Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wha Happened?

"So did your mustache fall off, or just your readership?"

Ha ha.

Yes, the Miner Mustache Project continues, but there has not been much to report on the past few days.  We are pending on a short-sale project house, which we hope to hear about in a week or so.  The housing market in the Valley of the Sun is bonkers.  The inventory is low, the time on market is measured in winks of an eye, and the prices are climbing in a way that I haven't seen in six years...

I don't think another crash is imminent, but I don't want to be jockeying for my place in a stampede.  Thus, if this current prospect (which I believe to be a good value) falls through, we will chill in our condo for a while until a) I think the froth has settled or b) we have to move.  The latter may happen due to 1) growing family or 2) job prospects next year (my current position is research-funded, which means that when the money goes away, so do I).  So we're pretty sanguine at this point. 

If we stay in our condo, I will aim at the following projects, which would then be featured on this blog:

Kitchen remodel - cabinets, sink, and lighting; the appliances are fine.
Radiant barrier in the attic.  This is Phoenix.  Why didn't I do this a LONG TIME AGO?
Bathroom remodel(s)?  Both WCs need some updating (the fiberglass is wearing out in the ancient tub/shower inserts, and modern toilets would be nice).

That's all for now.  Adios.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Brewing

A friend of mine gave me a most excellent wedding present some six years ago: a homebrewing setup.  Since then I have made maybe a dozen batches of beer, and yet I have still spent money on beer at Costco, Frys, and even the occasional PBR from Circle K.  Why?

Sloth.  Pure sloth.  Making beer takes planning.  It takes patience.  It takes skill.  Buying beer requires NONE of these things!  Not one!  Isn't it great?  I can be a schmuck and still enjoy beer!  As long as I want to pay between $1-$1.50 per bottle, let the good times roll!

Now, it's true that having a kid slowed down the beer-making and beer-drinking enterprise considerably (probably a good thing, too), but I do enjoy having a beer some nights with dinner, and when we have my brother-in-law over, we're usually good for two or three apiece.  So beer is still on the things-I-want-to-have list.  And now that we are on the Via Mustachia, I need to get off my duff.

The simple but effective rule that I am following here is: If you want luxury items, MAKE THEM.

This holds most strongly for food and beer, but it can be applied to household decor items (curtains come to mind), simple furniture, and various personal grooming products (olive oil is extremely versatile, but the Mrs. knows more about that than I - I just know I haven't bought shaving soap in a long time).

You will say, perhaps: "But I can't make _______!  That's WAY too complicated for a schlub like me!"  Perhaps, perhaps not.  First, do you need it?  If you really need it (or want it badly enough), then have you even looked at the internet to see if it's reasonable to make it yourself?  If you've done that and said "But I don't have the tools/space/time/chutzpah to make that!", return to the first step.  If you still really want/need it, then do you live in a void or the Australian outback?  If not, there will be OTHER PEOPLE around you.  These people may be known to you as "neighbors", "friends", or "family", but in either case, they likely have skills and equipment that you can make some arrangement to obtain.  Alternatively, in some cities there are "hackerspaces", which are essentially a community garage, where a few volunteers make themselves available and for a nominal fee (sometimes it's free), you can come and use tools and get advice.  If you cannot manage any of these options, it's a good bet that the item in question is 1) a mattress, appliance, or apparel item, or 2) completely frivolous.  If (1), get over to Craigslist or Freecycle.  If (2), get over yourself.

So, I've been looking at how to get beermaking supplies cheaper.  I've got the capital equipment, but the syrups are so darn expensive.  I have never done an all-grain batch, but I think I should do a few more processed-malt batches before diving off that deep end (brewers get this crazy look when you talk all-grain, like some demented alchemist who learned the secret to perpetual youth).  So as much as I like my local brew store, I am trawling the internet for affordable ingredients.  I get about $30/batch for my simple pale ale recipe from Northern Brewer, which is some cheaper than the store, but I have to order $50 to get free shipping.  Hmm.  On the other hand, the Mrs. likes red ales, so maybe I should get a recipe for one of those...

If you're interested, here's my recipe for Horatio Pale Ale, which is a light-bodied, crisp, fairly hoppy pale, which is pretty good on a summer evening:
3/8 lb American Carapils
3/8 lb Crystal 60-L
6.4 lb Pale Malt Syrup
2oz Chinook
1oz Cascade

Heat ~2gal of good water to 160F, add brew salts if desired
Turn heat off, soak grains 20 min, sparge with hot water
Add syrup and stir to dissolve completely
Turn heat on, bring to boil, and boil 15min
Add the Chinook hops
Boil (gently, not hard) for another 45min
Add 1oz Cascade and some Irish moss for flocculation if desired
Boil 10min
Add 1oz Cascade
Turn heat off, stir gently for ~5min (don't aerate when hot!)
Gently add about 3gal of very cold water, or sub 8 lb clean ice for one gallon of water.  The goal is to cool the liquid down to below 80F pretty quickly.  Some people have fancy equipment to do this, but did they make it themselves?  (if so, awesome)
Once cooled, pour the liquid into your fermenter (I use a 6gal bucket).  It's OK to aerate it now, the yeast will need O2.  Pitch the yeast, close up the fermenter (USE AN AIRLOCK!), and let sit at ~68-70F for 7-10days, then gently rack to secondary fermentation, let it stand for 2 weeks, then bottle using NO MORE THAN 3/4cup sugar, fully dissolved in water and cooled.  You add this to the beer prior to bottling so it can bottle condition.  If you're kegging with CO2 (how did you manage to make that apparatus?) you don't need to prime.  Bottle condition for 7-10days, then pop a top.

It's all the sweeter for having made it yourself!  (except this beer is not sweet, so perhaps it's crisper?  hoppier?)  Cheers! 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Talking about my generation, indeed.

So it turns out that my generation is reacting to what we saw our parents and older siblings do: not save much. 

"Millennials are “the second-most conservative group of investors, right behind their grandparents,” said panelist Sallie Krawcheck, former president of global wealth and investment management for Bank of America Corp. The fact that young workers today likely will be retiring at an older age than their parents and grandparents means “we need a structural rethink” of how to save for that retirement, Ms. Krawcheck said." - (Source: WSJ)

Well, having seen parents' retirement portfolios take a nose dive in 2009, and having seen the effect of being over-leveraged when the music stops, I guess maybe we are learning something.  But I bet it's not Mustachian.  Ms. Krawcheck seems to assume that my generation will be stuck working forever, and whatever "structural rethink" she has in mind is probably not an ERE-style makeover.

My own observations of my peers leads me to conclude that no paradigms have yet shifted in the work-spend-work cycle.  Perhaps this is because the consumer-support systems are still largely run by those in the prior two generations; perhaps it is because my generation is as image-obsessed as ever (and frugality can look weird); perhaps things will buck up.  It is certainly true that more people are talking about less (viz. the small but growing financial-freedom-fighter blogroll), but widespread adoption seems a ways out there.  Nevertheless, baby steps are welcome.

Fellow Millennials, how little do you really need? And how long do you think you have to work to get it? 

I do like the Thoreau quote: "A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bicycles

Yes, I did ride to work today.  But we live in Phoenix, and it's getting hotter.  This does not bother me much during the ride, but I feel a little, well, gauche when I hang up my washcloth and biking clothes in my (shared) office.  My officemate has been very polite about it so far, but I don't want to be irritating, just frugal.  Also, I don't want to wad up my clothes in my pack, for imaginable reasons.

Between this and the minifridge, I feel sort of like I just moved into a 6th-floor efficiency suite.  At least it has a view.

NOW HEAR THIS - if you want to help our friends in Oklahoma who have suffered unimaginable devastation from tornadoes, there's an effort solicited by a senior Mustachian here:
http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/throw-down-the-gauntlet/attention-mustachians!-%28oklahoma-tornado-relief%29/

Monday, May 20, 2013

Why Now?

The Mrs. and I were just discussing why we both bought into MMM, but have been nonplussed by Dave Ramsey (who my excellent brother really digs), had not heard of Suze Orman for ages until we did (then laughed: "Now, you'll need $7k more per month when the baby comes", then we find out she is NOT a comedienne), etc.   We have never had serious debt (defined in typical-consumer terms), we have always made enough money, and we thought we were, well, fine.

This is where the face-punching, continually-optimizing, thoughtful braggadocio of MMM comes in.  I'm an engineer myself, so I respect it when there are logical arguments, graphs, and algebra showing me that I am simultaneously a wussy- and complainypants consumer sukka, who can manage a WAY more frugal lifestyle than we currently do.  This resonated with the Mrs., too, who is genetically frugal (through her mom's side), and had never quite been comfortable with some of my "normal" spending habits.

Thus, coming across MMM at the conclusion of grad school, during which we developed a few small, flabby, yet real, frugality-muscles, was a godsend.  Now that we have a real income, we also have a commitment to 'stache it wisely and to think hard before spending it.  Who knows what would have happened if I'd got the real job before getting the real perspective?  A near-miss indeed...

But I have a confession.  I drove to work today.  I used the flimsy excuse of an afternoon meeting that required me to leave early, applying my casuistry to convince myself that because I was working fewer hours, I should spend more on getting there.  How that logic works, I don't know.  Tomorrow I get back on that horse and ride.


Friday, May 17, 2013

A way in which I will never be Mustachian

I am all about decluttering. And minimalism. And getting rid of things (furniture) that we don't absolutely need. But there is one thing that I won't get rid of on principle.












Books.

(You may think you see other clutter that isn't book related in this picture. That most certainly is not the case.)


This is not to say that I buy every book I ever read, or even that I won't get rid of a book once I have bought it, but I do believe in accumulating a large library.
This is partly a parenting decision. How will Junior and the incoming children know how awesome books are if they don't have a beautiful collection to lose themselves in? And I definitely want the kids to think that books are awesome, so that's pretty much case closed for me.

To make book buying more reasonable, I follow a few guidelines (that I break sometimes). 
Buy used. Used bookstores are awesome for this, but I have gotten some good deals on children's books on eBay. I know there are a zillion used book sites out there too, so far I have scrupulously avoided those. 
Get rid of books you don't want. This one is hard. But I am getting better. Some books we both had a copy of when we got married; most of those have turned into Bookman's credit (and therefore more different books). Some books you buy and read and then never want to read again and wouldn't really recommend to anyone else. Those are perfect trade in candidates. Some weirdo out there wants them.
Cookbooks. I don't even really count those as books (they live on a different shelf, yo) but I definitely have cookbooks that I got as wedding gifts that I have NEVER used. Literally. I am expecting those to command a lot of cred the next time we do a trade in.
By following these basic rules, we are often able to keep our bookstore trips to a net $0. 
Except for the last time... Who can resist bongo drums? (We won't go there right now. Collecting musical instruments deserves its own post.)

The Internets

This is sort-of a follow-up post to my last one.  The internet tells you how to cook food.  GOOD FOOD.  THAI FOOD.

Since the Mrs. is still sick, and dinner planning is currently on my shoulders, this topic has recently become more vivid and pressing.

I am reminded of Ulysses Everett McGill in O Brother who prophesies that "yesiree, they're gonna hook us all up to a wire, a whole new way of living" (I paraphrase).  Yet, the internets happened without the Rural Electrification Act, and neither lightbulbs nor Ma Bell will help you cook Thai food for the Mrs.

This wonderful global communication network also tells you how to save money.  Yes, it tells you to spend money, and makes it way too easy to do so (Amazon one-click is a great idea for Amazon, not so much for the average Joe).  But the flood of best-practices available with a simple search is overwhelming.  In a few hours, you can read up on investing, framing a wall, pouring a concrete shower pan, and Thai food.  Did I mention the Thai food?  That was made with ingredients already in our fridge?  And was good?   But I digress.  Food is a pretty simple DIY "project", but it is a remarkably pervasive and recurring one, as well as one in which personal and family preferences play a large role.

We currently have pretty affordable housing ($600/mo death-contract + $130/mo HOA), we live 5 miles from where I work, so I bicycle, and the second car is still for sale, so we're working on the transportation side of things.  That leaves food as the remaining leg of the stool to work on (see Jacob's quiz).  And Food Network Kitchens is ever so happy to give you tasty recipes for free on the internet!

Anyhow, here's to the internet, a potent tool for good and evil and food.  Let's use it for good food and good living.

PS-Also it allows you to sell stuff!  Got rid of a motorcycle seat that had been kicking around (was a random gift, did not come close to being for my bike, don't ask).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Being sick is not very Mustachian; or the introduction of The Mrs.

So just as we are beginning our ├╝ber frugal journey, I had to go and get sick.

I don't usually take getting sick very seriously, but in this case a few factors came up to make me notice this bout. First of all, my sister got this one and ended up with a double-barreled ear infection and pneumonia. Secondly, after two weeks of trying to naturally remediate, I had gotten worse. Thirdly, as Mr. mentioned, I am pregnant. 
The combination of these three factors were enough to convince me to go to urgent care; not once, but twice (the first time they told me I was fine!?) 
The second time I got diagnosed with sinus infections and upper respiratory junk and went home with antibiotics. I spent way more money than I usually like to spend on anything, but I figured it was worth it to avoid something worse.

So... When I started feeling like I was getting an ear infection, I was not going to go back. I was already on antibiotics, so what were they going to do? Give me more?
It was time for natural remedies. I began with hydrogen peroxide in the ears (suggested by Wellness Mama at her blog, wellnessmama.com) but that wasn't really cutting it. I have since moved on to four thieves vinegar in the ears, which seems to be a little more effective, if smelly. I tried tea tree oil in my ear this morning and that made it hurt like crazy. I am not sure if that is good or bad?
The best solution that I have found is purely analgesic, which is awesome for bedtime. A couple of drops of lavender and mint oil will make your ear feel like a radiant cool spot in your head, and once you have gotten over how weird that is, it is quite comfortable and very nice for sleeping.
Anyway, hopefully by using these crazy remedies I can avoid spending $100+ more on urgent care and antibiotics, and that's about as Mustachian as this is going to get.

What is a Mustache and Why do I Want One?

Not want, need.  Not like you "need" a cell phone, maybe more like you (think you) need a car, but I think of it like needing clothes.  There are a few exceptional private circumstances, but in general, it's a really good idea to have them. 

But I get ahead of myself.  What is a Money Mustache?  Only the hottest trending internet phenomenon of our age.*  Developed by Mr. Money Mustache (surprise) the concept is simple: Live very, very, far within your means, and you can enjoy life a lot more than most.  Specifically, having a cache of cash (income-generating investments, in various forms) that earn your living expenses for you means that you can do the things you always said you wanted to do but were too tired on the weekends.  The Via Mustachia is the path to that goal.  This stage is also known as "growing your money mustache" for a more organic flavor.

So, what do you do to grow your 'stache?  I'm still learning, but here's what we have done so far:

+Dumped Verizon for $10/month AirVoice Wireless plans for the Mrs. and me - Savings: $100/mo (we had smartphones with data plans, what can I say? now we have smartphones w/o data plans, because there is wireless internet everywhere probably even in your skull right now and THAT'S GREAT)

+Bicycle commuting to the new post-PhD job, 5 miles each way.  Savings: $110/mo at $0.55 per mile, which excludes the physical benefits of regular exercise

+Posted the second car for sale.  No savings yet, but it should net at least $100/mo for the registration+insurance+maintenance bump, plus the earnings potential of the free cash

What are our most stubborn follicles?  Well...

-Food.  We are awash in it in this great nation of ours, but most of that is junk.  I do have a minifridge under my desk for lunches, but the Mrs. and (especially) I are kind of bad at dinners.  My default is barbequing meat, which is not cheap, but sometimes there must be Asian food (she's pregnant), a style at which I am incompetent.  Breakfasts tend to be glorious (but expensive) affairs with lots of eggs, fruit, meat, maybe pancakes, and a short pot of coffee (I like cooking breakfasts, our son loves eating them, and yes, that dynamic is changing with a full-time job, so stay posted for breakfast solutions).

-Buying crap.  WE TRY REALLY HARD NOT TO, but there was a tankless hot water heater for 50% off on Amazon (I hear Jacob screaming), and I've been thinking about remodeling the kitchen y'know, and you really ought to do the water heater when you've got it accessible (stupid condo design) so... you know the story.  Right now, I am eying a Kreg Jig to do pocket-hole joinery for the cabinets in the same notional remodel.  I like tools.  I have to be careful.  The Mrs. likes shoes (and ebay makes each pair seem cheap, but arithmetic gets you every time).

-Family.  This surprised me.  Maybe it's because we're four generations removed from great-great-grandfather's immigrant eyes, but my parents seem a bit baffled by us right now.  They are wonderful people, and taught me honest dealing, hard work, kindness, and care in my workmanship (on which score I still disappoint my dad sometimes - working on it - Kreg Jig!), but they also made it seem normal to go to fast food restaurants "now and then" (a vague, destructive phrase!  ware! ware! demand specificity from expenses!), to buy clothes when you wanted them instead of when you needed them, and to think that "special treats" occurred at least biweekly.  I'm not sure what happened, but it seems like consumer culture snuck** up and mugged them.  Costco may have been complicit, since besides que ganga deals on bulk foods, they also have THINGS.  THINGS YOU DON'T NEED TO BUY.  They are strategically located between the really high-margin snack foods near the front of the store, and the cheap eggs and olive oil you actually planned to buy.  I have bought some of these THINGS myself, and usually regretted it.

So that's where we stand, with a few dark flecks of mustache just showing through the skin of recovering consumerism.  We'll keep trudging along, and keeping you updated.  It's funny, isn't it, how easy it is to spend chunks of money all at once, but income usually just trickles in.  We'll tune our rates, and then we just have to integrate over time.

One last point: We sold our old Verizon-locked smartphones, and I shipped one earlier this week.  I kicked myself for not having the right size box (we cleaned recently), but then I kicked myself again for not having the right size mustache.  So I made a box.  You can, too.  You probably have a few wrong-size cardboard boxes, and here's the thing: boxes are just made of cardboard!  If you have extremely simple spatial visualization skills, you can turn the wrong-size box(es) into the right size box, using a pen, a utility knife, and mailing tape.  The box I made required two flaps from a diaper box, and snugly fit the phone (with newspaper dunnage for shock protection).  The first time might be rough, but the second or third try, and you'll have it down. 

*This has no statistical backing, but it should be.

**I argue that this should be a valid alternative for a highly-active version of the past tense of "sneak".  It sounds more aggressive and thuggish than "sneaked", which is what mice did in Beatrix Potter.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

But You Can't Grow A Mustache!

This is true.  I don't always have facial hair, but when I do, it's really scruffy.  In spite of that, the wife and I are undertaking The Miner Mustache Project, a frugality and DIY blog inspired by the Meta-Mustachian, MMM himself (warning - his blog contains common sense, a bit of wit, some profanity, and a lot of frugality - it may be hazardous to your psyche if you are committed to consumerism).  I did not list "personal finance" as a topic of this blog.  Read MMM for that, or any of many other qualified persons.  That's what I do.

The MMP will track how well the Miners manage to contain their spending, learn new skills, and navigate a transition from grad school to work in a sensibly frugal manner.We'll see how it goes.

First, the initial conditions: I'm a newly-minted MechE PhD, in my late twenties, with a good job lined up.  My wife and I have been married almost six years, we have a 17-month old, a baby due in October, and an adoption in process.  We want to have lots of kids (we're straight-up Protestants, we just think kids are a lot of fun).  We currently have a 2/2 condo with a pretty affordable mortgage at 5%.  We're looking at houses to contain our growing brood, but we're looking at the ones that say "investor special" or "handyman's dream" because we're sadomasochists interested in adding to our limited repertoire of home-repair skills, and it seems only fair to experiment on yourself first (note that early chemists had short lifespans).  The acquisition of a house will put this blog into high gear, but in the meantime, we'll discuss how we got to where we are and any projects that come up along the way.

Second, the goals: we want to be mortgage-free in five years and self-employed in ten.  The aim of the next ten years will be to establish an appropriate investment base and skillset to allow me to work on stuff I like when I want to, and to spend a lot of time with my family.  The aim of the next six months is to acquire the mindset and skillsets associated with living well on just a little, so that we can save (and invest and house-fix) lots.

Third, the background:  a friend recommended MMM a few weeks ago, and I have been reading up on him since then.  Good stuff, though built on a Stoicism with which I disagree.  His practical advice, however, is easily appropriated into a be-content-and-be-a-good-steward-of-creation Christian worldview, so rock on.  He and Jacob Fisker had an interesting exchange in which it was generally concluded that we happen to live in an extremely prosperous country in an extremely prosperous time, and if we just choose to live life with a smaller footprint (of energy, in this discussion), the rewards would pile on.    This holds true whatever your outlook on peak oil, the environment, solar-powered wind turbines, or whatever (that last would just be a fan, I guess).

So here we are, working to have a big family in a small footprint, and chronicling our haps and mishaps on this blog.  Welcome, and we hope you enjoy!