It feels self indulgent to write a recap of the year, but a lot happened in 2018. Our lives and finances changed a lot. We compiled sets of year-end financial numbers. We launched this website in 2018 to chronicle our journey towards financial independence. Putting it out there for posterity was a big step. We’re still finding our way and our voice here. But that’s okay. This blog is as much for future us as it is for all of you–at least for now.
2018 will go down in The Vines’ history as the year we committed to this journey. To convey how stark the improvement was–we reduced our total spending by over 40% from 2017 to 2018. Mr. Vine and I each took on complementary roles to achieve this shared vision. In the first quarter, we got real about our runaway spending in 2017 and cleared out some zero interest credit card debt. That was painful, but so necessary. We paid off the last of my student loans! At the beginning of the fourth quarter, I took a new job with a sizable pay increase. Most of that raise was absorbed in the November and December spending, but 2019 will be all about fighting lifestyle inflation and banking those bigger paychecks. In December, we sent off the final payment on what we expect to be our last-ever car loan.
We spent too much on travel, but took some really incredible trips. In fairness, a lot of the 2018 travel spending was on an early 2019 trip to Vietnam. Maybe that means 2019 will be the year we finally get our travel spending under control. I’m dreaming of shorter, domestic trips and staycations. Meanwhile, Mr. Vine is already in talks about another Asia trip in 2019. So, we’ll see where we end up. Travel is one area where I don’t mind blowing the budget. If we have to work for another year or three because we exceeded our travel budgets, that’s acceptable to us. Those experiences and memories are worth it. We never want to focus so much on the future that we miss out on today.
Restaurant and grocery spending saw huge improvements in 2018. I really enjoy seeing the year over year reduction in these categories. Dining out continues to be a big financial vice for Mr. Vine and me. We’re working on it. On the other hand, we have groceries dialed in pretty well. Buying direct from farmers turned out to be a solid money saving strategy. Until last year’s numbers came in, I wasn’t sure whether it saved or cost us more. Grocery spend was down about 10% as compared with 2017. Coupled with a hefty decrease in restaurant spending, I’m proud that we are cooking better food at home, more often.
Over the past twelve months, I’ve thought about our spending and what makes us happy. It started with minimalism and a desire to eschew the unnecessary and unhelpful aspects of our lives. We’re still working on that, too. But we have made great progress. We are much more mindful about what things come into our lives. We are more mindful about our spending–will I use this? Do I need this? Why am I buying this? Those are all healthy steps to take, regardless of whether you care about financial independence or early retirement.
2018 was a year of transition. We’ve settled into my post-grad school career, to being a dual income couple once again. We’ve cleaned up and optimized the big financial things like our housing and vehicles. We spent the year crystalizing what we want to achieve over the next 5-10 years. I hope when we look back, we see this as the year that teed up the future.
As for what to expect in 2019, our budgeted spending is pretty well optimized. If we can maintain the target spending levels (or something close to it), we expect that to be our number in perpetuity. That means we will be able to firm up our target financial independence day! Until now, the number was a bit of a moving target as we worked towards optimizing our finances, paying for past financial decisions, and adjusting our investment amount. The 2019 budget is about as low as we think we can reasonably go. But who knows? If 2019 goes well, we might be able to trim a little more. After those savings numbers are settled, we’ll be working on how to enjoy the moment and preparing for for the non-financial aspects of a potential early retirement. Stay tuned and follow our progress.