The Renovation Life

In one of the mentoring questions, I talked about how I enjoy doing 2-week renovations. 2 of those a year would be a perfect balance. Time to build and create, then time for family, rest and other creative projects that are less physically tiring. But in July we took on a 4-week project.

Week 1: Repair flat roofs (awesome, it’s fun to get to work after our 2-week beach vacation!)

Week 2: Tear out floors, paint ceilings (Still fun, getting stuff done!)

Week 3: Paint walls, start laying flooring (I’m kinda tired, and sore, are we done yet?)

Week 4: Paint trim, and more trim, finish flooring, put the trim up, more touch up paint (I’m done. DONE. All the joy is gone. I’m SO over painting. 13 gallons interior, 10 gallons exterior and I have been covered in paint for an entire month.)

30 sticks of 8 ft floor trim, plus door and window trim, and every lovely door

The ONLY reason I’m smiling is that it’s our last day!

Here was my take away. This is what life would feel like if we worked regular jobs.  We each put in 20 hours a week. My mom was awesome and helped us out with childcare and we brought one kiddo along as a paid helper. One-on-one quality time with the kids + them learning work ethic= total win! Although my mom was quick to remind me that people generally work 40 hours a week, not 20. True. =)

Honestly, it stretched us as a family. Especially in the summer, when my kids are primed for daily adventure and fun. We still did Family Fun Night and Weekend Adventure. We were still home to have dinner with them and do bed time stories. But it stretched us.

Whenever I give people advice about renovations, I encourage them to know their limits. You can only stretch for so long. Ours used to be 6 weeks. Now, 2 weeks is great, 3 a stretch and apparently 4 lacks all joy.

Maybe we could do 4 weeks in February. But not July. There are just too many other awesome things happening where we live in July. So on to all the other awesome stuff we also tried to fit in!


It’s been a HOT summer. And I don’t just think this because I was working on a roof or painting in a house without air conditioning the whole month (FYI: add 5 gallons of paint drying to a 90-degree house and it feels very much like a sauna!). =) Our garden is living proof! It’s been growing like crazy.

We have a short growing season in the Flathead Valley here in Montana. So any year I can get ripe tomatoes in July I count as a win.

tomatoes in the Flathead valley

Everything has been doing great. We keep the garden really low maintenance. The only thing we really have to tend to is watering. It’s my favorite way to wind down after a day of painting. Chill in the garden, eat raspberries and water things.

In July we picked a half gallon a day! And ate every single one of them. =)

Summer Fun

4th of July Parade

One of the things I love about living here is the constant stream of free events our amazing community hosts. Art festivals, farmers markets, kids events, and in July the cutest 4th of July parades. This year the Budweiser Clydesdales horses were on tour.

bigfork 4th of july parade


Huckleberry picking

Huckleberries in this part of the world are treated like precious stones. Coveted and revered for their deliciousness and value. Shoot, they sell for $50 bucks a gallon. So when you come to an amazing huckleberry patch, it’s hard to pull yourself away. It looks like a sea of money! Plus visions of huckleberry ice cream, bbq sauce for ribs, and syrup for my Christmas Swedish pancakes start to dance in my head.

I should have just bought a gallon.

Going huckleberry picking with little kids is the WORST. You trek through the dense forest. They get all scratched up. Bitten by bugs. They are impossible to find unless you have a super secret spot that even your closest and dearest family members won’t share that magical location.

We made it. And everyone agreed that we won’t do it again next year as a family event. We went out for .25 cent ice cream afterward for a sweet ending to what had to be the worst 2 hours of our entire month.

Barely enough. But we will make it work!


Family Fun Night- Weekend Adventure

I think it’s really important to have a few constants in our lives that keep us grounded as a family. So despite a crazy renovation month we still did Family Fun Night every Friday night. This is a time that we carve out just to have fun and connect as a family. We play games, do crafts, make fun food, and engage. No emails. No phones. No chores.

Pizza on the BBQ!

I can’t take credit for all the family fun night! My mom came up with this awesome watermelon pizza. Plus she did all the set up for making slime (super easy and fun)!

We also enjoyed our Weekend Adventure. We took in farmers markets, art in the park, festivals, hikes, and a few mornings at local playgrounds.


Unlike huckleberry picking, cherry picking is AMAZING!

hockaday orchards Lakeside Montana

We spent a few hours in the orchard picking almost 70 pounds of cherries for a steal of a deal at 1.25 a pound. We were also treated to a few adorable guests; a mama doe and her two teeny tiny fawns who ate all the fruit we dropped.

frugal fun family activities

The trees are loaded down with fruit, so with just one adult picking and one wrangling kids, we harvested 70 pounds in under 2 hours (plus free all-you-can-eat for the whole fam while picking).

We have wised up after years of doing this and now we just dress our kids in their swim suites to pick. The orchard runs along Flathead Lake so after we finished our days work, we let the kids swim for an hour to wash off the cherry juice and dirt (aka cherry mud!)

Cherry mud in full force!

flathead valley personal finance

After a long month of renovations, this was the perfect finish to our month. It’s days like this I want to pinch myself because we get to LIVE here!

As we walked to the lake with our children covered in cherry mud, an older gray haired man, commented on how they looked like they had fun. We ran into him again as we headed back from the lake and he said, “Oh, your children will never forget this memory!” I just smiled. Because it’s true. Our kids LOVE this. And they are growing up so fast. Which is why we opted to take this mini-retirement now. I want to give them another 1000 memories while we have the chance.

70lbs Cherries + a whole morning of fun! : $86


Other expenses:

Car Insurance: $770

We have full coverage on our classic car ($200 a year) and liability on our other two cars ($570). We pay for the full year every July.

“Joy” Money

We switched our cell phone plans which saves us $30+ cash each month. I wanted to be intentional about finding little things to spend that extra money on that add a TON of value for the price. It’s been a fun mental exercise to focus on finding stuff to buy that I might have passed on otherwise.

So I am experimenting with this idea. I call it my “Joy Money.”  One of the awesome things about going frugal on fixed expenses ( like our cell phones) is each month there is all this extra money. You can use it to pay down debt, super charge your investing or in this case….add a little joy.

July‘s Joy Money purchase

This is kind of a cheat because we didn’t really spend our money, but instead used a gift card we had won! But the joy factor was there, and we left a $10 tip.

We almost never go out to dinner. As in, it had been 12 months. I know, I know. But getting a sitter for 5 kids is a HUGE hassle. So we generally opt for mid day coffee dates while the older kids are in school. But this month we did it!

I am a huge fan of celebrating small wins. And in July, I hit 1000 email subscribers! Which honestly, felt like an over-the-top-jump-up-and-down kind of win for me. It’s a big deal to let someone show up in your inbox each week. I try to really honor that privilege by sending awesome emails each week.

So we went out for a lovely dinner. We celebrated, dreamed bigger dreams, and chatted about all the amazing things that are happening right now. This journey has been crazy, and I felt like we are doing exactly what we should be.

(If I was a better Millennial I would have taken a selfie and pictures of our delish dinner to insert here. #Millennialfail)

Total Joy Money Spent: $10.00 for the tip

mini retirement budget

This month:

Summer almost makes it hard to spend money around here. There are so many things to do and all of them are free. We can’t even start to take in all the free events happening. Plus the amazing hiking, Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, and a host of other things I really want to be doing.

So July provided yet another month of this mini-retirement under budget! If it hadn’t been for a year’s worth of car insurance, our total cost would have only come to $1556.

What about renovation costs???

Here is how we organize all our rental income and expenses. I call it our Rental Fund. It’s part of our cash bucket.

We have a separate checking account for the rentals. All rent checks are deposited into that account each month. The rentals mortgages, insurance, property tax, maintenance or renovations are paid directly from that account. And once a month our income is auto drafted from that account to our personal checking account. We generally keep about 10-15k in the rental fund.

If the amount grows beyond that, it means our rental income is consistently greater than the expenses and income we currently pull. So we can start taking more income. You’ll never see any of these expenses mixed in with our personal expense. Simply because they have never been. We have never had to pull personal money to prop up our rentals cost. They are 100% self-sufficient.

If you are considering having rentals, I highly recommend taking an approach similar to this! If we have a vacancy, big repair or expense, it has ZERO effect on our personal finances. The rental fund has enough buffer to cover any one time issues.

I have an upcoming post planned to detail average renovation costs. Although I don’t have all the numbers crunched on this one yet, between the roof, all new floors, paint and trim, I think we are about at $2,000-$2,500.

One of the many hot pepper plants Mr. Mt picked out!

Monthly Spending: $2316

Giving this month: $226  Beings our giving comes from its own Giving Fund, instead of our passive income, I decided to start showing it here instead of in our pie chart to make that easier to read.

Year to date expenses: $15,647 vs $17150.  $1503 under our passive income so far!

Year to date giving: $7160

Work Optional Status

I started a new category in our monthly expenses to see how we are doing on our “work optional” life as we continue with our mini-retirement.

  • Can we really just do a bit of work that we love, instead of going back to the 9-5 grind?
  • Can we focus on things we find interesting and best leverages our skills or passion instead of just things that pay the most?
  • Can we work/volunteer and actually still have space for the rest of our life, like family time, travel and long days at the lake?
  • If people don’t have 1 million + net worth, how do average folks piece this thing together to create their most meaningful life?

We are starting to harvest squash, with LOTS on the way! So long patio.

5 Bucket Method

If you are just tuning in around here, here is the lay out of our financial land. We use a 5 bucket system. It’s extremely useful for anyone trying to custom design their life. It’s perfect if you want to take a year off to travel, try to launch a side hustle into a full business, go part time at work for a few years, or retire early. It’s a great method for any financial transition where you are trying to create a life more in line with your goals and values.

Depending on your situation and goals, you would customize these buckets to meet your needs. (I’m going to be offering a small beta program on how to customize this for your situation and goal so people can start a mini-retirement sooner, knock more things off their bucket list, stretch the time longer, and get a better job when they are done! Make sure you are on my email list for the inside scoop. Space will be super limited!)


Bucket 1: Fixed Passive Income

Rentals: $1000 a month after all expenses

Military Retirement Pension: $1450 a month

Total: $2450 

We use bucket 1 to cover all our basic living expenses. It provides 90-110% of these costs. I don’t include investments into this bucket, but instead, just things that pay out a specific amount each month. Rentals, pensions, loan repayments, royalties or anything you have little choice if you “pull” from it or not.

The housing/rental market has been going crazy here. Between that fact and the major renovation we just completed, this amount will increase by $200 next month.

Bucket 2: Cash Buffer

Cash buffer: About $55,000 (this includes our Giving Fund, which funds our charitable giving each month and our Rental Fund.)

  • We use this bucket to fill the gap in our basic expenses if needed.
  • We give donations from this bucket.
  • We also use it for one-time large purchases or emergencies.

Magical kale forest. I harvest a huge pile and the next day, it’s entirely regrown.

Bucket 3: Investments

Our investments don’t go into our passive income bucket because when you are creating a flexible lifestyle early on, these buckets might function very differently.

Investments: $190,000

Because we don’t need to tap this bucket yet, we will continue to let compound interest to do its thing. We might also fill it with some extra money from bucket 4 (side hustle).

$633 a month right now with 4% withdrawal.

Untouched for another 6 years it would provide about $1,000 a month income, growing at 8% to $295,000 with a 4% withdrawal.

That isn’t to say that we will use it in that way. Investments provide a host of options because it’s one of many buckets.

  • We might pull a lump sum to purchase other rentals.
  • We might use 2% in 6 years as our expenses grow (bigger kids, bigger food bills).
  • If we use it for “extras” instead of basic living expenses, we might pull 5-6%, knowing that in low market years we wouldn’t pull any money from it or only 1-2%. For example, when it grows to $300,000, we might pull $15,000 (5%) one year to take a 3 month trip to Europe. If the next year, a big market drop happens, we might pull $3,000 (1%) to take a 6 week US camping trip.

I bet we get 100+ tomatoes in August!

Bucket 4: Side Hustle/Extra Income

This bucket would include any extra income you produce. If you are growing a business, that income would go here. As would a profitable hobby, income producing passion project, or side hustle.

Because the first 3 buckets cover all our needs and wants, we currently use this bucket as “extra.” Extra money for investments to help those grow faster (bucket 3). Extra money for giving. Right now, I reinvest most of this income into business expenses plus classes, mentors, and information products.

Because ours is just ear marked for giving or business expenses, we get to be really picky about what kinds of projects we take on and how much we do. (Just stuff we love, 3 hours a day.)

Our tax returns also go into this bucket earmarked to fill our giving fund.

2016 Tax return: $5,500

Extra Income (year to date) : $6,448

Bucket 5: Future Passive Income

Rental Mortgage 1 payoff: + $189 a month

$38,000 balance on rental house 1. There is 25 years left on this mortgage. The interest rate is 2.85%.

Rental Mortgage 2 payoff: +$512 monthly payment 

$96,000 balance on rental house 2. There are 27 years left on this mortgage. The interest rate is 4.35%.

We might pay these off earlier to increase our monthly passive income.

Social Security: Who knows?

My current assumption is that there will be a small amount of money that will start around age 70. I’ll start more carefully considering this in about 20 years. Right now I have it earmarked as extra money for health care costs or vacations with grandkids.


Conclusion: Mini-retirement still going strong!

Our moving target: doing exactly the right amount of all the stuff we love and is important to us. No matter if it’s family time, traveling, writing, mentoring, gardening, renovations, hiking, volunteering or hanging out with friends. It’s all just stuff we love. =)



Hope you all had a great July!

Any travel or projects planned this summer?

How’s your garden going?

Do you feel an overwhelming obligation to enjoy summer as much as possible? Maybe it’s a northern thing.