Rich Examines Moving Expenses, Minimalism vs. Serial Killers, His Cat’s Shopping Habits, Modern Living, and The FIRE Desire

Dear Penny,

I thought it’d be interesting to compare our actual moving expenses with our estimated moving expenses. And I believe this will lead into a rant about modern living, early retirement, and education. We’ll see.

Let’s take a peak out the window of our new situation.

Is this home?

Before we moved, I estimated $30,000 in expenses. The big expense was our car, because now we need 2 cars as modern dual income working professionals. We also needed a bunch of furniture because all we owned was a couch, a bed, and an old dresser.

Well, the numbers are in — gaze upon them and be astounded:

Click on image to enlarge.

I’m not sure what’s astounding about this, I just wanted a dramatic transition.

Mrs. Rich told me my estimates were too low, and she was right. That said, I was expecting it to be worse. Every time we leave the house we spend a few hundred dollars on something. I’m not complaining at all — we knew we’d spend a lot getting a car and getting our apartment set up. $6,000 isn’t nothing, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I decided long ago I don’t want to lose sleep over money. 

Here are some observations about minimalism vs. frugality, modern professional living, and FIRE (financial independence / early retirement).


The personal finance blogosphere has already noted this apparent paradox, that minimalism (desiring fewer possessions) is often at odds with frugality (desiring inexpensive possessions). I think we’re a good example of this.

I was telling someone about the furniture we needed, and they commented, “You could find a lot of that on Craigslist.” I can’t remember what I said, but I was thinking, “Do people still buy second-hand merchandise from would be serial killers?”

But seriously, the Rich family doesn’t use Craigslist. Mrs. Rich and I agree that we don’t really want a cheap find; we want a quality piece of furniture that we enjoy and would like to keep. That’s minimalism vs. frugality. So when you look at the line items like Rug, Dressers, End Tables — that’s what you’re seeing.

Even the cat is getting into the act, showing an interest in Crate And Barrel!

Do not give this animal a credit card.


I would describe us as modern professionals. We’ve got the dual careers, the dual cars, the school activities, and the Vitamix. This is what we want. But in the midst of this tumultuous transition, I need to say something: I understand.

I understand the desire for simplicity — something you, Penny, have expressed over and over in one way or another. My life right now isn’t difficult, but it isn’t simple either. And this is mostly by choice, and the consequence of a life where one moves around.

We’re busy, juggling school related activities and work related activities. On top of it all, I volunteered to coach Kindergarten soccer. What was I thinking? Yet another activity.

Most of our stuff is still on a boat, so we’re eating take out on paper plates. At night we’re exhausted. It won’t last forever, but it’s been quite week. Or two.

I understand your mixed feelings about education in America. We went from a small cozy international preschool to a huge chaotic urban elementary school. Our boys, so far, don’t like it very much. All the rules, regulations, and impersonal interactions … I understand why you can’t stand it. Part of me wanted to pull them out after the second day, drop everything, and move to Finland.


I understand why people strive for FIRE — Financial Independence and Early Retirement.

Continue reading “Rich Examines Moving Expenses, Minimalism vs. Serial Killers, His Cat’s Shopping Habits, Modern Living, and The FIRE Desire”

Monthly Money Check: Penny’s Budget Blew A Gasket in June 2017

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Dear Rich,

I’m still here. Still on-call. Still carrying around a cell phone. Still checking the internet. Still being bothered by it all. But the good news is that I was able to read your latest post on your four commandments of technology. That was good stuff! I really enjoyed it.

Now, onto this month’s money report. Once again, things keep popping up. This month it was an exhaust gasket that needed to be fixed, high school uniforms, car insurance, a new tent, and a bunch of other little stuff. I’m starting to think that we might not be able to meet our goal of putting another extra $5,000 toward the student loans for this year. I was going to do it when we got our property tax refund in September, but now I’m starting to think we might need that money to help pay school tuition bills and whatever else pops up at that time (as things always do, as demonstrated here).

Oh, well. As I’ve said before, I would rather spend money on things that I value (like private school education for my kids and new tents) even if that means adding a little more time in paying off our student loans.

Anyway, here is where my money went this month:

Not very impressive.

Here’s how that looks when lined up with the other months from this year:

I’ll write again with my Happiness Report in the middle of the month.

Until then,


Rich Is Preparing To Move. He Enjoys Moving. Wait … He’s Paying HOW MUCH On Rent???

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Hey Pen,

Mrs. R and I are getting ready to move for the 6th time in 9 years of marriage. Even by my transient standards, that’s a lot of moves.

Some people hate moving. I’ve heard of people sticking with a crappy house or boring neighborhood just to avoid moving. The boxes! The packing! Getting everything organized! Changing your life!

True, moving is a lot of work. But I actually enjoy it.

Moving forces me to think about what I want to keep and I can do without. I’m forced to consider what I want my life to look like in terms of location, living space, and culture. In a sense, I’m choosing my destiny. And if I choose poorly, I can just move again. There’s a freedom to it. It can even be exciting.

Here’s the list of our moves:

2008 – East Coast apartment to East Coast apartment: From one apartment to another in order to get DirecTV and the NFL Sunday Ticket (needed a south-facing balcony). Yes, that’s why we moved.

2009 – East Coast to Denver, CO: Work assignment.

2012 – Denver back to East Coast: Work assignment.

2014 – East Coast rental house to East Coast apartment: We didn’t like our suburban house or our landlords after a tree almost killed me during a storm (long story).

2015 – East Coast apartment to foreign country: Work assignment.

2017 – Foreign country to East Coast apartment: Work assignment.

2020 or so – hopefully moving again!

Much of my financial planning energy right now is going toward the move. I alluded to this in my latest money check. Here’s what we’ll need to do over the next few months, along with cost estimates.

Click on image to enlarge.

Unfortunately, this means I’ll need to put a lot of my savings plans on hold until the end of the year. That’s life. No one should cry for me and I’m not complaining.

I should address the elephant in the room here, which is that rental price of $4,000 per month. How in the world is this reasonable? Well, first let me tell you a little about our area and then I’ll tell you more about our apartment.

We had a few priorities when choosing where to live. These priorities were non-negotiable.

  • Short commute. Commutes in our area can be up to an hour each way in traffic if you live in the burbs, leading to 11 hour workdays, less time with family, and general misery. Our commute will be 15 minutes.
  • Close to a good school. We will be able to walk to our kids’ public elementary school, which is Spanish-English immersion.
  • Walkable to good food and activities. We’ll be able to walk to the grocery store, to restaurants and coffee shops, and to the subway.

Right off the bat, there are only a few neighborhoods meeting all these criteria. It turns out we’re not the only ones who want to live in such a neighborhood, and this is reflected in the cost of living. I’m not going to give away where we live, but here are some data for our zip code according to Trulia:

Averages in my zip code. Click on image to enlarge.

So it looks like we’re right in line, even slightly under, the average monthly rent.

What do we get for $4,000 per month? Again, I’ll list the non-negotiables.

  • 2 Bedroom, 1200+ square feet, with a decent layout. Our apartment is a 2BR + Den clocking in at 1246 square feet. The layout uses space well. Some modern apartments have weirdly curved walls and such that make them difficult to arrange.
Our floor plan.
  • Gym and pool in the building. The pool is outdoors but will come in handy for the kids during the summer. The gym will come in handy for me.
  • Garage parking. 2 spaces will run us $175 per month. Indoor parking is great in winter.
  • Intangibles. These are not necessarily non-negotiables, but they are factors that are difficult to measure, like the culture (is it full of rowdy yuppies?), the quality of construction (are the walls paper thin?), and building management (are they responsive?). Our building scored well on these points.

There are a bunch of other amenities — like free coffee, a “cyber lounge”, convenient package and dry cleaning delivery, etc — that are also included.

I admit, $4,000 per month is a huge number. To make sure I wasn’t insane, I Googled “How much should I spend on rent?” The rule of thumb is no more than 30% of household income.

Click on image to enlarge.

It turns out, $4,000 is only 18.5% of our monthly income, so you could say we’re being frugal. Hardy hoo hoo.

You might say, “Hey Rich, with that monthly payment, you could easily buy a house!”

Sure. Let’s say I did that.

Continue reading “Rich Is Preparing To Move. He Enjoys Moving. Wait … He’s Paying HOW MUCH On Rent???”

Monthly Money Check: Penny Just Can’t Spend Less Than $2,000 A Month

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Dear Rich,

Frickin-A. I just can’t seem to get under $2,000 a month in expenditures (not including the student loan payment)! I tell you, I will celebrate when that finally happens. I was only $61.31 away from it this month. It’s the school fees that keep creeping up on us. It’s a tuition payment in January, elementary registration fee in February, high school registration fee in March, high school supply fee in April, and now an elementary student fee in May. Blerg, again, I tell you!

Even though we’re getting financial aid, I was thinking of how much sending our kids to these private schools is costing us. With my oldest on her way to a private high school in the fall, as well as the middle two at a private elementary and middle school already, this will be our most expensive school year yet. In tuition alone, it will be $5,200. But just look at how all those other fees add up, that’s at least another $1,000. That’s around 15% of our income going to these private schools. But, as they say, where your money goes shows what you value, and we definitely do value these private schools for our kids, but… DANG!

Anywho, here’s how my numbers added up this month:


I had entertained the idea of re-allocating some of our charitable givings to go toward the private schools instead, but I really don’t want to do that. I want to be able to give close to 10% of our income, so we’re going to keep trying to do that.

Looking at our income for the first four months of this year, we’re at $12,979. If we keep up at that rate, that will make for a yearly total of $38,937, which is actually a little bit less than what we made last year. And now we’ll be paying roughly $3,600 more in school costs than we did last year. Hmm… I don’t like how this is adding up.

Continue reading “Monthly Money Check: Penny Just Can’t Spend Less Than $2,000 A Month”

Penny Can Raise A Kid For Less Than $40,000 Over 18 Years. That’s Waaayyyy Below The National Average.

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Dear Rich,

Oh, my gosh. Over $1 million to raise the twins!!! That’s incredible. Seriously, I can hardly even comprehend that number. You laid everything out really nicely, and I have no problem seeing how you came up with that amount… yet I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around it. That amount is staggering! And you’re not even living an outlandishly luxurious lifestyle (well, maybe, kind of, sort of).

As you may have guessed, my numbers come nowhere close to that. They aren’t even close to the $233,610 that a CNN article mentioned or even the $174,690 that the USDA is estimating for low-income families in 2017. 

I ran the Cost of Raising a Kid calculator, like you did, and it estimated $7,000 per kid, yearly. For 18 years, that’s a total of $126,000, per kid. I still think that’s high.

Here’s what I came up with.

Looking at the categories that the USDA (and you) used to determine expenses, I’ll go through them one by one. Like you did, I’m going to figure this out accounting for all four kids, and then, at the end, divide it by 4. It’s just easier that way.


My family of six lives in a 1,190 square foot home. Our mortgage payment is only $843 a month. I don’t think we’re spending more money than if it was just Mr. Penny and me. Maybe we garner up some extra with the utility and water bills because of the kids (washing cloth diapers, for instance), so I’ll estimate $400 in additional yearly expenses for that. We haven’t spent very much money on furniture for the kids. We co-sleep, so have never needed a crib. We got their regular beds for free from people we know. We just have very little stuff, in general. But, I’ll estimate $100 here, just to be on the safe side. Plus, that will include stuff like toilet paper.



We all know how my family is on food support right now, so technically, we’re not really spending any money on food. However, for the sake of this article, if we were to be spending money on groceries, it would add up to around $700 a month. Except for the toddler, everyone in the family eats a similar amount of food, so the kids portion of that comes to $5,040 a year.

TOTAL FOOD = What we actually pay: $500

TOTAL FOOD = What we would pay: $5,040

Child Care / Education

No child care here, so don’t have that to worry about. I am super picky about education though, so we do a combination of homeschooling and sending our kids to a private school. We get pretty substantial scholarships. But, and again, for the sake of this article, let’s say we were paying full price. It would be $4,000 per kid for elementary through junior high. That would be for 5 years, since I don’t put my kids in school until 4th grade (more or less). Then, looking ahead to the high school we plan on sending our kids to, that will cost $7,000 per kid, for 4 years. So, $48,000 per kid, or $192,000 total for all 4 kids. I’m going to prorate that amount over 18 years, like you did. (Our actual amount paid, with scholarships, would be around $12,305 per kid total, or $49,220 for all 4 kids.)

TOTAL EDUCATION = What we actually pay: $2,734

TOTAL EDUCATION = What we would pay: $10,666

Continue reading “Penny Can Raise A Kid For Less Than $40,000 Over 18 Years. That’s Waaayyyy Below The National Average.”

Monthly Money Check: Penny Eats Down Under in February 2017

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Dear Rich,

I’m starting to eat at fancy restaurants like you!

Well, maybe not, but our restaurant category was a little higher than usual this month. We went to a pancake breakfast put on as a fundraiser for the Boy Scouts. It cost us $32. I wasn’t sure whether to classify that as a restaurant or a charitable donation, so I went with restaurant. Another restaurant cost was when Mr. Penny and I went out for Valentine’s Day. We went to the Outback Steakhouse and went ALL out… appetizer, dessert, everything! (Total cost: $57.56) So yummy.

I am laughing at myself for getting so excited about the Outback Steakhouse. I realize that it sounds silly, especially to a man of such fine tastes as yourself (and to some of my friends who roll their eyes at such places), but I really do love the Outback. I fell in love with their food (especially their Cheese Fries appetizer) when I waitressed there years ago.

But that got me to thinking a bit about our perceptions of restaurants. Like, whether we like it or not is influenced by the reputation of the restaurant. The Outback Steakhouse is a chain, so liking it seems kind of cheesy and uncool, amirite? I wish we could all (myself included) get beyond our perceptions and experience something fully and truthfully for what it is.

Remember Marilyn Hagerty, that food critic from the newspaper where we grew up? A couple of years ago, she wrote this loving and earnest review of the Olive Garden that went viral. The reason it went viral was because she was reviewing it with great detail and sincerity as she would any other restaurant, when it was just, you know… the Olive Garden.

But I like that, because it was honest.

It reminds me of this passage from a book I just read, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.

That’s a nice sentiment, isn’t it?

Well, here’s what my financials looked like for February:

Continue reading “Monthly Money Check: Penny Eats Down Under in February 2017”

Penny’s Travel Journal: Harry Potter World on the Cheap

Dear Rich,

You used to love going to water parks. What happened?

I would LOVE to go on a water park vacation! I was seriously going to plan a road trip where we would hit a bunch of great water parks in the United States. It was going to be called The Great Water Park Tour of North America (even though all of the water parks were in the U.S., I thought “of North America” made it sound better).

But, alas, it never came to be. We are not able to vacation like we used to. When my husband was an elementary teacher, we would go on all sorts of vacations in the summer. Now that he owns his own chiropractic practice, and he’s the only doctor there, he is not able to take that much time off from work.


This past year we made it a priority to go to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in California. I had finished reading all the books to our third child, the seven year old (the others had read them with my husband already), and we were all simply crazy about Harry Potter. The trip was the culmination of our love affair with that wonderful wizard.

Mr. Penny took a long weekend. We had to fly out there, of course (previous vacations had us always driving, since it was less expensive), since we didn’t have time to drive, but we got cheap plane tickets (only $111 each) and off we went!

It was amazing! We had so much fun. And here are 3 reasons we could do it on the cheap:

Continue reading “Penny’s Travel Journal: Harry Potter World on the Cheap”

Penny Reviews Her 2016 Spending in Excruciating Detail

Dearest Richard,

Thanks for sharing where your money went in 2016! I love looking at that stuff. I’ll share mine in a minute here.

A couple of things:

1) I didn’t see a category for charity. Please explain.

2) Like you, I don’t budget either. Like I said, I’m trying to teach myself how to spend more money. I’m in no danger of overspending. I always know where my money goes and for what reason it is being spent.

3) You are not materialistic, but (and this is just an observation), it seems that you like to amass experiences (big, expensive experiences) the way other people like to amass material possessions. Still seems like a form of materialism, even though you are not actually collecting material things.

4) I liked your charts, but I was kind of hoping for more. Like, how does your food money breakdown between what you spent at restaurants compared to the grocery store. What exactly does your category of “House” entail (like, toilet paper and contact solution and stuff like that)?

I think you told me once: It would take me 2-3 full days to list out all our expenses and categorize them in detail. Not gonna do it! But I’d love to see these details for a rich person. This is the kind of money porn that people love to look at! Isn’t that what financial voyeurism blogs are all about?!

Anywho, so, without further ado, here is where the Penny family’s money went in 2016, in all of its gloriously excruciating detail…

Continue reading “Penny Reviews Her 2016 Spending in Excruciating Detail”

Book Review: The Cozy Life — Penny Is A Hygge Expert

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Dear Rich,

I love that The Cozy Life has added a little bit of magic to your life! I have to say, when I was reading it, I was mostly patting myself on the back for already doing the majority of the things mentioned. I think it is a way of life that comes naturally to me. You could say I’m a hygge expert. It did inspire me to add glogg (mulled wine) to our Christmas celebration though. It’s those little comforts and special things in life that can add up to something transforming.

I think that hygge can come at any price point. It sounds like your expensive Greece vacation had a lot of it, but, then again, a less expensive excursion could have done the same thing. Money is not really the point.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Cozy Life — Penny Is A Hygge Expert”