Quarterly Update: January – March 2019

Welcome to the first quarterly update for 2019. I write these quarterly updates to keep track of our journey to FIRE and to reflect and realign goals, directions and strategies throughout the year.


Our average income increased this quarter as a result of having the opportunity for us both to work. We were able to direct a larger portion of income to our savings goals, which will hopefully enable us to meet these a lot sooner than anticipated (and get back to throwing our savings into index funds).


Our quarterly expenses were still higher than we were aiming for coming in at just over $6000 a month. We did front-load our health insurance and haven’t claimed some reimbursements from our employer as yet for some larger purchases. This will bring down the annual cost later in the year. Removing the reimbursable costs would reduce our spending to just over $5500 a month.

Our top 10 expenses for this quarter were:

  1. Food – $3709
  2. Work – $3202 (largest cost is reimbursable)
  3. Transport Costs – $2939 (a sizeable car repair was needed)
  4. Health – $2701 (front loaded Private Health Insurance for the year
  5. Savings – $1292 (paid deposit for wedding)
  6. Travel Expenses – $1000
  7. Giving – $814
  8. Personal 1 – $806
  9. Personal 2 – $750
  10. House – $485


There were no new purchases into our portfolio in the Jan-Mar quarter of 2019. This was due to focussing on a particular savings goal for our sabbatical next year. Our portfolio at the end of March is pictured below. It remains relatively similarly sized to its position at the end of 2018.

We saw positive returns for all of our holdings in the past three months – with all but AFIC having capital gains. Certainly a 10.44% return for the quarter is better than the interest being reduced by our offset and any money we had previously in a HISA. I’m not 100% sold on the LICs we hold, though. While I have no intention of selling either AFI or MLT, the next Australian ETF purchase is much more likely to be VAS over AFI, MLT or another LIC.

As for our other holdings, our tiny holdings in XRP and XLM (cryptocurrency) did very little across the past three months. While we haven’t lost any money from these (very small) investment, we haven’t gained a great deal. I’ll continue to hold this for the time being, but won’t be purchasing any more cryptocurrency.


Despite not purchasing any additional ETFs this month, and having a very expensive January, our networth (outside of super) grew by just under $16,000 from January to March. Including my super, our quarterly networth grew by just under $30,000 – quite an impressive result in my mind.

All going to plan, we should have met our two big savings goals for the year (purchase of a caravan for our Big Lap sabbatical and our wedding fund complete) by the end of the next quarter.


Experiments in retirements – or how taking risks makes it all worthwhile.

A video was posted on the reddit r/fiaustralia page the other day of a TedXUWA presentation on mini-retirements. It’s worth having a look at it if you’ve got a spare 15 minutes, although for those already well entrenched in FI thinking, there’s not a lot new there.

But it got me thinking about my own experience. (Funnily enough, it seems Aussie Firebug has been thinking about the same things).

When I finished my first stint at university, I was not financially fit. I had loved studying, and had enjoyed the leisurely life of university a little too much – I hadn’t thought too much about what would come after. I fell into a graduate program and discovered life as a public servant.

Within a few months, I hated it. I loathed it.

I hated being in an office. I hated working on projects that never seemed to be completed and I wanted out.

If only I had found financial independence back then…

Instead, I tried to change my poor money habits and learned to save. Not much, mind you. Just enough so that I could set myself up in a new place and postpone the dread of full time employment for a little longer.

$15,000 later, I resigned from a permanent position in government. I bought a one-way ticket to Spain and took an English teaching course. It was having the savings behind me which gave me the courage to quit.

My colleagues said I was brave. They probably thought I was stupid. Or reckless. Throwing away a good wicket at 24 like that. It was one of the best ideas I’ve had.

A month shy of my 25th birthday, I arrived in Spain. Within days, I had employment. Within weeks, I had an apartment. And for the next three years, I lived a bohemian existence of English teaching, la siesta y la fiesta.

This life wasn’t all fun and games. There were plenty of mistakes, some regrets and it didn’t bring me any closer to financial independence (probably further). But it gave me a taste of the other life.

Here I met people who had chosen to walk lives outside of the common path:

  • The Bar Manager who had come for a visit and stayed for a lifetime.
  • The International school teachers, the english teachers and the tour guides financing their life abroad with work in exotic locations.
  • The risky travellers who hitchhike across seemingly dangerous parts of the world.
  • The business people who had taken up opportunities in foreign countries – and found new ones they couldn’t imagine.
  • the Brit who came to teach English, loved soccer and ended up being a commentator on Spanish television.

The common link between all these people – they took risks. They didn’t know exactly what would happen next, but they knew that they would be ok. Even if they weren’t.

Coming back to Australia, I didn’t really have a plan. After struggling for a while (which you can read about here), I took another risk and moved to remote Australia for work. This decision that has paid off in experiences, relationships, income and so much more. I understand more (and sometimes less) about myself, this country and the world. I’ve grown as an individual and had opportunities I couldn’t imagine. Sadly, though, it’s coming to an end this year.

I am no longer making risks for just me. We’re risk-taking as a trio – and our next steps will be an experiment in early retirement. We’re getting the band together and hitting the road. In 2020, we plan to trek around this beautiful country of ours. Who knows what will happen? There’s a lot to learn…

Unfortunately, it will probably set our FI date back a bit, but that’s ok. It will regenerate our spirits.

2018. Fin.

Well, the silly season is over for another year and it brings an opportunity to reflect on habits of the year just past. This post reflects on our spending and saving habits over 2018. I’ve added a quarterly comparison as well.


We averaged $10,280 throughout 2018. This came from a mix of salary, rental income and dividends not reinvested. Total dividends earned in 2018 (including reinvested) were $531.50. A fair way to go in our FI journey!

Over the quarter (October – December), our average income was $14,987. The increase in this quarter was due to tax returns in October.


Throughout 2018, we were aiming for monthly expenses of under $5000. Unfortunately, we didn’t meet this target and our monthly expenses were $5538 – so there’s a bit of fat that can be cut from our expenses. The biggest killer for us is definitely food. Our groceries cost pushed close to $10,000 for the year and our dining out budget cost close to $3000. We’re not the most frugal in this space. This will definitely be an area that we seek to focus on in 2019 – becoming more intentional with our food purchases, meal planning and increasing our vegetarian meals. As we live in a very remote part of Australia, our food costs can be exorbitantly high when we buy locally so making sure that we plan our meals carefully is essential.

A huge category for us in 2018 was travel expenses. We are often on the road travelling long distances to both eastern and southern capitals. Not being intentional with planning these trips meant that we spent close to $7000 on ‘on-the-road’ costs. This included plane flights, accommodation, food and other variables. Eye opening to the say the least! Some of these are unavoidable, but in 2019, we’ll need to look at ways to reduce our travelling costs.

Our vehicle costs were also expensive in 2018 – in part because of the conditions we drive in. We replaced a fuel tank, suspension, and had regular servicing on two 4WDs throughout 2018. One of the vehicles is leased – which means that maintenance and fuel costs are coming out of pre-tax income. This does have its benefits given the distances we drive.

A win for budget tracking in 2018 was the realisation of how much I spent on a mobile plan. I maintained a low plan with a major mobile provider because I needed mobile coverage when in city areas. However, not having mobile coverage where I live meant that this was rarely utilised. We switched to Boost Mobile because it gave me the same coverage, better data and was prepaid. We will see how much this impacts my mobile expenses in 2019.


2018 was our first year of seriously investing outside of super. We had experimented with Acorns in 2017 but branched out into ETFs in 2018. At the end of 2018, our portfolio looked like this. Our strategy involves using cash to offset our mortgage and buying ETFs/LICs in $5000 increments.

Zooming in on our ETF/LIC/Crypto holdings, our breakdown is below. There is no intention to further invest in crypto holdings at this stage. I definitely see a future for cryptocurrencies, but without expert knowledge, I’m not comfortable in throwing more coin at a speculative space that provides no income. There is also no intention to purchase more shares in Telstra. We are aiming for a 50/50 split between Australian and international equities – and a 90/10 split between international and Asia.

The portfolio has had a bit of a slip in the turmoil of the last three months – mainly with VGS and AFI values falling. I took some opportunity of the drop to pick up more VGS. I should have waited an extra week though!

We increased the equity in our IP by $25,000 throughout 2018. We took a loan with a little over 10% deposit and now have close to 20% equity. This puts us a little over three years ahead on our principal payments. 


At the start of 2018, our net worth sat at a respectable $109,000 (excluding superannuation). At the end of 2018, we had grown our networth by $51,065. This included paying down our mortgage and investing in a diverse portfolio of ETF/LICs. I think we could have increased this by an addition $10,000 had we been more intentional in sticking to our budget. But still, it’s a fantastic result. 

That brings us to 2019 – what adventures will it bring? 

It’s our final year in a very remote place – our future moves may see a reduction in income or a move back to dual incomes. We are planning a huge adventure for 2020, which may set our FI plans back, but will give us the opportunity to experience the FI life. We also have some potentially big expenses occurring in 2019, which may impact on our strategy. 

Our goals for 2019 are: 

  1. Use YNAB to make more intentional expenses in food, travel and vehicle purchases reducing the expenses in these categories by 25% in 2019. 
  2. Invest $30,000 in ETFs/LICs during 2019.
  3. Own 25% of our IP by end of 2019. 
  4. Plan, prepare and deliver on a wedding in 2019 and a 12 month sabbatical in 2020. 

I’m not sure if we’ll have a chance of achieving all four of these goals – but let’s have a crack, hey? 

The power of zero sum budgeting

So you’ve discovered the concept of FIRE. You’ve stumbled upon a few blogs. You’ve read up a bit on index funds. But it still seems like you don’t earn enough money to achieve your goals. Frugality seems like a chore. FatFIRE seems like a life time away. Just give up, right? You’re destined to be working until your Super preservation age comes around. 

I’ve certainly felt like that. It didn’t seem to matter whether I earned a significant salary or a pittance. Dollars seemed to fall through my fingers. In my hedonistic twenties, I’d always find a way to scrounge a few dollars for a beer, and occasionally save a small amount for a decent holiday. I had no concept of how much I was spending or what I was spending it on. The hand-to-mouth lifestyle went on longer than was necessary – despite my best efforts to teach (punish) myself otherwise. 

It took me too many years to discover zero sum budgeting. I tried various tools to track expenses – spreadsheets; Pocketbook and countless others. None had any effect. I either stressed because I had no idea what categories to establish, ignored it because I didn’t like that it was telling me that I had overspent, or didn’t trust it enough to link it to bank accounts. But then I discovered YNAB. (Yes, this is an affiliate link – if you choose to use YNAB through this link, I will receive a free month). 

What is zero-sum budgeting? Zero-sum budgeting is a pretty simple concept. Earn money and put all of it to work. Have $100 left over at the end of the month. Give it a job – even if that job is next month, or savings, or most importantly, investing. Zero-sum budgeting is a game changer and YNAB is the best tool I have found to achieve it. So how did YNAB change the game for me? 

It didn’t ask me to budget too far ahead. It asked me to budget only what I had. If that was $1000, then I could work out what my priorities were until that $1000 ran out. And it asked me to put all of it to work. In my first few months of using YNAB, I could only budget two weeks in advance. I would still run out of money in that two weeks – but YNAB encouraged me to roll with the punches. I would take from categories that hadn’t been touched or add categories that emerged as important. And gradually I discovered that by tracking what I was purchasing, adjusting my budget as I went and always budgeting to zero, I slowly stopped stealing from my savings categories and discovered that the amounts I was budgeting to spending categories were more and more often accurate. 

Within six months, I was budgeting a month in advance. I had an emergency fund. I had categories for long term expenses. I was controlling my money and responding, rather than reacting, to changes in circumstances. 

In two and a half years of using YNAB, both solo and with a partner, I have grown from having a small pool of savings to purchasing a home (currently as an Investment Property) to paying over $30,000 off the principal, having $50,000 offsetting the mortgage and close to $30,000k invested in low-cost index funds and listed investment companies. And I know more about my spending than I ever have before.

All of this for the princely sum of $50 USD a year. Thanks Jesse Meecham.

Sure, Mr SoF, you might say – your income has grown in that time. And yes, I would answer. But we’ve also become a one-income household, had a child and numerous expensive car issues. There has not been a month where we haven’t paid off our credit card in full.  Not a month in the last 18 months where we haven’t put extra on our mortgage. 

If you’re stuck at how to start your journey to FIRE, then I would start here. I dare you to try it. 

New portfolio members

School on Fire’s aim is to build a portfolio that generates at least $60,000 of passive income from dividends through both growth and income ETFs and LICs. Our current aim is to hold 50% Australian shares (in low cost LICs) and 50% international shares (90% VGS & 10% emerging markets). We also hold Telstra and some small cryptocurrency holdings, but any single company or speculative stock should be less than 5% of the portfolio.

October and November have been exciting months for our portfolio. This has mainly been brought about through generous tax returns. We have been able to add two new purchases to our portfolio.

Our first purchase this month was stock in Milton Investment Company (MLT). Milton is a listed investment company that aims to increase dividend payments over time, provide capital growth to shareholders and invest in a diversified portfolio of Australian assets. Coupled with it’s low expense ratio, it fits the criteria of our portfolio well. We were also able to buy it at a slight discount to premium thanks to the October rumbles in the marketplace.

Over at Strong Money Australia, you can read a fantastic review of MLT.

Our second recent purchase was the Vanguard ETF, VAE, which focuses on Asian companies, excluding Japan. I had some doubt about purchasing VAE over VGE to fill my need for emerging markets, but the preference to hold emerging Asian economies over economies like Russia and Brazil was the deciding factor. The five biggest markets held by VAE are:

  1. China
  2. Korea
  3. Taiwan
  4. Hong Kong
  5. India

While recent growth has been flat – it has averaged 8.44% growth since inception and has a dividend yield of 2.40%.

Our portfolio now looks like this.




Quarterly Update – July – September 2018

Welcome to our first quarterly update. In this post, I examine our general expenses to keep track of how we are performing over time. I use YNAB to manage my budget. It’s a small price to pay for a piece of software that I’ve found extremely effective.


We averaged just over $8000 a month income for the quarter. This was made up of salary payments, rental on our property and dividends. A pretty standard quarter.


When tracking expenses, I have decided to not include mortgage payments or investment purchases as these go towards creating income for us or paying off debt. My logic is that the money paid becomes assets held.

We averaged $4792 in expenses a month. This is in line with our FIRE goal of living off $5,000 a month (excluding housing).

Expenses (excluding investments & mortgage)

Our average monthly expenses (largest to smallest) were:

  1. Food, Shelter & Security – $2018
  2. Vehicle Costs – $1004
  3. Splurge – $403
  4. Travel Expenses – $393
  5. Non-Essential Expenses – $369
  6. Work Expenses – $292
  7. Children – $152
  8. Savings – $124
  9. Pets – $37

Our two biggest expenses were groceries and fuel costs for our vehicles. Unfortunately, because we live remotely, these costs are somewhat unavoidable as food prices, fuel prices and costs of wear & tear on vehicles from dirt roads are all high. We also went on a holiday to the coast, which cost us a pretty penny in fuel and a new alternator for the car.


Our debt on our IP reduced by $1229.35 across the quarter. We are currently paying Principal & Interest off IP as we intend it to be our home when we return from living remotely.

We are in the early stage of accumulation at the moment. We are purchasing shares of broad-based index funds and LICs in $5000 portions at semi-regular intervals. We bought 785 shares of Australian Foundation Investment Company. This complements the shares of Vanguard International ETF and Telstra that we already held.

July Quarter.pngOur small portfolio saw a return over the quarter of 8.88% largely on the back of Telstra shares bouncing back over $3.00. This included a dividend payment from Telstra and AFIC.

The tiny amount of cryptocurrency that we hold (Ripple & Stellar) fell $212.75 over the quarter. However it is still valued higher than what it was purchased for in 2017.


Outside of super, we saw an approximate increase in our networth of $8000. We’ve now  hit $130,000 of assets outside of super.

How was your first quarter of 2017-18?


Reflections on 2017/18

2017/18 has come to a close and it’s time to reflect on our achievements so far.This year was the year we discovered FIRE. The past few years have all been journeys in learning about finances, but the spark really started when we discovered Mad Fientist, Aussie Firebug, Mr. Money Mustache, ChooseFI and all the other bloggers, podcasters and writers that we’ve been incessantly listening to and reading over the past 9 months.What were some of our life achievements in 2017/18?

  • We bought a house (sure, in June 2017, but it counts). It’s generating income currently, but will eventually be our PPOR.
  • We discovered parenthood and all the delights of a 0-12 month old. Plus we dropped to a single income.
  • We bought our first ETFs (VGS), and exited Acorns (now RAIZ).

We are big fans of YNAB for tracking our finances and in 2017/18, we kept a comprehensive record of every purchase. Looking at our expenses for the year, I was ecstatic to discover our savings rate.


How did we calculate this? I took our post-tax income, subtracted our expenses excluding mortgage payments and investment transfers, and added the interest paid on our mortgage. I’ve excluded our employer superannuation contributions and additional contributions that we make, as we won’t see that money until we are at least 60.Please comment below if you have suggestions on more effective ways of calculating savings rates.Other financial achievements we made were:

Mortgage principal reduced by $28,000

ETF Portfolio begun

Financial Independence feels a very long way away right now, but I do think we’ve started in the right direction.How did your 2017/18 go? How would you calculate your savings rates? What were your achievements?