My Frugal Fail Of 2017


OK, today’s post is going to be a confession — a confession that I’m a giant failure when it comes to living frugally.

Seriously!  I’ve been reviewing our 2017 annual spending, and the results are shockingly unfrugal!  If there was ever an award for a personal finance blogger who spends too much, I think I’d be the winner!

Despite all my talk about saving and the power of frugality, I had the audacity to spend $73,173 last year!  There’s no way in hell I could consider that kind of spending frugal when the average American family spends only $57,311 annually!

Not convinced?  Let’s tally up my frugal score for the year so you can see the disgusting level of overspending we did in 2017…

 

House

First off, let’s start with the biggest monstrosity I own — The giant house that I happen to live in.  Our house resides in a HCOL (high cost of living) area near Seattle, WA.  Zillow says it’s now worth $839,335.

This is no tiny home — we’re living like kings in 2,650 square feet of luxury!  We have so much space everybody in the household can hang out in their own separate rooms!

These luxury accomodations come complete with granite countertops, vaulted ceilings, a 2 car garage, hardwood floors, heat (but no A/C), and even 3 working bathrooms!  Yes three bathrooms!

pumpkin patch
A typical home in my fancy upper class neighborhood sells for over $800k now.  This is a picture of my neighbor’s house because I’m too cowardly to post a picture of my actual home.

Rather than spending $2,180 every month to pay our mortgage and property taxes, we could easily build a tiny home and live completely debt/rent free.  Sure, a tiny home might be a bit more cramped than our current place, but we could save large amounts of money and be a closer family as a result.

Frugal Score: FAIL

 

Car(s)

Yes we own more than one car!  Our oldest car is a modest 2006 Honda Civic that averages 30 miles per gallon, but we also own a ridiculous gas-guzzling SUV — A new 2015 Subaru Forester that averages a mere 27 miles per gallon.

Yes, I know I should be completely ashamed for buying this AWD monstrosity.  It’s not frugal at all!  The car has heated leather seats, a working radio/CD player and a HUGE sunroof.  Excessive luxury!  Annual licensing fees for this car alone costs us $293 dollars per year!

grilling in the snow.
Remember this picture from last week?  That’s my fancy Subaru Forester in the background, covered in snow.

Technically we purchased the Subaru before I left my job, but it’s still ridiculous overspending and we know it.

Instead of spending money on a second vehicle, we should probably try to get by with one smaller car and a few bicycles.  It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for a couple of years now, but it never seems to happen.

Instead, we opt for the ridiculously unfrugal two-car American lifestyle.

Frugal Score: FAIL

 

Food

After reviewing our annual food expenses, I came to the conclusion that we’ve been spending considerably more on food than I originally planned– Last year we spent $6,445 on food instead of the $6,000 I budgeted.  This includes all the meals we cooked at home, and those where we ate out at restaurants.  We averaged $537 per month on food.

Compared to the average American family, we spent slightly less than average on food.  That’s pretty good!  (More than likely this is because we rarely eat out.)

ramen in japan
We ate out a lot in Japan, and that probably bumped up our annual food expense by the extra $445. It’s so hard to resist all the good food in Japan!

While $6,445 definitely isn’t “super frugal” status, I’m going to be generous here and give myself a passing grade because we spent less than average.

Frugal Score: PASS

 

Travel

Like many of the other FI families that blog, the Tako family spent a bunch of time traveling in 2017.  We went on numerous road trips around the PNW, and even jumped onto jet planes and traveled halfway around the world to Japan!  For an entire month!

Including airfare, food, lodging, and other travel expenses, we wasted $5,690 on our family trip to Japan.

Beside the Japan trip, there was an additional $400 for other road trip expenses, bringing our total 2017 travel spending to $6,090.

osaka shopping
Travel expenses were 8.3% of our annual spending! Clearly we could have opted NOT to travel and save all that money instead.

If we were actually frugal, we wouldn’t need to spend money on wonderful wasteful travel.  Instead, we might have stayed home, gone for walks, visited our local library by bicycle, and enjoyed our numerous local parks.

Clearly we have some work to do in the frugal travel department!

Frugal Score: FAIL

 

Childcare

OK, so this is one category people are always asking me about — Why do we send our kids to a daycare when I’m a SAHD (stay-at-home-dad)?  Why not take care of the kids fulltime and save all that money?

Yes we could actually do that, but there’s a very good reason why we don’t — Mrs. Tako and I made the (expensive) choice to send our kids to a language immersion daycare.

Not only do I get to preserve my sanity, but the kids spend 3 days a week speaking, conversing, writing, and listening to a foreign language all day long.  They’re already incredibly fluent in two languages, despite being just 2 and 4 years old.

tako jr. studying
If your kids had the opportunity to become fluent in a foreign language at a young age, would you take it even if it cost you money?

How much does something like this cost?  It’s our single biggest monthly expense at $2270.  But, it also costs the same as all the other daycares in our area.

Last year we spent $27,240 on childcare… which feels sickeningly huge.  That’s as large as many family’s entire yearly budget!

Frugal Score: FAIL

 

Clothing

In 2017, I spent $58 on clothing for the pants experiment.  Other than those new pants, I spent no other money on clothes in 2017.  I’ve been trying to wear out more of the clothes in my closet before buying anything new.

For the kids, they’re growing constantly and need larger clothes all the time.  Thankfully there’s numerous ways to find children’s clothing without spending money.  Most of our kid’s clothes are free from our local Buy Nothing group, family hand-me-downs, and occasional items from the thrift-store.

clothing trade
We’re always trading kids clothes with other frugal families on our local Buy Nothing group.  This pile of clothes our youngest recently outgrew, and we gifted it to another family.

I have to credit Mrs. Tako for all the excellent frugaling here — She’s done 99.9% of the clothes shopping for our kids AND only spent a few dollars in 2017.  Outstanding Mrs. Tako!

Despite being a really fashionable gal, Mrs. Tako also manages to keep her personal clothing budget to an absolute minimum.  When she does spend money on clothing (which is rare), she finds fashionable bargains on Thredup, the Buy Nothing Project, and our local thrift stores.

Frugal Score: PASS

 

Conclusion

There you have it — that’s my gigantic frugal failure for 2017.  A frugal score of 4 fails and 2 passes.

The funny thing is, I thought we were being frugal… until I totaled up all the numbers for the year!

As our portfolio has grown over the past few years, I wonder if my frugal muscles have weakened.  Have the heady stock market gains in recent years made me forget how to tighten my belt and save money?

It’s entirely possible.

Despite a couple of categories where our spending is quite reasonable, I feel like most of our spending is WAY HIGHER than it needs to be.  We need to work hard to bring our ridiculous spending down to more reasonable levels in 2018.

Where are we going to cut spending?  I’m not sure yet, but there’s always room for improvement in a family budget!  No matter how frugal you might be, there’s always places to save more.

Now it’s time to ask the readers — How frugal was your 2017?  Was your year a ‘win’ or a ‘fail’?

 

[Image Credit: Flickr Benjamin]

55 thoughts on “My Frugal Fail Of 2017

  • January 10, 2018 at 3:15 AM
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    Based on your income and net worth, I would say you are still frugal (I mean look at your grocery budget!). What is the point to accumulate more money if you are not using any of it? As long as you enjoy the big house , the two cars and whatever else you want to spend your money on, JUST DO IT:)

    Reply
    • January 10, 2018 at 9:42 AM
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      I suppose that’s true Caroline… but it sure felt like we could have done a lot better!

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 4:30 AM
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    Well, go easy on yourself, I think you’re one of the most successful failures out there. Besides, your neighbor’s pumpkin bill appears to be way higher than your food expenses alone 🙂

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    • January 10, 2018 at 9:45 AM
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      Thanks Accidental Fire! Being a successful failure isn’t so bad!

      Yeah, my neighbors always go crazy with the pumpkins, Christmas lights, and other decorations. I don’t know how they can afford all of that!

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 4:49 AM
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    We spent about $54K last year for just the two of us. I had budgeted around $60K so we did pretty good.

    I feel you though on the Frugality Muscles getting weaker. This bull stock market makes it harder and harder to chase reducing expenses.

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    • January 10, 2018 at 9:46 AM
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      Nice job on the $54k Mr. Freaky Frugal! You nailed it!

      I worry that once the market turns, having to go back into “frugal” mode is going to be painful!

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 4:54 AM
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    We were a few thousand over normal but the primary culprit was business expenses and two surprise trips to the emergency room. (Everyone’s fine). So no real concerns here for 17. That being said even if I spent way over budget if my retirement date was still on track it wouldn’t keep me up at night. There’s always next year and u can’t change the past. Instead reflect on what you’ll do differently going forward.

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    • January 10, 2018 at 9:48 AM
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      Sorry to hear about the trips to the emergency room! (Glad everyone is OK though)

      We’re still fine in the money department (our portfolio gained over $500k in 2017), but that could easily disappear in a bear market. I’d like us to be a lot closer to our dividend income.

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 5:31 AM
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    It looks you had a lot of fun without spending too much in 2017. We don’t have to be frugal in every way, right? My lifestyle has been similar in the last 15 years, no matter of my income. After retirement, the Obamacare premium is a big piece of pie in my expense chart. Overall, my expense is low, thanks to the low cost of living in central Ohio.

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    • January 10, 2018 at 9:50 AM
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      Hi Helen! We definitely had a good time this past year, and I agree that not every category needs to be super frugal. You have to get the big things right though, and I think that was our biggest failure this year.

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 5:47 AM
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    Thank you for sharing such an honest post! I had no idea your 2017 expenses were $73,000. But it sounds like you live in a really expensive area of town, so I think the costs tend to be higher too. One area we really need to work on in 2018 is our food expenses, which went through the roof in December.

    The language immersion program sounds awesome! Mr. FAF and I plan to teach our kids Chinese and Vietnamese at home too (to save money). But if there’s a good program near our home, we might send them there to get more exposure.

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    • January 10, 2018 at 9:52 AM
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      All of the Seattle area is super expensive these days. The big software companies have really pushed up the prices of everything.

      We really need to move.

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 6:34 AM
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    THAT’S A TOTAL FAIL, Mr. Tako!! Ok, not really. Maybe you had a higher spending year, but considering what you’ve saved and invested, it only makes sense to splurge a little bit more when times are good. However, when the market finally comes crashing down, we better not read this same story or you’ll be getting a timeout! 😉

    As we’re starting to get closer to me quitting my job (less than 2 years left!!), we’re tightening things up a little bit more so our expenses were pretty good for 2017. That said, we did take that nice vacation to Panama, but I did do a lot of planning to help keep the costs low for it.

    — Jim

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    • January 10, 2018 at 9:54 AM
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      Yes, I totally need a frugal timeout! I’d really like to be closer to living entirely off dividend income because eventually the market will go down again.

      Loved your posts about Panama btw! If you ever move there I’m totally crashing on your couch sometime!

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 6:37 AM
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    I think you should get a pass on travel. $6,000 is cheap for a family of 4.
    We went to Cancun last year and I’m sure some families spent that much for a week at the all inclusive resort.
    Childcare is expensive. Are they going to private school later?
    We did pretty well last year. The only frugal fail was housing. Our place is small and we pay a lot to live here. I’m jealous of your huge house.

    Reply
    • January 10, 2018 at 9:56 AM
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      The plan is they’ll go to public school. It’ll make a huge difference in a monthly budget.

      We got pretty lucky and purchased our house during the Great Recession. It was a decent bargain for this very expensive area.

      Reply
      • January 10, 2018 at 4:44 PM
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        I have to agree with the travel costs. My husband and I spent about $6500 on a two week honeymoon in Cancun, all inclusive, plus another $1500 in medical bills when I ended up in the hospital with severe burns and sun poisoning with dehydration (yes, we spent most of our honeymoon in the hospital and in the hotel while I was on bed rest). All in all, it was expensive for two people, but it was also a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us both, as I had never been out of the country and we rarely go on vacation. I wouldn’t mind spending $6k on a trip to Japan!

        Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 6:44 AM
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    You know, you can still be frugal and do things that aren’t frugal. It’s all about spending money where it fits for you. You save a lot on food costs, so you can afford to have the right daycare for your kiddos. We all have frugal tradeoffs!

    Reply
    • January 10, 2018 at 9:57 AM
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      It’s so true Mrs. PP! Thanks! I feel slightly better now! 🙂

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 6:50 AM
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    $73000 a year looks pretty good to me especially if you are paying off a mortgage and child care. I hear you about food costs, growing kids are expensive!

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    • January 10, 2018 at 9:59 AM
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      Indeed they are Steve! Mrs. Tako has done a great job of keeping our kids frugal. I really hope it continues as they grow older!

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 7:02 AM
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    Thank you for the honest post; I don’t think this is an example of non frugal living! Perhaps a few categories that exceeded plan , but not a large failure. I think your scenario will change dramatically when your child care expense ceases. Looking at your numbers, your excellent habits are still apparent. So many of my colleagues and friends don’t even track their expenses!

    Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 9:00 AM
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    Well that’s not a terrible amount to spend considering your HCOL area and your dividend income. I think we might have spent even a little more than that last year although we are helping to pay our daughters school and daycare for her son while she is in school. We helped our oldest daughter with school costs so we are kind of obligated to help daughter #2. I never dreamed we would be paying daycare costs for grand kids. Crazy world.

    Reply
    • January 10, 2018 at 10:01 AM
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      Yes, indeed it is a crazy world. I totally do not have daycare costs for grandkids budgeted. That must be rough!

      2017 was our most expensive year yet!

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 9:26 AM
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    4% of 3 Million is 120,000, so you’re actually underspending by 47K. Well done! I give you a passing grade on all fronts 🙂

    Reply
    • January 10, 2018 at 10:02 AM
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      Thanks FIRECracker! It’s true we way underspend what our portfolio generates, but I’d feel more comfortable if we were closer to living within our dividend income.

      I guess I’m pretty conservative that way. 😉

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 9:36 AM
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    I can’t believe I hadn’t thought about looking at my 2017 total spending until reading this article. So I clicked over to YNAB, ran a report, did not like what I saw. We are definitely not frugal, and I thought we made so many smart money choices! A win? We doubled our car payment to get eliminate that debt. yay! A fail? We spent about $12,000 on food (including groceries and coffee and meals out, does not include food consumed on vacation). yikes!

    Reply
    • January 11, 2018 at 2:54 PM
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      I always like to compare against averages to see where I fall across the spectrum. Clearly we were more on the “spendy” side than “fugal” side this year!

      Let’s both work on it and do much better in 2018 Nichole!

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 10:15 AM
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    Oh my g-d. I spend double that easily!! I gues I fail too!

    Mortgage. 22k
    Childcare 24 k
    Private school 20k
    Giving 20k
    Travel 10-20k

    Just to start.

    Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 11:11 AM
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    I think you guys are actually pretty frugal if you take out your mortgage and childcare expenses.

    Frugal travel seems a bit easier for you Americans since there are so many great travel rewards credit cards to allow for travel hacking. Here in Canada, we’re a bit limited.

    Reply
    • January 10, 2018 at 9:36 PM
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      Agree with you on the limited credit card options in Canada, Tawcan. We opened a TD bank cross-border account so that we can take out US dollars from TD bank without incurring fees and got ITIN numbers (we needed them for book publishing because our publisher is American). This has allowed us to build up credit history in the States. Once we build up enough credit history, we should be able to apply for US credit cards using the ITIN and a virtual mailbox with US address. It’s a bit tedious, but something to consider if you want access to all those sweet sweet US travel reward cards.

      Reply
    • January 11, 2018 at 2:53 PM
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      Thanks Bob! We’re still learning how to do the travel hacking thing, but it does seem like a decent way to cut travel costs for families.

      You guys are a great example!

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 11:28 AM
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    I love your self deprecating style there, Mr. Tako.

    How do you plan to continue your children staying in practice on their multi-lingual abilities after they go into public school?

    And did you neighbor give you the okay to post the picture of his house on your blog? I totally cracked up when I saw that.

    I’m giving myself a big fail for 2017 spending although I did have a very enjoyable time during the year so that makes up a little for it. Dividend income continues to rocket forward and I’ll be working on creating some new opportunities (side hustles) as well as thinking about another big day job perhaps later this year.

    Happy 2018 to you and your wonderful family! Will this be the year your wife stops working full time?

    -Mike

    Reply
    • January 11, 2018 at 2:51 PM
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      I think she’ll keep working for awhile. She actually enjoys it. There are parts of her job that aren’t that fun, but she enjoys all the social connection (I think). On top of that, her benefits are great — she used up 5 weeks of vacation last year and *still* has another 5 weeks carryover into the new year.

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 12:14 PM
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    My first thought is, you could sell your house and buy the same size house in Rochester, NY for less than 1/2 the price. I have co-workers who have cashed in, moving from more expensive locales.

    The child care is expensive, but a pretty cool investment.

    Reply
    • January 11, 2018 at 2:49 PM
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      That’s kind of our plan. Eventually we sell our house and move to a lower cost of living city…

      With any luck, the portfolio will be larger and we’ll be debt free!

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 5:18 PM
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    Mortgage payment is essentially building home equity? Seattle has one of the fastest growing housing market. I believe it is around 6% if not higher. So, it is definitely a good investment 🙂

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    • January 11, 2018 at 2:48 PM
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      Indeed, we are building home equity pretty quickly! That feels great, but it also drives up the cost of everything else in the area.

      Reply
  • January 10, 2018 at 5:43 PM
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    Not bad! I love Osaka!

    Hey, the point of focusing on your earnings and spendings during your working career has allowed you to have some frugal fails!

    Reply
  • January 11, 2018 at 7:22 AM
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    Wow, 73K a year sounds good to me. I’m definitely more than 2x that! Sounds pretty frugal and not a fail at all.

    Reply
  • January 11, 2018 at 2:15 PM
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    I think you did great Mr. Tako. Sure you spent more than average but it seems like almost every dollar was calculated and in line with your plan. You may not have been super frugal in 2017 but it sure seems like you were winning.

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    • January 11, 2018 at 2:47 PM
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      Thanks Jason! I do my best to calculate everything out, but once I compare against the averages I realized what a whopping sum we spent!

      Reply
  • January 11, 2018 at 6:13 PM
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    I came under my personal budget of 25,000. Next year will be tight because I’m out of tax shenanigans and will have to pay Uncle Sugar.

    Also, I am human or cephalopod and have checked the appropriate box.

    Reply
  • January 12, 2018 at 2:33 AM
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    haha, now go sit in the corner and be ashamed! 😉
    It’s not all that bad, you are doing pretty reasonable if you don’t take the daycare into consideration. yes, you could do a smaller home and ditch a car. But with your net worth, does it really matter? You will only end up with more money that you won’t be spending! 🙂

    Reply
  • January 12, 2018 at 7:34 AM
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    It’s all relative to what you have, but I think its a good thing that you are at least aware of the amount you are spending. No sense in blowing too much unnecessarily. The Subaru doesnt bother me. Its a safe quality car thats not really that expensive. Take a close look at everything and fine tune from there. Spread out your indulgences a little and you’ll probably feel a bit better about things. One saying I have that helps keep me in check: “Things are good, and we need to keep it that way”. It doesnt mean you cant spend money and enjoy yourself. It just means pause and think about what you are doing and have some self-control. Otherwise, if another big downturn comes, you’ll wish you were a little smarter with your money when you had the chance.

    Reply
  • January 12, 2018 at 1:22 PM
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    One thing I have learned is that everyone is on their own unique FI path and doing things a bit differently from one another. Where people go wrong is when they have no idea how their decisions are impacting their long term future. You are fully aware of your decisions and already have a plan that is working for you (and your family) now. No reason to adjust. It is a good plan. There are thousands of ways to get to FI and we should share our ideas and learn from one another. But no two paths will be identical and that is the way it should be I think. Thanks for some wonderful writing and thoughts on this blog Mr Tako. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  • January 13, 2018 at 8:52 AM
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    This is a funny post 🙂 Made me smile!
    However smiles aside, I think you are being hard on yourself. I cannot fault you on most of the decisions you made.
    Your house – well you spend a lot of time there, and judging by your comments above, it was a good investment. So yes, it is expensive but it is also contributing to the growth of your net worth and contributing even more to your quality of life.
    Food – a family’s gotta eat!
    Travel – great investment that yields excellent dividends
    Car – ok this might be one area you could make changes 😉
    Well done for a good year!

    Reply
  • January 17, 2018 at 12:35 PM
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    2017 was a frugal fail for my family this year. We still have our ridiculous big house in a HCOL area, bought our retirement home in an equally HCOL area and have been renovating both getting ready for our anticipated FIRE-ing this summer. At least we’re both adept at renovations and have already added value to both properties, but there’s more money flowing out than we would like. Anyone else feel overly spendy just before FIRE-ing?

    Reply
  • January 18, 2018 at 7:30 AM
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    I think you are still frugal. If you take away the $27K of childcare, you’re in super frugal territory. That’s a great idea to have language immersion childcare- will you be continuing with language classes after daycare/preschool is over and they got o kindergarten?

    Reply
  • January 21, 2018 at 6:19 PM
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    Mr. Tako,
    This made me laugh. Frugal Fails!! HAHA! I am going to use that for Hubs and I….we both have our fails.

    Reply
  • February 1, 2018 at 6:11 AM
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    If i evaluate my frugal score, without using too much words i have to admit “FAIL”.
    I could not calculate my savings month by month as you written down above article. I just look my savings at the end of year. I could not find my fault when i look back the period. But your article gives me real inspiration. I will analyse which point i loose my budget control.

    Reply
  • February 9, 2018 at 7:32 PM
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    Greetings from spendytown. I’m impressed, and sort of amazed by your 2017 spending , especially the grocery totals. We are a family of four in a HCOL area. I’d love to see all your line item totals for the year so I can compare. We have a kid in college and that adds up to about 28K a year, and our mortgage is just a few dollars lower than yours, once we add in property taxes. You’ll feel much better when you see ours. Want to share?

    Brad
    Thefrug.com

    Reply

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