Our 2019 Household Spending: A Transition Year with Lots of Home Repairs

Wow, it took me a while to write this post. Getting the numbers from Mint was the easy part but getting the rest done has been an ordeal. And what a first quarter we’re living in!

We’re in the midst of a pandemic. People are very scared. They are worried about their health, their jobs… It’s full-on panic.

Some are even financially worried about us.

“How are the FIRE folks handling this situation? Are they looking for jobs already?”

Those are the kind of statements you find out there. It’s like some are just waiting for our FIRE plans to fail.

Well, we are here doing just fine, snowbirding in Florida. Other than the quarantines, which are delaying our return to our home, life goes on as usual for us.

Now, I’m not going to sugarcoat this and say that we don’t worry about things. We do worry about more people dying. We worry about the ones who are having a hard time supporting their families because they can’t work. We’re concerned about others.

However, the last thing on our minds is worrying about finances but this site is about happiness and financial independence, so we need to discuss those topics.

2019 was the last full year of the longest bull market in history. We knew the end was coming but didn’t know when and how it would end.

We were promised a roller coaster ride but no one told us that we’d be riding the drop tower!

30% of our stock funds portfolio was wiped away in days.

Fortunately, we were ready for this moment. We’ve been preparing for it for the past three years by getting more conservative. We went into early retirement with a conservative allocation of 60/40 (stocks/bonds) and a withdrawal rate of 3.25% for 2020. That covers our projected spending for the year.

We are easily able to project our spending because we’ve been doing this for years.

Previous years of spending

We started blogging in 2015 and have reported our spending online since then.

Here are links to previous spending posts:

2014 Spending

2015 Spending

2016 Spending

2017 Spending

2018 Spending

Wow, that’s six years of expense reporting including 2019.

But, how long have we been tracking our spending?

We began tracking it on our own about a decade ago. Tracking our spending was a major factor in reaching financial independence. It opened our eyes to how we were spending our hard-earned dollars, while not maximizing it for true happiness.

2019 spending by category

To keep this reporting light, we’re concentrating on the major categories and lumping them all together in one table.

When we started tracking the spending, it was critical for us to know what was essential spending from discretionary.


Tracking it gave us an edge. It provided crucial information as to how much money we needed to live on, what could be cut from our spending, etc…

Nowadays, most of our spending is discretionary. We don’t carry any debt (not even mortgage debt) and that gives us more freedom to spend how we want.

Now, let’s see how we spent last year:

Food & Dining$12,914$1,076
Gifts & Donations$4,049$337
Bills & Utilities$3,175$265
Auto & Transport$3,066$256
Health & Fitness$2,698$225


We spent more than usual last year.

Instead of investing more on our taxable accounts, we decided to spend on much-needed repairs and remodeling on our property. We planned for this higher spending, so no surprise there.

2019 was a transitional year for us. We rented during the first five months of the year for a total of $4,600. During that time, I drove to the property on weekends to make repairs, while Tatiana stayed home caring for Chica Libre.

In June, a month before we retired, we moved into the property and commuted to work for 45 minutes with a combination of remote/office workdays.

We spent close to $18k on home repairs and improvements. Most of these expenses were upgrades. That was a good call because once we’re ready to sell the house to move south, we won’t have to make any upgrades. And we get to enjoy them while we live there.

It was also good timing because had we put that money into the stock market, it would have evaporated. Now the property is mostly renovated and ready to sell at any point.

When the market is overvalued, is a good time to diversify, pay off a mortgage and make home repairs.

Before and after photos of repairs
Before: old colors for the living room and stairs
After: New aqua blue paint coating for the walls, red for coat closet doors and white for trims and stairs.
Master bedroom previous colors
New colors for the master bedroom. The floor was also laminated (shown later below).
Kitchen upgrades
We could have kept the kitchen the same but we wanted to refresh it.
We replaced the linoleum carpet, countertops, backdrop, sink and malfunctioning dishwasher.
Kitchen with sink and granite countertop! Still missing the backdrop.
New glass and stone backdrop.
New faucet for reverse osmosis water filter with UV light filtering.
Waterproof laminate flooring for second-floor rooms.
We chose a grey laminate flooring for the first floor. All flooring is waterproof.
Powder room remodeling

The powder room in the basement also got an upgrade.

The old powder room in the basement was just an enclosed toilet.
We turned it into a nice-looking powder room. The toilet was fairly new and didn’t need to be replaced.
The powder room gained a new sink and vanity base. The floor and trims are yet to be finished.
New roof install
We replaced the roof that caused a major leak into one of the bedrooms.
We were happy to finally get rid of the leak issue but were left with some damages.
Ceiling and wall repairs
I did this job myself. It was the first project I tackled on my first retirement Monday in July.
It’s like the damage never happened. 🙂
Making of a smarter home
We modernized the home by also replacing the old thermostat.
We got a deal on a smart thermostat from the gas company for $50. Now we can control the temperature from anywhere via WiFi. It also learns how we like the temperature and adjusts on its own to accommodate us.
Garage opener replacement

The garage opener replacement broke during the summer. A company wanted $250 to install it so I ended up doing it myself and learned a new skill.

After more than 20 years of use, the garage door gave out.
The new garage opener with a belt drive for a more quiet experience.
Enjoying our home

It took some work to get us to the point of being able to fully enjoy our home. We still have a few minor projects to finish up when we go back but nothing compared to what we’ve done so far.

Tatiana checking her phone while Chica Libre naps.
José taking a mid-day break because, why not?!? 🙂
Our first brunch on the porch.
Singing karaoke with friends.
Chica Libre enjoying her bongos.
She also likes the keyboard, besides singing along to Karaoke. I think she might have a musical inclination.
We enjoy daily neighborhood walks.
Chica Libre’s 11-month photoshoot at a local park. It’s impossible to keep the month stickers intact! 🙂

Food & Dining

We cook a lot at home but we also buy quality food and it’s not cheap. If you want wild-caught salmon, and not from China, you’re going to pay a lot more. At some point, we were buying salmon from Aldi but stopped as soon as we noticed it was coming from China.

We don’t restrict ourselves when it comes to good food, but since we spend little on other categories, our overall budget evens out.


2019 was the first year that we traveled unrestricted for time. At the beginning of the year, we spent about 3 weeks in Florida. Then we traveled to Europe for almost two months in the summer and then drove to Florida again in late November.

We kept our travel expenses down to $8k because we used reward points for flights and hotels.


We got the child tax credit of $2,000, which we applied directly to our child spending and that brought it down to $3,278. This was high spending because we hired a babysitter while we were working. She was awesome! :*

Auto & Transport

We still drive our ’07 Camry. We had to make some repairs, but it’s still kicking. It droves us to Florida for a second time! $3,000 is what we usually spend per year on auto expenses.

What’s not included in the spending report

  • Income tax is not included.
  • We also exclude blog expenses even though they’re minor and we don’t break even. This is just a hobby for now.
  • We don’t have any debt, so there are no interest payments to show for any balances.

Final thoughts on 2019

There were no major surprises for us in 2019 as far as spending. If you have questions or need more details on how we go about spending, you can comment below.

Could we spend less?

Yeah, sure…

but why?

We could spend less on food and dining but we don’t feel that we have to. We also don’t eat out as much, but when we do, we go to restaurants that provide quality food. As a result, we end up spending more per visit.

Our fast-food joint is Chipotle.

We are okay with spending more on this category because being FI is about having choices and spending more where it matters to you. Health and food go hand in hand.

Cut the fat where there’s a lack of happiness and spend more on what really matters.

A look ahead

Since this year we’re not spending on full-time babysitting and major repairs, we’re confident that we can keep our spending for 2020 under $40,000.

We have three months of data to support that level of spending. Therefore, we’re feeling very confident that our first full year of early retirement spending can be kept below a 4% withdrawal rate.

How is your spending coming along?


José worked at Vanguard for 12 years, helping create electronic and print educational materials for 401(k) participants. He retired at 44 from corporate America and loves to spend time with his wife and daughter, discovering new adventures or just sharing a meal in their backyard.

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