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Reader Case Study: Portland Man Thinks He’s Doing Well

All right, here’s a neat case study for you.

A guy from Portland emailed me way back in May. He sent in a nice proposal for a case study, but I didn’t get around to writing it up until now.

Now, the time has finally come. And when I got back in touch with him, I found out he had been reading MMM and participating in the Forum section ever since. And during this time, he has both made some positive changes and scored a raise for himself.

So what follows is the original case study, some MMM recommendations, and then an exciting epilogue showing the current scene.


Dear Mr. Money Mustache,

I bet you get a lot of “hey will you do a reader case study” requests, but I have to be honest with you – most of the ones you select suck a little.*

I know you gear it towards upper middle class, so I’ll forgive you for most of them, but at least pick someone hard, rather than the easy pickins of folks with $800/month in car payments.

So, if you want a challenge – do me, do me.

The quick and dirty – Single Income, married with 1 kid (19m0).

Income summary:
$62,500/year salary
Stock dividends from a partnership $2400/year
Income from teaching basic motorcycle riding course on weekends: $2000

Monthly take home from salary – $3,960

Spending – the high points:

Household spending – $726/ month, includes utilities, pets and $260/month in food.
Cars – $300/ month, includes fuel, maintenance and savings for replacement.
Mortgage – $917, we’re on an ARM, so we’re only paying 3.8% right now. We want to refi this into a rental and put 20% down on a bigger place for ourselves in a couple years.
School Load – $120 – interest rate is something like 3%, it costs us less than $10/month, so at this point I’m in no hurry to pay it off.
Allowance – $150 for me, $150 for my Wife, $50 for the baby and $80 for the dog. (The dog allowance will probably go away sometime soon, it’s actually just accumulating in a savings account in case we need it for something.)
Health Care – $525 – my wife and daughter are healthy, and we have a $260/mo policy that covers them, the additional is to cover actual care costs. Typically that’s me, even though my work covers my insurance I have a heart defect and tend to run up co-pays.
Charity – $40. Lip service, it’s mostly even to NPR, but whatever

Total Spending: About $3050/month

Assets:

Home equity: About $30k on a $175k house
401(k): $42k, I only drop $550/month on that, including employer half matching.
Cash: $22k in the long term savings account that will be used for a DP on a house when it hits the $40-50k mark. (Projected in about 2 years.)
Other misc money accounts: $8-12k.

Okay, here is where you can make fun of us –

Cars – 2004 BMW 325i wagon. I love that car. We paid cash for it in January 2010. For all you bag on BMWs they are really good cars, we’ve got a good independent shop that I trust for service.
1995 Land Rover Discovery – hey, it’s got a fucking 5 speed! Rare. But a shitty car really, we’ll be selling that shortly, but it’s nice to have as we drive over the Cascades to visit my parents about once a month and in the winter a 4wd with good tires is good piece of mind. (And it’ll only sell for a couple thou, I’m not that motivated)
I’ve got a 2002 VFR murdercycle that I ride back and forth to work – 7.5 miles each way, it averages about 35 mpg commuting so I use about a half a gallon of gas a day.

That’s about it.

The problem: I’m not terribly fond of my job (engineer). At this rate I can retire pretty safely in 20 years, but then I’ll be 53 (and with a bad ticker I don’t know what that will mean), the kid will be all growed up.
The real problem is that I didn’t read Early Retirement Extreme until about the same time my daughter was born (and while I was having a particularly hate hate relationship with my job)

Why should you do us? We are right around the median household income. We are slightly better off than our peers (on average), and I think we do a pretty damn fine job of living the Mustachian life, but I don’t consider 53 to be early retirement or financial independence.

So tell me, Master of All Things Mustachian – how can I (significantly) quicken my path to financial independence? Can I proudly grow a mustache, or must I hide my head in shame until I cut the needless spending on… whatever is excessive.

*Excepting the teacher one, that was real good and the minimum wage one.

Mr. Money Mustache Responds:

This is an interesting case because we’re starting with a fairly Mustachian-sounding family, who wants to go further. By his own calculations, he is 20 years from retirement, and would like to pull that in significantly.

If I were to start running this show, my first step would be to clarify the numbers. I can see from the way this reader details his finances, that things are a little bit mishmashed, with some expenses grouped together, a variety of random streams of savings, and no clear picture of what the REAL monthly expenses are. And this is after I spent about 15 minutes hacking up the above list to the items at least slightly more comprehensible.

For example, when calculating your housing expenses, I suggest separating the principal repayment (a form of savings), and interest (a monthly cost which will eventually disappear once you pay off your mortgage), from the things that will be ongoing expenses in retirement (property taxes and utilities).

Similarly, your car expenses should include registration, maintenance, and fuel. But I don’t recommend “savings for replacement” because that category is too vague. If you drive a small enough amount, you may never need to replace your car. And when you do replace it, you could be buying a vehicle priced anywhere from $500 to $20,000 depending on your style. Instead, you might replace “savings for replacement” with a “vehicle wear allowance” of about 15 cents per mile. Once you start thinking of car costs as directly proportional to how much you drive, you’ll start having appropriate motivation to drive less.

So let’s boil it down to what I see:

Assets: $108,000 (including home equity):
Annual Living expenses assuming a paid-off house: About $25,600 ($2133/month).

To escape from your job, you need to do some combination of

  • paying off your house
  • accumulating stocks that can provide some income or managed payout, and
  • acquiring other assets that might pay more in exchange for a bit of work or knowledge.

If we wanted to do it all with stock investments using the 4% rule, you’d want $640k invested plus the $175k of home equity for a total net worth of $815,000. With your current savings rate of around 40% of take-home pay, you’re right that it will take around 20 years to get there, starting from where you’re at. The actual balance of your student loan balance was not listed, but you’d want to add that to the amount as well.

On the other hand, if you could cut your annual expenses by 10k per year, or increase your net income by that much, or do a split of the two, you’d be at a 60% savings rate. Adding in your existing savings, that would slice your time to retirement down to about 11.6 years, according to the nifty Networthify calculator (which was in turn based on the Shockingly Simple Math post, which was in turn inspired by a chart in the Early Retirement Extreme book..)

And it gets better than that: if you plan to keep the motorcycle instructor income and the $2400/year income from the partnership shares, you’ll only need to replace $21,000 of income after retirement.

If you own and manage one or more profitable rental houses after retirement (you’d want to rent your own out for at least $1500/month to make it really worthwhile when you move), this can pull things in even closer.

So that’s the bright side. Now let’s look at improvements that can be made immediately:

Your vehicle fleet is a bit off the hook for a family in your position. You’ve got three machines for two drivers, and none of them are even remotely fuel-efficient for the job they accomplish. I’d suggest selling all of them, and getting a single manual-tranny hatchback – maybe one from the Top 10 Cars For Smart People List. It should get at least 35MPG, making it acceptable for occasional single-driver travel, although in general you’ll be using your bike a lot more from this point onwards. And sorry, you have to sell your motorbike. I had the same bike, and I sold mine, so you can do it too.

This move will not only cut your gas, insurance, and maintenance costs, but it will free up several thousand dollars towards your goals!

Once you’ve done that big step, there is still plenty more fat that can be trimmed. Allowances? Why not try the Spousal Frugality Check method to make them unnecessary. A dog? That’s a pretty expensive optional companion to add to a family that is trying to get ahead financially. Keep this in mind if there’s ever a temptation to add more pets!

However, I can definitely offer my stamp of approval to your housing and food costs. There is not much that can be trimmed from that, which is the main reason you have a fairly good savings rate in the first place.

Summary: Find an extra $10k per year, and you’re good to go. Build up alternate income sources and you’ll really be on fire. You could be free from office work within as little as 5 years!

Epilogue: When I got in touch with Mr. Portland this afternoon, he shared the following update with me:

I did get a raise to $70k after getting an additional license since I wrote you…

Looking at the list, some other things changed too, I guess:
Sold the Land Rover, Started Bicycle Commuting 2x per week, Refinanced the house, Paid off Small Student loan when MOHELA took it over… I didn’t realize we’d done so much recently.

Wow! Congratulations again to this reader. For the most part, he has solved his own problems with the help of other readers of this blog.

Procrastination on my part has paid off. But that only works when you’re already retired.

In your case, perhaps you can see some parallels to your own situation, and a shortcut through the maze to financial freedom?

Have a great weekend.

  • Lance@MoneyLife&More August 31, 2012, 6:27 am

    My comment would be to track your spending more in detail for a year to get a true idea of the costs you can cut back on. Selling the land Rover was likely a big win and the motorcycle could be hard to part with but would definitely save money. I could learn from this by selling my motorcycle but that would be a tough decision for me as well.

    Reply
    • Matt G August 31, 2012, 2:19 pm

      I have a 1997 Honda Shadow 600, it costs about $100/year for insurance, and another $15 to register it. Change the oil, 50+MPG….. I don’t think it’s really a money suck. I’d be interested to do some calculations on the gas mileage of the Land Rover vs one on the top ten cars for smart people.

      Reply
    • Nurse Frugal September 1, 2012, 10:40 am

      Mr. Mustache would not be proud if I told him that both myself and my husband are driving very anti-mustachian cars. That is our vice. Husband drives a big diesel truck, and my car only gets about 24 MPG. However, I have noticed a huge difference in our fuel spending recently since I started working more at my job that is 15 miles away, and less at the job that is 40 miles away. We have also been using out bikes more frequently to get around in town which is great exercise and a fun activity to do with my husband ;)

      Reply
      • jet September 11, 2012, 9:14 pm

        Yay, looking forward to a bike post from you then, Nurse Frugal ;)

        Reply
    • AGil September 2, 2012, 7:05 am

      The BMW 3 series with a manual trans gets 32 mpg on the highway and around 29 overall (if you don’t drive like a lunatic)! I don’t really think that it would be wise get rid of it and replace it with a car that gets 35 mpg. It might never pay off, especially if the replacement car needs unforeseen repairs. Its rather cheap to own if you handle repairs yourself or have a decent independent mechanic that will not rip you off. Not as cheap as a Japanese econo car, but not terrible. I have a 5 spd 5 series wagon. 26mpg overall, 29mpg hwy. Not terrible, but next time I will skip the wagon, I fit just as much junk in my wife’s Corrola.

      We are at a point in time where cars are not getting much more fuel efficient without spending over 20K, and that makes the ROI quite crappy. I’m all for paying not so much for a car that gets 30mpg, over way to much for one that gets 40.

      As for the motorcycle, it does produce $2K of income each year! perhaps you can start an LLC and deduct its millage. Let’s call it Mustacian Motorcyle Training, LLC (MMT). Also, in my book a motorcycle should not be worth more than $5K. If it is, sell it and buy something cheaper but reliable (Japanese – my goodness do they make great bikes).

      Reply
      • Mr. Money Mustache September 2, 2012, 9:40 am

        There are loads of cheap, great cars that get over 35mpg.
        From fueleconomy.gov:
        2004 BMW 325i wagon, manual: 22mpg combined
        2004 Toyota matrix manual: 28 combined
        This is a HUGE difference in fuel consumption, from a car that costs less and holds roughly the same amount of cargo.

        In real life, you can average much better Efficiency with both cars, but the percentage difference remains.

        Today’s new econo cars are even better, with 40+ mpg scores even on the pessimistic EPA circuit. In a few years these will come down the used pipeline to the Mustachians and our options will be even better.

        Reply
        • Portland Man September 2, 2012, 10:51 pm

          Yabbut…

          I just looked for matrices on CL (by owner), 2002-2006, I found 3 or 4 for less than $6,000 – all with branded titles. The one clean title car I found (locally) is an automatic with more miles than the bmw and they are asking $9,500. The bimmer would probably go quickly at a bit more than $12k, so we’d pocket about $2k (after titling and registration) and save something like a benjamin a month in fuel costs.

          If I add dealers to the search I find a couple more matrices for … $12k. Not worth it.

          Reply
          • Chris September 5, 2012, 5:34 pm

            Damn who knew my 2004 Vibe could be worth so much? Mine is a stick and was only 14500 brand new.

            Reply
          • Mr. Money Mustache September 5, 2012, 5:44 pm

            Hey Portland Man.. never fear: ridiculous asking prices are all part of the fun of Craigslist. They are just there for your amusement. If you watch for a while, the overpriced listings rarely sell, and well-priced ones come and go quickly.

            When I bought my van for $4800, it was out of a field of Odysseys of similar quality priced between $6500 and $11,000. Even my own seller was asking $6500… but he cheerfully agreed to $4800 when I made the offer.

            What you do is you enter the car data in to the Edmunds used car appraisal tool, take a screen shot, and then you offer that amount to every seller that posts a listing, politely submitting the screen shot for reference. Eventually, you will find a rational human who is happy to discover you, another rational human, out there in the field of crazies, and he’ll be very happy to do business with you! (Especially since you are a buyer who is not complicating the deal with a car loan).

            It’ll work – I always buy and sell my cars for that Edmunds amount with no problems.

            Reply
      • Emmers September 6, 2012, 1:14 pm

        Yeah, how is he going to continue pulling in that motorcycle-instructor income if he *sells his motorcycle* ? Maybe I missed something.

        Reply
      • Yuriy September 19, 2012, 10:52 am

        How do you get 32 mpg out of a 3 series? I have a (*readies for an MMM punch in the face*) 2003 325xi and I’ve only once gotten 28mpg for all hiway, typical driving is 23-24mpg.

        Reply
        • Oh Yonghao October 10, 2014, 1:05 pm

          I have the 2002 525i and regularly get 30-32mpg. From the xi on yours I would have to assume yours is the version with awd option, which will probably reduce your mileage. I used to get only 23-24mpg with mine until I fixed the nut behind the wheel. Without fast acceleration and just the tiniest of hypermiling I get 30+mpg.

          Reply
    • FreeUrChains September 4, 2012, 1:36 pm

      Engineering Work Life:

      Drive to Cubicle, Sit in Cubicle for 8+ hours, Real Work for 1 hour per day because machines and technology are 1000x more efficient and self-autonomous then 40 years ago thanks to engineers though Creativity and Intelligent Human Problem Solving still requires the presence at Call/Order of Engineering Minds. Thus Engineers are paid to wait, until a solution to the Company is needed, or a solution to make money via technology/ services is needed.

      Study, learn via the web, blog, program, etc while at work and waiting on work.

      Drive home to exercise, cook dinner for family, build or entertain with hobbies, then sleep.

      Repeat.

      Unless you Work at Google, or you Work for yourself with many Profit making DIY projects, your will most likely dislike your job.

      The more “Senior” you become, the more responsibilities you obtain and the more hours you must do Stressful Work.

      All while only getting 1/10,000 of the Board of Director’s Salary and Dividend Incomes.

      Reply
      • JohnDoeJersey August 20, 2013, 7:58 am

        So, I have to protest this train of thought. I realize that the basic point of ERE and MMM is to retire from being forced to work. It’s a noble goal (and one I am working towards myself). That being said, you don’t have to hate your job to retire/reach FI. Additionally, you don’t have to be an engineer (or anything else for that matter) if you would rather do something else. The real point of this entire line of thinking (MMM and ERE) , is not to just make money, but to get out of your current comfort zone to improve your life. If that means switching jobs to take something which is initially less lucrative, but drastically more enjoyable, then do it*. Switch out the “Hobbies” section of your life for “Training to do something I might actually like”. Fortune favors the bold after all.

        *With proper planning of course. Ensure you can maintain income enough to live/save for this period.

        Reply
  • Dillon August 31, 2012, 6:47 am

    It seems like the wife was ignored in the solutions. This could’ve been because that was a non-starter idea, I do not know. But, perhaps the wife could look into some side hustle (be it at home or not) to help meet that extra 10k/year goal. Dog-walker? Googler (“market researcher” or whatever they’re called, the people that get paid to give feedback on websites)? Babysitter? Lab guinea pig?

    Reply
    • Emmers September 6, 2012, 1:23 pm

      Maybe she’s going to get a real job when the baby hits nursery school age? I guess it’s all speculation anyway.

      Reply
  • Mia August 31, 2012, 7:02 am

    That was a great case study!!! Actually I disagree that most of other ones have been lame. We learned something from each one and that is what counts, right?
    Is it possible to give updates on at least some other ones?

    Reply
    • GregK August 31, 2012, 11:13 am

      Seconded — a 6-month or 1-year follow-up would be fantastic.

      Reply
  • Holly@ClubThrifty August 31, 2012, 7:20 am

    I think this was great. I agree with Lance above- that they should start tracking their spending very closely. We didn’t start making huge financial gains until we started tracking every dollar. It makes a big difference to see where everything is going.

    Reply
  • Joy August 31, 2012, 8:21 am

    MMM thanks for the link back to “Spousal frugality check”

    I read that post the day you posted. However, I seem to
    have forgotten the ten dollar rule.

    Yesterday, I blew ten bucks on candy and, bottled tea.
    Yes, I did. :( I did feel slightly stupid but, I said to myself
    it is only ten bucks. What an idiot.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • FreeUrChains September 4, 2012, 1:44 pm

      It’s only $30 for the Chocolate Cover Apple.
      It’s only $300 for that Refrigerator.
      It’s only $3,000 for 300 sqft of Kitchen.
      it’s only $30,000 for the SUV to transport the Candy.
      It’s only $300,000 for the House.
      It’s only $3,000,000 for the beach Front Property to Enjoy eating this Chocolate Covered Apple.

      The psyche of the Antimustachian, and mostly foolish consumer-worker-taxed wage slaves who are temporarily happy in Debt.

      I am glad Mustachians have seen the light, and most of us were Antimustachian the majority of our lives.

      It is tough to break the habbit, but alright if it’s minor slip ups. Just say it enlightened your tastebuds and awe for the engineering required to make that candy, this one time.

      Reply
  • swiming_naked August 31, 2012, 8:45 am

    I like the vehicle allowance based on mileage idea.

    Also, that Networthify calculator is really cool.

    Reply
    • Debbie M August 31, 2012, 10:41 am

      I’m also thinking about this. I currently have a vehicle replacement fund in addition to a car maintenance fund. A 15-cents-per-mile vehicle wear allowance would be significantly less than I currently contribute to my replacement fund alone. (I fill the tank once every month or two. Even if I put in 10 gallons a month, getting about 30 mpg, that’s 300 miles or only $45/month versus the $60/month I contribute now.)

      Because I don’t drive much, I think of car’s lifespan in terms of years rather than miles; through experience, I expect a car to live to be 20 years old.

      But surely most wear-and-tear is more highly correlated with mileage than with age, so I will be looking into this.

      Reply
  • Mr. Everyday Dollar August 31, 2012, 8:49 am

    Using something like Mint.com or simply tracking income and expenses with a spreadsheet and graphing the data is very, very useful. I have been doing it for a long time YMOYL-style and it provides a great visual to how much you’re earning, how much you’re spending and if you plot your investments too, you can see the crossover point getting closer and closer over time. The crossover point being when your investments can generate enough income to cover your expenses. Also known as being financially independent!

    It really drives home the point that to reach financial independence you need to increase your income, decrease your expenses and invest smartly. Striving to do a combination of all three will position yourself for success.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  • Mr. Frugal Toque August 31, 2012, 10:05 am

    Can he teach the motorcycle course without having a motorcycle? I have no idea if that’s feasible where he is.
    Also, yes, track your expenses for a few months. That’s how we found the surprises that let us cut down to under $2k/month.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 31, 2012, 1:01 pm

      That’s a good point about the motorbike – if you need to own one for demonstrating stuff as an instructor, that’s a good investment. (When I took a motorcycle safety course, the instructor stood on pavement and just told us riders what to do.)

      On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be a VFR800. I sold my 2001 VFR for over $5000 just a few years ago, so his 2002 is probably tying up some cash. Instruction could be done on any old 500CC casual bike.

      Big motorcycles are often deceivingly expensive to drive, per-mile. The gas mileage is only marginally better than a car (mine was 45MPG, vs my Scion’s 40-44MPG. But the motorcycle uses a big, soft racing tire on the back that lasts less than 10,000 miles and costs $130+ to replace. The front tire is another $100. Compare this to the Scion which uses a $280 set of tires that last 50k miles or so. Similarly, the motorcycle goes through chains and sprockets quickly, requires a separate insurance policy, special clothes and replacement visors for your helmet..

      I’m not sayin’ they aren’t fun – that’s why I’ve owned three myself, dating back to the early ’90s. But they’re not all that frugal, unless you have a low-dollar bike and use it as an alternative, rather than an addition to, a car.

      Reply
      • Portland Man August 31, 2012, 1:23 pm

        I don’t use the bike for the beginner class, but when I teach the intermediate class (rare) I do. It used to be a requirement for active instructors to have a bike, and I don’t think that’s changed.

        So, I get to keep both or neither, I generally think of my motorcycle habit as a self-funded hobby, and I greatly prefer battling my way through the evening commute on a bike than in a car.

        Oh yeah – and the VFR is on the market for $3800, absolutely no bites. I’ve got a CX500 in the garage that needs a lot of work (my neighbor gave it to me), theoretically when I clear out space by selling the VFR the CX gets worked on and then becomes my go to ride.

        Reply
      • Ryan August 31, 2012, 2:19 pm

        Motorcyles can be very frugal and money-saving, or very expensive. It’s all up to how you go about it. For them to be frugal you have to do several things:

        1) Get a cheap bike that gets great gas mileage
        2) Work on them yourself
        3) Replace enough miles vs driving your car to make up the costs

        For #1 the best bike I know of for this is the Nighthawk 250. I’ve owned 2 and love them. You can get a good one for $2k and a fixer for $1k. People say 250cc isn’t enough, but my bike will do 80mph on the highway and get 80mpg (not at the same time). The Nighthawk is also a single-cam, single carb bike (as opposed to the Ninja), which is really nice for #2…

        You absolutely HAVE to work on your own bikes. Shop work on a bike is even more expensive than on a car, and like you said there is more regular maintenance that needs done. But doing your own chains and oil changes, and at least taking the wheels off for tire replacement will save a lot of money. This is where a small simple bike starts to pay for itself at least as much as the mileage benefit. I can adjust the valves and drive chain on my bike while the oil is draining.

        And of course if it’s a weekend toy, no matter how cheap it is, it’s still going to be an expensive toy. However, at 80mpg if you commute to work by car (already failing at Mustachism/ERE), this can save money FAST, and will only get better as prices go up. At one point I was commuting 60 miles round trip to work. My car got 35mpg, my bike got 80mpg. At $4/gal I’ll leave that exercise up to the reader ;-)

        In the end I agree he should sell the bike, but only to get a different one :-D

        Reply
      • Jamesqf August 31, 2012, 3:14 pm

        ” Similarly, the motorcycle goes through chains and sprockets quickly…”

        Two words: shaft drive.

        I’d suggest replacing with a less performance-oriented model. I also wonder whether some or all of the maintenance wouldn’t be a deductible business expense, since having one is a requirement for his teaching.

        Reply
  • Joe @ Retire By 40 August 31, 2012, 10:17 am

    Great job on getting rid of the Land Rover. Do you really need 2 cars with only one parent working? You should see if you can get a raise at your engineering job. I know Portland doesn’t have much engineering jobs, but look around and see if you find a new employer if you don’t like your job much. Drop by my blog and read about my experience with a prominent Portland Engineering employer…

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 31, 2012, 1:07 pm

      Joe – it says in the epilogue that he DID just score a huge raise for himself within the last 3 months.

      But yeah, in general I think engineers can get paid well over $70k, depending on the field. That’s not even a good STARTING salary for a new graduate in software, for example, assuming you’re working in an area with a good tech scene.

      Reply
      • Joe @ Retire By 40 August 31, 2012, 2:00 pm

        Oops, I misread it. I thought the raise was from his side motorcycle business because there was “license” in that sentence.
        Yeah, Portland is a bad market for engineers. There are not a lot of employers and I think engineers are underpaid here.

        Reply
      • gestalt162 August 31, 2012, 2:10 pm

        I guess it depends on the area. I’m a software engineer and make about the Portlandian’s pre-raise salary, after 2.5 years of full-time work and changing jobs once (partly for a 20% raise)! Then again, I live in Western NY, not exactly Silicon Valley.

        Reply
      • Uncephalized August 31, 2012, 5:18 pm

        Ugh, I kick myself every time I read those numbers, for getting an ME instead of a software/programming degree. I like programming (a lot), I’m good at it, and it pays way better than mechanical engineering (starting salary for ME is in the $50-60K range, I’m at $52K)–why did I go for ME? I have no idea. Just kind of happened.

        I’m teaching myself some new languages and learning as much as I can about software development in an attempt to slide sideways into a different field, but damn I wish I had just gotten a different degree in the first place. I sure as heck don’t want to go back to engineering school…

        Reply
        • Marcia August 31, 2012, 7:04 pm

          Well when you start out its hard to know what you want. I have a chem eng degree, which is pretty useful in semiconductors, but electrical would serve me way better right now. So I’ve learned on the job.

          I don’t even want to think about how many years it took to get to 70 k. Probably about ten. Then again, I’ve been having babies the last six years, and have chosen part time work. I could likely get an extra twenty thou if I was willing to work a lot more.

          Reply
        • Justin Lilly September 3, 2012, 12:46 pm

          The nice thing is, for programming, you don’t actually need a degree. I never got one (dropped out after 5 years of school, none of which were comp-sci) and managed to stay gainfully employed since. I even worked for Google for 2 years after a startup acquisition (as an employee, not a founder). The beauty of programming is that its a meritocracy. If you write code that helps people, you show it to an employer and you get a job. Easy Peasy.

          Reply
  • hockeyball August 31, 2012, 10:30 am

    Great case study! I am betting that Mr. Portland will not be cutting out his motorbike though. Mr. Portland, are you willing to work extra time near the end to keep the donorcycle habit going? I have similar conflicts with music and sports equipment that I just can’t seem to give up. These hobbies and their “things” are the outlets I use to get me through the accumulation years. Thankfully though as growing mustachians buying used has replaced buying new.

    Reply
  • Financial Penguin August 31, 2012, 12:42 pm

    Excellent Case study! I had the same thoughts as Mr Frugal Toque, won’t he need the motorcycle to keep the side hustle teaching people how to ride? Also completely agree that tracking in more detail is in order, in order to trim the fat from your monthly spending. Need to know where every dollar goes. but I commend you on your food budget, I live in a very cheap cost of living area and my grocery bill is around 400$ a month for two adults and a baby. Formula is killing us!! Just got him onto cows milk right now, he’s just 1 year old woohoo!

    Reply
  • Brian August 31, 2012, 12:49 pm

    Cool case study, though if I were in that situation, I’d probably just put a bird on it.

    Reply
    • Portland Man August 31, 2012, 1:20 pm

      Laughed out loud at that one.

      Reply
  • Portland Man August 31, 2012, 1:32 pm

    I suppose I should consolidate my comments a little. I’m the Portland Man in question.

    Responding to a few points:

    We do track our spending pretty closely – my original e-mail was almost off the cuff, I had to look at an old budget to get some figures exactly, but otherwise that’s the high level look at my household budget.

    Starting a YMOYL style chart is a good idea. I’ve done that a few times over the years, but don’t do it currently.

    I talked to some peers before getting my raise, and $70k is about the going rate here – structural engineering.

    I guess that’s about it. We need to update our budgets based on the changes made in the last month or so.

    I look forward to more comments.

    Reply
  • mike crosby August 31, 2012, 3:02 pm

    You guys are seriously hard core. Love the comments.

    Reply
  • FreeUrChains August 31, 2012, 4:34 pm

    “Single Income, married with 1 kid (19m0).” That’s $21+k/ year income needed right there, lol jk. Wife and 1-16+ Children are Priceless and once educated enough are very self-sustaining, ask my great grandmother who managed to pay off a 20 acre farm while raising 16 children and with minimal and voluntary child labor.

    Reply
  • Gooki September 1, 2012, 2:29 am

    Thanks for the case study and follow up. A lot of similarities with my situation.

    Reply
  • Andrew September 1, 2012, 12:04 pm

    How about we come up with a standardized spreadsheet that people can fill out to apply for a case study on their situation?

    Reply
  • Mr. Risky Startup September 1, 2012, 8:58 pm

    Not sure if moving to a less expensive place is an option, but when my wife and I stopped being dumb and decided to get out of debt, by far largest savings were created in the housing (direct and indirect savings I should add).

    We went from 4 bedroom suburban house with a pool, to a 2-bd condo (rental) and for months we kept finding one thing after another that saved us money, just because we downsized. From utilities (80% cut – maybe $3K per year saved), maintenance (100% cut, $3K per year saved, no pool in the back yard, but city owned beautiful pool 1 block down), closer to services (shorter commute), insurance (80% cut)… I can keep going for hours…

    I would suggest doing something drastic with your house (if you can’t sell it, rent it out) and then instead of moving to a bigger place (trust me, cozy is better for family) – move into smaller place, maybe with parents, maybe fixer-upper condo or a small house.

    Also, did you explore possibility of moving to another city where engineers are more sought after (Seattle, if you are in Portland OR)…

    Lastly, as for your spouse bringing in some money (if she is not already), that may be possible, but I would not do it if it would impact your child. My wife retired when we had our son 2 years ago, and it is the best thing we could have done – our son is thriving. However, my wife still does few hours of work form home when DS is sleeping, but only because she wants to challenge herself mentally and communicate with adults (her income is small, and then it gets killed by taxes as in Canada we file jointly and my pay is high).

    Good luck with whatever you decide.

    Reply
    • Laura Sanders August 5, 2013, 10:05 am

      Mr. Risky,
      Thank you for chiming in! My fiance’ and I are discussing downsizing from our current 3b/2b house rental to a smaller apartment when my 21 year old daughter moves out. You highlighted savings in rent, utilities, and maintenance…all things we are looking for. In addition, the move would put us within a 2 mile bike ride of Costco, Fry’s grocery, Trader Joe’s, and our community Saturday Farmer’s market. Next stop bicycle trailer and financial freedom! Thank you for your post!

      Reply
  • Mr RiskyStartup.com September 2, 2012, 12:39 pm

    I will again put my vote for manual Jetta Diesel (TDI) at least if you are in Canada. Mine is 2005 and I get 1000km per tank of diesel which is 10-15% cheaper than regular gas in Canada.

    Reply
  • pachipres September 2, 2012, 7:02 pm

    I have to disagree with the point of some of the other case studies being lame. I get excited when I see a post titled ” Reader Case Study”. I have enjoyed every single case study and even go back and reread the post and the comments. I learn so much from them. I have been tracking for 12 years now and I can truly vouch for how tracking keeps one conscious of spending. The other thing I have started to the idea from MMM with the one week challenge of trying to save $100 each week. I did this for months until I got so good at saving $100 per week I had to up the challenge because weeks would go by where I was only saving a few bucks each week so now I do the $100 challenger per month. Alot of it is saying NO to expenditures especially with my kids–okay, and myself too :-)

    Reply
  • JaneMD September 3, 2012, 12:03 pm

    I too was wondering about the wife’s participation since she wasn’t really mentioned – other than being healthy. She most be involved since the household is so frugal. Does she have savings, debt, degree? If I assume she is also in her 30s and worked before she got married/had kids, she probably has plenty of marketable skills, even if she only does it for a few hours a week. Reselling garage sale finds on craigslist? Home garden? Babysitting a few times a week?

    While I’m sure she is very active in the whole retirement plan, it just seems like we are missing the complete picture of the family.

    Reply
  • Gina September 4, 2012, 6:34 am

    Thanks for posting, I have learned the following from reading about Portland man:

    That I need to refinance the house..
    That dogs are money seeking leeches! But I love them anyway! :)
    Had a conversation about my husband riding his bike to work 2x a week, and he said “How would I get to work without spilling my lunch plate?”

    Can you do an article on Christmas presents for Mustachians, should be an entertaining read… I am wavering between Dollar General Stock or ETF stock for my Christmas present, or maybe old school saving bond. LOL

    Reply
    • FreeUrChains September 4, 2012, 12:40 pm

      Lol, “spill my lunch plate”- Tell him to just carry a walmart bag filled with 5 apples for lunches. This would kill 3 birds with one stone (Healthy, wealthy, and Wise). Better yet, plant potato and tomato plants in pots in his cubicle, preferably plastic reusable 2 liter soda bottom pots. Then he wouldn’t need to carry a lunch. If the Boss questions his little cubicle garden, have him say it’s my lunch year round sir, unless you wish to take me out to lunch every day with the bussiness credit card.

      Reply
  • FreeUrChains September 4, 2012, 1:15 pm

    Also, Less driving means less opportunity for Tickets. The Gov, State, Local are all desperate for money, thus they are really enforcing their money making (slightly immoral, but for better overall “Public Safety”) laws right now.

    Just remember, you can get a DUI while Biking.

    Reply
  • Bill G September 5, 2012, 3:43 pm

    A man after my own heart – BMW and a Honda VFR :) Definitely keep both, forget the naysayers. You can retire early and keep these babies! I must say though, that in Ontario my insurance for my 1999 VFR was about $600/year (and $1400/year when I first got it.) Maintenance, especially tires, were expensive. Gas usage and costs were never a concern for the BMW nor the VFR, I think that’s a red herring. The key to saving money on vehicles is to buy reliable (these both are) and keep them longer than average. My VFR was 10 years old when I got rid of it. My BMW 323 is twelve now. Even the cheapest econobox wouldn’t be worth replacing my BMW until it gets unreliable and expensive to maintain.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache September 5, 2012, 5:33 pm

      Hmm.. that’s a solid representation of the Standard Consumer take on an issue like this. But from an early retirement perspective, Bill is giving advice I’d strongly disagree with, because the numbers don’t work out.

      “Gas usage and costs were never a concern”? “$600/year insurance”?

      With income and spending levels as profiled in this article, those are serious optional expenses that are laughably easy to cut. They have a huge impact on the savings rate, which translates to a huge impact on your retirement date.

      I think Bill is making the standard assumption that “BMWs and VFRs are nice, so I want them”. Compare this to the Mustachian attitude of “I’m smart enough to figure out how to run my life WITHOUT these things, so I’ll do it.”

      Counterintuitively for someone still stuck in the Consumer Mentality, the second path leads to a happier life. A man is rich not in proportion to what he can afford, but in proportion to what he can afford to let alone.

      Reply
  • Pollyanna September 10, 2012, 11:41 am

    This was a great post, I read it when it came out and have digested it again today. With my re-read, I am in the midst of breaking out budget $ with more detail, which will likely shed more light on things, and lead to better decisions and whittling down. This is prime-time for my grown sons to read (24 and 27).

    Reply
  • frank July 25, 2013, 10:02 pm

    1999 Dodge Neon Sport, new paint (but some body damage at the front).. some engine wear perfect suspension and new tires.. Bought for $350. Rebuilt engine and new synchro cones in the manual tranny for another $1000, including repairing and repainting the damage.

    Basically a new car for about $1400.. oh and it gets 35mpg and has A/C..

    Hows that for a badass?

    Reply
  • SalmonSlayer April 7, 2014, 1:39 pm

    The Networthify link doesn’t appear to be working.

    Reply

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