Brewing FIRE was born on April 1st, 2018 (no joke!). It was officially conceived around January 1st, when I bought the domain name and started building out the site.
I thought about taking the plunge and starting a blog for a long time prior to actually doing it. In fact, I started two other blogs (both music-centric) in the 90’s and 00’s, respectively. Neither of those ventures were personal, though, which is probably why it took so long to start this one.
Brewing FIRE initially was going to be about homebrewing and personal finance. I wrote multiple articles on the benefits of homebrewing, associated costs, and a beginner’s equipment guide. Pretty soon, though, I realized that it would take a ton of content creation in the homebrewing genre to be useful, and I frankly didn’t have the time to do it. So I pivoted.
Next, I began writing a lot of informational “finance how-to” type articles for the blog. But I noticed that they weren’t getting much attention, probably because every personal finance topic has been beaten to death at this point. So I pivoted, again.
What’s the only thing I can write about that I know no one else has covered? My personal story. And, amazingly, some people actually enjoy reading about others’ personal experiences, trials, tribulations, and breakthroughs.
So lately I’ve been writing mostly about our boring lives, and occasionally mixing in some tips or insights I’ve gained along the journey. I’m always incorporating tidbits I learn from other bloggers’ experiences, so I hope that you can learn something from us as well.
Three years isn’t really that long, but a lot can happen over such a period. Our family has experienced much growth over the past 36 months: financial, emotional, and literal growth.
No matter how lackadaisical I’ve gotten about this blog, I’ve consistently posted a net worth update every month since March 2018. These updates include a spending and investing summary, as well as the mundane goings-on in the Brewing FIRE household. It also includes a tally of our net worth and breakdown of assets.
Here’s what three years of Net Worth progress looks like:
In 3 years, our net worth has more than doubled, with a compound annual return of approximately 29%. The S&P return over this time was 14.6%, so we also doubled the return of the market! Is this because we are investing wizards? Shit, no. We contributed more than $100,000 to our collective accounts in each of these years, which explains half of our growth. Still, we’ve had a pretty good run of late.
Home Equity: we sold our house in December when we moved to Virginia, so that would explain the loss of equity in our home. It also (partially) explains the big jump in our cash position.
Cash: I can never make up my mind on how much cash we should hold (more on this below). Right now we’re sitting on our down payment for a new home, plus approximately $50k of additional cash. Until we’re settled and I figure out whether I’m going to become a stay-at-home-dad or not, I want to have some extra money available.
The other curiosity is the massive jump from our 2020 balance to 2021. This is just a result of choosing March as the net worth snapshot from each year. March 2020 represents the nadir of our retirement account balances, as we dipped significantly during the initial Covid panic. As everyone knows, the market rebounded hard soon after this point, and thus our balances recovered quickly, and have accelerated through 2021.
My initial interest in the personal finance space came from the investing side. As I watched the Global Financial Crisis speed-bag my meager portfolio in the balls, I had a growing desire to take more agency over my investments. This led to countless hours spent on The Motley Fool, Seeking Alpha, and eventually brought me to JL Collins’ Stock Series. I also found The Mad Fientist along the way, which spurred my fetish for tax optimization.
Interestingly, my core investing principles haven’t changed much over the years:
- Spend less than we earn
- Consistently contribute to a hierarchy of buckets based on tax efficiencies,
- Automate, and
On the fringe, I’ve flip-flopped on certain issues many times over the years.
We’ve debated the merits of paying down our mortgage versus investing. Ultimately, I stopped making extra payments on our property.
I started buying bonds in late 2018 when interest rates began to rise, but reversed course during the pandemic (and ensuing plunge in bond yields).
I’ve also changed my mind on the size of our emergency fund / cash cushion. I don’t know if I’ll ever settle that debate. Sometimes it just feels nice to know I could buy a Tesla in cash tomorrow if I wanted to.
After nearly a decade of investing in individual stocks (for better or worse), I sold all of them in early 2019 and switched to passive index investing. The shift has been refreshing, and taken a lot of the stress/tinkering out of my investing life.
Most recently, I’ve moved our after-tax money to a Robo-advisor (Wealthfront). I’ll cover that decision in an upcoming post.
My view of my career (job?) has shifted over the past few years. In 2016 I changed positions within my company, which resulted in less responsibility, less stress, and a 4 minute commute!
Honestly, I’ve been very fortunate and I shouldn’t complain about my job. Still, my fundamental complaint has always been the same: work takes too much of my time. We were supposed to have 15 hour work weeks by now, dammit!
I realized long ago that I will never sacrifice the things that matter for a job. More recently, I’ve taken to refusing promotions that will diminish my quality life. What’s another dollar worth at this point, anyhow?
I’ve been planning my departure from the corporate world extensively during the past few years. I tried to make my exit last October when we decided to move, but I was coaxed into a remote position. I’ll try to quit again sooner or later. There are just too many other things I want to do with my time.
Family / Time
Speaking of time. Time is one of the recurring themes on this blog. I’ve become painfully aware of its scarcity during the last three years. Two kids and a full time job will do that to you.
I’ve looked into ways to buy back some of my time, but there’s only so much benefit to be gained. Working from home has definitely improved the situation, but I’m still working most of the week. And thinking about work tends to creep into my off-time, which is a stressor and a drag.
I would like to find a better balance, and carve out more time for my kids. They are only small for a finite period, and I don’t want to regret the fact that I could have been with them more when they were little, instead of working to earn money that we might not even need.
Being present for my family is now of paramount importance. In the literal sense, and in the ‘mindfulness’ sense.
Which brings me to mindset and psychology. I’d say that a majority of the progress I’ve made in the past three years has been emotional.
Over my life, I’ve been described by friends, ex-lovers and strangers as “arrogant, selfish, sarcastic, un-empathetic, oblivious” and numerous other negative terms. Most of it has been true, at various times. Really, I’m some combination of obsessive compulsive and perfectionist, which often causes me to fail to see the world around me. In other words, I’m not always present or ’emotionally available‘.
I’ve always been skeptical of mindfulness, meditation, and associated Eastern traditions. But my favorite neuroscientist philosopher (and skeptic!), Sam Harris, has dragged me into the world of self-reflection.
To be honest, I still don’t meditate that often. However, I’ve gotten much better at staying present in a given moment, and identifying negative emotions before they make me say or do something mean. It’s made a world of a difference for my relationships and general mood.
I’ve also read a significant amount during the time I’ve been publishing on this blog. 137 books by my count, plus countless blog posts (from contributors like you!). The most impactful books for me have been on productivity and behavioral psychology. I’ve been hyper-focused on understanding what gives me fulfillment, and how I’m prone to making decisions against my own interests. Sometimes it just means overcoming bad habits that detract from my overall well-being.
Another move we’ve made in the interest of well-being was our literal move, and the choice of geoarbitrage.
Most definitions of geoarbitrage describe it as purely financial: relocating to reduce cost-of-living while maintaining a similar (or better) standard of living. To me, I think geoarbitrage should be viewed through a more holistic lens, not just in terms of financial benefit.
Why do I say this? Well mainly because our move from CT was lateral in terms of cost of living. Sure, we’ll save a bunch on property taxes, and maybe on utilities, down here in VA. But we also gave up a sweet house hacking situation at our former digs, so the net gain is small.
When we decided to move south of the Mason Dixon, there were numerous potential benefits that drove the decision, including:
- Warmer weather (and more days outside)
- Lots of outdoor attractions (river, hiking, beaches and mountains nearby)
- A healthier local economy
- Stronger population (and job) growth
- (Modestly) lower costs for goods and services
- More quality options for public universities
- fantastic craft beer scene!
- A diverse, culturally rich place with friendly people
In short, we made the move hoping for an improvement in quality of life. We left the never-ending hustle of the New England rat race with hopes of a more relaxed, enjoyable existence down here. So far we’re happy with the choice.
One of these days I’ll do a dedicated writeup on the (literal) years of research and debate that went into this decision. I compiled a lot of good resources in the process.
Well that just about summarizes our last 3 years, in broad strokes. It hasn’t always been easy, but I feel truly lucky for the way the last few years have played out. I can’t say we would be in the same position if we weren’t pursuing a FI lifestyle and making sure our long-term goals align with our daily activities.
In many ways, the FIRE community has drastically influenced the course of our lives, down to the fact that I’m 400 miles away from where I started this journey.
I have no idea how long I’ll continue this blog. I’ve almost quit a few times. Other times, I’ve gotten so motivated I almost started publishing weekly posts. I’ve considered changing the style to shorter, less structured posts on random thoughts and current topics. Maybe I’ll pivot to a new emphasis. Maybe not.
Thanks for following, commenting, and indirectly keeping this site going. I always appreciate the feedback and support. Let me know in the comments if you want me to post more frequently, less frequently, cover new topics, or just quit already. Cheers!