Happy 1st Birthday, Traveling Vines! Reflecting on a year of blogging

This month, Traveling Vines turned one year old. The first year has been pretty unremarkable in terms of blog metrics. We haven’t promoted the blog and it took some time to figure out a posting scheduling that worked reasonably well for us. Twice a week was too frequent given our lifestyle and career demands. Once a week is more manageable and allows us to batch write posts. We can get a little bit ahead in terms of post scheduling. That’s great because inevitably something like catching a spring cold or travel plans or hosting family or plain feeling uninspired  derails our writing schedule on occasion.

Initially, we planned to monetize Traveling Vines. We’ve decided against that, at least in the near term. The primary reason is that we declined the extra effort that goes along with monetization. When we earn money from something, it easily becomes a job. At this moment, neither of us wants another job, even a part-time one. Despite the disclosures, we aren’t making any income from Traveling Vines and have no plans to do so. We believe in transparency, so you’ll be the first to know if this changes. In the meantime, please enjoy our completely unsponsored and ad-free content!

On this first blogiversary (and receiving our host renewal invoice) we considered whether to keep writing at Traveling Vines. Writing articles to publish here keeps us focused on the journey. Because we blog, we follow the larger community of personal finance bloggers. These folks inspired us and made us realize that we could do what they had done. This is the single biggest reason we’re still writing; to record our journey so others could follow along. We’re still figuring out how to create the most useful and entertaining content. Please feel free to offer any feedback in this regard on our Instagram or in the comments.

From the top of the mountain, it’s easy to forget how long long and arduous the climb can feel. Support  from the ever-growing financial independence / early retirement (FIRE) community has helped us refine our nest egg goal, our timeline, and start the mental work required for early retirement. As we regularly assess our needs and wants, we seek to live at a certain income for some period of months (usually at least 12) before we consider that spending level “locked in.” Expenses like property tax and insurance only arise a handful of times per year. And we like to test out whether pent-up demand, especially for things like clothing and home improvements, will result in spending spikes. It takes a year-long cycle to know whether we can be happy in the long run at a certain spending level.

Watching our spending from the time we started meticulously tracking has been enlightening. We spent 2017 thinking about what to do with our dual, full time, professional incomes. These meditations, and an assessment of market conditions, resulted in rightsizing our life. Cleaning up the low hanging fruit in our expenses was painless. We’d long been financially woke–Ms. Vine made it through grad school without student loans, we were part of a personal finance discussion board before Reddit, we listened to Jean Chatzky‘s show on Sirius/XM, we read Suze Orman, and we might have even known about Mr. Money Moustache. We were in decent shape for traditional retirement, but were pretty clueless about the advanced level goals we could set and achieve. We needed some help. Part of that help came in the form of our financial advisor. We’ve talked about why we took the somewhat controversial approach of hiring a planner and why it works for us.

It wasn’t until 2017 that we learned about FIRE and thought it was something maybe we would pursue. We took the first step which was to start tracking our spending more intentionally, and together. There was too much volatility in our 2017 spending for that to serve as our nest egg baseline. We also knew that our spending including lots of trimmable fat. That’s where we focused our energy in 2018, which we discussed in our annual review. Scheduled debt payoff like our auto loan and Ms. Vine’s undergraduate student loans, coupled with Ms. Vine’s fourth quarter job change, gave our monthly investments a big boost.

This year, 2019, is the test year for our nest egg target. We’re seeing spending stabilize and three months in, we’ve hit our monthly spending target. (Fun fact: our total spending in the first quarter of 2019 was less than our spending during the month of December 2018). It’s starting to look like our nest egg target is accurate and attainable, without requiring any painful sacrifices of what we most enjoy (like travel!).

We’ve been hard at work firming up our nest egg goal. Taking more inspiration from Our Next Life, we considered a two-phase approach to setting the goal number. To our surprise, the two phase approach allowed us to feel comfortable with a significantly decreased nest egg goal. Here’s why. Our phase 1 funds can be drawn down to near zero between early retirement and “traditional” retirement (traditional retirement being the earliest possible time we can access tax advantaged accounts). Meanwhile, our phase 2 funds will continue to compound, completely untouched, during those years of early retirement. The power of compounding never stops amazing us! The logistics of our plan–how much we’re investing, how we divide it between age-restricted, tax-advantaged accounts and unrestricted, taxable accounts, and our timeline– didn’t change. This is primarily because we still need to max out our 401k contributions for tax reasons. Even though we don’t strictly need that full amount of phase 2 money, it makes good financial sense to take advantage of favorable tax treatment. Based on the two phase calculation, we will likely achieve financial independence during the first half of 2023. We previously set our target date for early retirement as sometime before Mr. Vine reaches a milestone birthday in 2026.  

Why not retire earlier, when we hit the nest egg goal? Maybe we will. But at this point, the time we plan to have left, with a career exit date during the first quarter of 2024, feels right for a few reasons. One of those reasons is that it’s two full years before Mr. Vine’s milestone birthday. Another reason is that we’ve decided to pay off our mortgage early and we need some time to accomplish that, without taking our foot off the gas on our other investments. Yet another reason, and perhaps the most important one, is that we have some mental preparation to do.

It seems crazy that the five year countdown is on! For so long, it felt like we were perpetually six-ish years away and that felt like a lifetime. Now we are at less than 60 months, dwindling by the week, and FIRE feels a lot closer.  What’s more mind-blowing yet is that we might have even less time; we won’t narrow down the exact timing of things like notice until we’ve reached our nest egg goal). But we’ve set a sort of “last reasonable exit date” as April 1, 2024. April Fools Day has a little bit of humor to it, and we arbitrarily picked this date back in 2017. When the solar eclipse happened in August of that year, we vowed to watch the next one (on April 8, 2024) from a friend’s house, a few hours’ drive from us, which also happens to be in the path of totality. We wanted to be retired when we did so we wouldn’t have to take time off work for the trip.

So that’s where we are, after a year of blogging and working towards FIRE. This year was full of growth and change. While Traveling Vines may not have achieved any remarkable numbers in its first year, we feel remarkably different after a year of writing here. Onward to Year 2!

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