Frugal Win – Gardening

As folks in the community work towards their financial independence, they work on all sorts of ways to reduce their need to spend money. From less expensive cars, to renewable energy, to smaller homes, we explore ways to reduce our costs and move closer to financial independence. Heck, some of us bike to work for gosh sakes!

One of the ways you can help reduce costs is to produce some of your own food. The Frugalwoods actually went to go live on a farm and work to do this for themselves! Here at Casa 39 Months we are a little more low key. We have some spring vegetables that we like to eat (Brocolli, Califlower, Cabbage) and some Summer Vegetables we like (Squash, Tomatoes, etc.) so we set up three raised beds in a corner of the yard to raise them.

The build wasn’t hard. I went and purchased some 8ft 2×12 and 2×4 lumber at the local store, as well as some 3-1/2” deck screws. I then cut some of the 2x12s into 24” lengths with a handsaw (you could also use a powered circular saw) and built up a 2ft x 8ft box. I cut up the 2x4s into 24” lengths and put them inside to screw the 2x12s into – that way it was all screwed together and solid.

To fill that in, I put in a bunch of “Mel’s Mix” which is the gardening fill that Mel Bartholomew developed for his square foot gardening method (see below). Its consists of:

  • 1/3 Compost/Manure
  • 1/3 Peat Moss
  • 1/3 Vermiculite

Note: this is a highly productive mix. It can be updated in the following years by buying some parts of it and refilling the beds.

Once full, I planted this spring’s crops, one set of seeds every square foot. Its taken some time to weed and water (though the year has been wet so far) and we seem to be having some crops grow! I forgot to space out my planting (plant some this week, plant some later) so they’d mature at different rates. Still, we’ve had success in the past, and look forward to eating our own vegetables this year. Another way to get “off the grid” more.

Some books that I think help with the topic

  • Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew: Great book on how to grow a lot in a small space
  • Grow or Die by David the Good: Good book on how to “just get started” gardening

Happy Dirt Digging!

Mr. 39 Months

How is backpacking like personal finance?

“Backing” in the US started as a recreational pursuit primarily after World War II. While folks did camp out years before that, it was primarily car camping, or actual camping on your way to a new life (like the Oregon Trail, or the family in Grapes of Wrath). There was a wealth of excess equipment after the war, so it was easy to get some supplies, and with the post-war life came opportunity.

The standard for backpacking gear was best summed up by a series of books by Colin Fletcher, titled “The Complete Walker” (1968) in which he laid out and the equipment needed, and his opinion on what was necessary for each. The overall weight of this equipment could be 40-50 lbs + food. It was heavy, bulky, and you get hit it with a bazooka and still keep hiking. Kind of like our “work 45 years, put away 10%-15% and retire at 67” lifestyle.

In 1992, Ray Jardine, a mountain climber by trade and backpacker second, published “Beyond Backpacking: Guide to Lightweight Hiking.” In it, Ray exploded many of the ideas on what was necessary to go backpacking. Instead of an 8 lbs tent, he slept under a 1 lbs tarp, with his backpacking wife – even in sub-freezing temps. He got his base pack-weight down to less than 10 lbs + food/water! With this pack, he and his wife traversed the Pacific Rim trail, and the Appalachian Trail, each 2100+ miles and multiple months of hiking. They did 30+ mile days, in part because they had such light packs. The speed was impressive – like those who retire in less than 20 years because they live frugally and maximize their savings.

Ray concentrated on getting rid of all sorts of weight (he cut off straps from the pack and cut up maps so they only showed what he needed to know). Very similar to the “latte factor” folks who look to cut out many of the extravagancies of life. Yet his big contribution was in how he cut the big three heavyweight items – the pack, the tent, and the sleeping bag. By changing/making lighter weight items, he was able to dramatically cut weight (almost 20 lbs) from a typical 1970s/80’s backpacker.

In the FIRE world, our budgeting deals with three real heavyweights as well:

  1. Housing: Typically, the #1 cost for us. Be it homes or rent, this is the thing you need to look at in order to get your budget under control and reduced. That is why you see so many FIRE folks talk about downsizing, or living in sites much smaller than the average home. This is probably the best thing you can do in order to become financially independent.
  2. Transportation: Having multiple car loans, and purchasing top of the line cars every 3 years is a definite killer. While Mrs. 39 Months and I have had car loans for our vehicles, we have worked to pay them off early, and we have never bought a “luxury” automobile. Since paying off the last loan backin 2009, we have saved money in order to purchase our next one, and we have sufficient funds set aside to do that. While we tend to purchase new, we then drive the cars until the give out – literally. I have owned four cars in my life, counting my current one, and 2 of them I have had to have towed when they gave out. That was when I bought another one.
  3. Food: The third big heavyweight of money in most folks budget. In today’s world, I see an awful lot of people dining out, ordering in, or having someone else bring their groceries to them. While the convenience is nice, we tend to eat out only once a week (a treat for us on Friday) and cook the rest of our meals. I bring lunch to work, instead of going out, and Mrs. 39 Months makes breakfast for herself each morning, rather than getting it on the road. Our overall budget is rather large for two people in comparison to some FI folks ($400/month) but that is what makes us happy.

Note: I did not included taxes, which often ranks up there as well. While there are some tax strategies you can use to reduce this, I see this as primarily something you just have to “live with” and do what you can. It doesn’t count for me in terms of things you can have major impacts on.

I hope you are all working on your “top 3” and furthering your path towards FI.

Mr. 39 Months

Frugal Win – getting gifts out early


Like most folks in the US today, I’m separated from my family by some significant distance. The closest family is 1 hour away, Mrs. 39 Months is 3 hours, and mine is 10+hours. We are scattered all up & down the Eastern seaboard – and we are starting to go out West (Utah). As you can expect, sending out Christmas presents can be a daunting (and expensive) task.

Typically, we end up not assembling our gifts until last minute, so that, in order to get them to the family on time, I have to spend a lot of money to pack & ship them(hundreds of $). For the most part, I have simply acknowledged that this is the way it is.

However, this year I have a business trip the week before the holiday weekend, so if we didn’t get it out this last week, then I pretty much had to accept the fact that it was going to arrive after the holidays. Instead, both Mrs. 39 Months and I worked to get everything purchase, made, boxed up & wrapped by the middle of last week. Then I could get it shipped out before having to head out on my trip.

Surprise, if you do this, then you can use the US Post Office and cheaper UPS ground to ship out.Overall, my shipment costs were less than $100 for the year, vs. $250+ for most years. That is with a significant larger number of packages going out (family is scattering more, as the nieces/nephews leave college and start into their first jobs).

So if you can plan early (and most FIRE folks are significant planners) then you should be able to save yourself some money on shipping for the holidays!

So how are you further saving money this holiday season?

Mr. 39 Months

Frugal idea – use your hobby to provide presents for the holiday

I have talked before of one of my main hobbies, woodworking. As folks reach a certain age, they tend to prefer experiences and demonstrations of love/attention more than they want “stuff”.This is the perfect opportunity for the frugal FIRE enthusiast to both save money and demonstrate more attention to their loved ones than someone who just runs out and “buys something.”

One of the problems I have is to create something that would be useful to my friends & family, but not too large. I’ve done an arts & crafts bookshelf that went together with pegs (rather large) and a Japanese inspired two-sided picture frame. Both were big hits.

For this year, I chose to go with smaller items, but to expand the number of folks I gave gifts to. I chose two simple items that I could make from “scraps” of wood in the shop. For folks who don’t realize it, working in wood (or really any material)tends to leave you with lots of spare pieces of lumber/material that you don’t need, and end up taking up space. Finding ways to use this is a great idea, and another way to be frugal.

The first item is a small candle/tea light holder. It is made from a series of 1-7/8” squares of various lengths, set into a pyramid structure (see picture). A 1-1/2” whole is drilled in each of them to hold the tea lights, and then they are assembled and glued together. The build probably takes about an hour for each, but you have to break it up into small blocks of time, due to the time it takes the glue to dry.

The second item is a simple pen & pencil holder. Taking a large block of wood, cutting two deep holes in it (for the pens & pencils) and then shaping the ends into a gentle curve with a bandsaw and then sanding. These will be for the nieces and nephews.

Again, these aren’t significant projects, but they are demonstrations of love & affection,often prized more than if you went out and bought something.

What do you do for fun that you can leverage for a holiday gift?


Frugal Fail

Well, I was hit with the frugal “bug” and tried something out. Our old washing machine’s transmission went, and the repair guy said he could fix it for $400 + parts. That’s pretty close to the cost for a new machine, with not guarantee that other parts wouldn’t start breaking as well.

So Mrs. 39 Months started doing research to find a replacement. She likes’ top loaders, so that is what we were going to go with. However, article after article kept coming back with how bad the new machines are. The government regulations on water use forced the manufacturers to come up with “innovative” ways to clean the clothes with about 1/3 the amount of water that used to be used. The result has been a lot of dissatisfied customers and poor ratings.

So I thought I’d look on you tube and see how hard it would be to change out a washer transmission. It didn’t look too difficult, and the part was $270 complete. So the frugal Mr. 39 Months said “hey, why don’t I try and do this to prove to myself that I can fix something significant.” A nice win.

So part ordered, arrives, date set (this last weekend), and Mrs. 39 Months out of the house to meet with a friend. Here we go! Yet once I started pulling the machine apart in order to replace the transmission, I found that one of the components had fused/frozen to the main transmission shaft – and I had to get them apart in order to do the replacement.

For the next 6+ hours I tried everything to get these two parts to come loose (bought some additional tools along the way). After much cursing, struggle, and cuts/bruises – no luck. By Saturday night I was very grumpy (and exchanged some harsh, undeserved words with Mrs. 39 Months when she just asked me “are you done yet”). So, we ended up going out on Sunday and ordering a new washer. Luckily it was in stock, so we were able to get it delivered today (Monday).

I hope to be able to get my money back on the new transmission (just opened the box, never used any of the parts, most are still in their packaging). I don’t regret making the attempt (other than being cross with Mrs. 39 Months) – it’s all part of the learning cycle in life, and I’ll know better next time.

So that was my adventure this last weekend.


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

Frugal Win – fixing your own stuff!

One of the interesting sub-plots in the FI community is the number of people actively working on ways to “out-Frugal” the next person, or as Mrs. 39 Months calls it, being “more frugal than thou.” Its all in good fun as we all travel different paths to our final destination.

When I was younger and not making as much, I often did most of the construction work around the house (deck, bathroom remodel, kitchen remodel, electrical, etc.). I had a detached garage (that flooded) that was my shop, and I tried to build minor bits of furniture (mostly bookshelves) and other things. While, one of the things I never got the hang of was repairing the items that I had. It didn’t help that a lot of the tools I had were not the best.

As you get older, more frugal, and have a little more time on your hands, it starts to be kind of fun to try to fix something, instead of just contributing to consumer culture, tossing the old one out, and buying a newer, cheap  version of it.

When we first moved in 20+ years ago, my father bought me black & decker workmate, one of those basic tools that it seems like every homeowner in the US has. Good for setting up around the home, doing basic tasks, etc. I used that thing a lot over the last 20 years (look at the top, with its paint, saw cuts, holes, etc.). About 10 years ago, one of the parts supporting the leg in its “up” position broke, and the leg just dangled after that.

It didn’t really affect the workmate when it was up, the leg was in its regular position, but when I went to set it up, or put it up, it flopped around and made the setup a little challenging. About a month ago I decided to find the required part online (found the item master list, identified the part, ordered in and got it delivered). Part and shipping was less than $5. After about 5 min of work taking out the old part and re-installing the new one, I had a perfectly functional workmate. Made me realize what an idiot I was for letting it sit like this for 10+ years.

Nothing major, no great victories, but at least one less item in the landfill, and a great feeling of accomplishment. OK, so what’s next? Maybe take apart that weed whacker that has been sitting in the shed forever…..


Have you fixed up anything instead of just buying something new?


Mr. 39 Months