Hi folks! It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here, but I haven’t abandoned the blog! We’ve simply been on vacation for the past week and completely without internet access!
Normally I like to travel to locations with internet access, but I’ve been completely unable to post anything for the past week.
It was a real “unplugged” family vacation. So where did we go?
While the Tako family does our fair share of international travel (last year we went to Japan), this year we decided to keep our travel plans domestic and cheap. We went camping!
This was our first big camping trip with the kids, and they had a great time despite having no TV, computers, or internet access.
Our first stop on the trip was a campsite along the Methow river between Twisp and Winthrop, Washington. We stayed a couple days in this beautiful location.
Nearby Winthrop is a rustic “Cowboy Town” just on the Eastern side of the Cascade mountains. The town looks like something right out of an old ‘Spaghetti-Western’ that’s been plopped into modern times…
For some reason the town decided to preserve many of its old buildings and ‘Western’ styling, complete with wooden boardwalks.
We didn’t expect to see a lot (other than tourist shops), but the local museum did prove very interesting. It was free, so we could hardly go wrong!
The second campsite on our trip was called Nason Creek. Unfortunately the weather was so ungodly hot during this part of the trip we didn’t stay at our campsite much.
We spent most of our time trying to stay cool, making a trip to nearby Lake Wenatchee.
To use the lake, we needed a Washington State Discover pass that cost $10. It was totally worth the price too — The lake proved significantly cooler than our campsite. A quick dip in the water was the perfect way to cool off.
When the family finally got bored with the lake, we drove to Leavenworth, WA in search of cooler temps. I can’t say we were very successful. The thermometer was breaking 100F (38C) at this point.
Leavenworth is another “themed” town in Washington — this one being a “Bavarian Village” style town. As you might expect, the place is a bit of a tourist trap. There’s the quintessential beer gardens, sellers of bratwursts, bakeries offering strudel and other European treats, and (of course) gift shops galore.
Frankly, I was only interested in ice cream when the temperature broke 105F.
It might be a tourist trap, but it’s one of the most beautiful tourist traps I’ve seen in a long while. There’s flowers literally everywhere and all the buildings are gorgeously decorated in a Bavarian style.
Even the local Starbucks plays along with the town theme. This had the effect of making the iconic coffee chain nearly invisible.
As you might expect, frugal travel means our July expenses were fairly reasonable. For the month, we spent $5,177.
July is a summer month, and summer is when our economic garden produces the most. As a result, our food costs were surprisingly low in July — a mere $292.92. Some of this amount included paying for overpriced groceries at tourist-trap towns during our camping trip.
You’ve probably heard the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.”
Well, I feel like there should be a version of this phrase that illustrates the benefits of growing zucchini.
“Teach a human to grow zucchini and his entire neighborhood will never go hungry again”.
Zucchini is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in a summer garden, and one of the most prolific. A garden only needs one or two zucchini plants because they’re extremely productive.
I attribute much of our lower grocery bill this month to the incredible growing power of zucchini.
We’ve been cooking up zucchini constantly. One of my go-to dishes is cooking zucchini on the grill with a italian herbs, olive oil, and garlic powder sprinkled on top.
The plants don’t stop producing so we can’t stop there — time for some zucchini tacos!
We can’t forget Mrs. Tako’s delicious Japanese-style zucchini curry either! This stuff was amazing.
The list of zucchini dishes doesn’t stop — we literally eat zucchini every single day and yet we still give away plenty to the neighbors.
Fuel costs amounted to $39 in July, which does not include two fill-ups I made at Costco using a gift card purchased in May. If those two additional fill-ups were included, our July fuel expenses would look very normal, typically $100-$120 in any given month. (This includes all the driving for our camping trip.)
Our Internet expense was $0 in July because we prepaid this expense back in May to receive a credit card sign-up rewards. Usually our internet costs $49.95. We prepaid $500 so I don’t expect to see an internet expense for many months to come.
Mortgage And Childcare
As usual, our mortgage and childcare expenses make-up the bulk of our monthly spending at $4,380.78. These are our two largest monthly expenses, and without them we would have only spent $797 in July.
That said, I consider both expenses optional.
You see — I could take the kids out of daycare and keep them home with me full-time (I wouldn’t have time to blog), and we could pay-off our mortgage with cash.
So why do I bother paying for a mortgage and for daycare?
I simply choose to pay these large bills on purpose because of the advantages they provide — The kids are becoming fluent in a second language at daycare, and I get the time to blog a little!
For the mortgage — our interest rate is so low I’m almost 100% positive we can find a better return in the stock market. Financially we’ll be better-off NOT paying-off the mortgage.
Utilities for the month of July included a water and sewer bill at $256.72. This is a bi-monthly bill, but we still pay A LOT for water. The vast majority of this amount is taxes, minimum service fees and meter charges — not actual usage.
All other utility bills were either not billed in July, or were prepaid in May to receive a credit card reward.
Other expenses for July amounted to $208. Much of this amount is expenses for our camping trip, which includes two restaurant lunches!
Yes, we ate at a restaurant! Twice in one month! That’s something of a record for the Tako family!
Most months we don’t eat at restaurants, but when we’re traveling we make exceptions. The meals at these restaurants amounted to $82.
In July, we also needed to renew our license plate car tabs — a cost of $83. This annual amount is the fee for only one of our cars.
Cumulative Expenses For 2018
For the year so far, our cumulative expenses reached $42,210. Yes, I know this is a rather large amount.
We do our best to be frugal, but please remember that we live in a very expensive part of the Pacific Northwest. This part of the country is not exactly “low cost”.
Our mortgage and daycare costs alone account for over $30k of these annual expenses. Without these large expenses, the Tako family spending would only total $11,335.
Thankfully, the daycare expenses are already starting to decline — We paid our very last $2k daycare bill in July. Our oldest son, Tako Jr. #1 starts kindergarten this September, which should save us around $1,000 per month.
Given this large decline in our expenses monthly, I expect our 2018 expenses will be four to five thousand dollars less than our total expenses for 2017 ($73,173).
Dividends In July
Dividends in July amounted to $1,671. This is a nice monthly sum, but it pales in comparison to the monster $10k dividend we received in June.
Monthly dividend fluctuations like this are perfectly normal, and we make no attempt to “smooth” these amounts. Our focus is on holding the best investments that we can, so dividend income will always be a little lumpy.
Investment Update In July
In the month of July, our net worth climbed an incredible 4.7%. As you might expect, this provided a welcome boost to our portfolio returns.
I like to keep these kinds of returns in context however — The vast majority of this increase is only market gains. They could easily disappear next week if Mr. Market finds himself in a bad mood.
Furthermore, investors are required to sell in order to make these ethereal gains something real, I have no intention of selling the vast majority of our investments, so these gains remain exactly that — ethereal.
Most of the time we just let those gains ride rather than trying to trade in-and-out of stocks, and that’s exactly what we did in July.
We made no purchases of new stock in July, despite having a large cash balance that I need to invest.
I know, I know … I say that every month!
What can I say? Much of the stock market looks expensive to my eyes, and I’d much rather spend my time researching esoteric and forgotten corners of the stock market rather than overpaying for stocks like Facebook or Netflix.
Despite plenty of fishing, I haven’t found any screaming good deals. Oh well! Maybe next month I’ll catch the stock market equivalent of a zucchini…
Image Credit [OctopusGraffiti]