you’ll show your progress.

    I’ve read your post, but not the replies yet, so if you’ve answered these questions already, I apologize.

    • Our original goal was 2020ish, but wasn’t super specific. When we started getting specific, we realized that we could save more aggressively and get *close* to having enough at the end of 2017, so we decided to go for that goal. But then, as you know, we got ahead of schedule this year. So, to answer your question, we’re now going to save *as if* we can reach the goal of retiring at the end of 2016, but knowing that we probably can’t save quite that much, and instead we’ll still retire at the end of 2017 but just with a bigger cash cushion. Does that help? :-)

  23. I’m so excited for your mountain climb (the real one, though the figurative one is interesting too).

    Right now Rob and I are trying to figure out if we can make any calendar space for an end of summer camping/hiking trip which is something we’ve only done once since having kids. The schedule of a doctoral student doesn’t involve super-long hours, but it does require an unusual commitment to the daily pursuit of knowledge in your exact field of study.

    • Thanks, Hannah! I haven’t planned a climbing trip in a while, so I’m excited! And I hope you guys can work a trip around Rob’s schedule! We always find the outdoors so healing. And such a great gift to your kids to get them outside early in life, so they appreciate nature! :-)

  24. I don’t know what to congratulate you guys more on – the awesome mortgage payment, the saving of 76% of your after-tax income for the year, or the being ahead of schedule… so congratulations on them all!!!

    I think the most important part of this post and your vision, so to speak, is when you say:

    “we don’t plan to live like paupers now or in retirement. we’re just looking to make some common sense decisions to cut out some wasteful spending”

    There would be nothing more defeating in your goal of early retirement than not being able to enjoy life on the path and once you get there.

    Good luck to you guys!!!

    — Jim

    • Thanks, Jim! Appreciate the congrats! And yeah, we talk about striking that balance a lot. We never want to feel like we’re taking the joy out of life with our spending choices, but instead look to hone in on what really makes life joyful, and what spending we can cut. This is a small example, but we love movies, and so we will never get rid of Netflix, even though many movies can be rented for free at the library. That hassle just isn’t worth it to us, even though we’re happy getting all of our books from the library. Go figure. :-)

  25. Holy wow – great job you guys! With your goals and that CRAZY AWESOME mortgage payment! Sounds like you have some great goals ahead of you this year as well, I’m sure you’ll crush ’em ;)

    Our “mountains” are fairly similar to yours: continue being frugal and mindful of our spending in hopes to double our savings rate from last year’s; donate more (there are a few opportunities that have recently developed in this area that we’re very excited about); declutter and organize as much as we can in our house and our lives; spend more time outside (last year the majority of the “nice” months were used up by our remodel). I’m sure we’ll develop more mountains as the year progresses, but those are our focus points as of right now.

    Excited to see where this year takes you and thanks for another great post!

    • Thanks, Mrs. FI! Fingers crossed that we’ll have another great year. And I’m positive you guys will have a fantastic 2016 — it’s your first year of getting to really save! Your goals for the year (so far) are all great ones, especially getting outside more. We definitely know that cooped-up feeling that comes from home renovation. Good luck finishing your kitchen!

  26. Congrats on an awesome 2015 and I can’t wait to see what you accomplish in 2016!! For me, the big mountain of 2016 is selling my business. I am not sure exactly who I will sell it to and when, but I know that 100% of my efforts will focus on this goal and when I focus my energy like that, there isn’t a single mountain I can’t climb. Cheers to climbing big mountains in 2016!!!

    • Thanks! Hooray for big goals this year! Look forward to hearing how your business sale goes — I have no doubt you’ll be successful! Love your positive attitude most of all. :-)

  27. Thanks for the link.

    You guys are killing it. I hope 2016 is as good to you!

    I’m excited to continue on our similar path on our financial climb while we continue to find our new path into the mountains with the little one. Very curious to hear more about your actual mountain adventure(s) and glad to see you are figuring out how to find that balance with this adventure and the recent vacation.

    • Thanks, pal! I’m also excited to keep hearing about your journey with little EE in tow! We’ll see how big a mountain we end up taking on this year, but we can’t keep putting this stuff off until retirement — we’re not getting any younger! :-)

  28. Congrats on an amazing year! I’ve been following along for a few months now and I really enjoy reading. There’s nothing more satisfying than making a lump sum payment like that! I used my bonus to make a lump sum payment on my car loan (almost gone!) and it was the best feeling. I can’t wait to see what you accomplish in 2016.

  29. Sounds like it will be a legendary 2016! I look forward to hearing about your mountain adventure. This last year I hike Shasta – which is a phenomenal climb. So, I’ll have to think of something for this coming year. Metaphorically, the mountain is quitting my job to make a full time living as a content marketer. It’s scary! But we’re doing pretty good and I think it’ll be a fun adventure. Who knows what will happen. Keep up the great writing – I’m enjoying your blog.

    • Thanks, Rob! What time of year did you do Shasta? We love mixed rock and ice climbs, and Shasta seems like a great one for that in the right year. Good luck on your goal of supporting yourself with content marketing! I can see why that’s scary, but so exciting, too! Here’s to a great 2016. :-)