I started sharing my real-life monthly expenses way back in early 2011.
I would (and still do) track every penny of spending, compile that information for an article, and then share it for the world to see.
Although it’s perhaps a bit more of a common occurrence these days to run across someone online sharing their spending, it was actually incredibly rare back when I first started doing it.
And that’s partly what motivated me to start doing it in the first place: I couldn’t find what I was looking to read (a real-time journey from $0 to FIRE, including the budgets and investments along the way), so I decided to start a blog and share that information myself.
While this is slightly more accepted and common nowadays in the FIRE circle, sharing one’s spending (or money in general) is still a bit taboo for the masses. It’s not something most people are comfortable with.
Since I’ve shared so many monthly expense reports over the years, it’d be easy for me to hang it up and say that I’ve done all I can to show what it’s like to stay disciplined with spending for years on end so that one can achieve FIRE.
I do feel like I accomplished that goal (showing that spending discipline over many years), which is why I actually took a break for a little while from sharing the spending. I just started to feel like I’ve “been there, done that”. It started to feel repetitive.
However, I felt that motivation to share expenses completely rejuvenated earlier this year, and I’ve been back to sharing my real-life numbers since March. I plan to continue doing so for the foreseeable future, getting back to that multi-year stretch I started way back in 2011.
And I want to reveal three key reasons why I’m still so excited to share these numbers more than seven years later.
Achieving FIRE Versus Maintaining FIRE
As I was just mentioning, I felt like maybe there wasn’t too much value to be had with sharing budgets any longer because I already showed what it took and what it looked like to live frugally, save aggressively, and attain a high savings rate for years on end so that you could achieve FIRE.
However, it dawned on me that there’s still value to be had. It’s just in a different way these days.
That shift in value is in seeing what the spending looks like post-FIRE.
After all, achieving FIRE is fantastic. It’s a hell of accomplishment that’s worth everything it takes.
But maintaining FIRE is quite another thing altogether.
You can’t just achieve FIRE, then slack on everything you did to get there.
The last thing you’d want to do is quit your job, get a taste of the FIRE lifestyle, then see that you’ve totally slid down the slippery slope of letting the finances go a little bit.
It’d be like spending years of your life to get in amazing shape, then feel like you can slack a little bit now that you’ve made it to that mountaintop. Well, the moment you slack, is the moment when you start to fall down that mountain. You have to maintain that vigilance on an ongoing basis. It’s a lifestyle, not a finish line.
Once your passive income exceeds expenses, which means you’ve hit the FIRE jackpot, you have to keep in mind that you have to more or less keep to that spending level.
Now, there’s some wiggle room.
Intelligently investing your capital means your purchasing power should increase over the long run. You should see your passive income increase at a rate that exceeds the rate at which your expenses increase (due to inflation).
But that wiggle room isn’t huge, especially at the beginning of your post-FIRE life.
And so the lifestyle you entered FIRE with, is more or less the lifestyle you’ll have to continue living.
While this should be fairly obvious, it occurred to me that not too many people are sharing the real-life spending in a post-FIRE life.
First, as aforementioned, most people aren’t comfortable with sharing certain (or any) elements of their finances (even people blogging or vlogging).
Second, and more to the point, there aren’t that many people out there who have actually achieved FIRE. Most people are still grinding it out. This FIRE stuff, while exciting and growing, is still relatively new. There was almost nobody talking about it back when I first started. It takes time for people to turn the corner and achieve their goals.
Thus, I felt an opportunity to share rare numbers, just like I felt a similar opportunity in 2011.
It excites me to be able to share post-FIRE spending because it’s just not something too many other people are doing. Blazing trails is super interesting to me, so I felt like I’d be remiss to not share what maintaining FIRE looks like on the spending side of things (just like I worked so hard to show what achieving FIRE looked like).
Keeping Myself Honest
I have a confession.
The idea behind sharing my real-life spending wasn’t totally altruistic; it wasn’t solely in the vein of motivating others.
That was most of it, but I also wanted to keep myself honest.
Even a person as disciplined as myself with spending can sometimes be led astray.
Publicly reporting on my real-life spending means I have to explain every expense. And the last thing I’d want to do is spend a bunch of money on something if I can’t rationally explain it.
It’s not about justification; it’s about holding myself accountable to my own ideal.
I’m probably harder on myself than anyone else. I hold myself to a very high standard. But I’m human. If I come to myself needing money for something, I understand the guy I’m asking for money has plenty of it. And so, from that perspective, it’s easy to go and spend $500 or whatever on Item or Experience X or Y when I know that it basically won’t dent my finances at all.
I operate my life with a high degree of awareness of value, and I tend to strictly buy things only when they meet a certain personal value threshold. Thus, spending that $500 is already pretty unlikely just based on who I am.
But knowing that I’d have to actually explain Item or Experience X or Y to the public at large means there’s an extra layer of difficulty that comes with spending money on my part. It’s basically a margin of safety on the spending side of my life. And I appreciate that. I love that I’m being held accountable to my values and writing.
Now, this particular point was far more valuable to me personally when I first started. Back then, I was still finding my legs as it pertained to living frugally, highly recognizing value, and building out my personal ethos in life.
I was, shall we say, still somewhat tethered to old consumer habits that I was just starting to break free from. I had already “awoken”, but I was still a bit groggy. That vision wasn’t completely clear yet.
However, I think sharing still keeps me honest. It keeps me from losing my way.
For example, I’m rocking a used iPhone 4S I bought years ago. It’s barely holding on. The home button doesn’t work. It’s very slow. And the battery doesn’t last very long.
But it works. It still gets the job done.
And I lament the idea of throwing it away and buying a new phone when I know that a new phone is only going to add incremental value to my life (since the basic tasks it can perform will be similar).
Moreover, every month I delay that purchase (by holding on to this thing and squeezing out every last minute of usage), is one more month in which I don’t have to explain away a sizable purchase that won’t suddenly radically improve my quality of life.
Showing Expenses As An Expat In Thailand
This is what excites me the most about sharing my expenses after all of these years.
The boat I’m in is a pretty small boat. Not many people share real-life expenses down to the last dollar. Not too many people have been doing it for years. And certainly not many people are showing post-FIRE expenses.
But you add in yet another degree of rarity when you consider that I’ve moved abroad to live out my early retirement dreams in Thailand.
That makes things so thrilling for me.
To be able to show the financial mechanics behind post-FIRE is one thing, but to show those mechanics in terms of living abroad as an early retiree and going about life without a care in the world is quite another.
FIRE is scary for a lot of people.
Moving abroad is probably even scarier.
So combining these two “scary” lifestyle changes and lining everything up on the spending keeps things fresh for me.
Expense reports are perhaps boring at their core, but looking at what the spending looks like for an early retiree expat adds a very compelling angle that I’m happy to explore for you readers.
I encourage the idea of publicly sharing expenses. Everyone should do it. If you have to keep yourself anonymous in order to do so, that’s fine. But I think the benefits of inspiring others and keeping yourself honest are worth the stretch.
Truth be told, I became a bit bored with these reports after so many years of reporting on expenses. Talking about what I spending on groceries or electricity was starting to wear on me. It lost its luster as I started to get pretty close to FIRE. And I felt like I already accomplished what I had set out for.
But I feel totally rejuvenated about sharing these numbers once more, which is why I’ve been back at it for quite a while now (and why I plan to keep at it for the foreseeable future).
It’s my hope that these reports are more inspiring and insightful than ever when you consider the post-FIRE and expat standpoints that definitely add something different and new to the discussion.
What do you think? Do you publicly share your spending? Are you excited to read about these spending reports when considering the situations under which the spending is occurring?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
P.S. If you’re interested in achieving FIRE, check out some fantastic resources that I personally used on my to becoming financially free at 33!