Investment update – End of 2017

Well, with 30 months left till FI, and the beginning of the new year, I wanted to go back and see how my investments did, to give you an idea of how my allocations seem to be working out.

For the year, my investments (not savings or real assets) went from $823K to $983K.

  • I added about $63K throughout the year
  • Got about $22K in dividends (2.7%)
  • Got about $75K in capital gains (9.1%)
  • Total returns on investments for the year, round 11.8%

The return is about average for the FIRE community. There are certainly some who really “smacked it out of the ballpark”, but I think that is because they are more invested in the assets that really took off this year.

Since I’m older and closer to FI, my allocation is a little more conservative:

  • 30% Bond intermediate Index Fund
  • 17.5% S&P 500 Index Fund
  • 17.5% Small Cap Index Fund
  • 17.5% International Index Fund
  • 17.5% REIT Index Fund

As one would expect, my bonds and REITs didn’t do as well this year (1.5% and 1.2% counting dividends) and they make up almost half of my assets. The stock portion (S&P, small cap and International) really kicked butt, getting around 20.1% on average. In the end I am very happy, as historically, this allocation would net me around 5.24% after inflation (which I expect to be around 2% for the US this year). Thus, my expectation was 7.24%, and I ended up around 11.8%.

As you might expect, my “set it and forget it” investment portfolio in my 401Ks and IRAs (both regular and Roth), where I just invest in index funds with the above allocation, did the best. I just regularly put in money, and surprisingly, the index funds do OK.

My father’s Inherited IRA, which I set up with an eye towards income, has returned 3.6% in dividends in 2017, which is a little more than I expected. Perhaps the rise in interest rates in the US (up 0.75% in 2017) had something to do with it. The capital gains for the stocks have been substantial, but that is only 25% of the portfolio. The REITs (25%) and bonds (50%) had a poor year for capital gains, so overall, it ended up just generating the 3.6%.

My “fun money” account, was somewhat of a disappointment as well. While one of my stock picks (Gilead Sciences) really shot up, the other two value picks (TAHO and CSS) did not perform well. I will revisit them in another email and I try and decide my ongoing value strategy. This portfolio also has 33% REITs and 33% bonds, which didn’t do well. Again, this is a small portion (5%) of my overall investment portfolio, so its more for me to try new things than to really make lots of money. I keep the majority of my investments in index funds and let them grow.

In a future posting, I’ll go into my value strategy, so folks can get some additional ideas and see if they work for them.

Hope your New Year has gotten off well!


Mr. 39 Months.

Goals/Objectives for 2018

I’ve already gone over my performance to goals for 2017 in a previous posting. In summary, I hit my finance and business goals, but was only halfway successful for the personal goals. From what I can see, that is fairly normal for FIRE bloggers – we are pretty good at hitting the numbers, but often fall off on the “squishy” goals.

For 2018, I kept my finance and business goals fairly similar (just bumping up some of the numbers) and added more personal goals. Why would I add to the goal category in an area I didn’t excel in? Call me a glutton for punishment, but I feel that I want to emphasize the personal as I get closer to my FI goal. I need to continue to work on realizing it’s not just about the money.


  • Save $81K in tax-advantaged accounts (saved almost $37K in 2017). 401K, Roth IRA, etc. By utilizing a deferred account my company offers, I can dramatically increase this number (I will dump 100% of my company bonus in to help reach this number).  Since the deferred account money will have to be withdrawn (and taxed) when I leave, it actually is a pretty cool FIRE solution for saving.
  • Save $9K in regular accounts (compared to $26.5K in 2017). This will go into my brokerage account. I will use the money I was putting into this to upgrade the money in the tax-advantaged (see above)
  • Increase dividend income from all accounts to $24K/year (compared to 22K in 2017).
  • Passive income covers 33% of base living expenses in retirement (it was 30% in 2017). My long-term goal is to get my dividend/passive income up to where it covers over 100% of my expected retirement living expenses, so my investments can continue to grow.
  • Beat net worth growth rate of 7% (it was 12.3% in 2017). My historical net worth growth rate for the last 20 years has been 6.6%. This has been through two downturns (2000 and 2009), and it’s been over 12% for the last five – but there is a downturn coming at some point.


  • Begin attending regular meetings of my local real estate investors association. They hold a regular monthly meeting, a monthly meeting for new investors, and a monthly meeting for my specific county. All three could be interesting, and it’s free for a paid member. Last year I started attending, but it was spotty.
  • Double the number of blog visitors in 2018. Last year it was a little over 2,000. I want to get at least 4,000 this year, so I need to put myself out there more (i.e. comment) and write interesting topics.
  • Write/publish a book on finance.  I wrote one for new graduates in 2017, but I have identified an area of the community which hasn’t been served as well in the past. Hopefully I can assist with something here.


  • Increase weight lifted by 10% from 2018 (increased by 12.7% in 2017). I want to continue to improve my strength as I get older, instead of just wasting away
  • Average 3 hours of cardio per week (currently averaging about an hour). Again, want to improve my fitness
  • Take part in at least one long bike ride, like MS bike-a-thon (80 miles)
  • Backpack over 100 miles on AT (did over 100 in 2017)
  • Begin volunteering at Pennsbury Manor at their joiner’s shop (woodworking)
  • Reduce weight by 20 lbs. from Jan 2018 (lost 9 lbs. in 2017). Again, I want to get in better shape as I get closer to financial independence
  • Read at least one book a month. Trying to learn new things and keep my mind shop. Started this in August 2017, and I’ve been doing fairly well with it.


  • Visit a national park (visited Shenandoah NP in 2017)
  • Visit family in Tennessee, Vermont and New York. Family is very important to me. One of the things I am looking forward to with financial independence is the opportunity to visit family more often
  • Visit Portland, OR and northern California. Mrs. 39 Months has a craft class she wants to take in Portland, so I’ll go as well, and run around in Portland, when it’s over, we want to visit the Park in Northern California with the Redwoods.
  • Visit Ellis Island. Wanted to do this in 2017, but didn’t make it. As 50% Czech from immigrant great grandparents from the turn of the century, I believe they went through there, and I want to see it
  • Go on an international trip. Not sure which one (Canada, Caribbean, etc.) but I’d like to get out this year.
  • Visit the Asheville NC area. It’s one of the areas that we are considering retiring to (close to my old home in Tennessee, interesting crafts, shops & outdoor sports, etc.). Trying to learn more about the area (we’ve been there a couple of times).

So those are my somewhat ambitious goals for 2018. I am going to do my best to hit them, so wish me luck.

What are your goals for 2018?

Other bloggers on setting goals

Full Time Finance

Mr. 39 Months

2017 Goals & Performance

Like so many others in the FIRE community, I thought I’d go over my 2017 goals and see how I did, in order to prepare for my 2018 objectives. I’ve been doing this for years, but haven’t had a blog to put it out there before now. I have to say, the Blog does help to both motivate me to push for bigger goals, and to keep things in perspective (there are always people in the FIRE community doing better than you – or at least looking like they are doing better than you on their blog).

2017 Goals:

Finance Goals:

  1. Save $33K in tax-advantaged accounts (Roth IRA, 401K, etc.) – Grade A: Overall saved almost $37K for the year
  2. Save $26K in regular accounts (brokerage accounts, after-tax, etc.) – Grade A: Saved $26.5K for the year
  3. Increase dividend income for all accounts (401K, brokerage, IRA, etc) to $18K for the year – Grade A: Total of almost $22K for the year
  4. Passive income covers 65% of base living expenses (taxes, utilities, etc.) – Grade A: Due to higher dividend payments, came in at 73.6%
  5. Net Worth beats my traditional 6.1% per year rate – grade A: Great stock year and putting in a lot of money led to a 12.3% increase in my net worth. From $1.27M to $1.42M! Yah

Overall for finance, I had to rate it as a A! Time to push the goals a lot more

Business Goals:

  1. Begin attending local Real Estate investors meeting (REIA). Grade C: Attended one meeting in July, but work and other issues kept me from going to more. Plan on starting to attend regularly and to pay for membership in January.
  2. Start a Blog – Grade A: Started the blog in April, total of 81 posts, 54 comments, and over 2,000 page views. Pretty small for most FIRE blogs, but I’m happy with it to start. Was able to post an average of twice a week, and I think that is a good amount. Was able to get over the “six month hump” where many bloggers dry up.
  3. Publish Student Finance BookGrade A: Completed the book on finance and work for students graduating. Its an e-book for $0.99, done more to get the info out there than to make tons of money (so far, its only sold 3 copies). I’ve got ideas on a second book, maybe for 2018.

Overall, for Business, I’d give myself a B.

Personal Goals:

Its here where I was a little “spotty” on getting stuff done

  1. Increase weight lifted in exercise by 10% from Jan 2017 amount – Grade A: Increase by 12.7%. Need to get more intricate in my lifting plan
  2. Average 3 hours of cardio every week by end of year – Grade F: Averaging around 1 hour, like at the beginning of the year. Need to make time and get this done
  3. Go on an international trip – Grade F: Didn’t do it, was planning on the 4th qtr, but work and injuries to Mrs. 39 Months kept this from happening
  4. Visit a National Park – Grade A: Backpacked in Shenandoah National Park for a week. A lot of fun. Looking forward to doing another 100+ mile year on the Appalachian Trail this year.
  5. See the 2017 total solar eclipse – Grade F: Had to go on a business trip to California the week it happened, and CA was overcast the day of. Didn’t get the chance to see it at all!

Overall, I’d give myself a C for personal goals in 2017. Need to up my game, here.


For the most part, it was a good year, though some health issues at the end of the year for Mrs. 39 Months and myself kept it from being a completely awesome year. I’ll try and push myself some more in 2018, both financially, business-wise, and for the personal goals.


How was your 2017? Did you get done a lot of what you planned for?


Mr. 39 Months

Clearing your “Shop” for the next project…

For many folks who do crafts work, there comes a time when you have completed a long, drawn out project, and you take the opportunity to do a reset of your space. It is an opportunity to clean, repair & sharpen your tools, clean up the area, take stock of your materials and area, and determine next steps to improve them before you start your next project.

For me, I am an amateur woodworker. With Christmas done, I can get back to the arts & crafts sideboard that I have been working on (still need to complete the drawers and the doors). You can kind of see it in the back there. Before that, however, I clean the shop, cull my woodpile, sharpen up the chisels and planes, and get everything ready for the next batch of work.

I often think this is similar to the end of year financial work that people have to complete. Some of the key items that folks work on right before/right after the New Year.

  • Tax planning for year-end, and for the new year (especially in tax-advantaged accounts)
  • Capital gains/loss harvesting (done before end of year)
  • Rebalancing of the portfolio (I always do this twice a year, Jan & July)
  • Review investment performance and determine what changes need to be made
  • Review investment performance and make adjustments to next year’s projections based on updated knowledge

With this done, folks can start work in the new year, with their plans in place – able to “hit the ground running.”

For me, I have some minor tweaks to my investment allocation. For tax planning, I prepaid my property taxes, so that I could deduct them for 2017 taxes – but now it appears that this won’t be allowed (still up in the air). Ah well, at least I tried to do something, instead of just sitting there. Finally, I want to look back over the stocks in my value investing “fun” account to see what their performance is, and what the price should be.

Like a lot of FIRE folks, I will have an update in the next week or so on 2017 and goals for 2017, and I look forward to reading other FIRE bloggers results and objectives for the New Year.

Happy new year to everyone in the community!


Mr.39 Months


Goal setting for 2018: Traditional vs Zero based

It’s the end of the year, and that means folks in the FIRE community taking stock of where they are at year-end versus their goals/objectives, and then setting new goals for 2018. For many of us (the really crazy ones) this is one of the best times of the year, where we get to pat ourselves on the back for goals met, rationalize why other goals weren’t, and dream about the future – the sweet, sweet financially independent future.

Steven Covey, in his landmark book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, wrote about the need for people to create a personal mission statement and to define their roles in life prior to trying to set substantial goals for yourself. An example of life roles might be:

  • Spouse
  • Parent
  • Christian
  • Neighbor
  • Change Agent
  • Scholar

He then wrote that, once you identify your life roles, you can think about the long-term goals that you want to accomplish in each of these roles. He believes that, if you take the time to determine your personal mission statement and roles, then the goals you set are often dramatically different from the goals most normal people set.

He goes further to say that an effective goal focuses primarily on results rather than activity (example: increase weight lifted by 10% versus “go to the gym every other day). These sort of  goals give you better information on your efforts, how to get there, and when you have arrived.

One of the other areas in goal setting that you might benefit from is a move from traditional historic/incremental budgeting to more of a “zero-based budgeting” model. The traditional method is the most common method of budgeting and is used in most financial institutions. It is based on historical information and involves an incremental approach. In simple terms, the managers take last year’s figures and adjust for growth and/or inflation, plus or minus any significant changes in expected results. A person could use this both financially (to track his budget increase) or personally (to show weight loss). Just take the previous years figures, make a few alterations, and “wham” – you have a goal!

Another way of budgeting is zero-based budgeting, which originated in the 1970s. Many businesses will budget and plan out things to maintain financials. In the past, businesses would only look at specific things and would assume that everything is already in place and does not need to be double-checked. However, in zero-based budgeting, everything that is to be budgeted needs to be approved. Since zero-based budgeting requires an approval for budgeting, this means that budgets are started from a zero-base, with a fresh decision on everything being made every year.

Dave Ramsey has a good blog post on Zero based budgeting

I like to think of zero-based budgeting as starting from scratch. It often leads you to different ideas and perspectives, and can be used not just for budgets, but for all aspects of goal setting. You sit back and think about areas that you haven’t addressed before, but that you might want to pursue (new hobbies & crafts, places to travel, etc.) and the creative juices start flowing. It can be very similar to that moment in time when you first got the FIRE bug, and everything seemed new and exciting.

Other types of budgeting:

  • Priority based: Priority-based budgeting is designed to produce a competitively ranked listing of high to low priority discrete bids for resources which are called “decision packages”.
  • Activity based: Activity-based budgeting differs from traditional budgeting in that it concentrates on the factors that drive the costs, not just on historical expenditure.

So as you start setting your goals for 2018, don’t just limit yourself to basing your goals on 2017 – take the opportunity to brainstorm new ideas, and try new things!


What are you planning to do for 2018?

Mr. 39 Months


Hat tip to Global FS Consulting for definitions on various budgeting methods.

How will the new tax bill affect you if you live in the US?

There has been a great deal of conversation and writing on the new tax bill, and its effect on individuals and families. Some have spoken about it being as consequential as the 1986 tax reform bill (which dramatically changed the tax landscape right as I was graduating from college). I wanted to take the time to discuss some key points, and then to provide some links for deeper analysis if folks are interested in “getting in the weeds”

The biggest part of this tax reform, in my opinion, was the dropping of the business tax rate from 35% to 21%. While this won’t affect folks in the FIRE community directly (for the most part) it will have a dramatic effect on the country and its business climate. States in the US have been dropping their own business taxes for the last decade, in an attempt to be more competitive and to bring businesses into their states. Now the US federal government has clued in that its 35% rate (vs a typical 20% rate for most of the developed world) has been seriously impeding the maintenance of business in the US.

What this will do, in my opinion, is lead to more business and job growth in the US, as companies evaluate their costs to offshore (cheaper labor, more transportation expense, higher inventories due to longer lead times, etc.) versus keeping some or all of the business in the US. I’m in the logistics industry, and I know the cost of shipping stuff by boat from China/Vietnam/Europe – and it is significant. If you live outside the US, be prepared for your companies to get additional business pressure due to this.

For folks in the FIRE community working on hitting their goal, this should translate eventually into higher wages and benefits, as companies grow, and the competition for labor (especially skilled labor) increases. I’m already seeing this in the logistics industry, and typical warehouse workers & forklift operators have seen their starting wages rise by 20% over the last 2 years. Competition for these folks is tight, especially in key markets (So. Cal, Northeast PA, etc.)

For individuals, the rates for FIRE folks have remained at 10% for the first bit of money, but the individual rates have dropped 2% – 3% for all levels beyond that. It should result in some tax savings. One of the key items is the increase of the standard deduction to $24,000 for couples, with the exclusion of the individual deduction. This will dramatically change how some folks do their taxes, specifically those who itemize.

  • For those families in the lowest income level (under $44,050) the 10% rate didn’t go down, but the standard deduction raise to $24K may cut their taxes somewhat.
  • For the next level, those married couples claiming income up to $96,400, the 15% rate dropped to 12%, so there are savings there.
  • Those with higher income levels saw reductions of 2% – 4% in their tax rates.

The cap/elimination of some property tax deductions, state income tax and mortgage will cause a lot of heartburn in high-tax/high cost-of-living states (CA, NJ, NY, and Northeast US). I live in New Jersey, and it looks like it will definitely cause issues here. Still, the folks affected by this are the typical big-house/expensive car kind of people, not the FIRE-type of folks who want to save money and get out of the rat race.

For Mrs. 39 Months and I, our deductions for next year (including the soon-to-be-extinct personal exemption) look like they were going to be around $23K, so the $24K standard deduction appears to be where we would end up, saving us a little. The reduction in rates looks like it will save us $2K – $3K a year i total taxes.

If you’d like to see how it might affect you, there is a good Tax reform calculator at CalcXML. 

Some further analysis:

  1. Go Curry Cracker: Good general analysis
  2. Nerd’s Eye View: Great In-depth analysis
  3. Physician on Fire: How self-employed are affected:

So what are your thoughts on the new tax reform, and how will it affect you?


Mr. 39 Months

Excellent article on preparing for the next downturn at Get Rich Slowly

In an article at Get Rich Slowly, JD Roth goes through some analysis on the potential for a pending recession (we’re overdue) and what we should be doing to prepare for it.

Some of his simple steps include:

  1. Bolstering your emergency fund
  2. Balancing your budget (don’t succumb to lifestyle inflation when times are good)
  3. Double-down at work, rather than seeking a new job (since recent hires might be the first ones let go at your new company)
  4. Make sure your asset allocation matches your risk tolerance (I rebalance every 6 months, and I’m due to relook at it Jan 1)

Overall, its an excellent read, with some good points.

Mr. 39 Months

Book review: The Simple Dollar

One of the earliest FIRE books, written by a Trent Hamm, a Gen Xer who found himself buried under a boatload of debt and without a real plan for where to go (sound familiar to so many). Trent’s book goes through his initial struggles to get a handle on his debt and start a new plan, and then sequences into a series of “how to” and short idea chapters to help the reader identify numerous ways to save money, invest, reduce debt and move towards financial independence.

I’ve read some financial advisor reviews that really critique the book, because it is full of short, simple ideas for saving money and practicing frugality. Still, that is a key part of what we FIRE people have sought for, and many of his ideas are mirrored on the blog postings and podcasts that form the community. Each of his chapters concludes with a list of steps for how to put the ideas of the chapter into practice and move forward.

Some highlights:

  • Chapter 1: Trent finds himself with a new child, a wife, and under a mountain of debt. The chapter goes through his realization that there is a better way, and concludes with the steps he used to work his way out.
  • Chapter 4: Good chapter on goal setting, identifying to real dreams, and making plans to achieve them
  • Chapter 7&8: Chapters on Frugality, budgeting, and “minding the gap” between income and expense. A good start for folks just starting out trying to get a handle on their spending and to budget
  • Chapter 13: Dealing with friends, family and your newfound money situation
  • Chapter 17: What is holding you back, and preventing you from moving forward on the path towards financial independence and life tranquility.

Overall, the book had a lot of “conventional wisdom” that the FIRE community already knows. I believe it’s an excellent book to give to new people who are first getting interested in our ideas, and want to gain additional knowledge. For that purpose, I believe it’s an excellent book.

What books have you read that you’d recommend?


Mr. 39 Months

Losing the battle with Mrs. 39 Months about Christmas Decorations

It’s the holiday season, and as everyone knows, the world is full of companies trying to commercialize everything and sell you bunch of stuff you don’t really need. I wrote about how we try to resist this, and how others can as well.

Unfortunately, I can’t say we are doing everything right in the 39 Month household. Mrs. 39 Months plays at being cynical, but she really does seem to love this season, and goes out of her way to purchase additional decorations for the inside of the house (the outside is pretty much in place now, with few additions over the last 5 years). Call it the Christmas spirit, call it “nesting” call it whatever – she enjoys adding to our interior decoration.

While I could complain about it, or question why she is spending the money on the items, after 31 years of marriage, I have learned a few things – and after multiple years pursuing FIRE, I have learned others. The key is living deliberately, and deciding what you want to spend your money on. If something truly does give you joy, and you are spending cash on it (instead of going into debt) then you should feel free to spend the money on it!

Why go through 10 years of misery just to say you are financially free, and can start living like you want. This sounds an awful lot like the old retirement plan (work till 65, then live it up). That isn’t the way the FIRE community is working their plan, as evidenced by all the folks whose blogs and podcasts I take in.

We are already fully funding our retirement accounts to the max, and putting away more funds. In fact, in 2018, we are going to go from 35% to 50%+ of our pre-tax money going towards achieving financial independence. Smiley faces all around.

So go “splurge” on something you would like, especially if it’s not going to come anywhere near breaking the bank. Enjoy life now, and enjoy it once you reach FIRE.


Happy Holidays to everyone.


Mr. 39 Months