A Year Later ….

This blog was born about a year ago and man, have things changed since! I have been thinking about how much harder it was to get to the first $100- $200k compared to how much faster things seem to be moving after we crossed the $300-400k line. Granted, our journey is a little strange as we kept taking random time off work and spending a lot of what we saved but, the end result in terms of asset accumulation is still is pretty interesting.

Obviously our strong focus on FIRE for about 1.5 years now, much larger dual incomes after a period of unemployment and work breaks have helped as much as the incredible market ride as of late which has propelled this forward. It does make it super fun to see that even small gains amount to a lot more $ these days compared to even last year. I have to remember to breath when it does the same when market decides to explore negative territory :).

Let’s revisit what I wrote a year ago, when the FIRE dream was just starting:

As of August 2016, our investable assets stand at $335k. I guesstimate that about $200k of this came from our savings from 2001 until 2009. We did not save anything from then until about 2012 really, the rest was saved from late 2013 to today. Our 529s ended 2015 with about $5k. Today (August 2016) we have a combined $26k balance for both kids, much of which was added this year as we started a super funding strategy.

A Year Later…

Assets: Liquid assets stand $525.2k. It is strange to see the market still going up and I keep reminding myself to stay the course when/if the correction comes. Our home has about $135k in equity assuming about 10% expense costs between real estate fees and random taxes, so total net worth is about: $660,000. Woot!

It is crazy to look back and see that exactly a year ago – August 2016, our assets stood at $335k – that is $190k dollars difference in one year! Check out this progression, feels almost surreal (liquid assets only, excludes 529s – those we count separate as money we won’t have available):

  • 2001 – 2009: $200k (8 years!)
  • 2009 – 2016: $335k (7 years to add an extra $100k+)
  • 2016 – 2017: $525K (1 year, $190 added! yikes!)

Debt: $125.1k, still on track to end at $118k without issues.

529 combined: $54.7k combined. A year ago our combined balance here was $26k! Huge accomplishment especially given how much we also saved for our retirement.

Expenses YTD: $42.9k. It is going to be a nail-biter ending within the $75k or under goal as we have a few unaccounted for car related expenses and a few other things to consider. I remain cautiously optimistic.

Lastly, I poked around the Social Security Website to figure out what my expected benefit would be if I worked for 8 – 10 more years, assuming the thing can still pay 100% of benefits. I figured it would be something like $1,800 per month or slightly more, which is not bad, especially considering that I am assuming best case scenario we get 60% of that or really (and what I actually base my FIRE plan on), nothing at all. Still fun to poke around with the numbers. 🙂

Hope your year is going well but most importantly that you are out there LIVING!

How are things going with you? At what point in your savings did you start feeling like things were really snowballing? How long did it take you to make each $100k?

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2017 Life Goals

2017

The beginning of this year proved to be one of the most difficult and crazy times for me at a personal level.  It got so bad that I finally decided to tackle something I had not done before – unclutter fully at an emotional level, figure out who I am and what I want, then rebuild from the inside out.

And so I began a journey of inner exploration and created a holistic life plan. I defined success for me along with my priorities. I then matched that against how I actually spend my time and energy and aligned accordingly. Then I began breaking down the plan in pieces and tackling it head on!

To learn more about this process and a ‘how to guide’ on how to do something similar yourself, go here.

And so, for 2017+, my life plan and focus will be on the following areas, with the caveat that I reserve the right to change my mind at any moment:

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 4.09.30 PM

This hard work and focus has paid off substantially; I have never experienced such personal transformation! I am probably in the most peaceful (light!) and happy place I have ever been in decades. Of course there are always ups and downs, but I feel I now have the tools and habits to keep me going.

Interested in following my progress? Start here.

 

 

September 2016, Progress Report

September 2016‘s market got a little scary but then bounced back. I am bracing myself for more crazy in the coming months. A huge highlight this month –  we maxed out our other 401k, woot!

All in all, another solid month, we are right on track so far. Here is the summary YTD:

Income* Expenses Assets 529s Debt
September $127.7k $57.9k $355.4k $34.2k $140.2k

Our assets grew by $9.4k while expenses came in at $5.8k (very good considering our trip that took about $1.5k of that! Creating habits is REALLY working!).We now have about 5k of these assets in cash, which we really did not have before. People are right – it gets addictive almost and I feel strange leaving things ‘out of the market’ but a little buffer is good, plus we are considering an alternative investment at this point (just considering) so this helps with options.

Our kids’ college funds grew a bit less than normal as we contributed only $2,650 (vs other months that I was putting about 5k to super fund and be done by the end of the year with a $25k balance for each), and the earnings stayed pretty flat otherwise.

Debt is getting there, we contributed a few extra hundred bucks, but is still not making as much progress as other areas, and that is ok as it is by design.

All in all – three months to go to end the year (wha?! how did that happen!?), almost at goal, very exciting to see progress!

How did you go this month? Did you panic when the market tanked?

New Zealand, One Month Self-Drive Tour (2005)

Ah, New Zealand. Probably my favorite overall country in the world. We were fortunate enough to be able to do a self-drive tour for about a month while taking ‘summer off’ from our grad school studies (2005). Actually this is the very first time  in our lives we ever said ‘when we retire, we want to move to Wanaka’ (random town in New Zealand – Heaven was probably created after this place or Coromandel Peninsula).

You must experience a Haka in real life – gives you the chills. I always get teary.

No one really talks much about New Zealand food or its beaches as compared to other countries – we were incredibly happy about both. Plus, no snakes. Beat that Australia!

We worked with an amazing travel agent – best we have ever had, but sadly google tells me he is no longer available (so I will share the details below – have no idea if some of these B&Bs and hotels, or even attractions are still there).

The actual trip below was quoted at NZD$7,773.31 for both of us plus our flights and extra meals/entertainment, and we included this in our overall ‘grad school expenses’.  Must definitely a highlight in our lives.

Itinerary

Auckland

This city has a population of over one million people and sprawls over 60 extinct volcanic peaks, between two harbours and coast-lines. The area had seen Maori settlement, especially around mid 18th century.  European settlement commenced 1840; the city was named after a Lord Auckland who was Viceroy of India.  This was New Zealand’s capital until 1865.

Auckland is regularly voted one of the best lifestyle cities in the world, with the cosmopolitan city centre complemented by great escapes within half an hour of downtown. Whatever your interests, you’ll never be short of things to do in the City of Sails.

Things to do in and around Auckland (2005, so check these things are still there!)

  • View the busy town centre area of Queen Street.
  • Check out the upscale shopping districts of High Street and Vulcan Lane for New Zealand’s big name designers. Visit the nearby Durham Lane and Little High St.
  • Ride to the top of New Zealand’s tallest building – Sky City Tower and Casino and enjoy a meal in the revolving restaurant high above the city.
  • Stroll through the Viaduct Basin, home of America’s Cup.
  • Take a short cruise from Auckland’s waterfront to the seaside village of Devonport.
  • Escape to Waiheke – Just a 35-minute cruise from Auckland, Waiheke Island has beautiful beaches, native bush, vineyards, olive groves and laidback seaside villages.
  • The Auckland Art Gallery, Toi o Tamaki, has the largest and most comprehensive collection of New Zealand and international art in the country. The Gallery is a venue where New Zealand stories are told through the visual arts. Take a free, guided tour of the collection  or visit one of the 32 exhibitions on display throughout the year.
  • Auckland Museum, located in the middle of the Auckland Domain, a few minutes east of the city centre. Overlooking Waitemata harbour and occupying one of New Zealand’s finest heritage buildings, is Auckland War Memorial Museum. First established in 1852, the Museum tells the story of our nation’s evolution, from Pacific migration and early nationhood, to our natural and military history.
  • Mt Eden, just a short drive from the CBD and view the city’s sights from its summit – you can even walk down into the volcanic crater! Auckland’s volcanic landscape provides plenty of landmarks with spectacular summit views.
  • Sail in the fast lane on board a genuine America’s Cup racing yacht.  NZL 40 offers the unique opportunity to experience sailing an America’s Cup yacht. Passengers become the crew and are encouraged to participate. Suitable for all ages, experiences and abilities, the experienced crew will ensure you get the most out of your two-hour sail. The ideal activity in Auckland: ‘City of Sails’ and ‘Home of the America’s Cup’. Sailing everyday, departing from the Viaduct Harbour.
  • Take a bus to Parnell.  Parnell Village is an historic shopping area just 10 minutes east of the city with charming and exclusive boutiques, where you can find original gifts, art and clothing. Dotted along Parnell Road are art galleries that house local New Zealand artwork, both for sale and to admire.
  • Hammerheads Seafood Restaurant is situated along Tamaki Drive, right on the Auckland waterfront. With stunning views from its covered deck and art deco windows, the spacious restaurant is the perfect place for dinner and drinks after a day on the water, or to break the day’s activities with a leisurely lunch. Sample New Zealand’s world famous seafood and wines at one of Auckland’s leading restaurants.
  • Take a 5 hour Wilderness Experience. Only 30 kilometres from downtown Auckland is the cities largest regional park the Waitakere Ranges. Visit the Arataki Centre where you have spectacular  views of both coasts and magnificent Maori carvings. Then continue onto KareKare beach, the location for the award winning movie “the Piano” where  your guide will explain all about the fascinating local history, flora and fauna of the region and you get the opportunity to stroll on an unspoiled black sand beach. Your journey then takes you into dense rainforest, giant Tree Ferns and New Zealand’s famous Kauri trees. Along the walk native birds and magnificent Waterfalls gives you a true insight and feel for our unspoiled native bush – a classic kiwi experience.

Accommodation:  Airedale Hotel. These chain of hotels are the best 3 star hotel we have stayed in, ever.

Bay of Islands

After a lovely few days in Auckland, we went to Budget Rental Car, got our Toyota Corolla 1.6L Automatic and headed to the Bay of Islands  (4hr 15min, 240 km). The Northland region is the birthplace of the New Zealand nation, where the British made their first permanent contact with the Maori. Your journey takes you north across the Harbour Bridge, and along the Hibiscus Coast, with its beautiful long sandy beaches. You continue through small farming towns to the Bay of Islands. The bay’s 800-kilometre coastline embraces 150 islands and is steeped in historical association with the early history of New Zealand.  Captain Cook discovered the harbour in 1769, and gave the bay its present name.

Travel to the small town of Paihia and explore Paihia at your leisure. The town was founded in 1823, when a missionary, the Reverend Henry Williams, built a reed hut here. In 1834 a printing press was brought here from England to produce the first Bible in Maori.  Places of historical interest along the red-sand seafront are marked with bronze plaques, and New Zealand’s oldest tree, a Norfolk pine, stands here. There is also an interesting aquarium, called Aquatic World (which we skipped). Just north of Paihia is the town of Waitangi, where the famous Waitangi Treaty was signed in 1840. A visit the historic Treaty House is an option.

Activities in and around Bay of Island

  • Fullers Cape Brett- ‘Hole in the Rock’ Cruise. Board the luxury catamaran for the most popular cruise in the Bay of Islands. The high speed vessel will whisk you on a comfortable journey out through  game fishing waters to the Cape Brett Lighthouse.
  • Next is Motukokako Island and the famous “Hole in the Rock”; the excitement grows as you make a passage through the Hole and on to the majestic Grand Cathedral Cave. On the return journey we take our time and meander through the inner islands. View sandy beaches, beautiful bays and marine wildlife as your skipper gives an informative commentary. Included is an island stopover on beautiful Urupukapuka Island where there are numerous activities. Enjoy one of the scenic walks, a swim or ride the Subsea Adventure.
  • Browse through the Maori Arts and Crafts centre or relax in the cafe. Enjoy the magic that is the Bay of Islands.

Accommodation:    Pt Veronica Lodge  B&B room w/ ensuite. Continental and cooked breakfast.

Guests can relax in the gazebo or wander along the garden paths with two small decks built into the hillside. From the garden a bush track leads to the coastal pathway that connects Opua to Paihia, one of the best short walks in Northland. It takes around 45 minutes to walk to Opua wharf or go the on the way and it’s about an hour to Paihia wharf.

Bay of Islands  – Coromandel Peninsula  

Leave Paihia and drive back south through the Northland region, 6 hr 5min  354km Paihia to Thames.  The mild climate here allows trees, shrubs and flowers to thrive all year round. Coromandel was visited in 1820 by the HMS Coromandel, which called in to the harbour for kauri spars. The ship brought the town, and the Peninsula, its name from the Madras coast of India. In 1852 the discovery of gold at Driving Creek brought a boom to Coromandel Town. A lot of history dating from that time is still evident in the Town today: old buildings, artefacts and atmosphere.

Things to do in and around Coromandel

  • The Waterfall of Wentworth Valley.  Wentworth Valley offers several walks – the old mines walk (30 minutes),   the five hour walk – Maratoto-Wentworth), or the ever-popular walk to the waterfall (two hours). This walk follows a well-maintained track that meanders beside a stream. You have to cross the stream a couple of times (it’s only ankle deep) before you reach the viewing platform, but the spectacular waterfall is well worth the effort!
  • Driving Creek Railway and take a ride on New Zealand’s only narrow-gauge mountain railway. (we skipped this)
  • Hot Water Beach is one of the region’s most fascinating places. For two hours either side of low tide, one can dig in the sand for hot spring water and make spa pools. (Observe the ‘dangerous swimming’ signs.)
  • Whitianga Wharf, which is the centre of the town’s boating and fishing activity. You can take the passenger ferry to Ferry Landing and Flaxmill Bay and walk around.
  • Drive into the town of Whitianga from the south and divert to Whangapoua – a 20-minute walk, which takes you to New Chums Beach, one of the Peninsula’s most beautiful, unspoiled golden sand beaches. (I mean, wow!).

Accommodation:    Drift In B&B    Room on BB Basis

Coromandel to Rotorua via Tauranga

Tauranga is located in the Bay of Plenty.  This region seems to have it all – a mild, sunny climate, some of the country’s most popular beaches and an abundance of orchards, especially kiwifruit, avocado and citrus. The uniqueness of the Bay of Plenty centres around a relaxed holiday atmosphere.

The clear pristine waters of the Bay of Plenty offer the ultimate marine encounter, the opportunity to swim with, or just observe, dolphins in their natural environment. Other oceanic-based activities include diving, game fishing, underwater photography and surfing to name a few. You may also wish to sample award-winning wines at some of the region’s vineyards.  Enjoy some beach activities at Mt Maunganui or indulge in a soak at Mt Maunganui hot salt-water pools.

Rotorua is known for its embrace of traditional Maori culture.  This is a place of lush forests, green pastures, and crystal clear lakes.  Rotorua lies on a volcanic rift, which stretches 124 miles from White Island off the coast of the Bay of Plenty to Lake Taupo.  Here nature’s antics can be fascinating, odd and even scary.  Every now and then you will catch a whiff of pungent sulphur gas escaping from subterranean fires not too far beneath your feet. Even steam wafting from cracks in the pavements is not unusual.

Yes it is VERY smelly. We did not enjoy that, at all. Still worth the visit at least once.

Things to do in and around Rotorua

  • Hangi & Concert Evening (highlight here for us!) Home of the Ngati Rongomai tribe located at Rakeiao Marae, Lake Rotoiti.Spend an evening with the Maori people and share their culture through song and dance, then partake in a Hangi feast. The food is cooked on hot stones, in a specially prepared hole in the ground
  • Rainbow Springs and Farm Show – Rainbow Springs and Farm Show is located just before you reach Rotorua.  Rainbow Springs is a showcase of New Zealand’s natural flora and fauna.  It is set in beautiful native bush, traversed by crystal clear freshwater streams and deep fern-fringed pools.  These waterways are home to thousands of impressive Rainbow, Brown and Brook Trout which you can come face to face with in the underwater observatory.  The highlight of your visit to Rainbow Springs is New Zealand’s own living national icon, the Kiwi.  View these shy, flightless birds in their nocturnal kiwi-house.  The Farm’s wildlife sanctuary affords an insight into New Zealand’s sheep farming industry as you watch a show.
  • Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve, or “Whaka” for short.  Here paths lead you around turbulent mud pools, gushing geysers and boiling streams.  In thermal areas like Rotorua, nature uses lava or superheated rock to raise water to temperatures, forcing it upwards to the surface and creating geysers or bubbling mud pools. Here you can see boiling mud pools and gushing geysers. On Geyser Flat is Pohutu (‘Big Splash’), New Zealand’s most famous geyser. It erupts roughly once every 20 minutes, and shoots hot water up to 20 metres into the air.
  • You can also visit the Maori Arts and Crafts Centre on the reserve, where you can watch craftspeople at work, see a replica Maori village and ‘kiwi’ house and enjoy an art gallery. Located at the NZ Maori Arts & Crafts Institute.
  • Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland is a geothermal sightseeing attraction just outside of Rotorua. The area is known as New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse geothermal sightseeing experience.  Visitors to the area can view a wide range of features including: – Geysers (10:15 am) and Mud pools – Mineral terraces – Colourful hot and cold pools – Steaming Volcanic Lakes.Walks are from 1/2hr to approx 1 hour along well-maintained pathways.
  • Rotorua Museum located in the old Bath House.  Displays of ancient and recent history, art, and locally made videos.
  • Buried Village – located 15 minutes from the city on Tarawera Rd.  Wander through he remains of te Wairoa, buried in lava in 1886.
  • Waimangu Volcanic Valley – Created June 1186, Waimangu is the only hydrothermal system in the world wholly formed within historic times as a result of Volcanic eruption.
  • Lakeland Queen – Cruise the lake for breakfast, lunch or dinner with an expert guide to point out landmarks and historical sites.
  • Skyline Gondola – Conveniently located just kilometres from Rotorua’s town centre, on the side of Mount Ngongotaha, Skyline Skyrides can carry you to 487 metres above sea level to a fun park environment.  Providing panoramic views of Rotorua City, Lake Rotorua and the surrounding area, Skyline Skyrides is an all weather attraction, and is open every day and night of the year.

Accommodation:    Ventura Inn Rotorua, standard studio room. Nearby attractions include Polynesian Spa, Government Gardens, Rotorua Museum and the Convention Centre.

Rotorua to Tongariro (Mt Ruapehu) via Taupo

Driving south to Taupo are the spectacular Huka Falls. The Huka Falls are famous for the speed and volume of water rather than the height of the falls, as the Waikato river pumps nearly 300,000 litres of water per second through this narrow gorge.  The Craters of the Moon thermal reserve is located on the opposite side of the main highway in the Wairakei Tourist Park.

Nearby the Geothermal Power Field harnesses underground steam to make electricity.  Lake Taupo is the country’s largest lake, located in the centre of the North Island. The lake was formed by a dramatic volcanic explosion in about AD186 and is especially famous for its rainbow trout.

Things to do in and around Taupo

  • Steamboat Lake Cruise – Two hour scenic cruise on the Ernest Kemp to Jerusalam Bay and Maori rock carvings.
  • Trout catching – aboard the White Striker.  Professional help to catch that monster trout.  (we skipped)
  • Huka Jet – A half-hour action-packed spin to the spectacular Huka Falls, the Aratiatia Dam and more.
  •  The Woolshed – Stock up on your winter woollies.
  • The Merchant of Taupo – A food shop
  • Breakfast – Replete Food Company – Not to be missed, great kitchen shop.
    Lunch – Prawn Park – New Zealand’s only prawn farm.
  • Tongariro One of the things we were most looking forward to doing was completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I mean, when else do you get to say you hiked through Mt Doom, for those Lord of The Rings fans out there? This hike is not the easiest but it was beautiful. Highly, highly, highly recommend it!

Accommodation:    Skotel Mt Ruapehu,  standard Room.

Tongariro to Wellington

Wellington’s deep harbour is surrounded by steep, green hills, dotted with white      wooden houses. The city has many good shops, boutiques and pedestrian streets. From the numerous vantage points on the hilltops surrounding the city you can look out across the harbour to the nearby South Island. Wellington is such a compact city that one of the best ways to explore it is on foot.

Things to do in and around Wellington

  •  Catch the Cable Car up to the Wellington Botanical Garden for spectacular views.   Follow the Thorndon heritage Trail and wander down through NZ oldest suburb.  Allow two hours.
  • Look inside beautiful Old St. Paul’s Cathedral on Mulgrave Street.   The church is built in the ‘Selwyn’ style, with a beautiful high ceiling. Then take a guided tour of the majestically refurbished Parliament Buildings, which include the distinctive “Beehive” building.  Allow one hour for the Parliament tour.
  • Enjoy a meal among the politicians at the Backbencher Pub and Café, across from Parliament Buildings.
  • Make your way to Lambton Quay for some great shopping.  Stroll over to Manners Street and Cuba Street and then over towards Courtney Place.  Courtenay Place is located on the waterfront and has a good selection of cafés and entertainment.
  • Stop at Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of NZ.  Enjoy touring this wonderful showcase of treasures and discover the stories of a nation.  Allow at least two hours.
  • A drive up to Mount Victoria is a must as you get spectacular views of Wellington’s deep-water harbour and the city centre.

Accommodation:    Rawhiti, Room on B&B basis

Wellington to Nelson

We woke up really airly to take the 8:00 am    The Lynx Fast Ferry – Wellington to Picton. This is a delightful journey, as the ship crosses to the South Island through a maze of     sheltered waterways, known as the Marlborough Sound.  The sound is a myriad of inlets and bays with steep hills plunging straight down into the sea. You can sit out on deck and enjoy the views, or relax in the lounge. The comfortable ferries have a bar and café, a self-service restaurant, snack bar, souvenir shop and cinema.

Disembark in Picton, where you will be able to pick up your new rental car. From Picton drive west along the Queen Charlotte Drive to Havelock, skirting the edges of Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds. Highlights include lookout points over beautiful Sounds, easy walking tracks and safe swimming beaches. In Havelock stop and taste the locally grown mussels or browse in the art galleries. At Havelock stop at Pelorus Bridge to take a short, unguided bush walk through native forest in the Mt Richmond Forest Park.

Your journey will take you to Nelson in the afternoon. The Nelson region is known for its year-round sunshine, golden beaches, accessibility to three national parks, 300-plus working artists and craftspeople, boutique wineries, fresh local produce and seafood, historical streetscapes, waterfront cafes and restaurants, and a thoroughly relaxed lifestyle.

Nelson is the urban centre of the Nelson region, a compact city of 40,000 people. From Nelson you can organise an adventure, begin an arty shopping spree or start a survey of the Nelson fresh food feast. Spend the afternoon in Nelson city surrounds.

Things to do in or around Nelson

  • Harbour cruises: appreciate the city’s seaside setting
  • Walk to the centre of New Zealand and view the city in its entirety, or try one of the many other short walks in and around Nelson city
  • Art and historic trails: pick up a map or brochure from the visitor information centre
  • Visiting local beaches: Tahunanui Beach, Rabbit Island and Cable Bay are all safe beaches within a short distance of Nelson city
  • World of Wearable Art: experience Nelson’s internationally renowned Wearable Art phenomenon at the World of Wearable Art Complex
  • Abel Tasman National Park. Do NOT miss this. Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest of New Zealand’s National Parks but no doubt one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Abel Tasman is a compact treasure house of nature with glittering beaches, turquoise water and spectacular ocean views. A range of wildlife inhabits the area, including penguins and a seal colony in the Tonga Island Marine Reserve.  There are also day cruises and nature tours that include walking through the Park.

As an optional you may want to look at a cruise and walk day excursion with Wilson’s Experiences.  The Swing Bridge is a popular option. (we skipped this but leaving for your review).

Accommodation:    Grove Villa,    room on BB basis

Nelson to Christchurch via Kaikoura 

This 6hr 15min drives takes you to the seaside settlement of Kaikoura, overlooked by majestic mountains that are snow capped for many months of the year. The township is located on a rocky peninsula protruding from lush farmland beneath the mountains. In the waters off this peninsula, a complex marine system provides an abundantly rich habitat for marine mammals and seabirds, making it an ideal place for getting ‘close to nature’.

Things to do in and around Koikorua

  • Kaikoura is world renowned for whale watching (some quite rare and only found in the Southern Hemisphere) and is one of the few places in the world where these magnificent creatures can be seen year round. Dolphin and seal swimming, sea bird watching, fishing, diving and a large number of other land- and water-based activities are also available. Enjoy the gazillion dolphins in such cruise that wil no doubt come and play with you. AND enjoy the fellow pukers on the whale watching boat :). Still worth it!! (hello black sand beaches with caribeann light blue oceans, what?).

Things to do in and around Christchurch

  • Hop aboard one of the beautifully restored vintage trams
  • Enjoy a gentle punt on the Avon River or simply explore on foot.
  • Stroll through Victoria Square, just north of the City’s central business district, then along the riverbank to Worcester Boulevard.
  • Head towards Hagley Park, the Botanic Gardens and the Canterbury Museum
  • Stop at the Arts Centre to purchase the handcrafts and artworks.  Enjoy a snack, lager, or espresso while you enjoy the ambience of the Center’s Gothic architecture.
  • Head to the City Mall to experience the atmosphere.  Also on Oxford Terrace along the riverside you will find cafes and bars, which are popular venues for lunching and brunching by day – and partying by night.
  • Visit Cathedral Square and climb the 134 steps of the cathedral tower for a fine view over the city.

Accommodation: The Grange Guest House, double room on B&B Basis with cooked breakfast

Tranz Alpine Train Journey and Fox Glacier

TranzAlpine for one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world. Cross the Canterbury Plains after departing Christchurch. En-route you will stop at Arthur’s Pass, which is over 700 metres above sea level, making it the highest railway station in New Zealand.  Travel through virgin forests and mountains, lush even farmlands, and across to the West  Coast.

The Franz Josef Glacier was first explored in 1865 by an Austrian, Julius Haast, who named it after the Austrian Emperor. Nowhere else in the world is a glacier so close to the sea. You can either walk to the base of the Glaciers themselves or join one of the guided glacier walks, which accommodate every level of fitness and experience.

Depart Greymouth for Franz Josef Glacier on the way to Fox Glacier.  Shantytown is located 13km south of Greymouth and is the recreated gold-mining attraction. It features restored buildings, an old saw mill, steam train, and gold prospecting.

Things to do around here

  • En route stop in Hokitika, the third largest centre on the West Coast.  Here you can shop at one of the many craft galleries for jade, hand-blown glass, gold nugget jewellery, woodcrafts and wool products.
  • You may also stop in Ross, a town that still has working goldmines, including one of the deepest operations in the Southern Hemisphere. A tour is available from the Ross Goldfields (information at centre). Another option is to stop at Whataroa to visit the white heron (kotuku) sanctuary on an organised tour.
  • Drive to Lake Matteson.  This is probably the most photographed lake in New Zealand and made famous due to its reflective mirror images of the mountains on the water, especially early morning and often too at sunset.
  • Hike Fox Glacier.

Accommodation:    Fox Glacier Lodge, Queen room with Ensuite – Continental Breakfast

Fox Glacier to Wanaka       

Carry on with some more self-driving (5hr 25min,  257km) and continue south from Fox Glacier and over the Haast Pass, into the heart of the beautiful South Westland Region. This is one of the least populated parts of New Zealand (most definitely more sheep than people, though I head these days they are being replaced by cows…but I digress), and after passing tiny Haast village there is a long stretch of road with no settlements of any size, as you skirt Mount Aspiring National Park.  The journey through this area is very rugged and scenic.  Entering the Central Otago region, you pass beautiful Lake Hawea before reaching Lake Wanaka.

Wanaka is defined by its lake, which is edged by poplars and willows, and mirrors the surrounding mountains.

Things to do in and around Wanaka

  • Day walk into Mt Aspiring National Park.
  • Plan your retirement or wonder if life will ever be topped after this trip. Cheer with some wine.
  • Just walk around and be happy.
  • Tour The New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum and see a collection of flyable World War II fighter aircraft.
  • Visit Puzzling World and get lost in a world of jigsaw puzzles and a maze.
  • Take a tour of Wanaka Beerworks a boutique brewery, which is located next to Wanaka airport.

Accommodation:   Harpers B&B,  double room with ensuite and breakfast.

Wanaka to Queenstown

This drive takes about  1hr 50min, 117km. Travel to Arrowtown via the Crown Range and Arrowtown.  Visit the historic Cardrona Hotel when travelling the Crown Range.  The hotel was built in 1868 just as the area’s short-lived gold rush was ending.

Arrowtown was built as a gold mining village on the banks of the Arrow River.  Incredibly picturesque, its gentle nature defies its rugged location.  Many of the town’s historic buildings have been restored and are in use today.

Queenstown is a favourite destination of people from all over the world.  Located on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is set among great glacier-shaped mountain peaks. Take some time to walk the boutique shops.

Things to do in and around Queenstown

  • Adventurous activities, which are arranged in Queenstown, include bungy jumping, white-water rafting, river sledging and parachute jumping.
  • See New Zealand’s most famous native birds in the Kiwi and Wildlife Park
  • Travel by the Skyline Gondola cable-car to the top of Bob’s Peak, for a superb view of the town and lake. There are also plenty of good walks in the area.
  • Kawarau Jetboat Ride.  It’s an absorbing 43km’s of adventure: past lakeside homes to the deep  turquoise waters of the Kawarau River then onto the narrow shallow braided  waters of the gold rich Shotover River. The trip  also includes entry into Queenstown’s Underwater World.
  • Hike around town – plenty of breathtaking spots.

Accommodation:   A Line Hotel,  Standard Room (Heartland hotel I think is called now).

Queenstown to Manapouri 

Travel south along the east shore (2hr 45min, 170km) of Lake Wakatipu to Kingston. On your left, you pass the mountain range called The Remarkables. The road follows the track of the Kingston Flyer, a historic steam train that once connected with the Earnslaw to provide a passenger service between Queenstown and Lumsden. The train now operates summer tourist services over a short stretch of preserved line. You continue past the Eyre Mountains, via Mossburn to Manapouri.

Things to do in and around Manapouri (including accommodation)

  •   Real Journeys , Doubtful Sound Overnight expedition. Absolutely stunning. Following a short cruise across beautiful Lake Manapouri and a coach trip over Wilmot Pass, you will board the Fiordland Navigator at Deep Cove, Doubtful  Sound. There is plenty of time on your overnight cruise to enjoy the stunning views and to discover the hidden arms of Doubtful Sound.  Fur seals and bottlenose dolphins are often seen and at times, rare penguins can be observed.  There is also time for you to kayak around the shoreline or go exploring in the tender craft with our nature guide.  As the shadows lengthen we’ll drop anchor at a favourite mooring for the night.  After the days activities, enjoy a delicious evening buffet meal in the spacious dining saloon.

Manapouri to Te Anau (via Milford Sound) 

After departing from the Doubtful Sound overnight, drive north through Te Anau (2hr 20min, 121km) and make a quick stop at the B&B  before heading to Milford Sound.  This way you will be familiar with where the B&B is upon your return.

The Fiordland covers three million acres of wilderness, and is one of the biggest national parks in the world.  Everything here is on a grand scale, with waterfall tumbling thousands of metres into virgin, forested valleys, and lonely fjords indenting the coast. The road to Milford Sound cuts through Fiordland and is considered to be one of the best alpine drives in the world.  It follows Lake Te Anau, passing through dense forests, along small lakes and river flats, and through the Homer Tunnel, nearly one-and-a-half kilometres long, which took 12 years to construct.  Finally you reach Milford Sound via the awe-inspiring Cleddau Canyon.

Things to do in and around Te Anau

  • Milford Sound Day Trip.  Milford Sound was described by Rudyard Kipling as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ and it is easy to see why, as you cruise the dark waters of the fjord under the gaze of the one-and-a-half kilometre high Mitre Peak. This is one of New Zealand’s most distinctive mountains, and was named because of its resemblance to a bishop’s mitre.

Accommodation:  Loch Vista,  Queen bedded room with ensuite with breakfast.

Te Anau to Dunedin  

Time to hit the road again,  4hr 15min, 290km. Dunedin is a small, thriving city set amidst a magical landscape edged by the sea. Here the streets hum vibrantly with colour and culture, and the beauty of nature can still be found – everywhere. An historic university town, Dunedin spreads around a sheltered harbour. The Victorian and Edwardian spires and towers of notable neo-Gothic buildings and stately homes punctuate Dunedin’s cityscape. The city centre is compact, with a surprising array of kerbside cafes, high quality local craft, art, jewellery and fashion design outlets.

The city is renowned for its proximity to incredible wildlife. The Otago Peninsula, a brief drive from the city centre, is home to a colony of the world’s rarest penguins, the only mainland breeding colony of the royal albatross, rare New Zealand sea lions and the magnificent Larnach Castle. A world of recreational opportunities awaits the active at heart.

Things to do in and around Dunedin

  • Royal Albatross Colony. The site of the only mainland, breeding colony of royal albatross in the world.
  • The Yellow Eyed Penguin Reserve. This unique reserve is a private conservation effort to save the world’s most endangered penguin from extinction.  View and photograph the penguins at close range through an ingenious system of hides and tunnels.
  • Monarch Wildlife Cruises and Glenfalloch Gardens.
  • Cadbury World – Visitor Centre and Chocolate Factory Tours
  • Historic Speights Brewery Tour – 90 minute guided tour of a working brewery and heritage centre, complete with beer tastings.  One of the world’s only gravity-fed breweries.
  • Olveston- a 35-room mansion that tells a story of a gracious age and  that gives a glimpse of a lifestyle of a well-to-do family at the time of the Great War.

Accommodation:    Larnach Castle Lodge,  Premium Room on a B&B Basis. Whle totally a unique and cool experience, should I ever make my way back to Dunedin I would stay here instead.

Dunedin to Lake Pukaki (Mt Cook)     

Travel along the west shore of the long Lake Pukaki, to the Mount Cook National Park (3hr 55min, 272km). At 3,765 metres, Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand. Sir Edmund Hillary took advantage of this, and used the mountain as practice for his historic 1953 ascent of Everest.  The National Park contains 140 peaks over 2,135 metres high, as well as five of New Zealand’s glaciers. Nudging one side of Mt Cook is the mighty Tasman Glacier, a 30-kilometre/18-mile giant and one of the longest outside the Himalayas.

What to do in and around Lake Pukaki

  • Hike, hike and hike. There are short day walks around Mt Cook village and into the main valleys. The most popular are to Kea Point and Hooker Valley, offering great views of mountain peaks, glacier lakes and alpine flora. The Department of Conservation Visitor Centre can provide information on walks in the area.

Do not miss Mt Cook hiking and this area in general!

Accommodation:  Rhoborough Downs, double Room on B&B basis. Continental breakfast. Not sure if still around but look how awesom this place looks, instead (though I have not been).

Lake Pukaki (Mt Cook) to Christchurch

Last leg of our trip, noooo! (4hr 5min, 272km). Lake Tekapo is a glacial lake giving it a deep aqua colour.  Located on a lake promontory is the much-photographed stone chapel, the Church of the Good Shepherd.  The nearby bronze statue of a sheepdog commemorates the dogs of the district – vital aids for high country shepherds.

Arriving Christchurch this afternoon, discover the pleasures of the central city and get ready to depart the next day.

The end.

 

Expenses Goal – from $100+ to $60k

You spend how much?

When I first started reading about financial independence, I came across this post from Mr Money Mustache from 2011 entitled: Exposed! The MMM Family’s Actual Spending. 

This was the bottom line:

Total of Everything: $30,500
Total excluding Mortgage: $26,885

How does my family compare, I wonder? (family of 4 vs 3). Holy crap, I nearly fell off my chair when I discovered that from 2012 – 2015 we spent over $100k per year. WHAT!? Why?! I mean sure we moved, we got 2 cars for the first time ever ($16k total, cash), got kids on private school (no more as of next year as they are older and can attend public school), furniture for our new house, and some fancy pants vacations without caring for miles or points usage for the most part, etc. Still what the heck were we doing?!

Our incomes (here) at that point were not even CLOSE to sustaining this lifestyle. Thank goodness I found that blog and re-focused myself (to be fair, I was having some serious post partum depression and was getting my act together, so I had other things on my mind. Now I am totally ready, no excuses!).

After picking my jaw from the floor, I started reading every possible financial independence blog (these ones my favorites) and sat down with my husband to make a plan. We immediately cut out things that were not essential (cable, for example), starting making most of our meals at home vs eating or ordering out and called our insurance company to negotiate a better rate, which we got.

We created a path that would allow us to live more frugally. Much like when running, we did not want to go from 5 miles to a marathon in a day, so we set out to do a plan that would allow us to cut expenses gradually so that we could adjust to our new (hopefully sustainable) habits without that much pain.

The Goal

We have a pretty solid plan for saving and investments, but now we needed a goal for ourselves for the next 5 years in terms of spending. Here is where we landed (as of Summer 2016). We pledge to spend (ignoring inflation):

  1. $80k in 2016We beat this! We came in a little under $75k!
  2. $75k in 2017 – Barely, but achieved!
  3. $70k in 2018 – Coming soon….
  4. $65k in 2019
  5. $60k in 2020

I will update our progress as we go, where we cut, what hurt and what was easy. I am fairly confident we can hit $80k and $75k this year and next  – but I am seriously questioning our ability to go lower than that. I know this is very doable when reading other blogs out there, but you know, I like my traveling and first world privileges.

Will we make it? Will we totally fail or quit? Let’s see how far we can go! Check our our progress reports here.

For further inspiration, I keep checking Justin’s Root of Good amazing posts like these  which put my expenses to shame….

How about you, what is your goal?!

Resources

Summer 2016.

Travel Resources:

Here are a great list of travel blogs and sites that you may enjoy in regards to traveling, specifically with a family.

Want to learn about points and miles? Check out Million Mile Secrets and The Points Guy.

Overwhelmed with credit card/miles and don’t know where to start? I started with Marriott Card (best benefit is 7 nights + x amount of miles to most major airlines), Chase Sapphire Card and Starwood American Express (not sure how much longer this one will be around). These seemed the most flexible for me until I learned more.

Hotels.com and Rocketmiles.com for hotel reservation if you are not using a specific travel rewards card or hotel chain.

Car rental? Try  Autoslash.

Different ways the world talks about Continents. The 5 to 7 Continent models.

College Planning:

If you are just getting started investigating 529s and general cost of college, I encourage you to start here. Probably the best site I found so far. It helped me a lot with my initial planning.

Financial Independence:

Getting started on your own path to financial independence? I encourage you to watch this eye opening PBS documentary called The Retirement Gamble. Then, take a read through these articles, which I re-read often for encouragement. Why “Earn More” vs “Save More” Is The Wrong Debate, The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Retirement, Zero to Millionaire in Ten Years, How We Reached Financial Independence in Our 30s, and A Millionaire Is Made 10 Bucks at A Time.

The blogs that I mention here are the ones I most often read regarding early financial independence.

For a very simple how to guide for saving and investments, I really love this The Simple Path to Wealth. I particularly love that he is writing this to leave as a manifesto for his daughter. He also writes about rent vs own issue very eloquently. Another excellent article on rent vs buy by Afford Anything blog here.

The Mad Fientist is also filled with all sorts of great information and tools. And this blog post on The Road to financial independence is a great read.

Financial Management:

I use mint.com to track my day to day spending and Personalcapital.com to track my investments and assess my 401k plan fees.

As for investing, I am partial to Vanguard index funds.

Simple yet effective interest calculator.

Inflation calculator.

Teaching kids about money resources

The Goal

Alright, so I gave you context as to where I fall in the financial independence range. Now, I present you the goal (Summer 2016):

The Goal

  • Years to financial independence: 12
  • Investable Assets: $3.1 million (today’s $2.2m equivalent, with 3% yearly inflation)
  • Debt: Zero (inclusive of mortgage and car)
  • Annual Spending: $75k for retirement ($107k equivalent then with 3% inflation). See accumulation year expense goals here.
  • College Savings:  $100k each 529 account $75k in 529s plus $100k in post tax accounts by the time they reach college (total, not per child).
  • Travel After Reaching Goal: Sell everything we have and go live anywhere in the world as a way of living, currycracker style!

Here is my starting point (past yearly incomes and current assets), and here is what we need to do to achieve our goals and how we plan to do it, including all our assumptions.

Lastly, we do have will and life insurance plans here, which will change as we grow. Below is the graphical representation of the plan – you can follow actual progress here.

The purple numbers represent where I was October 2016 when I started tracking this way and what I consider a ‘prep’ year for the plan. From 2017 onward it will be tracked from day 1 hopefully.

fire-plan-vs-actuals

debt-repayment

Let’s get to work!

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