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Bellevue, WA, 98007
United States

Going Small(er)

Why smaller?

Marc Scattergood

Going small makes me feel like there's a specific goal. Small feels like it should be defined. As in, you've gotten 50% smaller! You are now officially small! Smaller feels.. well, like a journey. For us, it means the ongoing effort of removing all the unnecessary cruft from our lives, and focusing on what matters. Now more than ever. Here's how we got there.

A number of years ago, our friends Jeremy and Winnie retired. This was interesting for a number of reasons. Foremost among them being they're both younger than us. I'm 40. My spouse is thereabouts. (It's not polite to talk about a woman's age without her consent) They're also living on a very modest sum, and much like us, enjoying life with a newborn. Our boys were born within a week of each other, even though they're in Taipei at the moment, and we're still hanging around Seattle.

This got us thinking. Seriously thinking.

Ok, I need to pause here. Over simplification on the "what got us thinking and changing our entire lives" wasn't just what our friends did. Since 2012, the following has happened:

  • We decided to try, and eventually succeeded, in becoming parents. This was huge, and we're still figuring out what it means to us, and our priorities. But it's figured in with our desire to really alter our 5 - 10 year plan extensively. Including the answer to the question "Do we both want to be tied to 40 hour a week jobs for Riley's entire childhood?"
  • Seattle is getting expensive. Well, everywhere is getting expensive, but damn. 
  • In 2012, Stacie made the decision to leave Microsoft as a full timer. I've been in games since 1998. Both of these realities meant low job stability, at least compared to the norm.  Stopping being reliant on others to make ends meet started feeling far more important to our quality of life.

The first things we did was start tracking our spending really closely. Initially we used mint.com, as it was easy to use and fairly comprehensive. The fact that it's free helps a lot to. When trying to save money and control spending, monthly fees on a service promising to help get your spending under control seems counterproductive. I've slowly started moving over to Personal Capital, as I like the overall charting and data available more, plus it has a really nice adviser service if and when I decide to start using it. Mission successful. While the tools may change, the outcome was solid. After almost four years of tracking now, it still provides a remarkable source of information and insight into our spending habits. Most recently, the biggest lesson is babies are expensive!

During this time, we discovered that in 2013, we spent close to $2000 on coffee. I don't mean beans we ground up and brewed at home. But literally one or more trips to the cafe daily. I have always been a coffee drinker, and being near Seattle keeps that habit nice and easy. But $2000? That's insane. We had put off buying a home espresso machine for a long time, as getting one that pulls a decent shot isn't cheap. However, with this new amount in mind, it gave us a much better budget to work with. $1200 later at Seattle Coffee Works in downtown Bellevue, and we were making our own coffee. Now, we spend about $15 a week on getting our milk delivered, used for many things, not just coffee, and buy about a pound of beans every two weeks for roughly $14. We almost never buy coffee out any more. We get awesome coffee now, whenever we want it, with a minimum of two cups a day being brewed, occasionally more, for a grand total of about $900 for the entire year. I knocked off a bit of the milk bill because like I said, we use that for a lot of other things. Not just coffee. If you throw in the Ghiradelli chocolate syrup I buy once every few months, it may be an extra $70 to $100 a year for that decadent treat. Still a far cry from the over two grand we had been spending. 

Comparison:

  • Half & half, Beans, chocolate sauce: Weekly Costs approximately $22.50
  • 2 Grande Breve 1 Pump Mochas, No whip, @ 5 Days a week: $46.50

Could we shrink that further? Sure we could. Were we comfortable with that expenditure level for something we enjoy so much? Yah. Roughly $19 a week for unlimited coffee - or at least as much as we can drink - feels fine to us.

What's the point of all this? Well, this was the start of something that would take over most parts of our life. Shrinking the things we could and not miss them. Finding opportunities to reduce debt. Dropping that 30 year mortgage with 24 years left on it down to a 20 year at a lower interest rate and still pay less per month. Get rid of the car loans - we finally had to replace both of our cars within six months of each other. We had last replaced our cars around 2003. We rolled the loans, and our remaining old high interest HELOC, into a new, low interest HELOC that provided us as much flexibility as we wanted. Standard stuff. No rocket science here. But again, more steps that worked to simplify our lives, simplify our finances, and make it easier for us to tell where money was going.

Part of that also meant finding a common way to pay for most of our purchases that would simplify tracking expenses while at the same time providing a fair bit of value simply by using it. Enter the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. With one small change, we suddenly knew where every cent was going, with very little exception. On average, only about $20 to $30 a month was getting spent with cash. Everything else went on that card. Earning us some nice rewards to boot. Not too bad. Our next trip, up to about $3000, is fully paid for, after about 16 months of using this card. (Full Disclosure: There is an annual fee. There are NO international transaction fees - very important if you plan on travelling a lot. Their cards already support chip & pin, which is also very handy if you plan on traveling a lot soon, though the US will require this soon too. We will get a referral bonus if you decide to use this card, which we thank you for.We spent a lot of time deciding the best mix of features, fees and rewards, and this one was far and away the best for us)

This is just the first step. We've been shrinking our household stuff, and possibly even where we live. I'll talk more about the impact having a newborn join a household that's been together for 18+ years has had. How we've been shrinking our professional worlds, and focusing on what matters to us. Spending time on things we want to do. Like this.

Got any stories about shrinking your life? Please share them in the comments. Got specific questions you'd like addressed as I hit some of the other topics? Ask. Since this is my first official post on my new blog, I'll list this once: keep comments respectful for everyone. I will not hesitate to ban or delete people who can't be considerate. Otherwise, join in and discuss.

Thanks!

GS

Current BookShelf:
Finished: Moms Who Drink And Swear by Nicole Knepper ; Very amusing, and very crass telling of one moms experience with motherhood. Not for everyone, but found it very entertaining and surprisingly touching at times.

Reading: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang ; Too early in to have a strong opinion, but his writing style is very approachable for a topic that can quickly get arcane.