Book Review – Five Years before you Retire by Emily Birken

The title of the book intrigued me, since I started out my journey 39 months from retirement (currently with 23 months left, yay!). The objective of the book is to “layout what you need to do in the last few years before retirement to make sure your life post-career is financially comfortable and fulfilling.” It’s a big objective, and one we here in the FIRE community have been talking about for many years. In fact the author writes for several blogs that are in our community.

Please note that this book is aimed at a US audience, so for those readers outside the US, you will need to take the advice and translate to your country’s situation.

The initial four chapters cover some of the basic finance questions that folks who are nearing retirement.

  1. How far away are you?  (calculating current spending, resources, rates of return, calculating money needs)
  2. Saving and Budgeting for next five years (Ideas to maximize your savings and reduce your expenses in order to close the gap)
  3. Income in retirement (the 4% rule, bucket method for withdrawal, required minimum distributions)
  4. Find the right financial planner (Types, pay structures, questions to ask)

While many of these topics are covered in depth in various FIRE blogs, the book puts them all in one spot for easy reading. There are other ways to perform the calculations in the book, and you can search for others that appeal to you more – but at least it gives you an idea of the steps necessary at the time.

The second part of the book covers aspects of the government that need to be included in your retirement planning.

  1. What to expect from Social Security (Mechanics of SS, what you will get, survivor benefits)
  2. Taxes and your Retirement Income (Taxes on Social Security, 401K, Roth, other investments)
  3. What to Expect from Medicare (Part A & B, Drug coverage, additional costs)
  4. Planning for Health-Care Expenses in Retirement (Coverage if you retire early, Medigap, Disability and Long-Term care).

It covers the basics of government support and costs, and is full of good information. The discussion is chapter 8 covers the basics of seeking out health care if you retire before 65, but doesn’t have many details or links. The book still assumes that Social Security and Medicare will be available when you retire (something we are all a highly suspect of at this time).

The final section covers home, family and other considerations as you prepare to retire.

  1. Housing in retirement (paying off mortgage, staying put or moving, reverse mortgages)
  2. The Family Fortunes (discussions with family, estate planning)
  3. Creating a budget on a Retirement Income (Typical day, week & year, anticipated spending, budget)
  4. Common Retirement Pitfalls (Relying on factors outside your control, 9 others)
  5. If you Don’t have enough saved (work longer, cut spending, change plan)

One of the great things about the book is that, at the end of each chapter, there is a countdown of the topics covered in the chapter, and what needs to be done 5 years before retirement, 4 years, 3, 2, and 1). It’s an excellent guide on the important aspects in the chapter. I would recommend this book for those just starting out on their FIRE journey, or if you want to give the book to a friend or spouse who hasn’t embraced the FIRE lifestyle yet.

Grade B+


Mr. 39 Months


Too much stuff!

Like many reformed FIRE people, I have looked into the whole “minimalism” concept, and all the people who cheered for the idea. I can see how seductive it is, because many of us have reached a point where we can see that “stuff” doesn’t really buy happiness. Like a lot of you, my home is full of items I bought at one point in time, intending to use it a great deal, only to find that I rarely (if ever) used the item.

Mrs. 39 Months is much worse than I am. We have a bedroom which I have built shelving for and which holds nothing but box-after-box of her things (old clothes, papers from college, arts & crafts tools, etc.). I joke with her that she will end up on an episode of hoarders sometime.

At the same time, both of us frown on the whole “minimalist” movement, with folks living with “100 items” and competing with each other to see who can “out-minimal” each other. Life is to be enjoyed, and part of that is to have things that bring you joy. In addition, for those of us who live in areas that have major weather swings (100 degree humid months and 12 inch snow months) you need to have some items. We both have hobbies we enjoy (woodworking, knitting, music, etc.) so again – if the item brings you joy, don’t automatically toss it.

The one area that I can understand (and sometimes indulge in myself) are books. One of the “fun” things we do is go to Barnes & Noble, drink coffee and read – and typically buy books. Our home is choke-full of books, about 80% of them being hers. They lie all over the house, half-read and stacked on each other on any available flat surface. Still, it’s a relatively benign addiction, with the potential to provide years of comfort as we retire. Better than blowing it at the craps table!

As we approach FI and the potential of moving somewhere better for our retirement lifestyle (you just can’t retire in New Jersey, due to expenses) the thought of wading through these items and determining what stays and what goes fills both of us with dread. I figure I have one “move” left in Mrs.39 Months, so wherever we go, we will end up staying there. Of course that brings up the quest of where that “one point” is.

That is a topic for another time.


Mr. 39 Months

Purging your Blogroll

One of the things which has always brought me a lot of pleasure is reading other FIRE blogs and seeing the different facets of the subject. It seems each blogger has a topic which motivates them, and they concentrate a great deal of energy on that topic. The result is some excellent reading and the opportunity to learn in-depth of a wide variety of topics.

However, as many folks know, blogging tends to be an exhausting process, and the ground is littered with bloggers who have not lasted more than a year. It seems folks start blogs to tell their tale or write-up their passion. Once that is done, they trail off, and the enjoyment that folks take in reading their work is lost.

As you look to the right on this page, you will see my “blogroll” of sites that I have found and believe worthy of further reading. Yet one of the tasks that has to be done, if the blogroll is not to grow too large, is the weed or “cull” the list occasionally. This can be done due to a fall off in productivity (not that many posts) or quality (no interesting posts). Some sites just stop publishing entirely.

It is often a sad affair, as the reason they were put on is because they have excellent topics and interesting writing. I try to do this at least twice a year, and recently culled a few sites (while adding several others). It is a personal decision, and not one that I take lightly. I hope that my blogroll continues to provide you, the reader, with a good list for you to check out on your own.

I hope you enjoy my writing and the writing of those I point out. Enjoy the rest of summer!


Mr. 39 Months


Mrs. 39 Months and I had an interesting discussion recently. As we have closed in on FI, and really started thinking about what our lives might be like, we have both turned to the topic of continuing to work, and what it might look like. For the FIRE community, the idea of continuing to work past our FI point is a matter of some controversy. Some think that even running a blog and making money from it disqualifies you from being “retired.” Others continue to work and earn a paycheck, but they do it in a way that benefits them (their goals, timeline, vacation schedule, etc.).

Both of us believe we want to continue to “do something” once we hit FI, and the idea of the social aspects of work (comradery, people to interact with, etc.) is compelling. Yet one of the other aspects of continuing to work kept rising up in our discussions, and we both voiced it – the desire for more free time.

The current work structure in the US, even for those who are long-term employees, is somewhat regimented. Most folks get 2-3 weeks of vacation a year, plus some sick time.  Yet to hit many of our “bucket list” items and to really enjoy our hobbies, Mrs. 39 Months and I need a lot more time than that. Heck, I’ll need at least 4-5 weeks a year for three years in order to finish up my backpacking on the Appalachian Trail!

This got me thinking about the current work structure in the US, and how it may alter in the years ahead. With low unemployment (below 4%) many key job functions are having a hard time finding potential employees. My company is struggling to find truck drivers, engineers, and key analysts. While this is happening, the baby boomers (yep, I’m one) are retiring in record numbers, leaving the workforce bare of people who have done the job for 40+ years (and who typically can be relied on to come to work )

I have read numerous articles about Gen X and Millennials demanding more free time and benefits from their companies, and who are willing to leave after 1-2 years if they don’t get them. Companies are frantic about developing their internal candidates – because the cost and effort to bring on new ones and train them is so high (and so “hit and miss”).

Does this mean that companies might become more flexible with free time in the future? My thought would be to provide unpaid time to workers, upon request (i.e. the workers would have to schedule it). That way, companies wouldn’t bear the burden of having to pay folks for not working (and could free up costs during business lulls) and workers could get some additional free time to pursue other interests.

Not sure if this will ever happen, but the ongoing shift to worker’s being more valued (getting bigger pay increases, hiring bonuses, etc.) is nice to see.


Mr. 39 Months

Good post on lessons for your first year of FI – from the Mad Fientist

While listening to his podcast, I found the link to this article and thought it was very good. In it, he discusses some of the trials, successes and surprises from his first year of FIRE.

Valuable Lessons from My First Year of Freedom

I think I’m going to create a new category just for lessons from the first years of FI. Its a topic I’m very interested in, as I close in on my number.


Mr. 39 Monts

Book Review – The One Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards

It’s been a while since I did a book review. I have done a lot of reading on the internet (blogs, articles, etc.) but not many new books. Recently I saw an article on this new book The One Page Financial Plan, and it intrigued me. So I took the opportunity to purchase the book and read through it. So here goes.

First of all, those who are hard core FI people will find little for their number crunching here. The book is rather small on calculations, ratios, etc. If you are looking for a book to go through your investment strategies or net worth calculations, then there are other ones which will do a better job than this one. That is not the objective of the writer. Instead, he offers a less-number oriented, more “touchy/feely” type of financial plan book, as one might expect from the title.

The first part of the book is the “discovery” phase, where the authors uses some questions and exercises to help the reader determine the “why” for their financial planning (the most important question), the where (where you want to go, i.e. goals) and where you currently are (net worth, assets & liabilities, etc.). Again, very few numbers are discussed or worked through here.

The second part of the book works through spending and saving. He discusses simple ways to determine your current spending and how to create a basic budget. He then ties that back to the goals developed in the first section, and uses that to motivate the reader to save.

The third section discusses investing and other finance topics, including insurance (buy as little as necessary, but buy it), debt (good and bad), and basic, beginner investing – with a heavy emphasis on index funds, and buy & hold strategy. He finishes with some good information on the need for rebalancing. As before, there is a startling lack of numbers in these chapters – just basic common sense for the beginning investor.

The final section covers avoiding big mistakes that can sideline you (not hiring a good financial advisor to help teach you, always making the decisions instead of trusting the advisor, not panicking at market dips, etc.). His lesson is one of basic, boring investing over time.

In the end, I believe this is a good book for folks who are just getting interested in the FI journey, or for those passionate FI people that are trying to interest another (a spouse, a family member, etc.) in many of the concepts and ideas. It’s a great book for someone to get started, and then as they grow in interest and knowledge, they can seek out additional, more detailed information for those topics that interest them.


Mr. 39 Months

Status Update – Aug 1, 2018

Yeah, I am back “in the black” for the year!

After six months of struggle (the floor fell out in February 2018) I have finally moved back into the black for the year. Overall, I am up 0.7%. A far cry from the 19% of 2017, but at least I am profitable. All we have to do is keep this level up and I might be close to 8% for the year. Fingers crossed!

Retirement Accounts: Remember, my allocation for these is:

  • 30% Bond Index Fund
  • 17.5% S&P500 Index Fund
  • 17.5% International Index Fund
  • 17.5% Small Cap Index Fund
  • 17.5% REIT Index Fund

I ended up being about 1.5% up here for July, so they have continued steady increases for a while now. I re-balanced at the beginning of the month, so I sold some winners and bought some losers. S&P500, US small cap and International did well. Bonds and REITS stayed even/lost a little.  Note that these returns include reinvesting dividends.

My 401K/Deferred account at work was up 3.1% for July, after re-balancing. Remember that this account doesn’t have REITs, so it benefits more than above when REITs drop (but doesn’t do as well when REITs surge).

Dividend Income Account: Allocation:

  • 25% Dividend Stocks
  • 25% REITs
  • 50% Bond Index Funds

This account dropped -1.6% for the month, primarily due to drops in bond index funds (though Cisco and the REITs were also down a bit). This account was better earlier in the year. Overall, its sending me dividends, but not growing much.

Value Investing Account: Allocation (remember I refocused this at the beginning of February):

  • 40% in individual value stocks I picked myself (2 each, 20% for each) – SBS and GILD
  • 20% USAA Market Index (my brokerage is USAA)
  • 40% in Vanguard Value Index fund

This was the surprise. For those who have been following, my “fun money” account has been getting savaged this year. I have bemoaned my inability to pick stocks. Well, we had a minor turnaround in July (Cia Saneamento up 11.5%, Gilead up 9.9%) so the overall value was up 6.8% for July. Still way down for the year, so I still think my stock picking ability has not shown out.

Overall, an up month. Let’s hope we can keep this momentum going for the rest of the year, so we can rescue this one.

How did you do in July?


Mr. 39 Months

The joys of reading

One of the things I am really enjoying about my goals this year is the one for me to read at least one book a month. I have rediscovered how much I really enjoy reading books. All manner of books (history, fiction, financial, etc.) I did this a lot as a kid and in my early adulthood (when Mrs. 39 Months and I first married, we didn’t have a TV, so we ended up reading a lot.

Every so often, you decide to take a weekend and just relax. As those who have read the blog before know, I am a bit of a “type A” personality (very goal focused, want to stay busy, can’t let a day go by without trying to get stuff done). Mrs. 39 Months believes it will be impossible for me to “kick back” and retire once we hit FI. She is probably right.

This morning, before we set off on our day, I was waiting for Mrs. 39 Months to get ready.  had the opportunity to watch TV, play games on the computer or read – and I chose to read. In this case, I was finishing Carl Richard’s book The One Page Financial Plan (book review to follow in a few days). I was able to finish it up (it’s a good read) while waiting, and I enjoyed it a lot. It will also give us something to talk about in our drives around today.

So don’t neglect to make some goals for the year that you will enjoy. Look for old hobbies you had earlier in life that you really enjoyed, and try and “re-discover” them. You will probably find the love is still there.


Mr. 39 Months

Thank you all!

Well, will you look at that? One of my goals for 2018 was to double my traffic at the blog. In 2017, I was just over 2,000 visitor. As of July 25th, I had over 4,000 visitors for the year – just seven months in!

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank all of you who have read, and who have commented. For those of you who are bloggers, you know that sometimes in seems like you are just writing to “the air” and not sure if anyone is paying any attention to your thoughts and ideas. Sometimes you spend a lot of time on a topic, craft your message exactly, and then …. Nothing.

I would also like to thank all the folks whose blogs I have read, thought about, and commented on. I do love the community that has been built by FIRE folks. The ideas, the feedback, and just the life stories. I especially like it when folks write about their struggles, and how everything isn’t perfect.

In our “facebook and twitter” universe, it is often easy to feel that everyone else is doing it better, and is having a much better time. All you see are their vacation pictures, great restaurants, and great times. Yet I am sure they are having their own struggles and challenges. That is why it is good we can be so frank in our community.

So thanks again for tuning in, and I’ll continue to write and reach out to you as I can.


Mr. 39 Months