Author Topic: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce  (Read 9370 times)

teveboss

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Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« on: October 06, 2015, 11:55:41 AM »
It seems like we will never reach our goal.
My husband and I have a good income and have been grooming our money mustaches since January. We weren't big spenders to begin with but we made some big changes right away, switching to Republic Wireless, getting a roommate for the empty bedroom, and cutting out superfluous expenses. Now we just feel discouraged and stuck.
Our home value has increased significantly in the 3 years we have owned our house, my husband increased his 401K contributions to 18%, and we have been tucking away anything extra into Betterment. Major improvements.
But our goal of my husband partially retiring in 4 more years seems entirely out of reach. When we look at mint.com and see our expenses, the 3 biggest pie pieces aside from taxes are: home, health insurance, and giving. We love our dinky little home and plan to be here for the long haul. Giving is VERY important to our values and we have reduced this as much as we feel comfortable doing. Our toddler ended up being a half a million dollar baby with surgery and a long hospital stay - health insurance truly saved us from financial ruin.
We look through our spending and see very few changes we can make. Small daily choices. And these are good, something we practice. Yet I am discouraged because what seems the vast majority of our spending cannot be reduced. What is the point of pinching pennies when we will only save at most another couple hundred dollars a month? What happens when you have a mortgage and a second child on the way before you ever find MMM? Those 20s meant for saving 50% are now unattainable. Where do we go from here? Begging for help.

humbleMouse

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2015, 11:58:56 AM »
so... you are "giving" away your income and are frustrated you can't save more?  And you are only saving a few hundred per month?  Sounds like you might need to question your "values".

norabird

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2015, 12:06:54 PM »
I understand wanting to do charitable giving--I wish I could do more! Could one of you find a side hustle? Is there a reason only your husband is putting only 18% away? (I put away only 14%, but not on a "good" income). More details on what the amounts are would help.

catccc

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2015, 12:08:47 PM »
Can you give more info?  I've always been naturally frugal, but I haven't been focused on such an early retirement until relatively recently.  I'm 36 now and I have 2 kids, ages 4 and 6 (almost 7).  Retirement in 4 years is probably a long shot, but not entirely out of the question.

Have you posted a full blown case study?  What are your income and expenses like?

Sibley

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2015, 12:10:25 PM »
Stop giving away money to charity. Instead, donate time.

Example. I volunteer at an animal shelter. I found out this weekend that all the volunteer hours annually equate to SEVEN full time employees. What I do isn't glamorous, but it is required. The floors have to be cleaned. The trash has to go out. Dishes have to be done. Laundry has to be done.  If those things aren't done, then the animals will quickly get sick and live in filth.

Additionally, post a case study here. I bet we can poke holes in your budget.

Gizsuat2

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2015, 12:10:39 PM »
What about looking at your giving goals in a different light?

If you saved the money you are currently donating, then presumably your husband would be able to retire early as you hoped.  At that point, your husband would be free to donate his time and skills, either directly to good works or by cultivating a side business he enjoys and donating those profits.

If you're being wise with your money so as to later put yourselves in better positions to serve the causes that are important to you ... this to me seems in just as much service of that goal as donating money right now.

thd7t

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2015, 12:10:52 PM »
You should write a case study.  If you give the forum some more info, people may be able to help you see areas you can reduce or methods.

http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/how-to-write-a-'case-study'-topic/

MoonShadow

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2015, 12:12:31 PM »
4 years is too short for anyone just getting started.  We need more data.

Fishindude

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2015, 12:23:02 PM »
You mention having a toddler, so you can't be too old yet, maybe 30's?

Standard retirement age for the average working stiff is 65-67, so anything ahead of that is early retirement.   
I realize this forum is pretty much dedicated to early retirement, but to be truthful it is totally unrealistic for many to think that they can be done with their working careers in their 40's or younger.

You won't ever get away from health insurance costs and you will always have some taxes assuming you have income or own some property.   You will also always have to eat, pay your heat and light bills, etc.   Control the things you can.  Pay off the house, pay cash for vehicles, don't take on any unnecessary new debt, control your expenses, and most of the money you take in will be yours to keep, invest and retire on.   

With a solid plan, maybe you can retire comfortably 5 or 10 years earlier than most of your peers.   That's nothing to be ashamed of.

little_brown_dog

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #9 on: October 06, 2015, 12:29:29 PM »
I feel you OP - 64% of our monthly budget is eaten up by our mortgage/property tax on our modest home and our necessary insurances (HCOL area). We were able to get our insurance rates down a bit, but not by much. It can get depressing trying to shave $20 off the weekly grocery bill when you have a $3000 mortgage/tax/insurance monster staring you down every month.

If you have already optimized your other expenses, it sounds like you need to now focus on the other half of the equation: increasing income. Side hustles are common, but it seems like the biggest income gains tend to be from substantial promotions/raises or finding a new position at another company.

+1 to doing a full case study - even for those with strong budgets, the forum members always seem to be able to find a few hundred dollars to save.
« Last Edit: October 06, 2015, 12:35:38 PM by little_brown_dog »

Easye418

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #10 on: October 06, 2015, 12:33:17 PM »
I feel you OP - 64% of our monthly budget is eaten up by our mortgage/property tax on our modest home and our necessary insurances (HCOL area). We were able to get our insurance rates down a bit, but not by much. It can get depressing trying to shave $20 off the weekly grocery bill when you have a $3000 mortgage/tax/insurance monster staring you down every month.

If you have already optimized your other expenses, it sounds like you need to now focus on the other half of the equation: increasing income. Side hustles are common, but it seems like the biggest income gains tend to be from substantial promotions/raises or finding a new position at another company.

Amen brother.... Slaying my monster next year,  selling the house :)


You mention having a toddler, so you can't be too old yet, maybe 30's?

Standard retirement age for the average working stiff is 65-67, so anything ahead of that is early retirement.   
I realize this forum is pretty much dedicated to early retirement, but to be truthful it is totally unrealistic for many to think that they can be done with their working careers in their 40's or younger.

You won't ever get away from health insurance costs and you will always have some taxes assuming you have income or own some property.   You will also always have to eat, pay your heat and light bills, etc.   Control the things you can.  Pay off the house, pay cash for vehicles, don't take on any unnecessary new debt, control your expenses, and most of the money you take in will be yours to keep, invest and retire on.   

With a solid plan, maybe you can retire comfortably 5 or 10 years earlier than most of your peers.   That's nothing to be ashamed of.

Damn... maybe some people enjoy working and earning money.  I hope I am not working until 65-67, but I will have to play it by ear.

To OP,  need a case study.  It sounds like you are in your mid 30's, income under $100k (maybe $75k), mortgage, decent retirement saved up, etc.  All of this leading to that you need more income to acheive your goals.

Great point about having a mortgage and 1 kid with 2nd on the way BEFORE understanding the MMM life...  I can't imagine the difficulty in turning the boat into the right direction with 2 kids.  Fortuantely, I only had a mortgage before I found out about MMM (more important to me, Financial Independence). 

Not to mention, enjoy your children and your time with them.  That is the biggest takeaway I have gotten from BH/MMM forums, everyone said they would of rather had children younger and spent more time with them.
« Last Edit: October 06, 2015, 12:35:33 PM by Easye418 »

dess1313

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #11 on: October 06, 2015, 12:34:00 PM »
Do a case study or add more details here.  How much are you renting the room out for?  sometimes its a long haul but if we see more detail we might be able to help you see some gaps in it

Kaspian

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #12 on: October 06, 2015, 12:39:55 PM »
What is the point of pinching pennies when we will only save at most another couple hundred dollars a month?

"Only a couple hundred bucks"?!  Geeze, that's why I do pinch my pennies!    Couple hundred bucks a month over a year is 4% of my take-home pay.  ...2 lavish vacations to Mexico, 2 Ebikes, 3 laptops, 5 PlayStation 4s,  12 hot air balloon rides.  Multiply that by a decade and I could retire a year early and then donate all my time to charity if  I chose.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #13 on: October 06, 2015, 12:45:27 PM »
Stop giving away money to charity. Instead, donate time.


+1

kudy

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #14 on: October 06, 2015, 12:56:15 PM »
This forum is often ultra-focused on reducing expenses - are there opportunities on the other end to increase income? Just as much or more effort should be put toward that effort if you'd like to be done in 4 years.

Easye418

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #15 on: October 06, 2015, 01:02:24 PM »
This forum is often ultra-focused on reducing expenses - are there opportunities on the other end to increase income? Just as much or more effort should be put toward that effort if you'd like to be done in 4 years.

+1.  My favorite learning from the board; 

two ways to acheive your goals:  cut spending or make more money.  Simple as that.

If you "can't" reduce, then you need to make more money.

SomedayStache

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #16 on: October 06, 2015, 01:11:42 PM »
I feel ya.  I'm the sole breadwinner in our family of five.  I found MMM while searching desperately for some way to not come back to work after my last baby was born (but, this will surprise NO ONE, of course there is no easy way out).

I wish MMM posted more these days - because his posts are optimistic and help me to feel encouraged.  Unfortunately, sometimes the forums tend to discourage me as I see people complain about only saving X amount - and X amount is more than our entire monthly budget.  I often wonder if I should even hang around here - and then I remind myself that what I have gained from MMM is contentment.

I used to be quite jealous of my co-workers new cars and my relatives gorgeous McMansions.  I resented my 10 year old beater car and daydreamed about expensive house renovations to up our standard of living. 

I started reading MMM and my situation hasn't drastically changed, but my attitude has.  Now I get in my old car and I think, "WOW!  Air-conditioning, tires, music, a comfortable seat, it gets me where I need to go!" And I am satisfied.  When I realized that a $30 to $50k house renovation essentially meant I had to work for another year, I decided my 1970s kitchen is pretty awesome.  We painted the cabinets and installed some roll-out shelves to create a pseudo pantry and now I look around and think that I am living in luxury.  Our 1-income status makes saving much more difficult - but looked at another way my husband is already 'retired' and we're reaping the benefits of having him at home.

(Ducking head for what I'm about to post)
We recently took a hard look at our budget and our values and radically decreased our saving amount and increased our monthly expenses.  The added line items are quality of life/value experiences that were always in the plan for 'someday' and we are making the conscious choice that someday = today for these particular things.  This isn't a frugal choice - but it was made with our eyes wide open and it might be a Mustachian choice in that way.  I also recently turned down a promotion opportunity that would have increased our money but decreased my time and happiness.  This was also a joint decision between hubbie and me - and we both value time and happiness over money.

It sounds like you've made some great changes in your life, and maybe now is the time to work on your attitude and find happiness with where you are right now.

TealBlue

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #17 on: October 06, 2015, 01:12:31 PM »
I second the suggestion of giving your time.  I volunteer at a children's home because for the last few years we've been unable financially to attend the numerous fundraisers and events we had in the past.  For the home I volunteer at, they have tons of donations as the community support is great, but there are many times when I arrive for my shift that the house "moms" are so thankful since the time slots before me aren't always filled.  5 years ago I probably attended on average 5 events throughout the year, buying tickets for $50-100/each then always buying something at the auction or whatever it was as well as donating monthly to the food bank.  Now, I volunteer most weeks (my time) and give veggies/fruits to the children's village when they are ripe from my family and friends gardens.  Same effect, different method :) 

Giro

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #18 on: October 06, 2015, 01:20:29 PM »
If you are all out of ways to decrease spending, look at increasing your income.


okits

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #19 on: October 06, 2015, 01:38:22 PM »
What is the point of pinching pennies when we will only save at most another couple hundred dollars a month?

"Only a couple hundred bucks"?!  Geeze, that's why I do pinch my pennies!    Couple hundred bucks a month over a year is 4% of my take-home pay.  ...2 lavish vacations to Mexico, 2 Ebikes, 3 laptops, 5 PlayStation 4s,  12 hot air balloon rides.  Multiply that by a decade and I could retire a year early and then donate all my time to charity if  I chose.

+1. You need to have respect for a "couple hundred dollars".  Those savings both increase your stash and decrease your future need for money by eliminating expenses. 

If your home, giving, and health insurance are all non-negotiable, then you must either earn more or be happy where you are.  I am with others who suggest you look into charitable work that doesn't involve giving money.  Or, get to FIRE/semi-FIRE first, then continue to work a bit longer and donate ALL your subsequent earnings to charity.

Tigerpine

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #20 on: October 06, 2015, 01:54:52 PM »
What about food?  I've found in the past month that using a crockpot slow cooker helps me to spend less on groceries.  You can freeze leftovers.

Jeremy E.

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #21 on: October 06, 2015, 02:07:30 PM »
4 years is too short for anyone just getting started.  We need more data.
Blasphemy, 4 years is plenty of time if you're a badass.

dess1313

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #22 on: October 06, 2015, 02:23:47 PM »
(Ducking head for what I'm about to post)
We recently took a hard look at our budget and our values and radically decreased our saving amount and increased our monthly expenses.  The added line items are quality of life/value experiences that were always in the plan for 'someday' and we are making the conscious choice that someday = today for these particular things.  This isn't a frugal choice - but it was made with our eyes wide open and it might be a Mustachian choice in that way.  I also recently turned down a promotion opportunity that would have increased our money but decreased my time and happiness.  This was also a joint decision between hubbie and me - and we both value time and happiness over money.

Kudos.  I have done something similar.  I am saving but i am also taking some opportunities that have come up now that might not ever come up again.  We tend to forget that we are not guaranteed to live to 100yrs.  Being too miserly now may mean that as we grow older opportunities or abilities may be no longer available to us.  Lots of people have injuries or illnesses and may be unable to say hike the mountains, or go on extended trips overseas or be able to do something else that's important to them or on their 'bucket list'.  I work in healthcare and see lots of lives interrupted by unplanned events.  We all need to live a little today instead of always waiting till tomorrow.  If you can find that sort of balance its great.

Trudie

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #23 on: October 06, 2015, 02:30:07 PM »
Charitable giving is a tough one.  My husband and I don't agree on this one, either.  I agree with all previous posts about giving your time.

Also, you can also take the "long view" with charitable giving.  I've made it clear to my husband that once we FIRE we will not be doing much giving, other than to our church (which we feel is important to support on an ongoing basis) and to public TV and radio (which I almost view as a "subscription.")  The only way I can get him to relent is by reminding him that eventually we'll have more than we know what to do with after we have required minimum distributions from our investments.  Gifting qualified retirement investments/stocks will be a good tax strategy and we will even be in a position to make a major planned gift or two.  I'd rather give less now knowing that someday we'll be dumping a nice chunk of change on a couple of charities.

slugline

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #24 on: October 06, 2015, 02:38:12 PM »
Just curious: On your current trajectory, how long do you think it will take to hit the goal?

Sailor Sam

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #25 on: October 06, 2015, 03:36:51 PM »
So, you are now 10 months into your MMM journey, right? In the beginning you were excited, dropping your phone bill and learning how to be a landlord. But suddenly the happy daydreams about money have a hint of obsession. You were feeling deliciously frugal, but now you feel both skinflint and a spendthrift all at the same time. It's weird. It's distressing. I say welcome to the grind!

Before, you were using other people's ideas on how to optimize savings. And it worked because there was a fair amount of money to skim off the top. Now you have to start find optimizations and money systems that are tailored to you and your family. Don't be scared, be thoughtful. If monetary charity is important to you, then give. If your house is important to you, then live in it. If you're thoughts about money are becoming obsessive or unhelpful, put the current percentage of savings on automatic and take a step back.

Noodle

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #26 on: October 06, 2015, 05:12:02 PM »
Well, yes, even optimizing relentlessly, housing and insurance are likely to be the biggest chunks of the budget. That's better than cars and cellphones! The giving is your call. Is it more important to give money now, knowing that you are also giving retirement time by reducing savings, or to give more time later (and possibly money as well)? People decide both ways.

Here's the thing...it may or may not be possible to retire extremely early with a given set of circumstances. MMM did it with two high incomes, no student debt, and not starting a family until after the financial work was done (and then having just one). His family also doesn't have pets, disabilities, or major family/faith commitments if I remember the situation correctly. Other people, with debt, lower incomes, or pre-existing financial commitments (child support, for instance) may not be able to travel the same distance so quickly.

But everyone will do better for themselves with the MMM techniques than without them. Try not to look around at other people and feel discouraged...look at your own improvements and feel proud! And own your choices...would you really want to get to the finish line faster if it meant not having your children? As Weight Watchers says about food...you can have anything you want, but you can't have it all at once and in unlimited quantities!

La Bibliotecaria Feroz

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #27 on: October 06, 2015, 05:28:50 PM »
It kind of seems like you posted on your giving about here because you want us to tell you not to give so much.

Your call. Giving time instead is certainly an option to consider. You could give time now, while you are in good health but wanting to save money, and give more money later, when you HAVE more money (thanks to the magic of compound interest).But it's your money.

teveboss

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #28 on: October 06, 2015, 05:33:20 PM »
Wow. I am so grateful and amazed at the responses here. I didn't expect so many ideas, so many encouraging posts. Thank you all so much. I will reread and work through all of these ideas.  I like the idea of posting a case study or at least more details on this thread - I will work on that.
More response on our end to come, but THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!

jollygreen23

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #29 on: October 06, 2015, 06:44:53 PM »
This may not be a solution, but perhaps a different way of thinking about the problem. I don't know how the math checks out, and other people on this forum are far more finance-savvy than I am, but...

What if you cut back on retirement savings, temporarily, and threw that money at your mortgage? You'd be saving money on interest over the long run, and then, once it's paid off, you have that mortgage payment to now throw into retirement.

Our long-term plan is:
Pay off student loan ASAP (roll the money from that payment into the next goal)
Save 3 months of expenses (Just In Case)
Pay off the house (reducing our cost of living by 25%)
Throw money into investments like there's no tomorrow
Retire

Should take us far less time to retire, with our current numbers, than if we were just saving for retirement.

Kaikou

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #30 on: October 06, 2015, 07:40:39 PM »
...

teveboss

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #31 on: October 06, 2015, 08:39:38 PM »

I will start working on a case study, but in the meantime, here is a little more detailed information that you all asked for:

To clarify, I work very part time on the weekends and mostly stay home with my toddler (no daycare costs). My husband works full time and loves his work, so he will continue to work long term there. We just hope to see him reduce to about 3 days per week starting in about 4 years so that we can have more family time while our kids are young.
Our only debt is our home. We have increased our 401K contributions to 18% and are putting away on average about $750-1000/month into investment Betterment stocks. We have made a lot of changes - the easy changes like switching services and cutting unnecessary expenses. I had become so discouraged when we looked at our budget and couldn't find much more to cut back on. I am very encouraged by your feedback and love the ideas of giving more time instead of money and also trying to increase our income. My best income ideas are: husband working overtime for awhile, increasing my side business, starting a small Etsy business. Thank you again for the great feedback. I have read it through several times and will work on that case study.

Greg

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #32 on: October 07, 2015, 09:10:58 AM »
A thought about giving.  I think it's only giving if you have it to give, and it's not taking away from you or your family's future or present.  If it does take away from your family, then you're not giving so much as sacrificing, a different thing.

matchewed

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #33 on: October 07, 2015, 09:17:42 AM »
4 years is too short for anyone just getting started.  We need more data.
Blasphemy, 4 years is plenty of time if you're a badass.

For this particular case I don't know if 4 years is too short or badass. I imagine it's just an arbitrary number. I think the OP and husband have it backwards. You probably shouldn't set an arbitrary goal of years but set a goal of $ value (the 25x expenses is a good rule of thumb) then determine your years to get to there based on your current savings. Then you optimize the things you don't value, and you'll get there even quicker.

Cart before the horse scenario.

KCM5

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Re: Stuck: the expenses we "can't" reduce
« Reply #34 on: October 07, 2015, 09:35:49 AM »

I will start working on a case study, but in the meantime, here is a little more detailed information that you all asked for:

To clarify, I work very part time on the weekends and mostly stay home with my toddler (no daycare costs). My husband works full time and loves his work, so he will continue to work long term there. We just hope to see him reduce to about 3 days per week starting in about 4 years so that we can have more family time while our kids are young.
Our only debt is our home. We have increased our 401K contributions to 18% and are putting away on average about $750-1000/month into investment Betterment stocks. We have made a lot of changes - the easy changes like switching services and cutting unnecessary expenses. I had become so discouraged when we looked at our budget and couldn't find much more to cut back on. I am very encouraged by your feedback and love the ideas of giving more time instead of money and also trying to increase our income. My best income ideas are: husband working overtime for awhile, increasing my side business, starting a small Etsy business. Thank you again for the great feedback. I have read it through several times and will work on that case study.

Are you optimizing your pretax space? So maxing out the 401k before investing after tax. And also doing a Roth or traditional IRA for each of you before investing after tax? Roth principle can be accessed at any time (not earnings) and there are plenty of other ways to access your retirement money before traditional retirement age.