At year end, upon arrival in Taiwan we signed an 18-month lease, making it our official recharge center. Jr has started part time pre-school, and we are doing our best to be completely normal in every way that doesn’t involve going to work.
Oh…. and having the most expensive year of our lives….
2017 Cost of Living
Total spending for the year was $93,648 – about $7,800 per month or $257 per day. This breaks the previous record spend (set last year) by more than $20,000.
A $257/day spend rate would require a minimum nest egg of ~$2.4 million, based on the 4% Rule.
Our average daily spend over 5 years is quite a bit lower, at ~$162. Including the cost of IVF and childbirth boosts that to ~$175/day.
Even as we ramp up our income and spending, I’m amazed that I haven’t had to add a row in the table for Income Tax. The Never Pay Taxes Again plan is real.
I’ve included the 2016 data in the table for reference, with full data for all previous years here: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.
Analyzing the Data
I was actually a little shocked when I looked at how much we spent in 2017; I thought it was going to be higher.
Aside from a few key decisions, 2017 cost roughly the same as 2016 – even our 4 months in Europe was similarly priced even though we toured completely different countries.
The main exception is Jr now eats more than Winnie (and I still eat too much.) Where we used to purchase 2 main dishes and share amongst the 3 of us, we now typically order 3. I now understand the phrase, eating us out of house and home
The decisions that drove the majority of our increased spending were:
Alaska Cruise – paid $7,200 for 5 people, including 1st class flights for my Grandma (my uninheritance)
Spend 6 weeks in Japan vs SE Asia – our daily spend in Japan was on par with Europe, and easily 2x Thailand or Malaysia
In the chart/tables above, I put the full cost of the Alaska Cruise for our family under Housing and the cost for Mom/Grandma under Misc. The bike went under Entertainment, and the cost of pre-school is under Miscellaneous.
Since we went to all of the trouble of traveling, here are a few of my favorite photos. See many more on Instagram.
Conclusions and Projections
So yeah, we spent ~$94k in 2017. That bought a lot of good times. An Alaska Cruise was my Grandma’s dream vacation, so it was worth every penny. Otherwise, we mostly live the same lifestyle everywhere we go and some places just cost more than others.
We are planning travels around the school schedule, and just got back from Vietnam for Chinese New Year. However, travel will slow for a time… if all goes well there will be another little one joining us before Christmas (Winnie just had two embryos implanted today, so… Wish us luck!)
I know this to be true, because it is only in the last year or two (now in my 40s) that I’ve finally (maybe?) come to peace with those implications myself.
I have a lot of positive childhood memories: Christmas morning at my grandparents’ home, riding my bike around the neighborhood, swimming throughout the summer…
I also have a few…. what should we call them? Issues, maybe.
I borrowed this graphic from an excellent assessment of the impact of poverty by the Chid Poverty Action Group in the UK (pre-Brexit, obviously.) I can relate to pretty much everything on this chart.
Poverty damages. It damages childhoods; it damages life chances; and it damages us all in society.
I remember in 3rd grade being embarrassed to tell my teacher that my step-dad was unemployed.
I remember quitting sports and cub scouts, in part due to worry about parental finances. They wanted to provide opportunities, but I felt bad for accepting it.
I remember feeling unlikeable because I was poor and lived in a trailer park. I remember being bullied because of it.
Home sweet home
I remember feeling that I had to hide the fact that I got free school lunches.
I remember feeling judged (and shame) when helping Mom with the grocery shopping and paying with food stamps.
I remember being sick often (tonsillitis & bronchitis), but going to school anyway because my parents couldn’t afford time off work.
I remember feeling angry, often… apparently the kissing cousin of shame and fear.
I remember hearing, “We can’t afford that” over and over and over again.
School was not my favorite place, but I tested well. I was pushed into Advanced Placement English and Math classes. My Senior year I won the school Math Award. I was Academic All-State in Football (the key word being academic.) The school guidance counselor encouraged me to study engineering… and when I started college I tested out of 3 semesters of calculus.
This should all have been an honor and a reason to be proud, but instead I felt guilty and a total fraud. I didn’t work at any of this; I didn’t earn it.
I almost didn’t apply to college, because college applications had fees. $25, $50, $100… I didn’t have that kind of money. So I just applied to a couple nearby schools… I couldn’t afford MIT or Stanford anyway, so why bother?
My youngest brother was 5 years old when I left for college. We were really close, and I felt guilty for leaving (and still do, really.) Family or future? A distance of more than miles grew between us… alas, the alternative was taking a manual labor job at the local meat packing plant, which today pays $12/hour… same as it did 20 years ago
College was good to me… I enjoyed learning for the first time. But I was scared… scared to be away from home, scared that I wasn’t smart enough for college, scared that this was all being funded with debt and I would end up bankrupt and destitute.
I felt like I was finally getting somewhere when I landed a well paying summer internship. 3 weeks later when the company reported poor earnings, I was let go. For a time I lived partly off Saltine crackers and ketchup from the condiment station in the school cafeteria. Friends went on spring break to Florida and the Caribbean… I worked overtime in the sump pump factory.
I almost died the week of graduation, moved myself over the weekend, and then started my first job on Monday. I used a credit card advance check to pay the deposit on my new apartment.
I was now $40,000 in debt (top 5% of debt load for graduates in today’s dollars.) No rest for the wicked.
Scarcity and fear propelled me. I had a job, but knew I could lose it at any moment. My Dad was laid off when I was a kid. I lost my summer internship due to staff cuts. I was expendable…
So I scrimped and saved and paid down my student loans. I worked over time, cashed out my vacation hours, and did anything and everything that was asked of me. I was making progress.
I got a new job with a sign-on bonus, a moving package, and a payback clause if I left for any reason in the first year… I felt all of my new coworkers were smarter than me, and spent that whole year in shock and awe.
But… fake it ’til you make it. When you were successful, you were supposed to have cars, a house, and fly to exotic places for vacation. I have those things… Am I successful now?
As a kid, Mom would read to us every night and take us to the library often. I think she knew that she couldn’t give us much, but she could give us some of that there fancy book lernin’. Now in my 20s, one day a package arrived with a book from Mom: Robert Kiyosaki’s Retire Young, Retire Rich.
“This is bullshit!” I said, and threw the book across the room. I guess I was still angry
(To be fair, my opinion on that book is still the same.)
Around this time I finally paid off the student loans. A few months later I would take a vacation and decide I liked it a whole lot more than working. A year later I would meet my future wife. And 9 years after that I would submit my resignation. We were now truly experiencing a life of abundance.
We have now been early retired for about 6 years, living our dream.
Despite understanding that we had “enough”, money was still a driving factor in many of our decisions. For example, we might briefly consider a flight with a connection because it cost $20 less (penny wise, pound foolish.)
But… It was only 4 years ago that we felt secure enough to have a child of our own.
It is only in the last 2 or 3 years where I actually felt charitable, something I wanted to do instead of something I was supposed to do.
It is only in the last year or two that I’ve completely internalized this abundance. The fear is gone. The anger is gone. The sense that I hadn’t earned it, the feeling that one error or mistake could upend it all… it is all gone. Instead, there is a quiet sense of appreciation. I’ve now, finally, become accustomed to wealth.
They say childhood poverty has profound and lasting implications…
What a long strange trip it’s been…. in the spirit of last night’s 2018 Academy Awards, I would like to thank my Mom for the books, the sacrifices, and the encouragement to pursue a better life. Also, thank you to my Grandma for always making it clear that I was welcome whenever I needed it.
I’d also like to thank my childhood friend, Jason, who I met in 5th grade. He was self-assured, out-going, and a terrific athlete, basically everything I was not. His befriending me and encouragement to join sports was a turning point in life. Which is why just before he passed away last year, we adjusted our travels to bring me to my home town so we could visit one last time.
I also give thanks to my sister and brothers, for understanding why I left. I’m proud of all of you, for the lives and families you’ve built. It is a real joy to see our children playing together.
Most importantly, thank you Winnie for being so full of love and positivity. You are amazing. Thank you for making me a better person.
And thanks to you, for reading and for your support.
And thanks to the Academy. Even though I haven’t won an Award, I feel as though I’ve won at life.
All of these stories are great examples of good choices to turn a negative situation positive.
Debt & Net Worth
Unless you are the lender, debt is an insidious and pernicious destroyer of wealth. The interest burden can turn a leisurely swim into a struggle to move upstream against the vast power of Niagara Falls. Oddly, most adults have a lower net worth than the day they were born…
Before you can get ahead, you first have to get to zero.
Before you can get to zero, you have to trade your time to earn money for someone else.
Hitting zero is a great milestone: We are debt free, yeah!
Now we get to trade time to earn money for ourselves.
It’s good fun to see an extra $500 sitting in the checking account at the end of the month, or to build up an emergency fund that would cover a month or two of expenses.
Sadly, this is the most financially secure most people will ever be… who can resist that great deal on a new car loan, or a kitchen upgrade courtesy of the Home Depot charge card, or moving on up to that bigger home in the nice neighborhood with the great school district (and longer commute for the new car.)
But mortgage rates are so low, who can afford not to buy a new home? Back to zero and below.
How to Grow Your Net Worth by $1+ Million in Less Than 4 Years
Now is when the magic starts to happen: your money starts to make money, which begets more money, until our time is no longer necessary.
Things get really exciting once your checking account pays you $0.06. I still shed a small tear thinking about that incredible milestone. But then that $0.06 becomes $20, and then $100, and then $1,000.
And then even though you haven’t worked for more than 4 years while spending a few hundred thousand dollars traveling through 28+ countries, you suddenly have $1 million more than when you started.
I even updated our net worth chart to commemorate the milestone (older version here.)
So there you have it…
All you need to do to grow your net worth by $1+ million in less than 4 years is stop working and travel the world.
Time… is on our side, yes it is (Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France)
A common way of thinking is that world travel is something only for the childless and empty nesters. “I would love to do what you do, but I have kids” is something we heard once or twice before becoming parents ourselves. Responsibility for a small human is absolutely life changing, yes, but in a way that opens new doors.
Two year old GCCJr has already been to 28 countries. Since he first boarded an airplane at 5 months old, he has been putting his 2 passports to heavy use. He has already circumnavigated the globe twice, and enjoyed visits to large swaths of Asia, Western Europe, and North America.
Whether at home or in a far away land, The World through the eyes of a little one is an opportunity not be be missed.
Thailand (Koh Lanta)
Spain (Madrid, Plaza Mayor)
United States (Santa Monica, California)
Belgium (Bussels, Grand Place)
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Next stop: Vietnam!
Got here last Friday… photos coming soon…
It’s been 3 years since I evaluated moving our portfolio to 100% equities, and 2 years since I last published an update on our overall asset allocation.
What’s changed since?
Over the past couple years I’ve done the following:
Annually: Converted Traditional to Roth IRA
Annually: Harvested long term capital gains
Early 2018: Sold US stock to purchase Municipal bonds (enough to fund our lifestyle for 1 – 2 years)
I’ll review each in full. But first, an asset allocation snapshot:
GCC Asset Allocation
As of January 31st, 2018, according to Personal Capital our portfolio looks like this:
In other words, it’s basically the same as it was 2 years ago.
Assets and allocation
US Stocks: 71% -> ~80% VTI, plus 20% S&P500 and 1% Small-cap trusts in my old 401k
International Stocks: 18% -> ~90% VXUS, 7% VWO, and small holdings of Vanguard MFs in our HSA
Bonds: 6% -> ~85% Municipal bonds (mostly VTEB, some MUB), 15% intermediate term Treasuries (IEI)
Alternatives: 4% -> 100% VNQ (a REIT.)
Cash: ~0% (Emergency Funds are over rated.)
Not shown in the chart above are some legacy I-bonds and a private seller-financed mortgage contract, which are less than 5% of total assets. When included, total weight of US Bonds is ~10% and total stock is ~90%
Some interesting ratios:
Stock / Bonds: ~ 90 / 10
US / International equities: ~ 80 / 20
Taxable / Pre / Post-tax: ~ 70 / 25 / 5
A Roth conversion is the act of moving funds from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. It is fully taxable in the year of the conversion, but that tax rate can easily be 0%.
In 2016 I converted ~$6k, and in 2017 I converted ~$24k. Tax paid: $0. Tax free in, tax free growth, tax free out.
When we initially stopped working for the man we had Roth accounts worth $0, and now they comprise a full 5% of our portfolio.
Capital Gain Harvesting
Capital gain harvesting is the process of selling an appreciated asset (e.g. a stock or ETF) and then repurchasing the same or similar. When all is said and done you have the same holdings but with a higher basis.
In 2016 I harvested gains of ~$29k, paying no tax on that gain. In 2017 I wasn’t able to harvest tax free, so I did nothing. This was partially due to blog income being too high.
Our taxable accounts are currently ~70% of the total portfolio, down from ~75% a few years ago. I’ve been able to raise the basis in this part of the portfolio by more than $140k over the previous 5 tax years, so that is $20k in tax we’ll never have to pay (assuming a 15% capital gain tax rate.)
For a real world example of harvesting a capital gain, I’ve written a template based on the trades I executed in December 2016. Fill out this form and I’ll email it to you.
Sold Stock to Buy Bonds
The most recent change to the portfolio is I sold a small chunk of stock and used the proceeds to purchase municipal bonds.
Thanks to previous gain harvesting, this realized only $25k in long term capital gains rather than $55k, which I should be able to fit in our zero tax plan for 2018 unless blog income grows beyond expectations. Capital gain harvesting works.
“Whoa, hold on Mister 100% Equities, what is up with this?! You are betraying your ideology, your principles, and your entire future!”
“Why would you do something like that?!”
For the drama, of course. (wink wink)
OK, no, not really. There are 2 main reasons we took some money off the table:
Build a short term cash buffer for some (potentially) higher expenses this year
e.g. blog growth spending, Jr’s tuition, probable medical expenses, a potential foreclosure (legal expenses), and overall plush livin’…
Happy wife, happy life
I’m a firm believer in the 100% equity portfolio. Statistics are a beautiful thing. You might phrase my thinking as, “We’ve won the game, so let it ride! Woohoo!”
The Missus has a different point of view, more along the “We’ve already won the game, let’s stop playing” persuasion. And persuade, she did.
5 years ago our bonds totaled ~15% of the portfolio, when factoring in I-bonds and private mortgage.
I reduced that to <10% a few years ago.
Now it is back to ~10%.
Will single digit percentage changes have any long term impact on our overall portfolio? Unlikely. But for perspective, the “off the table” dollars are enough to purchase about 1 3/4 houses in my home town or fund 1 – 2 years of our cost of living. It can therefore have minor statistical significance on our portfolio, while having an appreciable impact on emotions and quality of life. Win-win.
Other Noteworthy Updates
Portfolio Expense Ratio
Through absolutely zero effort on our part, the total cost of managing our portfolio continues to fall, dropping from 0.08% 5 years ago, to 0.06% two years ago to <0.05% today. On $1 million, a 0.01% drop is a savings of $500+ per year. Thanks Vanguard!
While not a traditional asset class, we have continued to build a healthy amount of airline, hotel, and travel rewards points through credit card signup bonuses. Despite using a ton of points over the past couple years, our point hoard (and credit score) continue to grow.
Since having a kid of our own I have often found myself in the company of other parents. And let me tell you, there is nothing in this world parents want to talk about more than the latest exploits of Little Johnny or Young Suzie.
“Oh man, you do NOT want to know what I found in Johnny’s diaper!” (you’re right)
“Oh my gawd, Suzie said the cutest thing today! Let me tell you all about it.” (that’s, uh… really cute)
And my personal favorite:
“Yeah this kid is wicked smart… probably gets it from his old man, hehe. So anyway, I opened up a 529 plan for him last week. We even did that thing where you contribute 5 years’ worth all at once. You knew you could do that, right?”
Me: “Yeah, uh.. Jr doesn’t have a 529.. And we have no plans to start one.”
First, let me breeze through a quick 529 overview. (For the nitty gritty read Wikipedia or Bogleheads.)
A 529 is a tax-advantaged account used to save for future college expenses. (And now K-12 after passage of the TCJA of 2017.)
You gift contributions to a beneficiary (e.g. your kid) which are invested in mutual funds. All income / gains are tax-deferred, and when withdrawn for qualified education expenses (e.g. tuition) any/all gains are tax free.
Sounds nice, right?
Why GCC Jr has No 529
Why let the opportunity for tax free growth slip by?
Tax Deferred / Tax Free Growth
We already have a very interesting investment account that has tax deferred and tax free growth: a standard brokerage account.
I’ve demonstrated this over the past 4 years. Low/no yield stocks and ETFs grow tax deferred, and qualified dividends and long term capital gains are taxed at 0%.
If I’m going to commit dollars today, solely for education expenses in a decade or two, I want something substantial in return. Now. Like a big fat tax deduction or credit. No up front benefit, no deal, and there is no deduction at the Federal tax level. (Some States offer a small benefit, but I don’t live in those States.)
If 529 funds are used for something other than qualified education expenses, a penalty of 10% is assessed to withdrawals.
By making a well intentioned commitment 18 years in advance, with no tax benefit, I sign up for a potentially large penalty.
What the 529 plan offers us is a pair of handcuffs and a stick with no carrot.
Some exceptions apply, such as if your kid gets a scholarship, but then…
Ordinary Income Tax Rates
By having an acceptable exception I avoid the 10% penalty, but I’ve converted my very nicely taxed capital gains (0% tax rate) into very poorly taxed ordinary income (up to 37% tax rate.) I’m not looking for opportunities to pay more tax.
Of course, you can avoid that penalty and tax…
Penalty Exceptions aka Other “Benefits”
One benefit that is often highlighted by the 529 Sales Team is that you can easily change the beneficiary of a 529 to your cousin’s 3rd wife’s brother’s child (or other qualifying family member), and then withdrawals are tax free. Which is nice if you want to pay for your cousin’s 3rd wife’s brother’s kid’s education.
529 plans are organized by individual States and managed by a 3rd party. 3rd parties charge fees.
Even the lowest cost plans have expense ratios starting at 0.16% (but many MUCH higher) vs the 0.04% I currently pay on VTSAX / VTI. Higher fees can quickly wipe out any State tax benefit (e.g. none) and result in reduced spending capacity.
Will Jr attend a traditional University? Will the education system in 20 years resemble that of today?
I worked with a few computer programmers who had no formal education, and they earned as much or more than the Harvard and MIT graduates.
As the cost of information approaches zero, I imagine the University’s historical role as gatekeeper will be diminished. See here for more.
Zero FAFSA benefit
Dollars held in a brokerage account are weighted equally to dollars held in a 529 when calculating parental responsibility for education expenses under FAFSA. Moving money with no restrictions (a brokerage account) to an account with many (529) doesn’t change our EFC (Expected Family Contribution.)
Are 529s always a bad deal?
Not at all. For many a 529 is a great tool for college savings.
This would typically be the case for families with multiple children (with high expectation of pursuing higher education), where the parents earn high incomes and expect to continue doing so throughout the college years, who are already making full retirement account contributions, and who live in a State that provides an immediate tax benefit on contributions.
For families who don’t match that profile, they may be better off by trying to minimize the EFC, aka hacking the FAFSA.
A family with $500k split between a brokerage account and a 529 might be expected to contribute $25,000 per year from these assets towards their child’s education.
The same family with no 529, $0 in a brokerage account, a paid off house and fat IRAs, would be expected to pay zero (but some from earned income.) Family net worth is the same, but the EFC formula clearly has preferences.
Assets like a personal home and 401k / IRAs aren’t included in FAFSA calculations. Paying down the mortgage, making large contributions to retirement accounts (including after-tax contributions and/or the mega backdoor Roth), and taking a mini-retirement while your kid is in college may provide the greatest benefit. (But don’t let the FAFSA tail wag the dog.)
Similar to optimizing ACA subsidies, families with the ability to choose their Adjusted Gross Income can minimize their EFC. This article on Forbes has an interesting chart that shows EFC at different AGIs.
For better or worse we will never be in a position to receive need based financial aid, but Justin at Root of Good has shown even families with healthy balance sheets can get significant assistance. This is in large part due to having 75% of net worth in housing / retirement accounts vs our 25% +/-. (Hmm, maybe we should just buy a really big house.)
Is there any benefit for GCCJr to have a 529?
If GCCJr attends college, then there could be a small benefit in some specific circumstances.
That perfect storm scenario includes:
Small or Zero Scholarship – he is responsible for most tuition and expenses (not exactly a positive)
529 value is equal to full EFC burden, and no more (predict the future 2 decades in advance?)
Major bull market in 2 – 3 years before college (inability to withdraw funds from brokerage account at 100% basis)
A 529 would typically shift to bonds and cash by this point
For simplicity, let’s assume the total cost of education is a lump sum of $100k in today’s dollars, in 16 years when Jr reaches age 18.
Also assuming a (optimistic) 7% real rate of return over that time, I could contribute ~$34k to a 529 today to yield that $100k.
If Jr attends college and pays $100k, then the full $66k of gain is tax free, the same as if I didn’t contribute to a 529 at all.
If Jr doesn’t attend college (cuz he starts a business, is self educated, retires early, etc…) then that $66k gain is now subject to a 10% penalty and ordinary income taxes. At a 12% tax rate (assuming minimal other income), with 10% penalty, total tax due is 22% of the gain or $14,520. Or we could give the funds to my cousin’s 3rd wife’s brother’s kid. Or wait another 10-20 years or so for grand kids?
That kind of risk/reward ratio isn’t to my liking.
There are great cases to be made for 529 plans for a subset of the population, which make for fun discussions when hanging out with other parents.
But for us…
No immediate tax benefit, no long term tax benefit, no flexibility, no thanks, Not For Me.
Slash "Not For Me" Guitar Center Sessions on DIRECTV - YouTube
2017 was our 5th full year of early retirement, world travel, and blogging. Most of the content I’ve written comes from trying to figure things out for myself and our family, and then sharing the outcome. It’s helped create an exciting community of early retirees, tax geeks, expats, world travelers, nomadic families, and adventurers.
Although the blog became a profitable side business back in 2014, any financial benefit was mostly accidental. I typed some words, talked to some reporters, added some links, and (occasionally) cashed some checks.
In 2017 I thought, “Hmm, maybe I should actually try to do some businessy stuff with this thing.”
I think the results were positive.
First, let me say thank you! This was the biggest year yet for Go Curry Cracker, and none of it would be possible without you. I love the questions and comments that we get with every post, and the personal emails about your advances and successes. Thank you for being part of the Go Curry Cracker Community!
Now, let’s talk numbers.
The following table shows raw blog traffic and profit, with estimates for hours of my time invested based on number of posts. I’ve never tracked hours per se, but this seems about right. (Due to guest posts, hours may actually be estimated high.)
PPM (Profit/1k view)
PPM and work hours have been trending in the right direction, while page views have not. I like that hourly rate though. PPM (Profit / 1k page views) isn’t a typical performance metric (more so R(evenue)PM), but it’s easier for me to just pull Line 12 of the 1040 than to dig through Schedule C. RPM is maybe 15-20% higher.
2015 was by far our biggest traffic year, which was a stroke of luck with media exposure. We were simultaneously on the front page of Forbes and Yahoo (250k page views in one day!), and had major exposure all around the globe throughout the year.
In 2016, our mainstream press activity declined. (It’s hard to do better than 2015.) Combined with a reduction in new blog posts (aka work), total page views and revenue declined. There is direct correlation between new content and page views, although it is a lesser factor than media exposure.
2017 page views were on track to surpass 2016 through the first part of the year, but then I took about 2.5 months off. Total page views ended the year down. I was hoping for some big boosts from media exposure (“can we send a camera crew to follow you around for a week?”) but that has been slow going. Oh well, you win some you lose some. However, due to the aforementioned businessy efforts, total revenue increased significantly.
Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook followers have all jumped in the last year by double digit percentages, which is nice. I post more regularly there, so if you want to turn your GCC experience up to 11 please follow on those platforms. (pretty please.)
Email list growth was also double digit percentage wise, but I trimmed 3,000+ subscribers as I didn’t feel like paying to send emails to people who don’t read them.
The really cool thing with Social Media is that sharing cool and interesting content generates a ton of page views. On a couple press pieces on mid-sized media sites, I’ve actually been able to send more traffic to their sites than they have to GCC. It’s fascinating how that works.
Btw, if you aren’t on our mailing list, you can signup right here:
I spent a few hours this year diversifying income sources, and also overhauling the ad system. Just being able to have other ad companies bid against Adsense means less money for Google and more for me with no other changes.
This is what revenue looked like in 2017 from each source:
Most interesting to me (and maybe other bloggers) is the Other category. This is incomefrom other people’s sites and blogs. Both Personal Capital and FlexOffers share revenue when you refer new affiliates.
Our expenses run <10% of revenue, which reduces total profit to ~$52,000. I’ll know more accurately once I do this year’s taxes. About half of our expenses are for free rent and the replacement of my 5 year old MacBook Air. The remainder is primarily hosting and email. I also pay GCC Jr modeling fees.
It’s pretty easy to look at the list of revenue sources and know where to focus efforts (80/20 rule.)
However, I’m not going to do this. Instead, I want to take a 3 step approach to GCC18:
Drive more page views (aka Growth)
This will be through writing more content, improving user experience, and pursuing a paid advertising campaign. I’m ok to pay for advertising if it helps new people discover new opportunities or to venture off into the great unknown. (Please, tell your friends!) Obviously this will increase 2018 expenses, on a credit card that pays bonus points for advertising.
Create and Grow a Forum.
It has become increasingly difficult to reply to every email we get. A forum for early retirees, tax geeks, expats, world travelers, nomadic families, and adventurers will allow me to better scale. (You can try out the new forum here, still in beta. I’ll formally release it soon. There is also a link in the main menu.)
Become a better member of the personal finance community.
Help me help you grow your site. If you have the expertise to expand upon GCC, I am open to guest posts. (Just a small note: previous guest post authors (and my wife) will tell you I am difficult.) Contact page is here.
Already this year I’ve moved GCC to a faster server and improved caching for a 66% performance improvement. This will improve the experience for everyone, while also reducing bounce rate for new readers. (Next on the to do list: move to PHP7 for additional performance gains.)
The growth efforts mean I’ll be working more hours, mostly because we will be in one place for the year and Jr is in school. For the first time in 5 years of blogging, I actually have multiple blog posts written in advance. Amazing.
However, I want this to be more of a throwback to my hectic schedule of 2014 or 2015 (e.g. 8 hours / week) not a return to my hardcore 60 – 80 hour weeks. This is a side hustle, not a life. In all likelihood, I publish as many as 52 posts this year (although my working list is much longer…)
So, if you are the person, animal, vegetable, or mineral who can massively improve SEO, orchestrate wildly successful advertising campaigns, grow a popular forum, or make GCC wicked fast and secure, please… let’s talk. I’ll get back to you asap, when I’m not riding my bike, spending quality time with the fam, or on vacation. Next stop: Vietnam!
Thanks for reading! Here’s to 2018 being the best year yet!
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Elation. Ecstasy. Euphoria. Never has a 2 year old been as excited walking into a cousin’s toy room.
Which is perfectly understandable. I mean, just look at these photos of us playing with all of those toys.
Cousin’s Playroom (in Jr’s eyes)
Over the next few weeks as Jr spent time with all 9 of his cousins, his world view evolved significantly.
“Daddy, I want to go home.” (to play with toys)
“Daddy, I want friends.” (to play with toys)
“Daddy, I want to go to school.” (to play with toys)
As the proverbial kid in the literal candy store, he wanted the dream summer vacation that never ends. (But of course, this being the Internet and all, somebody with poor reading comprehension will get on their soap box about how there was an absence of toys or play time with other kids prior to this point in time. That would be false.)
We were already planning on returning to Taipei to Recharge and Create. Perhaps a regular playgroup / pre-school would offer play time and socialization while also providing Mommy and Daddy with some personal time. Listening to your kids is a wonderful thing.
The park next to our apartment is a hot spot for neighborhood pre-schools. Laughter echoes into my new home office on sunny days as kids take over the playground.
I chatted up a few of the American and European teachers (“we teach English” is a big selling point) and Winnie read online reviews. We met with a school and viewed a classroom, but weren’t completely sure what to ask. This was uncharted territory for us. Unstructured play time? Yes. Freedom to explore? Yes. Kids and toys to play with? Also yes. We started with 3 hour days, picking him up after lunch.
Day 1: Jr woke us early, excited to go to school. “Mommy, school!” He didn’t like the lunch so the teacher fed him cake and potato chips.
Day 2: Jr says he doesn’t want to go to school. We learn that they don’t bring his particular class (kids < 3) to the park to play because it is “too difficult.” (The class has 2 teachers for 6 kids total, and the park is next door.)
Day 3: Jr screams and cries, saying he doesn’t like the teacher. I can’t identify any one thing that is off, but something feels wrong. Teacher tells us that Jr is “behind for his age” because he doesn’t respond well to authoritarian behavior. “Don’t worry, I’ll make him listen…”
We don’t go to school on Day 4, or ever again. Clinginess is at an all time high, and Jr panics if Mom isn’t in the room. He refuses to go on a bike ride or to the swimming pool with me (things he loves), just repeating “mommy, mommy, mommy.” Separation anxiety is expected for 2 year olds, but this is not normal. Bit by bit we uncover disturbing things, such as the teacher telling Jr “Your Mom won’t come pick you up if you don’t eat ALL of your lunch.” We later share concerns that only became clear in hindsight, such as kids in the class seeming excessively timid.
For the next 3 or 4 weeks we returned to our normal routine, playing with toys at home and going to the park. Jr’s desire for socialization continues to increase; he is constantly approaching other kids at the playground, offering to share his toy cars and asking if they want to play together. He is very much an extrovert.
Winnie arranged regular play dates with her friends, who all have children around a similar age. This is a big hit.
We met with the staff at the nearby Montessori school and discussed the previous school experience. The Montessori Method sounds perfect.
It is a view of the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.
Jr’s new teacher proposed a transition plan, where we began with just 1 or 2 hours per day with Mom in the class room. Slowly we increased time in class / reduce the time Mom is present, now to zero. He has yet to stay beyond 4 hours, but we will start nap time at school this week.
Jr is once again excited to go to school in the morning, has no apparent separation anxiety, and loves his teachers and fellow students.
They play at the park, swim, go on field trips, help with food prep and clean up, and play/create/learn, as shown in the following photos. (I’ve only shown his solo activities for the sake of others’ privacy… and also, I don’t pay those other kids for their modeling work.)
Field Trip to Taiwan’s “White House”
How much does Montessori school cost in Taipei? We just paid for an entire semester of full days, which go from 8 am to 4 pm. This includes lunch and 2 snacks per day, plus a field trip every 3 weeks.
Total cost: 123,178 TWD (~ $4,175 USD)
Half days cost 15% less
That is roughly $1,000 per month… or about the cost of many State Universities in the US. And there is a waiting list…
What does this mean for our future? Will Jr be following the mainstream K-12 public school path? Is the world travel dream dead? Is Taiwan our forever home?
We have been cross examining the question of home school or not home school since before Jr was born, and fortunately it isn’t a binary thing. We definitely view education as coming primarily from home and being self directed, so the Montessori style is a nice balance. We also continue to read books together, sing the Alphabet song, color & paint, etc…
Travel and education actually go really well together, as demonstrated by this lesson in colors in Split, Croatia.
We are sorting through travel ideas for school breaks. We’ll have 2 weeks during Chinese New Year (just booked flights to Vietnam) and a 3 month summer vacay. Summer is super hawt and humid in Taiwan, so we would like to be elsewhere. This will probably include visiting friends and family in the US, as well as a bit of adventure somewhere else (still have to pass the PPT.)
This does come with a cost, as for the first time in our 5+ years of travel to date we would have the additional expense of a home base. Fortunately, we planned for that from the beginning.
Neither of us believes that Taipei is our long term home, but it is a nice place to live. Future destinations: unknown.
After a couple whirlwind years (Jr has already been to 28 countries, a few multiple times) Jr has expressed a desire to spend more time with other kids. OK, let’s do that.
Spending 24 hours a day with your parents is a wonderful thing (when you’re a toddler…), but then again so is spending 20 hours together. And maybe even a little better, since Mom and Dad get to do a little adulting.
The transition to normalcy involved a rough couple of weeks, no doubt. We definitely learned a great deal about our expectations and intentions through the process, and I am absolutely grateful we didn’t need to balance jobs while finding a healthy solution.
Everybody is feeling pretty good about where we ended up. Jr happily goes off to school each morning, and excitedly tells us about his day. And adulting is going great.
Although… maybe things are going a little too smoothly around here. Last evening, Jr told me: