How Your Local Library Can Help on Your Path to FIRE

A big part of achieving FIRE is lowering your monthly expenses to a point where it would be sustainable to live off of your portfolio earnings/passive income. However, many of us have hobbies that we love, and part of being able to pursue those hobbies includes buying supplies for them. Do you love reading? There’s a good chance you love buying new (or new-to-you) books. Do you love building things? I bet there’s a Craftsmen set that you’re just waiting to go one sale. Do you love knitting? New circular needles would really take the crafts you make to the next level…

The list goes on and on. 

The good news is you don’t have to continue buying the tools for these hobbies. How so? 

Visit your local library.

Stacks on stacks on stacks. Image from pexels.com.

To me, this seems like obvious advice. I grew up poor, and as previously mentioned, one of my favorite free outings was going to our local library, getting cozy in some bean bags, and flipping through Calvin and Hobbes comic books (even though I didn’t quite understand the philosophical undertones when I was seven). The library was a part of my childhood.

However, this isn’t true for everyone. Some people may not have had access to libraries when they were growing up–time, transportation, or distance may not have made it possible to visit the library in person. Additionally, people may not have been part of a family in which going to the library was seen as a great way to pass the time. Or perhaps their families didn’t know about all the great free services the library provides. 

Someone recently posted on reddit that they didn’t realize joining their library was free*. They thought they had to pay and were shocked that they could just go in and borrow a book without money exchanging hands. Well, I’m here to tell you. Libraries are full of free stuff that they want you to take advantage of!

And there’s more than just books. 

Libraries these days are vibrant places that offer a number of resources and services to their uses. My local library offers the following physical items available for check-out:

  • Video games
  • DVDs
  • Magazines
  • Book Club Kits
  • Laptops
  • Museum passes
  • Seeds for your garden
  • Tools
  • Fitbits

Before I made this post, I didn’t even realize they had Nintendo 3DS games! The Nintendo 3DS is the only video game system I have, and I bought it several years ago. In my current stage of life, I have a hard time justifying spending money on video games (especially when that money should be going toward student loans). However, now I can finally try out Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, because they have it at my local library! Now I don’t have to have some weird guilt-ridden discussion with my inner self about whether or not spending $20 on a game is an irresponsible idea. THANKS, LIBRARY!

I also didn’t know that we have seeds! Unfortunately, I don’t have any gardening space at the moment; but if I move somewhere else in this area, I’ll definitely take advantage of the seed program. All you have to do is write down in the binder what seeds you took, and if your plants are successful, you save a few seeds from your plants and bring them back to replace what you used. Hooray for sustainability and empowering communities to grow their own food (which can also help on your path to FIRE)!

They offer classes and services, too. 

Interested in learning something new? There’s probably a class for that. In addition to ESL and Citizenship classes, my local library offers free access to Mango Languages, an online language-learning program (which is great, because I am still trying to learn German. Am I good at it yet? Nein.). Want to learn how to research your family tree? Take a genealogy class (and get free access to Ancestry.com!). My neighborhood library also offers financial literacy classes and fitness classes!

Want to learn how to create a dang virtual reality (VR) experience? THEY MIGHT HAVE A CLASS FOR THAT! At least, my library does, although we are located in Silicon Valley so that probably helps. But your library might have something similar! I’ll be going this weekend to learn how to leverage Unity and other VR programs to create my own VR experiences (time to make my own google cardboard!). 

For those of you with kids, the library also provides a number of programs to keep you and your little one engaged and having fun. For instance, my local library has storytimes, teen craft nights, children and teen book clubs, and, from what I observed on my last visit, some kind of mommy and me yoga situation.

You don’t even have to go in person to take advantage of the library. 

Most libraries offer access to ebooks that you can download to your e-reader or read online. Many also have subscriptions with audio book services, so you can drop that $15/month Audible subscription and listen to books for free from your library. Some libraries allow for unlimited audiobook downloads, while others may limit to four or five a month. 

Will you have to wait sometimes? Yes. I’ve been on the waitlist for Michelle Obama’s Becoming for several months now. But that just makes me more excited to read it–anticipation is everything. And, frankly, there are way more books I want to read than I have the money to buy. Waiting is a small price to pay for unlimited access to any book I could ever want. 

Many libraries also offer access to some kind of streaming service, such as Kanopy or Hoopla. These streaming services provide free access to hundreds of documentaries, audio books, movies, and musical albums. Some libraries don’t even require you to go in person to sign up for these services–you can register online! 

If there’s something you’re interested in, there’s a good chance your library can hook you up with the right resources, without you paying a dime. 

If you haven’t paid a visit to your local library recently, I strongly encourage you to do so. There’s a wealth of resources, and all you need to do to access them is sign-up**.

*Although many libraries are funded with taxpayer money, so you’re already paying for it a little bit anyway!

**Some libraries require some sort of proof-of-residency, like a utility bill or photo ID with your address. However, I’ve never had to verify my information at any of the libraries I’ve signed up at in the last five years. Policies vary from library to library!

Open Grocery – September 2019

Welcome to the first post in a series titled Open Grocery!

I love this photo because it was described as ‘Cabbage, Up Close.’ Image from pexels.com.

Once a month, near the beginning of the month, I will post my entire grocery bill from the previous month–including a breakdown of every grocery food purchase I made during the month and whether or not it was on sale and/or I had a coupon. There are two main reasons why I want to do this.

I want to keep myself accountable in regards to budget. Currently, I have a budget of $200/month for my own grocery needs. In theory, this amount should be more than enough to cover my diet. However, sometimes I have a tendency to slip novelty items into my cart–for example, fruit bars or cookies–that don’t directly correlate to a healthy diet. I don’t feel like I need to cut these items out entirely (everyone should have a cookie now and then!), but I think it would be interesting to see just how much I’m spending on them. This budgetary concern also includes accidentally buying damaged products–but more on that later.

Additionally, I thought it would be a great exercise in seeing how much it actually costs to feed a single human being* in a month. Frankly, the $200/month I have budgeted is probably excessive, given my actual nutritional needs. It would be an interesting experience to see how low I can get my bill while still meeting all my dietary concerns. Also, as of February 2019, the maximum monthly allotment for SNAP for a household of one is $194–I think it would be a useful exercise to see just how you can stretch that amount.

For the sake of transparency, here are some things that may make my bill different than yours:

  1. I don’t have high caloric requirements. I am currently about 112 pounds and about five feet four inches in height. Even though I am athletic and go to the gym several times a week, I’m not a bodybuilder or currently trying to put on more muscle mass. As such, the amount of calories I require each day may be much lower or higher than others, depending on their nutritional needs and fitness goals.
  2. I have gastrointestinal issues. My doctor thinks I have IBS; as such, there are certain foods that I can and cannot eat if I want to be comfortable. This means I can’t always pick the cheapest foods at the grocery store or only eat what is on-sale. Beans are thrown around a lot as an affordable protein option–unfortunately, if I eat too many, my bowels riot, so I have to find other sources of protein as well.
  3. I try to eat a plant-based diet (with some cheese thrown in on occasion). I don’t purchase meat, eggs, milk, or butter. I do purchase hard and/or goat cheese sometimes. While I should stick with getting protein from pulses, my IBS makes it difficult to eat more than small amounts of things like beans and lentils. This leads to a tendency to rely too heavily on expensive protein-added products as opposed to more ‘natural’ sources of protein. 

So let’s get started!

If you’re interested, you can view my September 2019 groceries in this google sheet

Overall, I spent around $196 for groceries in September 2019 (I lost $0.90 somewhere between the receipts and the totals, but whatever).

Several things affected this amount: (1) not paying attention to coupons and whether or not they were applied correctly; (2) accidentally purchasing damaged products; (3) vegan meat substitutes; and (4) alcohol.

  1. Coupons. Some of the products I purchased should have had coupons applied to them. The biggest store that I had problems with coupons at was Safeway. On the website, shoppers can download digital coupons to their accounts and, when they type in their phone number on the credit card key pad, they get those coupons taken off. For some reason, for several of my products, the coupons were not applied. On one particular visit, there was an especially long line and the cashier was in a hurry to get me rung up. I didn’t notice that the coupons hadn’t worked correctly until I got home. Next time I go, I will ensure that the coupons ring up correctly–regardless of how fast they’re trying to push me through. I also had issues with coupons at Sprouts, although these issues were my fault–for example, on my first visit, I didn’t know that you had to download the app in order to have your coupons applied; I thought I could just enter in my phone number to get my coupons (you know, like at pretty much every other grocery store in the US). Nope! As such, a couple items I had coupons for rang up at full price. The other coupon I had issues with was a BOGO Chocolove coupon; apparently it was only for one specific flavor. I have now learned a lesson in checking the text of every coupon I intend to use.
  2. Damaged Products. Out of everything I purchased this month, I had issues with two products. The first was a pack of tempeh I purchased at Sprouts. I didn’t look at it properly until a few days later when I was going to eat it; however, there was a paper-thin slash across the front of the package. I’m guessing that it was the first layer in the box, and when someone used a box-cutter to open the box, they accidentally slashed the first layer of tempeh and either didn’t notice it or didn’t care. Regardless, $3.29 down the drain, because lord only knows how long that package had been open. The second damaged product was a Silk yogurt I bought at Safeway that was three weeks past the sell-by date. I didn’t take this off the grocery bill because I accidentally ate it before I saw the date (although I didn’t get sick, so I learned something?). This was slightly hilarious to me because I usually check the date on every refrigerated item I buy. So, in essence, what should I remember?–CONSTANT VIGILANCE.
  3. Vegan Meat Substitutes. I go back and forth on this one. Mostly, my downfall in this category this month was purchasing two packages of Lightlife Plant-Based Burger Patties. I’ve been a vegetarian for over four and a half years now, but gosh do I remember what burgers taste like. This new frontier of plant-based burger-y burgers has rocked my world. However, at $2 to $4 for a single patty**, it’s not a cost-effective way of eating, although in some instances I cut the patty in half and spread it over two meals. I also purchased a four-pack of soysage, but I feel less bad about that because I usually stretch those out over eight meals. As long as they’re on sale and I am mindful of the cost per meal, I’m willing to forgive this a little bit.
  4. Alcohol. I bought a bottle of wine for like $10. I include it in my grocery bill because I consume it and I buy it at the grocery store, but alcohol is not a necessity. In fact, now that my partner is gone, I don’t even really enjoy having a drink that much anymore. And if I buy an entire bottle of wine, I feel pressured to drink it all before it goes bad, and since I’m such a lightweight, this just leads to headaches and lethargy the next day. So, I think I’ve pretty much decided that, at least until my partner gets back, I’m probably just a social drinker as opposed to an enjoy-a-glass-at-the-end-of-a-long-day type of gal. 

So there we have it! A month’s worth of groceries for a single human and my lessons learned. The goal for next month: maybe get it down to $175? We’ll see!

(But no pressure though.)

* In the US — California — South Bay area.

** Not to mention the saturated fat. THIS IS NOT A HEALTH FOOD, Y’ALL.

Four Things I Learned When Moving Across the Country

I moved across the country recently. 

Not the entire country. I moved from Denver to the Bay area, a distance of approximately 1250 miles. In a previous post, I mentioned accepting a new job offer. This job offer was in California, so I needed to figure out a cheap and easy way to move my one bedroom apartment (and partner) to the Golden State. 

Here are four things I’ve learned from moving across the country (and, in previous moves, the world):

1. Get rid of as much stuff as possible before you move. This one is pretty obvious–the less stuff you have, the easier it is to get it from point A to point B. In the last ten years, I’ve lived in North Carolina, South Korea, New York City, Denver, and now California. For three of those moves (NC to SK, SK to NYC, and NYC to CO) I gave away as many things as possible and only moved with two suitcases worth of things. When my partner and I moved to Denver, we were very lucky to have a friend already living there, and he allowed us to mail a couple boxes to his apartment. This made the move incredibly cheap–just a couple of plane tickets with checked baggage fees, about $150 in postage, and we were there! This also made logistics super simple–however, all our furniture was hand-me-downs or things that we took from the curb, so it wasn’t terrible to say goodbye to those pieces.

2. Research different options. As mentioned before, I was looking to move cheap. I moved to the Bay area for a job that isn’t in tech (a bad move on my part? I GUESS WE’LL SEEEEE), so getting moving expenses down to as low as possible was ideal. I looked into several options–renting a truck ourselves, getting a moving cube, or paying professional movers to drive the truck. Professional movers were out of the question because they are so expensive (rightfully so), and we really didn’t have too much furniture; renting a truck ourselves would necessitate one of us driving while the other followed in the car, which didn’t seem like it would be a very fun two to three days (nor did either one of us really want to drive a U-Haul over the Rocky Mountains). Additionally, we bought furniture when we moved to Denver two and a half years ago, and my partner didn’t want to start all over again from scratch (although I am very much a BURN IT ALL AND DRIVE AWAY sort of person, I respect his feelings). In the end, we went with a moving cube from ReloCube as the most affordable option and best for our needs. However, even the price on this was flexible–instead of having the Cube delivered, we opted to rent small U-Hauls to bring our furniture to the loading and unloading facilities. Doing this instead of having it delivered cut the price nearly in half. 

3. Have a back-up plan for when you arrive. I was lucky enough to get placed in housing that is owned by my employer, so I am paying slightly below market rate for my studio apartment (basically a necessity in the Bay area for someone who will be trying to pay rent alone on a non-tech salary [my partner is leaving soon to finish his MA overseas]). We pulled into town on a Friday afternoon to pick up a key from the security office. We arrived at the office, asked for our key–and the security office had no idea what we were talking about. The individuals handling the property for this organization had not dropped off our keys. Several calls and misunderstandings later, a representative of the property office finally came and gave us keys to a temporary unit (THANKFULLY). We were lucky (although it took over a MONTH after my lease started to get into my unit–but that’s a story for another day) that someone was there; had we shown up after normal office hours, we would have been without a plan for the weekend. If you do not have keys-in-hand, I suggest you look around at the best places to stay at least overnight and have options for storing your furniture in case things go awry. 

4. Take in some sights along the way. The main benefit of using a moving Cube was not having to drive anything ourselves. Additionally, the Cube was quoted as taking three to five business days to move, and our move spanned a weekend and included the fourth of July–essentially giving us three extra days before having to worry about retrieving our stuff. We packed the Cube on a Thursday, “Day 1” started on a Friday, and we had the entire weekend before Day 2 even started. Zion National Park, a place my partner and I had always wanted to visit, is almost exactly half-way between Denver and our new home. We spent three wonderful days hiking and backpacking in Zion before making our way to visit friends for the fourth of July in LA. This made the long drive days not as bad, because we had something to look forward to, and also let us check off some life goals without having to take vacation time or plan an extra trip. Hooray!

While moving is undoubtedly a pain in the ass, there are definitely ways to make it better. Check out your options, decide what works for you, and try to add some fun side-trips so your move does double duty–travel for work and pleasure. 

(Also, RIP to one nightstand that was smashed in the Cube during the move. However, please note that it was from Ikea, and I didn’t do a great job of putting it together in the first place, so take that for what you will.)