One Year On

Today is my husband’s one-year anniversary of his last day at work. We reminisced a bit this weekend, about what he and we felt like one year ago. Our old lives are increasingly difficult to remember in a tangible way (forgetting can be a blessing), but we were able to muster some details.

He remembered how the hot breakfast and free, fresh-squeezed orange juice used to be the highlight of his day — the absolute best thing about having to go to an office. It was true, and deeply depressing in its truthfulness, while also a sign that my husband is easily contented. The basics — a roof over his head, food on the table — count for a lot (as they should) and, after that, returns diminish.

I reminded him of what he was like at the end of the day, after a four-hour daily commute in a tech shuttle, how he was already stressed out on Sunday nights and about that time I wept in the car, begging him to quit, saying I’d rather have a husband alive than more money as a widow. And I wasn’t exaggerating: I meant it. I was worried he was going to have a heart attack and die at work, as a couple of friends had at age 38 and 39.

On Saturday, my husband abruptly got out of bed, walked into the kitchen, and walked back into our bedroom with a garbage bag while I was still sipping coffee. (We enjoy coffee in bed every morning.) He started loading up the garbage bag with all of his tech t-shirts and said “We need to make a Goodwill run today.” I asked, “Are you sure? We talked about making a weird sort of quilt out of them or something.”

He hasn’t worn any of these shirts since he left (not that he wore them then, either — they were too juvenile and embarrassing to wear in public).

We still don’t understand how the tech t-shirt and hoodie trend started, even though we both worked in tech for 20 years (and at some very big, popular companies). You’d think we’d have noticed when the first t-shirt showed up. But we didn’t.

Over time, though, I concluded that the t-shirts and hoodies were there to blunt or make up for the fact that software is so ephemeral, to provide more substantive evidence that you had once made a thing that existed, even if it no longer did. The phone you created mobile UI for might no longer be in use, a particular platform no longer popular and nearly dead, but here was a t-shirt to remind you and your progeny that you’d once made something that some people had seen, and that had mattered a little bit, to a small group of people, for a brief time.

My husband said, “I don’t want to look at these. I can’t even stand to look at them folded up in the closet. I’m not going to wear them, I’d be ashamed of that. It’s been so nice to really start to forget that place that, now, I really don’t want to be reminded.”

So we loaded up two huge garbage bags full of nothing but tech tees and hoodies, from both of our jobs, over the course of our entire 40 years combined in tech. My husband saved one hoodie he actually wears, more subtle and less offensive than most (no logo, no words). He had 45 t-shirts and four hoodies from his last job alone. Nearly all of them featured childish slogans and drawings far more suitable for a kindergarten lunch box than a grown man.

It was cathartic and a nice way to mark a one-year anniversary of freedom, though my husband hadn’t yet realized it was. He woke up and it was just time to move on, more completely.

We have a new life now, completely new identities, no longer tied to working or any company. We don’t want or need more reminders that it was ever otherwise.

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Flagging in FIRE

Financially independent, retired early (FIRE) folks — and frugal, Mustachian types in general — can seem almost irritatingly consistent, unwavering, and diligent. We keep our eyes on the prize, never purchase anything and, even when spending a fraction of the norm, tirelessly look for frugal life hacks: for ways to optimize spending, savings, energy usage. Worst of all, we make it look easy.

Except it’s not, always, and many of us don’t. We get lazy, we fall off the bandwagon, we let things slide. Here is a recent case in point from my quarterly review of our spending, just in case anyone on the Internet thinks I’m perfect (unlikely).

Wanton Eating Out

Did you think I was careful with food and grocery spending?

Because we managed to spend $5,113 on groceries, dining out, and wine in three months. Looks like some of us have been celebrating early retirement a little too much.

Some of this is because my family visited, a rare occasion, with multiple family members in town at the same time from different locations. It was a logistical triumph. Sweet Huz and I, being the rich people we are, paid for a few group dinners for seven people with wine (probably $1,500 of that $5,113 total) and filled the larder with groceries for that many during the visit (another $200) and rented a mini van to haul everyone up and down Highway One ($400 + $100 fuel). I can’t think of a better occasion for which to do so. No regrets.

But take away the special occasion, $1,700 family vacation food bill, and that still leaves over $1,000 month on food spending. For two adults.

Hell. No. The frugal hammer is coming down on that.

Typically, I’ve trained a close eye on our dining out spending. We go to bars and have alcohol with dinners out on very rare occasion, which keeps the tabs down. We almost always bring half a meal home as leftovers.

But living in cities makes consistent behavior difficult sometimes. The San Francisco Bay Area has a lot of good food in it. (Much of it is cheap, at least. Pupusas pupusas pupusas. I love pupusas.) And, now that we’re FIRE and at home a lot, going out with friends is one of the main ways we get out of the house and see other people. It’s wonderful, because our friends are actually friends again (no longer replaced by coworkers standing in for real, unfettered, truly social time). It’s a lot less wonderful on the pocket book.

Dormant, Not Dead

The nice thing about generally good habits is that they don’t go anywhere. All of my now effortless home cooking and meal planning habits (i.e. staring at ingredients we already have, looking up the one we have the most of in the Joy of Cooking index, and figuring out what to make with it, improvising based on the other ingredients) I developed over 20 years of saving money like a crazy person are still there, and kick back into action instantly.

Today was almond flour pancakes and will be tamale pie for dinner. Yesterday was broccoli and cheese quiche for breakfast and quinoa salad for lunch (Costco organic quinoa, tossed with whatever cut up vegetables are on hand, a little salt, and a sprinkling of olive oil and lemon juice), with leftover chicken soup for dinner (with Joy of Cooking dumplings).

This week will be a lot more of the same.

We’ll probably allow ourselves one lunch and one dinner out per week, but even that will be a huge improvement over $1,000+/month food spending.