End of year update on the Sailing Dream

Step by step, we’re getting closer to realizing our dream.  We just made our last mortgage payment of 2016.  Since refinancing late this spring, we’ve made enough progress to be at the three year mark of our amortization schedule.  So that’s 3 years of a 15 year mortgage paid in 6 months.  In respect to our 5 year plan to get it paid off, we’re already 6 months ahead of schedule.  If we maintain this pace, the house is paid off in December 2018 – two years from today!

And as if that’s not motivation enough, I stumbled across a Craigslist posting for a CAL35 sailboat.

Picture from the Craigslist post for a 1983 CAL35 sailboat

The CAL35 was on the shortlist of potential affordable sailboats for us to live on as part of the dream when it was first defined.  We’re in good enough financial shape that we could buy this one right now if we wanted.  I mentioned I saw it to Mrs. Outspoken, and she seemed a little excited too, then responded that she’d rather get the house paid off first. I agree.  Plus, we can’t use a boat this size around Pittsburgh due to the mast height not clearing many of the bridges in the city.  It’s more of a coastal/Great Lakes/Carribbean cruiser.

We have decided to take the vinyl/book selling and try to ramp it up next year, focusing more on the vinyl.  I’m making about 3x the profit on records, although it requires a little more work to clean and grade them.  As long as it stays relatively fun, the work won’t be so bad.  Hopefully we can make a little extra as insurance to getting the house paid off by the end of 2018.

Then what?  We’ll we’ve started down a path of gradually transforming our lifestyle.  We decided that buying a canoe is a good first step to start creating more of a focus on spending time on or around water when we can in 2017.  We’ve saved up some money from our Christmas budget and gifts to fund the purchase.

The next step would probably be those sailing lessons in 2018.  After the house is paid off, we probably would need to take some extended charters in a couple locations we’re dreaming of visiting via sailboat.

We’re not entirely ready from a financial perspective to retire.  Getting the house paid off would relieve much (almost all?) of our financial pressure, and then we’d have to decide where to invest over the coming years to reach financial independence to support a potential sailing lifestyle.   My retirement calculator at work says I’m good to go at age 50, but it will come down to what else is happening in our lives at that time.

I’m also going to really take a look at my spending on alcohol.  I enjoy decent wine and whisky, as well as craft beer, but some months I spend way too much.  Also, the only two times I’ve been sick in the last year (both this month) were after a night of drinking a bit too much.   So for my personal health as well as our financial health, I need to cut back, and cutting the spending by 50-75% should make that happen.

As i discussed in an earlier post, we could cut back a little more.  But I think we’ve done a pretty good job of changing our future outlook.  Sure we could get there (wherever there is) a little faster by doing some extreme things, but I can’t say it would be worth it.  But I do wish I’d started this sooner, which is why I gave a copy of Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover to my niece last year at Christmas, and to her brother this year.  I’m also probably going to send them a few tweets in the coming weeks about Mr. Money Mustache.  If I can get one or both of them to see a different possibility for their future, that would be more satisfying than me getting to my destination of Financial Independence a few months earlier.

Whatever it is you want to do, it’s very likely you can do it if you put a clear plan in place.  Start with the “Why”, as in “why do we want to do this, to make these sacrifices or changes?” Then create a vivid visualization of what it would look and feel like to achieve that “Why”.   Next identify what needs to happen to get there, then lay out the simple, often very small steps to make it happen.  For example, why would we buy a canoe if our dream is to sail the Caribbean, Great Lakes, and maybe even the European coastlines?  Because it’s the next small step.

As 2016 comes to a close, take the next step.  Whatever it is, just commit to the next step on your path to achieving your dream.  Every great journey starts with taking the first step.  Where will that first step take you?




Update on Sailing Away

To paraphrase the old quote from Eisenhower about planning:  Plans are useless – it’s the planning that is invaluable.  That’s how I feel about our plan to sail away.  Based on the progress shared in my last update over a year ago, our sailing dream might look like this to many outsiders:

Inadvertent double exposure – a marina in La Spezia, Italy and the beach in Corolla, NC.  Kodak 400TX 

I’d call that confused, error-prone, and not too pretty, but a little funky at the same time. (I’ll share more shots from that roll in the future.)  But in the last year, we’ve gotten into a much stronger financial position.  The catalyst was really the realization that we were going to be able to save up for a boat pretty easily, and that honestly surprised us.  By looking at our entire financial picture, we came up with a better plan that doesn’t hinge on us loving sailing and force us into a less than wonderful situation if or when we pursue another chapter of our lives.

This isn’t a financial or early retirement blog, so I’m not going to share specifics, but we’ve improved our net worth by about $90k in the last year.  Obviously no one knows the future, but if we can approximate that for a few more years, we might be in the position to pursue this sailing dream and never have to worry about looking back, and also never worry about not having a nice home to come back to on land.

What we’ve done is pay off our cars and student loans, started investing agressively in our retirement plans, and then focused on paying off the house.  We just refinanced to a 2.875% fixed rate from 4.5%, so an extra $325 a month of our payment automatically goes to principal instead of interest, and we’re able to at least double up on payments almost every month.  The house should be paid for in 5 years or less, so that gives us 5 years to build the side hustles into a sustainable income, with that income probably reducing the amount of time it takes to pay off the house since none of that is calculated in our plan.

As far as my side hustles go, one of them I could clear $60k if I worked full time, but we don’t need that much and I enjoy it now – I wouldn’t enjoy it full time due to about 25% of the work really feels like work to me; I think in a few hours a week while travelling it can almost sustain the sailing lifestyle, and probably next summer we’ll start experimenting with doing that while travelling, trying to get the work to generate enough income to pay for the trips.  Maybe eventually I outsource most of it, and then it provides smaller returns, but less effort.  The other I think can generate $60k or more annually with minimal work once we build it to a certain size, so we’re laying foundations this summer and starting to work that in the fall.  Both are media-related, niche gigs.

After the house is paid for, the primary question becomes how much longer do we work?  The short answer might be “at least long enough to buy and outfit a boat”, but it will probably be much more complex depending on family situations.  As we get to a point where we can see the finish line on the mortgage, we’ll pick up the plan of taking sailing lessons and spending time on the water the summer before, and we’ll put more details in place. But my goal is still to be financially independent when I’m 48, and we’re largely on track.  Maybe 49…

For now, we’ll take little sailing cruises, maybe eventually we start doing more destination sailing vacations or something.  But we’re focused on our freedom for now; freedom from debt, freedom from needing a job, freedom from the things that are preventing us from pursuing this dream the way we want to pursue it.  In my eyes, our plan looks more like this:

Sailboats outside the harbor in Vernazza, Italy.  Shot on Fuji Velvia the day this dream started…

Maybe not Italy (but why not?) – but anchored near a shore somewhere with the open water in the other direction – free to go when and where we want.  Or not go and enjoy where we are a  little longer.  In the interim, we can enjoy the current journey we’re on.

I think that’s the real point: Enjoy the journey; it’s the only life we’ve got.  But consciously craft the destination, and don’t just go along for the ride.

Update on the Sailing Dream

Harbor at Naples, Italy – February 2015

Since we’re at mid-May, it seems to be a decent time to provide an update on some goals, specifically on the sailing goal.  We went to the Miami Boat Show as planned in February.  While there we attended a Couples Cruising seminar, as well as checking out probably 50 boats.  Most of these were new sailboats, and a handful were powerboats.  The Beneteau Oceanis 35 (actually the entire Oceanis line), the Salonas S44, and the Catalina 445 were probably our favorite sailboats.  We found the Catamarans very appealing, in fact the FP Helia 44 was very enticing; the amount of space is amazing, and the stability was noticeable.   But really, we found all the boats we liked to be more stable than the docks themselves.  We also liked a few of the Mainship trawlers, and even a Carver powerboat was pretty nice inside, if a little challenged on the external aesthetics.

So then it was off to our initial “Learn to Sail” course in March, which also went well.  But we ran into a problem:  our desire to have a boat and live that lifestyle got the best of us.  We started doing some financial calculations and asked “how much could we save up in  year?  How about in 2-3 years?”   We started to realize this whole dream is entirely possible, but we could probably even keep the house if we play it right.  Meaning no boat loans and  delaying any boat purchase.

So we got into high gear.  We paid of both cars, and are knocking on the door of being debt-free except the house by paying off our last student loan.  Then we’ll focus on getting the house paid for.  I don’t think this realistically changes our timeline for long-term cruising, and in many ways will probably extend the length of time we can be on a sailboat.  One of the primary drivers of a departure timeline has been aging family, as we’ll be in our current area to support them for several years.

So we’re now following Dave Ramsey’s guidelines on building wealth, and hopefully that leads to the same early retirement I have dreamed of, just with more assets and financial resources.   We’re not quite on the “beans and rice, rice and beans” plan, but we are cutting back a good bit.  Hopefully in 4-5 years we’re be in the position to have the flexibility to do what we choose, including going sailing/boating for extended periods of time – even if it’s just on the Three Rivers in Pennsylvania and West Virginia most of the time.

Of course, any time I put my mind to doing something good or better, temptations or challenges seem to be thrown my way.  So what have they be building right outside my office window the past several weeks? A marina.  Seriously, they’re building a new marina right outside my window on the other side of the river!  How lovely!  We could have the boat a five minute walk across the river from my office if we stuck with the original plan to buy a boat this year.  Oh, temptation!

I feel strongly that we’ll be in much better shape long-term if we pursue the ‘and’ solution instead of the ‘or’ solution.   Meaning answering the question “How can we have a (sail)boat  AND the house and still retire early?” instead of   “Do we sell the house to take a break from working and go sailing OR do we put it off until retirement like most people?”

All that means is there will probably be limited sailing updates this year, and my goals of taking sailing lessons and skippering in races are torpedoed for now.  But my wife shares the dream, and we’ll get out there hopefully sooner than originally planned.

Plans for 2015

9 days till Christmas…

As we approach the end of another year, it’s time to create a structured set of action items around the goals you set for 2015.  What?  You haven’t set goals yet?  The company HR system doesn’t do that until March, you say?  (Don’t laugh – I’ve seen them set in May for a calendar year!)  What I’m talking about your personal goals.

As I start looking at my goals for 2015 and evaluating this year, I’ve decided to make a change in my writing structure.  While I enjoy the freedom to write on whatever strikes me, I’m going to focus mostly on leadership,personal productivity, and achieving goals and dreams in 2015.  I’ll still have some posts on photography – maybe “Photo Fridays.”  And I’ll still have regular posts  on our progress towards sailing as applicable.

But I’ve been trying to maintain both this personal blog and a business blog, Lean Renaissance, since I started  Aaron Outspoken, and while I have been writing consistently, it hasn’t been consistently on both blogs.  So once I have the new site up and running, I’ll redirect from both the old blogs to the new site.

But as I work through the planning of this during the next few weeks and doing all the fun things to get the new blog set up, I’d like to hear from those of you who read my blog.  What articles do you like?  What topics do you wish I’d write about more?  What do you want me to stop blathering about?  Let me know in the comments.  Even things you’d like me to wrap up before 2015 – whatever it is, I’d like to hear it.

Thanks.  Now go set some goals for next year!


Progress Towards Sailing Away – December 2014 Update

Beautiful grotto at Monterosso - Kodak Ektar
Beautiful grotto at Monterosso – Kodak Ektar

Another month has come and gone, and while we haven’t made much progress financially on the sailboat fund, there is progress none the less.  The most significant event in November happened while I was in France on business.  Mrs. Outspoken has started sharing what started as my dream – to retire early and live on a sailboat –  as our dream, and share it quite openly.

While dancing with some of our friends during our weekly ballroom dancing outing she mentioned the idea and discovered one of our closer friends used to race J22’s on the West Coast when he was younger and has a pretty extensive sailing background.  She talked about our plan to learn about the lifestyle, explore boats, and take sailing classes and he and his wife were very supportive, saying it was a good plan and that it was critical she learn to sail too.

Later that week we also discovered another of our casual acquaintances has three sailboats and was a member at the club we are planning to join next year, and they extended an invitation to use their boats and visit them at their new home on a nearby lake they are currently building. As our network grows and other people share their sailing experiences and say things like “wow, I wish we could do that some day”, MO seems to be getting more excited and is now more interested in the monetary progress as well, even though there’s not much progress to speak of this month.

Current Sailboat Fund balance: $4200

For those paying attention, yes that’s the same as last month.  We made a charitable donation that exceeded what we typically gave annually from the coffee business and had some minor expenses, but I really didn’t have time to do much in November, but the one day I did have was enough to break even for the month.  🙂

Unfortunately it doesn’t quite scale in a linear manner, so full time wouldn’t equal 20-30 times what I did last month.

Aside from money, we also found a hotel for the Miami Boat Show, so we’re going to attend that to check out some sailboats and also attend  a cruising seminar aimed at couples called Two Can Sail.  I still need to book flights, but we’re taking advantage of my points and miles from business travel for work to minimize the expense so no damage to the sailboat fund will be incurred during the planning of this trip!

We’ve also got our membership application printed and ready to complete for Moraine Sailing Club, which seems to have the most comprehensive club in our area and is on what is really the only sailing-friendly lake within and hour or so – Lake Arthur.   Hopefully participating in their Learn to Sail and Learn to Race programs we can gain an appreciation for sailing this year while we work towards finding a boat for us to use to begin spending nights and weekends aboard as we learn.

One final step in November towards our dream:  I’ll be launching a product line soon. I’m not ready to share much yet, but the intent is to generate more independent revenue from multiple streams to support this sailing dream.  We won’t be ready to “sail away” for a few years at the earliest, but we’re still doing this relatively young, so if I can develop a few sources of revenue it should help us sustain the lifestyle once we make the transition.  With this in mind, everything we do needs to be semi-independent of our physical location.

Hopefully I’ll launch in January and I’ll share the info once I get everything squared away, but it won’t be a sales pitch.  I just secured my manufacturer pricing agreement for the products last week, so all that’s left is final “artwork” on the products and then marketing.  This will have a hit on the sailboat fund in the short term, but hopefully adds another 50-75% to the monthly revenue with minimal time investment from us.  If I recoup the investment in 6 months I’ll call it a win.  And then I’ll be looking for the next step to take for income generation.  (Update: Chinese influence rendered our line of Guitar Pedals marginally profitable, the first group was great, but prices dropped by 60% within months as others flooded the market.  We did well on our launch, but decided not to continue).

Keep chasing your dreams.  Once you catch one of them, all the others seem more possible, and you might find more and more of them turn into reality.

Working on your dreams when life is crazy


Our new addition - Brisby
Our new addition – Brisby

Business trips outside the country.  A wedding anniversary.  Home repairs.  A wedding.  Classes two nights a week.  Getting a new puppy. Not sleeping much.  Playing live music on a moving parade float. A weekend in Belgium.

October was a very busy month.  I didn’t work on the side business much, but we still had some revenue come in.  Enough so that after I bought yet another guitar (I’m done now; my wife says so!) we still made progress towards the sailboat.

Current Sailboat fund balance: $4,200

For November, I do have some work to do and I’m also starting to work on a new product idea.  But I also have a full calendar for my “real job”and a few end of year donations to make, so hopefully between November & December we make progress on the sailboat fund.

I also have some more rolls of film to share and photos from at least two assignments in November.  Adding Brisby to the mix consumed my writing time while we adjusted to a new routine amidst a busy workload.   He’s an 11-week old Australian Shepherd from a miniature line, so he should end up around 25 pounds.  I’m starting to think we should have called him “Taz” though, because he can be a little devil sometimes and he zooms all over the place, even doing little spins now and then!  Expect photos from him and Brodie the Golden Retriever for my upcoming “portrait” assignment.

While October and November may slow our progress a little, it’s only because we’re doing the things we’ve put into our life by choice.  It’s not a negative – at least we don’t see it that way.  If we did, we’d make some adjustments and clear some things from our schedule.

We do that a few times a year – take stock of where we spend our time and decide if it’s adding value to our lives.  Sometimes we decide to stop doing something, and often throughout the year we say “no” to opportunities or requests for our time.  Since it is November, many people are setting goals for 2015 right now.  If you’re one of them, include a review of where you spend your time.  Then decide what changes you want to make in 2015.

My major decision right now is whether to take another photography class.  I’m leaning towards “no” to the class but becoming an associate member at Pittsburgh Filmmakers to have access to the darkrooms and equipment.  It’s a minor thing, but it’s 4 hours every week – plus the time shooting – that I could spend somewhere else.  What things should you be saying “no” to next year so you can work on your dreams?

Another Step Closer

July 30 2010 048
We share a kiss on North Swan Beach, North Carolina.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment last month regarding the progress towards sailing away and taking a break from it all is the language my lovely wife is using.  What was a crazy dream in July and August has now become “when we’re on a sailboat…” as we discuss certain topics.  While she’s not ready, she’s embracing the possibility of the idea.  She’s also a little surprised at the progress we made last month on the sailboat fund – as am I:

Current Sailboat Fund Balance: $3800!

We gave just as much to charity last month again – so in 2 months we’ve given more than we used to in an entire year with the coffee business.  I bought a used guitar (a Line 6 JTV Variax – specifically for use in our Praise & Worship team at the church.  Maybe more on that another time.) and sold a guitar  for almost a net balance.  It was just a really good month for the side business.

In fact, by the middle of September my revenues were the highest ever in one month for any of my side jobs – ever!  Actually – it was more than I earned per month probably the entire first 3 years we were married.  Which is good, because I have international trips for my real job in October, November, and December, and between them and the photography class I’ve missed some opportunities and know I will continue to do so.  But that only reinforces the potential in my mind of this to support us.

So far I have no doubt we’ll be able to buy a basic 27-30 foot sailboat next year to experience some nights and weekends aboard and the beginning “joys” of boat ownership and maintenance.  I’m not leaning towards a cruiser – just a capable boat with an inboard engine that will occasionally sail the rivers when conditions permit it.  Then hopefully in the not too distant future we can be kissing and relaxing on various beaches as part of our new lifestyle instead of just an annual vacation.

Dream.  Set goals.  Live Life.  Push your personal boundaries.  You never know how far you can go if you don’t try.