Friday, June 29, 2012

My Open Letter to: The Newest Member of the Debt Free Club -- My Wife

To my newly crowned Debt-Free Queen,

I wanted to use this time and space to tell you how proud I am of you. Three and a half years ago we made a promise to one another. We resolved to walk hand in hand together and not live like everyone else. We prioritized to live below our means, save, payoff debt and NEVER use debt again for any of our purchases. Now, three and a half years later, the fruits of our labor have finally paid off.

You are debt free. You stared down a hyper consuming culture, gave it the finger and have ascended on a mountain that many think is impossible to climb. When people around us fake bake, buy purses and clothes at INSANE retail prices, rack up debt through real estate and grad school, go bananas with manicures/pedicures/hair dying appointments and spend more than they make, you…said…NO! And for that you are the most amazing woman on God’s green Earth to me.

Because of your efforts we are going to be secure in retirement without the need for social (in)security. Now we can easily set money aside in an ESA for our kids’ college. Now we can save for a few months and pay for a year’s worth of vacations. Now we can travel whenever we want without financial constraint back to the islands, overseas to Europe and to serve in Africa. Now we can tithe without breaking a sweat. Now we can really ensure that we pay cash for our first home. Now our dreams are going to start coming true.

But before “tomorrow” happens, before the travel starts and the budget starts to change, I want to say that I love you. I love you for choosing to put our future first before material possessions. I love you for resisting and fighting the urge to keep up with the joneses. I love you for being you. I love you for being my cheerleader as I went from a clueless Communications major to a personal finance wizard. I love you for loving me through my flaws and also for lovingly asking me to change. I could not have become the frugal fury fighter I am today if it weren’t for God and you.

I love the way you fight with me on budget amendments. I love that you challenge me to give more. I love the way you have conquered power over purchase. I love your brilliant meal planning and for your mad croc-potting skills. I love that the entire time we have known each other that you haven’t owned a car.

I love that after seven years, my love for you grows more and more with each passing day.

I know that it hasn’t been easy. I think that if I say, “It’s not in the budget,” or, “Dave Ramsey says,” just five more times that you will cut me. But someday is finally here. You are debt free. We are debt free. If you want funds set aside for massages, to go on missions trips, take trips around the world, go to the airport and buy the next available flights for a surprise vacation, use a three day weekend to rent a car and drive somewhere new…it’s finally time to put it in the budget.

You have lived like no one else and now it’s time to live and give like no one else. And while I cannot wait to see what tomorrow, the next year, the coming decades will bring into our lives, I know one thing is for certain. I am thoroughly loving today, and you are the reason I feel that way. Coincidentally, I’ll close this letter with what appears on my handy-dandy Dave Ramsey calendar for today.

“The way a couple spends money is representative of their dreams, passions, fears, and their vision for the future together. That flow of money also represents an established value system and how they plan to reach their goals and make their dreams come true.”

                                                                                                            Lovingly Yours,


Monday, June 25, 2012

My Conquering of Stupid Tax

This is the start of what will be a monumental week for our household. On the social calendar our group of friends are getting together for monthly book club, and for the FPU class we are facilitating we are on the home stretch with the last 4 lessons, which honestly are some of the best in bunch J! My nerd side is also tingling as it is almost time for my tri-annual credit report check, so you can be on the lookout for a “how to” piece in the near future regarding your credit report. And we are coming up on the end of June and it’s almost time for another entry in the series that is, “My Quarter End.”

But perhaps what takes the cake in the middle of my personal finance bonanza of events is that on Friday my wife’s student loan will be paid off. This is the last of our debt and for the first time in our marriage we will be debt free together. So in a taking a brief walk down memory lane I wanted to spend today’s post reminiscing about the stupid taxes that I’ve paid in life.

Credit Cards

Truth be told I had previously only carried one card and paid off the balance every month. But having and using a card helped me get on the fast track to overspending. Before I sliced my one and only card I established a $1,000 emergency fund that sat in a basic bank savings account. This 1k put some pad in between myself and life and allowed me to cut up the credit card and close the account with relative ease. It was a great first step in saying no to relying on credit, and yes to relying on myself.

Car Note

Ok, you got me. I have never carried a car note my entire life. I just saw an opportunity to say that I have lived the last 9 years without a car and have used public transportation to get around during my day to day life. No auto insurance, no sensitivity to the rise in gas prices, no monthly parking rates, no registration fees, no maintenance cost, only piece of mind.

Student Loans

Lastly the big bad beast known as student loans. In short I’ll frame it like this: I took out more than I needed in student loans to pay for a self-imposed higher standard of living that had nothing to do with the classroom. At its peak my student loan debt bill stood at $24,000 and my wife’s was $58,000. Now when I had graduated from college and began working my monthly minimum payments were somewhere around $200 and if I recall correctly in my Pre-Ramsey days I was sending in about $500 a month.

Now once I resolved to rid all debt from my life, after covering my cost of living for the month, I launched all remaining disposable income at my student loan every month until the dragon was slay. During the time between starting to build my baby $1k emergency fund and paying off my student loan I gave focused intensity towards the debt. I grabbed every ounce of overtime I could get, cut expenses to the bone and even unplugged my monthly retirement contributions for the short time to payoff the debt.

Once my loan was done we hit a long stretch gearing up to payoff my wife’s student loan. We knew it would take us a while to work that debt down to 0  so we rose our emergency fund to a full six months worth of expenses and picked up retirement contributions (my wife 12% and I 15% towards 401ks and Roth IRAs).

So this week our debt journey ends and our debt free adventure begins. It feels great to be at this point which is literally days away. We’ve paid our fair share of stupid tax in life, but we’ve also been able to turn it around by having an emergency fund, executing a debt snowball and consistently saving for retirement once the smaller debts were paid off. In three and a half years since we started our gazelle intense trek to financial fitness we have paid off over $80,000 of debt and have saved around $120,000, a $200,000 change in financial position in three and a half years. I’d say that’s a pretty good reason to be excited this week!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Beef with Social (In)Security

Since we are in the midst of a hot political climate here in the states I figure I would add some M-80s to the mix with this take: The American Social Security system is an atrocious mess. The only positive about this failure of a program is that it’s the shining example that socialism doesn’t work.

During my entire working lifetime here in the states for every penny I earn I am taxed for the Social (In)Security system at a rate of 4.2%, my employer is also taxed on this but at a rate of 6.2%. If I were self-employed my rate would be 10%. But wait, there’s more! When I reach retirement age and begin to receive distributions from social (in)security and I earn an income of more than $25,000 in a year I get to get taxed on my social (in)security distribution. I am also not allowed to opt out of participating in the socialized program, unless of course I am Amish or a pastor.

There are generally 4 points of concern as to why a socialist program was created by the KGB US Government following the great depression.

1.      Without a mandated government retirement program, workers who voluntarily did not save for retirement had no income at the end of their working lifetime
2.      Without a mandated government program, workers who voluntarily did not purchase disability insurance had no source of income when becoming disabled
3.      For the real 1%, those with mental and physical disabilities who could never earn an income in their lifetimes, there was no safety net
4.      Without a mandated government health insurance program for the retirees, this meant at retirement retirees could no longer afford medical care

Born out of fear following the great depression, facing 25% unemployment (1 out of 4 people, really kgb us government, really??!!) through FDR’s “Raw New Deal,” this socialist program screams to Americans, “You are too stupid to save for your own retirement and it is the government’s responsibility to take care of you.”

I know I can rant and rave and make funny anecdotes and quips about how much I hate the KGB US Government, but I’ll leave it at this with a direct statement to the KGB US Government: It is not your responsibility to take care of me or my family. People are supposed to help people.

In the most extreme example I could think of, let’s say my parents acted like the KGB US Government: They spent more than they make and saved for nothing. Now let’s assume all things remain constant and I continue on my total money makeover and have attained financial peace. When both of my parents retire they have no assets, no ira, no 401k, no home to sell, no pension. In my ideal world it would be my responsibility to take my parents into my home, add them as dependants onto my insurance program and help make sure they live out their lives with dignity. It is neither my neighbor’s nor your responsibility to provide a safety net for my parents, that is my job as a member of their family.

But what about those that are permanently disabled and unable to work? Well, if the social security tax were eliminated, the 4.2% of my paycheck that comes out would then go into my pocket. On average the latest numbers from the Census Bureau note that the average American household income is $50,000. So if the money that was pissed away with Social (In)Security were instead invested in a good growth stock mutual fund that averaged 12%, one average household would have $2,000 every year to invest. Over a 35 year working lifetime, through the power of compound interest, this regular investment would amount to $1,082,567.01! And if just a few of us wild and crazy Dave Ramsey nuts banded together, JUST WITH WHAT SOCIAL (IN)SECURITY STOLE FROM US invested in sound investments, we could start programs to take care of the genuine 1% who are permanently disabled and unable to earn an income in America and ensure they have the healthcare, food and services needed to live with dignity.

Would some able bodied workers spend more than they make and save nothing for retirement? Definitely. But family and people are supposed to help others, we are more effective than any government entity. And in the mean time, if you know someone consumed by stuffitis and spends like a drunken congressmen or senator, give them a loving kick in the ass they need to grow up and live on less than they make.

Monday, June 18, 2012

My Free Lunch...with *GASP* Morgan Stanley

First and foremost let me lead with this: I do not and will never utilize a financial advisor for any of my investment decisions. For my own personal portfolio I have gathered information from educational sources, researched performance and have done my own homework and am entirely self-managed. But in an effort to educate and be aware of what professional financial advice looks like I said yes to a recent presentation by global investment firm Morgan Stanley to hear their sales pitch. So tucked away during the lunch hour at an upscale restaurant last week in the Loop’s financial district my wife and I, along with about a dozen others sat in for a, “free lunch,” to hear what a professional advising firm had to say about the current market, the resources they offer and offer a brief Q&A for any of our questions related to personal finance. Here’s what I walked away with:

I am weird

A question that relates to a point I will bring up later was presented to the group, indirectly aimed at the technology sector, “Who in here does not own a cell phone?” I looked to my right. Then to my left. And I proceeded to raise my hand with a big stupid grin on my face. I could visibly see that the presenter was caught off guard, (1) that someone would raise their hand and (2) that the person raising their hand was the youngest person in the several decades. I was asked how I was able to pull this feat off and replied to the tune of, “A few years ago I took steps to simplify my life, and ending the cell phone was one of them.” But what I really wanted to say was, “I am weird. I also don’t own a credit card, have not had a car for nine years and have no debt.” But since this was about the information presented, allow me to continue.

Market Trends and Sectors

Morgan Stanley gave their honest assessment of what has been happening on the street since the drop in 2008. Equities have been down and bonds have been up. It was refreshing to see that they proceeded to pull the curtain back on the last 20 years to show that over the last two decades equities have generated far and beyond better returns than bonds.

In a short term view the Morgan Stanley presenter is bullish on the healthcare, financial services and technology sectors. In the last few years these sectors have been at the bottom of the performance scale and over time the presenter expects to see these specific come roaring back within the next few years.

Now when I am evaluation mutual funds I definitely take a look into the sector allocation holdings of the mutual fund. I like to see an even spread across many different sectors personally, but if there is a “comfortable” sized shift towards a sector or two, these are some of the sectors that I have not minded seeing. With a mutual fund that has proven consistent and positive performance over a decade, along with a portfolio manager that has a clue, if the criteria fits and a sector or two are weighted higher by comparison in a given mutual fund, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy.

Client Behavior

My wife asked a brilliant question that leads me to another area I want to explore. She asked, “What has the sentiment among your clients been in the last few years?” The adviser’s answer told me all I need to know about investment advisors at,”sophisticated” companies.

We were informed that fear has flooded the investor in the marketplace. As the downturn in 2008 came and went, clients fled equities and shifted to bonds, most as of the middle of 2012 have kept this bond heavy balance. The advisor educated the group that diversification is key and that over time equities would outperform bonds….DUH!

My problem came with the fact that the adviser did not address the elephant in the room: that traders, investors AND advisors all need Ritalin. It all starts with how you approach investments. I follow a buy and hold rule and only invest in aggressive growth, growth, growth & income and international mutual funds that have generated returns of over 12% since inception, and have been around for at least 10 years.

Advisers, investors and traders don’t think in 5 or 10 year increments. Truth be told they think in 5 or 10 minute increments (and even then that’s generous). When the market shifts downward it seems like the response is to panic and sell equities and buy safety. When the wave comes back those on the safety sideline missed out, this is why many investors have not “recovered” since the fall in 2008. But what does that all mean?

The week of May 9th, 2008 the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 12,479.63. At its worst following the ’08 freefall the week of March 2nd 2009 the DJI closed at 6,626.94. Last week, the week of June 11th 2012, the DJI closed at 12,496.38. Just give it time and it always works. Invest in good growth stock mutual funds with proven track records, buy and hold, invest not needing the money for at least five years consistently and over time, and you will see positive returns.

But it seems to me that advisers never sit clients down to explain this. Instead they think they are single stock picking geniuses and bemoan the “simple” investing plan. I came into this friendly meeting with the expectation to not like heavy hitting financial advisers, and the presentation strengthened my point of view. Now I appreciate that the presenter took the approach of an educator and used the meeting to give his honest assessment and field questions, but the pretentiousness nor smuggery could not be hidden. If I were in a one on one with an adviser, after of course confirming through a barrage of questions if we have the same investing philosophies, I would have only one last and important question/statement.

“I believe that broke financial advisers are the equivalent of shop teachers with missing fingers. What is your net worth and how much debt do you have?”

Friday, June 15, 2012

My Book Review: "Quitter" by Jon Acuff

Jon Acuff is brilliant. “Quitter,” gives an excellent insight into real world ways to pursue your dreams and eventually ditch the day job. Acuff even explores what filters to use to clarify your dream job and provides a plethora of indicators to note when to make the transition. This book delves into what a dream job means and dispels a lot of the common myths that we bring upon ourselves when living with our day jobs.

Perhaps my favorite piece of advice included the section though was, “Falling in like with a job you don’t love.” It spent a lot of time mapping out how to get to your dream job through the day job. I also reflected on my own and came to the conclusion that I am extremely grateful for the day job. Because of it I am debt free, have a great start to a secure retirement and am building my future for my wife and family. While reading the book I definitely had an attitude shift in how I saw the day to day gig.

In general I roll my eyes when people dispense their career advice. The phrases that irk me the most include: it’s whatever you want to make it, your career is in your hands and the ever ambiguous your future is however you plan it. In, “Quitter,” Jon provides real life practical application on how to get from A to Z, and what I consider most important, what Z should look like to you. “Quitter” is inspiring and thought provoking. Through it I’m a lot more confident in my pursuit of my dream job and appreciative as well as thankful for my current employer, thanks Jon Acuff! J

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Modest Middle of the Road

At the end of this current month my wife is about to join a super ultra-fit and elite club among us frugal fury fighters. I’ll certainly delve further into this when the time comes but for now I’d like to explore a bit on how I got here, specifically regarding career track and monetary availability.

Neither I nor my wife come from wealthy family backgrounds. There has been no exorbitant windfall that has propelled us through our baby steps nor give us a shot in the arm to kick start retirement. My wife is from a small farming community in the Mid West and needless to say her last name was not Monsanto. I am from the suburbs of Los Angeles, my father took early retirement and was a stay at home dad while my mother worked full time. Neither of our family of origin households were “high up,”on the federal tax income brackets.

And guess what? We’ve pretty much been the same boat as D.I.N.Ks. My first job out of college was in New York working as a lowly peon for the US State Department. From there when I came to the windy city I temped for my current employer, a global bank, and after being hired on full-time have bounced across a few different departments in a span of about five years.

We are more or less right in the middle of the Federal Income 25% tax bracket. No windfalls. No silver spoons. No “wealthy” relatives. No golden parachutes. Three years ago I looked up at my personal financial disaster and decided that I did not want to live like everyone else. So my now wife and I got on the same page financially. We made the decision to live on a written and agreed upon budget before the start of every month, live on less than we made and to erase debt from our lives.

No magic pills. No sophisticated investing techniques. Armed with our planning and sheer will power, we are on the verge of becoming a debt free couple. On a statistical middle of the road household income we have made financial peace for ourselves.

Monday, June 11, 2012

My Budget Friendly Adventuresome Weekend

Street festivals, a birthday party, a meet up for brunch and a country concert? Statistically to the average consumer that sounds like a good portion of one paycheck out the window. To this frugal fury fighter, it was a call to arms to refresh and test my skills, and man did I respond.

Friday night we were in what I consider my favorite neighborhood in Chicago, Andersonville, for the start of Midsommar Fest, my favorite street fest in the windy city. Our friends gathered for a birthday celebration to listen to the best 80s cover band in the country, 16 Candles. Needless to say I was stoked, but not enough to bust the budget. I was happy to pay the $10 suggested donation at the gate to get in for my wife and I, and immediately upon entering we noticed that there was a convenience store that remained open. We went inside to buy a few bottles of water for a few Washington’s, which was less than sticker price at “fest vendors,” and met up with our friends to enjoy the night. Once the gathering moved to a local bar my wife and I happily spent $10 on a pair of drinks and spent the rest of the night enjoying the time and company with our friends. To get home we used our existing transit passes and took public transit home, avoiding cab fare.

On Saturday we were back in Andersonville and met up with a friend of my wife’s and her adorable children for brunch at Svea, an awesome Swedish restaurant where I whole-heartedly indulged with the, “Viking Breakfast,” we even invited my nephew along, our treat. Our side of the bill came out to $50 including tip. After brunch we got to enjoy the more family friendly side of Midsommar Fest including hanging out in the kids’ section of the Swedish American Museum, all for free. When my wife and I made our way back to our place to get some R&R from the burning Chicago sun, we popped in a few movies rented for free from the library and enjoyed a homemade lunch courtesy of our kitchen J.

Saturday night though would prove the pinnacle of my frugal practices. Months ago I had heard that Brad Paisley was headlining this summer’s country concert at Wrigley Field. Now I’m not a big fan of retail shopping, nor am I a fan of over paying a reseller. So we decided to take advantage of the situation. Wrigley is an open air stadium in the middle of a neighborhood. So once the sunset we grabbed our blanket, carried our beach lounge chairs and setup shop on a side street to listen in. It was comforting as there were a few dozen others spread out on the street listening in, but I could feel their eyes of envy as they sat on the hard sidewalk and I in my comfy beach chair! Things just kept going our way that night as a couple camped nearby left early and bequeathed to us a few unopened leftover drinks on their way out.

Sunday we spent relaxing and basking in the glow of a event filled weekend that cost us less than $80 in Chicago. So yes you can have fun on a budget and to be honest, it’s even more fun to find weird ways to do it J

Friday, June 8, 2012

My How To: Read a Mutual Fund Prospectus

Since we’ve returned from our recent Carolina getaway I have found that I am a lot more steady (and that’s a nice way to put it) in my thoughts and approaches to personal finance. Over the past three and a half years I have studied, read, studied some more, read and put into application personal financial practices that have lead me to where I am today.  Lately I have recognized that when I am reading thoughts and philosophies on personal money management that contradict what I do, I feel an intense hatred and anger boil up inside of me. In recent days in fact I have avoided them entirely.

Now this is not to say that I am closed off to new information and growing in intellectual depth. I am saying that I am sick and tired of reading asinine articles that preach that carrying multiple credit cards and keeping my credit score up is the way to go in personal money management. In my three and a half years of intense study, research and real world field application I know where North, South, East and West are. I’ve just about had it with morons trying to convince me that South is North and East is West.

What triggered the recent anger sharks to swim in my head was, oddly enough, one of my favorite publications that I receive quarterly for free. Now while this publication has a strong and reputable standing within the financial community (which should have been my first clue that it would spew garbage) I was dumbfounded to read their latest publishing that touted their revolutionary new approach to filtering and screening mutual funds.

I’ll spare you the name of the publication and the details, but most of the features were filled with mind-numbing jargon written by people too smart for their own good. Through all of the garbage and this publications’ new and improved way to measure and evaluate mutual funds, NOT ONCE did the publication’s articles factor into their new and improved evaluations a mutual funds average annualized return since inception. I mean there were evaluations on “stewardship” and “portfolio manager tenure” as well as “transparency whether the pm is invested in the fund,” but something like historical returns and performance just seemed to have slipped the writers minds.

So here I am to do my part to help empower the consumer to read a mutual fund prospectus. Now before I even get to this point a few disclaimers:


I strongly advise against investing until you have completed your debt snowball and eliminated your consumer debt (everything but the house and, if it applies, a student loan that you cannot be free of within 2-3 years) and have a liquid 3-6 months worth of expenses set aside in a liquid emergency fund. Once you have eliminated debt and have a cushion against life, you can utilize your best wealth building tool, your income, to start investing.

When investing always think long term. Not long term like a year, more like increments of five years. For every dollar you put in to invest don’t expect to redeem it for at least five years. Give your dollars some time to ride out bull and bear market cycles and ride the power of compound interest over a substantial period of time.

Now before I even start scrolling through a prospectus I filter my options so that my investments are spread across four types of mutual funds: growth, aggressive growth, growth & income, and international. The funds have to be at least 10 years old and have average annualized returns of over 12% since inception, no ifs ands or buts. So now that I’ve lovingly made you jump through some hoops, onto a real life prospectus example.

Heartland Value Fund
Ticker: HRTVX

The Investment Goal

I’ve always found that if the investment goal is a paragraph long, then the mutual fund team is too smart for their own good and believe too many myths about trading and investing. Short and simple does not mean unsophisticated, it simply means (haha, see what I did there J) that the team managing the mutual fund know exactly what they are trying to achieve without gimmicks or tricks. For HRTVX the goal is simple, grow the investor’s money over a long period of time by investing in small companies. So for a 5+ year investment, so far this one has my green light.

Fees and Expenses

Now for the debate of all debates when it comes to picking mutual funds: to load or not to load? Essentially the debate boils down to how much is too much when it comes to paying fees. My thoughts are essentially this: if the fund sucks and doesn’t generate much of a return for long term investing, don’t bother investing even if there are minimal fees. If a fund is a rock star and has averaging over 15% since inception, I don’t mind paying 2%, 3% or even 4% in fees if the performance justifies it.

Ideally I love tracking down great performing mutual funds with minimal fees, but am flexible to take on higher fees if long term performance justifies it. In the example above  there is a breakdown of shareholder and annual fund operating expense fees. In the shareholder fee portion, the only thing you’ll pay is 2% if you redeem your shares purchased within 10 days, which you shouldn’t be doing anyway. On the Annual Fund side fees total to a just over 1% for investor class shares. So at this point we know the fund invests for the long term and has very low fees, next up:

Portfolio Turnover

If this fund is investing for the long term and keeping expenses low, then you need to know if their stock picking is slow and steady or needs some A.D.D medication. Over the last year HRTVX has a turnover rate of 25% of its portfolio. Which means for every 4 stocks the fund holds at the end of the year they drop one. To me 25% is a good turnover rate, the mutual fund team appears to do excellent in depth research in the stocks they select and for the most part buy and hold. If the Portfolio Turnover number  is over 50% be wary, if it flits with or goes OVER 100%, stay away from it.

Investment Strategies

So how does a mutual fund team select the stocks for its mutual fund to hold? This is a great question. This fund clarifies that it invests in small companies and qualifies how it defines small companies. As it invests in small companies, this would be classified under my "aggressive growth" mutual fund screening criteria. HRTVX looks for undervalued small companies and says, “these companies have upside and will grow as a long term investment.” Unique to this fund is a trademarked “10 Principles of Value Investing” that the investment team uses. I won’t run you through this funds’ specific 10 principles, but essentially they look for undervalued companies with low debt (always a plus in my book) and have strong signals of long term growth. So the next question is does this fund deliver?


The numbers speak for themselves. The fund has been around for 27 years and has average annualized returns before taxes of 12.37%. Don’t pay attention to the one or five year tracks, when investing I am always thinking long term and not looking to jump in and out of short term market swings. I want something that has stood the test of time, multiple market cycles and has generated strong and steady returns since it started. So far this fund is a winner in my book.

Portfolio Manager Tenure

Mutual fund teams are lead by the focus and drive of the mission statement and team leaders called portfolio managers. This fund is lead by 3 managers. One of which has been there since the fund’s launch, another for 8 years and another for 2 years. Sounds to me like this fund will have a  change on the horizon as the longest tenured manager could be on the way out. But with average annualized returns of over 12% since inception, you can be assured that the knowledge and experience with the fund’s stock selecting strategy have definitely been passed on. Overall I say this mutual fund is a winner.

So there you have it, a walk through a mutual fund prospectus. Happy hunting out there!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My Trip to Charlotte

Last week my wife and I spent the week vacationing in Charlotte, North Carolina. We set out to put our official stamp of approval on Charlotte, that it would be our Atlantis and where we would set our sights on for the next chapter of life together. The end result was that we discovered we are a lot more assertive and have a definitive idea in mind of what we want our next community to be. Some of the realizations we came to surprised us, particularly because it has been a few years since we’ve last evaluated what we want out of the next phase of life. The coolest part of it is that my wife and I are on the same page on most things. There were parts of Charlotte that we loved and there were parts that didn’t fit, but regardless we were in sync and that is something that we have worked in throughout our marriage with transparent communication. It’s not easy, but all of the work we have put in has made our marriage strong and put us in a place where we can work on the same wavelength towards our shared goals.

I’ll spare you further suspense as I’ll say that we will probably not be calling Charlotte our new hometown. Please don’t get me wrong. Charlotte is a beautiful city with great communities and beautiful lakes. We spent the better part of the week hiking, kayaking, checking out farmers markets and exploring the music scenes, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. The pace of life is so much slower than Chicago and the BBQ would make me reconsider my flexatarianism percentage allocation towards meat.

But during the trip we learned that if we are going to move away and give up big city living, we need a beach. My wife and I met on an island and for five years (when the weather is warm) have taken for granted the beach front along Lake Michigan. And in Charlotte boating is huge and upon first glance it looks like everyone has a boat. But sandy beaches to relax along Lake Norman or Mountain Island Lake are just about slim to none.

We still enjoyed our time there though. The people were amazingly nice and considerate and during our week there I even started (in our rental car) to drive like them. The pace was so much slower than here in Chicago and I loved it. But the lure, call and lifestyle of beach front living definitely made its way into our psyche and now as we move away from Charlotte as our next home, we are happily looking forward to future trips to Charleston, South Carolina!

But while in Charlotte we used a few tricks of the frugal trade to cut travel costs. We couch surfed with a very well traveled and nice couple just a little south of the city limits. We popped into grocery stores rather than going out. For souvenirs we made our way to local Goodwill stores. And for gas we made sure to fill up in South Carolina, which was 30 cents cheaper and flirted with $3 a gallon. Overall for daily outings we came under our budget by $300.

If would have asked me before the trip, if Charlotte doesn’t pan out for you how would you feel? I probably would have answered dejected and downtrodden. Instead I feel a calming sense of peace and a bit revitalized. It’s a little comforting to know that now we are going to continue to circle like vultures looking for where we want to move to. That in the short term we are here to stay in the windy city.

In fact the results of this trip have lead us to look forward to Charleston, move a few neighborhoods north for cheaper rent and bigger space, and at the end of this month, when we slay my wife’s final debt, to take our foot off the gas pedal and reclaim what we love most: our time spent together. Kids still may be a few years out but I think it’s about time we start the latter half of Dave’s mantra: “live like no one else so that later you can live like no one else.”